When it comes to managing remote teams, communication is one of the most important elements in the equation. But, unfortunately, facilitating smooth communication between a fragmented team is often much easier said than done.
The Challenges of Remote Team Communication
Remote team communication is altogether different from in-person communication. It must be intentional, planned, and direct. And with no contextual clues to work with, you can’t leave much up to interpretation. Clarity is key!
As communication expert Neil Miller explains, “Digital collaboration presents four unique remote team communication challenges that leaders of the past simply didn’t have to worry about. The solutions aren’t easy or simple. They take constant adjustment and diligence. You never solve the problem fully, but only find a better way to solve it than you did before.”
The four big challenges (as Miller sees them) are:
- Response time. When you work in the same office, you can ask a question and get an immediate response. With virtual communication, it could be hours or days. This creates issues when there’s a timely deliverable involved.
- Durability. When communicating digitally, there’s often an over-reliance on permanency. In other words, we assume that we’ll always be able to go back and find an email or Slack thread. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible (which can lead to losing important information).
- Fidelity. Face-to-face conversations offer a lot more contextual clues (like the tone of voice, inflection, eye contact, gestures, pauses, facial expressions, etc.). Virtual communication takes a lot more energy and guesswork to encode or interpret the right message.
- Access. Finally, there are access issues. Who can reach out directly to the CEO? How do you reach out? Do you include multiple people on a thread or just one person? Access makes things confusing.
If you can find ways to address these four challenges, your team’s communication will be fluid and transparent. But until then, you’ll experience your fair share of friction.
4 Ways to Enhance Remote Communication
You have to be more intentional with your approach to remote communication. Do you know how to collaborate effectively if your team is remote? Here are several key steps you can take:
1. Set the Right Expectations
Improving communication starts with setting clear expectations for your team. Let them know what’s required and that there will be accountability.
For example, if you expect team members to unmute their notifications on Slack so that they get pinged every time there’s a new message, tell them. If you expect people to respond to emails within 24 hours, make that very clear. You’re in control of establishing these rules. Never assume that people can read your mind.
2. Use the Right Technology
Integrating the right tools into your team’s tech stack will help tremendously with communication. Beyond basic chat applications and email platforms, you also want to consider things like file sharing.
Having the ability to send large files fast is a must. It speeds up the exchange of project deliverables and creates a much more efficient and reliable process.
3. Develop a Common Language
Your team is made up of individuals who come from different backgrounds and life experiences. It means they all have their own vocabulary and understanding of what different words mean. It quickly becomes apparent in a virtual setting where the recipient is required to interpret the meaning behind messages.
If you want to improve accuracy and avoid confusion, develop a common language. Make it clear which terms are to be used, what various acronyms mean, how to handle abbreviations and even requirements regarding written formatting and punctuation.
4. Don’t Forget to Bond
It’s easy for teams to become disengaged when they’re physically separated. If your team members aren’t bumping into each other in the hallways or grabbing a drink after work, they’re less likely to feel connected. You can counteract this division by emphasizing bonding experiences.
The best way to get people to bond is to encourage small, intimate video meetings that have no work agenda. For example, create a schedule where team members share a Zoom call during their lunch hour. Put three employees together who might not otherwise know each other. Do this twice a week, and your team will be a lot closer.
Set Your Team Up for Success
If you can figure out the communication element of managing a remote team, everything else will sort of fall into place. It is one of the cornerstones of running a successful virtual business. Don’t neglect this element any longer.