The ability to communicate effectively, and manage communications within your team, can be challenging in ‘normal’ times but, as we discussed at last month’s Like Minds Lockdown Business Festival, in a remote setting can become complex.

Check out my blog on the importance of trust when leading remote teams, also from the Like Minds session led by Zoltan Vass.

When you can’t tap the person next to you on the shoulder or have a quick chat in the office kitchen, your communication needs to be more intentional and thoughtful, particularly when people might be feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

Accessing information, eliciting required responses, ensuring project demands and deadlines are clear, whilst also being supportive to colleagues, all need a bit more work in a remote setting. Here are a few tips to help keep you on track.

Ten tips to improve remote communication

Be proactive in scheduling regular calls or virtual team meetings so that nobody in the group feels disconnected or out of the loop:

    • to exchange updates
    • to check in on progress
    • to change course or priority
    • to feedback stakeholder actions or other information

Listen to understand and receive information, staying curious and compassionate, so that your team members feel truly heard. Challenging times call for greater sensitivity and kindness. It’s ok to have silence on a call, a sigh may be insightful. Use open questions and listen to the answers:

    • Are you feeling fulfilled in the work you do? What do you need more or less of?
    • How can I support you better? What do you need more or less of from me?

Be kind and assume positive intent. Remote conversations can easily be misinterpreted as it’s harder to read body language, tone of voice and other visual and audio cues. Stay mindful of this when delivering difficult messages or feedback.

Embrace inclusion and stay sensitive to cultural and neuro differences. Ask quieter colleagues for their views too, rather than allowing those more extroverted to dominate calls.

Be respectful of others’ time. Online meetings should be treated like a usual meeting, so send an agenda and summarise the call afterwards. If you don’t need the call anymore, cancel it.

Keep calls short, ideally a max of 45 – 60 minutes, and it’s ok to schedule a ‘Quick 10mins’. Avoid booking back-to-back meetings, breaks are good and allow those with children to check on them.

Choose the appropriate medium and mix it up, depending on your team’s needs. Whilst video calls can help conversations flow, they can be problematic for those with children or other distractions. Going audio only means the chance to move around or take a call from the garden whilst the kids play.

Set team, not just individual goals, and make time for brainstorming to boost team creativity. Encourage your team to share work, exchange ideas and seek ways to involve everyone so they feel an equal and valued part of the wider team. Use sharing tools and software that enable ideas and collaboration.

Resist the temptation to fire off emails. Instead, schedule daily or every other day, 10 minute ‘reconnects’ by phone. You’ll learn about what’s happening and what colleagues think, feel, are excited about or struggling with. And you’ll get aligned on actions and decisions faster than engaging in email ping-pong.

Be intentional in protecting your time and encourage your team to do the same. Sometimes, remote working feels like an endless stream of conferences, video calls and check-ins – with no time to do the work! Inevitably, nobody knows the ‘best’ time to contact you. Protect your most productive times by switching off notifications, silencing your phone and closing your workspace door so you can focus on your work.

Coach and facilitate

Adopting a coaching communication style will be more effective than a directive approach when leading a remote team. Not being in the same physical space means less scope to help trouble shoot problems so team members need to develop the skills to solve problems independently. A coaching style – guiding individuals to work out things for themselves by asking powerful questions – will help them do this.

Using coaching to help solve a team member’s problem could involve:

    • asking for a clear summary of the problem
    • reflecting the summary back to check that you have understood
    • asking for proposed solutions and then suggesting other relevant options
    • discussing the pros and cons of each option
    • letting the individual suggest the best way forward.

This approach will help your team to grow and develop while also giving them the confidence to deal with problems more independently.

If you have questions or would like to be part of the ongoing conversation about remote working, please connect with Zoltan at zoltanvass.com and me, Louisa Steensma, at www.thrivehrconsulting.co.uk and check out Tech London Advocates Remote Working group.

Further Reading

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-surprising-science-behind-successful-remote-meetings/

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-employees-need-to-hear-from-leaders-in-times-of-crisis/

https://medium.com/@PerryTimms/listen-8a44b2333b37

https://hbr-org.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/hbr.org/amp/2020/05/laughter-will-keep-your-team-connected-even-while-youre-apart

Further reading