1. Establish guidelines for communication
Establishing clear guidelines regarding how remote communication tools should be used will help to ensure effective communication among your remote teams. The guidelines should establish how, when and where communication takes place. For example, you should specify:
- the standard wait time for responses to messages or emails; and
- which communication channels are preferred for certain types of information.
This will help to prevent common issues, such as including everyone in a conversation that was only meant for one person, slow responses and using the wrong channel for communications. With clearly defined expectations, everyone will be able to work together more effectively.
2. Set boundaries for sending messages
When working from home, employees may feel like they are always at work. Expecting your remote teams to be contactable at all times is a recipe for burnout, which is bad news for productivity and ultimately bad for your business. People need to be able to separate work life and personal life. To help them achieve this, it’s best to avoid sending messages at inappropriate times.
Establish a definition of ‘after hours’ and make it clear that everyone should avoid sending messages once everyone has clocked off. Give your teams some examples of legitimate exceptions to this rule.
3. Don’t forget about time zones
Misunderstandings about deadlines can easily occur when you work with people who are based in different regions or countries. Make sure you always specify the time zone when you set deadlines. For example, “Can you please send this to me by 5 pm AEDT?” Also, don’t forget to mention the time zone when scheduling meetings.
4. Acknowledge your employees’ communication preferences
Everyone has their preferred method of communication. Some may prefer an in-depth email, some might like a quick message on a messaging platform, others might appreciate the face-to-face interaction that a video call offers. Take the time to find out what works best for your remote employees and keep their preferences in mind when you communicate with them.
5. Trust your team
Some managers struggle to trust their remote teams. Unlike in the office, you can’t see if your employees are hard at work and you can’t simply walk up to their desk and check in on them. So, when managing a remote team, it can be tempting to message your team constantly to ask for updates. But try to avoid doing this. Not only does it take up your employees’ time, but the interruptions can also negatively affect their focus.
Improve virtual meetings
6. Run better virtual meetings
Poorly run virtual meetings can be painful, but when done properly, they can be a great way to connect with your remote teams. As a rule, virtual meetings should be briefer than in-person meetings, purposeful and results oriented.
Before the meeting, send out an agenda to the attendees and ask them if they have any concerns or suggestions they want to raise so that you can ensure every opinion is heard. Try to resolve as many issues as you can before you start the meeting. Make sure that someone takes notes during the meeting, which can be shared with everyone. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and they know which steps need to be taken afterwards. Aim to reduce the duration of the meeting and focus on the most important issues.
Related: How to Run Better Office Meetings
7. Don’t schedule unnecessary meetings
Video meetings can help remote workers to feel more connected and less isolated. But they can also feel like extra work and ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing. So, before putting it in the calendar, consider whether a video meeting is really necessary. Could you make a phone call or send an email instead? Avoid disrupting your remote employees unnecessarily and allow them to take advantage of the productivity gains that remote working can offer. Only meet on a videoconferencing platform when there is a real purpose for a video meeting.
8. Keep remote meetings small
Avoid holding virtual meetings with a large number of participants where possible. Meetings with too many people tend to be less productive due to the distractions and extra chatter. People may also be reluctant to voice their opinions because they’re worried about making the meeting go over time. Consider limiting your remote meetings to eight people. This helps to keep your teams more engaged. If you have a large team, meet with small groups frequently to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. This may not be an issue if you run a small business with a small number of remote workers, but it’s something to bear in mind as your business and remote teams grow.
9. Don’t leave out the ‘water cooler chat’
Remote teams miss out on water cooler chats—the chats that happen when employees take short breaks to socialise and refresh. These interactions are important because they give people an opportunity to build relationships and they foster stronger communication. Create ‘virtual water cooler chats’ with your remote teams by allowing 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of video calls for your team members to check in with each other on a personal level.
Improve email communication
10. Establish good email etiquette in the workplace
Given how frequently most remote teams send emails, it’s important that everyone is on the same page when it comes to email etiquette at work. Mismatched expectations of what constitutes good email etiquette can easily lead to misunderstandings. It’s a mistake to assume everyone knows how to send an email. Younger generations who got into the online world after the rise of social media may have never sent emails socially. So, their ideas about what makes a polite, professional email might be quite different compared to older generations. Consider developing an email policy and training your employees on how to conduct themselves appropriately via email. Poorly written emails can have a huge impact on your organisation’s culture, as well as how your organisation is perceived by your customers and business partners. Here are some things to consider when creating your email policy:
- Include a clear, direct subject line. It should be short and meaningful to help the recipient prioritise emails in their inbox. For example, “Feedback on your presentation” or “Meeting date changed”. References to times in subject lines, such as “due date” also help people prioritise their emails based on urgency.
- Make the call to action (CTA) clear. Don’t leave the recipient wondering what they’re supposed to do with the information in the email. Including a clear call to action will increase the chances of the recipient doing what you want them to do. A CTA could be anything from “Please complete this survey by such and such a time” to “Could you please provide clarification on this issue?”
- Know when to use email. Avoid using email when other communication channels, such as instant messaging or a phone call, are more appropriate. Typically, if it’s urgent or involves emotions, making a phone call is a better option. Or, if you can’t resolve the issue in three email exchanges (the ‘three email rule’), it’s probably also best to pick up the phone.
- Schedule emails to avoid disturbing people outside of work hours. If employees decide to write an email outside of work hours, unless it’s urgent, they should schedule it to be sent first thing in the morning. This will help remote employees to disconnect and recharge after work.
While the pandemic will eventually end, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay. That’s why effective remote communication shouldn’t be seen as a temporarily useful skill—it should become a permanent feature of your workplace culture. Set guidelines and expectations about good remote communication etiquette to minimise communication gaps and ensure everyone is on the same page. Create an environment that allows your remote teams to be productive, happy and ready to overcome the challenges of being physically distant.