Remote work can be a dream come true for any professional seeking flexibility and balance in their life and career. But it can quickly become a nightmare if communication in the workplace is poor.
In a series of interviews conducted among remote workers in 2020, 88% declared that communication problems are one of the main disadvantages of working remotely. It can’t be a coincidence that so many people report the same issue.
Communication is the base of any team, but it becomes far more critical in a remote setting. In this context, all the instructions and information on how to get the job done must be given via text or during the limited time of meetings.
Hence, communication for remote teams must be direct and precise.
It can be a dangerous choice to handle remote communication as if it’s all about video meetings or as if it’s the same as on-site interactions. Unlike in-person offices, there is no space for half-explained matters or assumptions in the remote world.
Luckily for me, my team and I quickly understood the ways of remote communication and are continuously improving our means and practices. We’ve tracked our main challenges and nailed remote communication down to five essential rules we follow every day, which can also come in handy for your employees.
Communication challenges in a remote team
A significant communication red flag is when the team members are unable to comprehend one another and work together toward the collective goal.
Each team will face its very own communication issues, but the result is always the same: miscommunication, frequent mistakes, and higher dissatisfaction within the work environment.
Here are some of the communication challenges we overcome daily at Akiflow:
Keeping everyone on the same page
As a startup with a small team, we try our best to keep everyone on board with what is happening in each department. Doing so allows our team to learn in-depth about how the company and product work while giving them the assets to come up with the next great idea.
However, explaining marketing concepts to developers and vice-versa can be overwhelming sometimes. We have to make sure to use a beginner-friendly approach with everyone while being direct and precise with the information we want to share.
Dealing with different languages and cultures
At Akiflow, we have the privilege of working with people from different countries and regions, enriching our discussions and giving us the opportunity to learn more about other cultures. But it’s not as easy in real life.
Besides being in distinct time zones and working schedules, most of us speak different languages and have different communication styles. Because of that, we must learn how to approach each other respectfully and try to use English at all times so everyone can understand and join the discussions.
Reducing the time spent on meetings
In a remote setting, turning every question or discussion into a meeting can be too easy. But filling everyone’s schedules with calls can be more counterproductive than good, as it jeopardizes the time to take action and get things done.
Besides the meeting frequency, its structure is also important for effective communication. Every meeting should have an agenda the participants acknowledge in advance. A quick overview of what was discussed and the next steps should be done before wrapping up.
Cultivating impromptu/spontaneous conversations
One downside of remote work is the lack of opportunities for spontaneous conversations. Such absence can not only become an obstacle for team building but also prevent employees from getting insights and experience from other coworkers regarding their projects.
While this is not an easy challenge to overcome, we try to cultivate such impromptu discussions during daily standups, weekly virtual get-togethers, and via Slack channels.
5 rules for effective communication for remote teams
1. Determine standard means of communication
The first rule for effective communication is determining the means for it.
You should choose one platform for each type of contact. One email provider, one instant messenger, one video meeting app, and so on. The pitfall of communication is not having standard means for it and allowing people to reach each other wherever they find fit.
Not having standard means of communication can disrupt its flow and impose risks on your company data. It makes it easier to leak unwanted information unintentionally through the several channels team members have to juggle daily.
These are the communication apps we use at Akiflow:
- Gmail for email;
- Slack for quick messages;
- Google Meet for meetings;
2. Introduce asynchronous communication
When emailing or chatting virtually with someone, the response time can be from minutes to hours after your message was sent. Although this should be an implicit understanding, many people still hold the same response time expectations as in face-to-face settings.
All remote teams should work with the asynchronous communication model to avoid misunderstandings and any anxiety related to response time. Especially for companies like Akiflow, with different time zones and working schedules, this communication approach can be a game changer.
With asynchronous communication, no one is required only to message others during their work shift, but in return, no one expects an immediate reply. It also saves everyone’s time, requiring people to go directly to the point and ask all at once.
3. Educate the team on the best practices for communication
As a follow-up to implementing asynchronous communication, you’ll need to educate your team on its best practices and any other communication particularity you decide. A few topics you may want to go over with everyone are:
Maintain clear and precise writing
As mentioned before, asynchronous communication requires people to be direct and tell/ask everything at once.
However, no one wants to receive lengthy texts all the time. It is essential to focus on the key points, write with simplicity, and create the habit of double-checking and editing the messages before sending them.
Be mindful of your virtual etiquette
If people have different communication styles in-person, in the virtual world, there are even more differences that can cause many misinterpretations.
The most common virtual communication contrasts are evident through the following:
- Small talk;
- Emojis, stickers, and GIFs;
- CapsLock and exclamation point.
While such differences are mainly personal, it might be helpful to instruct the team to be mindful of them while aiming to express their message effectively.
It can be a good opportunity to teach them how to format their text in a way that the central topic of the discussions is highlighted and understood by anyone. Organizing the text in separate paragraphs and using bold and italic to highlight the main points are great starters.
Evaluate the context and think critically
One of the most important lessons you can teach your employees is how to put yourself in the other person’s shoes before talking to them. It is a must if you manage a multicultural team like Akiflow.
Keeping your culture and environment in mind when sending or receiving a message can help minimize misunderstandings. Knowing your coworker’s location, cultural customs, and native language will help you better understand them.
Regardless of culture, everyone must think critically before sending messages and comments, especially regarding feedback. What might seem like non-biased constructive feedback for you might not look the same in the receiver’s eyes.
4. Prefer text over meetings
The problem with excessive and non-effective meetings has a simple solution: preferring text over calls.
It is simple but not so obvious. Calling someone for a quick chat or booking a meeting might seem like the best way to discuss something, as you’ll get an immediate response and solve things right away.
But the truth is that meetings hardly ever get to solve anything, and they often end up just generating tasks or other meetings. Most of the time, those tasks and discussions can be done more effectively through text, as people will usually think the message through before sending it and can come back and refer to it after the talk.
Bonus tip: You can save your Slack messages and star your emails to quickly turn them into tasks in Akiflow. Learn how here.
5. Document all the guidelines
The last rule, probably one of the most important, is to document all the above.
It can seem troubleless to determine and share all the previous rules with a small team, but it can definitely become a hassle once your team starts growing and you have to explain everything again.
To save you time and energy, document all the guidelines as soon as you have them settled. You can create a fun infographic or just a simple PDF with all the rules and best practices; what is vital is to write it all down.
Doing so will not only help you and your future employees but will also give your current team a document to refer to through their learning process and the autonomy to teach others accurately without depending on you.
Team communication is already a challenge on-site, let alone in a remote setting. As founders and managers, it’s our responsibility to make the company communication clear, concise, and effective at all times.
The above rules result from research, trial, and error with my team. Although they’re currently working for us, a bonus rule we follow is always to be open to feedback, new ideas, and changes in our communication, as long as it’s continuously working and improving.