Tips for Communication in the Remote Work Environment
Remote work has plenty of benefits, including better work-life balance, more flexibility and productivity. However, as much as we love remote work, we can’t help but admit it’s not perfect. One of the biggest problems with remote working is the issue of communication.
For many workers switching from traditional to remote workplaces, what they miss the most is the human interaction, the ability to see their coworkers and share those watercooler moments. While this is impossible to recreate in remote environments, it’s possible to make an effort and improve the communication while working remotely.
Here are some of the ways you can do it.
Set up Task Management and Calendar Tools
When work needs to be done, how do you know who needs to do it? If you’re used to being handed out your assignments every morning as you step into your office, working remotely will present quite a bit of change for your work habits.
In traditional offices, tasks can be delegated verbally, through email or as of late, through project management tools. If something goes awry and you don’t know who needs to do something, what’s the deadline for a task and whether everything has been completed, you can always tap your coworker on the shoulder and find out.
In remote environments, this is hardly an option. One way to go about it is to handle communication through email, but seeing how we receive hundreds of emails daily, important work mail can quickly get lost in the noise.
Instead, take all work and task-related communication to project management tools. There are lots of great contenders out there, such as Trello, Asana, Wrike, Jira, Monday, ActiveCollab and many others. Depending on your team’s size, task complexity and personal preference, you can find your best fit.
Since all of the tasks are available for everyone to see, it’s easy to stay on top of things. Your employees can see who’s working on what, where the progress is and they can communicate directly within the project management tool. This will eliminate unnecessary gaps in communication and facilitate a more efficient workflow.
Besides task management tools, make sure to follow calendars so everyone is informed about their coworkers’ availability. If you don’t want to invest additional resources, Google Calendar is an excellent tool that integrates with many third-party applications. Alternatively, you can use tools such as Calendly to schedule meetings, demos and interviews for your team and third parties.
Calendars are especially useful for remote and distributed teams with members across different time zones. By simply keeping note of meetings, team members are bound to be confused about when to show up for a meeting or a call. Teams such as Toggl have workers from 19 different time zones, which can be hectic without proper calendar management.
Once tasks are assigned, it’s time to see that employees are following through with them. Standups are a great idea for managers and team leads to keep workers in check, but they’re also a fine opportunity for everyone to stay on the same page regarding what is being done.
Video standups are one of the easiest to set up – simply invite all team members to a regular Skype/Zoom call and have each report on their task for the day/week/month. Make sure to establish a structure from the very start, so that meetings take 5 instead of 50 minutes.
Another effective way of running standups is by using bots. For example, one of the most popular Slack tools for this purpose is called Standuply. Every day, at a given interval, employees can communicate what they worked on the previous day, what they plan to work on for the upcoming day, as well as any other questions you want asked and answered on a daily basis.
Standups are essential for multiple reasons, but primarily they are a great way to stay in touch with your team on a regular basis. Moreover, they also keep employees accountable for their work.
Set up Your Own Digital Watercooler
The term watercooler moments came from the informal conversations that employees have between work sessions. These are moments when you’re not working and you’re having a casual chit-chat and really getting to know the people you work with – as life goes far beyond work.
Unfortunately, this element is lacking in remote environments. As the majority of conversations focus on work and work-related topics, you barely get to know your coworkers and their personalities. Not only does this affect work ethic, but it also fosters a poor company culture, which is one of the hardest things to build in remote environments.
One remote company I worked for has specific Slack channels where employees can talk everything non-work related. Sports, hobbies, family, ongoing world events, you name it. Everything goes. This is a neat way of letting everyone communicate, as people can choose to participate or mute the channel if they’re working on something important.
Another remote company I worked with has campfire moments, where the employees get together once or twice per week for half an hour to talk about topics completely unrelated to work. One employee is designated to talk for the meeting, about any topic they desire. Seeing how employees were spread across different countries, many campfires revolve around the customs and specifics of their countries.
While the majority of time spent at work does need to be productive, make sure to set aside time slots where employees can sit down and get to know each other in a way that is at least similar to office environments.
Pay Attention to Your Words
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, says the famous Shakespeare quote. In reality, things are a little bit more different, and a few poorly chosen words can make or break a work environment in seconds.
The majority of work communication in offices goes through email, but any disagreements or disputes are talked out in person. You can pay attention to your coworkers’ tone of voice, body language, facial impressions, intonation, the volume of their voice and many other small signals that tell you how the person really feels.
In remote work environments, the bulk of communication falls down on text. As you may have witnessed on your own, a single sentence can create a conflict if it’s poorly interpreted. Without having cues such as body language and intonation, we are prone to misinterpreting words we read on our screens.
Unfortunately, a single badly interpreted sentence can have dire consequences and cause arguments. Since you cannot talk it out at a given moment, it can linger on and create a hostile work environment over something as trivial as choosing a font color or a background image.
To combat this, make sure to communicate clearly and think twice about the message you are sending. Could someone interpret it the wrong way and get offended? Think twice before sending any messages, especially in group chats.
Second, if you do sense a disagreement coming up, make sure to talk it out. Sit down with your coworkers and ask if there’s a problem and what you can do best to solve it. If you feel like you’ve been falsely interpreted, arrange a video call so that the other party can see your face and hear your tone of voice.
Use Multiple Communication Channels (but not all of them)
Seeing a gap in the work environment, many companies have come up with solutions to improve work communication in remote environments. We have tools such as Skype, Zoom, Appear.in, Flock and others at our disposal to communicate. Add on top of that the emails and project management tools and you could possibly face a communication overload.
As employees have so many places to talk, they may have a paralysis of choice and simply not communicate at all. This is why it’s necessary to establish communication channels procedures, ideally in your onboarding documentation.
Determine which communication is used for what purpose. For example, daily standups can be done in Slack, team meetings on Zoom, personal video chats on Skype etc. When employees know which channel to use for which purpose, they won’t be tempted to mix up channels.
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