Tips for Better Communication with Remote Teams
9 min read
The Challenges of Remote Team Communication
Trouble Keeping Track
When employees don’t share an office with their coworkers, it can be tough to keep track of:
- What everyone is working on
- What hours they work, if they have a set schedule at all
- When they’ll be available for contact
- Who’s on vacation and how long they’ll be away
All of this can get in the way of effective remote team communication. When no one knows who’s doing what—or when they’re doing it—it can be difficult to connect and collaborate. And the more members a team has, the more difficult it becomes.
Lack of Body Language
Text can’t convey tone of voice, and it certainly doesn’t show a person’s facial expressions or hand gestures. That’s a problem, because body language is a major factor in communication. In fact, experts say that 93% of all communication is nonverbal.
That means that when remote workers never speak face to face, they’re missing out on a key element of how humans understand one another. At best, they’ll have trouble forming meaningful relationships with one another. At worst, there may be rampant misunderstandings and conflict. Both outcomes will hinder team unity and productivity.
Many remote employees struggle with a sense of isolation. It isn’t easy to connect with your coworkers when they’re miles away in another time zone. They’d have to put effort into those connections, and in many cases, they never really try.
Plus, what contact they do have with their colleagues is often exclusively work-related. There’s no water cooler, cafeteria, or breakroom for casual conversations. It’s all business, all the time. Under those conditions, it’s almost impossible for coworkers to become friends.
Fewer Employee-Manager Meetings
It isn’t only important for team members to connect with their peers. Establishing a relationship between team leaders and the members they oversee is also essential to managing remote teams—and that requires one-on-one meetings. Team members will give their leaders insights and information in a 1:1 meeting that they never would in a group setting.
But in a remote context, those 1:1 meetings are often forgotten. Even if you’re holding group meetings, you may not be engaging in personal communication with individual members of the team. This creates a divide between managers and the employees who report to them, which can be devastating to the success of the whole team.
How to Improve Communication for Your Remote Teams
There are undeniable challenges for how remote teams communicate. Fortunately, they can be overcome. Here’s how.
Hire the Right Employees
The first step to improving remote team communication is hiring quality remote employees. If your remote teams are made up of unmotivated, unprofessional employees, you shouldn’t expect great communication. But by attracting top talent to your company, you can build your teams with skilled workers who will actively contribute to a collaborative environment.
One of the biggest differences between remote work and a traditional office is how much more intentional you have to be with communication. Effective remote team communication doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to make it happen.
So start by making communication a priority. Decide that you’re going to put in the effort to create and sustain healthy communication throughout your remote teams. Commit to that goal, and the payoff will be well worth it.
Develop a Healthy Company Culture
Company culture is every bit as important for remote employees as it is for traditional office workers—especially when it comes to communication.
The quality of your remote team communication will hinge on the quality of your company’s culture. By developing a cooperative, goal-oriented company culture, you’ll establish a context where valuable communication is possible.
One of the best ways to strengthen your company culture is by creating a public org chart for your organization.
Use the Right Tools
The market has provided numerous handy tools designed to help remote teams communicate and collaborate effectively. These include:
- Project management tools
- Video conferencing software
- Public org chart software
- Messaging apps
- Virtual workspaces
These tools are a great way to keep everyone up-to-date and on the same page, making communication easier. Best of all, most of them have a free option for smaller businesses and startups.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite remote team collaboration tools here.
Leverage Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
Synchronous communication is any communication that happens in real-time. The most common examples are phone calls, video meetings, and live chats.
Asynchronous communication means sending a message that doesn’t guarantee an instant, real-time response. Emails, texts, and dashboards are the most common forms of asynchronous communication.
Synchronous communication is ideal for team building, socializing, and situations where you need real-time collaboration or feedback from team members. A Zoom call with the whole team can be a great replacement for a roundtable discussion, for example.
On the other hand, you don’t want to overwhelm employees with constant meetings. Asynchronous communication is best when you and your team don’t need an immediate response. (Or in some cases, any response at all, such as when sending out an announcement.)
This makes asynchronous communication especially useful for remote employees who live in different time zones with different work schedules.
For the best results, use a combination of the two approaches, balancing the pros and cons of each.
Hold Regular Meetings
Schedule team meetings on a regular basis—at least once a week. Providing a consistent opportunity for remote employees to check in and touch base will help keep everyone on the same page.
But more importantly, it’s a great way to cultivate a team spirit and give your remote employees a sense of belonging. Just make sure to use a video conferencing tool like Zoom. That way, they can see each other’s reactions and facial expressions, making it easier for everyone to connect on a more personal level. If they can’t be in the same room, they can at least enjoy the next best thing.
Running virtual meetings can be complicated, though. It takes some practice. For some actionable tips on how to conduct virtual meetings well, take a look at this post.
Keep It (Semi) Casual
Nothing kills effective remote team communication like forcing a stuffy, overly professional tone. Create situations where your team can communicate like people, not just coworkers.
Of course, using icebreakers in your video meetings will help with this. Another good method is to set up a channel in Slack (or whatever collaboration app you use) where employees can chat about topics totally unrelated to work. They may want to:
- Share updates about their personal lives
- Upload cute or funny pictures of their pets
- Post relatable memes
- Discuss their favorite hobbies
- Gush about that Netflix show they’ve been binge-watching lately (no spoilers, though!)
Think of it as a virtual water cooler. By giving your team an outlet for casual conversation, you can help reduce friction and inspire camaraderie.
And regardless of what your remote team is discussing—whether work-related or not—encourage them to use emojis, GIFs, and reaction images. (As long as it’s appropriate, of course.) This will inject a little personality into their conversations and keep things lighthearted.
Less stress is always better.
Every professional environment should have standards for how people communicate, and remote teams are no different. If anything, it’s even more important for employees who only communicate through messages and calls. Establish some ground rules to ensure that everyone speaks respectfully to (and about) one another in every context.
Put these policies in writing, too. Spread it around so everyone understands how they’re expected to behave. That way, there’s no room for excuses if someone crosses a line.
Lead by Example
Hiring quality employees, using collaboration tools, and establishing rules are all critical for improving remote team communication. But a truly effective communication culture starts at the top. Employers and managers must lead by example.
Engage with your team and encourage them to do their best. Offer useful feedback and make it clear that they can come to you with any questions or concerns they have. Speak respectfully and honor boundaries. And of course, don’t forget to loosen your tie sometimes and be a person, not just a professional.
Do all of this in group meetings, of course, but don’t forget to schedule consistent 1:1 employee-manager meetings. You’ll get to know them much better, and vice versa. They may even have some ideas of their own on how to promote better communication.
And that’s the rundown! By putting these remote communication best practices into action, you can boost your team’s efficiency, productivity, and morale. Want some more insights on how to manage remote workers? We’ve got you covered: