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In any company, effective communication among team members is key to optimizing business performance and reaching organizational goals. Regardless of the employee’s tasks and position on the corporate ladder, nearly everyone will encounter obstacles that require a team effort and interdepartmental communication.
Up until the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, conversations could easily take place by walking up to a colleague’s desk; however, remote work completely erased this possibility. Now, most discussions have to be scheduled, which can often cause slowdowns and trigger a domino effect of missed deadlines and high turnover rates.
After two years, it is now clear that working arrangements will not go back to the traditional in-person setup any time soon. With many companies testing hybrid working models and flexible arrangements, it is of utmost importance that employers and company leaders sharpen their wits, and figure out effective ways to bring team members together despite the limitations imposed by distance.
Here are a few creative strategies to foster communication in the remote work era:
1. Use a drawing tablet for virtual meetings
In a traditional office, meetings are a common occurrence. In theory, they are a space for employees to gather and share insight about day-to-day tasks and pending projects. When companies shifted to remote-first, many managers simply replaced these meetings with group video calls. Unfortunately, video conferencing tools aren’t a cure-all solution. A manager should ensure that these exchanges take place regularly and that the core members of the team are always involved. If the team is large, or employees are scattered among different time zones, a practical solution is to divide the groups based on the projects they are involved in.
It is of utmost importance that each employee’s voice is heard — make room in the agenda for team members to give updates on their work developments and expected progress for the upcoming week. Many companies are incorporating new tools to these meetings, such as a drawing tablet, allowing remote workers to instantly illustrate ideas in a visual and collaborative way.
Ideally, a few minutes at the end of the meeting should be allocated to a Q&A session — an open discussion where various projects are discussed and all doubts can be clarified.
2. Define clear goals
Having a clear idea of each employee’s function and role is imperative so managers can coordinate teams effectively. Mapping out defined goals will help employees feel empowered and valued, reminding them that they are part of a collective, a feeling that is often lost in a remote work setting
Another important resource for global teams are project management tools — these enlist the different project leaders, along with an overview of the main goals, the deadlines, and the key performance indicators (KPIs), allowing managers to track the project’s life cycle. When team members have access to this information, it helps solve specific communication issues and dispel all uncertainties in a timely manner, avoiding delays.
This method becomes even more effective in a work-from-home regime. New technology allows us to collaborate and achieve goals we never thought possible. For example, if a cluster of remote employees wants to evaluate a marketing campaign, it is essential to rely on project management tools such as asana, monday, or trello. Modern tools can help us track, maintain, and execute clearly defined goals, which is important now, more than ever, for remote teams.
3. Work with shared files for document control
Every project has a leader and, most of the time, several contributors, who need to have a clear idea of how the work is proceeding on all fronts to ensure the project’s success. In a remote setting with dispersed teams, document control is more critical than ever before.
Sending files back and forth via email and waiting for everyone to complete their part on the deliverable is likely to cause stoppages in the workflow. It also prevents employees from making real-time modifications to their work and incorporating feedback. If your company handles sensitive information, confidential documents can be safely stored in a protected cloud.
Managers should consider embracing new advances in technology and automation by working with shared files to streamline communication among teams.
4. Rely on instant communication tools
When you send an email, there’s no way to guarantee that the recipient will in fact open it, let alone respond to it. When it comes to time-sensitive or urgent matters, email is not an effective medium. Oftentimes, all we need is a quick “yes or no” answer, so the ideal solution to bypass the impenetrable inbox wall is to use instant communication tools, such as company messaging apps.
Current tools such as Slack, Clubhouse, and Discord provide communication benefits that far outweigh the capabilities of an email. For example, employee’s that harness the Slack app can instant message, share documents, as well as integrate their CRM and project management solutions.
For more information on this topic, check out: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Mastering Communication in the Remote Workplace
5. Value the importance of water cooler conversations
“Communication” can have several meanings and does not necessarily need to be work-related in order to be constructive and enhance productivity. There have been several changes and developments in employee behavior during the pandemic. A recent study detected that employees who transitioned from in-office to remote suffered from high levels of poor sleep quality, anxiety, and depression after one year of working from home.
These effects mainly stem from the sense of social alienation caused when work and home are the same place. Besides the mental health repercussions, this dynamic can also cause a decrease in the employee’s sense of belonging and damage the overall team morale.
Even though being coworkers does not necessarily mean being friends, it is undeniable that informal chats in the workplace help colleagues bond and face the day with a positive attitude. Thus, we suggest giving employees room to express themselves on a personal and social level, by scheduling short virtual coffee breaks.
This time should be focused on informal chats about everyday life and not around pending projects or the latest ways to improve video marketing. Try avoiding work-related topics and aim to help employees get the energy boost that typically originates from social interactions.
6. Tailor solutions to different personalities
Due to the popularity of group video calls, 1-1 encounters have decreased and are rare in a remote work setting. Personalities vary when it comes to engaging in group sessions: Some team members are more eager to talk, share the issues they are facing, and ask for support, whereas others are more reserved.
In these cases, empathy becomes the key element to making sure everyone is given the opportunity to express themselves. This can be done by scheduling a short, periodical one-on-one meeting, making it easier for the more reserved personalities to feel comfortable opening up without the fear of judgment.
7. Avoid the “remote control” risk
A study conducted by Stanford University detected a 13 percent increase in productivity when employees were given the possibility to work from home at least one day a week. This just debunks the common misconception that people who work from home are “lazy” or “less productive.”
In a traditional office environment, employees are not constantly monitored, so this shouldn’t change in a remote work model. Managers need to remember that employees are responsible professionals and that micromanagement leads to frustration, which can turn into demotivation, lower employee morale, and lack of productivity.
Managers should primarily focus on whether goals have been achieved rather than on obsessively controlling the actual working time. In the long run, trust will be rewarded with higher productivity levels.
For more information, check out: Is Your Company Confusing Work at Home with Remote Work?
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