How can your remote team communicate effectively?

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Remote communication doesn’t always come naturally. While more of us are working in remote teams right now, we need to learn the new rules of effective team communication.

The tone of a text message can be easily misconstrued. The pace of email replies often results in delays.  In fact, remote communication is fraught with complication. 

So what can managers do to ensure that their teams continue to communicate effectively even when working remotely?

#1. Switch to video

Regular video calls are better than voice-only conference calls.  Make it a policy to switch to video wherever you can.  They are much better for establishing rapport than email or voice calls.

#2. Set the ground rules

Be clear upfront about how people should communicate, by when they can expect a reply and how to escalate complaints of bad behavior or slow responses.

#3. Outlaw multi-tasking

Make it clear that multi-tasking on calls is not acceptable.  Everyone owes their teammates the respect of their attention.  Effective virtual collaboration needs everyone to be mentally present and actively participating.

#4. Favor clarity over brevity

Brevity is sometimes confused with clarity – but being too terse can actually make for greater confusion.  If you must communicate by email, spend time to ensure you communicate with maximum clarity.  You can never be too clear.

#5. Work in small groups

Research has shown that the most effective virtual teams are small ones.  Fewer than ten people are preferable for optimum communication.  Furthermore, small teams can enhance performance too.  The same research has shown that team members reduce the effort when they feel less responsible for the output.

#5. Amplify good practice

HBR points out that some key behaviors in face-to-face settings remain critical and must be amplified in virtual teams: fostering trust, encouraging open dialogue, and clarifying goals and guidelines are critical success factors.

#6. Celebrate good practice

Recognize team members when they do something that improves team communication and/ or collaboration.  Celebrate successes and reward good practice.

#7. Encourage frankness

Push team members to be frank with one another in as constructive a way as possible.  HBR recommends designating one team member “the official advocate for candor”.  They should be tasked with speaking up when things are being left unsaid and calling out criticism that is not constructive.

#8. Sustain momentum

Schedule regular video calls as a team and with close collaborators.  When you’re working remotely the frequency of contact should increase, not decrease.  If you’re used to having daily team meetings, make sure these continue.  Managers need to check in on a one-to-one basis with all team members.  The frequency of these communications will depend on need, individual preference, and engagement. 

The essential task here is to ensure everyone stays engaged and motivated – and the best way to do this is through honest, frank, and regular communication.