Should there be a difference between how you interact with your employees in-person versus how you interact with them digitally? Absolutely.
Virtual interactions lack some of our most subtle and important communication tools, like body language, tone of voice, and spatial awareness in relation to others — like whether a coworker is taking notes or scrolling through their phone. As a remote manager or business owner, it’s up to you to ensure that your employees communicate effectively and efficiently, all while feeling supported in their roles and like they’re part of your team.
Communication Tips for Remote Teams
Here are some tips you can use to improve and hone the communication techniques you use in your remote workplace.
1. Invest in Remote Communication Tools
In a remote team, you rely on software to replace in-person conversations and interactions. The better the software, the easier it will be for your team members to use and adapt to. Stick to popular and well-known tools that provide frequent updates, news, and tech support to you and your staff.
This will make it easier to navigate any issues or changes and onboard new hires because they’ll likely be familiar with the most popular communication tools.
Look into different platforms for different purposes like project management, video calls, and messaging to find the applications that make sense for your business and team.
Some of the most prevalent communications platforms for remote teams include:
Purchase enough subscriptions for your entire team and provide access and setup instructions for each new employee or any time you add or change a communication method.
2. Provide High-Quality Hardware
The hardware you provide to your remote workers is essential when it comes to good communication among your staff. Whether you ship hardware out to new hires or provide a spending allowance, you need to ensure that your remote team is equipped for effective communication.
You can facilitate and encourage smooth communication within your team by providing:
- A laptop or desktop computer
- A high-quality webcam and microphone
- Headphones or earbuds
- A mouse and keyboard
High-quality hardware can help to avoid technical difficulties, poor connections, and substandard video and audio feeds, all of which make virtual communication arduous and problematic.
By giving your team the tools they need to succeed, you benefit from better virtual communication experiences and less time lost due to failing hardware.
3. Clarify Expectations About Availability
With a remote workforce, it’s common to have staff members spread out across different states or even countries. And, as with many remote teams, they probably all choose their own hours while working in various time zones, meaning different remote employees are available at different times.
Although it may seem like a lot to juggle, it’s important for you to be aware of the different time zones that your employees are working in and to clarify your expectations about how they handle communications like emails, messages, and calls outside of their preferred work hours.
For instance, when you schedule a meeting at 4pm your time but it’s 7pm for one of your staff members, are they expected to attend even if they already worked a full day? What about when they receive a message or email outside of their own office hours, but within another staff member’s?
Be clear and upfront about how you expect your staff to work within different time zones so that they can adjust their schedules and hours to fit your business needs.
4. Use the Right Communication Method For the Job
A lot of remote workplaces get stuck using the same communication method for everything. Maybe you’re a video-centric office, or maybe you favor Slack. But it’s vital that you use the communication method that’s best suited for the task at hand.
Determine which communication methods you prefer to use for what tasks and use different tools to your advantage. For example, video conferences are great for brainstorming sessions while instant messaging channels can be used to share basic information or ask direct questions. You might send urgent questions or requests via text message but less timely messages that can wait until the next workday via email or Slack.
Take time to define what channels your team should use for what kinds of tasks and messages. This ensures everyone stays involved and active in work-related conversations while alleviating the need for employees to monitor email or Slack at all times of day and night to avoid missing something important. Plus, it helps to reduce burnout or boredom from using the same methods over and over, or from sitting through a video conference that should have been an email.
5. Schedule Consistent Check-Ins
One of the biggest challenges in managing a remote team is figuring out how to substitute face-to-face time with video chats and phone calls.
Schedule consistent, frequent check-ins with any of your staff members who are working from home. This could mean having a weekly one-on-one video conference or sending brief check-in messages on a daily basis depending on the employee and their role.
Have a few go-to questions to ask, like whether they need any help with their current tasks or what kind of progress has been made on a specific project, as well as how they’re doing.
Even if the conversation only lasts for five minutes, it still helps to create a connection between you and your remote workers and helps to avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings by giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions or request support.
6. Make Time for Fun
Working remotely means that you miss out on all of the in-person interactions that come with an office. This makes it harder for staff members to get to know each other and to participate in social events. But there are still many ways for you to encourage remote workers to have fun together, all while supporting team building and employee engagement.
Many remote teams get creative by doing social activities like:
- Creating messaging channels for water cooler chats, recipe sharing, memes, jokes, and more
- Hosting virtual contests and activities
- Having video conference happy hours
- Playing online games
- Scheduling team lunches or coffee breaks
- Hosting virtual celebrations for seasonal holidays
7. Be Aware of Your Virtual Body Language
Body language can tell you a lot about what someone means when you have an in-person conversation. From emphasizing a point to communicating enthusiasm or disagreement, a lot of these subtle queues are lost in video chats because a webcam is focused on your face and doesn’t always clearly show posture, gestures, or where your eyes are focused.
When video conferencing with staff, make eye contact, sit up straight, and use your words to back up your feelings and to explain what you’re doing.
For example, if you’re taking notes so that you can reference them later, let others know so that they understand why you aren’t looking into the camera. Or, if you really like an idea but aren’t sure whether your facial expressions are translating properly, make a point of vocalizing your interest in and support of the suggestion.
It can be hard to focus on one person in a video chat, especially when multiple employees are in attendance, so make sure to reinforce your body language with clear statements so that your staff members know where you stand.
8. Communicate Consciously
Because you can’t rely on body language or in-person interactions in a remote workplace, you need to be conscious of how you communicate with your employees when it comes to your tone, language, and response time to direct messages and emails.
For example, telling someone they’ve done well in written text isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. The way that you type your message can affect how it’s interpreted. Consider how you read these variations:
- Good work on the last report you handed in!
- Good work on the last report you handed in
- Good work on the last report you handed in 🙂
- Good work on the last report you handed in…
- hey, good wrk on your last reprot
As you can see, the punctuation and spelling you use can have a considerable effect on how an employee may read your message. Choose punctuation and wording thoughtfully and always proofread before you hit send.
Another pointer is to do your best to respond to messages in a timely manner. As a business owner or manager, you have a lot on your plate. But, depending on the platform, employees can see when you’ve received a message and when you’re online, so if they ask a question or send you something to review, do your best to at least acknowledge it instead of not responding at all.
If you don’t have time to answer the question right away, just say so. Knowing that you got the message and will get to it when you have time will allow the employee to move on to other tasks instead of waiting around for you to answer in the hopes that you’ll get back to them right away.
If you use emojis, gifs, or memes when communicating with staff, make sure they’re appropriate, relevant, and easy-to-understand. Not everyone will get references from your favorite TV show, so when in doubt, stick to a clear, straightforward message instead.
9. Understand Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
You may not realize it, but you probably use both asynchronous and synchronous communication in your remote workplace all the time.
- Synchronous communication is when you’re having a conversation in real-time, whether it’s on the phone, through a video meeting, or in person. Team members are expected to respond immediately and to active
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