5 tips for communicating effectively when working remotely
Remote work has become ubiquitous, especially in the software industry. Over the last few years you may have heard terms like remote-first, remote-friendly and distributed — all relating to different types of teamwork structure.
Remote-first implies that remote / online communication is the default. You and your colleagues may be co-located and work in the same office but all critical communication is done via digital channels (Email, Slack, Zoom etc.).
Remote-friendly companies simply allow their employees to work remotely as much and as often as they wish. Granted, most companies these days are forced to be remote-friendly, however, I think, many would still prefer their employees to work on-site. We will see how possible it will be, given the situation in the world.
Distributed teams are remote by nature because they are not co-located. Here, we’re talking about companies that have multiple offices in different parts of the world and oftentimes, operate across different time zones.
There’s an obvious set of logistical and cultural challenges that come with working remotely. Having been running a fully remote business for over a year, I’ve decided to outline a few key characteristics that, in my eyes, any successful remote company should have.
Here are a few things:
All important work-related communication is done online. If you end up having some important discussion in the office, make sure to inform your remote employees and get their input as soon as possible via a common work chat group or something of that sort. It’s only fair and it helps your remote workforce feel like they’re part of the team (which they are).
What you don’t want to say: “No, we’re not doing that anymore. We just had a conversation with the guys at the office and decided against our original idea.”
2. You plan and schedule all your meetings and sync-ups as much ahead as possible. Unfortunately, this means letting go of ad hoc or unscheduled meetings. Holding unscheduled meetings with your office workers excluding remote ones would violate the principles of a remote-first mindset. On the flip side, demanding that your remote employees join ad hoc meetings at a moment’s notice would not be fair either as one of the key benefits of working remotely is being able to structure your day in the way that most suits you without being tied to the constraints of office life. If you do happen to hold an emergency meeting, at least make sure to document it thoroughly and pass on all the information to those who weren’t able to attend. Such things shouldn’t be a frequent practice though.
What you don’t want to say: “Hey, we’re having an emergency meeting in 2 minutes, it’s very important that you join.”
3. Respect your colleagues’ time. Have everyone input their working hours in their calendar and, optionally, the time when they won’t be available via email or messaging apps. It’s great to be able to sync your schedules with your colleagues, however, being remote-first often means having to work asynchronously most of the time.
What you don’t want to say: “I know it’s 11 pm where you are but I was wondering if you could take a look at something for me real quick”
4. You take care of logistics and potential network and audio-related problems. A big reason why remote employees often feel left out or unengaged in meetings is due to a poor Internet connection or audio issues like not being able to hear those people in the office who are far away from the mic or getting static noises from others who join online.
What you don’t want to say: “You may not be able to hear everyone clearly, there’s 10 of us here in the office and we’re sharing a laptop. Anyways, I think we’ll be fine.”
5. Plan in-person hangouts and catch-ups. Nothing can replace face-to-face human connection. It’s important to set up company-wide meetups and team-building sessions at least once or twice a year to allow your remote employees to get to know each other as people and network. This will do wonders in terms of decreasing work-related stress and empowering people to collaborate and communicate more freely and efficiently.
What you don’t want to say: “So yeah, we’re going bowling next weekend, it’s a shame you guys can’t make it. Sorry, you have to look at us eat pizza, we just ordered some before the meeting.”
Being a remote-first company has its advantages and drawbacks. But if you learn how to manage communication within the remote team well, you will enjoy all the benefits of effective teamwork while saving the rent and office expenses.