How remote workplaces can boost team collaboration
Even after years of working together in a remote or hybrid workplace, some teams may still be communicating ineffectively.
It’s worth reviewing and implementing improved communication strategies before collaborating at a distance becomes overwhelming or too difficult for some team members.
Here’s how to ensure your team feels on track and heard, even when miles apart.
Just like a real-life office space, instant messaging can also cause problems due to unnecessary interruptions or disruptions.
Think hard before tagging someone in a message or using @here - does this person (or everyone in the channel) really need to be interrupted and see your message immediately?
You may want to establish that by tagging someone in a channel, that person is expected to respond as soon as possible, and that this tactic should be used carefully.
By default, try to post messages in group channels rather than messaging someone 1:1 or in a private group. This helps to keep the group informed and reduces interruptions.
If your organisation hasn’t set up some guidelines for instant messaging use by now, it may be time to establish some.
Video calls can be an important step above phone calls when working remotely, particularly when there are more than two people involved in a conversation. Facial expressions help participants to derive meaning and aid in more effective turn-taking during a discussion.
Try to leave longer pauses for feedback and questions than would feel natural in person. This allows for the seconds it may take for your teammates to take themselves off mute, and also compensates for the social cues you may miss from not being in the same space, like someone taking a big breath or leaning forward.
To help keep virtual meetings on track, consider sharing a live screen with an agenda and/or meeting notes with all attendees, even if you wouldn’t have done so if you were meeting in person. This allows everyone to read the points on the screen even if they may have otherwise missed, misunderstood, or forgotten those points from only listening to you.
Synchronous or asynchronous?
Consider whether your message is better delivered synchronously (i.e. the recipient is receiving and processing the message at the same time as you’re sending it) or asynchronously (they can process it in their own time).
Important discussions, workshops, and urgent communication will need to happen as synchronously as possible, so you’ll want to use a tool like video conferencing or a phone call.
If your message doesn’t require immediate attention, though, you’re probably better off sharing it via email, a non-tagged instant message, or something else that they can attend to when it doesn’t interrupt their current task.
Individual communication preferences
Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to communication. To avoid any workplace grievances, it may be worth sending your colleagues a quick survey to clarify what works best for them.
For example, you may receive responses like the following:
- If your communication is urgent, please directly instant message me. If it’s not, I prefer email.
- If your communication is urgent, please call my mobile phone. If it’s not, I prefer you to schedule a video conference.
While it may not always make sense to follow these survey results exactly, they can inform your team’s day-to-day interactions and make it more likely for communication to succeed.
Aim to ‘over-communicate’
When everyone is working remotely it can be easy for information to get lost, misinterpreted or forgotten.
Set expectations clearly and early and remind your colleagues about these expectations again as time passes.
This not only applies to requirements like goals and deadlines, but also the team’s processes and schedule. Make sure everyone understands the difference between ‘when does it really matter that your team is available and online, versus when would it be okay for them to spontaneously walk their dog?’
Provide important information in multiple ways. For example, verbally in a meeting and then again in a follow-up email. Email the team something today, Slack them about it tomorrow, and then mention it in your morning catch-up the following day.
This may feel like overkill, but it’s unlikely that information you only share once will be reliably processed by absolutely everyone. Share it again in another way.
Schedule regular meetings
Don’t go overboard with meetings, but factor in regular catch ups where you can, even if those meetings are for just 15 minutes every fortnight.
This is not only an opportunity for you to remind your team of any key points that they need to keep front of mind, but should ideally provide a platform for your team to ask questions of you and of each other, and to raise any risks or concerns that may not have been discussed before.
Keeping these meetings informal will help team members to feel comfortable bringing up small things that may not seem very important. Some of those things that may initially seem minor can end up being game-changers, either as opportunities or as issues or risks that you may not otherwise hear about.
Set your online status
Many online tools, such as Slack, allow you to set your online status to ‘sick’, ‘in a meeting’, ‘at lunch’, ‘on holiday’ and many other options. These statuses can help your colleagues to instantly understand whether you’re available or away from your desk, and when they might expect you to be back. This helps to set their expectations and allows them to potentially reach out to someone else if you are not contactable at that time.
Remain open to improvement
It’s more important than ever to ‘continuously improve’ when your organisation is largely remote. In addition to your own observations and ideas, make sure you are regularly seeking out feedback from your team.
What is working well for them? What could be improved? Are they feeling satisfied with the current set-up or is it hindering them in some way?
These topics can be discussed via regular retro workshops with your team (tools such as EasyRetro make this particularly smooth) or via a simple survey. You may want to consider making either of these feedback tools anonymous in order to make sure that you are receiving the most honest and useful responses.
Businesses everywhere are still getting used to this “new normal” of bringing together teams across locations.
While remote workplaces have their own challenges, taking the time to regularly assess and implement effective communication techniques can make for a happier and more productive environment.
Ephiny Gale is a Project Manager at Calico. She has managed projects in the information technology and digital spaces for 6 years, and has been working with teams who are mostly remote since early 2020.
Tools to level-up your remote workplace practices
Over the past few years, many workplaces have experienced a major shift in their attitudes towards remote work, where it has transitioned from an anomaly to the new normal.
Why Umbraco is a perfect fit for your next digital project
As an Umbraco-specialist agency, we are often asked why this particular CMS has become so popular within Australia, especially in the last few years. After having conversations with clients that have chosen this CMS, there seems to be a number of key reasons for this.