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How to communicate effectively as a remote team? | Complete Guide 2022

This post is written by Mohit Mamoria, Co-founder & CEO of Mailman. A Gmail plugin that spaces out the delivery of your emails, so you only get emails at designated times. This helps you spend less time in your inbox, and more time doing quality deep work. You can sign up for a free trial at mailmanhq.com

Remote Communication in 2022

Most companies have gone remote. The communication needs for a remote team are different. Yet, many are following the same old office policies.

According to McKinsey, the lack of clear remote communication is causing anxiety among employees. This is decreasing work satisfaction, affecting work performance and relationships with team members. It’s also declining productivity - a global loss of $1 Trillion.

Companies with a good remote communication policy are seeing a 5X increase in employee productivity. It’s also benefiting their well-being. This will ultimately profit companies; both revenue-wise and in talent retention.

But, how to communicate effectively as a remote team? That’s what this post is about. You’ll know the communication ingredients for a successful remote team.

Table of contents:

1. Set a communication norm
2. Create your communication stack
3. Adopt Writing
4. Over-communicate
5. Assume good intentions
6. Don’t optimize for brief communication
7. Don’t expect an immediate response
8. Rethink employee progress updates
9. How to take effective meetings
10. Create an internal newsletter
11. Focus on team building activities
12. Survey your employees

Here are the 12 commandments of remote communication

1. Set a communication norm

There are certain standard communication principles. These are guidelines every employee should know. Create a shared knowledge base on it. Like how to communicate, ask for suggestions, seek and give feedback, make independent decisions, etc.

Document this on a shared online database like Notion. Set up clear guidelines on who to contact, and what to do in case of an emergency. Let employees know who to approach for any coordination.

Prepare a guideline for communication like:

a) Don’t communicate on weekends, unless urgent. Define urgent scenarios.
b) Ask employees to be clear and concise. Tell them to:

-Focus on the 3 W’s while asking for something: What are you seeking? What is the context? When do you need it?
- Link to important files during discussion.

c) 90% of the communication should be in writing. Cut meetings. It should be the last option. Guide employees when to take meetings. Here’s a helpful chart.

Share the Notion document with every new hire and across the existing team.

2. Create your communication stack

Choose your default communication (e.g. Email or Slack or WhatsApp) and collaboration (e.g. Notion) channel. Select your video communication tool too (e.g. Zoom or Google Meet). All employees should use the default option.

This is to avoid the discussion being scattered. Select a tool such that all the cross-team communication, policy updates, team discussions, progress updates happen in one place.

3. Adopt writing

Internal communication should be writing-first. Eliminate voice calls and virtual meetings. It should be the last option as said earlier.

Why adopt writing?

a) 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.

b) 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.

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

Prepare a guide on how to write and distribute it across the company. I like the Amazon writing guide:

4. Over-communicate

Don’t prolong communication. Less communication doesn’t save you time. It wastes it. Poor communication creates more work. For, e.g. - You assume something. You do the task which wasn’t a priority or do it incorrectly. Now, you have to do it all over.

It’s better to over-communicate than to seed misunderstandings. Over time, you’ll know what to say and what to not. But, early on, over-communicate.

5. Assume good intentions

Remote communication is alien to many of us. For the majority of employees, it’s their first time in a remote environment. So, naturally, not everyone will be an expert in written or virtual communication.

It’s the job of the reader/listener to react with kindness. Even if you don’t agree with the content, assume it’s written with good intentions.

It’s OK to not have a proper pulse and structure during video calls. Don’t read too much into the message than it really is. When in doubt, ask the person to clarify what they mean. Do it with kindness. Lead with empathy.

Trust your teammates by default, unless they give you a concrete option not to.

6. Don’t optimize for a brief communication

People optimize for brief communication. They try to finish the conversation as fast they can to get back to work. They use fewer words for the sake of brevity. But, it does more harm than good.

Don’t let others guess what you’re trying to say. If there’s a chance your words can be misinterpreted, they’ll always be. It wastes time and leads to inefficient work.

Communicate to be clear. Ultra-clear. It doesn’t matter what the medium is. If it requires a long guide, so be it. Provide relevant context around the topic of the discussion.

7. Don’t expect an immediate response

Remote workers live in different time zones. It’s not possible to reply instantly. Many times it’s not even necessary. So, don’t rush response time. Resist the urge to get the response, “now.” This incentivizes poor decisions. Give your employees the flexibility to think and then reply.

But, I get you. There are times when an instant reply is a need. You can do two things to solve this:

a) Fix 1-2 hr daily when every employee should be present. They can cross-communicate to get the important details.
b) Or have a specific communication channel. For, e.g. If anyone wants an urgent response, they should message on Slack.

8. Rethink employee progress updates

Don’t ask employees to send daily status updates. Instead, ask for weekly updates. Tell your employees to send an email every Friday answering these questions:

1) What did I do this week?
2) What will I do next week?
3) What went wrong this week?
4) What went right this week?
5) What did I learn this week?

(Ask only for bullet points. No need to write long paragraphs).

This does three things: a) The employee self-introspects. b) You’re updated on their progress. b) It encourages deep work. Employees aren’t distracted by the constant email notifications. They can decide their productive slot and focus their attention on work.

Pro Tip: Track employees’ progress on productivity, not based on work hours. Allow them to choose their work hours. Judge them on tasks completed and goals achieved. As long as they are doing this, it doesn’t matter when they work. Avoid micromanaging. Hold them accountable. This builds trust.

9. How to take effective meetings

Some meetings are essential. They require face-to-face interaction. There’s a risk, without it, the message can be lost.

But, even then, we know how virtual meetings often end meaningless. There’s no accountability, many people feel left out, and the goal is lost. So, how to make sure the meetings are effective? Here’s what you should do before, during, and after the meeting:

Before the meeting:

a) Update the employee/team about the meeting 3-4 days in advance. Let them know why. Avoid random meetings.
b) If it’s a team meeting, ensure everyone writes their ideas on the topic. So, time isn’t wasted on what to talk about.

During the meeting:

Here’s what HBR recommends taking effective meetings:

a) The 60-second rule

Do something in the first 60 seconds of the meeting to let people know the goal of the meeting. Educate them about its importance and why everyone should care.

b) The responsibility rule

Give roles to each person. Everyone attending the meeting should have a specified responsibility. They should know what you expect them to do.

c) The nowhere to hide rule

Define the tasks for everyone. Have a dedicated communication channel to discuss a project. Ask everyone for solutions in the meeting. Hold them accountable.

d) The MVP (Minimum Viable PowerPoint) rule

Let the employees know only the minimum information they should know to proceed. Distribute the rest of the information in writing.

e) The 5-minute role

Meetings should be brief. Never take more than 5 minutes to discuss a sub-topic.

After the meeting:

Make sure everyone does the task assigned to them. The team leader should look up to it.

Pro Tip: Record the meeting. So, participants can access it anytime to recall important points. And, don't bother anyone else.

10. Create an internal newsletter

Basecamp recommends writing Heartbeats and Kickoffs every 6 weeks. Team leaders should write it. The goal is to educate everyone on the project’s progress and what the future planning is. The newsletter goes to everyone.

Heartbeats: These are summaries of the last 6 weeks’ accomplishments. It outlines the challenges faced, and the lessons learned along the way. It also explains the importance of the work. Heartbeats are a crash course on the progress made and what the team could do better in the future.

Kickoffs: Kickoffs highlight what the team is planning for the next 6 weeks. This could be a specific project, an initiative, or a revamp. These are not detailed. It’s only an overview of what the project would look like and what the team is trying to achieve. If anyone wants to know the details, they can ask the team leader to expand on it.

11. Focus on team building activities

HBR reported remote workers are experiencing loneliness and mental health problems. They are feeling burnout. Don’t ignore it. It’s hence important to have mandatory social/fun conversations.

Here’s how to do it:

a) Every Monday morning, ask a social question. It could be, “What did you do over the weekend?” Or “What books are you reading?” Or “What's been your inspiration lately?” Or you can even ask everyone to share their dog pic. Basecamp has an automatic bot that asks this question every Monday morning.

These questions inspire social conversation. Everyone engages with each other. People talk about themselves and feel valued. This strengthens team bonding and working together.

b) Once a month, schedule a day as FUN day. No work. Only fun. That day the team members can cross-communicate, play games, and read together. Or just rest.

c) Create space for celebrations. Recognize individual efforts. Reward them. Have your own rituals to celebrate. Celebrations shouldn’t be limited to big milestones. One company created a personal emoji for each employee who had been there for 6 months.

d) Prioritize mental health. People going through rough times won’t speak. Educate everyone about the signs and symptoms of it. They should see the red flags and help each other. The company can have free mental therapy sessions for everyone. Or can even provide paid leaves to refresh.

12. Survey employees every month:

Care for your employees. Make sure they’re in the right space and enjoying a healthy work-life balance. Every month end, survey your employees. This can also be a way to take company feedback. You can ask the following questions:

a) What can you do to improve their work-life balance?
b) What can you do to increase their job satisfaction?
c) What changes would employees like?
d) What are their reasons to stay on the job? Double down on it.
e) What resources do employees need to improve their skill sets?
f) Ask about the employees’ relationship with their managers.
g) What are their future goals? How can you help?

You now know how to communicate as a remote team!

Great things happen when employees communicate effectively with each other.

It’s the backbone of a strong team. It builds trust and inspires working together. This encourages employees to find a solution to a problem before it becomes too big. Which will ultimately grow your business.

Take this remote communication guide as a starting point. Build on this to fit your remote team needs.

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