Ease of communication is something that many office workers take for granted. They can simply walk over to a coworker’s desk to chat, schedule a meeting in-person, or call someone up for a quick project update. For remote workers, time zones and distance make communication much more difficult.
This results in communication from remote workers being much more purposeful and work-related, but leaves little time for building relationships. It’s no wonder remote workers often report feeling lonely, isolated, and left out of office conversations.
Not only does it require more work to ensure everyone is on the same page and understanding each other, remote workers need to make more of an effort to build a rapport with coworkers.
When you cannot simply phone a team member for an impromptu update, or stroll by their desk to ask what they’re doing this weekend, team members communication might suffer. Communication is the main challenge that people who work remotely face. Here are some actionable tips to follow to overcome remote work communication issues.
1. Set communication protocols and guidelines
Create some protocols and guidelines on how all team members, both remote and in-office, should communicate. Get started by answering these questions:
- What tools and programs should everyone use?
- How should everyone go about requesting items from coworkers, or different departments?
- How long is an acceptable wait time for a response?
- For what issues should email be used, and what items can be addressed via a chat program?
- Is there a time of day when everyone must be available for an hour or two?
Have everyone follow the same rules so that everyone is treated fairly. Even though it may be easier for someone in the office to walk over to a coworker and ask for a project update, everyone needs to follow the communication protocols outlined. If project updates are done through a collaborative workflow program, or via email, encourage team members to go through the proper channels.
All staff members should use the same tools and programs to ensure they function together; don’t allow some team members to use Zoom while others use Skype, for example. You don’t want to have too many places for team members to log in and check messages, otherwise you run the risk of some messages going unnoticed and unanswered.
2. Organize regular video meeting conference calls
Audio-only meetings tend to lack the same appeal as video meetings. When you can see the faces of the people you are talking to, it is much easier to communicate and convey things that otherwise may be lost in email or a phone call. Having frequent video meetings allows everyone to stay on the same page and create relationships.
This can also increase the accountability and transparency when it comes to what everyone is working on. Each team member will be able to report on what they have accomplished, what they intend on working on, and any issues they are facing.
3. Follow a clear workflow
Use an online project management system, such as Trello or Asana, to monitor activity. Much like having regular video meetings, this keeps everyone accountable and responsible for their own tasks. You’ll be able to see who is working on what, and stay up-to-date on the status of each project. This is especially useful when you have team members in different time zones, as it allows you to see what everyone has spent their work hours doing.
If your team has daily meetings to check in with what you’ve accomplished, what you’re working on, and where you are stuck, having a workflow makes the meetings easier. Everyone can see who is up next on a project task and can address any issues at a quick daily meeting before getting started on the day’s work.
4. Coordinate team meet-ups and retreats regularly
Plan to get the whole team together at least once a year. Creating friendships among coworkers will make working alongside each other easier, despite the distance. Technology still can’t replace a face-to-face conversation. If multiple team members are in an area, encourage casual events and outings for everyone to get to know each other outside of work.
At these retreats and meet-ups, make time for team-building activities. There are many different types of team building activities, from trust falls and directing a blindfolded colleague, to potluck dinners and escape rooms. Forging a team who works well together and can rely on each other will make remote work much more effective.
5. Make an extra effort to get to know team members
In an office, coworkers can get to know each other through casual conversation and observation. For remote workers, it seems silly to send an email letting everyone know you have three dogs and love taking them camping on the weekend. This kind of personal information is what will help foster relationships and stave off the loneliness and isolation that many remote workers face.
Some ways you can achieve camaraderie between remote workers are:
- Create a chat group just for off-topic conversation
- Have periodic “Ask Me Anything” sessions with each employee
- Get everyone to take a personality test and share their results
- Have each team member create a document to share more about themselves and what they enjoy doing
Although remote work has many clear advantages – namely the flexible schedule and the location independence – the biggest disadvantage is the remote work communication challenges. Being removed from the office setting is both freeing and restricting, as those working remotely struggle to stay up-to-date with office information as well as office gossip.
Focus on ensuring remote workers are not left out. Engage in activities that foster personal relationships and create communication channels that suit your team. Doing this may involve an initial time investment to get everyone used to the communication tools and ways of doing things, but it is well worth the investment. When both in-office and remote workers are able to stay updated on work as well as form friendships with coworkers, remote employees can be much more effective and feel less isolated from the rest of the team.
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