Don’t let distance and time zones create an obstacle to your communication with remote team members.
•Published: Mar 15, 2022
As the world slowly finds a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work is here to stay. According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, businesses expect 58% of their workforce to be fully remote within the next five years.
However, the rise of remote work comes with a new challenge: effective team communication. In a virtual work setting, not only can’t you see your team members face-to-face, but you’re also dealing with employees who could live in entirely different time zones.
Optimizing communication needs to be a priority to make remote work successful. You can achieve this by making your tools and processes usable for a workforce separated by distance. Here’s how:
1. Use Asynchronous Communication Tools
Asynchronous communication tools help you overcome the most common challenge remote teams face: communicating across distances and across time zones. A few types of asynchronous tools are:
Video Conferencing & Recording Tools
Video conferencing tools are a way of holding virtual meetings with remote team members that would otherwise happen face-to-face. Two of the more popular video conferencing tools are Zoom and BlueJeans.
That said, video conferencing tools don’t entirely solve the issue of dealing with employees in different time zones. You also need video recording tools such as Loom that allow you to instantly record videos of your screen and camera. Employees in different time zones will be able to view the videos at a time convenient for them and not miss any vital information.
Workplace Communication Tools
Workplace communication tools are central hubs of all internal communications — whether for public communications, company updates, private messages, or client communications. These tools are necessary because remote teams don’t have the luxury of physically turning to co-workers to stay up to date on what’s going on within the company.
Stream’s chat API allows you to develop a team collaboration tool you can use to improve communication with your remote team. That way, you don’t have to rely on sending emails back and forth to keep in touch with co-workers. Stream allows you to organize conversations into individual channels to better organize your team's conversations while hosting an unlimited amount of users.
Check out our team chat demo to see what you can build for yourself.
Remote Training Tools
Because you can’t be in the same location or time zone, you’ll also need a way to onboard employees virtually. Your company needs a way to virtually communicate what they need to learn in order to succeed at their job.
With a remote training tool like 360learning, you can create course material within the platform to train new hires remotely, so employees can access their training from wherever they are. It comes with tools to help you communicate with your employees during the training process, such as a feedback inbox and internal comments.
2. Maximize Your Video Meetings’ Efficiency
Online meetings are an essential component of remote communication. However, you need to maximize the efficiency of your video meetings since people’s attention and time in their schedule is limited.
By doing so, you’re making sure each meeting has a clear purpose and doesn’t become an obstacle to your team’s productivity. Here’s how you can get the most out of each virtual conference with your team:
Prepare an Agenda
Preparing an agenda helps each participant know the meeting's goal and topics of discussion and prevents the conversation from going off topic. According to Roger Schwarz, CEO of Roger Schwarz & Associates, in an article for Harvard Business Review:
“An effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete.”
To prepare your agenda, start by defining the purpose of the meeting. For example, is it to announce an important change in operations for your company? Or to define your business goals for the upcoming quarter? Next, write down your agenda in a shared document and ask remote workers to share their thoughts or add any questions before the meeting.
Assign Clear Roles to Each Call Participant
You must assign clear roles to each participant because, according to Jordan Husney, CEO of the meeting tool Parabol, in an article with Business Insider, "Virtual meetings are most effective when each team member understands how they are contributing to the larger whole. It also helps ensure greater transparency and total participation across the team and ensures every team member knows they have a voice and place."
There are different roles you can assign to your video meeting participants. One participant’s role could be to take notes during the video conference to document what was covered. Another person on the call could be the time-keeper to ensure people are following the time allocated on the agenda.
Don’t Host Too Many Video Meetings
Hosting too many meetings for your remote team can fill up their schedule and bombard them with unnecessary communication. An excess amount of meetings can also distract them from completing their tasks and reaching their goals.
Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, tells Business Insider that the ideal amount of meetings to host should be no more than two or three meetings in the afternoon. "I find that by giving myself uninterrupted time, I can think beyond the most pressing issues and really focus on my long-term stretch goals," says Duggan. Also, only invite the necessary participants who genuinely need to be in the meeting instead of asking everyone on your team.
Keep Meetings Short
You need to keep meetings short because long (and unnecessary) video meetings can cause Zoom fatigue — a form of burnout associated with video conferencing.
Bethany Williams, neurology professor at McGovern Medical School, says no meeting should be longer than an hour. Virtual meetings should be to the point and not time-consuming: “Any longer than [an hour]," says Williams, "and the meeting becomes fatiguing and people disengage."
3. Create a Culture of Listening
A culture of listening is when companies are willing to listen to their employees, such as their career goals, concerns, and what they think needs improvement in their work environment. Creating a culture of listening optimizes remote communication by making employees feel heard even if they’re miles away from you, which improves their engagement and productivity.
A survey from UKG shows that 92% of employees that feel highly engaged say they feel listened to in the workplace compared to 30% of disengaged employees. Another 74% of employees believe that feeling heard also makes them more effective.
Here’s how you can create a culture of listening even with remote team members:
Embrace Open Communication
Open communication allows employees to work in an environment where they can share their thoughts and concerns without the fear of being judged. By letting employees express how they’re feeling with complete freedom, you’ll improve their morale and increase their trust.
To embrace open communication, set aside time for a conference meeting each week where employees can directly voice their concerns to you. Kym Gold, the founder at Style Union, says in a Forbes article that she holds safe virtual gripe sessions once a week to listen to any of her remote workforce’s complaints:
“I want to know what is going on with everyone and ask for feedback, whether it's positive or negative. It’s important to listen to create a great culture. I invite my employees to share their ideas and just have regular conversations about life, which can serve as a navigation tool moving forward.”
Conduct Virtual One-on-One Meetings
Virtual one-on-one meetings with remote employees give you the opportunity to listen to their career goals and challenges to help them create a development plan for them to follow. Even if they’re far away from you, communicating with your remote employees on their career goals and listening to them shows you support their growth.
Your virtual one-on-one meetings with your remote employees need to be recurring. Set up them every two to three weeks so you can catch up on their progress.
During your calls, ask questions about their short- and long-term goals. Next, by weighing in their strength and weakness, identify skills they need to improve and what you can do to support their growth.
Run Employee Engagement Surveys
Another good way to create a culture of listening is to send engagement surveys every few weeks to collect the feedback of your remote workers. You can then review the feedback with your team and gather insights on how you can improve your remote work environment.
Here are examples of questions you can include in your employee engagement survey:
- I would recommend our company as a great place to work
- I rarely think about getting a job at another company
- The leaders inform me about what’s happening within the company
- I have the support I need to perform well at my job
- I know what I need to do to be successful at my job
You can run your surveys by using an employee engagement tool such as Lattice. Through Lattice’s dashboard, you can examine the insights you collected and share them with members of your team.
4. Host Virtual Team-Building Activities
Virtual activities combat loneliness, which according to research by Buffer, is one of the biggest struggles remote workers face. These activities help create the social connection and communication co-workers feel in a traditional work setting, except virtually.
There are many different types of virtual building activities you can host to make employees feel more connected.
For example, you can set up virtual water cooler talks for your remote team. Water cooler talks are random video calls where two different remote workers can connect and talk about other things besides work. Different team members of your remote workforce will get to know each other, make friends, and put a face to the names of the people they’re working with.
Just like employees in a traditional workplace can go out after work and grab a beer during happy hour, you can host the same event with remote workers virtually. Your team can also engage in fun activities such as trivia games or virtual bingo during these happy hours.
You can also host special once-a-year virtual events to make the remote work experience more fun. Ideas include virtual Halloween costume contests and talent shows.
Good Remote Communication is Essential for Every Flexible Workplace
Optimizing communication for your remote team boosts their productivity and engagement, which, in turn, improves the performance of your company. It also contributes to building a better remote culture and retaining employees for the long term.