Today 43% of American workers work remotely at least some of the time. Flexible and remote working can give employees a better work life balance and allows employers to pick from a wider pool of talent.While remote working has many upsides, often there are increased challenges particularly around communication and loneliness as the state of remote work report from Buffer (a fully remote organisation) shows:
How to improve communication in remote teams
1. Over communicate
If your team is partially remote its easy to forget that those who work away from the office don’t have the chance to pick up on conversations in the office. This means by the time they join the next team meeting things might have progressed more than they expected or even changed direction, leaving them feeling behind or even excluded from the team.
Remember, no matter how small a decision or short a conversation, try to summarise important project updates or meeting notes and share them with the rest of the team.
2. Asynchronous communication
In remote teams, especially when working across timezones, communication that happens as fast as a quick chat across the office isn’t possible. While video conferencing and instant messaging are common and useful mediums, remote teams need to become comfortable with conversations which allow for everyone in the team to contribute.
Asynchronous communication means communication with your team will not happen in real time. Good practice is to ensure you send your whole message then wait for a response rather than waiting for feedback on point 1 before you share point 2 which could potentially stretch out conversations over days.
Aside from ensuring everyone who needs to be is included in a conversation asynchronous communication also reduces distractions for everyone in the team.
According to Gloria Mark of University of California, it takes 23 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. Without the pressure of needing to respond to instant messages or emails immediately you can feel more comfortable in snoozing notifications giving you the more space to focus on deep work.
3. Video call rules
92% of remote teams agree that video collaboration improves teamwork. It helps maintain relationships and human interaction for remote workers.
Video enables you to pick up on nonverbal communication and limits distractions. We all have to admit that it’s easy to zone out on a conference call and become distracted with emails, video is much more engaging.
4. All remote meetings
If just some of the team are remote, try a full remote meeting. With everyone joining remotely there’s equal chance to contribute. If you need to share data everyone will have the same view of the screen and nobody will feel outnumbered.
5. Start every meeting with an icebreaker
Gallup have consistently found that found that having a best friend at work leads to better performance. Building these types of relationships in remote teams is more difficult so it’s important to spend time on informal communication. Start every meeting with an icebreaker question, even if you’ve been working together for some time, slowly you’ll learn more about your team and what you have in common.
6. Share your personal profile
Think about how your personality and values play out at work. How do they affect the way you communicate or the way you prefer to receive feedback. Invite your team members to create a one page personal profile to share with the rest of the team to encourage more open communication and discussion. Statements on the profile could include:
- What drives me to do a good job
- Parts of the job I love
- Bits I try to avoid
- A story about where my values come from
- The best way to communicate with me is to…
- My alternative career: if money and skill were no object I would be…
7. Establish team norms
Team norms are the unwritten rules or behaviours a team adheres to. Usually these aren’t conscious or decided upon, they develop and transform over time. However research shows that working as a team to formally define norms can have positive benefits for the team. Norms are is a fantastic basis for providing control and security within relationships and increased psychological safety, particularly in virtual teams. Make sure you have specific norms around the way you communicate, including the following:
- Which communication channels should your team members be available via and when, e.g. email, messenger, phone, Whatsapp
- When team meetings are held
- When to expect a response from remote co workers
- When, if at all, remote team members should come to the office
8. Finally, if it’s possible, meet face to face
Studies show that virtual teams that met face-to-face in the early stages of the team had higher levels of trust than virtual teams that did not meet face-to-face, and these trust levels were sustained over time.