Keeping remote team communication active, engaging and consistent is a priority for remote organizations. With the plethora of articles on the subject, it may seem redundant at this point to emphasize on the importance of communication.
But there’s a good reason for it. According to a Holmes report cited by LinkedIn, poor communication costs businesses upto $37 billion, with the cost per company averaging at $62.4 million per year. Most of these stemmed from acts of omission, misunderstandings and misinformation.
Managers in charge of each remote team have to be more intentional about keeping their members accountable. And they don’t have it easy, given that they’re overseeing workers who are geographically distributed.
The trick to ensuring work stays on track lies in facilitating communication between the right people at the right time.
In this blog post, I’ll be elaborating on how to achieve effective remote team communication with tips, tools and processes that will not drive you, or your remote team crazy. Here it goes!
1. What is remote communication?
Remote communication refers to the communication in an office-less culture. It comprises the conveyance of expectations, decisions, announcements, shoutouts, updates and status of work between remote employees and their managers. Remote teams convene for virtual meetings, share knowledge material online and collaborate in a virtual office.
It’s a means of distanced communication by leveraging digital tools in lieu of in-person communication. Also known as virtual communication, remote team communication has been around for a long time and is not limited to only virtual teams. If you’ve sent emails, text messages, voicemail, or used video conferencing platforms, you’ve already communicated synchronously as well as asynchronously.
2. Examples of Remote Communication
There are many examples of remote communication. For simplicity, we’ll divide them into two categories; which are
Synchronous communication refers to those exchanges in real-time, such as phone calls and video meetings.
Zoom and Loom
These platforms are built for video calling and messaging. Loom enables users to leave video messages, similar to voicemail where you can record yourself and save yourself time typing out an email or getting into long meetings.
Phone calls are synchronous remote communication method managers and coworkers prefer to get quick updates from each other.
A scheduled discussion via meeting platforms enable remote users to see and speak to each other. This synchronous means of communication makes sense for group work updates.
SMS text messages
This defaults to one-on-one, although group texts are also applicable.
Slack, Samepage and Microsoft Teams
Such chat platforms consist of channels where coworkers can chat and collaborate in real-time over uploaded files.
Users can use mirroring applications to share code and collaborate on task reviews.
Asynchronous communication happens independently of time, meaning that the person receiving messages reverts at his or her convenience, such as responding to an email.
Project management software
Project tools centralize workflows, and make it easier to track activities, completion estimates and project constraints. People can leave comments and start notes for following up on pending actions.
Company Wiki or tutorials:
A few remote companies provide educational material in-house via company tutorials and academies to engage and instruct remote teams through how the business works, and what it does.
Video content comprises pre-recorded clips with information on a particular subject.
These guides refer to eBooks, white papers, case studies, newsletters, magazines and brochures that enable remote teams to keep up with the rest of the world.
3. Why is communication important in remote teams?
Communication is important because it keeps remote teams engaged. It lets you in on what people are thinking, what difficulties they are running into, and gives clarity over what everyone is upto. Consistent communication helps people work as one, and is key to completing work on time to meet targets.
More importantly, communication makes information available, and keeps the knowledge base running. Remote workers can initiate discussions on work and non-work related topics, and learn something new, or enable someone else to learn from them. The right remote communication tools help your team succeed and sets the stage for how they respond and react to shifts in the business landscape.
The tricky part is, overcommunication coupled with unrealistically short deadlines results in a person’s time going more into conversation than into work. And this is where stellar management comes in. Remote team communication ensures that
- Information being conveyed is clear to all
- Everyone has a say in processes, tools and ways of working.
- Managers get timely updates, freeing them up to think and plan strategically.
- Remote teams aren’t caught unawares of changes to leadership, company policies and job responsibilities
- A platform for grievance reconciliation is available.
- Both the manager and employee know how the employee is performing.
- Issues are attended to before they get out of hand.
- Workplace conflicts are proactively settled.
- Everyone feels included and involved in decisions that concern them and impact their performance and capabilities.
- Information is visible, available and reusable where applicable.
4. Remote Communication Meeting Etiquettes
Any meetings you get into should follow virtual meeting etiquettes. These are helpful in maintaining decorum and equanimity in calls. Here are some communication meeting etiquettes;
4.1 Set and convey the meeting agenda beforehand
Any online meeting you have should have a purpose, whether it’s a daily stand up to know what the team is upto, or an announcement of an event or activity. The agenda should list out the meeting’s intent in order to determine who all are relevant and should be involved. You can accordingly inform them and schedule the call for a time that works for all.
4.2. Compile and send out housekeeping rules
Next, create a set of rules and make the meeting’s initiator, speaking panel, facilitator and moderator clear in what you compile. For example, if it’s an announcement of the company’s takeover or that of a new hire joining, be sure to decide on who will be presiding over these meetings and the expectations for attendees in terms of their engagement.
4.3 Ensure only intended content is presented
Before going into presenter-mode and sharing your screen, make sure that you’re on the right window. Avoid keeping multiple tabs open in one pane and switching between them, as it can prove distracting and be difficult for meeting delegates to follow what you’re saying and seeing what is on the screen at the same time.
4.4 Mute yourself when you’re not speaking
This is a meeting etiquette that needs saying, given how often we either end up speaking when we’re on mute, or altogether forgetting to mute ourselves and letting background noises invade the meeting! When your turn to speak is over, make a conscious effort to remember to mute yourself out of courtesy to other speakers. This will require you to pay close attention to the meeting for the cues to when to mute, and unmute.
4.5 Ensure fair speaking turns
Everyone should have a chance to contribute to the meeting, which is down to the facilitator and moderator to see to. Make a time allowance of a few minutes for Q and A sessions post discussing the key points before concluding and ending the call. Encouraging everyone to participate invites more opinions and perspectives that can help you see things differently.
4.6 Ask for feedback
A good indication of how your meetings are being received is by asking for feedback from the participants. The feedback you get can help you know what you’re getting wrong and right. You could send out an email or anonymize a poll for more data with questions regarding how useful the meeting was to answering people’s concerns.
4.7 Compile minutes
Summarizing what was, or is being discussed can be brought up in future meetings as well, particularly if some of the points are relevant to the previous meeting. This compilation can be stored on the Cloud or Drive so that participants can revisit discussions in case of further questions.
4.8 Start and finish on schedule
Confine the meeting to a timebox so that work schedules aren’t impacted by lengthy discussions that eat into the bandwidth of the people available. Always be mindful of the clock and organize the meeting around talking points so that the agenda is not only discussed but is done so on schedule.
5. How would you overcome communication challenges in a remote team?
It’s easy to think remote communication will be as easy as cubicle conversations with a coworker at work. In reality, you have to be more consistent in your communication, failing which remote workers risk drifting apart. Some ways to overcome communication challenges in a remote team are:
5.1 Lay down the rules
Set rules for the purpose, means and tools of communication. The questions you should be asking yourself and the team are;
- How many ways are there to communicate, and which tools serve which purpose?
- What is an acceptable wait time to hear back from someone?
- Who should be in charge of facilitating, moderating and tracking group conversations?
- What will be recorded internally for quality and training purposes?
- How should workflow requests be sent to and from workers across different departments?
- How many types of meetings should the organization conduct across the work week, month and year?
- Can you invite the team for suggestions to set the next meeting agenda?
- Who does the team reach out to escalate and resolve issues at work?
- What times work best for priority discussions and casual conversations?
- What is the best tool or medium for casual conversations?
It will help having a calendaring or time zone app synced to your collaboration tool so that you are aware of the timings of other departments or teams in the virtual office space. You can then find an overlap in work times to rope in your employees and schedule discussion calls around their availability. Avoid making it a habit to have calls where one team has to stay back late or check in earlier than the others.
5.2 Standardize tool usage
Just imagine if a remote employee logged out and logs in the next day to find hundreds of missed calls and unread messages! Sounds overwhelming if it’s a daily occurrence, doesn’t it? Instead of bombarding them on Skype or through phone calls, text messages, emails and chats, decide on which tools you’ll be using, and for what. Document this in work policies so that employees know how many tools, and the purposes they will be used for. You are saving them considerable time going through conversations tied to their work.
Some remote organizations find it helpful to use a stepwise communication plan for follow-ups and checking in on a task status. It would list the acceptable wait time for responses on each tool, before moving to the next. If the wait time has passed for replying to a Slack chat message for example, the remote manager or coworker can move to the next tool to try reaching the person. And so on and so forth.
Standardizing tool usage keeps everyone accountable, and their work visible. It also makes it easy for everyone to function as a cohesive unit if they follow the same tools for the purpose outlined.
5.3 Encourage Video Calls
Whenever possible, have everyone turn their camera on during work and casual calls. Video calls recreate the feeling that you’re back at the office. When you are able to see who you are talking to, you can pick up on visual and social cues such as facial expressions to know how your points are being received. People are also likely to be more upfront, honest and comfortable when they see everyone. It may not make you a mind reader, but video calls are designed to help people truly express themselves. It helps remote teams build and sustain the rapport despite everyone not being in the same place at the same time.
It also increases transparency and enables each member to showcase what they have been working on. They can even screenshare and present to their audience and switch back to video to help gather feedback. This helps in quality improvement before the next meeting.
5.4 Centralize workflows
Even if you don’t work in the project management domain, it helps to have everyone use an online project management software. You can even opt to use a free plan or upgrade to a paid one for advanced features. Such a tool centralizes workflows and helps virtual employees log their tasks. Employees can access To-Dos and mark their progress curve on one or several tasks. They can also leave notes, comment on a coworker’s work, and be released or reassigned to help someone out.
Remote team managers can upload the project’s work breakdown and mark the resources allocated. They can also assign costs per activity and number of employees and balance the allocation against expenses incurred. Project management tools help you stick to timeframes for different activities. Managers can even get alerts directly as and when approval or sign off requests come in. This way, no matter which time zone an employee is in, they can still see what others have been doing. It ensures that the work starts and ends on time, or even ahead of schedule. And the best part is that you can check in on quality and get assurance as the work progresses rather than wait till the end.
5.5 Regularize virtual retreats and catch ups
An office-less culture thrives when there’s a balance between work and play. And the play part comes in the form of company retreats. You don’t need to work out of a physical workspace to organize a yearly or bi-annual virtual retreat for your remote team.
Remote managers can involve teams in deciding on a time and place for this by putting up a questionnaire on group channels. They can also plan out team-building activities( such as games and puzzles) to potluck and quizzes that they’ll want their employees participating in.
Make things interesting by announcing prizes for winners and runner ups to gamified challenges! Besides introducing everyone to one another and enabling different departments to network, retreats are a great way to cultivate work friendships. It helps them know who everyone is outside of work. Such events alleviate stress and give employees a much-needed break from office conversations. It also brings out team work and helps managers observe if everyone is getting opportunities to participate and contribute.
5.6 Make the time and effort to build rapport
You don’t want to be known as that team manager or colleague who only gets in touch when you need something from someone. When working remotely, you have to be more deliberate in maintaining a rapport with your team. A manager who puts thought and effort to know individual members outside of work will be highly regarded by their team, to the point that the team will vouch for their leadership ability.
This is because feedback and recognition goes both ways. And a team that rates their manager favorably speaks volumes of that leader’s principles. It also helps managers stay considerate and sensitive, particularly if the team comprises both extroverted and introverted employees. Rather than default to a one-size-fits-all approach, managers can base work relationships on a person’s comfort and get them to open up about how they feel about work performance, ongoing issues or future concerns.
A strong rapport establishes trust and supports workers to play to their strengths. It also gives them the means to overcome weaknesses and improve. Managers who touch base with their team regularly prevent anyone from feeling alienated or cut off from the rest. A rapport that lasts mitigates feelings of loneliness and isolation most remote workers face at some point .
A few tips you can use to build this rapport between remote workers are:
- Creating channels for random and general conversations.
- Conducting Ask Me Anything sessions with employees.
- Encouraging people to fill out surveys, questionnaires and personality tests and share their results with the team.
- Scheduling one on ones during a specific window to speak to each employee individually.
Cultivating relationships takes time, but is worth every minute. The focus is to ensure that you’re not leaving anyone out or letting their accomplishments and value go unnoticed. When workers feel included, they also feel appreciated. They are more likely to continue performing well, especially if the appreciation is accompanied with well-deserved rewards that are monetized or incentivised in the form of professional development, growth opportunities and trust in one’s ability.
5.7 Make plans and goals shareable
People can move in sync only when everyone is aware of the team’s objectives, project deadlines, member availability and how each member is expected to contribute. Pin the objectives for the week and month in a location everyone can access and revisit at a later time. Sharing plans also enable members to come forward with their concerns and get them addressed before commencing work.
Rather than having to go back and redo everything, a shared plan where the priorities are clear ensure that everyone’s schedule places meaningful work above unbillable busywork. Shared plans enable remote teams to communicate better and prevent oversights.
6. Remote Team Communication Tools
Strategies for effective communication begin with the tools you have determined will be useful to be on. Remote communication tools are categorized by their function, which are as follows;
6.1 Instant and latent messaging
Slack is a mammoth in the messaging space, owing to the built in facility to create channels, upload files, retrieve past messages, and create both work and water-cooler chats online.
Yac is a voice messenger and screen sharing application designed to replace redundant discussions. It lets you leave private voice clips and share announcements and update messages publicly to teams.
a Fleep review we did recently revealed it to be a universal communication platform. Besides contextualizing ideas by enabling them to be jotted down on a dedicated pinboard, Fleep also has file sharing, documentation and video conferencing capabilities.
Slite is a recent find, and one that I am glad I stumbled into! It’s a team documentation tool built for remote teams. It comprises an editor that formats code, links, tables and enables users to upload files.
6.3 Decision making
Fellow.app facilitates 1:1s and creates a central location to set meeting agendas and record decisions. It helps teams stick to meeting etiquettes and level up their attendance.
Acceptify lets all participants record notes, share and rate ideas. It helps both remote managers and teams measure the success of decisions taken by making the decision making process transparent.
6.4 Video conferencing
GoToMeeting has high-definition video and audio-calling functions with quick messaging options. It works for remote teams of all sizes.
UberConference is a video calling tool that includes conference calls, screen-sharing and record and replay options on a platform that is multi-device compatible.
Calendly is an appointment scheduling application to help members notify each other and their manager of their availability. Recruiters can also use it to schedule remote interviews. You just need to input your time parameters and customize the calendar to take booking during those times. You can set a buffer time in between meetings to take a little breather from back-to-back bookings.
Teamup is a calendar app for teams. It shows you the team’s busy and free times, so that you know when to ping them and when to expect updates to reverts.
6.6 Time tracking
TimeDoctor is a remote team tracking tool that tracks hours, web usage and matches hours to payroll.It is designed to make employee productivity measurable by blocking distractors, detecting idle-time and generating time reports and website access logs.
6.7 Task management
Asana is a task management tool with usecases for remote teams,calendars, task management, roadmaps,kanban boards and project management. It applies to teams working in sales, operations, finance and product teams.
Scoro is a project and work management software that helps you manage remote teams whose roles are client-facing. It lets you look into planned timelines, member availability,project dependencies and offers a birds’ eye-view of all tasks.
We did a Miro review not too long ago, and found that its whiteboarding features are complemented with a template library for wireframes and prototypes. Miro is a digital whiteboard that lets product ,design and creative teams collaborate in real-time, leave comments, draw and store ideas online.
Liveboard is a whiteboard app that lets unlimited users get access to unlimited boards in a search-easy gallery. You can save and share boards via social media or mail links. You can invite remote attendees to whiteboarding sessions with a one-click meeting invite.
6.9 Note taking
Simplenote is an open source note taking app for small remote teams. It removes distractions out of your line of sight and enables you to record notes on the fly to share instantly or later.
Fireflies is an Artificial-Intelligence(AI) enabled meeting assistant that records and transcribes voice conversations to text. You can plug it into any virtual conference platforms you’re using so you’re free to listen in while having the assistant run in the background to take notes where you want it to.
6.10 Project management
Trello is a popular project management tool that kanbanizes work, i.e. it uses kanban boards to mark work-in-progress, unfinished and completed work.This feature prevents team members from reworking what’s done without notifying the member originally assigned to the task.
Wrike is a project management platform with agile project management, resource management and project portfolio capabilities for teams in professional services and marketing. It lets users customize workflows and dashboards and enables routine audits to remove duplicate records and autocorrects erroneous entries.
7. Is Effective Remote Communication Possible?
In a word, yes. Remote team communication hinges on leaders being more involved and engaged as an example they want their team to follow. With the right communication tools, employers and employees can follow rules and stick to the agenda and etiquette such that there is no ambiguity concerning work contributions.
The main takeaways from this post, is that
Remote team communication is a joint effort. Everyone should have the provision to establish their presence.
- The devil is in the details. How effective remote team communication goes back to the technology stack you leverage, the frequency with which you meet online and how these discussions are conducive to getting work done.
- Remote teams should be able to understand which communication medium and tool works best and be in the position to suggest alternatives that they can get on board with.
- The environment should be interactive to keep communication trackable, visible and engaging. Everyone should be in the thick of action and feel comfortable about airing their feedback, opinions and suggestions for process efficiency improvement.
- Everyone remains considerate, respectful and respected for what they bring to the table.
- Communication mishaps can happen, and that a stepwise plan to following up can clear up misunderstandings. It ensures that you get the answers you’re looking for from the right person.?
Did you find this post helpful in structuring how your remote team communicates?