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How to Communicate Effectively in Remote Teams
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How to Communicate Effectively in Remote Teams

March 7, 2019
Remote teams communication - time zones

As technology allows us to be increasingly connected, more and more people are taking their work out of the office. In many jobs, whatever gets done on an office computer can just as easily be done on a laptop at home. Working remotely gives employees the freedom to choose their own hours, bypass long commutes and even work through severe weather. The only thing missing? Face-to-face communication. Without being confined to an office, remote teams probably won’t find themselves eating lunch together, chatting at the water cooler or celebrating birthdays. They might even work in different cities and time zones. All of these little missed opportunities for interaction make it a little harder to build relationships and establish effective communication with remote teams. But that’s not to say that it’s impossible. There are millions of resources and platforms dedicated to corporate communication, the key is using them correctly. It will take a little extra effort to communicate effectively in remote teams, but the benefits outweigh the costs.  

Small Talk

When it comes to remote teams (that likely communicate largely through email or other messaging systems), small talk doesn’t always come as easy. You’re probably not emailing your co-worker just to ask about what they ate for lunch, and when you have only a weekly Skype meeting, it’s natural to want to stay on task; however, you shouldn’t stop there. Making an effort to get to know your co-workers and what makes them tick outside of work will help build trust and strengthen your relationships in the long run.

Over-Communicate

It’s nearly impossible to communicate too much when it comes to managing a remote team. Check in daily, schedule one-on-one and team meetings, and ask about their days. You could try sending out surveys to assess your management style or ask employees for feedback in a more casual setting like an end-of-year meeting. The more you keep lines of communication open, the better you can help your employees achieve success.  

Schedule Communication

Communicating regularly is easier said than done. We can help hold ourselves accountable by scheduling time for daily check-ins. Whether that looks like weekly team meetings, a 4 p.m. debriefing via Slack or a monthly video call with each employee, it’s important that communication isn’t just an abstract goal but a clearly outlined, measurable and achievable benchmark.

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Give Each Communication Platform a Purpose

It can be overwhelming to keep up with email, Slack, Skype and the slew of other platforms that you likely communicate through on a daily basis. If there are too many different places to communicate, they can end up serving only as a distraction. By assigning separate tasks for each platform, the whole process is streamlined. Maybe Slack is used for progress updates whereas email is used for communication with clients and Skype is only used for meetings. It doesn’t matter how you delegate responsibilities to different channels, just that you make it clear to the team.

Share Calendars

Having a shared calendar is a great, easy way to keep everyone on the same page. Emails get lost and dates sometimes don’t get written down, but a shared calendar will keep everyone up to date with what’s on the schedule.

Be Conscious of Time Zones and Don’t Schedule Meetings for the End of Someone’s Day

With employees working from home, chances are at least one of them is in a different time zone. This means you’ll have to take into consideration not only when you expect employees to be working, but when they’ll be most productive. Obviously, don’t schedule a conference call at 8 a.m. EST if half the team works out of San Francisco. But also keep in mind that scheduling one at noon for someone in Europe might not be a good idea as it’s likely the very end of their workday and they’ll just want to get off the phone.

Be Careful With Tone

When you’re communicating online, it tends to be through text. Something that’s easy to forget is that text can rarely convey tone. What you might think reads as strictly informational, someone else may read as angry. You can avoid this, to some degree, by stating things very clearly, avoiding sarcasm, and throwing in the occasional exclamation point or emoji. I’ve been told I’m a ‘mean texter’ because I prefer ‘okay’ to “kk!!” Tone can only really be conveyed by speaking to a person. Which brings me to my next point.

Choose Video Calls When Possible

Video calls are the closest thing you’ll get to in-person meetings with your remote team.  Actually seeing each other encourages productivity and staying on task, whereas audio-only calls leave room for distraction. Video communication is more authentic and helps you get to know your team. Maybe your co-worker wears the same baseball hat every day or works in a local coffee shop. All of those little details help you build the type of relationship you would have if you were working side by side.

Be Free With Compliments and Encouragement

Lastly, don’t forget to tell your employees what they’re doing right. Constructive criticism goes a long way, but without some positivity now and then employees will only come to dread your feedback. Encouragement is one of the most effective things a manager can do. Reminding someone that you believe in their work or telling them that you chose them for a project because you think they’d do it the best could mean the difference between good and great work.

That was a lot. So let’s review.

  1. Encourage small talk
  2. Communicate more than you think you need to
  3. Schedule time to talk
  4. Outline the expected use for each platform
  5. Share calendars
  6. Keep track of each team member’s time zone
  7. Watch your tone over text
  8. Choose video calls
  9. Don’t forget to give positive feedback

Written by:

Kait Hobson
Workplace Innovation
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