How to make remote team communication effective
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Remote work is the new reality. As families stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re starting to see social distancing efforts pay off. We’re also receiving a clear directive from many government officials: Don’t let up.
It remains unclear when we’ll return to traditional office settings. Even when we do find a new “normal,” remote work will likely have a permanent place in many organizations. So it’s critical that you take the steps now to ensure your remote workforce is set for success.
How to have effective remote team communication
In this blog, we’ll explore how to foster effective remote team communication. Follow these steps to keep your team in sync—and navigate the challenges to come.
Promote collaboration, not isolation.
When looking to stay productive while remote, it can be tempting to encourage independent, heads-down work. But if team members close themselves off too much, they risk working in silos. This can lead to overlapping efforts and wasted resources.
That’s why it’s important to promote collaboration among co-workers and teams. You can do this by prioritizing tools like Google Drive, Adobe, Dropbox, and GitHub. Encourage team members to keep their work in one accessible location. Suggest that important materials—such as copy or code—receive a peer edit as part of the review process.
If you know departments that use other tools, start a dialogue to see if these tools can be consolidated. Not only will this help you conserve resources; it’ll also unify teams through a centralized set of tools.
Have clearly defined project management.
Having the right tools will only get you so far. To stay productive when remote, you need clarity on what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and by when. This requires strong project management.
It’s possible your org’s goals have shifted in light of the current economic climate. Whether your team performs a single workflow or dozens, ask yourself how this work fits into the bigger picture. Are some tasks more critical than others? Who are the accountable parties for each? As you prioritize these tasks, take time to assign trusted project managers to see them through.
Part of the project manager’s role is to hold the team accountable to timelines and deliverables. You can use project management tools like Asana and Trello to keep everyone on track. Create a kanban board where team members can view progress on tasks and see who’s responsible for what.
Get teams into the habit of updating these boards regularly so everyone stays in the loop. This leads us to our next tip…
Make a habit of over-communicating.
When working from home, it’s easy for communication to falter. Without the body language of face-to-face interactions, team members may misinterpret messages and emails. This can quickly lead to trust issues between co-workers. Employees may feel discouraged to share new ideas. Certain tasks may fall through the cracks altogether.
In a remote setting, err on the side of over-communicating, not under-communicating. You can use messaging apps like Slack as a central hub for information. Encourage team members to share any ideas, comments, and documents with the rest of the group. If you’re implementing a change that affects team workflows, explain why the decision was made and how it will impact the org.
Throughout this process, try to give regular feedback to team members. This is a two-way street: Let your team know that you encourage them to provide the same candor.
Schedule virtual check-ins.
The reality of working remotely is that it’s difficult to get the same face time virtually as in person. Even when remote employees take a proactive approach to staying social, it can be challenging if other teammates don’t make a similar effort.
Virtual check-ins are a great way to address this issue. With your team, schedule a recurring time to hop onto a video conferencing platform and catch up. (You can use Zoom, Skype, or another communication tool.)
Your meetings can have a specific structure, like a daily standup or project sync. Or they can be informal hangouts for things like brainstorms or water-cooler discussions. The goal is the same: to provide frequent chances for co-workers to stay engaged with one another.
These meetups serve a dual purpose. For one, they help foster clear remote communication. But they also act as effective team-building opportunities.
In addition to team meetups, schedule weekly 1 on 1s with each of your direct reports. If these reports manage their own employees, ask them to do the same. This lets you touch base with individual team members and have them voice any concerns.
Be smart with meetings.
As important as it is to maintain face time with remote team members, be careful. Just because you can schedule a meeting doesn’t mean you should.
Despite the importance of virtual team-building, remember that everyone’s time is valuable. For those adjusting to remote work or a new setup, certain tasks may take longer than usual. Others may prefer to work during specific hours and keep others free. This is especially true for those with children or parents to care for at home. Throw on too many calendar invites, and these individuals can become overwhelmed.
Be strategic with your team meetings. First, take stock of all recurring ones. For each, ask yourself the following: Is this meeting critical to the org’s success? If the answer’s no, scrap it. This will leave you with the bare essentials.
From there, streamline how these meetings are organized. Float to other departments the idea of blocking off “no-meeting” times at points in the workday. That way, employees can have dedicated heads-down time. Or, they can simply tend to their kids/family.
By cutting down on various phone calls and video calls, you put important time back into everyone’s calendars. You also empower your team to make the most of the time available to them.
Understand your remote team’s behavioral drives.
We’ve touched on how certain behaviors may be more or less important in remote settings. For example, to avoid overlap and conserve resources, you need remote workers to collaborate. To maintain communication, you need them to contribute regularly to video calls and Slack discussions.
However, your people aren’t a monolith. Each is wired to behave according to their own workplace drives and needs. This means that, for some, channeling these desired behaviors comes naturally. For others, it takes far more energy to “stretch” themselves to fit the need.
Take the time to understand these different behavioral drives. Perhaps you’ll find that most of your team members are highly collaborative, yet introspective. Or, they may be more extraverted, with a preference to work independently.
By understanding the dynamics of your team, you can help each team member adjust to remote work. This starts by leveraging their natural strengths in a remote environment—and providing feedback where they can address any weaknesses.
Tailor your communication style to fit team members’ needs.
To help your employees work to these strengths, you must also understand how your own behavioral pattern relates to the larger team.
Let’s say half of your employees have a strong eye for detail. The other half have an appreciation for the bigger picture. If you send out a lengthy email with numerous action items, the detailed workers may follow it to the letter. Meanwhile, the rest of the team may feel completely overwhelmed.
Rather than ask that employees adapt to your personal communication style, see how you can accommodate their needs. If you’re highly meticulous yourself, you likely won’t need to do much to cater to the detailed half of your team. For the others, a simple solution may be to include a “tl;dr” (too long, didn’t read) section at the top of the email. This section will highlight the most important takeaways for the team.
The sooner you tailor your leadership to the team’s needs, the quicker you can address communication issues—and get everyone on the same page.
Lead your remote team through any challenges.
Regardless of what the future brings, the coming weeks will be challenging. Even if you manage a distributed team spanning cities and time zones, we hope these tips bring you closer together.
Above all else, be safe, and continue to take care of yourself and your people.