We’ve all heard people say that communication is key.
And, as cliche as it may sound, it’s true. Communication is important in every aspect of life—and business is no exception. And with a remote team? It’s vital.
This quote by Jeremey Duvall of Automattic pretty much sums it up:
“In many ways, communication is the lifeblood of an organization.”
This couldn’t be more true; communication is the very foundation of just about everything.
But here’s the thing: Just about everyone will agree with you if you say communication is important. Yep, it’s pretty much universal. But everyone’s idea of good communication can vary, which is why you need to make sure everyone is on the same page.
As a remote-first company, we write a lot about what it’s like working remotely and how to make it work. (Check out REMOTE: Office Not Required by the founders of 37Signals and Basecamp for a fantastic book on building a remote team.) While our office is based in Bloomington, Indiana, we have teammates in Alabama, Alaska, New Hampshire, Australia, and Canada.
We all meet up annually, and yet we communicate on a regular basis. If you’re part of a remote team, then you know how important communication is.
If you’re thinking of joining a remote team, or you’re just curious about how remote teams communicate remotely, check out these five ways to make it work:
1. Develop Awesome Communication Skills
Before going any further, it’s important to first bring up the fact that no communication channel will work if you don’t put effort into your communication skills.
What do I mean by this? Well, what I mean is that it’s good to be able to express yourself clearly. You could have the best in-person social skills, but online interactions are very different—they’re really two separate worlds.
This means being able to communicate effectively, quickly and concisely. Try to clearly convey your point within a few sentences, and if it takes longer, it may be time to pick up the phone or start a video chat.
After all, a message that takes five minutes to type (when it would normally be a one-minute phone call) isn’t exactly efficient.
Good communication is also about not going MIA. So you’ll want to make sure you’re responding to people in a timely manner, just in case they’re waiting on something that only you can help them with.
Do you know anyone who likes being ignored? I know I don’t, and your boss probably doesn’t, either. When working remote, being available for conversation and questions is especially necessary.
The truth is that we all like to think of ourselves as awesome communicators—but more than likely, there are ways we can still improve.
And don’t worry: This is something you can teach yourself and master over time. Think of it as a muscle that needs to be flexed, or a plant that needs to be watered.
Chat is far more efficient than long, drawn-out email chains (who likes those, anyway?). Plus, there’s one more bonus: It’s fun.
When you’re chatting with someone in real-time, it’s much more interactive and there’s ultimately less waiting around. In essence, it feels like you’re actually having a real, human conversation with somebody. The timing of reactions are much more natural.
And hey, sometimes we just need to ask a quick question.
When it comes to real-time chat, it’s easy to be concerned about distractions when people can ping you at any time. But that’s also part of the beauty! In many chat applications, incoming messages are accompanied with alerts. If these alerts tend to break your focus, then consider turning those alerts off when you’re crunching through a project.
One thing to keep in mind is that written text lacks the subtle cues of in-person conversation. With chat, you do need to be careful about how your words might be interpreted and possibly misunderstood. That’s why there’s an abundance of emoticons and gifs in our everyday chats — they’re useful in conveying the right nuances. Plus, they help boost camaraderie!
3. Video Conferences
While it’s not productive to be in endless video meetings, useful video chats definitely help connect remote teams.
So, how do you know whether or not a video meeting is necessary? Here’s a good general rule of thumb: If you can’t say it in a few sentences, then it’s probably time to hop on a video call.
Plus, when you don’t see your coworkers everyday, video chat is nice. It’s the closest thing to interacting in person, and all you need is a fast internet connection. If you make the effort and look into reliable internet that isn’t constantly freezing your video calls to death, you won’t regret it. Personally, I couldn’t imagine being on a remote team and not being able to video chat on a regular basis. It’s simply a necessity if you’re serious about working remotely.
But many remote workers like to travel, so it’s safe to say that fast internet isn’t always a guarantee when you’re out of state. Even though it’s 2015, Wi-Fi can still be spotty and unpredictable. If you run into any problems like this when traveling, simply lower the video quality and you should be able to still chat via video.
Not a fan of video chat? Figure out why that may be. Do your calls freeze? Check out a different video chat system, or consider a new internet service provider. Do you have trouble hearing? Get a sweet headset.
When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I really need to organize my inbox”? Well, you’re not alone.
This is a universal problem and one of the many reasons why project management tools highlight how the use of their service will result in less email: An uncluttered inbox is something everyone strives for—and for good reason.
Email is not nearly as efficient as chat or video conferencing (at least in most cases). If someone isn’t online and you’re unable to chat, email is of course always an option. Or if you’re emailing someone outside of your company and want to CC a team member, email would certainly make sense.
Email takes a bit more time, and it’s not quite as interactive as other channels of communication.
With collaboration tools out there like Asana, Basecamp and Trello, email is becoming less and less of a necessity when it comes to company communication. At least, as long as you don’t have email notifications enabled for everything.
5. Staff Meetups
Without turning this post in a super cheesy direction about team-building, I think it’s safe to say that most people would agree that getting everyone in a company together once per year is always a good idea.
I mean, we have to prove that we’re human somehow, right?
Here at FormAssembly, we have annual meetups where we all hang out in person. Even if you communicate with each other all the time online, meeting up is something that is super important.
In an office, it’s easy to bump into people in every department. But in a remote workplace, you might communicate with a few people everyday, but yearly staff retreats allow you to chat with people in other departments that you may not normally work with too often. And that’s pretty cool.
These days, there are endless ways for remote teams to communicate.
All of these channels are powerful, and each has its pros and cons. But one thing’s for sure: They all fuel communication, and awesome communication is vital in a remote workplace.
PS: Are you looking for a remote job? Good news: We’re hiring!
Do you have something else to add?
How does your remote team communicate? Share with us in the comments!