How to Overcome Communication Challenges on a Remote Team
by Thom Brown
Communication is the bedrock of any successful team, but for less experienced remote teams, I can be the first to suffer.
When you’re not regularly meeting in person, messages can easily get lost. The problem is even worse if you have different time zones to contend with because you could end up waiting 12 hours for a reply to your email. Once a team stops communicating effectively, they stop moving in unison towards your company’s goals.
If you were a team leader, there are many strategies you can utilize to overcome communication challenges on a remote team. We have a remote team here at Anyplace, which has helped us become experts in long-distance communication. Our experience has enabled us to put together this helpful guide on successfully communicating when you have a remote workforce.
- Utilize Face-to-Face Communication
Somewhere between 70 and 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. We’re constantly picking up so much from a person’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. You can see if a team member looks confident or anxious about a task they’ve been assigned with face-to-face communication. When communicating through text alone, you miss these signals. Team members may not be entirely open about how they’re feeling.
To get around this, use video messaging as much as possible. Using a service like Skype or Zoom, you’ll be able to explain tasks more clearly. You’ll also build a rapport with your team, generating the motivation they need to build towards your company’s success.
- Hold Positive Appraisal Sessions
Many businesses will offer their staff a trial period of around three months before holding an appraisal to evaluate how they’ve been performing. However, this is normally just a one-time event and many remote teams skip it completely. It’s worth finding an hour each month to hold one-to-one video call appraisal sessions. This is a great form of communication in itself but also improves future communication during normal day-to-day tasks.
An appraisal session gives you a chance to escape the chaos of daily work life, take a step back, and look at the bigger picture. Your team members can tell you how they’re coping with the work. Are they overwhelmed by the workload? Are they finding tasks too difficult? In return, you can tell them how pleased you are, leaving them feeling positive and motivated to be even more productive. Providing feedback about their performance will help them feel more confident in communicating often and clearly.
- Create a User-Friendly Workflow System
If you don’t have a standardized workflow system, then it’s time to make one. This organizes how tasks are allocated, records when they’ve been completed, and allows feedback to be given. This ensures that everyone in the company knows exactly what they’re doing and what needs to be done.
Remember, not everyone is tech-savvy. You’ll need to find software that is as user-friendly as possible. There are plenty of options out there, including Asana, Trello, and Monday. Whenever someone joins the team, get them familiar with the software and make sure everyone is utilizing it effectively. Training sessions on how to use this technology can be really helpful but make it easy on your staff by limiting how many platforms you use. Use fewer workflow tools but use them to their full potential.
- Make All Documents Accessible
A great deal of remote work depends on having the right document. This could be a spreadsheet full of data or a list of usernames and passwords for different remote work tools. These documents form a fundamental part of your communication. Therefore, they need to be accessible to all. Make sure you check the permissions so that everyone who can benefit from accessing the document is able to do so.
Use services like Google Workspace, Dropbox, or OneDrive to share all documents with the entire team. This ensures that everyone has access to the information they need, when they need it. You can then start creating documents containing training guides and FAQs to offer quick answers to people’s questions. The more resources that people have access to, the less opportunity you’re leaving for people to make mistakes.
- Settle on Common Communication Software
Communication software is designed specifically for remote teams. However, it has to be used wisely. First and foremost, this means making sure that everyone is communicating through the same channels. If you’re talking to some people on Slack, others on WhatsApp, and someone else on Skype, then messages will get lost or forgotten.
Make sure your company is operating using a common communication channel. Encourage your team to post messages there and keep everything organized in one place. That makes it so easy to check for and respond to messages. With so much information flowing from one team member to another, you need to find ways to organize messages so that they don’t get lost. Limiting the number of communication tools you use can help you with this.
- Be Clear About Goals and Rewards
Clarity of communication is always important but with remote teams, it’s even more crucial. One problem that a remote worker may have is feeling disconnected from the mission of the company. They might see a task on their to-do list but not understand why this task is important. This means that they won’t know how to use their creativity to solve problems.
Every time you set a task, explain why it matters. Make sure that your whole team is working towards a common goal and understands what the most desirable outcome looks like. At the same time, use rewards as an incentive. If you offer bonuses for hitting clearly defined targets, then everyone will be even more motivated to hit their targets.
- Hold In-Person Meetups
If you want a remote team to succeed, then you need everyone to feel part of something special. That means building camaraderie between team members. This will allow people to get to know each other’s personalities, which will help them understand how best to communicate in the future. To achieve this, try to get the team to meet up in person every once in a while.
Even if it’s just a single day each year, meeting someone in person is very different from only knowing them online. You could take trips abroad, go to an event, or just meet up at a local bar for a chat. Once you’ve established strong relationships, the reward will last long into the future. Even when you go back to online communication, the bonds will remain.
- Create a Culture of Inclusivity
Effective communication requires team members to have the confidence to contribute. Therefore, you need to be constantly creating an environment that is welcoming to all. Your team may be working from home but do they feel at home on the company Slack channels?
There should be a channel for new members to introduce themselves and another to discuss non-work-related topics. Give people the chance to talk about their hobbies, interests, and backgrounds. Also, make sure there are some ground rules laid down about sending positive and respectful messages at all times. When team members feel included and respected, they’ll communicate openly.
Communication is critical to the success of any company. It’s something that needs to be worked on and built up over time. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and mistakes are inevitable. When your team works remotely, they risk becoming common. By utilizing the strategies listed above, we’ve managed to create a strong and unified team here at Anyplace. We all know what the mission is and we’re all working together to achieve it. There’s no reason why your remote team can’t also nail their communication skills.
Where to next? Find flexible month-to-month rentals across the globe on Anyplace.
Born in Oxford, UK, Thom has been a digital nomad since graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2016. He’s a freelance writer and founder of Thom Brown Travel. Thom specializes in minimalist, ethical, and meaningful travel writing.