Good communication is the invisible glue that keeps your team working together in harmony. And when your team is remote, that glue has to work even harder than ever, so you’d better make sure you’re using that strong smelly stuff and not a glue stick (you know, that thing they gave you at school that never stuck anything together properly.)
With that in mind, here are a few tips when it comes to communicating with your remote team (don’t worry, no more glue analogies)
To make remote working work, your team is going to need the right communication tools. Trying to scrape by using email and personal messaging apps is a bit like opening an office and making do without any chairs - it makes working very uncomfortable (true, that’s just the sort of thing some trendy start up would do, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.)
Firstly, a good instant messaging tool is crucial. We use Slack and it works great, but you’ve always got the usual suspects - Google Hangouts and MS Teams. Then you’ll probably want something to help you organise tasks and workflow - Trello and Monday are the big players here.
Once you’ve got the tools, you’ll need to set some guidelines on how to use them...
Email is good for internal announcements and for official information that isn’t going to change suddenly. It’s not so good for giving urgent feedback or coordinating people on a project - you’d be better off creating a specific channel in Slack or the equivalent. And the days where colleagues exchanged banter over long email threads are probably over - again, IM beats email for general office chat hands down.
Whatever works for you and your team, the important thing is that everyone is on the same (virtual) page and that people are consistent in their use of the channels. This avoids people having to search across different channels for the information they need, which can quickly become overwhelming.
Sure, you’ve got something very important to say, but they’ve got some important living to do, too. When they’re working from home, your team must feel able to disconnect. Because, contrary to what some people would have you believe, replying to work messages counts as working. And as we all know, it’s hard to be a good parent/partner/friend when you’ve got one eye on your phone.
So, do your team a favour and encourage them to turn notifications off outside work hours and if you’re working late and sending messages, start with a ‘For tomorrow:’ so those who do see it won’t feel compelled to engage with it.
With remote teams, it’s easy to think that daily calls are the only way for everybody to keep in sync, and plenty of blog articles will urge you to ‘over-communicate’ in remote teams to avoid people feeling isolated. The problem is that your team probably finds these status calls pretty disengaging. At least the part that doesn’t apply to them, which is often most of it.
The solution? Use a tool that allows your team to keep in sync without the need for constant meetings.The right too makes it really easy for teammates to know what the other is working on, to see each other’s progress and to define priorities. That way you can save video-calls for situations in which they’ll engage your team instead of bore them.
If you’re a manager, avoid the temptation to constantly ask your team what they’re working on - they won’t appreciate your lack of trust. But at the same time, you need your team to be accountable and you need to know who’s doing what. Use a tool that builds-in accountability by making daily task goals public, along with progress updates, so at a glance you can see how everyone has progressed during the day. It also collects the daily mood of every member of your team so you can immediately get a sense of how happy everyone is and follow up with anyone who might be struggling.
If you were in the office you’d say ‘Good morning’, wouldn’t you? Well, surely a grunt at least? Right, so do so when you’re working remotely, too. Pleasantries and chit-chat are an important part of team-bonding and making the working day reasonably enjoyable, so don’t feel that you’re wasting when indulging in a bit of non-work-related tittle-tattle. Many companies have a special ‘random’ channel set up in their IM tool specifically for this.
It sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating… it’s not the same communicating in text as it is in person. Even on video calls, body language and facial expression can be harder to pick up. So it’s worth thinking twice about how your words will be received.
For example, negative feedback that in person you could deliver without a problem may read harshly in an email. A friendly jibe at a colleague might not be quite as hilarious in a message thread as it would have been in person, no matter how many emoticons you hastily add afterwards.
With this in mind, it’s probably safe to err on the side of over-friendliness in remote-communications with colleagues that you’re not close to. Yes, you might end up sounding like Ned Flanders. But that’s better than becoming Mr Burns!
By the way, Grammarly even has a ‘tone-detector’ you can use if you’re worried that you can be a bit tone deaf (and if that isn’t a sign that robots are coming to take our jobs, I don’t know what is).
Employees should feel secure that their company isn’t going to spy on their direct messages with each other. After all, if you don’t enjoy slagging off the boss occasionally… it’s probably because you are the boss!
Of course, the art of good communication is far too large to be condensed into a blog article, but hopefully these points will be enough to put you on the right track and to combat the most common challenges that arise when teams move to remote, without having to resort to holding more and more meetings. Now, go make some glue!