Managing Distributed Teams

Communication strategies for remote teams

Start building an effective communication plan today.
July 4, 2022
Oyster Team
Man looking at laptop and smiling

Effective communication and collaboration between team members is one of the strongest indicators for business success. But as teams shift to remote work, new communication challenges are arising. 

In fact, Communication ranks as one of the top three biggest challenges of working remotely.  Employees have to navigate new tools and methods to collaborate with their colleagues. 

Remote working challenges

The remote work setup requires new ways of communicating within the workplace. This article will identify why you need to have an effective remote team communication plan, what strategies you should consider, and how you can best implement your plan. 

Why are remote team communication strategies important?

Teams that have implemented good communication strategies reduce inefficiencies and other costly delays while inspiring confidence in their employees. Without a form of structured communication, important instructions and information can be misunderstood or not shared in a timely and appropriate manner. These delays can also quickly lead to frustration. 

Communication plans and strategies affect all levels and departments of an organization. Because they can have such a ripple effect, it’s important  to give your plan some serious thought. 

Top remote team communication strategies

1. Develop shared company language and work culture

When you work with a remote team, employees often represent a diversity of cultures and experiences that shape their expectations and preferred work style. Unifying the team under one shared company language and work culture sets everyone up for improved communication and collaboration. It’s important to consider factors such as different time zones, communication styles, languages, and cultures. 

Employers should also strive to build a work culture that empowers individual employees and addresses behaviors that contribute to micromanagement, a common challenge for remote managers. Planning how employees should communicate with each other helps prevent manager anxieties that can lead to micromanagement. 

For example, at Oyster, we use Slack reaction emojis to communicate the status of a message. The two eyes emoji indicates that the message has been received and the recipient is looking into it, while the checkered flag emoji means that an issue is resolved. You can get as creative as you want when developing a shared company language and work culture, as long as everyone on the team understands what it means. 

2. Document team communication processes

Once you’ve identified the best work culture and language system, these communication expectations should be documented and shared across the company. This will become the foundation of your strong communication strategy. Having this document will help build rapport and trust between remote employees and their managers by setting clear expectations and a framework for checking in and collaborating. 

3. Set communication guidelines

These guidelines can set the expectations for when employees should be available for meetings and how quickly they are expected to respond to various types of communication during business hours. This is especially important for teams that work across borders and time zones. Consider whether employees should be required to log their hours or report work. How frequently should this occur and what tools will your company use for tracking? 

It’s important to have some accountability built into your communication guidelines, but you don’t want to fall into the trap of overcommunication either. Employees can easily be inundated with emails and instant messages in an attempt to proactively prevent information-sharing issues. Unfortunately, this can have the opposite of the intended effect. 

When employees are flooded with messages, they can easily miss an important piece of information or have trouble prioritizing which messages to check and respond to first. The last thing you want is for an employee to waste half of the work day cleaning out their inbox.

The communication guidelines should clearly identify which communication methods should be used for what purposes. Emails may be best suited for longer messages that need to be referenced, while instant messages may be better for quick check-ins and more informal conversations. Very important discussions or the sharing of sensitive information is often best reserved for virtual meetings. 

4. Have the right communication and collaboration tools and software at your disposal

There are many different tools available to support the various communication needs that a distributed team may have. Standardizing the tools that employees are using across teams can create cohesion and reduce communication barriers, thus streamlining processes and workflows. 

Collaboration tools for remote and distributed teams

Consider which tools will be used for calendars and scheduling, sending internal messages, sending external messages, creating shared documents and files, hosting virtual meetings, sharing company announcements, sharing feedback, celebrating and identifying good work, and tracking project management. 

There are many options available for you to find the best fit for your team. Consider how the different tools can integrate and work together to streamline the process and reduce the inefficiency of switching between different tools and platforms. You can also save money by limiting the number of tools that your team uses. 

5. Train team members to use the communication tools

Now that you know which tools your team is going to use, you need to make sure that all of your employees feel comfortable navigating between them. Education on existing tools can take place during new employee onboarding, and when a new tool is introduced to the whole company, it can be beneficial to offer training sessions to the whole team. 

Some employees may struggle to adopt different tools and technologies, so it’s important to offer them support as needed. You can create an FAQ document, provide IT support contact information, or provide a channel for individuals to ask questions about the communication tools. 

6. Plan for regular, interactive, real-time discussions and meetings

Managers should regularly engage with their employees to make sure they feel supported and to answer any questions or address any issues proactively. 

It’s important to consider how sensitive topics, such as feedback or significant organizational changes, are often better discussed in a meeting than in an email. When meetings are regularly planned, employees can prepare for them in advance and know that they have an opportunity to bring up any potential issues. 

Real-time discussions and meetings with the whole team can also provide opportunities for team bonding and creative problem solving. Larger group brainstorming sessions can bring new ideas to the table and provide some social relief for remote teams. 

7. Use visual communication where necessary

This is particularly useful when there are language barriers. Remote communication methods often lack important visual and verbal cues that indicate the tone of a message. This can create misunderstandings and uncertainty amongst remote team members.  A message can come across as rude or angry, even if that was not intended.  

Visual aids, such as infographics or charts, can also help increase understanding of long documents or messages. Some individuals are more visually oriented and will absorb information that is communicated visually more easily. 

8. Avoid unnecessary meetings

Zoom fatigue is real, and excessive meetings can quickly lead to burnout for remote employees. Be mindful of how many meetings your employees are expected to attend weekly. You can ask non-mandatory meeting participants if they would prefer to attend the meeting live or receive a video recording of the meeting afterward. Meetings, while sometimes necessary, can disrupt productivity and (when excessively scheduled) can make it hard for employees to get into a mental flow. 

9. Maintain an open-door policy

Remote employees should feel that their colleagues and supervisors are accessible for clarification, questions, and feedback. Creating a culture centered around communication builds trust between team members. Regular check-ins can also help people feel like a part of a larger team and boost morale. 

10. Create virtual team-building activities and check-ins

Improve communication by providing opportunities for employees to build relationships with each other. Virtual water coolers—which can take the form of a messaging channel or open video meeting room—provide space for team members to share casual, non-work-related conversations. 

Companies can also organize more structured team-building events, such as cooking competitions, game tournaments, and other fun challenges. These activities can help foster work/life balance, reduce stress, improve team spirit, and increase a team’s motivation and productivity.  

11. Work on personal communication skills

Everyone has a different style of communicating. Employees that understand their own communication strengths and weaknesses are able to identify personalized strategies that allow them to be more effective communicators. 

Managers should work with employees to identify how they would like to be communicated with—some may prefer more scheduled check-ins, while others prefer to keep check-ins on an as-needed basis. Employees can also improve their communication by using their online status to share with the whole team if they are on vacation or have adjusted hours that need to be taken into consideration. 

Communication styles and preferences are largely influenced by an individual’s personality. Some companies leverage personality tests, like Myers Briggs and DISC, to help gain an understanding of the communication styles represented across the team. 

How to create a communication strategy the right way

Once you’ve considered the different communication strategies available to you, you need to identify a communication plan that works for your company and roll it out. It’s important to connect with multiple members of your team to gain different perspectives on building the communication plan. 

After you’ve identified the best strategies for your plan, make sure everyone knows where to find a copy of the communication plan and resources to help execute it. 

Your communication strategy should consider both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods. Synchronous communication happens in real time, and is best for scenarios that require immediate responses or concern sensitive topics. 

Asynchronous communication does not happen in real time, and responses may take longer. This type of communication is best suited for scenarios that require more thought or are less urgent. 

Think about the different communication needs your organization has when crafting an effective communication plan. A lot of communication is nonverbal, so it’s important to consider how both the messaging platform and method of communication influence how information is received. It can be tricky at first to implement a communication plan, and supporting employees will be necessary for a successful rollout. 

Conclusion

It can take a lot of time and effort to build and implement a successful communication plan, but the results are worth it. Strong communication is the backbone of any successful team and organization, and will save your company both time and money in the long run. Applying the strategies outlined above will ensure that your team is well-positioned for collaboration, even if they never work together in-person! 

Ready to get started building an effective communication plan for remote teams? Check out this Oyster Academy course to help you improve distributed communication and collaboration

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

About the Author

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce.

About the Author

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