Distributed teams offer a lot of advantages, both for the organizations who manage them and the individuals who serve on the teams. You can save money on office-related expenses, allow more flexibility, and often see a productivity boost.
One of the downsides of managing a distributed team, however, is the challenge of maintaining healthy communication practices. Remote workers don’t necessarily get to see and interact with one another in a shared physical environment.
Although many tools attempt to ease the pain with increased digital accessibility, they may also introduce new issues, such as an overabundance of notifications. Fortunately, we have some tips you can adopt to make your distributed team better communicators.
Tips for Better Communication in a Distributed Team.
You should follow these steps if you’d like to see your distributed team communicate more consistently and efficiently:
1. Choose the right remote work software.
Everything starts with the right remote work software. If your colleagues are relying on tools that are intuitive, accessible, and reliable, they shouldn’t have any trouble connecting with other employees. Your remote work software should be centralized, so it enables all individuals to connect with one another (individually or in groups). It ought to be easy to learn and use. And it should work on a wide variety of devices and in a broad range of settings. Review the options carefully before you proceed.
2. Establish a clear culture.
Company culture is easier to ingrain in your employees when you have everybody sharing a physical work environment, but it’s still a worthwhile goal to establish for your distributed team. If your firm already has a set of core values, exert the effort to make them visible, and stress their importance regularly. If you don’t have established core values, you should think about and deploy them as soon as you can.
3. Establish written policies for communication.
Your workers will communicate in more consistent ways if you have clear, written policies for how they’re expected to communicate. Make it clear who’s responsible for particular types of communication, which platforms should be used (and under which circumstances), and try to estimate the ideal metrics for activities such as response time. You don’t have to enforce these policies strictly, but they should be known so as to give your employees an idea of what your standards are.
4. Try to maintain the courtesies.
When people share an office space, they tend to exchange greetings and other niceties with other people. You say “hello” as you pass people in the hallway and “good morning” before you start conversations about work. Try to maintain these in some manner as much as possible. They may not seem like a big deal, but they can help make the working environment much more positive and comfortable.
5. Foster personal connections.
For teams to communicate effectively, they benefit from strong personal bonds. Individual team members should feel connected to one another in some way. You can facilitate this by encouraging individuals to collaborate or by assigning group tasks. You can also host remote team-building events to help the people in your group get to know each other.
6. Assume good intentions and encourage employees to do the same.
When working in a distributed model, much of your communication will be written — which means you won’t have ready access to body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice to help you read a person’s intent. It’s not surprising that we sometimes misread another person’s tone as sarcastic, apathetic, or downright rude. You can avoid this by always assuming good intent: maintaining an assumption that the message sender had the best intentions when composing a message. This can defuse a number of potentially contentious situations and will lead to better conversations.
7. Give feedback.
Pay attention to how your employees are communicating with you and others, and be prepared to give them actionable feedback. What steps might they take to improve? Which habits need work? What are they already doing well? Taking the time to address these items can support your employees to do their best.
8. Collect feedback.
Feedback isn’t just a tool for dispensing information to coworkers; it’s also a way for employees to help the organization improve. Ask individuals what they think could be better in your organization’s communication and listen to what they say. They’re communicating with others on a daily basis, so they likely have insights on how that process could be improved.
Striving for Improvement.
There’s no such thing as a perfect communication strategy, especially in a distributed team. Even if you could get close, eventually there would be new individuals, new trends, and new tools to contend with and consider.
So the best high-level approach is to commit to ongoing improvements: remain flexible, and keep adapting your communication strategy to inch toward perfection (even if you never quite get there).