The world of work has changed dramatically in recent years. Sped up by the coronavirus pandemic, many companies are now offering fully remote or hybrid working options for their employees. There are plenty of pros to this approach: better work-life balance, an opportunity to hire from a wider pool of talent, and better retention of parents and people who need to work from a quieter environment. However, perhaps one of the biggest challenges is how employers can communicate effectively with a remote workforce.
When you’re relying on digital messaging and video calls, you lose the nuance that you get in spoken, in-person conversations. It’s easy to misunderstand tone, and the lack of body language means you’re missing out on crucial signals. Additionally, you’re more likely to use functional communication – small talk and casual chat gets dropped in favour of task-oriented messages – meaning that over time, you can lose some of that team spirit without really realising it.
So how can you avoid these pitfalls and keep your team effective and happy? Let’s take a look.
Set some boundaries
When you’re working remotely, you can’t just look across the office and see if someone is free for a chat. You have to be prepared to wait for a response, and that can be frustrating. However, it’s also important to recognise that people have a right to not be available every minute of the day – even if you don’t have a flexible working schedule, team members might be in meetings, involved in other chats, or simply focusing on deep work.
You can help your workforce provide better boundaries and expectations to each other by utilising status updates on chat platforms and practising good digital diary management. Many calendars allow you to set your working hours, or you can simply block out the times that you’re not available. By making it clear when you’re all available, you can manage expectations and reduce frustration.
Understand your team’s working preferences
The joy of having a diverse team is that not everyone’s the same – you have different approaches, and that’s what makes you powerful as a group. However, it can be challenging to support a wide range of styles when it comes to communication.
For example, one person might find that they work best by doing deep focus tasks in the morning, and being off chat, whilst another person might prefer to have all their meetings first thing when they’re feeling awake and energised. Or, you might have someone in the team who prefers to share their ideas via email, so they can make things clear, whereas someone else might enjoy collaborating in real time on a video call.
Whilst there will always be an element of compromise, especially in larger teams, understanding these key fundamentals about the people you work closely with can help you all be more efficient and harmonious. If you’re struggling to match the needs of your team with the needs of the business, you could consider outsourcing some tasks for a set period of the day to let everyone have the focus time they need for work that only they can complete.
You’re already using technology to work remotely – so why not push things a step further? Utilising brainstorm programmes or jamboards can help you collaborate and get ideas down quickly, for example. Or why not test out an AI notetaking programme, to save someone having to write down meeting minutes and allow them to fully focus and participate? These notes can also be shared later, allowing you to properly include others, rather than giving them a summary version of what took place.
Encourage open communication and feedback
Having issues arise is a common part of being in the workplace, whether that’s virtual or otherwise. Not everyone will always agree on the best way to do things, and especially when it comes to remote working, it’s easy for conversations to get misinterpreted or for resentment to build without leaders really releasing. Especially if you only have one or two meetings with your team a week, it’s hard to get a feel for any underlying issues.
To combat this, try and make it clear that you welcome open communication and feedback, and provide a space for this. Whether that’s regular 1-to-1 meetings, a quarterly survey or simply just a slot in your calendar where team members can book in for a chat, make it clear that you always have time for your colleagues.
Be proactive in addressing any issues
Conflict resolution is hard. No one likes it, and it can be awkward at times. However, it’s your responsibility as a leader to keep the team running smoothly. So, if a communication problem does arise, be ready to facilitate a conversation between team members, or be open to hard feedback from your employees yourself. Being proactive and coming to a resolution quickly means that you can get everyone back on track and make the changes you need to ensure you’re all happy and productive.
There’s no denying communicating effectively with a remote workforce is new ground for many of us, and as such, we’re not always going to get things right the first time. But by working with your colleagues and listening to their needs, you can increase the chance of a smooth road to success.
Author bio: Chris Stewart
A business coach, Chris helps managers understand how to better support their teams, allowing them to reach their full potential. She hopes to inspire change in workplaces across the world with her writing.