It’s safe to say that a huge amount of us are now experiencing what it’s like to work outside the office, whether we like it not. It’s been a surprise for most and definitely a challenge for some to make the transition as smooth as possible. Google searches for remote work terms exploded throughout March, where the popularity of the most common phrases has doubled.
Governments across the globe are recommending or forcing companies to work from outside the office, and many industries are willingly doing this for the first time. Our numbers as remote workers have grown hugely overnight, but we’re not all trained in exactly how to handle the situation.
Why it’s worth the effort
Communication and collaboration are important keystones in all businesses, whether remote or not. Making sure that they are still equitable in a remote context is even more important, now that we are all having to learn or implement how to do this. Inclusive communication and collaboration involves all team members working to their best, and not getting left behind due to confusion or comms issues.
We unfortunately don’t have the luxury to rely on non-verbal cues outside of the office, or quick impromptu conversations that can help iron out details of a task. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to be clear in how we are communicating and collaborating, and to make sure everyone is fully on board.
Communication & collaboration challenges in the digital workplaces
Luckily for us all, the types of problems that people run into in remote work are fairly common and aren’t new to remote professionals! There are strategies and tips to help combat them all, so you’re not alone here.
One of the most notable issues that you or your team will run into first of all is having your normal interactions being overtaken by digital means. It’s probably the easiest thing to notice straight away in the switch to remote.
Human 2 human connections overtaken by digital
Digital tools are great, and in fact perhaps one of the key reasons why remote work can even exist. But they really are a double-edged sword. We’re now all able to be contacted and connected with in a whole variety of ways through the internet, but this also affects the way that we are communicating with each other. Building up effectively the social capital you need to feel supported, accepted, and a part of your team is much more difficult to do via digital communication.
Limited access to non-verbal language
You’ve probably heard the classic saying that communication is 7% verbal, 55% body language, and 38% tone and speed of voice. While the exact numbers are up for debate, it’s certainly obvious that non-verbal language plays just as important a role in our communication. It’s easy to arrive at faulty conclusions (or even offence!) when we set out tasks or deliver a message just through one digital platform. Emails can be taken out of context, messages written unclearly, or the tone of a friendly message can actually seem insulting.
Unless you have well defined info sharing practices, information silos are common even for companies that aren’t working remotely. Different teams, for example marketing and IT, can find it difficult to effectively communicate with each other for a few different reasons. It may be due to differing communication protocols, a lack of social interaction between the teams, or a focus on your own team’s results and now the results of the company as a whole. All these reasons then become even more tough to solve when your primary method of comms changes to digital only.
Kahneman’s thinking fast syndrome
Your teams can develop a bad habit of always thinking too fast, when they don’t have immediately visible context like you would in an office. We tend to use gut reactions, rather than stepping back and thinking in a more critical and analytical way. It’s easy to think in this fast way when we don’t set communication boundaries in the remote world, such as response times or even snooze times where we don’t reply to messages. Being in this more chaotic and over stimulated communicative environment can make us all susceptible to Kahneman’s thinking fast syndrome.
Cross-cultural challenges for global teams
This is typical for all international companies, especially so with remote ones that hire from all around the globe. Being aware of and sensitive to the different cultural norms and working behaviour is a challenge that needs to be faced head on with research and experience. You won’t always get it right even when you try, so how we deal and face these issues when they arise is really the problem here. Challenging your own assumptions is critical!
Address the biggest challenges
By far, missing out on non-verbal cues will be one of the biggest things to get used to for a newly remote team. But there are good habits that you can incorporate yourself or within your teams to help make the chances of miscommunication much lower.
Make video calls to connect with others
First of all, consider when it would be best to communicate via video call. Even though it’s not exactly the same as physical interaction, it’s as close as you will get to the real life experience. You’ll have a much easier time picking up on the meaning and tone of any message, and also get the opportunity to clarify details on the spot without confusion.
Just make sure that you take your time and have planned out already what the agenda is. This will also help you avoid unnecessary meetings, as more meetings doesn’t always mean more meaningful interactions.
Your whole company and team should also make sure to put in the effort to care about others and how they are communicating. Interacting live also helps build social bonds, and may be better than sending off an email even though it is more effort.
Graciousness is also key too, so we should always assume good intentions from others and be considerate of their possible sensibilities. Thank your colleagues for the work they are doing regularly, and begin to build up the social capital you need to make the whole team glue together
Combating silos outside of the office
The silos trap is another large issue any new remote team will have to deal with, as it probably already exists within the company to begin with. I’m sure we’ve all experienced sheepishly walking into another department or team’s office to get some piece of information. How will we make this work better online?
Deciding on a central tool that can track and manage your projects for all teams is a good way of empowering people to see what other team’s are doing. By using the same tool, you all equally understand the framework and gain better knowledge of how other’s work. Information is also free for you to access in an easy way, without having to hunt for it yourself.
When it comes to actually communicating, do so on project channels which contain all members rather than individually. You could even all contribute to a wiki, and empower different team members to update it regularly. The key point here is that everything should be transparent, to help improve the overall flow of information. If you know where people communicate, the rules of how they do it, and how they store their information, it makes it a lot more difficult for these silos to even exist.
Expanding on your remote essentials
Strong communication and collaboration policies are the core of any successful remote company. They’re really part of an essential toolkit that you yourself should have as a remote worker, and that a company should build on to improve everyone’s work.
They’re not the only skills you will need though, as you will probably soon find out if you have only just begun to work remotely! We’re currently making it our goal to help everyone who has found themselves in this unique situation, and quickly need to build up their remote skills.