“Virtual work is the future of work – companies need to be prepared”. This quote from the founder of Virtual Work Insider, Sacha Conor, captures what’s currently happening around the globe. If statistics are anything to go by, estimates show that over 1.87 billion employees globally will go mobile by 2022.
This trend is only expected to accelerate, and this may create unique challenges for leadership and management as more businesses go remote. One huge challenge that team leaders and employers face is how to set successful remote team relationships since they no longer have the luxury of popping by someone’s desk (unannounced) for a quick update.
Another serious concern is how to determine if the remote workers are even really working on their projects.
That’s where communication comes in. Fundamentally, it’s the bridge between an organization’s management and the remote team. If it’s ignored or implemented poorly, productivity may suffer. To remote workers, the lack of communication will bring feelings of isolation and disconnection. These issues are made worse by different time zones, distance, language barriers, and different cultures.
How to Close the Gap Between Working from Home and Working at the Office
In a virtual environment where employees are mainly communicating via messaging apps and email, it becomes difficult to convey ideas as clearly as when people meet face to face.
Unlike conversing in person, chats and emails lack the most important aspects of communication – body language and voice. Sometimes, the tone used in a chat or email can be misinterpreted, and this can negatively impact the morale of the team, consequently affecting productivity.
With that in mind, and considering how crucial it is for your company to attain its goals, we share some communication secrets of effective remote teams.
1# Establishing a Communication Routine
Remote work knows no geographical barriers. People from different continents are coming together to work for the same company, creating a unique and diverse team. However, with diversity comes the issue of time zones.
For this reason, it’s important to establish a common response time that suits all team members regardless of their location. Together with your team, decide on the best time and method of communication and bring every new member of the team up to speed.
2# Using Effective and Reliable Collaboration Tools
Choosing the right technology that supports effective collaboration between team leaders and team members ensures everyone is on the same page. Opting for video conferencing instead of chat rooms, for instance, makes communication richer and allows team members to be more responsive and interactive.
The use of powerful online collaboration tools has seen a dramatic increase in recent months. Apart from providing a unified platform where workers can interact freely, project management software also brings accountability and transparency to the table. It allows you to delegate tasks more easily, set deadlines, keep track of deliverables, create subtasks under bigger tasks, share ideas about specific projects, and deliberate over work-related issues in real time.
Such tools allow team members to develop trust with time, consequently opening up to each other and feeling less isolated and lonely.
3# Scheduling Regular Check-Ins
Remote work can get lonely, and a team member can feel left out. That’s why it’s important to perform regular team check-ins.
This brings us back to the point of choosing a communication platform that will suit your communication needs. Whether you choose Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack, or any other collaboration platform, be sure that it offers the necessary features.
Hold meetings at least once every week, but be open to ad hoc calls whenever a team member needs to bounce a few ideas off you.
Regular check-ins may also help you to identify a team member who is having issues with the assigned projects or deliverables. When this happens, you can schedule a one-on-one video call to determine what the issue might be and help them get to the bottom of it.
4# Bringing Teams Together via Video
As a team leader, you may find managing your remote team quite challenging. In a normal setting, companies arrange retreats for their teams from time to time. The event is designed to bring together all office and remote employees, giving them a chance to brainstorm new ideas and bond with each other away from the office walls.
By engaging your team in fun activities like hiking, playing games, or partying, you can help its members to learn more about each other. Retreats are also great avenues to realign the company mission and facilitate meaningful interactions between teammates.
In cases where retreats are not possible, scheduling a company-wide video conference serves as an effective way to bring the team together. This is the time to allow the team members to connect, learn about the lives of each other outside the office, or even have general discussions about their pets.
Creating opportunities where coworkers can have fun like playing games, listening to music, and celebrating birthdays or baby showers virtually creates a sense of connection and belonging. This is a great strategy that will help to build stronger work relationships.
5# Setting Specific Guidelines on Communication Methods
Communication tools are plentiful, and they all serve different purposes. As a team leader, you should learn how to unify a remote team to facilitate collaboration and teamwork and achieve better results.
Effective communication involves setting clear guidelines on which tools to use for conveying specific messages. It’s worth mentioning how important it is to involve team members when deciding the tools to use for effective collaboration.
For instance, video calls can be used mainly for virtual meetings and socializing every once in a while. Emails can be used for messages that are not urgent and don’t require an immediate response from the receiver. Instant messaging apps, on the other hand, are important for messages that require immediate attention and response. They can also serve as a platform where coworkers can socialize or talk about non-work-related topics.
6# Setting Expectations in Advance
Just like in any work environment, individuals perform differently when working remotely. Considering the challenges that working from home presents, it’s wrong to assume what may work for one team member will work for another employee or freelancer. Unlike in an office where everyone knows they are supposed to work a specific number of hours, remote work is a bit complex and may require some flexibility in terms of working hours.
While it’s important to clearly communicate your expectations to each team member, you should encourage employees to work when they are most productive instead of restricting them to a specific time set. Let them adjust their work schedule to their new work environment as long as they communicate any changes or challenges clearly. Focusing on the progress of their work instead of the time that the employee is working may be your best bet.
7# Avoiding Micromanaging Your Team
If it’s your first time managing a remote team, you may be tempted to keep checking on their progress multiple times a day. This will send the wrong impression to your team members, and they may perceive it as a lack of trust.
Micromanaging a team is also distracting and is likely to negatively impact productivity. To avoid this, be as clear as possible about your objectives and goals when assigning tasks. Keep communication lines open in case the worker has questions regarding the tasks or personal issues that may affect delivery.
Also, remember that working from home can be tough, considering that some employees are parents who might have other obligations like caring for and homeschooling their children. Therefore, allowing extra time for projects and tasks to be completed shows understanding.
An easier way to monitor remote employees and track their progress is via time tracking software like Traqq. The program allows you to manage a remote team and group its members according to their skills. It also makes analyzing each employee’s performance easy by providing detailed timesheets that account for everyone’s activity levels. This eliminates the need to micromanage employees.
8# Emphasizing the Team’s Purpose
In most cases, remote workers are given a task and a deadline, which means the information is conveyed on a need-to-know basis. To build a high-performing team, it’s crucial to clearly outline the roles of each team member, the business goals, and how each individual can contribute to the success of the organization.
Bridging the connection gap when managing a remote team is not an easy task. Start by implementing these tips to facilitate better communication and ensure your remote employees don’t feel disconnected.
The prosperity of any business depends on effective communication, especially when it comes to operating in the work-from-home environment. Therefore, be prepared to invest time and effort in helping everybody adjust to the new reality.