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10 Effective Communication Tips For Teams Working Remotely

Published on 29/04/2020 by Anna Hammond

Adoption rates for tools such as video conference software and document management platforms have increased since the lockdown. Encouragingly, research by Capterra* shows Australian SME employees have adapted to these new resources with ease.

Due to the lack of complications with new technologies, it’s perhaps unsurprising that more than half of the respondents now believe their business could continue functioning with a distributed workforce. In fact, 87% of Australian’s want them to.

Effective communications for remote teams

While it’s unlikely that remote working will replace the office, there are certainly some benefits from it. 

Note: To read the full methodology for this survey, skip to the bottom of this page.

What remote working benefits have Australians highlighted during the lockdown?

Respondents in the study highlighted their top ten positive outcomes from working from home:

Remote working employee benefits
Infographic 1: Australian SME workers highlight the perks of teleworking.

Yet, even with the greater flexibility and an increase in company resources, teleworking only works well with one essential ingredient: Effective communication. Without this, employees cannot operate at full capacity.

Learning how to communicate in this new environment is vital. In this article, we shine a light on where communication in the workplace has slipped within SMEs. We also give our top tips to overcome these barriers.

Effective communication is the biggest remote working challenge

Respondents reported that communication was the third most popular subject that employers guided staff on. Despite this, half of the top ten challenges referenced issues of this type.

Remote working employee challenges
Infographic 2: Remote working challenges highlighted from the employee perspective.

These findings suggest current communication best practices lack clarity in three main ways:

  1. Communicating internally
  2. Speaking and maintaining relationships with customers
  3. Staying connected with colleagues.

Employers must cover all three aspects within their company guidelines. To further avoid confusion, they also need to delve into which tools are best suited for each purpose and why. If employees understand the reasoning behind company processes, they’re much more likely to follow them.

How to collaborate effectively

To help employers map out an effective communications policy, we tagged each communication type by:

  1. Purpose: Practical, client conversations or social connectedness?
  2. Time required: Specific time allowance or ongoing?
  3. Frequency: Ongoing or regular time intervals? 
  4. Tools: Software needs.

There are tonnes of tools suitable for remote working requirements. However, the aim is to find the right ones (and the right amount of platforms) to suit your team’s needs. It’s down to company leaders to streamline communication processes and bring all of the relevant stakeholders under one (virtual) roof.

10 effective communication tips for managers of remote teams

Purpose: Practical

1. Centralise how objectives and deadlines are communicated

Time required: Ongoing

Frequency: As required

Tools: Project management tools, collaboration tools

Normally at the beginning of a project, a team of people will gather in a room to discuss the desired end-result. This is an important first step because it brings everyone onto the same page. With a remote workforce, this shouldn’t be any different. 

In the case of small projects, goals and objectives should always include a detailed brief. Project leaders should take care to perfect the level of detail they use to communicate action points to avoid misinterpretation.

Project management tools and collaboration software both work well to centralise ad hoc and ongoing work activities. They generally operate on a project or task basis, allowing users to include an objective and brief. Additionally, managers can map out the individual steps required for bigger projects. 

Verbal communication is still important. However, having an online centralised system means employees have a reference point for when they need reminding of small details. 

2. Clearly explain collaboration processes 

Time required: Ongoing

Frequency: As required

Tools: Graphic design software

With most teams transitioning from an office into a teleworking structure, many processes will have changed. Left unacknowledged, employees will likely make their own adaptations—but its unlikely employees will change processes in the same way. 

Now is the time to re-streamline processes so that they suit the new digital environment. However, as indicated in the survey results, too many digital messages and instructions is a problem in itself. Instead, why not create simple, visual representations? 

Flow diagrams and PDF presentations work well for this. Using graphic design software, managers can outline all the variables included in a task or project. Similarly, visual corporate structures are a quick way for employees to understand the relevant points of contact.

3. Schedule progress updates

Time required: 15-60 minutes

Frequency: Daily or weekly

Tools: Video conferencing software, presentation software

With everyone working on individual tasks, even within the same project, it can be easy in a remote setting to lose track of each other. For fast-paced teams, a daily 15-minute stand-up is a proven way to align team members. Otherwise, an hour every week may be enough. 

Within these meetings, team members should give their colleagues an update on progress and provide an overview of upcoming tasks. It’s also a good opportunity to flag challenges or potential obstacles to discuss as a group.

While teams cannot physically be together during the lockdown, video conferencing software is one of the closest ways to it. This is down to our ability to see people’s body language and facial expressions, as well as hearing their tone of voice. It works best when employees throw energy into the discussion, rather than be passive participants! A good way to encourage this is to invite your remote team to pitch ideas, offer feedback on results, and create presentations to celebrate key wins.

Purpose: Client conversations

4. Share your COVID-19 strategy 

Time required: Ongoing

Frequency: As required

Tools: Email marketing, social media tools, business phone systems

Being honest in times of uncertainty is important because customers value transparency. Let customers in on the choices you’ve made; such as how you’re supporting your workforce and business. If you choose to temporarily close aspects of your business to keep staff safe, be open about that priority. When customers feel they’re being levelled with rather than fed corporate fluff, it builds trust.

If your business is still operating during the lockdown, this is your opportunity to put their mind at ease. Whether it’s through social media, a mass email or personal phone call, let your clients know how you’re able to keep serving them. 

5. Acknowledge how clients are affected

Time required: Ongoing

Frequency: As required

Tools: Email marketing software, video conferencing software

Disruption to workflows is unavoidable in times of unprecedented change. Your customers are likely to be forgiving of that fact. However, poor communication can leave a bitter aftertaste. Ensure you’re communicating as frequently as required to update clients on what you can deliver to them. 

Depending on the level of disruption, a quick email alert may suffice. For bigger disruptions, consider setting up a video conference to discuss Plan B. 

The world is facing instability right now. As a business, it’s your responsibility to provide a sense of authority and reassurance to your customers. 

6. Share positive ideas, feedback & advice

Time required: Ongoing

Frequency: Weekly or monthly cycles

Tools: Email marketing software, survey software

A portion of your clients may be feeling more anxious than usual right now. A courtesy email or phone call can go a long way to let them know you’re available to offer support. However, always be respectful of their time and the pressures they’re facing. Many people will be juggling a larger-than-normal workload, and so an unannounced phone call could be considered a nuisance. 

One way to bring value to your clients is by offering insights and advice. Carefully reach out to contacts to understand how they’re business is being disrupted as well as the problems they’re facing. Alternatively, run a survey.

Using this important data, you can consolidate common obstacles and use your expertise to create constructive content. For example, a monthly marketing report or weekly newsletter pointing to constructive content can help guide clients through these unprecedented times. 

Purpose: Social connectedness

7. Check-in with employees regularly

Time required: 30 minutes

Frequency: Daily or weekly

Tools: Video conferencing software

Nearly a third of SME employees in Capterra’s survey have reported feelings of loneliness since the lockdown was enforced. For any business operating right now, it’s important to check in on the wellbeing of your team. With so many conversations happening digitally, it’s worth managers booking in some quality face-to-face time with their individual reportees. 

Video conferencing software works well for employee-manager catch-ups. It acts as a virtual room for employees to discuss their wellbeing and for managers to practise some active listening. 

8. Throw a virtual activity

Time required: 1-2 hours

Frequency: Weekly

Tools: Video conferencing software

Hands up who is bored of casual coffee catch-ups that quickly turn to conversations about work? 

Try mixing up how your team socialises virtually. For example, host a games afternoon for your team over video chat. The Internet is bursting with free pub quizzes, and if you’ve got the budget available, you could even host a virtual murder mystery game

Whatever activity you choose, encourage staff to shake off their week and let their hair down. Invite them to bring their favourite beverage and ban all work-related topics!

9. Create virtual celebration rituals

Time required: Less than a minute (depending on effort levels)

Frequency: As required

Tools: Team communication software

Countless birthdays will happen during these months, and you may hit some company milestones. Even in lockdown, people still want to celebrate. While an office cake or team lunch may no longer be an option, you can create virtual rituals to shout about important occasions. 

Team communication software works well for this purpose. Alternatively, consider creating personalised graphics to celebrate the person of the hour. However, bear in mind that this may take a little more time.

Whatever approach you take, making the effort to mark the event is more important than how you do it. As the saying goes; it’s the thought that counts. 

Bonus tip

10. Prevent digital message bombarding

Dealing with too many digital messages was listed as the fifth biggest challenge for remote workers in Capterra’s survey. If this is an issue for your staff, then they may be overloading messaging channels.

It’s important when operating remotely to set new guidelines for communication norms. This should cover the mediums best suited to specific purposes. Additionally, many people’s home space will be doubling up as a home office, which can make switching off more of a challenge. Creating a rule where digital messaging is banned outside of business hours will encourage staff to take time for themselves. 

Removing the barriers to effective communication

While many Australians have had some experience with remote working before the lockdown, teleworking full-time is a new concept for most people. There are lots of benefits to be had from this setup, but good communication is the foundation for a productive remote workforce. 

Taking the time to figure out the most effective communication policies for your business now will lead to healthier, happier employees as well as a more functional business.

Looking for collaboration software? Check out Capterra’s list of the top-rated team collaboration platforms.

*Survey methodology

To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey between 4th April 2020 and 14th April 2020. The responses come from a sample of the Australian market. 

We then screened out all respondents not working remotely, and found 500 of 914 respondents fitted within our criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Employed by a small or mid-sized business
  • Employed full-time or part-time
  • Working remotely as a response to COVID-19.

The participants come from various business sectors and levels of seniority. 

Note: Infographics 1 and 2 had multiple response options, so the total sum of the percentages exceeds 100%.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.