We’ve all heard it before: communication is key. From emails to meetings, down to the smallest of details in non-verbal cues. Remote team communication isn’t just simply about talking to one another, it’s about correctly conveying a message. How we do this effectively given our current situation.
For us as remote workers, it becomes even more important to pin down exactly how we should be communicating. We simply miss out on the chance to communicate in a lot of the ways that office workers get to.
Unfortunately for us, these avenues of communication are usually a lot quicker in getting the point across. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report lists communication and collaboration as the biggest challenges for remote employees, with 20% of respondents saying it’s their biggest struggle.
To help outline what we should all be doing in remote-first companies or a remote team, we need to create a clear structure to our communication culture that covers all bases.
Communication Challenges in a Remote Environment
Virtual communication is something that is familiar to us all. We all use cell phones daily, are used to sending emails, and generally can remotely communicate with friends and family with ease. But when it comes to working, it’s a whole different story.
Our norms are turned upside down, and it becomes more difficult to say what we mean and make sure the other person completely understands. Extroverts can suddenly become introverted without their usual channels of communication and a physical presence, while introverts can all of a sudden feel more empowered in the way they communicate. It really is a strange thing!
Things become much more permanent in remote team communications too. The email you send, text, or recorded meeting can be referred back to easily in the future. For some, this makes them more hesitant to communicate what they want. For others, they’re happy spending the time to craft the message they want and then say no more.
We even need to factor in cultural differences too as a challenge in remote environments. A lot of us work with people from all around the globe in remote-first companies, and the way we intrinsically communicate differs. Misunderstandings can occur, and this can even lead to people feeling confused about a message or in extreme cases insulted. Factor this in with the time differences that may be there, and you can really have a recipe for misunderstanding if you don’t start taking things into account.
And perhaps the biggest challenge of all is replicating the physical experience of communicating, where we can see the other person. Facial expressions, body language, and tone can sometimes provide more understanding of a message than the words used themself. Even when we try to replicate this with video calls, we still don’t quite get the full picture that we need.
When we put all these challenges together and list them as one, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But in fact, this helps in creating and designing a communication culture that helps solve the issues we’ve found. By structuring it correctly, you can actually use some of the advantages of virtual team communication to overcome its pitfalls.
Tips for Structuring Your Communication Culture
One of the biggest advantages we have as remote workers is asynchronous communication. This is what allows us to work with people all around the world at different times and still collaborate effectively. But, you need to know when to use it well. We can’t send emails or other asynchronous comms without putting correct policy in place.
As a general rule, try to allow up to 24 – 48 hours for a person to respond, before following up. There might be multiple people who need to reply, and this only works if everyone gets their say. You should value all replies the same too and not make any decisions until everyone has contributed. The last reply counts just as much as the first! Design a rule with everyone in mind, taking time zones into consideration too.
While tools like email and other asynchronous forms have these awesome benefits, they’re not suitable for everything. We’ve all seen how horribly messy email threads can become, and sometimes it’s best to use a messaging service like Twist or Slack to perform the same function. Email is great for setting tasks and being able to refer back to, but sometimes you need to send smaller messages that shouldn’t get lost in big email threads.
By using a seperate tool for this, you can help filter your comms into the right channel for people. Again set up a policy, so everyone knows what comms to expect from each tool you are using.
Another top tip that really goes without saying is to avoid meetings without a purpose. What do we mean here exactly? Even with an agenda set, a remote meeting can struggle to really live up to expectations. If we’re using them to try to take the place of face-to-face interaction, it will just end up being more inefficient.
It’s a super synchronous form of virtual communication that doesn’t translate so well over to group meetings. Of course you will need to do this from time to time, but think wisely and don’t rely on them completely.
Be Transparent and Take Everyone into Consideration
Promoting transparency in all you do is key to any well-structured communication culture. People become less afraid to say what they think, employee morale is boosted, and you’ll also probably reduce your turnover rate.
This is of course a great tip for any company, but in the remote world it’s easier to be less transparent simply due to the fact that we’re not all physically together. This isn’t to say it’s done on purpose, but we need to work a bit harder to really make it work.
On a more personal level, we can encourage our teams and employees to practice mindfulness to try and reduce the amount of noise we all experience. We should be aware of our teammates’ energy, ability to take on more work, and what distractions they may have.
Think about how you can limit the number of notifications everyone gets so we aren’t all overloaded. We can’t always see what’s going on with someone’s inbox, so try and cut down the spam.
Structure Your Comms for a Better Working Life
Creating a structured communications culture really has two purposes: to create a system where you can collaborate more effectively, and to help us as human beings communicate better with each other.
At the end of the day, we’re not all robots! We should be supporting one another in the ways we communicate, taking into consideration the issues that can arise when working remotely, and try to have fun all at the same time too. Structuring your remote team communication into a policy that fits everyone in your team is the really only way to achieve these things