What is remote communication?
Remote communication is an umbrella term used to refer to the various kinds of digital communication used by remote workers to communicate with their colleagues to accomplish work. The most popular forms of remote communication include basic tools like email, chat, intranets, video conferencing and work collaboration tools all the way up to all-encompassing remote work ecosystems like unified digital workplace platforms.
Effective and efficient communication is the cornerstone of any functioning team, and it is especially crucial for remote teams that don’t meet each other often.
Just think about all the ways employees can interact with their coworkers when they work from the same office. They have traditional meetings, brainstorming sessions, catch up with others in the break room, or just walk up to a colleague’s desk to ask a few quick doubts.
But, how do you make all of these important connections when you don’t work with your team members in the same office and have almost no direct face-to-face interactions?
Communication in remote teams can be tricky to nail, but it is not impossible. When executed correctly, good communication can help remote teams get closer and improve collaboration.
Remote Work Communication challenges
It is already challenging for remote employees to work together and communication can become a big stumbling block for many companies if it is not executed the right way. When communication falters, work suffers, and employees feel isolated from their team. As interactions among team members decrease, it gradually lowers their morale which directly affects their performance.
Some of the many communication challenges faced by remote teams include:
- Limited communication with the rest of the team members.
- Different working hours due to employees working from different time zones.
- Technical limitations like poor internet connection and lack of communication tools.
- Over-communication with the whole team leading to no work-life boundaries.
- Friction between team members due to misinterpreted messages.
Understanding the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication
To establish the right communication practices within your organization and overcome all the main communication challenges, it’s important to first understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication. You also need to decide the right protocols and the right time to use both of them.
Synchronous communication happens when two or more people agree to communicate in real-time. Meetings and instant messaging are examples of synchronous communication.
When you are in an office and a coworker walks up to your desk to ask a quick question, it is synchronous. Emails can also be synchronous when your manager or department head expects you to respond to an email right away.
The biggest advantage of synchronous communication is that any doubt or query can be resolved right away with no delays. But it’s not possible for remote employees to always have synchronous communication — they may be in different time zones, busy with their core work responsibilities, or they just might be unavailable.
In most cases, synchronous communication is reserved for important meetings or discussions through live chat, team’s weekly video meetings, or phone calls in case of an emergency.
It is the backbone of many remote teams, especially the ones that have team members spread across different time zones. Asynchronous communication is when you send a message to your colleagues without expecting an immediate response.
Instead of a real-time conversation, team members can leave messages for others and respond when their schedule allows them to. For that reason, asynchronous communication is the best option for remote teams to discuss topics that aren’t urgent or time-sensitive.
Here are some of the many benefits of asynchronous communication:
- Team members aren’t constantly interrupted by messages that require an immediate response from them.
- Employees can disconnect to completely focus on their work for hours at a stretch.
- Employees don’t feel pressured to respond to work messages outside of their work hours.
- All the members of the team can set their own work schedule regardless of when the others are working.
- Instead of knee-jerk responses, people can think over the particular idea or problem and offer more thoughtful responses when they are ready.
Synchronous and asynchronous communication are both important for remote teams. It’s best to use asynchronous communication for general day to day work conversations and only reserve synchronous communication for important team meetings and urgent discussions.
How can remote teams improve communication?
1. Create a clear remote work communications plan
A communications plan is essential to the success of any kind of remote work setup. Identifying a unified platform that can handle all your communication and collaboration needs is the first step towards this. Your remote work communications plan should revolve around these things. Educating employees on remote work policies, ensuring attendance at meetings, digital team activities, planning efforts, etc. A unified digital workplace platform is the best option to implement your remote work communications plan as it contains all of the features and analytic tools you will need to ensure its success.
2. Keep your messages as clear and concise as possible
With face to face conversations, body language gives context to your statements. Without any verbal and visible cues like body language or facial expressions to determine context, your messages can oftentimes come across as rude, terse, or just insensitive.
Try to share the intention behind your messages in as little words as you can. Your messages shouldn’t be too confusing or wordy for your team members to understand.
You should also review the tone of your message before sending it off. If you think there is even a small chance your message might be misinterpreted, it’s best to over-communicate and explain yourself. You can also add emojis to your messages to add context to them. Adding emojis helps clarify, humanize, and lighten up the overall tone of your message.
3. Create a virtual watercooler space for employees
When you are in a physical office space it’s easy to get to know your coworkers. After all, you spend the majority of your week together, working side by side, having lunch together, and chatting about the day to day stuff.
But with remote teams that only talk about work, it can be difficult to get to know your team members which can eventually lead to issues with team communication and collaboration. That is why you should create a virtual water cooler space for your team where everyone can come together to have non-work conversations. It can be anything from cat GIFs to a funny article you saw online. It will also help reduce the distance between the team members and make them feel like they are a part of the community.
4. Overcommunication can quickly turn into micromanagement
With recent technological developments, remote work offers you powerful tools of oversight that can quickly become overbearing if you over communicate expectations to employees. A number of studies have pointed to Agile work methodologies being the best option in remote work models. It is imperative to create a sense of responsibility among employees instead of checking in too often and being overbearing about results. Given a choice, employees would rather perform their work at peak efficiency than sit around answering questions about ongoing work at meetings that take up their time.
5. Address communication gaps in hybrid teams
Remote work communication can get incredibly complex when it involves hybrid teams. When a portion of your employees work out of the office, they always have better access to resources, contacts and relationships with decision makers. Remote workers may not have the same luxury due to being in different time zones, dealing with delayed responses from team members. It is important to address this gap in communication by introducing initiatives like buddy programs and get-togethers where remote and in-office employees can interact and develop better rapport that will result in enhanced communication.
6. Tackle the challenges of globally distributed teams
There are many challenges that face globally distributed teams. Primary among these challenges is employees scattered across various time zones and the resultant delays in communication. Further, there are other challenges that crop up like language barriers, culture barriers and the difficulty of bridging gaps that arise due to these issues. Nevertheless, managing globally distributed teams has gotten a lot easier now than even five years ago, thanks to a multitude of applications and unified platforms that let distributed teams interact, communicate and collaborate in much better ways than ever before.
7. Remote work communication tools
Too many communication tools mean too many places for people to share information. When conversations are scattered across multiple platforms, it’s easier for employees to miss messages. Getting bombarded by messages from everywhere can also end up overwhelming employees.
Remote teams should have designated tools for synchronous and asynchronous communication.
- Keep instant messaging applications for asynchronous communications.
- Share status updates about work through a project management tool.
- Employees don’t feel pressured to respond to work messages outside of their work hours.
- Use emails only for an important form of communication.
- Use a video application for synchronous communication like team meetings and 1:1 discussions.
A digital workplace is a single tool for all remote team communications
Even if you try to designate different tools for different types of communication, it can still complicate the situation since most communication tools have overlapping functionalities.
Your instant messaging tool might have a video calling feature and some of your employees may feel compelled to use it instead of switching to a separate video calling application. Similarly, team members might want to discuss some project-specific details over chat instead of the project management tool which can invariably alienate other members of the team.
Instead of using dozens of communication tools, you can use a unified digital workplace platform to manage all of your synchronous and asynchronous communication in a single place.
With a digital workplace, you can create dedicated communication channels, chat with your team members in real-time, and manage all the project-related conversations seamlessly. It not only saves you business costs since you don’t have to pay subscription fees for numerous communication tools, but it also helps improve and streamline communication for remote teams. It becomes easier for remote employees to connect with co-workers easily and always stay in the loop.