Master Distributed Team Communication

Master Distributed Team Communication

Effective communication in remote teams requires all team members to have razor-sharp interpersonal skills and the right tools to get the job done.

Office-based teams have ample opportunities to figure out problems, ask questions and connect with others. This gives them a sense of togetherness and purpose.

Yet how do you make these crucial connections when your team members are spread across multiple towns, cities or even countries?

Let’s look at some of the ways the remote teams communicate and how it can be fine-tuned and improved.

Know the Types of communication

Asynchronous communication

This is often the mainstay of distributed teams,  especially those that live in different time zones.  As the name suggests, it is communication which isn’t synchronized. 

It’s the back and forth exchanges in writing that happens as each person’s schedule allows.  Such as leaving a note on a messaging app, email or posting updates or issues on a project management platform, where another person can read and reply at their convenience. 

This method is best utilised for issues or conversations that aren’t time-sensitive, or you need a documented evidence trail.

Synchronous Communication

This is where two or more people agree to communicate using the same method at the same time.  This can be in writing but doesn’t’ have to be. 

Phone calls are the original synchronous method, but modern technology has given us a plethora of options to utilize.  These include live chat, video calls or virtual meetings. 

This communication is excellent when issues need to be dealt with quickly, or when communication could possibly be misinterpreted.  It enables all participants to get immediate answers or to get people to bounce ideas off each other and give active feedback. 

How to Utilize Them

Give each method a designated purpose

There are so many communication methods and apps to choose from, it can be easy to fall into the mistake of using multiple tools when only one or two are needed.    

Make a strategic decision on what tools are going to be used and for what purposes.  This makes it easier for people to stay focused and get in touch.

Give each tool or platform a specific purpose – Zoom for virtual communication and live chatting.  Slack for messages that aren’t pressing.  Email for essential documents and information that needs an evidence trail.

When distributed teams have a definite plan for how to get in touch with each other, and clear expectations on response times, everyone can avoid wasted time, frustration and missed connections.

Also, make sure there are opportunities for people not to be on-call for the entire workday.  This type of distraction can take a considerable chunk of a person’s workday, killing their focus and productivity.  It isn’t healthy to always be responding to other requests immediately.

Set up a Virtual Water Cooler

In a traditional office setting, co-workers can quickly get to know each other.  Spending time eating lunch together, chatting before meetings, consoling each other over the workload and deadlines they have.  It is easy to make personal connections. 

In distributed teams, team members don’t get these opportunities, unless the occasions to connect are intentional. 

You can set up a chat room or Facebook group to share non-work related or fun content.  This will keep the GIFs out of the workroom chat conversations and into the appropriate space.  It will also help reduce the distance between team members and create a sense of community.  You could also set up Spotify playlists for sharing music, chat groups to do weekend recaps etc. 

Watch Your Tone

The biggest downfall of written communication is its susceptibility to being misinterpreted or misunderstood.  Even if it is just a quick chat. 

Without visual and verbal cues like facial expression, body language, and intonation to rely on, messages can come across as angry or rude when they weren’t meant to be.

Try not to use abbreviations unless the whole team understands what they mean. 

Sometimes it is worth going the extra mile to review each message before you send it.  Encourage your other team members to do the same. Especially if it is an important document.

Some remote teams find using emojis can sometimes help humanize, clarify, or lighten up the tone of a message.  But this, of course, will depend on your company’s culture.

Celebrate successes

When people are working alone from a home office, there is often a disconnect from co-workers and teammates.  They may even feel their work goes unrecognized.

Feeling isolated is preventable if the whole team tries to recognise each other’s accomplishments.  Yes, it should be the team leader’s responsibility to facilitate this, but sometimes this just doesn’t happen.

Point out when you think someone, or a team has done excellent work.  There is nothing more uplifting and productive than feeling that a team has worked together to accomplish something awesome.

Let us know how your remote team works at mastering their communication.

© The Remote Work Index