Communication is important. Even those weird, oddly unproductive employees who share the same geographical location (can you believe people still do that when the benefits of remote working are so obvious?) need to talk to each other. Of course, when you’re talking about a remote team, it becomes even more critical; team communication has been called the oxygen of distributed workers.
There are plenty of online collaboration tools out there to make sure that you and your team of digital nomads can stay in touch. There’s certainly no shortage of ways you can communicate, but it’s important to understand the differences between them and know which works best, for what.
Types of online communication
Online communication and collaboration software come under one of three headings. They are:
These are the methods where you’d do the equivalent of leaving a post-it note on someone’s desk. It doesn’t matter if they’re currently working or not, the message will get delivered and they can reply when they’re ready. Email is the most obvious option here, but Slack chat and similar, Trello and Skype are other examples.
Here, you talk in real time. It could be that you’re teleconferencing at an agreed time, or you’re all logged in to a GoToMeeting or Zoom video chat. The plus side of this is getting an immediate response; the downside is that it can be hard to arrange if you have employees working in different time zones.
Face to face meetings
If you can get the team together, it can do wonders for team bonding. You could invite your remote team to the company picnic, organize an away day or hold a meeting in the office for #throwbackthursday.
The staple of remote working is asynchronous communication. It works well, most of the time, but if your team aren’t all working at the same time, then you might be waiting a while for a reply. For vital communication, synchronous tools are your best bet.
Tips for using your tools more effectively
It isn’t just about finding the right virtual communication tools for your project. It’s also about knowing how to use them to get the best out of the software and your remote team.
Be clear about the methods.
Or, communicate about your communication. Make sure that each channel has a clear purpose, and that your virtual workers know which they should use and when. Non-urgent project updates? Leave a comment on the Trello card for the job. Urgent? Skype me. Zombocalypse? Call me on my cell phone.
If you don’t do this, then you risk your team using the wrong method, and a vital message not getting across. On the other end of the spectrum, a small thing that doesn’t need an immediate response can tie up everyone’s time if it’s aired on a group channel rather than directed.
Know when people are available
Here at DistantJob, we advocate that distributed team members work the same hours as company HQ. We think it makes things simpler because it means that communication is clearer. If you don’t choose to follow our expert advice, then you’ll want to look for a tool that will let you see at a glance what the time is for each of your employees.
That will help you to schedule meetings for times that will work for everyone. You’ll be sure that you won’t ring one of your digital nomads when they’re sound asleep or out on a date. Tools like World Time Buddy are great for knowing when work hours overlap.
Make it part of your job as remote team leader to check in with your people regularly. If you use the Agile development methodology (and if not, why not?), then you’ll have your daily stand-up meeting. If you don’t, then make a point of touching base with your team, so you stay up to date on the issues. Oh, and download our eBook on why you should be using Agile.
You can also use a goal tracking tool part of your workflow. It can give a great sense of satisfaction and team spirit, to tick off goals in real time. A visual way that your team can see what they are achieving together.
Read twice, reply once
There is some difference in opinion about how much of communication is non-verbal. Whatever the number, visual cues are an essential part of how we understand each other. When you’re communicating primarily through text, they get lost. This loss can lead to ambiguity and even to people taking offense where the speaker meant none.
If you’ve received a message which makes your hackles rise, use Hanlan’s Razor. Don’t assume that the person is out to get you, or is offended, or any other harmful response. Ask for clarification, if you need to. Alternatively, work through a few different scenarios of what they might have meant to help you see more clearly.
Watch your words
When you’re using only the written word to get your message across, you have to be extra careful that what you've written is what you meant to say. If you have team members from different parts of the world, they may not understand common idioms. When you’ve written your message, read it through at least once. Put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving your words. Will they understand what you’ve meant to say? If not, revise.
Some communication experts advocate using emoji to make your meaning clearer. For some people that might feel unprofessional. It’s true, though, that using an emoji or a gif can give a message a visual context that helps to make it clear. If you’re communicating with generation Z? They’re going to have grown up with this stuff. Consider your audience, and emote appropriately.
Make time to chat
The more people talk to each other, the better they get to know each other. When you understand someone, you’re more likely to get what they’re saying the first time.
I have a friend, who is kind and compassionate. If she thinks you’re making a mistake, she will tell you. She’s passionate about what she believes in and loves to share that knowledge. When I read her social media messages, I wince. Because if you hadn’t met her, you’d see those words as confrontational, preachy and judgemental.
The more social contact your virtual team has, the better they will understand each other in business. So make a chat channel, or have some form of virtual water cooler; whatever it takes to get your people talking.
A learning curve
If your employees are just starting to work remotely, then you may have a few teething problems before you find the right solution. That’s why we think it’s important to look for staff who are used to working remotely. If you have space on your team for a telecommuting superstar, get in touch with us today. We’d be happy to help.