If you hadn’t already realized it, remote teams are here to stay. What was generally considered a temporary solution to lockdown restrictions in the face of the COVID pandemic has now grown and evolved, become part of the fabric of business operations, and even, in many cases, superseded the conventional and sometimes restrictive structures of office-based work.
However, with rapid change comes new challenges that businesses and individuals are now waking up to. Remote team communication is one of the biggest, and there is a range of new considerations that managers and employees must factor into their everyday activities.
There’s no doubt that effective communication is key to good collaboration and increased productivity, but how can we help team members who are geographically dispersed communicate and collaborate? These are the questions that many businesses are now asking themselves, and when added to the usual challenges surrounding team communication, they can quickly add up to a whole mess of confusion!
The good news is that, by sticking to seven core principles, you can effectively build a thriving remote team that communicates and collaborates with ease, optimizing your projects and increasing employee satisfaction while continually improving team dynamics. Read on to learn more.
Principle I: Establish Clear Communication Channels
Remote teams are highly dependent on clear communication channels that leverage intuitive tools that can be accessed and used without too much app switching. Think about it, if you have ten different tools for communication, the chances of messages getting lost are ten times higher than if you use one. It’s basic math.
However, using a single tool is not always possible, as communication may occur across multiple channels. This means email, instant messaging, videos conferences, project management tools, tasks and to-do lists, document editing, and collaborative brainstorming spaces.
The good news is that Spike can achieve this and much more, with Conversational Email striking the perfect balance between email and instant messaging. It allows your team to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously when required, with video conferencing capabilities, tasks and to-dos, and shared calendars allowing your team to stay connected and collaborate effectively.
Whether you decide to use Spike solely or you want to introduce additional tools for remote team communication, it is crucial that you define the purpose of each channel and encourage consistency in communication. This means using different communication channels to serve different purposes. For example, email may be best for longer, more formal messages, while instant messaging may be more appropriate for quick, informal communication. Making this distinction can help team members prioritize what needs to be addressed and when.
Principle II: Set Expectations and Boundaries
With many remote teams keeping different hours and even working on different days from one another, it’s imperative to set expectations and boundaries for your team to stick to. To begin with, clearly defining team goals and individual responsibilities helps ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives. This means that you must ensure everyone on your team understands their role and how it contributes to the overall success of the project or team.
Next, clearly defining working hours and availability must be a priority. Remote team working has the inherent potential for team members to send and receive messages at all times day and night. However, no one should be expected to be working 24/7, and keeping everyone on your team aware of expected work hours and availability is key to avoiding misunderstandings and ensures that everyone is working together effectively.
Finally, remote work also has the potential to blur the lines between work and personal time, so it’s essential to encourage your team to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Set realistic expectations for workload and encourage team members to take breaks, step away from work when needed, and prioritize well-being and health.
Principle III: Foster Open and Transparent Communication
Since remote teams don’t often (or ever) get the chance to meet face to face, it’s important to foster open and transparent communication that, in essence, can replace the informal work chats that often result in new ideas or help to boost motivation. Encouraging your team members to share ideas and feedback freely helps create a safe and inclusive space where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. This is a huge step in building team trust and helps to boost innovation and creativity within the team.
Regular check-ins and updates can also help keep motivation up and ensure everyone understands their roles. Schedule regular team meetings, and one-on-one check-ins, and introduce progress reports to keep everyone informed of project developments and goals. Video conferencing is a great way to do this; even a simple phone call can make all the difference.
Perhaps most importantly, however, trust and accountability are essential for open and transparent communication within remote teams. When your team takes ownership of work and holds each other accountable for meeting deadlines and achieving goals, you can be sure that your projects are moving forward productively.
Principle IV: Emphasize Active Listening
Active listening is a soft skill that is highly valued within companies, helping build trust and develop a rapport with team members while holding off your opinions until they are truly needed to allow individuals to express their ideas and concerns. However, active listening can be a challenge when it comes to digital communication.
Effective virtual listening requires concentration and focus. To listen actively in a virtual setting, it’s important to eliminate distractions, maintain eye contact, and avoid multitasking when on video calls. Try to paraphrase or summarize what the speaker said to ensure that you understand their point of view correctly.
Instant messaging can be even more of a challenge, and the key to “active listening” here is to take your fingers off the keyboard for a moment! Often instant messages come in bursts of thought, almost stream-of-consciousness style, so it’s important to let your team members get their thoughts out before you wade in with what you think the answer to their question is!
In addition, encourage empathy within your team so that members can understand each other’s perspectives and work collaboratively while also ensuring that non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language, are factored in. Remember, in remote settings, conventional non-verbal cues may not be possible, so ask your team to use emoticons or animations to convey non-verbal cues throughout instant messages and emails.
Principle V: Leverage Visual Communication
Visual aids can enhance remote communication significantly, making it more engaging and effective when conveying complex ideas or data. In fact, it’s one of the true superpowers of remote teams, and it should be used whenever possible and appropriate. Your team should introduce charts, graphs, infographics, and images, as well as video presentations and animations to convey complex ideas and hold the audience’s attention to make communication more memorable.
Video conferencing and screen sharing are also extremely powerful tools for remote teams. To ensure that these tools are used effectively, make sure that team members have the necessary technology and that the video conferencing platform is reliable. Also, it’s critical to ensure that shared screens are intelligible, not just a mess of pixels, and that team members have the necessary permissions to access the shared screen.
Finally, when creating presentations, make sure to use clear and easy-to-read fonts, avoid cluttering screens with too much text, and use images and graphics to support the message or data. Ask team members to practice presentations beforehand to ensure that content and timing are spot-on and that unnecessary information is edited out.
Principle VI: Encourage Regular Team Collaboration
Regular team-building activities are key to bonding and building trust in the office or within remote teams. Virtual team building activities can help to develop a sense of community through activities like virtual trivia games, team lunches, and virtual happy hours, giving individuals the chance to catch up and talk about their lives outside of work.
On the work side of things, regular team meetings keep everyone on the same page and allow teams to discuss project developments and issues. Here, it’s important to encourage team members to prepare for meetings by sharing progress reports and agenda items in advance, giving everyone a clear understanding of what the meeting is about.
Finally, introducing brainstorming sessions is both a productive and fun way to boost innovation and ensure team members’ ideas are valued. In a remote team setting, it’s important to establish clear objectives, encourage participation from all team members, and use tools like virtual whiteboards or collaboration software to capture those ideas, which can then be assigned to individuals to develop further.
Principle VII: Continuously Evaluate and Improve Communication
As within any company, encouraging a growth mindset is critical to the evolution of your remote team, and introducing process improvement methodologies can go a long way in helping you evaluate and improve remote team communication. In addition, however, it is also important to introduce more conventional methods that continuously monitor how your remote team is functioning.
For example, gathering team feedback on team members’ communication practices can help identify areas for improvement in a highly efficient way. After all, it’s your team members who are communicating, and if they feel a tool or method doesn’t work, they will be the ones to know! Surveys, one-on-one conversations, and anonymous feedback sessions can all be used to gather this kind of useful feedback.
Once feedback has been gathered, team members and leaders can identify improvement areas and prioritize them based on impact and feasibility. Some areas for improvement might include clarifying communication protocols, providing additional training on communication tools, or improving team meeting agendas.
Additionally, as the team evolves and needs change, it’s important to adapt communication strategies as required. This means continuous and insightful evaluation of how your team communicates over the long term, and always considering the possibility of adding new communication tools or adjusting the frequency and format of team meetings.
Remote Team Communication — The Final Word
Effective communication is essential for the success of any team, and it is especially important for remote teams navigating new territory as more businesses reject conventional office-based work. This means that the seven principles for developing remote team communication that we’ve discussed should form the core of your collaborative efforts. These include:
Establishing clear communication channels
Setting expectations and boundaries
Fostering open and transparent communication
Practicing active listening
Leveraging visual communication
Encouraging regular team collaboration
Continuously evaluating and improving communication
However, it’s important to note that communication practices are always evolving, and remote teams must be adaptable and open to trying new approaches. Encouraging continued growth and learning in communication practices is key to ensuring ongoing success, and with Spike, you can foster an environment of life-long learning by following the blog and finding new ways to leverage our powerful communication platform.
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