For many managers, working with a remote team can be a pressing concern. Can you effectively connect with your workforce when they're not in front of you? How do you navigate through communication challenges like team collaboration or project coordination?
After all, effective communication is essential for business success. Without it, there's a high chance that problems will arise.
But fear not, remote managers! Whether you're navigating a transition to remote work or simply wanting to improve communication with your virtual team, there are ways to overcome any communication challenges.
Read on to discover 10 useful tips that will enhance remote work communication.
1. Create a Communication Guide
If you want your work operations to run smoothly without confusion among your workforce, it's imperative to set forth a communication guide. This handbook should enlist all the channels of communication that your team uses and their specific purpose.
For example, staff should only consider video calling for elaborative discussions, while instant messaging should be used for quick updates or questions. Email might be best when wanting to explain something in detail, give guidelines or discuss official matters, while phone calls are suitable for emergencies or running by some ideas.
It's also wise to designate one tool per method to avoid the chaos of having notifications and calls flying in from everywhere. Have your team stick to one app for messaging, one tool for calls, and so on. Setting these rules and guidelines are the first step in making communication with your distributed team a lot easier.
2. Communicate Clearly and Concisely
One of the main challenges of remote work is not being able to communicate face-to-face with team members. Most managers prefer dealing with employees in person, especially when it comes to discussing business decisions or strategies as it helps prevent confusion and misunderstandings. But with a virtual workspace, you have to make do.
When connecting with your remote employees, you'll probably be using a lot of instant messaging or email. Therefore, it's crucial to maintain clear and concise communication. When typing a message, use short and simple sentences rather than long texts with complex words.
If something needs elaboration, consider using voice or video calls to avoid long, and possibly confusing, written explanations. Written conversations can also lead to misinterpretation, as you can't rely on facial expressions or body language. It's best to watch your tone and review your message before pressing send.
3. Set Goals and Objectives
Having a remote team can pose difficulties in setting tasks, managing projects, and tracking progress. A lack of proper guidance and task allocation can lead to confusion among virtual employees. Your workforce needs to have clear direction and understanding of their targets and duties so that everyone is on the same page.
Use project management tools like Trello, Weekdone or Basecamp to set goals, objectives and tasks. These tools let you allocate jobs to certain workers, set deadlines, and track weekly progress, enabling you to monitor task status and completion. Use Google Calendar to mark important dates, events, and reminders that will let employees know they've got a task to complete.
With these task management tools, you can clarify every employee's objectives and hopefully establish a smooth-running remote working environment.
4. Don't Micromanage
When you're not in the same room as your team, making sure that they're on top of their tasks can be tough. Your paranoia can send you into a downward spiral of micromanaging - and you really don't want to make this leadership mistake with your team.
Avoid calling or messaging your staff too often, as this can distract and, eventually, demoralise your team, by giving them the impression that you're trying to control everything they do. Allow them to take control of their tasks and trust that they can get the job done without you hanging over their shoulders.
As tempting as it is, minimise any interruptions by only contacting your staff when absolutely necessary, not just when you need a small project update.
5. Make Yourself Available
Trust and reliability are essential among a remote workforce. Employees want to feel that they can depend on upper management when they have questions or concerns. A successful team leader can achieve this by simply being present.
Since they can't just step into your office, you can use instant messaging tools to let staff know that you're around. Just like having an open-door policy in an office, make sure you're always on-call or online in case they want to talk there and then. Also, be accessible if your employees want to have a quick video call for further explanation about a project, instead of them waiting for a message or an email reply.
6. Have Regular Meetings
Along with using project management tools, team leaders also need to keep staff updated by holding meetings regularly. Getting remote employees together can be challenging, especially if they work in different time zones. Still, with tools like Every Time Zone or World Time Buddy, you can arrange the most suitable time for everyone.
You can set up weekly video meetings to keep your team updated and even record sessions for staff that cannot attend due to varying time zones. Use video conferencing tools like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts to gather the team and conduct a meeting as you would in the office.
Video meetings are great for getting a team together and building trust. Indeed, Allsteel's national architectural and design manager, AJ Paron-Wildes told Forbes that '89 % of virtual teams will fail to be effective if they don't meet live at the start. Live meetings help relationships start well and nurture and grow them over time.'
7. Encourage Feedback and Collaboration
Creating a sense of teamwork can be challenging with a remote workforce. After all, your staff aren't in the same room. But there are ways to enforce collaboration and feedback within a virtual team. Group chats on Skype or departmental channels on Slack enable teams to have group discussions about shared projects. Video calls are also great for staff members to discuss business operations in a person-to-person kind of setting.
To encourage collaboration, managers should invest in good cloud storage solution such as Dropbox or Google Drive, which enables users to share and store a large number of files online. Plus, platforms such as Google Drive or OneDrive, for instance, allow employees to work on files together. Whether it is a blog post on Word or a monthly report on Excel, users can make new entries, edit and comment in real-time, making collaboration easier than ever. Other examples include BuzzStream which is excellent for coordinating email campaigns together, or Miro, which is brilliant for brainstorming.
8. Arrange Actual Meetups
Working remotely doesn't have to be a completely solitary process. Managers can arrange occasional meetups for staff who reside in the same location. You can organise in-person meetings every so often, or you can set up workshops and conferences to get the team together now and again. There's also the option of arranging trips or fun activities for staff to get to know each other in real life.
These meetups can improve communication among a remote team as employees get a chance to build relationships, resolve any problems or conflicts, and even strategise projects together. Organising actual meetups perhaps once a year is also an excellent way for managers to build a sort of company culture and show their staff that they care.
9. Be Human
As team managers, you have to find ways to make remote work effective and enjoyable for your staff. Your employees don't have the benefit of working side-by-side, cracking the occasional joke together or sharing life updates as they would in a normal office setting. One way to break the ice and humanise communication online is by enabling your staff to connect as people, not just as colleagues.
Use Slack or Skype to open designated channels or groups where members can discuss informal things like TV shows, share music, or weekend plans. Casual groups chats for your staff can build a sense of community for your distributed team, where they can share interests and fun content.
Another tip is to use GIFs and emojis in your messages. According to Kuty Shalev, founder of Clevertech, 'Using emoticons as reactions to the posts and comments of others has proven an effective way to incentivise better communication, improve transparency, and personalise each team's communications'.
10. Reward Your Staff
Your remote workforce may be out of sight, but that doesn't mean they're not putting in the work for you. Just as you would with an in-house team, you need to recognise their efforts and reward them for their achievements.
But how do you communicate your gratitude or celebrate a high-performing team member who lives halfway across the world? A simple celebratory infographic or employee of the month template shared among staff can be a great and easy way to say, 'well done'.
If you want to go a step further, gift them a voucher or salary bonus or if your employees are in the same area as you, consider treating them to lunch.
Successful communication in a remote team may take some effort, but with the above tips, you can achieve a workforce that's happier, productive, and motivated.
How have you improved communication within a remote workforce? Share your tips in the comments section below!