With the current state of the world, millions are leaving their offices behind to work at their dinner tables. An estimated 70% of workers will work from home by the year of 2025., for at least five days of the month. A huge part of the global workforce is now relishing in the freedom that working remotely brings. But, working from home comes with its own obstacles. Remote communication is one of the biggest challenges when transitioning to remote work.
How can you ensure effective communication when you work in a remote team?
The days of strolling down the hall to your co-workers office to ask a quick question are long gone. The slightest miscommunication could lead to misunderstandings, disappointment, or even a full-blown catastrophe.
When I started working remotely 10+ years ago the concept of not working from an office was still fairly new. I can honestly say I “survived” some serious miscommunications along the way. Some cost me my friends, some cost me job opportunities, but all made me improve my communications skills and over the years I collected some useful tips.
Thankfully, with the right strategy, you can improve how your remote team collaborates with one another.
Here are some tips to improve remote work communication and collaboration:
Keep Your Communication Clear
Face to face conversations are rare among remote workers. The truth is, it’s a lot harder to maintain clarity in communication when working remotely.
- Be Extra Clear to Avoid Misunderstandings
Remote teams have to learn how to interact without body language.
Without verbal cues like facial expressions, tone, and body language, your messages can come across rude or insensitive. You need to be extra clear when messaging or emailing a coworker, and sometimes a bigger explanation is needed.
- Be Concise
As important as it is to be clear, you also don’t want to write too much, as important information could be missed. Make an effort to share the intention behind your messages in as few words as possible.
And… don’t forget to review your messages (and check the tone before you hit send).
- Encourage Your Team to Ask for Clarity
Assumptions can happen easily with remote teams. To avoid this, encourage your team to ask clarifying questions. This will help avoid unnecessary confusion.
Agree on Communication Guidelines
Before you venture off into the world of remote work, it’s important to create communication guidelines for your team. The best solution to effective communication with your remote team is having a plan.
You should create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your team to operate within.
Some guidelines could include:
- What communication channels should be used for different types of information?
- How much time is expected for responses to be given?
- How much time is expected for tasks to be carried out?
- When is everyone expected to be available for quick communication (i.e. working hours)?
- Will you have daily, weekly, or monthly check-ins?
Try to be consistent with the guidelines you set. And, be mindful of time zones if you’re working with an international team. Your colleague likely won’t appreciate a 3 am wake up call to check up on a project.
Use Different Tools for Different Communication
Gone are the days of relying only on phone calls and emails.
Nowadays, we have a robust variety of remote communication tools available to us—and you should take advantage of them.
You should designate certain tools for different types of communication. Here are a few examples:
Yes, email is still very useful. But, only use email for lengthy forms of communication, or very important information. And, don’t expect a reply instantly.
- Video Software
Team meetings should be done over video calls at consistent intervals (i.e. weekly or monthly). It’s also great for one-on-one discussions. It helps add more clarity (think body language and tone). Plus, it adds to team camaraderie being able to see everyone’s smiling faces.
- Instant Messaging
An instant messaging tool is your virtual stroll down the hallway to your coworkers office. Whenever you need to communicate something short and sweet, or you need a quick response, an instant messaging tool can be a life saver.
Those frequent short conversations you’re used to having at the office still need to happen. Messaging tools are the remote solution. Plus, seeing everyone online or sending your coworker a silly emoji helps create a friendly team environment that’s great for morale.
- Project Management
If you can avoid an unnecessary back and forth conversation, you should do so. That’s where project management tools come in. Rather than wasting time going over “who did what” or “when is it going to be done” type conversations, invest in a project management tool.
This will allow you to share status updates about work without having to have another mundane meeting. Plus, a project management tool can help relieve the stress of hundreds of moving parts that you somehow have to keep track of.
- Bonus Tool: Video Recording Software
Have you ever been in a situation where you need to explain something but you can’t do it effectively through an instant message or email? Maybe you feel you can’t justify scheduling an entire meeting over it? That’s when you know you should record a video.
This is also a great solution when you have to share something visual to your teammate. It’s also great if you need to share your screen.
Make Time for Non-Work Remote Communication
One of the hardest parts of working remotely (especially for the extroverts) is being physically apart from your colleagues.
Work without play isn’t sustainable. You need to be proactive to have fun with your team in a friendly way to maintain effective collaboration and morale.
- Create a Virtual Water Cooler
The water cooler used to be the place to gather for some light and playful conversation with coworkers. Now, remote workers will have to settle for a quick chat with their cat—if they’re lucky.
One simple solution is creating a “virtual water cooler”. Some instant messaging tools like Slack allow you to create different channels. This is a great way to give your team a chance to talk freely about non-work things and share hilarious memes.
- Plan Remote Activities After-Hours
Team building is easy when your team can grab a quick bite to eat or a beer at a nearby restaurant after work. But, it’s not so easy when your coworker is halfway around the world.
Thanks to video conferencing tools, you can regularly “get-together” with your coworkers, even if they’re a thousand miles away.
Here are some virtual team building activities you can plan with your team:
- Virtual Trivia Nights
- Open Mic or Karaoke Nights
- Virtual Game Night (Jackbox games is a great option)
- Movie nights
Bonus Tip: Have a team dinner. If you know your coworkers’ addresses, surprise them with a pizza delivery during one of your scheduled team meetings. There’s something about sharing food that instantly brings people together.
Be Patient When Transitioning to Remote Work
If your organization is new to remote work, the most important thing is to be patient.
Be patient with your team, and with yourself. There will inevitably be a learning curve—especially if your team is older or aren’t very tech-savvy. Show your team empathy, take the time to teach them how to adjust, and answer any questions they have.
Encourage your techy coworkers to help out those who aren’t the most technical.
The best thing you can do is create an open dialogue with your team. Ask for feedback and how your organization can improve.
Creating a compassionate environment where your team can freely ask for help will go a long way.
What about you? Have you already transitioned to working remotely? Share some of your remote communication tips in the comments section below!