5 Strategies to Improve Remote Team Communication
#1: Understand How Your Remote Team is Feeling
To truly understand how things are going for your remote employees you have to consider more than just work performance. You need to be able to dig deeper and understand how the people on your team are feeling, because feelings have the power to impact work performance.
Diminished social interaction is one of the biggest limitations of working remotely. This can cause many employees to become disengaged and experience feelings of loneliness, all things that negatively impact their work performance.
The best way to find out whether your employees are experiencing negative feelings such as these is to actually talk to them. And the best way to talk to them is in a one-on-one setting rather than a group meeting.
In addition to frequent check-ins with his team, Ben schedules a one-on-one meeting once a week with each of his remote employees. Because they’re unable to meet in person, they facilitate communication via video or voice conferencing.
Ben does not set an agenda ahead of time for the meeting. Instead, he lets the employees take the reigns, giving them permission and encouraging them to “discuss what they want to discuss.”
During those one-on-ones, Ben says the discussion could end up being about nearly anything really. The discussion will be solely about anything the employee is concerned about or wants clarification on. Sometimes it’s about project concerns while other times it’s just the employee opening up about them having a hard time in general.
Because employees know they can bring anything they’re dealing with to the table during those one-on-one meetings, what Ben has done is created the “space for them to actually have that conversation.” And if the employee is still more closed off despite having the space to open up, Ben suggests that it might be a good time to directly ask them how they’re doing. If you’ve built a strong relationship with that remote employee, then it’s safe to suggest that this will serve as the additional push that encourages them to open up.
Some managers may try to avoid conversations like these with their employees. Why? Because they’re unsure of the “right” way to respond. The fact is though, the “right” way to respond is pretty simple and doesn’t involve sharing any complex advice. Just the response of listening and acknowledging that you hear and understand them can sometimes be enough.
You may be wondering, when do you start the conversation on performance and related issues then? Ben contacts the remote employee directly outside of their one-on-one meetings to discuss those types of concerns.
Ben reiterates that “when we get to that once a week time where we’re doing the one-on-one that’s really about them.”
Sometimes employees won’t open up verbally about issues they’re dealing with, but it will show in their work performance. In this case, focus on addressing the root problem rather than the symptoms of their situation such as missed deadlines or poor quality work. If your employee is dealing with tough situations in their personal life that are making their work more challenging, work together to lessen that burden.
For example, if you had an employee that was missing deadlines due to the added distraction of children at home, you could provide that individual with a flexible working arrangement. This would allow them to take care of their children as needed throughout the day and work the required amount of hours. This solution would be presented with the intention of helping the employee meet deadlines despite unfortunate circumstances.
#2: Be Consistent & Intentional With Your Remote Team Meetings
“You don’t want to be playing catch-up,” Ben says.
For Ben, consistency means having one-to-one meetings on a weekly basis with the same day and time each week dedicated to the specific employee to facilitate that open communication. It also means having an hour-long remote team meeting via video conferencing every Wednesday. The format of the meeting is something Ben also likes to keep consistent. Every remote team meeting follows the following format:
- Team ice breaker
- Discussion about what’s been going on during the week
- Company updates & reporting
- Topics relating to quarterly and long-term goals
When it comes to performance or admin-related concerns that Ben has though, those meetings are scheduled as needed. Ben will only schedule those meetings if there is actually something important he feels needs to be discussed with the employee. It’s a good way to balance being consistent while staying intentional when it comes to remote team meetings.
#3: Facilitate Optional Remote Team Bonding Activities
Do NOT throw team bonding activities to the wayside! If your team is newly remote, you’ll especially want to incorporate virtual alternatives for the in-person activities your team engaged in previously.
Team bonding activities can be easily overlooked during the chaos of quickly transitioning & preparing your team to work remotely. Concerns over hardware, policies, productivity and employee supervision can quickly overshadow efforts to improve communication and collaboration. And with that, team bonding activities are easily overlooked, but so important.
Ben says you’ll find that your team is “more effective and there’s better collaboration when you put time and intentional effort into team bonding.”
Icebreakers are an excellent way for your team to get to know eachother. They promote good team chemistry, because so much of that is influenced by knowing what makes each person on the team “tick.”
Icebreakers are also the most simple team bonding activity to implement because they can easily be done remotely and can be incorporated into your already scheduled team meetings. They don’t take additional time out of your team’s day, they require few resources, and they can be enjoyable if you consider your remote employee’s interests and personalities.
Implementing icebreakers requires limited time and resources, but can have an immensely positive impact on the effectiveness of your remote team’s communication and collaboration.
Virtual Happy Hours
Rather than requiring his remote team attend virtual happy hours, Ben acknowledges that some people may honestly just not have the time or want to join. To communicate that attendance is fully optional, he allows people to enter and leave the virtual happy hour as they please. This means blocking off a time for the virtual happy hour via video conferencing to be scheduled during the week, and during that people can leave and enter anytime within that time frame.
And although they’re officially called virtual happy hours, they can pretty much be whatever the team wants them to be. Sometimes employees will engage in a casual chat or virtual game, while other employees may passively join as they do work in the background. This is a great alternative to those casual office drop-by’s and informal chats you’d experience while working in an office.
Try Not to Overdo it
There is such a thing as not enough team bonding, but on the other hand you can also overdo team bonding.
“There are employees on your team who will go ‘Happy hour? This is great! I’m energized by this,’ but you might have people that are like ‘the last thing i want to do is put a video on, let you into my house and participate in this.’ “
So how do you find a balance that accommodates both perspectives? Ben says the best way is to continue holding these team bonding activities, but clearly to communicate to your employees that attendance is completely optional. It’s as simple as encouraging them to join if they find it valuable, and encouraging them to do something else if it stresses them out. Let them know it’s okay for them to take time for themselves if that is what they find most valuable.
#4: Understand What Energizes & Fatigues Your Team
There really is no one size fits all management style that will work for every employee on your remote team.
This is why it’s so important to understand what each individual on your team specifically needs. How do you find that out? Well the first step is to genuinely care about your team. If you genuinely care about your team, you’ll be more motivated to understand what energizes and fatigues each employee. Ask yourself, do you primarily care about your team as people or about the results they produce? If you find that yourself caring solely about results, you may discover you’re not the right fit for a management or leadership position. And if that’s true, it isn’t the end of the world!
Ben says that if you truly care about your people, you’ll put in an intentional effort over time to get to know them.
#5: Find Balance Between Optimism & Reality
Your goal is to motivate your remote team, but you also have to be honest with them about the good and the bad.
“Sometimes if the situation is pretty grim, you need to be able to portray realism,” Ben says.
Stating the facts, but also discussing potential solutions and alternative outcomes is a great way to keep things balanced on your remote team.
Help your team recognize the facts of the situation, and then encourage them to focus on what they can change for a better outcome. Work with them to develop outlines of step by step solutions.