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How to communicate effectively with remote employees

communicateOver the past few years, the number of remote employees, i.e. people who work from home, has been growing.

More than two-thirds of professionals from all over the world spend at least one day working at home, and more than half spend more working days working from the comfort of their living room couch.

This transformation has been made possible thanks to emerging technology and burgeoning companies that provide office space on an as-needed basis.

Communication and project management apps have made it easier for remote employees to stay in touch with their teams and get the job done. But for remote teams to thrive, you will need to set up some good communication policies.



How to establish good communication with a remote team:

Before looking at ways to combat the drawbacks of remote working, it is important to establish a few key principles that will guide every other effort:


1. Set specific goals for remote employees

Whether an employee reports to an office at nine o’clock in the morning every day or they get to work in their PJs while lounging on their sofa, they need to know what is expected of them.

This is why employers need to not only be clear on goals, objectives, and boundaries, but they also need to communicate these expectations clearly, regardless of where the employee is on the planet.


2. Proactivity goes a long way

A proactive team leader will have a much better chance of ensuring that everything runs smoothly because a proactive attitude ensures that the leader is always one step ahead of the problems facing them.

So should a remote employee need some time off, the leader will be able to plan around it and minimise any resulting delays.


3. Make sure collaboration is going smoothly

Odds are remote employees will be collaborating with other employees who live half-way across the globe.

Whereas this collaboration is much more feasible nowadays than it was 20 years ago thanks to the countless software applications available, things can still get messy if different members of the team use different apps, complicating the communication process rather than simplifying it.

There is a common myth that communication between remote employees is always difficult and confusing. In reality, how well a remote team communicates and functions is contingent on the policies and rules the employer places on remote work.

Hence, it is important to get all employees on the same page, both remote and office-bound, and ensure that they are using the same application.


4. Avoid interrupting the employees

With the employee out of sight (and probably on a different continent), some employers may feel concerned about whether the work is getting done at all.

These employers may feel the need to constantly check-in, asking for status updates.

The problem is that these intrusions can be distracting and deleterious for an employee’s workflow.

Employers should be familiar with their employees’ working patterns and set specific times during which they can communicate.


5. Keep Hanlon’s Razor in Mind

Hanlon’s Razor says, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

It might seem crude, but the gist is that most mistakes people make are more often a result of ignorance rather than ill-will.

Bearing this in mind makes it easier to excuse a lot of mistakes other people make and helps prevent a small misstep to morph into a large issue.


6. Appreciate the different ways of communicating with remote employees

There are numerous ways an employer can get in touch with their employees, from email and instant messaging to video calls. Every mode of communication is suited for a particular purpose.

For instance, if an employer wants to relay to a remote employee a certain set of instructions, sending an email that may be saved for future reference is a good idea.

But, if an employer just wants to check up on the employee, then a five-minute phone call might be more appropriate.

Using the wrong medium to deliver a certain message can have disastrous effects and disrupt employees in their workflow, so if it’s not important and requires an immediate reply, keep instant messages and calls for emergencies only.



Keep Your Employees in the Loop

When an employee works at an office, they interact with their fellow employees day-in and day-out. They also get constant feedback from their superiors and are aware of any new updates and changes that happen to certain projects they are working on or to the company at large.

Remote employees have very limited resources to stay up-to-date.

Aside from the people they contact through phone or email, they really have no way of knowing what’s happening at the company, so make sure to help them by:


1. Going the extra mile to keep remote employees informed

Broadly speaking, there are several types of business meetings, the most important of which are as follows:

  • Status update meetings, which are similar to SCRUM meetings, take place regularly and allow everybody involved in a project to know where things stand.
  • Strategy meetings, also known as decision-making meetings, are important when a team, or even the entire company, faces a fork in the road and has to make a tough choice about how to progress.
  • Problem-solving meetings are excellent ways to face emergencies that just pop up.
  • Team building meetings are integral to building a strong company culture that can thrive during the hardest of times. This is why so many companies invest so much money in company retreats.

An employer must learn to balance their efforts ensure that remote employees participate in meetings that are of immediate concern to them.


2. Arranging 1-on-1 meetings

Speaking of meetings, it’s not enough that employers include remote employees in all the meetings happening throughout the company, but employers should also orchestrate regular 1-on-1 meetings with each individual remote employee to compensate for any misunderstandings that would result from the long-distance.

These meetings will be an excellent opportunity to clear any misunderstandings and exchange feedback with the employee regarding their work.


3. Allowing access to data

Even though most companies invest considerable sums of money protecting their data, they also need to ensure that their remote employees have access to said data.

This will ensure that all the remote employees are seeing the same picture, no matter where they are working from.


4. Being There

Just as employers may want to reach their employees from time to time, employers should welcome any inquiries from their remote employees, in a sort of a virtual open-door policy.

They can achieve this by telling their employees how and when they will be available and by promptly returning phone calls as well as emails.



Keep Employee Engagement a Priority

One of the main motivators people have to show up at work is the people around them. An employee feels encouraged when their boss applauds their work and gets excited when other employees around them get excited about the same project.

Without those things, remote employees are bound to feel disengaged from their work. Here’s how to solve this:


1. Celebrate an employee’s accomplishments:

Anyone who puts their heart and soul into their work wants to be acknowledged for a job well done, and it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that good work does not go unnoticed.

And, what’s even better than congratulating someone on a job well done is to relay these fine accomplishments to upper management.

2. Personally connect with each employee:

One of the perks of working in an office is that employees get to personally connect with both their peers and their superiors. This connection becomes one of the main motivators behind showing up to work every day.

However, remote employees miss out on this connection, which is why employers need to work hard to ensure that all of their employees feel part of the team.

This can be accomplished by taking some time just to talk with each employee about something not work-related just as friends wold.


3. Encourage the rest of the team to interact with each other:

It’s not enough that remote employees interact with their superiors; they need to socialize with their peers as well.

Employers can facilitate this by creating a virtual water cooler and orchestrating regular company retreats.



Good Communication Fosters Good Outcomes

The book “The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership” by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel has been a go-to resource for people who manage remote employees and want to become better leaders and build stronger teams.

One of the topics brought up by the book is the idea that leaders ought to follow the Three-O Leadership model, a model that encourages leaders to focus on outcomes, others, and ourselves.

Despite remote working having numerous benefits, it also suffers from a few drawbacks, almost all of which can be solved with good communication. By employing the tips above and the three-O model, managers can establish a healthy culture even for remote employees.

Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking or taking a road trip with her two dogs. You can reach Jennifer on Twitter at: @jenmcknzie

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