Seven tips for communicating on a remote team

by Nora Mork

Remote work is becoming more and more common within companies. But one of the biggest issues that remains is communication. Here are some tips for effective communication when working within a distributed team.

Take time to see each other

It’s always a good thing to know what your team members look like. In regular office environments this is an easy thing to do, but with remote teams it can be a bit difficult.

Synchronous communication is the best way to go here. With technologies like video conferencing you can easily discuss daily issues just like you would in an office. This is likely possible only if your team members are within the same time zone or at least in regions that are reasonably close to each other.

For many distributed teams with workers spread across multiple time zones, asynchronous communication is more likely. Asynchronous video communication is the most effective. A number of technologies allow for this—Loom is one, enabling you to film your screen and yourself simultaneously and share it with your team.

Asynchronous communication is hard, but you shouldn’t fear it. Automattic, a company behind WordPress and Jetpack use this type of communication effectively. It’s actually quite great because it doesn’t force anyone to break focus in order to give you a response. You are allowing people to respond in their own time.

In order to make asynchronous communication really work, you need to give and ask for enough information. This way, you cut down on unanswered issues and the need for follow up questions. You should also put a deadline on the response time, especially if it’s urgent or if a task is blocked because of it. Be clear on why you need the response and when you need it by. The team should have all the resources they need organized in one place in order to be able to get their answers quickly.

Embrace new forms of communication

Not all messages have to be delivered by email or phone. When you’re relaying information that doesn’t necessarily require a response, it might be appropriate to opt for another method. Consider the option of a voice message delivered through voice memo software. Quick to record and listen to, it’s clear, doesn’t require lengthy back and forth, and spares you from having to write an email. If your team is operating across different countries, then a voice memo is also a great way of staying connected and adds emotion to what could be a sterile work message.

If you do need to send an email, then tools like Academ advisor and State of writing allow you to compose meaningful emails without all the waffle. Instant messaging can also be a great option.

Smart communication

As mentioned, instant messaging could be a great option if you need a quick response. This is also good when your team members just want to casually chat.

When communicating with a remote team, it’s very important to be open and share as much as you can. It’s better to take a bit of time to craft a meaningful, informative response than to shoot out quick responses that only require more follow up questions and more time as a result.

If you’re concerned that your written messages don’t ‘sound’ great, you can enlist the help of business-writing software such as Bestbritishessays and Essayroo.

Get in the zone

If you’re working across several different time zones, then make sure everyone knows which one to adhere to for business meetings, project deadlines and so forth. Outside deadline day, try and accommodate people by shifting meetings to their local times now and again.

Getting in the zone can also mean that you should turn on the do not disturb option when you have work to do and don’t want to be interrupted. Constantly messaging can make you work a lot longer and lose focus easily. If it’s a day where team members don’t need to communicate as quickly, set the amount of time you’ll need to complete a task and limit your distractions.

New ways of working

While the old ways will still be relevant to much of your work, don’t forget to implement new and better methods for sharing files, collaborating on projects and setting tasks for your team. There are several online tools out there to make remote communications go smoothly. They include:

Basecamp is an excellent resource for managing your team’s projects and tasks

Trello helps you prioritize and organize projects within the team.

Academized / TopCanadianWriters are tools to help improve written communication

Flowdock provides integrated communication between team members

Party time

It doesn’t have to be a Christmas party or a festive get together, but there does have to be time given over for colleagues to meet socially, perhaps following an annual conference or offsite workshop. This sense of team spirit will be taken back into home offices and will manifest itself into greater cooperation and a closer relationship between team members. While intangible, it cannot be underestimated. Get your social calendar synchronized and make a face-to-face meet-up a priority at least once a year.

Create the culture

Despite the fact that you’re working out of sight of one another, it’s important that everyone has a great understanding of what is being worked towards and how that objective will be agreed. “It’s not enough to simply set targets and expect everyone to meet them; having a sense of the company’s values and rewards will drive productivity far more than a new printer in the office ever will. Working collaboratively is the goal of the remote office,” explains Floyd Whitley, a communication manager at Studentwritingservices.

While remote working seems is great, it does require some thought and planning and a certain degree of discipline between team members.

Sometimes it’s easy to keep your head down and just plough on through your working day, but keeping regular lines of communication open will make for a happier working collaboration and a more productive team. Utilizing the old and embracing the new is key to improving communications across the board in an age where working remotely is the future.

Image credit: Original photo courtesy of Juhasz Imre, edited by New Worker Magazine.

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