One of the biggest challenges managers face with a remote workforce is how to communicate without face-to-face interaction. Remote managers face unique challenges, for example coordinating with teams in different time zones, attempting to find work-life balance in a virtual environment, combating loneliness and understanding what management looks like in a virtual environment.
The only way to bridge this gap is with good communication. But, when you can’t shout across the office, or meet by the coffee machine for a quick catch up, how do you ensure your communication is effective and how do you find the balance between over- and under-communicating?
Below we look at four ways to improve communications with your remote team.
1. Set up communication guidelines
It’s very important as remote managers to set guidelines around how, when and which tools should be used for remote communication. Whether an immediate response is expected to a communication, or which tool to use when an immediate response is necessary. When email should be used, when video calls will be made, or under what circumstances would an ad-hoc virtual meeting be expected. This is especially important for teams working in different time zones.
As a remote manager it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking the solution is to make all remote communication the virtual version of face-to-face. For example, instead of shouting across the office, make a video call. For the meeting, have a zoom call etc.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic businesses flocked to Zoom for meetings and happy hours, with many quickly getting video conferencing fatigue. Afterall, it’s not possible to keep up with your workload if you spend all day in Zoom meetings.
Getting the balance right between what needs to be done face to face via video call and what can be done using other tools, for example project management tools like Trello, is vital.
2. Invest in digital collaboration tools
There are two types of communication that remote managers need to be aware of: synchronous and asynchronous communication.
- Synchronous includes every form of communication that happens in real time, with an immediate response. Much of the traditional workspace is synchronous communication.
- Asynchronous includes every form of communication that doesn’t happen in real time and responses occur intermittently.
The effective remote team will use a variety of communication tools that allow for both synchronous and asynchronous communication to co-exist.
Asynchronous communication is powerful for teams across different time zones. This form also helps to maintain a high level of productivity as it gives employees permission to focus on their work and not reply to messages outside of normal working hours. Tools like email, project management tools like Trello, and chat tools like WhatsApp and Slack are good forms of asynchronous communication – messages remain unread until the employee is free to respond.
Synchronous tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts have the benefit of dealing with issues that need a quick response, ad hoc meetings and thorny issues. For this type of communication it’s important for the team leader to attend, have a clear objective and only invite those who are key to the decision making process.
Successful remote communication means having a mix of collaboration tools that support both synchronous and asynchronous communication available for your remote team.
3. Host frequent 1:1 meetings and be open to feedback
One of the best and most effective tools that managers have in their toolkit is to host 1:1 meetings, and this remains true in a remote workspace. 1:1 meetings are a great opportunity for managers to talk candidly to employees, strengthen relationships, listen to feedback and grow as leaders.
Some questions that managers might ask during these meetings are:
- What’s on your mind this week?
- Last time we spoke you said that X was a challenge for you, how is it going?
- What feedback do you have for me?
These 1:1 meetings should be held even when things appear to be running smoothly! It is easier to detect issues early on and allows employees the opportunity to raise any barriers or issues they have.
4. Make an effort not to micromanage
When your team is not sitting in the office in front of you it’s easy to get concerned about their productivity or progress on projects. According to research conducted by Sandra Collins of Southern Illinois University, micromanagement can be a costly style leading to low employee morale, high staff turnover, reduction of productivity and overall dissatisfaction.
Investing in the right project management tools allows remote managers to see the progress of projects without having to constantly ask for status updates. Equally, not all conversations need to be a meeting.
Find the balance
Whether you are a fully remote team or in a hybrid set up finding and using the right communication tools and guidelines for communication will be key to developing healthy relationships and productivity.
We are always happy to discuss the best ways to work with your outsourced team, so if you need some help or advice, give us a call.