Four Ways to Improve Communication with Remote Teams
Remote work is becoming the norm and it won’t be changing anytime soon.
Gallup research found that 51% would switch companies to work for a company with more flexible work arrangements. Gallup also found that employees who are most engaged spend 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely, a significant increase from 20% in 2012.
However, tech advances such as web conferencing and collaboration software cannot replace the lack of communication. This is where many companies fail.
Remote workers feel isolated and out of touch due to a lack in-person time with their team. One-third of these workers say they don’t have the time to meet in person.
Remote colleagues report feeling more like their colleagues are ganging up on them, don’t fight for them, and don’t tell them when they are going to change projects.
Four tips to improve communication between remote teams
Poor remote team communication is the root of all these problems. You must be proactive about identifying areas where communication and engagement are most likely to suffer from dispersion in your team.
These four steps can help you set the tone for a remote team who is inclusive, warm, and productive.
1. Share user manuals with your team.
A user manual is a written guide to help others (e.g. your colleagues) learn about you. It explains how you work best, what motivates and how to get in touch with you when you need it.
If this seems too personal, it’s because it’s not work. Employees spend more time with colleagues than they do with their families and friends. Many of us can infer a lot about our colleagues, from communication preferences and what they really mean when they address a request.
Remote teams cannot afford to guess what their colleagues think, feel and do. Leaders must encourage open communication between their teams, even if there is no way to read body language or other social cues via shared personal space. User manuals provide insight into the personal values, work styles, and preferences of each employee.
My dispersed team had written and shared our user guides a few years back. It worked best when our manuals were divided into six sections.
The best user manuals are created by everyone in the team. They then share them on a shared drive so they are easily accessible. Once everyone has their manuals, you can use web conferencing software for team-specific meetings in which everyone shares their manuals.
2. Adopt asynchronous communication
Remote team communication is mainly done via email or collaboration software.
What is the problem? The problem? Remote teams may lack in-person social cues, which can lead to anxiety, disengagement, as well as a lack innovation.
To prevent this on your own team, default to practicing asynchronous communication–sending messages without expecting instant responses. This is the best way to reach remote teams that work across time zones.
Asynchronous is not synonymous with infrequent. It’s the exact opposite. Be a good remote leader by communicating frequently. If you don’t make your expectations clear, your team won’t be able to meet them.
If you need an immediate response, indicate that by using the “@mention” feature in your project management software or including a form of “[URGENT] in the subject line.
Share a process document with your entire team. It explains what actions they should take if they have to make an urgent request. Keep this document in the same place as your team’s user guides.
Reserve instant responses for deadline-driven requests. Your asynchronous communication should be clear, concise, and explain the “Why” behind each request.