8 Ways to Improve Remote Team Communication

Communication is often said to be the no.1 factor for success when it comes to working as a team. It is also deemed to be the most challenging aspect when working remotely. This is why we are sharing our 8 biggest tips to enable successful remote team communication.

8 Ways to Improve Remote Team Communication

1) Set communication guidelines

Decide which tools to use and how. A messaging system gives your team a way to communicate efficiently and quickly while avoiding additional strain on their inboxes. It may even lead to more communication and productivity once employees have learned how easy it is to use. A lot of web applications have overlapping features. Discord and Zoom both offer video calls. Whatsapp and Messenger both offer instant messaging. You do not want your team to juggle between different platforms just to deliver one message. This is why it is important to define and use the right applications for the tasks at hand.

For instance, in the fear of having very lengthy conversations to read through, Slack is a great app where you can create numerous channels for conversations about different topics, functions, or projects. (Some examples of channels: #news, #general, #marketing, #product, #freespace, etc). Team members can hop on to the appropriate channel that needs focus.

Use the 5-minute rule. If something takes more than 5 minutes to explain on chat, jump on a call! Make it second nature for your team to seamlessly transition from messages to calls and vice-versa when needed.

Set communication guidelines. Lessen the use of jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations. A culturally diverse team will have people that may not understand certain abbreviations, this is why we should avoid them. Be clear and direct for efficiency. If your company must rely on abbreviations, it is a good idea to create a glossary that is easily accessible to everyone.

Share your availability. Just like office hours, create a timetable that indicates your availability if someone needs to ask questions or discuss a matter with you. For instance, setting your team's Google Calendar to “public” will help see everyone’s availability and will make coordinating meetings easier.

2) Set clear expectations and deadlines

Working from home is very challenging. Let alone the many distractions we may face (our kids, pets, house chores, caring for loved ones, etc), setting up and following a workflow schedule can be difficult for remote rookies.

Set clear deadlines for the team to follow and stay on track. Setting well-defined objectives with deadlines will create a base structure for your team to plan their working agendas. This will allow for clearer communication when it comes to tasks and priorities.

Create a deadline calendar. With this, you will be able to visually see what needs to be done by the end of the week, or on which day. In Trello, a web-based application, you can create different tasks and to-do lists that can be crossed out by each team member once they’ve finished working on them.

3) Opt for public channels instead of direct messages

One-on-one messaging only benefits one person. Sending messages to the team altogether reaps greater advantages:

You save time and effort. There is no need for you to relay the information multiple times to multiple people.

It is an incentive to collaborate. It allows other people in the team to provide relevant information if they have it. In other cases, somebody may have already done the work before or may know the solution to the issue you’re facing. If you don't share, they won’t know what you're working on and the opportunity to help will be wasted.

It keeps everyone in the loop. By sharing, you ensure everybody is clear about what is going on in the rest of the organization. This removes the guesswork and allows everybody to work towards the same goals. Information silos must be avoided and transparency is the best way to prevent it.

4) Hold daily meetings for check-ins

Hold daily stand-up meetings. The team needs to be on the same page with one another and stay aligned with where the company’s headed. Establish a standup meeting every morning where the team can report on their progress and set goals and work blocks for the day.

Keep them brief. Meetings are great, but they shouldn’t take up all of your time on your agenda. You need this time to get actual work done too. Each meeting must be purposeful and productive. Successful meetings are the ones planned out beforehand:

  • Set an agenda in the invite. Put down the context and expectations for the meeting. For instance, instead of simply naming the Google invite “Meeting”, call it “Marketing meeting” or “Product Review Meeting” for people to prepare the topic of conversation.
  • The organizer is the facilitator of the group who keeps the conversation focused. It is also important to engage all participants.
  • Talking about participants, meetings must be held in small groups. Meetings with over 8 people won’t engage all participants.

Extra tips for effective virtual meetings:

  1. Open your camera, use visuals as much as possible.
  2. Do not hesitate to share your screen when explaining a report or presentation
  3. Use presentation slides, graphs, and mind maps when it comes to presenting new and difficult concepts.
  4. Use a virtual whiteboard for collective note-taking.
  5. Establish checkpoints. Pause and check if everyone understood what you said clearly and if they can still hear you.  Keep in mind that focus and attention span online is less than in-person conversations.
  6. Invest in good equipment. A good camera and microphone will help things run smoothly.
  7. Engage your participants by asking questions. Without visual cues, members may not know when they can speak.

5) Over-communicate

It is very easy for things to get lost in translation, especially when we are limited to words sent from a digital screen. The absence of body language and nuance from our tone of voice often leads us to misinterpret things.

Do not confuse brief communication with clear communication. In our efforts to be efficient, we often mistake briefness with clearness. In a chatbox where multiple topics are being thrown around simultaneously, it is important to give as much information as you can. This gives context and prevents unnecessary confusion on the reader’s end.

Explain and present concepts with visuals. Graphs, mind maps, and flowcharts are great ways to get complex ideas across. Most people understand abstract ideas better and faster when they are presented visually. Tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, MindMeister, and LucidChart are the way to go. Use visuals as much as possible.

6) Build a remote company culture

It is a habit for us to meet and get to know our coworkers over coffee breaks at the office. How can we do the same online?

Create a virtual water cooler. This can be done by using Discord or Slack. Create a virtual channel or server for people to hop in to hang out and chat about things unrelated to work. On Discord, a “lounge space” server can be dedicated for teammates willing to engage in light conversation with others while getting work done. This creates a safe space for the team to wind down and recharge by fueling a healthy dose of social interaction.

Celebrate individual and team achievements. In the office, we celebrate all kinds of things - birthdays, festivals, sporting events, or achievements. While working from home, these things might seem irrelevant since you and your co-workers aren’t together to celebrate. However great teams still find a way to do it even if it means saying happy birthday over a call or sharing a photo. Celebrate individual and team achievements. It helps people feel connected and creates momentum when it comes to building motivation.

Plan team bonding activities. It is important to have a time where the entire team gathers together to bond. It is a great way to strengthen friendships and keep up with one another’s life. Close off that last stretch of work for the week with a “Happy Hour” video call every Friday. During this time everyone relaxes, grabs a drink, and celebrates the weekend to come.

7) Organize internal knowledge with management tools

Your staff may have some questions regarding the team’s mission, tools, or objectives (even though they’ve been gone over numerous times already). When someone is in doubt, it is not as easy as tapping your coworker’s shoulder when working remotely. This is why it is important to regroup your base of knowledge.

Have a knowledge database. Set up a support system for tools and processes that your team uses. Share links and references on how to use these tools. Guidelines for different projects and processes should be included. This support system can equally be a knowledge area about the company. We recommend including the company’s information, growth roadmap, short-term and long-term goals, and other useful information. Setting up a telephone directory is also a good idea. It is important to have a point of contact within the team (usually one person) to manage any needs from the team. Notion is a great all-in-one work tool to create and organize files and store databases.

Document, document, and document. Keep the team updated by dropping a quick message on what you’re working on or about the tasks you’ve accomplished. Upload your work, share your ideas and the things you’ve discussed in meetings with other peers. It is important to document and keep a written record of the team’s progress. It makes it easy for others to get in the loop by going through the records.

7) Trust your staff and coworkers

Do not micromanage or watch over people’s shoulders. As tempting as it is to regularly check up on someone’s progress, it is generally not a great idea. Have you tried to reach someone by email? Then by text? Then by phone? Abusing those access points can be relentless and uncomfortable on the receiver’s end (or even distracting). You should make an effort not to interrupt your teammates unless it is time-sensitive. You shouldn’t saturate notification bars. An effective team is one where an adequate amount of checkups are made - unless it is for an urgent or complex task. Your team wants to have their own responsibilities, independence, and most of all, feel trusted. Management tools and communication channels should be used where participants can update their progress and track the completion of different tasks.

Be optimistic. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that working remotely is relatively new for all. Everyone is trying their best to make things run as smoothly as possible. You must acknowledge that coming face to face with different obstacles is normal and part of the process. You will overcome them, eventually. A brief message from your teammate may come out as harsh or rude, but it may not be the sender’s intention. It is important to be generous, give the benefit of the doubt, and trust in the good intentions of the team.

Tools mentioned to improve communication

Slack: Slack is often used by teams for daily communication. Members can hop on different conversation channels, catch up on different threads, share pictures and do video calls.

Discord: Discord enables instant messaging. Users communicate with voice calls, video calls, text messaging, media, and files in private chats or as part of communities called "servers".

G-Suite: G-Suite is a collection that comprises your Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Meets, and much more. It enables you to easily create and share files, check on your teammates’ schedules (when set to public), and plan formal video meetings.

Trello: Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and at what stage something is in a process. It is an organized task viewer for you and your team.

Here’s a quick recap of the 8 tips

  1. Set communication guidelines
  2. Set clear expectations and deadlines
  3. Opt for public channels instead of direct messages
  4. Hold check-in meetings
  5. Over-communicate
  6. Create an online company culture
  7. Organize internal knowledge with management tools
  8. Trust your staff and coworkers