Improve communication in virtual teams with these simple steps
Managing Remote Developers / Remote Culture

How to Communicate Better With Your Virtual Team

Casey Shull
Author - - - 3 min. to read

Reliable communication between you and your virtual team is a crucial key to success when it comes to maintaining a business that thrives. When you manage a remote company, communication becomes even more critical and can be tricky to improve.

According to Culture Wizard’s 2018 Virtual Teams Survey, two of the main challenges for remote teams are time zone differences (88%) and difficulty in communication (86%).

There’s no water cooler where you casually can ask how the latest project is going. Your desk is not just a few steps away, so that employees can come to you with questions. And you probably can’t just call a meeting on a Wednesday afternoon when all you have for leverage is an email address.

What Happens When There Is No Communication in Virtual Teams?

Even when working in an office, healthy communication is key for productivity. In a virtual team, you just can’t get away without it. Problems will arise like low employee retention, lack of direction, misunderstandings among workers, low-quality services and products, and an overall loss of profit.

Without strong communication strategies, your team will lose focus, slowing down your company plan and forcing last-minute hiring processes to compensate for a slow workflow.

You already know this. The question remains how will you interact and engage with employees from different time zones? And why is it so important to establish a steady workflow based on stable communication?

  Best Practices for Communication in Virtual Teams

If you are reading this article, you are probably aware that communication at your organization could use some improvement. If you’re wondering where to start, here we have some valuable solutions for you to start implementing your remote communications strategies ASAP – yes, that’s how important they are.

1. Set Expectations Early On

When you hire remote workers, the best way to increase the potential of open and effective communication is to set your expectations upfront.

Be clear about what you’re looking for in an employee and what your company culture is like. Do you want them working at set hours or having more flexibility? Would you prefer an end-of-day or end-of-week virtual check-in? How much guidance are you willing to provide upfront and on an ongoing basis?

These are all critical questions to ask to set the tone for your working relationship. Make sure you’re communicating well and precisely what you want so that your virtual team can follow your lead.

You don’t want to tell a remote employee that they can complete tasks whenever they want as long as it’s done before the deadline. If you prefer to have the work turned in by 3 pm on deadline days, say it clearly.

Be specific when assigning tasks and provide detailed guidelines, so there’s no room or tolerance for guesswork. Address mistakes or any issues early on to prevent the problem from continuing in the future.

Communicating legitimate and clear expectations early on is the way to go if you want to have harmony in your virtual workplace – and put your remote team on the right track.

2. Consider the Right Communication Tools

According to Zogby Analytics, 41% of virtual teams still coordinate their work via text, Skype and even Facebook messenger.

One of the best things about working with a remote team is all the cutting edge tools and apps you can use. In virtual teams, you won’t be seeing each other face-to-face each day. So, it’s essential to make up for that missing personal connection by choosing the right tools for your business.

If project management is your concern, consider using project management tools to keep track of the team activities and create projects. There are a few valuable tools like Asana, Basecamp or Trello that can help you organize the workflow reminding deadlines and completed tasks. These tools are extremely useful to give a clear visualization of what is happening, facilitating the communication across departments. 

If you need to set up a conference call with employees, consider using tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, UberConference, or Zoom. Or if you prefer to chat throughout the day or address urgent needs and concerns, you can ask everyone to sign up for Slack (who is not using Slack nowadays?) and be online for a specific set of hours each day.

Action Step: Each team is unique. Do some research based on your communication goals to determine which tools would be best for smoothing out communication with remote workers.

3. Organize Regular Meetings

Meetings are probably the most basic and standard workplace activity, and it’s understandable why. They act as the common ground to bring everyone together and discuss relevant topics as a team.

When you manage a remote team, you can still host regular team meetings and you’ll probably want to, as it can be the best way to keep lines of communication open and meet synchronously.

Choose a platform whether it’s Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts, and set a clear purpose to make sure your meeting is productive and good use of everyone’s time.

For example, busy full-time remote employees may not have time for a 60-minute meeting each week, and you may want to consider doing a brief 15-30-minute weekly check-in call.

On the other hand, if lots of teamwork is required for projects or if you’re preparing for a massive launch, a more protracted, more in-depth meeting may be necessary.

4. Find a Rhythm That Works For You

You won’t ever find two businesses with the same workplace communication system – especially if remote workers are involved. 

Teach people how to contextualize their communications.  It’s crucial that you find a rhythm that works for you. If you find your way, your employees will feel comfortable and confident in speaking up and completing tasks.

Beware of over-communication as it can be counterproductive to ‘hover’ over team members when time and energy can be better spent on other activities.

5. Emphasize Your Values and Culture

Use your communication strategies to empathize and transmit your company values to your team. It will help each member to understand his or her role in the bigger picture.

The point of communication is not just reporting daily tasks, rather to create a moment for feedback and discussion. An open and ‘mistake-free’ environment will stimulate people bringing the team together towards the same goal. 

6. Create Opportunities to Connect Your Virtual Team as People

Last but not least, remember the faces on the screen you see belong to real people. And people have issues, opinions and hobbies. In short, they also have a life beside their job. Especially in virtual teams, it is essential to create occasion to share personal interests and bonding with casual conversations. 

How would you help your team hang out from a distance? 

As we said, each team is unique. So get creative with it! 

That’s What You Need to Know About Communication in Remote Teams 

If your business is open to change and flexibility, feel free to ask remote team members about their needs and desires. Explore different communication strategies and balance what you find out with your existing team. Remote is all about transformation, don’t be afraid to implement and change your communication strategies! 

If you do it for your team, it won’t ever be a limit but only an improvement. And if you still have doubts about tools and methods to communicate with your remote team, let us know! 

Casey Shull

Casey Shull is a freelance writer who works with DistantJob to research and synthesise the best remote work related content into practical, accurate and actionable guides and articles on how to improve remote leadership and better manage your teams.

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