Anna
Dziuba
Delivery Manager at Relevant Software

9 Proven Strategies to Ensure Effective Communication for Remote Teams

Management

Post the pandemic, remote teams are now pretty much the standard de facto of every company. To keep up with the changing work landscape, organizations around the world have to implement the best remote team communication strategies. 

According to Owl Labs, today, 56% of companies globally allow remote work, and 16% of firms are fully remote. 

Statistics from Global Workplace Analytics from between 2005 and 2018 indicated that work-from-home has grown by 173%. 

This percentage increased significantly when the pandemic hit in 2020, with Gartner reporting that 88% of organizations suggested or made it mandatory that employees work from home. 

These statistics imply that working-from-home is increasingly becoming commonplace in many organizations, and it is vital for managers to learn how to communicate with a remote team effectively. 

This guide offers you nine remote team communication tips to help you overcome any challenges you may face working with remote teams.

You may be wondering why you would listen to us. Relevant is an expert in remote working. We were building great software products remotely before it became mainstream. We know how important communication in the context of remote work is, so we prepared this short guide for you.

How is communication with remote teams different?

Many managers may argue that effective communication between physical teams and remote teams is not all that different. They would suggest the go-to communication method members in close physical proximity use, meetings. 

Yet, over the years, there have been many critiques on the overreliance on meetings and how they hamper productivity. If meetings do not work for physically close teams, increasing them with your remote teams may not be the solution.

Before diving into how to make your remote team communication more effective, it may be essential to understand some of the mistakes companies make.

7 common mistakes when working with a remote team

Here is a brief breakdown of seven remote team communication mistakes you may face working with your remote team:

1.   Lack of planning

There may be times when impromptu meetings are necessary, but they should not become standard practice. Prior planning allows your team members to be better prepared for the meeting, making it more effective. 

For example, it can enable them to gather all the necessary documents needed for the meeting.

Additionally, it can allow them to prevent one of the most common communication challenges remote team management leaders face; interruptions. You have seen those videos where the dog is running around in the room or the child needs a snack as their owner/parent is trying to make a presentation. 

These challenges may not be completely avoidable, but you can minimize them. With prior planning, your team members can plan so that they can concentrate on the meeting fully.

2.   Forgetting time zones

It is not uncommon these days to hire remote developers who live in different countries. Different time zones can mean that the working hours between you and your remote development team do overlap. 

Proper communication can help you find the optimum times for meetings where everyone can attend comfortably.

3.   Not respecting different religions or cultures

Adding to the previous point, you may be working with a remote team whose culture and religion vary greatly from yours. 

One way to get on the same track is to have a meeting where all team members are educated on the nuances of the team member’s culture and religion. Opening communication channels can help everyone feel welcome and safe.

4.   Expecting workers to multitask 

One sure way of not communicating effectively is to work on more than one thing simultaneously. One study showed that only 2.5% of those tested could multitask. Extrapolating this data would imply that only a tiny percentage of your population can multitask; the rest cannot.

It is therefore vital that every member strives to single-task, especially during meetings. This can help reside unnecessary repetitions and follow-up communication asking things covered in the meeting.

5.   Micromanaging

There are many dangers to micromanaging. Micromanaging does not work with physical teams, and it will not work when working with remote teams. A better alternative to micromanaging is to establish better remote team communication methods.

6.   Lack of visibility

There are several factors included in this point. First, it may be challenging to know who is working when they should and who isn’t without remote-tracking tools. 

Secondly, effective communication is multisensory. Therefore, whenever possible, multimodal communication should be chosen over unimodal; for example, choose video calls (use sight and sound) over calls (use sound only) for increased engagement.

7.   Communicating without context

How to communicate with remote teams is not only about tools and methods, but also what you say and how you say it. Short emails are better than long emails but make them too short, and you stand the risk of miscommunicating. 

Remember that written communication lacks the tonal inflexions that communicate the context of the message. Finally, don’t make the message too short or long. Give enough information to provide context.

7 common mistakes when working with a remote team

9 remote team communication strategies

This section will describe the most important things you should implement to build an effective communication process with remote teams. These are communication best practices for remote teams that allow effective remote team working. They include:

1.   Choose the right tools

If you find yourself wondering how you would overcome communication challenges on a remote team, you are not alone. First, you need to leverage the existing communication tools for remote teams. 

There are many tools you can pick from, all serving different purposes. Looking for the best communication tools for remote teams may be an overwhelming endeavor, but there are many online lists to help you narrow down your choices.

The table below contains a list of different tools that exist to make communication for remote teams easier and examples of these tools. Some tools may fall into several categories.

CategoryWhat it doesExamples
CollaborativeThese tools allow you to store, share and edit documents in one place without having to send documents back and forth.Google DriveDropboxBoxOneDrive 
Screen sharingAllow members to see each other’s screens. This can help when explaining isn’t working.Team ViewerJoin.meRemotePC 
Project management tools and task delegationHelp team members remain productive by allowing task delegation, time tracking, etc.JiraAsanaClickUpBasecamp
Video conferencing toolsThey allow members to hold visual virtual meetingsZoomSkypeTeamViewer
Remote communicationThese allow non-visual real-time communicationSlackMicrosoft TeamsDiscord
Calendars and to-do-listsHelp team members manage time more effectivelyMicrosoft To-DoGoogle Calendar
Reward managementIncrease team engagement by acknowledging team member’s performance and tracking themWooBoardKudosFond
Monitoring toolsAllow team leaders to track how long the team members workedTogglTimeDoctor
Table 1: Categories of remote communication tools, what they do, and some examples of each

2.   Train people to use these tools

You can have the best remote team communication tools, but that does not ensure success. Your team members need to know how to use these tools, so you get the most out of them. In many cases, it means that you may have to set aside time to train your team members to get the most out of these tools. 

You can also add rules that govern how they use these rules. For example, you can decide how they can share their documents or tools with non-staff and stay safe by adding secure passwords. 

3.   Create an online office culture

Office cooler conversations help your employees relax when they are in the office. But what do you do when you are managing software teams remotely? It is possible to create an office culture online. Here are some things you can do;

  1. Establish official and non-official communication channels. These non-official channels can be used to talk about day-to-day challenges, share memes and have fun.
  2. Be mindful of your tone. A little context to your communication can change a message from sounding rude to sounding respective. For example, ‘Send the final document asap,’ can be better replaced with ‘The client wants the document by the end of the day so send it as soon as possible.’
  3. Schedule bonding time. You can schedule a time regularly where you meet and catch up. Encourage open communication during this time without members being disrespectful. This time can also be good for airing grievances and educating members on how they can be more mindful of one another.

4.   Create communication guidelines

Remote team leadership can be made more effective by establishing communication guidelines. For example, you can outline what type of messages can be communicated using which medium. 

You can also define when communication channels are open and when they are closed. Finally, you can establish what is considered appropriate and what isn’t. These guidelines can be added to a communication guidelines handbook which can be given to each employee.

5.   Chose asynchronous communication

According to a study by the University of California, Irvine, it will take you more than 20 minutes to get back to work after an interruption. When companies chose synchronous communication, their employees get interrupted every time someone sends a message. Constant interruptions mean it may take a long time before the team member gets back to work.

Choosing asynchronous communication over synchronous communication can help solve this issue. The table below shows the significant differences between asynchronous and synchronous communication.

Asynchronous communicationSynchronous communication
This type of communication happens on a moment by moment basisThis type of communication happens over some time
It allows team members to respond to communication at their most convenient timeIt requires immediate responses
It is often not planned for or scheduledIt can be impromptu or scheduled
It does not need participating members to be present to occurUsually needs communicating members to be present
Examples include email, video recordings, project management tools, and direct messagingExamples include one-on-one meetings, phone calls, office-cooler conversations, and video conferences.
Table 2: Asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

6.   Use visual aids to help written communication

Sending long documents can be tedious to read. However, breaking down documents with visual aids like charts and infographics can make them more palatable and easier to read through. 

Additionally, images will be easier to remember, especially those that summarize the written text. By adding visual aids to your documents and presentations, you break the monotony of words to help team members stay alert.

7.   Set clear deadlines and expectations

According to Mark Murphy, a leadership expert, many managers micromanage because they fear that their team members will do something to tarnish their reputation. The manager may micromanage when working with a physical team, but it sometimes becomes harder when working with a distributed development or remote team. There are those managers that still try to do it.

These managers can remain in control and use one or more of the collaborative tools mentioned above to break down work, assign it, and set deadlines and expectations. 

This way, they have communicated what they expect to each member and need not keep looking over their team members’ shoulders. The fact that they have distributed the task will alleviate their fear that the team will do something wrong and give the members breathing room to work.

8.   Respect team members differences

When you hire software development team from a different country, you are bound to find several differences between these team members and you. You should take your time to learn about the existing cultural and religious differences. 

With this knowledge, you can create a conducive environment for them to work that respects and honors everyone’s differences. Next, you should check for any time zone differences and create schedules that work well for you and the team.

9.   Regularly plan for check-ins

Even though meetings might have a bad reputation, you cannot avoid them entirely. You have to find the line between overscheduling and not having enough check-ins. 

Make it a point to regularly check in with your team members, especially team leaders, to ensure that everything is working as it should and address any problems they may be facing.

effective remote team communication checklist

How to build a remote communication culture: Do’s and don’ts

Now that you have some tips on how to communicate with a remote team, we will describe more general but essential practices that help support effective communication in the long run. These communication ideas for remote teams are presented as the do’s and don’ts of remote communication.

Do’s

  • Find ways to build personal connections. Internal messaging tools can help tremendously with this.
  • Practice empathy when dealing with team members
  • Send messages focusing on particular  topics rather than emails with information about everything. This will make it easier to follow up.
  • Allow quiet time when communication is minimized, and team members have time to work. One way to do this is to communicate in bursts. Asynchronous communication methods help with this.
  • Match the message to the appropriate channel
  • Create a virtual water cooler. Here team members can celebrate wins, share jokes and relax.
  • Establish communication norms. You can have a communication guideline manual that dictates what types of messages go where and what terms can be used to filter importance.
  • Assume that the person sending the message has positive intent. Ask about what they meant rather than reacting.
  • Appreciate the benefits of remote communication, for example, for introverts, and use them to your advantage.

Don’ts

  • Don’t micromanage. Use the project management and to-do list applications to subdivide work and set expectations, then let your team members do their jobs.
  • Don’t confuse compacting your message with effective communication. If you make your sentences too short and are too economical with your words, you risk being misunderstood. Instead, find the balance between being clear and being brief.
  • Don’t besiege your team members with constant communication. This is especially true if you are communicating the same message through multiple channels. Ascertain the necessity of your communication and focus it on the most effective medium.
  • Don’t confuse constant communication with effectiveness. If your members are constantly responding to messages, they probably spend little time working on their projects. Deep work is crucial if your team is to work effectively
  • Don’t send useless messages. Except in the chat rooms for fun, all communication should have a purpose.
  • Don’t ghost your team members. If you cannot respond to a message when you open it, send a brief message acknowledging receipt and when you can work on its contents.
  • Don’t send polarizing content. While it may be okay to send political or naughty messages to your friends, it may not elicit the same response in your workgroup.
  • Don’t send incomplete information.
  • Don’t forget to time meetings and speakers to prevent meetings from taking up too much time.

The future is remote, isn’t it?

More and more companies are switching either to partly or fully remote work. According to Entrepreneur, many big-name companies chose to let their employees work from home in 2020. Some companies like Hitachi and Zillow are considering allowing some of their employees to work from home permanently.

A survey by GitLab found that over 80% of participants thought remote-working would become the norm in the future, and as many as 1 in 3 said they would leave their jobs if they could no longer work remotely.

These stats, combined with those at the beginning of the article, imply that companies should get ready for remote-working to become the norm. 

To prepare for this transition, these companies have to set up remote communication guidelines, invest in tools and learn best practices that will help them work effectively with their remote workers.

Wrapping up

Are you an organization looking to supplement your team with top-tier tech talent or to develop software? Why not try working with Relevant software. We have experience and expertise working with companies in various fields. 

We can help you build/grow a dedicated team with the top tech talent or develop your products from scratch regardless of your field, be it fintech, real estate, or retail. Hire remote developers with us, and you can rest assured that communication between you and your team will be smooth, thanks to our well-established remote work processes. You will no doubt join our list of happy clients.

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Tags: management
Written by
Anna Dziuba
Delivery Manager at Relevant Software
I ensure delivery excellence and high-quality of software development services our company provides. We carefully pick each employee and stick to high standards of product development to ensure the highest quality of code.

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