Effective communication is a critical element of successful remote teams.
Without it, you have disconnected team members working in isolated silos. With it, you have a rich network of informed thinkers working together toward a shared goal.
However, setting up good systems for remote communication can be challenging. You might get overwhelmed by having too many communication channels or be so limited that remote workers don’t feel they have an appropriate place to share their thoughts.
What is remote communication?
Remote communication refers to the ways people can communicate with each other when they are not physically in the same location. This could include everything from phone and video calls to email and instant messaging. With the rise of remote work and online collaboration, remote communication has become increasingly important in recent years.
Remote team communication covers a broad range of activities. It can be synchronous or asynchronous, it can consist of group conversations or one-on-one messages, and it can happen in public channels or private DMs. What all of those forms of communication have in common is they need good structures, strong team unity, and the appropriate tools to be successful.
5 ways to level-up your remote communication
1. Establish norms and channels for communication
Set up norms for using communication tools and apps that make it easy for virtual teams to talk with each other regularly. Organization is key. It can be easy to lose important messages when you have too many methods of talking with each other. Specify what conversations should happen in which communication channels and which conversations should be in real-time or asynchronous.
- When/what should people post publicly in Slack?
- When should people use DMs?
- What should go in emails?
- When should conversations be video meetings, or vice versa?
- Will your team use phone calls for 1:1 conversations or conference calls?
- Will your team use instant messaging?
Be sure to set up ways that your team can talk more casually. Not only does that help with team unity, but it will help everyone get used to each other’s communication styles. You might have open conversation channels for smaller team units or interest-specific groups for anything from cute pet pictures to industry news.
Related: A team charter template you can use today
2. Hold team bonding exercises
Remote employees need a level of trust and comfort with each other in order to communicate openly and effectively. Team building exercises are an important part of building good remote communication, especially when you have new employees. They also give everyone a chance to practice their communication skills in a lower-stakes environment.
Part of the challenge of communicating remotely is the inability to see body language and facial expressions or hear each other’s tone of voice. To prevent this miscommunication, provide opportunities where the team can build psychological safety. When team members are familiar with each other’s communication styles, they are less likely to misinterpret text communications, and they will feel more comfortable contributing ideas.
Hold online warm-ups before video conferences where you’re planning to hash out a lot of ideas. They will get everyone in the right mindset to communicate their thoughts. You can also set up virtual water coolers so that team members can share anecdotes, funny videos or relatable memes, and build connections.
Icebreakers and other fun group activities can be held as part of a meeting or as their own independent activities. Even the silliest exercise serves a purpose — it gives team members time to practice communicating with each other. And we all know practice makes perfect!
Try these types of icebreakers to help teams bond:
- Icebreaker questions - Have everyone answer a question so that everyone gets to know each other better. You can even set up a team bookshelf or shared meal virtually to learn more about your team.
- Share about your work - Have team members talk about how they operate best at work, their office space, or what kinds of work they’ve done in the past.
- Games - Games like show and tell, virtual scavenger hunts, or trivia can all get teams energized and having fun together.
3. Ensure your team is considerate about time zones and flexible hours
Clear expectations and a respectful team culture help avoid frustration, miscommunication, and work delays when you have team members in different time zones or embrace flexible working hours. If you don’t build good expectations around time zones into your team culture, you can also end up with team members burning themselves out by regularly working into dinner hours or trying to wake up way too early.
Some conversations require synchronous communication, but a lot can be handled asynchronously. You should set an explicit expectation that you may not get immediate responses to emails and Slack messages. It can be helpful to set up a shared calendar or scheduling software so everyone knows when they can schedule meetings or expect to receive responses or feedback.
Related: Learn how to use async collaboration to get more done with fewer meetings
Businesses can handle this in a few different ways. Some businesses may require everyone on the team to have overlapping hours during which everyone can expect to get immediate responses. Others might instead have a universal expectation that team members should respond to messages within 24 hours. This approach does require that people get work done with enough buffer time so that they won’t be stuck if they have to wait for a team member in another time zone to get back to them.
4. Make meetings as accessible as possible
A lot of important information gets shared during meetings. However, remote work means not everyone may be able to attend every meeting, either because of time zones, technical issues, or scheduling conflicts. Taking steps to make sure everyone can still access the information discussed during a meeting will ensure better team communication.
Make a habit of recording all your team’s meetings so that people who missed them and add the meeting recordings to a shared folder or Slack channel. This has the added benefit of making meetings easy to refer back to for everyone.
When possible, schedule team meetings and deadlines in a way that takes into account the time zones of all team members. This might be early in the morning for some and later in the day for others. Check-in with your team to see what works best for them.
If it’s impossible to get everyone in the room at the same time, consider meeting asynchronously or changing up your meeting times on a regular basis so that it’s not always the same team members who miss meeting with their peers. If meetings frequently exclude one specific team member, they will miss the face-to-face contact the rest of your team has and can begin to feel isolated.
Related: Get more accessibility tips in our guide to running hybrid meetings
5. Choose tools that support remote communication and team collaboration
The tools you choose can also help your teams communicate more effectively. Choose tools that have the functionalities you need and integrations with the rest of your tech stack.
- For text conversations, look into tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
- For video conferencing, try Zoom or Google Meet.
- For collaborating in a shared space, look into Mural.
- You need project management tools, like Notion or Basecamp.
Since they are collaborative, these tools also become a method of communication. You can use them during meetings to diagram ideas and take notes. You can also use Mural asynchronously as part of your project workflow, building ideas onto a shared whiteboard canvas as they come to you. In this way, communication flows more like it might in a physical office where everyone can constantly be adding to a collaborative project and building on each other’s ideas.
Embrace the unique benefits of remote communication
While remote communication can come with its challenges, what we have been learning as the world embraces remote work is that it also has some exciting and unique strengths.
Remote communication leaves records. Chats and channels are always available for reference. You can use them to jog your memory or even refresh your team’s creativity if you revisit an old collaborative whiteboard for a project.
Better outcomes and innovation
Remote communication gives you time to think. Asynchronous communication can make distributed teams more considered and more thoughtful in their interactions. They can think things through more deeply and communicate when they have a strong idea they want to share.
More accessible ways of communicating
Remote communication can also give space for all different types of people to communicate in the way that works best for them. Verbal processors can speak up during meetings, written thinkers can send messages and create documents, and visual learners can spin up Murals to work through challenging projects and create innovative solutions.
Lean into the upsides of remote work, and your team’s communication will naturally strengthen.
Use Mural to facilitate more effective remote communication
Mural helps facilitate better communication during team workshops, brainstorming, and online coworking sessions–any context where you need remote collaboration. Sometimes the challenge in communicating with others is helping them understand what’s in your head.
Check out Mural’s templates and frameworks to run discovery sessions, align with stakeholders, and communicate ideas in a virtual workspace.
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