Communication is an essential part of any organization whether you’re on a remote team or work in a traditional office. When it comes to remote teams, the jury’s still out on whether the differences between remote and in-person workplace communication are good or bad, but it’s safe to say that remote communication has some key differences that might be hard to get used to, especially if you’re coming from a face-to-face environment.
Good remote communication isn’t about having a ton of meetings or micromanaging people. At FormAssembly, our style of remote communication gets as close as possible to the multiple communication types that exist in any brick-and-mortar office.
With a remote team distributed around the world, we’ve learned a thing or two about keeping our team members on the same page, even if they’re not in the same time zone. While everyone has different communication styles, here are a few of the tips that we’ve found to be helpful for our remote communication.
1. Get as Much Face-to-Face Communication as Possible
Even though we communicate largely by chat here at FormAssembly, there’s a lot to be said for having face-to-face communication whenever possible. Schedule video calls if you need to have an in-depth conversation with someone or need to get direct answers that you can’t get by chat. Also, make time for team-wide meetings and encourage team members to use their webcams.
Having a real-time conversation not only helps you get direct answers easily, it’s also more conducive to brainstorming, and seeing a team member’s face can help build a relationship even if you rarely meet in real life.
2. Use Technology to Enable Ongoing Communication
When you work in a physical office, it’s easy to drop by co-worker’s offices or peek your head over the cubicle wall to ask a quick question or engage in a little small talk. These spontaneous interactions are the basis for forming strong connections and they help maintain open communication for projects.
Having a chat software like Flowdock, is our way of enabling this constant stream of communication and making it easy to digitally check in with co-workers. Using chat software lets us communicate in near-real-time, share links, pictures, and talk to individual team members or with a group. Flowdock isn’t the only tool we use for communication; we’ve written in the past about some of our other important remote work tools.
3. Check-In Often
On a remote team (really on any team) it’s important to strike a good balance between too much and too little communication. No one likes a micromanaging boss, but it’s important for leaders to understand what their team is working on, just as it’s important for team members to understand the expectations of their boss and whether they’re meeting them.
Making a point to check in with the rest of your team often (especially if you are the team leader) keeps you informed about any potential issues and facilitates an atmosphere of understanding.
4. Be Patient
While it’s great to have a tool like Flowdock to communicate on-the-fly with teammates, you’re not guaranteed an immediate response on a remote team. Because of this, it’s important to be patient if you’re waiting on an answer.
We work in multiple time zones, which could mean that one person’s lunchtime is the end of the day for another. Be cognizant of your co-workers’ different schedules. For instance, if you work on West Coast time, don’t wait until the end of the day to ask your East Coast co-workers questions.
It can also help to have project management tools like Asana or Basecamp in place so you and your team members can independently keep project logs up to date, which reduces the need to ask questions in first place.
5. Be Proactive In Helping Others
Good communication is everyone’s job on a remote team. One of the biggest things you can do to maintain good, open communication is to be prompt and proactive in offering help to others, especially those who haven’t been at the job as long as you have. Offering assistance helps others learn, helps you practice your skills, and can be the basis for strong, positive team member relationships.
Even if you haven’t been at your job for long, you’re in a great place to help other even newer teammates because you understand and vividly remember what it’s like to be in their position. When team members help others, it creates a chain of the same behavior that can help permeate the rest of your team and any new rounds of hires.
Show empathy, help others, build relationships based on trust and respect, and good communication will follow.
6. Be Direct in Your Communication
In real-life situations, you might be able to get away with being less direct in your wording because body language can help communicate anything you didn’t expressly say. In a remote workplace, the effect of nonverbal cues all but disappears and it’s vitally important to be clear and direct in your communication.
If you’re asking for help with a customer or project, give a little context and provide all the information that someone would need to know to help you up front. This enables them to better help you and allows you to get a more complete answer faster. If you don’t understand part of their answer, clarify what they said. Likewise, any time confusion could happen in a conversation, do your best to head it off.
7. Use Emoticons to Inject Personality in Chats
We’ve all had the experience of staring at an email or text message trying to decipher the emotion behind it. Are they being straightforward or rude? Are they in a hurry or are they annoyed? Why would they choose a period there and not an exclamation point? It can be maddeningly hard to understand the emotions behind digital communication, which is where emoticons come into play.
Though traditionally considered unprofessional, there’s plenty of science to back up the use of emoticons in professional settings. When used correctly, emoticons, exclamation points, even memes and GIFs, can help provide the added emotion that is sometimes missing from text-only communication.
8. Build Relationships With Remote Team Members
Teams with a good dynamic communicate well; likewise, good communication helps form a good team dynamic. While this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, making a concerted effort to build teams pays off in the long run.
One tactic is to instill tiny habits into the workday. We make an effort to greet each other in the morning, keep the team updated on our in- and out-times, and say goodnight at the end of the day. Simple actions like that enhance the teammate experience and remind us that we’re all on the same team regardless of how spread out we are.
Lastly, it’s good to communicate about non-work-related topics from time to time. For example, our support team holds a monthly Google Hangout with no agenda where team members can catch up and chat about their lives. These efforts to build relationships as people, not just co-workers, are essential because remote workplaces don’t have physical corridors, break rooms, and water coolers to congregate in and around.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help and for Feedback
Along with all the other tips, remember to ask for help and feedback when you need it. Without the indications of body language and nonverbal communication, others on your team might not be able to tell if you’re struggling or thriving, so it’s important to be vocal if you need assistance or need to know how you’re performing.
If you’re transitioning into a remote workplace from a more traditional one, there will likely be a learning curve there. The key thing is to understand and accept this and not let the newness get in the way of keeping an open, flexible attitude.
Communication is key to a productive, engaged workforce, but it’s not always easy in remote teams. In fact, it’s one of the biggest remote workplace challenges you might face. Don’t worry if remote communication doesn’t come easily at first. Instead, understand that team-building is a process and use these tips to improve communication along the way.
What do you think? We’d love to hear about your remote communication experience below and on Twitter @FormAssembly!