10 Effective Solutions to Communication Challenges with Remote Teams
Ten years ago, if you saw someone working out of a coffee shop, either you’d have assumed they are a university student or a job seeker.
In 2020, it’s the new normal.
For organizations, this change brings a new set of communication challenges because let’s be honest, nuance is lost on email and emojis don’t exactly look professional when writing about the annual financial report, for example.
In this 10-step guide, I will share strategies and tips to help you master critical communication and management challenges with distributed teams.
Strategy 1: Build Trust in Your Team
Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Period.
☝️ ☝️ This needs to be said!
Micromanaging via email is the virtual version of looking over someone’s shoulder to find out what they are up to on their workstations. It is frustrating for the staff, hampers productivity, and could give rise to a toxic work environment.
As a manager, if your team has recently transitioned to remote work, it might be challenging at first to get used to the new workspace dynamic. However, it isn’t impossible!
One of the most effective ways to avoid going down that path is to hire people who are self-motivated and independent in their work ethic.
People work to engage their brains and get something done. Simply remember that just because you can’t see them working, doesn’t mean they aren’t.
Strategy 2: Adapt to the Challenges of Remote Teams
Only ever worked in “in-office” roles? It can be a difficult realization that breakfast-in-bed and morning huddle calls aren’t exactly a great recipe for increased productivity.
Therefore, it is important to identify and understand the gaps that exist when working remotely.
When you find out what these gaps are, you’re more prepared to adapt to them. Outright, a few of the gaps would be communication, technical issues, work-life balance, and low motivation to work.
Whether you are introducing a part-time work-from-home policy or going fully remote, you need to establish clear guidelines around it and communicate the same to the rest of the team. The only downside is they might look dry.
Visme.co offers a professional document creator that can help you spruce up tedious-looking memos with rich visuals and pictures.
Strategy 3: Invest money in team communication tools
As a manager, ensure everyone on your team is fully equipped to work remotely – be it laptops, a reliable Wi-Fi connection, cellphone plans with unlimited minutes, etc.
“But Mark, we are a small business and unlimited call/data plans are mad expensive.”
Well, what if I told you they don’t have to be?
For many small businesses, Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (that’s a mouthful, let’s call it VoIP) is an affordable and reliable way of communication. Instead of phone lines, this technology uses the internet for phone calls, text, video calls, and teleconferences.
Facebook Video, WhatsApp, Google Hangout – all are examples of popular VoIP platforms.
If you aren’t sure where to start, Nate Rand’s guide to best VoIP providers of 2020 is an excellent starting point.
Depending on how unique your team’s communication needs are, the costs of implementing VoIP technology may vary widely.
Factors such as team size, number and location of remote teams, frequency of meetings, and presentation needs could greatly affect the cost and it can seem overwhelming.
To make that step easier, I recommend giving this amazing blog on the pricing breakdown of VoIP services a read.
Strategy 4: Create Team Communication Redundancies
What are communication redundancies?
I would like you to picture yourself in a meeting room with your team and a client. Your associate miscommunicates something, but the clock is running out, so you aren’t able to address it right away. What do you do?
As you both walk out to grab another cup of joe, you mention it in a comment that helps clarify the ambiguity.
Simply put, when a team works in an office, there are more opportunities to interact. So now with your teams distributed across the globe, these opportunities become quite limited or virtually nonexistent.
How do you make the most of the few ones that do exist?
Here’s where meeting agendas, takeaways, and the age-old art of note-keeping 📝 come in:
- Before any information-sharing meeting (except the ones that could’ve been an email), share a brief document highlighting the agenda to help bring people up to speed and prepare.
- Record and save important meetings like those for annual strategy planning.
- Post-wrap-up or at the end of the week, share a quick rundown of meeting minutes and key takeaway points with the attendees and also those who may have missed the meeting.
These steps help avoid misinterpretation at a later date as you are making it easy for the team to reference things. Think of them as a backup plan for communication.
Strategy 5: Invest in Collaborative Software
In-office brainstorm sessions fuel some of the best ideas and are critical in keeping teams engaged and motivated at work.
However, for you as a leader, trying to recreate a similar experience online might prove to be a bit of a challenge if you lack the best collaborative tools to do so.
Firstly, you should figure out what you expect from a collaboration tool. Based on your needs, you can choose from various team collaboration tools offering features such as:
- Project Management
- Audio/Video Conferencing
- Chat/Instant Messaging
- Time Management
- File Sharing/FTP
- Knowledge Management
Secondly, if you are unsure which one to get, many providers offer a free trial period, so you don’t have to commit to one right away.
You can also make use of shared software tools. For example, this integration with Monday.com lets you assign tasks and send those items on Microsoft Teams. Similarly, there’s one available for Google users combining the Calendar and Sheets apps.
Strategy 6: Use Visuals and Pictures to Jazz Things Up
As someone who works a lot with data, I use all tools available at hand in a meeting to demonstrate what I am talking about. Nothing is off-limits – whiteboard, flipchart, or post-its! How do I replicate this in remote work?
You can do this by sharing easy-to-understand diagrams with your team. Use short sentences and simple icons to demonstrate complex processes and ideas. Circulate them widely and make it convenient for your team to reference them at a future date.
You can also visualize your strategy with a snazzy presentation deck from Visme.co!
Strategy 7: Foster online-first office culture
For many folks, the office is also a place to socialize and meet new people. Jim and Pam (from “The Office”) would not have happened had they been working remotely the entire time.
It’s easier to find out what co-workers are up to, grab lunch with them, or organize after-work drinks when everyone is sharing the same workspace.
Work culture vastly contributes to a healthy work environment and there are many spontaneous ways to achieve it while being fully remote. You can –
- Share pictures of your WFH workspace setup, cats, lunch, or your kids! Communicate at a twice the rate you would in an “in-office” setup.
- Create discussion threads about off-work topics such as binge-worthy shows to stream, baking recipes, or pets.
- Host virtual hangouts that bring office culture to the entire staff, for instance, quizzes, bingo, polls, or after-work drinks. 🍻
Recent office closures in March 2020 prompted a viral trend where people shared photos of WFH workspaces from IKEA showroom-worthy workstations to unglamorous ones like these 👇🏼
Strategy 8: Set Clear Timelines and Expectations
Working from home doesn’t mean working all hours. You can avoid possible distractions and procrastination tendencies by setting a schedule with clear deadlines, allowing time for regular breaks and lunch, which is where setting a timeline comes into play.
As a manager, you should encourage your team to log off at the end of the day and not respond to emails or calls unless it’s an emergency.
Another suggestion is to get together with your staff and outline clear expectations of each remote worker. If you would like everyone to remain online during work hours, let them know beforehand.
This helps people stay accountable without the need for micromanagement.
Strategy 9: Regularly Touch Base with Remote Teams
This step builds on the online-first office culture. Remote working can get lonesome. It comes with the territory.
Along with digital hangouts, it’s important to regularly check in with your team and actively work towards boosting their morale. Touching base regularly also helps identify roadblocks to project progress before they snowball into a bigger issue.
Strategy 10: Meet-Up in Real Life
Lastly, you should ensure to meet up at least once each quarter as a team. While remote work sounds ideal on paper given it cuts down on commute times and worker fatigue, it’s far from being a wonder drug for increased productivity.
Many companies with distributed teams will have remote team meetups at least twice or thrice a year.
46% of Mozilla’s 1100-people-strong workforce is remote and distributed globally. A couple of times a year under the ‘All Hands” program, paid staff and volunteers come together in a city to connect and interact with people they may only see over Zoom.
Remote working forces – in a good way – organizations to become more intentional in their communication. If you follow the strategies above, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both managers and teams.