Should there be a difference between how you interact with your employees in-person versus how you interact with them digitally? Absolutely.
Virtual interactions lack some of our most subtle and important communication tools, like body language, tone of voice, and spatial awareness in relation to others — like whether a coworker is taking notes or scrolling through their phone. As a remote manager or business owner, it’s up to you to ensure that your employees communicate effectively and efficiently, all while feeling supported in their roles and like they’re part of your team.
Communication Tips for Remote Teams
Here are some tips you can use to improve and hone the communication techniques you use in your remote workplace.
1. Invest in Remote Communication Tools
In a remote team, you rely on software to replace in-person conversations and interactions. The better the software, the easier it will be for your team members to use and adapt to. Stick to popular and well-known tools that provide frequent updates, news, and tech support to you and your staff.
This will make it easier to navigate any issues or changes and onboard new hires because they’ll likely be familiar with the most popular communication tools.
Look into different platforms for different purposes like project management, video calls, and messaging to find the applications that make sense for your business and team.
Some of the most prevalent communications platforms for remote teams include:
Purchase enough subscriptions for your entire team and provide access and setup instructions for each new employee or any time you add or change a communication method.
2. Provide High-Quality Hardware
The hardware you provide to your remote workers is essential when it comes to good communication among your staff. Whether you ship hardware out to new hires or provide a spending allowance, you need to ensure that your remote team is equipped for effective communication.
You can facilitate and encourage smooth communication within your team by providing:
- A laptop or desktop computer
- A high-quality webcam and microphone
- Headphones or earbuds
- A mouse and keyboard
High-quality hardware can help to avoid technical difficulties, poor connections, and substandard video and audio feeds, all of which make virtual communication arduous and problematic.
By giving your team the tools they need to succeed, you benefit from better virtual communication experiences and less time lost due to failing hardware.
3. Clarify Expectations About Availability
With a remote workforce, it’s common to have staff members spread out across different states or even countries. And, as with many remote teams, they probably all choose their own hours while working in various time zones, meaning different remote employees are available at different times.
Although it may seem like a lot to juggle, it’s important for you to be aware of the different time zones that your employees are working in and to clarify your expectations about how they handle communications like emails, messages, and calls outside of their preferred work hours.
For instance, when you schedule a meeting at 4pm your time but it’s 7pm for one of your staff members, are they expected to attend even if they already worked a full day? What about when they receive a message or email outside of their own office hours, but within another staff member’s?
Be clear and upfront about how you expect your staff to work within different time zones so that they can adjust their schedules and hours to fit your business needs.
4. Use the Right Communication Method For the Job
A lot of remote workplaces get stuck using the same communication method for everything. Maybe you’re a video-centric office, or maybe you favor Slack. But it’s vital that you use the communication method that’s best suited for the task at hand.
Determine which communication methods you prefer to use for what tasks and use different tools to your advantage. For example, video conferences are great for brainstorming sessions while instant messaging channels can be used to share basic information or ask direct questions. You might send urgent questions or requests via text message but less timely messages that can wait until the next workday via email or Slack.
Take time to define what channels your team should use for what kinds of tasks and messages. This ensures everyone stays involved and active in work-related conversations while alleviating the need for employees to monitor email or Slack at all times of day and night to avoid missing something important. Plus, it helps to reduce burnout or boredom from using the same methods over and over, or from sitting through a video conference that should have been an email.
5. Schedule Consistent Check-Ins
One of the biggest challenges in managing a remote team is figuring out how to substitute face-to-face time with video chats and phone calls.
Schedule consistent, frequent check-ins with any of your staff members who are working from home. This could mean having a weekly one-on-one video conference or sending brief check-in messages on a daily basis depending on the employee and their role.
Have a few go-to questions to ask, like whether they need any help with their current tasks or what kind of progress has been made on a specific project, as well as how they’re doing.
Even if the conversation only lasts for five minutes, it still helps to create a connection between you and your remote workers and helps to avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings by giving everyone an opportunity to ask questions or request support.
6. Make Time for Fun
Working remotely means that you miss out on all of the in-person interactions that come with an office. This makes it harder for staff members to get to know each other and to participate in social events. But there are still many ways for you to encourage remote workers to have fun together, all while supporting team building and employee engagement.
Many remote teams get creative by doing social activities like:
- Creating messaging channels for water cooler chats, recipe sharing, memes, jokes, and more
- Hosting virtual contests and activities
- Having video conference happy hours
- Playing online games
- Scheduling team lunches or coffee breaks
- Hosting virtual celebrations for seasonal holidays
7. Be Aware of Your Virtual Body Language
Body language can tell you a lot about what someone means when you have an in-person conversation. From emphasizing a point to communicating enthusiasm or disagreement, a lot of these subtle queues are lost in video chats because a webcam is focused on your face and doesn’t always clearly show posture, gestures, or where your eyes are focused.
When video conferencing with staff, make eye contact, sit up straight, and use your words to back up your feelings and to explain what you’re doing.
For example, if you’re taking notes so that you can reference them later, let others know so that they understand why you aren’t looking into the camera. Or, if you really like an idea but aren’t sure whether your facial expressions are translating properly, make a point of vocalizing your interest in and support of the suggestion.
It can be hard to focus on one person in a video chat, especially when multiple employees are in attendance, so make sure to reinforce your body language with clear statements so that your staff members know where you stand.
8. Communicate Consciously
Because you can’t rely on body language or in-person interactions in a remote workplace, you need to be conscious of how you communicate with your employees when it comes to your tone, language, and response time to direct messages and emails.
For example, telling someone they’ve done well in written text isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. The way that you type your message can affect how it’s interpreted. Consider how you read these variations:
- Good work on the last report you handed in!
- Good work on the last report you handed in
- Good work on the last report you handed in :)
- Good work on the last report you handed in…
- hey, good wrk on your last reprot
As you can see, the punctuation and spelling you use can have a considerable effect on how an employee may read your message. Choose punctuation and wording thoughtfully and always proofread before you hit send.
Another pointer is to do your best to respond to messages in a timely manner. As a business owner or manager, you have a lot on your plate. But, depending on the platform, employees can see when you’ve received a message and when you’re online, so if they ask a question or send you something to review, do your best to at least acknowledge it instead of not responding at all.
If you don’t have time to answer the question right away, just say so. Knowing that you got the message and will get to it when you have time will allow the employee to move on to other tasks instead of waiting around for you to answer in the hopes that you’ll get back to them right away.
If you use emojis, gifs, or memes when communicating with staff, make sure they’re appropriate, relevant, and easy-to-understand. Not everyone will get references from your favorite TV show, so when in doubt, stick to a clear, straightforward message instead.
9. Understand Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
You may not realize it, but you probably use both asynchronous and synchronous communication in your remote workplace all the time.
- Synchronous communication is when you’re having a conversation in real-time, whether it’s on the phone, through a video meeting, or in person. Team members are expected to respond immediately and to actively participate in a discussion. Although synchronous communication can be scheduled or spontaneous, it’s most often used for meetings, brainstorming sessions, and training.
- Asynchronous communication is when a conversation can take place over a period of time due to the method of communication that you use — think emails, direct messages, mailed letters, or comments and tags in project management tools or digital documents. Correspondence is not scheduled and doesn’t need to take place between two or more people at the same time.
The most successful remote workplaces find a healthy balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Be conscious of which method you use — and when — to help you handle various time zones, improve time management, and build out a strategy for your remote communication best practices.
10. Create Documentation for Communication Best Practices
When it comes to remote workplaces, the tools, expectations, and best practices vary from one company to another. Although the way your team communicates digitally may seem standard to you, newcomers may feel differently.
To set new staff up for success and to make sure that everyone is on the same page, create documentation for the communications channels and methods that you use, along with best practices and expectations at your workplace.
For example, when should staff members use Slack versus email, and how quickly do you expect them to respond? Should project-related questions be asked in a private message or group channel?
Go through how you use different communications methods and when you use them during your employee onboarding process to help new employees understand how to interact with your team, avoid accidental miscommunications, and streamline their workflow.
11. Communicate Clearly
Plain language is key when it comes to digital conversations. Because tone, body language, and environmental factors are all lost during virtual discussions, you need to rely on the language that you use to convey your messages to staff members in the right way.
Here are some tips you can use:
- Don’t be vague. Give specific answers to questions and include dates, times, and other details when relevant.
- Make sure you understand a question or request before you answer it by reading it over more than once.
- Proofread your responses to make sure they’re correct and that they provide the necessary information.
- If a conversation is too complicated to have over email or messaging, schedule a phone call or video chat.
- Stay on topic until the question is answered and everyone is on the same page.
- Give employees a chance to ask questions and offer them opportunities to do so.
In fact, it can help to overcommunicate certain details like your expectations, deadlines, feedback, and new procedures or best practices. This reduces the margin for error and makes important information hard to miss or ignore.
12. Encourage Discussions and Collaboration
Lots of great ideas and solutions to problems are products of impromptu conversations between staff members from different departments or backgrounds. Encourage staff to have discussions and collaborate with one another, even if they’re working on different projects. Not only will it build camaraderie among your employees, but it will also help to keep everyone engaged and aware of what’s happening within your company.
Although some of this may happen naturally, creating opportunities for staff to interact with each other professionally will allow discussions and collaboration to become part of your workplace culture. Try it out by setting up virtual meetings for project kickoffs, staff updates, or company feedback sessions.
13. Create a Virtual Company Culture
Your team may be remote, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own company culture. Workplace culture isn’t just about the gadgets and perks at the office, it’s about company values, communication techniques, and how flexible or restrictive you are.
For example, if you put a lot of emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to deliverables, or you offer flexible hours and unlimited vacation time, that makes a significant impact on the talent that you attract and how your staff members work and behave while they’re on the clock.
Alternately, if you have strict deadlines in place for heavy workloads and expect remote workers to adhere to specific start and end times each day, you’ll present your company culture in a different light.
However you choose to build and foster company culture, do it deliberately and thoughtfully so that it accurately reflects and supports your workplace values, morals, and priorities.
14. Use Visual Communication
Visual communication tools like infographics, presentations, videos, slideshows, flowcharts, and graphs are excellent ways to illustrate new concepts, ideas, and project outcomes. They also give everyone a new way to digest information that’s otherwise presented in text or by spoken word, which can be a welcome change for telecommuting workers.
Visually pleasing designs can also make difficult content like human resource material or technical manuals easier to read and understand, so get your design team involved to make your written material easier to work through and absorb.
15. Trust Your Remote Team
As a remote manager or business owner, you don’t get to see who’s late coming to the office every day or who spends too much time making chitchat at the water cooler. But that’s just something you have to let go of if you plan to manage a team of virtual employees.
Micromanaging off-site staff by checking in too often or expecting them to be available to answer any and all workplace communications immediately will negatively impact both your company culture and turnover rate.
And although you can use time tracking apps and check messaging statistics to monitor when your employees are working, it’s better to focus on the quality of the work an employee brings to the table and whether they’re meeting your professional expectations. If your employees produce great work on time and within budget, you probably don’t need to worry about whether working from home is affecting their productivity.
If you do choose to use apps to monitor employees’ work hours or productivity, don’t go overboard. Use what you need to make sure that your business runs smoothly without making extra work for your employees or infringing on their privacy or peace of mind.
16. Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
As mentioned, remote teams are often working in different time zones and setting their own work hours, which can make it hard to get everyone together at once for a meeting. Too many meetings can cause disengagement, fatigue, and burnout among staff. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you’re meeting when it makes sense and using other communication methods when it doesn’t.
To avoid unnecessary meetings, try some of these tips:
- Schedule meetings in advance and for a specific purpose
- Only involve necessary staff members
- Set time limits to keep meetings on track
- Cap the number of meetings you have in one day
- Make certain meetings optional
- Find a balance between serious and casual meetings
- Make time for one-on-ones
- Use phone calls, direct messages, or emails as substitutes when possible
If you aren’t sure whether you’re having too many meetings or too few, start a discussion with your staff to see what they think. Find out which meetings are the most useful, which require some tweaks, and which you can do away with altogether.
17. Be Respectful of Different Workspaces
Some remote workers have dedicated home offices while others have to use a multifunctional area like a kitchen, living room, or bedroom. And multifunctional spaces can come with cameos from spouses, pets, children, or roommates during video calls. Although it’s reasonable to expect your employees to behave professionally while on camera, remember that many interruptions are unplanned and are par for the course when it comes to using your home as an office.
Be mindful that, as a remote employer, you experience your employee’s home life in a way that most in-office bosses don’t. Be respectful of their home and their space, and only bring up issues you see that affect productivity or professionalism as opposed to comments related to their personal decor or what their office area is like.
And, if you notice that certain aspects of your employee’s home office could use an upgrade like a new camera, microphone, or desk, consider providing a home office spending budget for them to use. Or give these items as gifts. Not only will it improve their work experience, but it will improve yours as well by upping your team’s video and audio quality for meetings and presentations.
18. Find Ways to Celebrate Successes and Milestones
As a remote employer, you might not be able take an employee out for a meal to celebrate a professional milestone like the end of a major project or a work anniversary, but there are still many ways to mark accomplishments. And making a point of observing achievements can go a long way in building and maintaining employee morale.
Here are a few ideas you can try:
- Have a virtual lunch
- Send cookie or cupcake deliveries to employees
- Host a fun team meeting and offer prizes for games and contests
- Send out digital gift cards
- Mail a bottle of wine or spirits
- Have a one-on-one with your employee and sincerely thank them for their contributions and hard work
19. Meet Face-to-Face
Meeting in-person isn’t always a possibility, but you should take advantage of it when it is. Some remote workplaces plan annual trips or retreats for staff members to attend, while others bring remote workers into the office for project onboarding, year-end meetings, or training.
When you can, and when it makes sense, get staff together to meet face-to-face. This can help to forge friendships and strengthen working relationships as well as give remote employees a chance to socialize and feel like they’re part of the bigger team.
20. Understand the Differences Between Remote Work Versus In-Office
If you’re an in-office manager who has both remote and in-house staff, make an effort to learn about how your remote team’s work experience differs from those who work in the office. From missing out on impromptu meetings and inside jokes to not being included in social events, remote staff can be left out of a lot of important interactions if you don’t make a point of including them.
Make time to talk to remote workers about what you can do to improve and support inclusion and communication, and do your best to accommodate the most relevant and helpful suggestions. Keep in-house staff informed of any changes in best practices or procedures to keep everyone on the same page and in the loop.
This will enable your staff to work better both individually and as a team.
Being a manager to remote staff can take some getting used to. It’s not always easy to know how to adapt communication methods and best practices for a virtual workforce but focusing on how to be inclusive, conscious, and clear is a good place to start.
As you add to your communication toolset, ask for feedback from staff members to find out what’s working and what could use a tweak or two. This will help you to build an effective and efficient remote communication strategy while supporting your business and team.