5 Tips for Effective Communication While Working Remotely
⏱ Reading Time: 9 minutes
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have asked their staff to work remotely. For many employees, that was the first time to work out of the office and be separated from their coworkers.
Contrary to popular belief, adopting the remote work policy remains an immense challenge. As a remote team manager, you need to be aware of the unique challenges your distributed team is facing, such as the lack of in-person supervision, poor collaboration with the team, different time zone, social isolation, and distractions at home.
Here are five tried and tested tactics for ensuring effective communication in your remote team.
1. Increase Team Productivity with a Project Management Tool
Effective project management is the core of your business. Since your employees are working from multiple locations, tracking tasks and deadlines via Google Spreadsheets or crowded email inboxes would eat up lots of their time.
That is where you should consider investing in a cloud project management tool like Basecamp, Trello, or Asana. With these software solutions, you can split your work into multiple projects. That way you can bring the employees working on the same project together and ensure their effective communication.
They will be able to create new to-do lists, add assignments, and set deadlines. Within each project, they can share files in real-time and use a shared calendar to stay on top of their priorities.
Picture 1. Project management tools are one of the keys to effective communication
2. Build a Feedback Culture for your Remote Team
When working in-house, employees are used to seeing their managers and coworkers every day. They talk to them regularly and use their communication skills to understand what their team feels about them. When working remotely, on the other hand, your employees are missing those essential cues. To boost their morale, you need to focus on building a feedback culture and nurturing effective communication.
For starters, track employee performance and engagement. That is where tools like Desktime, WorkiQ, Time Doctor, and ProofHub can help. Based on the data you collect, create detailed weekly or monthly performance reports for each team member.
Rethink your employee performance metrics.
When creating employee performance reports, remember that the traditional 9-to-5 grind does not cut it in remote settings. There is no need for obsessively checking your emails or project management tools to see when your employees log in and out. Those practices would only harm your team’s motivation and performance. Instead, you should compare each employee’s performance and task completion against the objectives you have previously set.
Picture 2. Do you track your employees’ performance?
Always have time for small talk.
Managing a remote team is not all about scheduling an online meeting to discuss what needs to be done and sending mounds of emails. You also need to build trust with employees by providing the opportunities for effective communication. One of the most effective ways to do so is to build rapport with every member of your remote team.
Regular 1-on-1 meetings will help you learn about the people you only see during weekly online meetups. That way, you will get to know your remote staff as complete persons with unique fears, problems, motivations, preferences, and career paths.
Given that it is challenging for your remote employees to reach out to you ad hoc, you should reinvent your open-door policy and schedule longer meetings. For example, you could give each employee a full hour every week so you can listen to them carefully and dive into their feedback.
Gamify employee feedback.
To engage employees and encourage them to provide regular feedback, you should also gamify user experiences. With Typeform and alternative form and quiz builders, you can create highly targeted and engaging employee satisfaction surveys. Additionally, you can also use quiz builders to:
- Create job application forms
- Design candidate experience surveys
- Launch employee onboarding guides
- Keep meetings engaging and easy-to-follow
- Choose topics for meetings
- Vote on team-building events
Picture 3. Encourage your employees to give feedback
3. Set the Norms of Effective Communication
When managing a distributed team, you should create strict guidelines on effective communication. Here are a few simple rules to follow.
Give each communication tool a designated purpose.
With a wide range of IM tools, calling apps, video conferencing tools, project management tools, and email platforms, team communication may soon become chaotic. Continuous distractions and confusion will only frustrate your staff members and put a damper on their motivation and performance.
As a remote team manager, your goal is to prevent that by making it easy for your remote employees to communicate. For starters, you should give each communication platform you use a clear purpose.
For example, use Zoom and its alternatives for video conferencing. Slack is perfect for effective communication on a daily basis, employee bonding, and sharing the company’s milestones. Use a project management tool to delegate tasks, leave comments about specific projects and to-dos, and share important files in real-time. Emergencies should be addressed via phone calls, while formal matters should be handled via email.
Picture 4. Use various communication tools
Consider a comprehensive team collaboration tool that will centralize employees. Many small business VoIP solutions provide team collaboration suites that incorporate phone calls, voice and video conferencing, 1-on-1 video meetings, instant messaging features, and file/screen sharing. Most of them also offer noise-canceling or background blurring features that let your employees eliminate distractions at home and seem more professional.
With a wide array of team communication features living happily under a single tool, it will be easier for you to standardize employee interactions.
Cater to employees living in different time zones.
When switching to remote work, you have the opportunity to attract top talent from all around the world. Sure, hiring employees that are living in different time zones can make your day-to-day communication a real challenge.
For example, if your employees are based in the U.S. and Australia, there will always be someone answering calls at awkward times. Your goal is to adapt your schedule to your employees’ specific needs. Make sure meetings are flexible and convenient for everyone. No one should feel left out from important meetings, ideating processes, or celebrations.
Determine what type of communication is appropriate.
While some employees favor short and concise messages, others write detailed email responses. Their preferences, tone, response times, and tolerance for humor also vary.
While it is normal that everyone has their own communication style, your goal as a team manager is to insert clarity, consistency, and predictability into employee communications. For starters, create clear guidelines on what is (not) appropriate in terms of subject topics, language, and digital content.
For example, many remote teams use emojis and GIFs to humanize and lighten up conversations. That is logical given that, without visual or auditory cues, written messages may sound angry or even rude. However, to ensure professional and effective communication, you should determine what types of GIFs and emojis are appropriate.
4. Make Time for Fun
In an office, your employees spend a lot of time together. They are working side by side, taking lunch breaks together, and chatting around the water cooler.
Even though your employees do not have a literal watercooler, you can create a virtual one. For example, create a team space for social connections, such as a Slack channel, a microblog, a Facebook group, etc. That is where your employees can share content that is not related to work. Motivate them to share photos of their pets, talk about their lunch choices, send birthday cards, and post fun GIFs and YouTube links.
Those channels will remove the feeling of distance between your employees and lay down the foundation of future collaboration. Most importantly, they are perfect for creating fun company rituals. For example, you could bring your office online with digital events, such as an online trivia night or a virtual pizza party.
For example, GitLab is famous for encouraging informal employee communication in all-remote environments. The company encourages remote staff members to take virtual coffee breaks together via video conferencing software. They have also executed a worldwide scavenger hunt, arranged global pizza parties, and created a virtual lunch table.
Sure, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for throwing creative group gatherings. It depends on your company culture, your employees’ interests, and their perceptions of effective communication. Experiment with different approaches until you find the one that resonates with your remote staff the best.
Picture 5. Create fun company rituals
5. Provide Encouragement
The CNBC All America Survey published recently highlights that 42% of U.S. workers that worked from home during Coronavirus had not telecommuted before. They needed to adapt to the abrupt shift to remote work and that is where many performance issues started to surface. From using new tech tools to loneliness, the challenges your remote team members may face are multiple.
Listen to your employees and empathize with their problems. For example, if you notice that one of your top employees is struggling, ask them whether the remote work scenario is working out for them. Listen to them carefully to understand the source of their concerns.
You need to recognize employees’ stress and anxiety and, at the same time, help your remote team beat it. Let your employees know that you understand how they feel in these uncertain times and show them that everything is under control. Prove that you believe in them.
Studies on emotional intelligence explain that managers’ attitudes impact group behavior. In other words, if you communicate helplessness, your team will also be dissatisfied and anxious.
Adapting to the New Normal is all about Effective Communication
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work. It has put an emphasis on remote work and made us understand that this working style is our future.
However, just adopting the remote work policy is not easy. When making a switch to remote work, your employees will face numerous challenges and performance issues, from the lack of employer feedback to distractions at home.
As a manager, you need to understand the problems your remote team faces and address them. Implementing the tips mentioned above will help you enable effective communication in a remote team, boost their morale, and encourage their loyalty in the long-run.
How do you encourage effective communication while working remotely?
Lauren is a regular Bizzmark Blog author that has many articles published with the main focus on clients who want their brands to grow in the fast-changing and demanding market. Her personal favorites are successes of small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. She goes through life with one strong moto – Kindness, always.
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