How to enhance remote communication in your team

The technology is great but has some limitations. The basis of successful remote team management is a strong psyche and true team spirit. Team members and managers face a challenge to create a space that allows them to build a virtual team, creating a sense of unity.

Communication in a distributed team is one of the biggest challenges and the challenge most often talked about. Communication problems are resulting from communication methods: emails, chats, SMSs, and video conferencing. Each of them has the potential to “lose” the meaning of an intended message. They are often sent shortened due to their function, which causes them to lose some of their value. Online conversations are not the same as physical face-to-face meetings. And usually, the productivity and creativity of the team suffer from this.

Communication is effective when everyone involved is given the same amount of time and attention. All team members, regardless of their position in the organization, should know that their voice counts. Managing a virtual team should, in principle, not cause any difficulties.

Video calls and synchronizations do not have to be planned for several days or presented as overly important. Their main goal is to let everyone know that they can always contact other team members who are available and ready to work on specific tasks. It is also a way to let the team members get to know each other. Working remotely on the project should never be seen as a task that requires additional effort.

Soft skills and choosing the right contact person

A well-coordinated and responsible team is the basis of remote work. Communicative people, are not afraid to talk on the phone, and have the ease of appearing in front of the camera during a video conference, are great as remote workers. Those employees play an important role in internal communications over the internet. They may facilitate contacts and engage other, less open colleagues in chats and random conversations. 

Clarity in communications

The first technique is to use the word “because” when issuing commands. When everyone is in the office explaining live instructions to employees, it is natural, even after sending it by e-mail. In the case of remote work, there is no such possibility. Therefore, in the e-mail, it is necessary to state this reason, i.e., for each information request, it is worth adding “because …” 

For example: “Georgette, please send me a report on the current status of the project” vs. “Georgette, please send me a report on the current status of the deliverable, because I have to inform the client about the situation in the project.” The Xerox Study experiment, carried out in the 70s of the last century, already showed that the use of the word “because” increases the command’s feasibility by 33 percent, no matter what the explanation was. 

Another equally important technique that reduces confusion is to describe/explain the tasks set accurately. Remote teams cannot understand nonverbal communication accurately. Even if we talk via video chat and our interlocutor sees us, they can not always understand the joke, sarcasm, or other emotions that accompany the conversation. Therefore, everyone should be scrupulous when assigning tasks to team members. For example, “Please do a summary of the presentation” should be changed to “Please, prepare a summary of the presentation on one PowerPoint slide, which will contain a maximum of 10 points”. In turn, assigning responsibility for performing specific tasks to individual team members will help fight against fragmentation. 

These two principles are fundamental because they directly affect the efficiency and effectiveness of work. According to the thesis by Cyril Parkinson, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This means that in the absence of clearly defined deadlines, we can expect delays. Meeting deadlines is motivating for everyone and shows (as far as deadlines are available) that the team has achieved success. It also helps to measure the performance of remote work to some extent.

Assigning responsibility

When working in the office, we do not think about this type of problem because we directly address the team, e.g., “Susan and Max will be responsible for preparing the presentation.” Sitting next to each other, Susan and Max can cooperate and communicate regularly, who will prepare what slide. In remote work, Susan and Max have less opportunity and motivation to discuss who will do what, so each of them counts on the latter to be responsible for the task. Therefore, it is important to clarify the command given to them: “Susan will be responsible for preparing the presentation, and Max will help her get the necessary data.”

When talking about precision in defining tasks and assigning responsibilities, one should remember the overall communication accuracy, including writing. Not having the possibility of a quick face to face conversation, working remotely, people send each other many more emails, which causes them to rush. This one important information from the leader can get lost. 

Skillful use of the e-mail title

By entering the recipient’s name in the title, one will definitely pay attention to the e-mail sent. For example, instead of the title “Request to send a report” or “Report for March,” the title “John> report sending 24.04” will be more effective.

When going to the content of the email, you need to be equally attentive. The sentence: “Kate, I think we have to work on it” will cause dispersion of responsibility again. Therefore, the message should be changed to: “Kate, please work on it, and we will discuss it later.” We should also remember that all arrangements made during the conference call must be written down and sent to the team in an e-mail version, of course, specified precisely.

No one is a lonely island.

It might be self-evident, but the team won’t go far as a band if they don’t really want to create it. Significant correspondence, every update, every event that affects the team – everything should be shared with the members. This is essential for implementing a sense of virtual teamwork: no one is a lonely island, even if sitting alone in a home office, even if it is in a different country.