Communicating remotely with your team: stricter rules but more flexible delivery
This in itself is not a new phenomenon. There has been teams with members scattered around the globe for some time now. When I was a scientist, already over 20 years ago, I was involved in projects with teams located in different geographical areas. International research projects were already common place, even without the communication technology we have nowadays.
The difference with what is happening now with the basically worldwide lockdown is the scale of it. In normal circumstances when you work with a team remotely, some people involved already have some experience of working with colleagues remotely.
This experience of some members of the team makes it a bit easier for the other team members to adapt. However , if the whole team now works from home and nobody has experienced it before, then it is normal that the team will lose momentum and productivity.
Team members may lose motivation, feel alone, without support or enough guidance. You need to keep them motivated, keep up the productivity and above all avoid miscommunication.
As you manage such a team, this article will give you some advice to communicate with your remote team efficiently.
In essence, it is about establishing stricter rules for communication while being more flexible on its delivery. You need to trust your team more when working remotely.
1 – Rely less on written communication that is not shared in real time
People may feel isolated working remotely so it is important that your communication doesn’t happen mostly by emails. Keep them for factual information you want to keep a trace that it was shared. If you have to send an email be particularly careful with the wording.
You do not want to give the wrong impression as it is less easy to put it right in person. When you receive an email, be very aware not to interpret too much the feelings and state of mind of your team member who sent it.
This means you will need to use and rely on chats, video calls and other real time communication technology.
2 – Ensure everybody has the correct equipment and technology
The first thing to ensure is that everybody has access to the technology to be used. Do not take it for granted. I know people who do not have internet at home and it will be difficult to rely only on having a mobile phone.
I don’t have a smartphone, so it is not possible for me to be part in groups on some platforms for instance.
You have to respect that but at the same time it is your responsibility as manager to ensure people in your team have the correct equipment and access.
3 – Choose a technology supported by your organisation
Your organisation has tools and applications to communicate remotely with your team. Use those for any work communication you will have.
First it means that access will be granted to everybody in your team.
Second, if you run into trouble using it, there will be technical support available to help you.
If you want to introduce some social remote time with your team (more on this further down), then you can decide on different tools with your team, only for social interactions and chitchat.
4 – Have an agenda for each meeting and rules for conducting meetings
Meetings must be more structured to be productive. Make sure you have an agenda circulated in advance. Set up rules of behaviour to follow during meetings.
For instance, in online meetings it is more important not to interrupt the person speaking.
The best way to achieve this, and it also improves sound quality, is to have everybody muted, except the person who is speaking.
Another rule is to ensure you ask everybody to participate. Call each person in turn to ask feedback and comments. Never let anybody not speaking in an online meeting.
5 – Have a catch up every day with your team
To keep productivity up and make sure everybody knows what to do, set up a quick meeting everyday with your team.
Each person should quickly present what they have done since the last catch up and what they will do until the next.
Keep this daily catch up as short as possible. When you do it during the day does not really matter. It is the frequency and the fact it is done regularly that matters.
6 – Use a taskboard to record tasks and updates
Another good way to let people know what everybody is up to is to set up a taskboard or planner board where everybody enter and update the tasks they do. This planner can be the central point for your daily catch up.
7 – Make sure all information is easily accessible
People need to know where to access everything they need for the ir work. This is probably the time to tidy up your documents and how and where they are stored. Again, use tools that allow sharing documents such as Google docs or OneDrive.
8 – Have a catch up at least once or twice a week one on one with each team members
Each team member will react differently to working from home, will face different challenges. You need to know about those. In order to do so, set up one or two individual meetings a week with each team member to discuss sensitive or personal topics that affect the person’s work.
This also allows the team member to feel supported and listened to. This is probably the most important thing you can do.
9 – Ensure breaks are taken and that working days have scheduled hours
The last point I want to emphasise is to make clear that working from home does not mean working haphazardly.
People must have a routine, a fixed working pattern and clear breaks. Each person should let you know when they work, a quick check in and saying goodbye will be a big step already.
Also people should indicate significant breaks they take to ensure they pause during the day.
No lunching in front of the computer. The same, talk to the person if you see that people are doing work at what can count as unreasonable hours.
10 – Make time for socialising
Finally, to keep the spirits up, you may want to organise online social events with your team. This is a virtual gathering of the team to share non-work related things. It can just be discussing general topics. Somebody may decide to read something they like. Somebody may decide to play an instrument for the others. Organise games. Just be creative to reinforce the bound between team members.
This advise should keep you in good stead to keep your tem together, connected and productive. Happy remote working.