By now, you’ve probably heard enough of remote work and distributed teams. Everyone has stories about remote communication, such as the “meeting that could’ve been an email” or how it’s the 10th time you needed to tell Jim he was on mute.
And while two years have given companies the chance to adapt and experiment the best ways to incorporate remote communication in their teams, for many it’s still a challenge.
Let’s dive into understanding more about the different types of communication in virtual teams, as well as what are the best remote collaboration methods to make your internal dynamics more productive and efficient.
Best Remote Communication Methods
According to an Owl Labs survey, 81% of respondents believe their employer will continue to support remote work after COVID-19. And 59% of respondents said they would be more likely to choose remote work compared to onsite positions.
The real question is not if remote work works; this debate has already been proven. Now, what matters for most leaders is how to make an efficient communication plan for remote employees.
Let’s go over the best remote team communication strategies.
1. Be Clear About the Methods
In other words, communicate about your communication. Make sure each channel has a clear purpose and that the team knows which they should use and when.
Non-urgent project updates? Leave a comment on the Trello card for the job. Urgent? Skype me. Zombocalypse? Call me on my cell phone.
If you don’t do this, then you risk your team using the wrong method and a vital message not getting across. On the other end of the spectrum, a small thing that doesn’t need an immediate response can tie up everyone’s time if it’s aired on a group channel rather than directed.
2. Know When People are Available
The beauty of remote work is being able to work in different time zones. Yes, it can be a nightmare…if you´re not organized.
At DistantJob, we have people from all over the world: Canada, Guatemala, Ecuador, Argentina, Portugal, and Romania, to name a few. And while we have meetings where we all need to sync, we also understand that a huge aspect of remote communication is knowing when people are available.
That way, you’ll be sure that you won’t ring one of your digital nomads when they’re sound asleep or out on a date. Tools like World Time Buddy are great for knowing when work hours overlap.
A strategy is asking each team member to add its availability in a spreadsheet or Slack description. This will also make scheduling meetings, events, or celebrations easier.
3. Morning Check-In
Many companies, particularly in the software development industry, are changing their business model to reflect an agile approach. Whether you take part in the agile methodology or prescribe the traditional waterfall method, daily checkings always help, and it’s a great way of communicating remotely without being invasive.
Asking your remote team for constant updates won´t bring anything good. Micromanaging will directly impact your team´s morale and motivation. Instead, focus on building trust and a work environment that evaluates through results.
In Agile, for instance, a daily standup reassures your team is working because it holds them accountable. Whether you do it async or sync, your team will stay on the same page, knowing what everyone will be working on that day or if they need help with something. And most importantly, everyone’s valuable time isn’t being wasted.
4. Read Twice, Reply Once
There is some difference in opinion about how much communication is non-verbal. Whatever the number, visual cues are an essential part of how we understand each other. When you’re communicating primarily through text, they get lost. This loss can lead to ambiguity and even people taking offense where the speaker meant none.
If you’ve received a message which makes your hackles rise, use Hanlan’s Razor. Don’t assume that the person is out to get you, or is offended, or any other harmful response. Ask for clarification if you need to. Alternatively, work through a few different scenarios of what they might have meant to help you see more clearly.
5. Watch your words
When you’re using only the written word to get your message across, you have to be extra careful that what you’ve written is what you meant to say. If you have team members from different parts of the world, they may not understand common idioms.
When you’ve written your message, read it through at least once. Put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving your words. Will they understand what you’ve meant to say? If not, revise.
A remote working communication strategy that kind be controversial for some but has been proven useful for many is using emojis. Emojis lighten the tone of messages, and in one way or another, they make them more human. This, of course, is not always the case, as for some people, it feels unprofessional. A survey found out that 50% of young professionals when seeing a coworker use emojis believe them to be more fun, approachable, and kind.
6. Gathering Place
One of the many benefits of working with a remote team is having fewer distractions. Though this contributes to an increase in productivity, the need for human interaction will never go away.
This is why it is essential to have a virtual gathering place or a “water cooler” available for every team member. I’m talking about programs like Slack. Create channels specifically for personal topics like kids and sports. Take time at the end of conference calls to let everyone chat about their weekends.
Virtual team communication is not only about work; it’s also about funny pets and memes. These channels are important because they help build culture and stronger bonds.
7. Emails Aren’t Urgent
Sending an email for a work-related emergency is like deciding to walk to the hospital after a car accident. It doesn’t make any sense!
Remote team members aren’t and shouldn’t be expected to check their inboxes every 30 seconds. Neither should you, for that matter. This sudden shift towards remote work shows how unproductive checking emails can be.
For effective remote communications, a combination of Zoom calls and chat platforms like Slack is a better option than mail and phone calls.
8. Hours, Overtime, and Vacation
How often have you called your receptionist on a Saturday because you can’t find the client profile you’re looking for? Assuming your company runs during regular business hours, your answer is (hopefully) never.
Establishing and respecting the same boundaries is important when working with a virtual team. If they don’t work weekends, don’t contact them on weekends. If they are on vacation, let them enjoy it.
Everyone’s working hours (these may vary from person to person) need to be communicated upon employment. When they are off work, you can’t expect them to respond to emails, calls, slack messages, etc.
These types of boundaries go both ways. You should respect your team’s limits to ensure their work-life balance is in good standing. On the other hand, they are responsible for informing you of upcoming changes to their availability. Just like in the traditional workplace, ample notice must be given for extended absences.
9. End of Day Reports
Remote team communication doesn´t mean talking 24/7 to everyone, ensuring they are doing their jobs. However, mechanisms and processes are useful to know how everyone works without being a micromanager. While for some leaders, end-of-day reports feel that way and are an overkill, this isn´t always the case for others.
For companies just getting started in working with remote contractors, this is a great way to build trust and develop structure. The end-of-day report is especially helpful if it doesn’t make sense to do a daily call with your team. Requiring everyone to send a quick message in Slack or even an email can give you peace of mind and help you plan for the next day.
FAQs – Remote Working Communications
By definition, remote communication means discussing a project via electronic tools. Virtual communication is a substitute for physical communication, but it’s never as easy as it sounds. In remote companies, communication is more than sharing information. Team members work in different places and time zones. It’s important to establish when and where to share information and ask questions.
Asynchronous communication: These are the methods where you’d do the equivalent of leaving a post-it note on someone’s desk. It doesn’t matter if they’re currently working or not, the message will get delivered, and they can reply when they’re ready. Email is the most obvious option here, but Slack chat and similar Trello and Skype are other examples.
Synchronous communication: Here, you talk in real-time. It could be that you’re teleconferencing at an agreed time, or you’re all logged in to a GoToMeeting or Zoom video chat. The plus side of this is getting an immediate response; the downside of synchronous is
that it can be hard to arrange if you have employees working in different time zones.
Face-to-face meetings: If you can get the team together, it can do wonders for team bonding. You could invite your remote team to the company picnic, organize an away day or hold a meeting in the office. The staple of remote working is asynchronous communication. It works well most of the time, but if your team aren’t all working at the same time, then you might be waiting a while for a reply. For vital communication, synchronous tools are your best bet.
1. Verbal communication – occurs when speaking with others. It can be face-to-face or virtually via Zoom, for example.
2. Non-verbal communication – Facial expressions, posture, body language, eye contact.
3. Written communication – Written communication aims to disseminate information in a clear manner. It takes place through emails, reports, Tweets, etc.
4. Listening – Active listening helps us engage with the person we are communicating with.
5. Visual communication – memes, videos, images, anything that communicates a message.
Time to Build Your Virtual Team
As we mentioned, remote work isn’t going anywhere, and the workforce is rapidly transforming following the pandemic evolution. Effective communication is one of the pillars of building a great remote company, alongside a strong company culture.
With solid remote communication strategies, your team will make you proud – and get stuff done faster than you would believe. What’s the best way to get awesome IT employees that work remotely? We might know a guy… Just kidding, that’s us! Get in touch and knock on our virtual door!