Can You Hear Me Now?
6 Tips for Effective Remote Team Communication

remote teams communication

Did you know that they have a ketchup-like sauce called Лютеница (Liutenitsa) made of chopped tomatoes, peppers, and spices in Bulgaria? Yeah, me neither, and I never would have if I weren’t part of a remote team.

Liutenitsa on bread is also a perfect roadside snack…or breakfast…or dinner!

The number of businesses with remote teams has risen drastically over the last few years. And with that rise came an explosion in ways for people to communicate. However, as with all things, people get bored of the status quo.

What does that mean? It means companies that have distributed teams need to continuously find ways to get their remote teams communicating effectively. 

So this post isn’t about how to communicate with a remote team; that’s been covered. We know how to do it because we’ve been doing it for years.

This post is about how to improve your existing ways of communicating.

After all, employees with the proper tools for communication are likely to be twice as engaged.

And since we have a pretty fantastic remote team, here are some of our secrets to making it work.

The Gif That Keeps on Giving

The expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” exists for a reason. Right now, that reason is to make my point.

Remote teams interact via their computer screens and have been doing so for a long time. So what does that mean? If you want to get someone’s attention – you have to make it interesting. 

From fancy dinners to cats and dogs being adorable, we’ve been inundated with pictures. So while you can (and should, in my opinion) share images of your pets, try shaking it up a bit. 

For example, you can use a screen-cap to ask for clarification instead of a lengthy explanation or posting a question that gets glanced over.

If you want to explain something internally or get feedback from a client regarding their content development strategy, Loom is a fantastic way to do so. It can replace countless Zoom meetings and buried email threads.

But as I mentioned before, it’s not always about work. 

Our team is distributed, and I’ve seen pictures of the Black Sea at sunrise, a festival in Spain, a video of a bear sitting on the side of the road near Transylvania, Romania (yeah, you read that right), and many other amazing things.

That’s Martin on his most recent hike around the rural parts of South Africa. It’s breathtaking and I haven’t even set foot on the continent.

This is such an incredible benefit of a remote team! It’s also a fantastic way to get the conversational ball rolling, increase team engagement, and build lasting friendships.

All teams need to have good communication. No matter how well people work on their own, collaboration is essential to success, especially when they’re not co-located.

In addition to pictures, use emojis, emoticons, or gifs. A quick thumbs up or this is fine meme can go a long way.

We use Slack and have an assortment of emojis, as well as the occasional gif or meme. This enables us to not only show support, but let the person who wrote the message know that its been seen and acknowledged when we’re short on time.

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Great Expectations: How to Avoid Awkward Miscommunications

To some, this might sound like a no-brainer, and to others, it might sound like a corporate tactic. The truth is, now that the proverbial dust has settled, it’s essential for a remote team to know what’s expected of them when it comes to communication.

  • How do you let the boss know when you’ve finished your task?
  • How do you hand over a document for review?
  • What’s the best way to contact a teammate to get an answer fast?
  • When should you be online?

The questions are endless, and the answers vary depending on how your organization works.

For example, our team is asynchronous, with people logging in from three (or more) continents on any given day. But we have blocks of time when we’re all online together, and maintain regular team meetings for sprint planning, checking in, and reviewing projects.

So what tools or processes can you use to ensure everyone knows what to expect?

  • SOPs to make sure people know how to meet expectations for any given task (including communications)
  • Collaborative project management like Asana to organize work, hand off tasks, and check on the status of a task or project
  • Visuals such as screencaps or Loom videos

Online meetings are also necessary. But you run the risk of people zoning out, getting distracted by notifications, or not turning on their cameras (which is understandable on those days you might have slept in, or it looks like an owl lives in your hair).

He’s so excited to go into an online meeting with his team!

What to do? The trick is to set the tone early.

If you want people to pay attention and have their cameras on, talk to them. Yes, I know the goal is to talk about work, but you can spare a few minutes to ask how everyone is doing.

This helps create an atmosphere that’s more relaxed and open. The more of an agile project management approach you take, the better your results will be.

Start Slacking: In a Messaging Kind of Way

Those who once worked in-office probably remember grabbing lunch with a colleague, asking a quick question to someone you passed in the hallway, or stopping by someone’s office to check in. With remote work, that connection is gone.

And it sucks. We all need work buddies. Someone to talk to that understands the job.

So, it’s a good idea to find ways to provide that to your team. And one of the best ways to do that is to designate a channel on your chat software where people can talk about anything. Have five if you want. You can set one up for books, movies, TV, memes, or whatever else people are interested in discussing. 

Since we use Slack, we have a lot of channels, many of them work-related, like:

  • On-page – Where we talk about on-page elements for posts
  • Editorial – Where we discuss all the tips and tricks for editing an article
  • Announcements – Where Jon tells us cool stuff

But the one that gets used the most is General (and yeah, seeing that now, I realize we could come up with a better name). This is where we can talk with others about a variety of topics.

And with our team, there’s no shortage of interesting and fun things to chat about before we start the day. (Wordle scores play a big part in this.)

Wordle daily challenge on Slack

This creates a stronger sense of camaraderie and can go a long way toward increasing engagement and productivity.

Virtual High Fives (and birthdays!)

In a remote work environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Your employees or colleagues are miles and miles away, seven time zones ahead or behind you, and might be from a culture vastly different than yours.

When you have so many things already disconnected, it’s easy to fall into a predictable (boring) pattern of communication. You know the kind I mean – where only necessary information is shared. (Yawn.)

This doesn’t help develop your work culture, and it certainly doesn’t increase your team engagement. And that means your retention isn’t likely to be stellar.

This is where it’s a good idea for you to ensure people celebrate the wins. Post about a client mentioning how much they loved a headline, share a screenshot showing that KPIs were hit or exceeded, or pat someone on the back for getting a massive amount of work done.

Not only that, if people are willing to share their birthdays – do a special callout. Ask what they’re doing, send a card or package if it’s a teammate you’re closer to, just do something to acknowledge them. 

If your team feels appreciated and recognized for both group and individual contributions, they’ll be more engaged with their work, their team, and your organization.

Team Activities: Make Being Online Fun

I remember when I started working remotely – a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…(Bilbo Baggins hadn’t even set out on his first adventure yet.)

Whether or not you liked the people you were working with didn’t matter because you didn’t interact with them outside of emails.

Now, engagement is key.

Not because you have to make your team like you but because you want them to. These are the people you’ll hopefully be working with for a long time. So establishing effective ways for your remote team to communicate is important.

To do that, however, you need to do stuff together that’s not work-related. Which can be geographically challenging when you don’t share a time zone, let alone a continent.

With a bit of creativity and a great team, you can create your own activities. As I mentioned, it has become a daily habit for many of us to share our Wordle scores.

But we also did a secret gift exchange at Christmas. (Making sure we laid out what it entailed and had 100% agreement from everyone – given anonymously – before moving forward.) 

We met online to open the gifts. There was festive attire, trees, a fireplace, some beverages, and many smiles.

The whole thing was amazing and showed me how great our team is. The gifts were so well done. People remembered random comments from the General channel about hobbies or likes, or they opted to share a taste of culinary treats of where they were from.

This is just an example. You can host online happy hours, arrange talks about the big game, or find other interests the team might be willing to participate in a couple of hours each month.

It’s well worth the investment when you see your team getting along and having fun. And as I said earlier, the long-term benefits are more than just increased productivity, it’s a happy and engaged team that sticks together.

Actively Listen: People Want To Be Heard

63% of employees feel like they’ve been ignored in some way by their employers or managers.

If that isn’t reason enough to listen, how about the stat where 34% of employees would rather quit or change teams than say what they’re really concerned about with management?

-You see that tall building over there? I would really like to push him off the edge, right on top of his stupid Porsche.

I feel like those are enough to make any business step up and truly listen to their employees, as well as encourage that trait in their team members.

Take note of things people share about their lives or issues they might be having. Try to empathize with them or, if they ask, offer solutions. Sometimes, just being heard makes the difference between having to do your job and wanting to do your job.

“When employees don’t feel heard or feel their needs aren’t met, they are less likely to maximize their talents and experience at their workplace — and more likely to seek those opportunities elsewhere.”

 – Dan Schawbel

Listening costs you nothing but can bring you so much in return. Remote employees who feel seen or heard are more connected, and your business needs that to be successful. 

It’s Not Always About Work

Our team is spread out, but we show up every day to help our clients reach their goals.

We take the time to listen to one another, offer help when needed, or just talk shop. We continuously find ways to communicate more effectively as a remote team so we can do better work.

Every single person on this team has gone above and beyond more times than I can count. And that’s because we’ve built an effective remote team that communicates well.

All the people I work with are great, and I look forward to “seeing” them every day. This enthusiasm is contagious and easily spreads out to the work we do for our clients.

If you’d like to work with a fun, creative, agile team that can get the job done, check us out to see if we’re a fit.

Suzanne Robb Avatar

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