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10 common mistakes to avoid in remote communication

10 common mistakes to avoid in remote communication

Remote communication is different from in-office communication. Yet, many are following the same in-office communication methods to manage their remote team.

That won’t work. Employees will feel burnout, struggle to be productive, and may even quit for companies with better remote communication. You don’t want that, do you?

Don’t worry.

I've been running a remote company for the last 2 years. I’ve tried various communication methods and made mistakes along the way. But, I now have the remote communication system that my employees love.

In this post, I’ll tell you the 10 common remote communication mistakes you should avoid. Plus, what you should do instead.

Let’s begin!

1. Failure to set remote communication norms

90% of your employees are first-time remote workers. They don’t know how to communicate in a remote team (because they haven’t experienced it yet). Plus, different companies have different communication needs.

Some prefer communicating every 3 days. Some prefer communicating every 1 week. So, it’s important to help them adjust to remote communication.

Here’s how:

a) Document everything:

Each of your employees should have access to the same information. It doesn’t matter if they are the CEO or the new joiner.

How to ensure this happens:

a) Create a knowledge base on everything: company values, project details, how the company operates; how you take meetings, to whom a person should report, how employees should update progress, etc.

b) The guide should also contain communication guidelines. Teach your remote workers how to communicate, seek and receive feedback, make independent decisions, and more. Set up clear guidelines on whom to approach in case of an emergency.

Plus, prepare communication principles like:

i) Don’t communicate on weekends, unless urgent (define urgency).

ii) Ask employees to be clear and concise when communicating.

iii) Promote written communication. Cut meaningless meetings and calls.

iv) Update the knowledge base with what's your default communication channel (Email, Slack, or WhatsApp?). Tell your employees what’s the collaboration channel (Notion or Google Docs?) and the video tool (Zoom or Google Meet?).  

c) Store this information on a shared online database like Notion.

d) Share it with every new hire and across existing teams.

2. Not setting work expectations

Many remote employees feel anxious about their work contribution. Questions like “Is what I’m doing meeting the company’s goals?” fill their thoughts. This can affect their work productivity and mental state. Plus, if they don’t know what’s expected of them, how will they optimize it for?

Let every employee know what’s expected of them. Provide an in-detail guide on the short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals they should achieve. Start by assigning weekly tasks to every employee when you onboard them. Make their role clear. Set strict deadlines.

Check-in with your employees every month. Update them about their work performance. Give feedback; whether they are doing a great job or how can they improve their contribution?

3. Taking too many meetings and calls

It’s tempting to take meetings often: performance review meetings, daily updates meetings, feedback meetings, and whatnot.

Cut meetings. They should be the last option. Because frequent meetings are a constant distraction and stress booster for employees. Meetings rob employees of deep work, too. Here’s what you can do instead:

a) Internal communication should be writing-first. Eliminate voice calls and meetings. But, why adopt writing?

- Writing stores information. Anyone can access it anytime. It promotes collaboration. Not everyone can attend a meeting at a said time due to different time zones. But, writing can give them access to the information.

- It’s also independent of any schedule. Meetings demand a specific time when everyone should be present. Countless hours are wasted waiting for the attendees.

- Writing communication can also be easily indexed and searched for later.

Prepare a guide on how to write and distribute it across the company.

b) Avoid asking for daily updates. Instead, ask for weekly updates. Tell your employee to send a work update every Friday answering these 2 questions:

i) What did I do this week?

ii) What I’ll do next week?

This way, you’ll be updated on every employees’ roles and work progress. The employee gets the chance to do deep work. They aren’t distracted by the constant email notifications. They can decide their productive work hours and focus 100% on work.

c) If a situation demands video explainers, record videos on loom for providing context.

4. Under-communicating

Many avoid communication to save time and be productive at work. But, less communication doesn’t save you time. It wastes it. Poor communication creates more work and chaos. For example, You assume something. You do the task which wasn’t a priority or do it wrong. Now, you have to do it all over.

It’s better to over-communicate than to seed misunderstandings. Ask what you don’t understand. Seek suggestions. Create a culture where every employee is free to ask questions and clear their doubts.

5. Optimizing for brief communication

People set the standard to say more in fewer words. They try to finish the conversation as fast as they can to go back to work. But, this isn’t poetry. We aren’t here to gauge each other’s literature skills.

Don’t let others guess what you mean. If there’s a chance your words can be misinterpreted, they’ll always be. Brief communication wastes time for everyone and promotes inefficient work.

Communicate to be clear. Ultra-clear. Provide relevant context around the topic of the discussion. If it requires you to write a long guide, so be it. Communicate to be understood, not to boast about your literature.

6. Taking unprepared virtual meetings

No matter how many meetings you cut, there are few conversations that demand face-to-face virtual meetings. Nothing can replace that. But, you should have a strict meeting criterion and avoid unprepared meetings.

I like this Loom example:

Or this Grammarly example:

Reserve meetings only for brainstorming sessions, feedback that requires videos, and emergencies (Example: conflict between employees). For everything else, adopt writing. Avoid overs scheduling meetings.

Here’s how to prepare for meetings:

a) Update the person about the meeting 3-4 days in advance. Let them know why you’re scheduling it. Avoid random meetings. It leads to mini panic attacks (you know what I mean).

b) If it’s a team meeting, ask everyone to prepare for the meetings. Tell them to write their inputs before sitting for the meetings. So, time isn’t wasted on what to speak. Plus, every participant can contribute and doesn’t feel left out.

c) Record the meeting. So, participants can access it anytime to recall important points. It will also be useful for those who couldn’t attend the meeting.

They won’t bother and distract everyone else from asking for what was said in the meeting.

7. Expecting an urgent response

Remote employees reside across different time zones. So, don’t rush response time. You don’t want to set a culture for late-nights calls and meetings, do you? I ask my employees to reply to my emails within 48 hours, not 48 minutes. Give your employees the freedom to think and then reply.

But, there can be times when an urgent response is needed. Here’s how you can solve this:

a) Fix 1-2 hours daily when every employee should be present. They can cross-communicate to share project details, updates, and seek suggestions.

b) Set a specific communication channel. For example, employees can communicate on Slack (Or your preferred channel) if they want an urgent response.

8. Setting the standard of being available 24/7

Remote work doesn’t mean you work 24/7. That’s unhealthy. Prioritize your mental health. Set clear boundaries with your team members. Let them know when they can contact you for work-related queries or meetings.

Don’t entertain weekend meetings or calls. Create a culture where you and your employees lead a happy work-life balance.

9. Overlooking fun conversations

The office environment lets employees enjoy ‘chance’ conversations like discussing weekend plans, sports banter, or sharing their interests. Fun conversations may seem trivial, but it builds team bonding. But, this isn’t easily accessible to remote employees.

That shouldn’t be a problem, though. Start here:

a) Build a bot that asks nonwork-related questions every few weeks (Basecamp does this). For example,  “Share your pet pics,” “What did you do on the weekend?” ``What are you thinking lately?” These questions inspire social conversations and let employees express themselves.

b) Fix 1 day as a FUN day every month. Employees can play games, read books, or just talk whatever they want to.

c) Hold a ‘get to know each other’ session. Employees can discuss their interests and likes/dislikes.

10. Keeping communication limited to digital

Digital communication gets the job done. But, it doesn’t build trust and connection between employees on the same level that face-to-face conversations do. So, don’t limit your team building to chats, emails, and Zoom calls.

Explore these possibilities:

a) Plan meetups every 3 months. Get to know each other.  This can be your chance to seek and receive feedback from team members.  

b) Host annual/bi-annual outings. Travel with your employees for 10 days. Make sure the company pays for the outings and the meetups.

Now you know how to communicate in remote work

Communication is a make or break for any remote team. If done right, the benefits - better team performance, team bonding, increased work productivity - will compound for years.

That starts with eliminating the common mistakes in remote communication. Start with these 10 tips to 10X your remote communication.