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Working remotely offers an incredible assortment of advantages to businesses willing to adapt. Instantly, your workers will skip the commute, reducing stress and freeing up time. They’ll have more flexibility and more control over their work environments, thereby increasing morale and productivity. And of course, without a central office, the business itself will save a ton of money. Here are the communication pain points for remote teams — and how to solve them.
What are the Issues Surrounding Remote Teams?
There are a few problems associated with remote work. Notably, one of the biggest issues is communication. When workers regularly see each other, they have a chance to bond, make small talk, and casually discuss work-related topics. They can meet in person, freely and easily.
By contrast, you’ll deal with a number of pain points related to your internal communication in a remote environment. Acknowledging and addressing these issues proactively is necessary if you want your organization to continue running smoothly.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest communication pain points in remote teams — and how to solve them.
Meetings have long been a staple of every business’s communication strategy, bringing people together for collaborative discussions, problem-solving, and brainstorming. Obviously, meetings haven’t gone away; virtual conferences have replaced them.
However, virtual conferences come with a share of problems that compromise the effectiveness of meetings overall. Bad connections, interruptions, and role ambiguity can all make a mess of a traditional meeting.
There are several easy ways to solve the virtual meeting problem:
- Meet less frequently. Remote work is highlighting just how unnecessary some meetings are. Consider cutting back on the number of meetings you hold. You might be surprised how little you miss them. Instead, send an email as an update, or ask for contributions over instant chat.
- Meet for shorter intervals. Similarly, try meeting for shorter spans of time. With a stricter time limit, you’ll likely be forced to communicate more clearly and concisely. You’ll also minimize the chances of extended interruptions.
- Invest in quality. Video conferences run much smoother when you’re using the right software, devices, and other equipment. Ensure everyone on the team has a decent internet connection, a good webcam and microphone, and a software platform that’s up to date. Most of your issues will disappear once these are in place.
- Prioritize monologues. Avoid interruptions by allowing people to speak individually, with all other participants on mute. Otherwise, even the best-organized meeting can quickly devolve into chaos.
Making Effective Use of Multiple Channels
Most teams have various channels to call upon for communication, such as email, SMS texts, phone calls, instant chats, video calls, and project management platforms. But how are you supposed to know which channel to use for which message?
Using these channels effectively and appropriately can be a major struggle. Here’s how to solve the issue:
- Create clear parameters for each medium. Start by making it clear which platforms should be used under which circumstances. For example, email is a great medium for one-sided, relatively short communication, but text chat is better for extended dialogue. Make a list of each platform’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Train and educate employees. Next, train your employees individually to use each platform. Most employees have an innate preference, and if left alone, they’ll try to use only that medium for all their communication. It’s important that all of your team members are using all available platforms to their best strengths.
- Keep your options to a minimum. It may seem like investing in lots of different communication options is the best approach; having access to more channels will give employees more options for communication. However, there’s such a thing as too much technology as well; too many platforms will make it confusing to find information and could overwhelm employees with notifications. Instead, keep the number of options to a minimum — and ask employees to respond from the channel they are contacted on. (e.g., don’t contact me on slack and then send a reply in outlook.)
Ensuring Collaboration Potential
Remote employees can’t collaborate directly the way they can in person; you can’t stop by a coworker’s desk or sketch out a brainstorming web on a whiteboard together. If you want more effective collaboration in a remote environment, you have to work for it:
- Create an availability plan. Make sure there’s a plan for when employees are available for communication. Depending on your work environment, that may mean mandating that employees work specified hours, like 9 to 5, or it could mean setting specific public availability times; for example, you might request that all employees are available from 2 to 4, but that they may otherwise work in whatever ways they see fit.
- Utilize collaborative platforms. Certain platforms make it easy for workers to collaborate. There are built-in tools that allow employees to contribute content to a document or file at the same time, even if multiple versions of the file exist simultaneously. There are multiple modes for contribution and communication, such as the ability to upload documents and comment. Utilize these platforms as much as you can.
- Encourage self-direction and autonomy. Oftentimes, the best way to get employees to work well together is to allow them to figure out what work styles work best for them. Encourage self-direction and autonomy to make this happen.
Developing Team Bonds
Teams with strong individual bonds to hold them together tend to be more productive, consistent, and more positive than their counterparts. But how can you encourage team bonding when your employees all live miles away from one another and never see each other face to face?
- Host virtual teambuilding events. Consider hosting a video chat where the team has dinner together, or play a game on a virtual conferencing platform. Just because you’re physically separated doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together.
- Encourage private communication threads. Your team members won’t be able to strike up casual conversations by the water cooler, but they should be encouraged to have similar conversations when possible. Strike up casual threads via email, chat, or other platforms to encourage employees to connect.
- Allow casual forms of interaction. Other casual forms of interaction can also be beneficial. For example, you can allow employees to award each other with digital badges or other forms of congratulatory sentiment. It goes a long way to support a more collaborative atmosphere.
Facilitate Ongoing Improvements
No organization will communicate perfectly, especially when scrambling to assemble a good remote work strategy on short notice. If you want to keep improving, you have to invest in ongoing positive changes.
These are some of the best ways to do it:
- Educate yourself. First, educate yourself. Go out of your way to read books and online articles about the nature of communication and how communication standards are changing due to increased remote work. The more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be to proactively deal with issues and streamline efficiency improvements.
- Listen to other professionals’ approaches. It’s also useful to listen to how other professionals are handling remote work communication. For example, you can listen to podcasts from other entrepreneurs or network with peers and ask them about their communication habits. Are they using platforms you aren’t? Do they have a different communication philosophy? Consider experimenting with their approaches to see if they work for you.
- Collect feedback from the team. Finally, make sure you’re regularly collecting feedback from your team. Do your team members find certain platforms to be valuable and others to be unbearable? Do they have recommendations for how to communicate more efficiently in the future? Collect anonymously to encourage honesty, and take action on the points you find to be most insightful.
While remote work will always have some communication challenges that aren’t present in a traditional work environment, most of them can be overcome with a handful of strategic changes. Devote time to rethinking and rebuilding your communication strategy from the ground up, and your team will be able to work together as efficiently as ever.
Image Credit: andrea piacquadio; pexels
Originally appeared in ReadWrite