Communicating effectively with your team is one of the most important things for any manager. When you have a remote team, this is even truer, as it is much harder to communicate with people when you are not in the same physical space as them. It is also very easy to over-communicate and create more problems than you solve when working remotely.
In this post, RisePath will give you some tips on how to improve your remote communication skills, and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that we’ve seen other managers fall into.
- Have a dedicated communication channel
There are lots of options for where you can have a dedicated space for your remote team to communicate. It’s important here to pick something that works best for your team; if they already use something they love, let them keep using it! If they are looking for something new, do some research and see what works best for you and your team.
Remote work has become an increasingly popular option for companies, with around 3.7 million US workers working from home at least half the time.
The benefits are many: less time commuting, happier and more productive employees, and access to a wider talent pool.
But there’s also a challenge faced by every remote team: effective communication. It’s so easy to fall out of the loop when you’re not in the office. However, there is a solution to this problem that doesn’t involve having to create an endless stream of virtual meetings.
The first step is to use the right channels for communication. Too often, we default to tools like email, but these aren’t always the best tools for what we want to achieve. If you want to start a discussion about something, an email can be too slow and impersonal (and it’s easy for people to miss).
A good rule of thumb is this: if you’re not sure whether you should send an email or hold a meeting, start with a meeting. It’ll probably be quicker and more effective than a lengthy email chain that goes back and forth for weeks (which is what will inevitably happen if it turns out you need to discuss something).
- Shut up
The best way to communicate with your team is by only communicating when necessary. This was true in person and remains true when working remotely.
- But also listen when someone speaks up
If someone has something important to say, listen closely and respond appropriately. The key here is knowing what’s important: your biggest and best asset is your team’s time, so don’t waste it on trivialities or worse, things you could answer yourself with a bit of research.
- Get comfortable with asynchronous communication tools
Asynchronous communication tools like email are essential for remote work. You can’t ping someone to ask them a question if they’re asleep (or they live in a different timezone). By getting comfortable with asynchronous communication tools, you’ll be more likely to send an email than schedule a meeting when it isn’t necessary.”
- Rethink your status meetings
Status meetings—the traditional weekly get-togethers to discuss progress and roadblocks—can be useful for building culture and alignment, but they often waste time. Writing forces clarity and helps us communicate better with our teammates. Create a shared document where each member of the team can post their updates, questions, and roadblocks. Then schedule a recurring team meeting to talk through the issues that matter most.
- Be intentional about small talk
To make up for lost social interaction, you may end up overcompensating by scheduling too many virtual coffee breaks or happy hours. While these are important for building community, they also take time away from focused work. Instead of randomly checking in with your team when you’re bored or lonely, which can be distracting to others, schedule a 30-minute video call to catch up on personal lives at least once a week or every two weeks. Let people know that they’re welcome to initiate social calls if they feel the need.
- Be a good communicator yourself
To be a good communicator, you need to be a good listener. What do we mean by that? Listening is not only hearing what the other person is saying but listening with the intent to understand. You can practice this by staying present and actively listening to your team members when you’re on video calls.
- Be direct and honest
When communicating with other people, especially when it comes to challenging situations, it’s important to be direct and honest with them. This helps strengthen mutual trust and respect between you and your colleagues.
Being clear about job expectations from the very beginning also helps prevent misunderstandings. It’s important to be transparent about what you expect from other team members on your team so that everyone knows where each person stands.
- Don’t micro-manage
One of the biggest mistakes that managers of remote teams make is trying to control everything. If you’re used to managing a team in an office environment, you may find it hard to adjust to the fact that you can’t see what your employees are doing at any given moment.
You don’t know if they are at their desk, taking a break or working on something else. You can’t just walk up to them and ask them about their progress and the next steps.
This is why you need to switch from management by looking over people’s shoulders to management by results. Make sure that you set clear goals for your employees and check in with them regularly through 1-on-1 meetings or calls and team meetings. Discuss how their work is progressing and what they need from you to move forward.
Make sure you have an open communication channel where your employees can reach out with any questions they might have without having to wait for a scheduled check-in meeting. This will help them stay on track and keep growing professionally, as well as help you avoid micromanaging your remote team members.