Nina Fountain is the Founder of workplace culture agency, Transformed Teams and author of a published framework that guides large employers across Australasia in their approach to flexible work.
One of the most uncomfortable realities of remote work is the feeling of speaking to thin air. You send an email, two days pass and still no response. And you’re not sure why - is your team member off work and did they forget to put on their out-of-office? Are they just incredibly busy? Or are they ignoring you?
Questions like these can get in the way of easy interactions, take up headspace and slow you down.
Communication is as important to remote teams as location is to a property developer. Where a property developer would say, “location, location, location,” you want to think, “communication, communication, communication.”
Without great communication as your most prized asset, your remote team has no value. In fact, in a recent academic study of remote and distributed teams across the world, every single respondent ranked communication as the competency most critical for success.
Here’s are five moments when communication counts:
1. Convey key developments
Every team needs a clear idea of the context they’re working within - your changing environment. Are you developing new products and services? Do you have fresh insights into your customer profile? Conveying these in written form creates room for misinterpretations. Instead you’ll want to address these verbally - if you can’t meet in person together all at once, consider two meetings across the day or consider a video meeting or recorded video.
2. Day-to-day exchanges to get the work done
When remote teams depend heavily on messaging and emails, it can be difficult to know what is being said, especially when the topic is complex or nuanced. It can lead you down a rabbit hole where you’re trying to find this email that relates to that topic and figuring out who needs to be informed. Important details can become confused, overlooked or misinterpreted, which make it difficult to understand where the problems begin and how to fix them.
Your team can excel by choosing the right platform for the communication task at hand - video for teamwork and important conversations, turn-taking chat platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and even Skype for brainstorming and for quick and simple exchanges - emails or texts are fine.
3. Keep track of work - managing accountability and responsibility
Remember those times when you all worked in the one place all the time, and you used a project board to track who was doing what, by when? When working flexibly, some teams lose this discipline. Ironically, it is even more important to track work and create transparency around it in remote work than in co-located teams, but teams new to remote work can sometimes take a while to realise this.
Encouraging your team to use tools such as Microsoft Teams, Trello, or even shared calendars regularly to keep track of various assignments is key for accountability when working remote.
4. Gauge each other’s availability
Remote teams that lack shared calendars or the ability to check on another team member’s schedule may spend more time deciding on when to meet than actually meeting. The back and forth of scheduling when to chat is a waste of time that’s easily avoidable. Set up shared calendars through Office365 or G-Suite and use scheduling tools like Calendly.
5. Build team connection
When team members are spread across different locations or time zones, there can be a, ‘certain something’ that is missing from your team culture - something linked to not being able to sit down to a meal together, do a physical workshop or give each other a high five with sanitised hands! Remote teams, and flexible teams with remote workers, successfully build connection through rituals, structured catch-ups and deliberately setting up virtual water coolers. Even consider Friday night drinks via Zoom!