How to Build Effective Communication Culture in Remote Teams

Author Avatar Seda Babayan wrote this on May 4, 2020

While remote teams existed before, the pandemic’s rapid spread and subsequent economic upheaval has resulted in many teams having to rapidly transition to a remote format. As a result, this shift has brought some challenges for many companies, regardless of industry. Many of these teams are now struggling to maintain productivity and motivation. And the biggest challenge – communication difficulty – affects virtually everything else, from productivity to management to planning to motivation. Communication is simply different when it isn’t occurring face-to-face, and you need to adapt to it.

Here are some tips that can help remote teams to increase their communication efficacy and build an effective communication culture that can overcome any challenge. Let’s dive in!

What’s a Remote Team?

In a nutshell, a remote team is any group of employees that work together remotely. They can be spread around the city, a country, or even the entire world thanks to the power of telecommunications and new technologies. Even before COVID-19, remote working offered employees several advantages, like the ability to juggle responsibilities at home and at their workplace or collaborative opportunities that might not have been possible with traditional transportation arrangements. 

But although remote work comes with its own benefits, it’s also quite difficult in other ways and particularly for teams that were unprepared for working from home.

Why Communication Culture Matters More than Ever

Why does company communication culture matter, and why does it matter for remote teams that aren’t going to see each other in person, particularly during this pandemic?

It turns out that culture matters much more than you might initially think. Communication culture and team spirit aren’t just abstract ideas that don’t have a place in any modern business plan. Instead, an effective work culture and communication language help a team do much more than just churning out their assignments: they help them excel in their task and rise to new heights. Teams that communicate well with one another are:

  • more likely to help each other
  • more able to complete tasks on time
  • more likely to remain working all the way until remote requirements are lifted

But even more importantly, teams with effective communication cultures have a greater sense of accountability. It’s one thing to slack off as part of a remote team when you don’t care about the culture and aren’t particularly friendly with any of your coworkers. It’s another thing entirely to do that when team members you care about are counting on you to do your part.

Workers who communicate respectfully and more efficiently with one another do their work better and do it more happily. These two factors cannot be understated for any organization that strives for success, no matter the circumstances. 

In this sense, an effective communication culture for a remote team can dramatically impact their overall effectiveness, productivity, and long-term viability. So building effective communication across remote teams is not only possible: it’s necessary for long-term success.

Ways to Build a Good Communication Culture in Remote Teams

Fortunately for businesses, there are several ways in which you can build a good communication culture for your remote team. Let’s dive in!

1) Establish communications norms and guidelines

For starters, any newly remote team’s leader should immediately begin setting up communications norms and guidelines. This means coming up with a list of communication expectations, like daily or weekly check-ins and communication protocols. They can help to have a draft of instructions available so that everyone knows where and when they need to do with their other team members and leaders. Making sure things are as explicit as possible is key. Be sure that any communication requirements expected by any team member are laid out well ahead of time.

It’s also a good idea to open up the floor to communication suggestions. For instance, when running a larger workforce, some teams may operate slightly differently than others, and some partnerships might have mildly different education styles. Leaders, in particular, need to be open to communicating with their employees about how meetings and productivity are going to be overseen going forward.

2) Maintain office culture even online

Even though everyone is separated, teams can build great communication cultures by bringing their office cultures to the virtual space. In fact, many of the best tools that remote teams are using these days – like Zoom or Slack – have functions built into their interfaces, specifically for this purpose. Office traditions and rituals should still be observed whenever possible to help maintain a semblance of normalcy and help keep everybody motivated. Reminding everyone that they’re on the same team they were before the transition to remote work is a great way to keep company culture going.

As an example, you should still observe birthdays and holidays if you already did so at the office. Similarly, it might be a good idea to open up opportunities for virtual hangouts or social time. The circumstances surrounding this transition to remote work are different from a voluntary shift, and many people might be craving some human to human interaction. Having this occur at the office is a great way to serve employees and boost company culture at the same time.

Lastly, you should make an effort to facilitate small talk and drive communication between team members even if things are awkward at first.

3) Investigate the Differences Between Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication

Remote work occurs in two ways: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous work happens where everyone turns in their own material based on a deadline, and person-to-person or simultaneous interaction is not a necessity. Synchronous communication is the opposite; it usually occurs in real-time via voice or video chat rather than by email.

Asynchronous communication is usually better for written tasks, like turning in a progress report or asking a quick question that doesn’t need an immediate answer. This is one of the ways in which remote work shines; it allows employees to quickly check tasks off their lists without having to stop by an office in person.

But asynchronous communication lacks the social and cultural impact that synchronous communication always possesses. It may be better to require some synchronous worker communication at set periods during your workweek. This will result in your team members socializing and having leaders or partners on hand to answer questions that do require an immediate answer.

So, in order to achieve an effective communication culture, you will need to use both styles and find the right balance for your team.

4) Leverage the Right Communication Tools

Remote teams looking to form an effective communication culture should also use all the tools at their disposal. For instance, Slack is one of the best workplace tools for remote teams these days, as it allows people to chat like they could in an office except in a virtual environment. It also allows for a significant amount of personalization and “voice” to come through even though it’s all text-based.

Video Chat Is Your Friend

Since in-person communication isn’t an option now, meeting as close to face-to-face as you can help bring team members together and remind everybody that there is a real human being on the other end of each screen.

This is also great for general socialization and joking around, both of which are important if people are going to become friends with one another and help each other out work. There’s a real human element missing from text communication that video chat can help bring to life even if you have to work remotely. 

Zoom is a great example of a common video conferencing tool that many people are getting the hang of. This can allow you to meet with your entire office or working team all on the same screen, and it even allows people to personalize their backgrounds for added fun! 

Though sometimes, it’s more necessary for you to send a short video message. An app like Bonjoro does just that. It is great because it combines the convenience of text messaging with the added personal factor of seeing your coworker’s voice and face. 

Other remote work tools like Krisp remove background noise from your calls, so you can ensure the team communication is efficient and professional.

Using the right communication tools is crucial for successful remote workplace communication. So experiment with different apps until you find the right stack for your team.

5) Over-Communicate Whenever You Can

At in-person workspaces, over-communicating can become annoying or get in the way of the productivity of employees. But in remote workplaces, over-communicating is actually key.

Because so much remote communication takes place over text, the nuances of many aspects of human speech are lost in translation. Remote workers should always try to over-communicate and be as explicit as possible regardless of what they’re saying. Outlining expectations, turning in reports, voicing concerns, or even just vocalizing support for one another can all benefit from over-communicating through explicit writing, emojis, video messages, and more.

This is also important because over-communicating lessens the likelihood of miscommunication, which is all the more likely for remote teams that had to make the transition in a hurry.

6) Keep Your Accountability Intact

Another essential aspect of your communication culture is accountability. While being physically separated is quite difficult, it’s no excuse to break or bend the rules. If someone is periodically turning in their work hours late, it’s not acceptable just because everyone’s working from home. 

That kind of attitude will slowly see the workplace culture trend down toward further laziness. It’s very important to set clear deadlines and make sure that your expectations are explicit for all your workers. Scheduling your meetings with your employees or coworkers is also a good idea; it reminds everyone of regularly-scheduled meetups that they’d see a regular office.

Accountability is directly applicable to communication style, too. Sometimes, it’s easy for team members to slip up and be a little too casual with each other or their superiors. While it’s alright for some things to be relaxed given the lack of physical proximity, workplace decorum, especially in regards to communication and respect, needs to be observed, and people need to be held accountable.

7) Foster a Culture of Communication

Leaders are going to be the ones driving most of the above initiatives, so they need to be focused on creating an effective culture for good communication. For example, they’re the ones who need to be setting guidelines and outlining expectations clearly, and getting everyone to come out of their communicative shells when it’s time for a team meetup.

Furthermore, leaders can foster an excellent culture of communication by regularly checking in with everybody on a team-based and individual level. At this point, most workers need all the support they can get. 

Leaders can practice many of the above effective communication pointers, like over communication, throughout all their meetings with their employees. Practicing excellent remote communication techniques can provide active examples that your employees can learn from.

Another great way that leaders can foster good communication cultures is by keeping their doors open for feedback. Leadership needs to be very available to build an effective communication culture because it’s so easy to not be. Your employees need someone to talk to; be that person.

In times like this, remote teams are struggling with more people than ever working from home and from being unable to take care of some of their normal work duties. Leaders can help offset a lot of the discomfort and make sure that people are approaching the current situation with determination and interest.

To Conclude

While the effects of the pandemic are only temporary, remote work is a permanent evolution of working culture across the world. Rather than treating workplace remote communication as a temporary skill to master, it’s a much better idea to focus on these foundational skills and build a healthy communication culture that can transition back to the office and remain in place for future remote work. With the right effort and culture, any remote team can be productive, happy, and overcome any challenge that’s thrown their way.

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