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Solve the challenge of communication with remote teams.

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Communications in remote teams are increasingly talked about within organizations. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of people working remotely in the U.S. increased by a whopping 159%. As much as 66% of companies offer remote working options (as of 2019), and 16% of companies run based on a totally remote workforce. These are just some of the multitude of statistics that demonstrate organizations are increasingly moving towards remote teams with good reasons. Various studies have shown that remote workers are happier, healthier, less stressed and more engaged. Remote teams also mean less expenditure on office space, too.

On the other hand, remote teams face other challenges that teams based in the same physical location don’t have to deal with. Interacting through screens, apps and email makes communications in remote teams more difficult and harder to build trust that in-person relationships naturally foster. That is because face-to-face interaction gives us a chance to assess non-verbal cues like tone and body language. Things like time zones, cultural and language barriers, as well as distance, can make team members feel less like a team. 

How, then, do you get remote team to communicate and work effectively together when they can’t meet face-to-face? The key is putting in place a clearly defined internal communications strategy – and sticking to it.

Set visibility and communication standards

To facilitate effective communications in remote teams, start by establishing the level of visibility you expect from your remote workers. Ensure that they know how many hours of work are expected every day, week or month and that they are clear on how their work status, or location, needs to be shared with teammates or managers. Distributed teams need that visibility to identify the best moment to communicate with one another; unless the role is fully flexible with clear directions and minimal interactions needed with colleagues.

Create a remote or flexible work policy, or get your HR team to outline this document. This policy should include the terms of the flexible work benefits and the preferred tools or applications for remote collaboration and communication. See our Tool guide for remote communications for more details. The flexible work policy should also state clearly what you expect from each team member in terms of online presence and visibility. This will ensure every member of your distributed team is clear on what they should be doing and when to benefit from a flexible work model.

Clear tasks and objectives

Make sure each member of your team understands their tasks and that they’re up-to-date on what they need to achieve. Use a shared calendar or a project planning tool like Teamweek, to keep your entire team up-to-date on the tasks that each person is currently working on, as well as those that are pending. This approach will greatly reduce confusion regarding who should work on what, as well as allow for open communications in remote team members if any issues need clarifying.

The SMART criteria is an effective tool that will help you set clear, achievable goals for remote workers. SMART goals allow managers to focus on results, rather than micromanaging employees. This approach is known to improve productivity and boost morale. This acronym stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time-bound

Set goals with these factors in mind, then your remote team will be clear on the work required to achieve them. Don’t forget to clarify whether each goal is a short-term milestone or a mid-term or long-term objective. 

Meetings and calls – why, how and when

Regular meetings facilitate an open conversation about workflow and employee performance. Conduct face-to-face or video meetings weekly on a one-to-one basis with each employee; these should last at least 20 minutes. This is the perfect time to broach any performance issues and to resolve any queries about specific tasks. It’s also a good time to provide status updates. 

Use regular voice calls for short one-on-one discussions outside of the weekly meeting; however, for group meetings with more than two participants, use virtual voice and video meetings. This ensures all team members are aware of and engaged in the conversation

Conduct appraisals on a half-yearly or yearly basis. These should last at least 1.5 hours. An appraisal is an opportunity to focus on the overall performance of each team member. As well as outline your organization’s expectations for each member going forward. Smaller issues regarding specific tasks have no place here – discuss these in your weekly meetings.

Finally, to build company culture, organize physical, in-person meetings at least once a year. These are an opportunity to undertake non-work activities, like team-building exercises. These meetings can help facilitate better relationships between team members, which will allow the distributed team to work as one cohesive unit even when they’re not in the same geographic location or time zone. 

Other creative ways of building company culture include virtual happy hours, social gaming and non-work related meetings. Researchers have discovered that regularly engaging in these types of activities improves goal setting and problem-solving skills in members of distributed teams.

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