Unless you’ve been hibernating for the past few months, you’re probably aware that the majority of global workers have been told to self-isolate and work remotely.
But how do you forge successful remote team communication to keep your organisation going?
- What is remote working?
- Increase in remote working
- How to forge excellent remote team communication
- Useful remote team communication tools
What is remote team working?
A remote team is a group of workers who work outside of a traditional ‘office environment.’ They working from cafes, co-working spaces, even from a selection of time zones away and from one of a company’s headquarters. For agile businesses with no office buildings, remote working is the only way a company and its team collaborate, servicing clients and customers outside of their locations.
Increase in remote working
1 in 4 employees works remotely one day a week, with the trend across all age groups:
- 57% of Gen Z,
- 50% of Millennials,
- and even 46% of Gen Xers
With unknowns surrounding the global health pandemic, likely, workers will increasingly be working from home and in more remote locations.
There are plenty of benefits that come with remote working; they include:
- No commuting means saving time and money. Rather than commuting, you can get additional projects finished, can take on more paid work, or even squeeze in some personal development.
- Working remotely means you won’t be asked for as many “quick favours” whilst in the office. Remote workers remain more focussed, and the number of interruptions to your work typically drops.
- Flexibility to plan your work-life balance, with the ability to work anywhere provided you have a reliable internet connection.
Working remotely is how we work at Blu Mint Digital; our teams in Estonia, USA, UK, Sweden and France have been remote since the company’s inception.
Remote team communication for us is nothing new. Still, for those just adapting to the global health pandemic, it can be tough to adjust.
Let’s examine the criteria for getting remote team communication done right and provide a quick list of tools we use to begin your journey.
Building successful remote team communication
1. Create early rapport
Remote teams lose various communication elements we use in our daily lives. Body language, tone of voice, and even soft gestures, including waving hello don’t always come across in remote communication.
The ability to mute your mic or turn off the video on a call exacerbates this remoteness – and there is even less communication if you are working via chat channels or email. Even throwing in the odd emoji never seems to help.
You’ll need to establish how to build some rapport, create a ‘water cooler’ channel so that others can chat as part of the team or directly to each other.
Its good to note that all types of employees are going to become remote, and those who are more expressive and chatty than others will suffer the most.
You could consider:
- Practice and teach active listening so that everyone is focussed and engaged in video and audio calls. It helps to avoid miscommunication and offending others.
- After each part, ask everyone whether they need any point clarified and say that you will do this at the meetings end personally.
- Managers and leaders should drive the tone of the call, but limit your own talk time to include everyone.
2. Build routines
Remote teams operate differently, even when all working on the same task.
When working either from home or coffee shops, people select environments that are conducive to them. They’ve got their peace, their music playlist, even their favoured podcasts. I personally prefer running the TV series Friends in the background as some ambient noise, knowing full-well I have seen the episodes umpteen times. (I sooooo need to get out more!)
Your favourite beverage is readily available in the fridge (mine is an over-reliance on coffee) or from the coffee shop counter. And then there are daily distractions, from doing the laundry, the school run, petting your animals, getting some “fresh air,” or dealing with young children whilst you conduct interviews in a video conference…
Flexibility is what remote workers love about their roles. It’s why employees list flexibility as one of their top two desired benefits. When a Gallup poll asked 31 million Americans, why they would change jobs, half said because they wanted flexible time.
However, independence from the workplace doesn’t necessarily equate to strict productive discipline. For those adjusting to working remotely, either at home or in coffee shops, these distractions mean that they avoid getting any work done.
We use a task management tool combined with a chat messenger that helps each other assess how far along a task is coming. It aids in locating, where there are possible bottlenecks because a remote worker is unable to track their progress effectively.
For project managers, and leaders – keep asking when tasks will be completed and support team members who are struggling with home distractions by setting up routines for them.
Routines are useful.
If you have to home school or are distance learning because you are self-isolating, do a couple of hours of schoolwork in the morning and then swap to your job work.
Keeping a structure helps you get back on track quickly.
3. Setting expectations and trust
Remote work is all about flexibility.
However, genuinely successful remote work requires a high degree of clear expectations combined with trust from the remote worker.
Every team member will work differently, and whilst this is a stress for leaders and managers, the guidelines for work completion must be uniform.
If one remote worker is slowing down productivity, this impacts others attempting to complete their tasks. You’ll need to impress upon all your team how they are expected to operate and their impact on other team members.
Even more critical to successful remote team communication is defining what is not acceptable. Now, this sounds direct, and can come across as being authoritarian yet when you cannot use body language to convey your message, is necessary.
Questions we ask of others include (but are not exhaustive):
- Which forms of communication, and why?
- What information is shareable, and with whom?
- What processes do we use for accessing and sharing information?
- In what format do we communicate critical information?
- What do we aim to achieve during a team meeting?
- How will we communicate between meetings?
- How will we monitor the team’s progress?
- How accessible must team members be; how do we signal our availability?
- How can we collaborate to create team records
- How do we assign confidentiality to our communications?
It’s easier to implement guidelines when you’ve got a definitive set of expectations for others to follow.
Choosing the right business tools
The biggest challenge for us is how to monitor and track progress – and how we communicate that progress. There’s a plethora of tools, services and apps that can make it easy for us to communicate with our teams and make our workflows more productive. Choosing which tools is the hard part and required us to examine our company ethos first.
Do we want to use free tools yet with limited functionality or paid tools that give us more, yet ultimately drain our budgets? Do we need our tools to integrate to achieve our work? Can our chosen tools work well in every market? From Sweden to France?
Andrew and I agonised over which to use in many (remote) meetings, his morning, my late evenings, between the USA and Estonia.
Below is a list of tools that we settled on:
Chat and communication
Slack is our primary communication tool for our teams because it’s very user-friendly and can be free or paid for organisations. Plus, you can create newer channels for different projects. Making it easy to share information for our next big projects or everyone’s pet pictures.
Slack also has a plethora of integrations that we liked, including Asana and G-Suite, and you can ping individuals in client and project channels without distracting others.
We also use Lightshot to send screenshots so that others can view clearly what another team member is trying to convey. It’s free, and screenshots are sent as a URL or a file. Lightshot can annotate screenshots so that users can emphasis or highlight a particular place on the image.
For screencasts, we use CloudApp. Again, we send annotated videos to clients and remote team members to follow instructions or if we are demonstrating multiple web pages at once.
Project management collaboration
Project management tools are central for remote teams because everyone needs a way to connect centrally. We use Asana because it integrates with other tools we use and can have various project views, from templates and spreadsheets.
Nearly every team is going to use Asana slightly differently. Still, it has the flexibility to allow this without becoming obstructive, allowing for more creative remote workers who need to add images to writers who add in links and files.
File management is a significant part of our remote team. With its flexibility and cloud-based hosting, Google’s G Suite was the obvious choice for us.
Google’s G Suite is for free if people have Gmail accounts. Google’s Drive makes it easy to upload, sort, tag, and store our documents, from spreadsheets to presentations. Plus, its permission-sharing tool is invaluable when deciding to share with our clientele, plus allowing only certain access rights if needed.
If we are unable to build face to face relationships, then we have to develop virtual and digital connections. One way to do this is video calling.
There is so much software on the market that can help here, from Google Hangouts to even Skype and Facebook.
One such tool we like using for video conferencing is Zoom. It mostly avoids glaring glitches and distorted sounds you get from most video conferencing platforms. We also love its screen sharing capabilities that can aid in file sharing and team building.
When setting up meetings with the team or with our clients, we use Calendly. Calendly determines our availability and lets others see when we are available on a real-time basis.
Most scheduling tools link to your calendar, so once a meeting has been booked, it means others are unable to double book.
Don’t forget to create fun
Remote work is hard to build team spirit, so reminding your team that it’s okay to have little fun is imperative.
Isolated groups quickly evolve into only checking in on projects progress and checking what to do next. Managers must actively encourage their teams to grow some team spirit together.
Remote communication thrives when everyone is connected, and this is due more than the project you are working on. It is also about trawling the internet for sharing funny memes or GIFs.
Just remember that what you share could not be offensive to others!
Fun is about fostering just the right atmosphere for all.
Succesful remote team communication varies from team to team and will take some time to master.
Even our teams, with our multicultural backgrounds and numerous languages, got it wrong many times.
It can be done, and if you know of any better strategies and solutions to how we have done it, then share in the comments below. I’d love to hear them all!