You’d probably agree that while distributed teams are the future, managing remote communication when people are spread around the world can be a massive challenge.
The possibilities that remote work offers are amazing – from hiring top talents from anywhere in the world to completing projects in record time because teammates can work on them around the clock. But asynchronous communication sometimes leaves you hanging because you are not sure if the right messages have gotten through to all your employees.
You might be thinking that co-located teams are much better at that.
But there’s a catch here.
In fact, they might not be. Mastering communication for distributed teams follows the same principles that good office-based communication should.
There are ways to improve the communication between workers, and it applies for any remote team you might be managing. People might be working shoulder to shoulder and still experience psychological distance that prevents them from functioning as a well-oiled mechanism.
The key to fixing that?
As a manager of a remote team, you need to shorten that distance by fostering a feeling that your team members are creating something great together.
Here are our top 5 hacks for improving remote communication for distributed teams – based on psychology and our very own practical experience.The 5 top hacks to master communication in a distributed team Click To Tweet
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#1. Clarify the purpose of your communication tools and their use
It’s often understood that if a team works remotely, you need to compensate for the physical distance with as much communication as possible. That’s why many distributed teams hop on a myriad of remote work communication tools. But that’s the wrong way to go.
It’s not about the quantity of exchanges and the number of channels, but about the quality and emotional value of the shared information. If you are holding various regular meetings just for the sake of having them, they will turn into a huge time wasting machine. What’s worse, they might install the wrong idea about meetings in your team members’ heads.
The key to overcoming this pitfall is to select a few online communication tools but use their powers in the right way. To this end, you also need to have a clear protocol why you need the tool and how you all agree to use it. For example, if you see that video chats work well for your team, choose one channel and hold regular get-togethers with a well-defined agenda there.
TOP TIP: Make your weekly or daily catch-ups engaging for your team. Why not create funky and creative rituals around your meetings, so that they turn into something everybody looks forward to?
#2. Stay on top of team scheduling
One of the best – and the most challenging – things about distributed work is that team members often work across time zones. It can be quite tough to keep smooth communication and collaboration running if you’ve not taken this specificity into account.
But in fact, with smart planning you can make time zones work for your team’s productivity. You just have to create a system in which the work just completed in one timezone feeds into the to-do list of the person in the next one who is just waking up. That’s how projects can be completed in record time, as different team members will be working around the clock – and around the world.
Taking into consideration this aspect of distributed work then would not be a difficulty that ruins timely remote communication and getting work done together. Quite the opposite – it will be a performance booster for everybody. Early morning or late night meetings would be something you all have to get used to, though.
TOP TIP: To overcome the chaos of numerous tools or countless emails and to master team scheduling, you can use your time tracking tool for planning team members’ tasks across time zones. You’ll get an overview of project hours and can plug in all work that needs to be done right there. People will then be able to see also how their own tasks link up to other coworkers’ jobs.
#3. Eliminate the communication void
When remote teams realize they have a problem with communication, they often cite one common situation: sending a message into the void.
A team member needs the input of a colleague to continue tackling a task. But because of the time difference and the physical distance, that person has no idea when they’ll receive a reply. Oftentimes, they can’t even be sure that their coworker will open that communication channel soon.
Getting rid of this side effect of distributed teamwork is, admittedly, a challenge. One of the biggest contributors is email. It’s this ‘official’ communication channel where messages go to stay in oblivion for days and even weeks.
People find it acceptable to postpone email answers, as seemingly the cost of hitting ‘reply’ is a lot of wasted time. Find out if other communication channels are perceived in the same way by your team – and get them out of the picture for everyday exchanges.
TOP TIP: Besides fostering a common understanding of how each person’s work depends on others’ tasks in a remote team, there’s another smart way to tackle ‘the void’ feeling. Experiment with different communication tools and locate the right channel where the bigger part of the team feels at home. Then encourage all work discussions to occur there, so that people don’t hesitate where to ask for help or seek collaboration. And don’t shy away from a simple old-fashioned call, the king of synchronous communication.
#4. Create space for authentic and emotional exchanges
After finding the best channel for remote communication that matches the specificities of your team and optimizing scheduling for different time zones, it’s time to get deeper into the team psychology. Yes, we’re talking about truly putting effort into shortening that psychological distance between team members.
Informal exchanges can be difficult for distributed teams because there is no physical proximity, and we all get that. But in the same time, we shouldn’t get so caught up in the problematic aspect of ‘distance.’ Even in offices nowadays, people find online communication as a great way to get friendlier with colleagues without the social anxieties that sometimes accompany face-to-face communication in an ‘official’ setting.
That’s why you as a team leader of distributed workers, you can create the mental space and offer the tools for people to freely engage in more emotional exchanges. It’s a smart and truly pleasant way to shortening the psychological distance between coworkers.
TOP TIP: With work chat clients like Slack and Hipchat, there are a bunch of great informal ways that team members can communicate in. The ‘watercooler’ channel for random exchanges, as well as the possibility to send GIFs, whether on work topics or just for fun, are all awesome hacks for smoother and more pleasant team communication. And let’s not forget video chats, which, when used sparingly, can be very useful for team bonding.
#5. Master team retreats
Another meaningful way to foster psychological proximity in your team is actually getting together in one place on a regular basis. Face-to-face communication can help team members feel closer in the long run and resolve any misunderstandings that might have occurred while away from each other.
One of the greatest ways to spend your time together as a team is to organize a recurring company retreat. Team retreats are amazing at bringing people together not only in terms of friendships, but also for aligning towards common work goals.
To make the most out of these live meetings, it’s a wise idea to create a clear agenda for the tasks you’d like to tackle together. Brainstorming sessions are a smart move, as you can come up with new ideas and plans while all in the same place. The power of different people pulling their strengths and creativity together should never be underestimated!
Naturally, don’t turn team retreats into working days only. Make sufficient space for fun and laughter and exciting outdoor activities too.
TOP TIP: It’s especially useful to use team retreats as your together time where you can talk about, reinforce and clarify your common values and goals. Whether it’s a new website launch or a product pivot, you can use sticky notes and gamify the brainstorming session. This is one of those things that can truly shorten the distance between people, bond the team in a meaningful way and energize them towards your common goals.
Ready to rock your team’s remote communication?
While managing a distributed team can be daunting, there are tried and proven ways to improving remote communication and team chemistry despite physical distance. The best approach is to constantly turn challenges into opportunities – whether it’s time zones or the lack of face-to-face exchanges.
What are your top hacks to mastering communication for distributed teams? We’d love it if you share!