The rise of remote work has brought about a new era of communication challenges. With the absence of in-person interactions, it can be challenging to keep remote (or dispersed) teams motivated and cohesive. As a communications coach and consultant working with middle to senior management personnel in organisations for more than 10 years now, I have seen the impact of effective communication on remote teams. In this post, I will share practical tips for effective communication with dispersed or remote teams while keeping your team cohesive and motivated.
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Let’s start with the negative; these are some of the more common bad practices I have come across that are sadly still present in many people’s remote working life, which can lead to a significant drop in effectiveness and productivity.
1. Neglecting Communication:
The biggest mistake that remote teams make is neglecting communication. A lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and low team morale. Remember though that when I say “communication”, I refer to quality, strategic interactions which are bi-lateral (which means having a conversation where both sides can understand and respond to one another and not just receiving orders from the boss). Conversely, it also doesn’t mean contacting members of your team multiple times an hour. Purposeful and considerate balance is the key.
Micromanaging is a common problem with remote teams, and it can lead to resentment and demotivation. Trust your team to complete their tasks and provide support when needed. There has been this myth for years that “if I can’t see your work, I can’t be sure the work is being done” leading to weak managers micromanaging their teams to make themselves feel as though they are in control. The bottom line is, if there is no trust in the professional relationship it will sooner or later lead to a toxic work environment and this will just make everyone miserable and lead to significantly reduced productivity. This is when no one wins.
3. Ignoring Personal Connections:
It can be easy to forget the personal connections in a remote team. It is essential to recognize that your team members are individuals with personal lives and interests. Take the time to get to know your team members and create a connection with them. When I coach managers on how to cultivate a group of individuals to turn them into a high-performing team, socialization is a key element of that. When people start to trust one another in a group, amazing things can happen, and they need to have the time and space to build those personal relationships beyond their work tasks and productivity.
4. Failing to Set Expectations:
Failing to set clear expectations can lead to confusion and frustration within a remote team. Ensure that everyone in the team understands what is expected of them and set clear goals and deadlines. Giving vague statements, such as “I need this done asap”, doesn’t really help as it just applies pressure. However, saying something along the lines of “I need this by 16:00 because I have a meeting with Mr. X at 16:30, and he will definitely want to know my answer to this” gives a clear deadline and a reason why the deadline is important.
5. Inadequate Feedback:
Inadequate feedback can lead to disengagement and lack of motivation. Ensure that you provide regular and constructive feedback to your team members to help them improve and feel valued. I have seen many companies make mandatory feedback sessions a part of their internal culture, but unfortunately, they do it only once or twice per year and think that is enough. This means that it can feel like a tick-the-box activity and is done just to satisfy the Human Resources department, leading employees to question its value. People like to know where they are positioned in relation to the circumstances and people around them and because these variables are in a constant state of change, people like to constantly know where they fit in relation to those around them. It doesn’t have to always be in-depth, it can just be a few little comments informally here and there about how well they are doing (specifically or generally), or where they need to improve. But be careful to provide a mixture of affirming and constructive feedback, otherwise, there will be either big egos to manage or demoralized staff who are likely to underperform.
So how can you turn it around, or be seen a strong leader of remote teams? Here are some best practices I have come across:
1. Establish Clear Communication Channels:
Clear communication is critical to the success of remote teams. Establish clear communication channels with your team and decide which tools you will use. This can include email, chat apps, video conferencing, and project management tools. Ensure that everyone in the team has access to these tools and knows how to use them. Do not assume anything when it comes to technical knowledge of these tools, as everyone has different experiences. If people haven’t had adequate training on the channel/tool, they are unlikely to use it as intended, causing frustration to everyone else. Similarly, having a clear policy (decided upon as a group) on which communication channel to use, for what, and when is also highly advisable because people have different interpretations of when and how to use different channels for different purposes.
2. Set Clear Expectations:
As a manager, it is crucial to set clear expectations and communicate them to your team. This includes defining roles, responsibilities, deadlines, and performance metrics. Ensure that everyone in the team understands what is expected of them and what they need to achieve. A good tip here is once you have set out your expectations, get them to repeat back to you in their own words their understanding so that you are on the same page. What you think you are saying, and what others hear are not always in alignment, so make sure you check their interpretation of your messages.
3. Schedule Regular Check-ins:
Regular check-ins are essential for a remote team’s success. Schedule weekly or bi-weekly video conferencing calls with your team to discuss progress, address any issues, and provide feedback. These meetings also provide an opportunity for team members to connect and build relationships. This makes the team also feel like a team too, rather than just individuals working under a group name. These meetings remind people that they are in it together as a team.
4. Foster Team Cohesion:
Team cohesion is vital for remote teams to work effectively. Create opportunities for team members to get to know each other better by organizing virtual team-building activities such as online games, quizzes, or a virtual coffee break. Encourage team members to share personal stories or hobbies to help build a connection (refer back to point 3 above Ignoring Personal Connections to see why this is important). Looking at websites such as letsroam.com, outbackteambuilding.com, or hoppier.com can provide useful inspiration on how to do that.
5. Provide Timely Feedback:
Timely feedback is essential to ensure that team members are on track and motivated. Provide regular feedback on their performance, highlighting their strengths and areas for improvement. This feedback can be provided during regular check-ins or through various project management tools.
In conclusion, effective communication is critical for managing remote teams, and the tips shared here will help you to keep your team motivated and cohesive regardless of their physical location. By establishing clear communication channels, setting expectations, scheduling regular check-ins, fostering team cohesion, and providing timely feedback, you can effectively manage your remote team with success and be well on the way to cultivating a high-performance group capable of doing some outstanding things.
At Business Learning Solutions, we provide virtual training that is tailored to meet your specific needs. Our courses are designed to help you develop leadership skills, manage remote teams, and communicate effectively with your team. Contact us today to learn more about our virtual training options and improve your management development and soft skills through English.