Thorough communication is incredibly important when your office colleagues can't walk across the room and tap you on your shoulder to find out something in a hurry. For distributed teams, communication becomes critical when working across multiple time zones.
The State of Remote Work report found remote workers' lack of communication/engagement with coworkers is one of the biggest concerns for remote team managers. First-rate communication tools alone might not fix the problem as their effectiveness is in the hands of the user. As such, it's vital to focus on shaping the right communication culture.
By implementing communication standards and practices, this common issue can be corrected, leading to improved productivity and outcomes. This is one area of focus for Remote-how Academy Managers — they teach managers how to build and lead highly effective teams despite the distance. Here are some of their tips for shaping a remote communication culture.
Too many employees waste time communicating over the wrong channels. They'll often recognize the purpose of different communication tools intuitively (e.g instant messaging, issue tracking or handling meetings) but it's crucial to make the purpose of the tools clear for everyone.
Prepare a communication toolkit with a list of tools and how your team plans to use each. This is a great foundation for further culture building. Leaders in your organization should be responsible for reminding everyone of the company principles and to reinforce them. Persistence will pay off because with time your team members will become guardians of these rules, helping you achieve a better communication flow.
Remote workers use written communication more often (e.g., Slack and email) which makes it easier to stress over our colleagues' messages and assume the worst. Small meaning and cultural differences can lead to confusion and sometimes unintended offense. Personality type can play into this, but even non-clashing personalities may misunderstand the intent and meaning of some written communication.
In this case, it's best to clarify someone's position before jumping to conclusions. Recognize that different people communicate in different ways. For example, whole-team calls might actually be stressful for some introverted team members. Instead, find ways to get people together in smaller groups. If your team is on Slack, the Donut bot pairs people up with a colleague, prompting them to set up a time for a video chat – something like this can be easier for those who don't like big social occasions.
It's important to remind people in distributed teams about the communication culture you want to promote because it doesn't come naturally to everyone. In some cases, these reminders are given in a public setting and everyone will see it. While it might seem harsh at the time, the whole team will benefit from it.
Don't be afraid to speak up when someone is reflecting "reply-all" mentality, and suddenly the whole company gets notified of a conversation. Ask this person to be more mindful the next time and cut back on team-wide notifications.
Having siloed conversations in private is another habit you might want to kill to protect your communication culture. Moving this kind of conversation to a public setting, where everyone can see and contribute improve the team's transparency.
In some cases, you'll see a coworker pinging a colleague multiple times, putting pressure on them to reply immediately. Aside from urgent cases, this is damaging to communication culture. If someone oversteps the guidelines and rules make sure to catch this behavior early on. Introducing a new habit that corrects and replaces a bad one kills two birds with one stone.
Although we know the benefits of working remotely, it's still beneficial to meet up in person when you can if it's practical for your team. While you might not be able to meet up with all remote team members, especially if they're halfway around the world, you can still organize an occasional get together. At these gatherings, you can brainstorm and work in ways that don't fully translate to the remote world.
By doing this every so often, you can really get the best of both situations. Remote work has its advantages, but so does working in direct contact with your team members. When in-person meetings aren't possible, video conferencing technology helps your team stay connected no matter where they are. Whenever possible, take the time to meet face-to-face — it's a great way to improve team bonding and socialize as well!
When developing your internal communication policies and culture, it's easy to focus on one aspect of conversation: work communication. Communicating with your team and colleagues shouldn't just be about tasks and outcomes. Make social communication an important part too. Ultimately, coworkers who chat, joke and relax together will work better together as well. It's easy to forget in a remote job that there is actually someone else sitting on the other side of the screen when you only communicate through messaging or email. Try to create a virtual water cooler on your chosen communication tool. Encourage people to spend some time chatting and posting. Get involved yourself and be enthusiastic, as this makes everyone else much more likely to engage.
Effective leaders understand that communication isn't something to check off a to-do list. Communication is a dynamic, ongoing process that requires continual monitoring and realigning as conditions and needs of a company change. If you're thinking about improving your remote working conditions, give the Remote-how Academy a try. With numerous experts from some of the world's largest remote companies, you're in the right hands with the Remote-how team.
Once you feel like your team members are on the same page with the communication rules and guidelines, start using tactics to ensure that they continue their investment in each other's success. Assemble cross-functional teams to work on improving communication or work on the quality of feedback. Follow-up is vital to ensure the continued success of building the right communication culture.
Interested in learning more about distributed management? Check out the Remote-how Academy for Managers starting October 9.