Though Zapier, Litmus, and Buffer are just some of the big tech companies that have entirely remote teams, going remote is not easy — it requires buy-in from the entire company.
These are the following:
- Difficulties with scheduling. As remote team members are often in different time zones, they have different working hours that may cause confusion. Each remote employee should publish their schedule so that the colleagues know when they are online within their time zone.
- Minimum working time overlap. It’s difficult to hold live meetings across varied time zones because you need to find a working time overlap that is optimal for all team members. For example, an overlap between London and New York is between 14-00 and 18-00 for London and between 9-00 and 13-00 for New York. So an optimal time for a meeting would be either 9-00 New York time or 14-00 London time.
- Technical limitations. Remote teams heavily depend on the Internet and various communication tools that facilitate remote collaboration. In a co-located setting, you do not need the Internet to discuss some burning question with your colleagues. In a remote or distributed setting, you need to think of a convenient time and good Internet connection.
- Limited project communication. Working together in one place implies natural communication. On the contrary, remote teams communication is something that you should take care of explicitly.
- Lack of a common organizational culture. This challenge originates from the previous one. Without the natural, face to face communication, remote team leaders need to apply extra effort in order to build a strong organizational culture.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can use text messages and calls to efficiently communicate with your remote team.
Tips for effective text communication
Text messages are the most efficient way to get in touch with your team members in order to ask a quick question or discuss a minor issue. Such messages do not need explicit scheduling and do not distract people from work as a video call may do. Here are some tips to make written communication even more efficient.
If you’re in the US, it often happens that your remote employees are in a time zone where the working day starts earlier than yours, e.g. Eastern Europe.
Due to such time zone differences, it may be overwhelming for you to wake up and receive hundreds of messages from remote colleagues. Messengers and emails are okay for short messages but not good for long discussions.
As a solution, you can embrace asynchronous communication. This is a type of remote team communication that is delayed in time.
For example, you can create threaded conversations for longer discussions that do not occur in real time so each team member can check them out at a convenient time. In his interview with YouTeam, CTO and Co-founder of Zapier told that his team has built its own tool called Async and integrated it with Slack to alert the employees about any new discussions.
Tools and apps that you use for text communication should be as lightweight as possible. Ideally, they should be cloud-based so the remote team members can use them without any issues and from anywhere.
Good examples of collabortaion tools that work best for remote teams are Slack, Flock, HipChat, Twist, etc.
Emojis and gifs are often associated with informal, childish behavior but not with the professional one. Therefore, people hardly use them in their business communication?.
Believe it or not, emojis can actually become a powerful tool for remote communication, as they replace real-life gestures, mimics, and emotions.
Create an online space (a blog, chat room, Facebook group, etc.) for exchanging the non-work-related content.
It will not only delimit the work-related and fun communication but also make the team members feel less isolated and create a sense of community. For example, Buffer has a HipChat room for sharing music.
Virtual text communication often lacks context, so if something goes wrong in a chat, do not assume that a person has deliberately offended you.
Here’s what Hanlon’s Razor principle recommends:
In other words, when exchanging text messages with co-workers who are miles away from you, try to always assume ignorance before malice if you have a misunderstanding. If it happens though, you can clarify it via a phone call.
When working at a home office, employees can feel like their work remains unacknowledged.
To prevent this from happening, you can organize meetings or chat rooms to publicly celebrate the success of each team member, i.e. successful completion of the specific milestone.
You can also do that during the check-ins regarding the task progress.
Work on a complicated task requires maximum concentration and minimum distractions.
Therefore, your company rules should include a statement on uninterrupted work time, i.e. a person can set their messenger status to “busy” and it means that the colleagues can disturb them only in exceptional cases.
Phone communication for remote teams: Best practices
Phone communication, i.e. audio and video calls, bring the team closer together, improve the remote teams communication, and makes sure that the distributed team setting resembles the co-located one.
Here are some best practices for effective conference calls:
Engage your listeners
When it comes to phone conversations, your voice is your key instrument, and you can use its power to engage the listeners.
Julian Treasure, a sound consultant, emphasizes that if you want to succeed as a communicator in business, you must get rid of habits in terms of how you speak to others in your daily life. For example, you must refrain from like gossip, excuses, complaining, and judging.
In his TED talk, How to Speak so That People Want to Listen, Treasure presents an acronym that everyone can use when preparing to speak to another person.
The acronym is HAIL, which stands for:
Know your audience
We strongly recommend that you know the names of everyone who you’re going to speak to, even if you see or hear these people for the first time.
As your remote team is often international, you may not know how some of the names sound, so learn the correct pronunciation or ask the team member personally about how to pronounce their name correctly.
Establish communication guidelines
Prepare a set of official rules that each team member should respect when on the call. For example:
- Have everyone check the connection before the call, to ensure that there are no problems with sound or video quality.
- To avoid awkward pauses, ask everyone to confirm that they’re on the call.
- Appear at the meeting on time and ask the others to do the same.
- Mute yourself while you’re listening and not speaking.
- To remove any background noises, encourage everyone to use the headphones even if they are alone in the room.
Control your voice
We have already mentioned that your voice is a powerful instrument, but still, you should set it up before the call. Here are some quick tips:
- Do not let your voice convey your emotions. For example, if you are nervous, your voice gets higher and you start to speak faster. Before you call, lower your voice.
- Smile when you speak even during an audio call when no one sees you — this will add warmth to your voice.
- Try to speak slowly, especially if your team comes from different countries where English is not a native language.
Gives the listeners time to process information that you give them, so try to make a pause after each statement.
Encourage the team members to react and ask questions whenever they have them. And of course, do not interrupt your colleagues.
Humor is probably the most powerful communication instrument. It acts as an ice breaker, making everyone feel that the call participants are real people — even if there are thousands of miles between you.
Besides, laughing during a call can improve the mood of team members and strengthen their team spirit.
At the beginning of a call, list the key points of the upcoming conversation. At the end of a call, wrap up the discussion and the outcomes.
Another good practice is to write down the outcomes and email them to the participants.
Over to you
It’s not that easy to go remote or set up a completely distributed company from scratch. The main problem is communication, specifically:
- Difficulties with scheduling
- Minimum working time overlap
- Technical limitations
- Limited project communication
- Lack of a common organizational culture
Communication in a remote team mostly occurs via either text messages or calls. Messages are great for quick check-ups whereas calls are good for longer and more comprehensive discussions. Our tips for effective text communication are as follows:
- Find a way to catch up with the messages, e.g. asynchronous communication
- Provide the necessary tools
- Do not underestimate emojis and gifs
- Organize a “virtual water cooler”
- Always assume misunderstanding
- Use check-ins and milestones to celebrate small victories
- Allow your employees to have uninterrupted work time
As for phone communication, we recommend that you do the following:
- Engage your listeners
- Know your audience
- Establish communication guidelines
- Control your voice
- Make pauses
- Use humor
- Summarize conversations
We hope that these tips and best practices will help you manage your remote team more effectively.
Still hesitant whether going remote is the right option for you? Request a free consultation from our support team today — get it all figured out as soon as tomorrow!