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Best tips on communicating remotely

Best tips on communicating remotely

When working remotely, team members don’t see each other on a daily basis and miss out on chatting over lunch or attending meetings together. That doesn’t mean that colleague-life needs to be absent, however, and companies can create bonds by utilizing technology to allow employees to enjoy time with each other. Slack has become one of the most popular tools to do just that.

“Slack is a very human experience,” says Christina Janzer, who runs Slack’s UX research team. “It makes the workplace much more personal, which is maybe why people have such an emotional tie to it.” That’s also why Slack can reshape office relationships: it takes the group dynamics already present between co-workers and douses them in digital accelerant.

Below we’ll walk you through some general tips, which can be applied to companies of any size, in any industry, regardless of how many or which countries your team members are based in. We would suggest looking at the following as a checklist to go through before you move on to any specific productivity guidelines. We can’t stress enough how just these few basic principles can change so much in team morale and overall happiness!

1. Overcommunicating is always better than working in silos

In the remote world it’s quite crucial to actively ask questions and be engaged. It’s challenging to track exactly when and how much everyone in a team is working (physically seeing someone in the office, for example, can be a comfort, regardless of actual productivity).

To avoid falling in the micromanagement trap, employees can be active members of the online team community by updating the group as things happen - for example informal updates about when you’re going to lunch, starting late because of a dentist appointment, or checking in when your kid is sick,.. It may seem silly at first, but sharing even the smaller things is a great way of building your character amongst the team and maintaining trust. 

Overcommunicating is also important to ensure everyone truly understands their tasks and is aligned and connected with each other when working together on projects. Creating separate project channels for example, and encouraging an environment where people speak up and ask questions, is important to ensure people aren’t struggling with their questions or doubts in silence.

2. Transparency

Transparency makes everyone feel more connected, informed and involved. Encourage transparency and communication between leaders and teams, with frequent business updates and insights into decision making processes and changes. 

3. Respect different cultures, races, religions, social environments

It’s easier to be unaware of your colleagues’ lives when chatting to a screen name, but it’s more important than ever to be respectful and mindful of everyone’s differences. 

4. Judgment-free communication 

Cultivated a judgment-free communication policy, where everyone is encouraged to ask questions and give their input. 

A couple of examples:

  • AMA’s - “Ask Me Anything”. Let everyone ask questions that are answered by the executive team on an all-hands call, for example by submitting questions through an online forum  (anonymously, if they prefer). 
  • Encourage frequent happiness surveys with a limited amount of questions. Sending these through Slack can dramatically improve response rates. 
  • 1-2-1’s - In addition to all-hands and smaller team or departmental meetings, it’s imperative to make time and space for your remote employees. 1-2-1s are a critical forum for employees to feel heard and talk about work and their personal development and themselves as a human being. Make sure these are organised free of distractions, as you would in real life (think: no email checking, switch off notifications,..)

5. You don’t need to be available 24/7 just because you work from home

One of the most common struggles amongst people working remotely tends to be separating their personal and professional lives. It’s harder to “log off” when you’re not physically leaving the building, and while one can stop checking emails, it’s the direct communication (like Slack messages) that feel almost impossible to shut out. Combine this with varying time zones and you officially have no time to sleep!

But nobody expects you to work 24 hours, and in fact this pressure is a straight road to a burn out. To avoid this, it’s important to set working hour expectations and respect each other’s offline hours.

6. Learn to work asynchronously

As a company grows, teammates are in more and more countries and timezones around the world, bringing a diverse skill set of ideas and talent. As this happens, it’s important not to force teams to work according to the timezone of your dominant location. You will reap the rewards of a more productive team and greater employee satisfaction, reducing hiring cost, by allowing employees to work their own timezones - perhaps with an ‘overlap zone’ for urgent queries and communication. 

(Slack tip: use @here to grab the attention of members that are currently active, instead of @channel which notifies everyone regardless of whether they are active or not)

7. Slack overlap hours

While varying timezones can make it difficult to combine working hours, it is important to set up a couple of hours (whether daily, weekly or monthly) of overlap where all the team members are active to give everyone the opportunity to connect. 

(Another Slack tip here: set up your timezone in your profile settings - this will ensure everyone is aware of your working hours!)

8. Praise publicly, critique privately 

In a remote setting, it’s important to be mindful of the effect certain communications can have on individuals as well as teams.

Positive events such as team and individual accomplishments are always a good idea to share with the group, no matter the type or size of achievement, and boosts the morale of the whole team. On a personal level, praise amongst peers is likely to boost one’s momentum and work ethics. So, next time a teammate helped you solve a problem, made a sales deal, or just did an excellent job on one of their tasks, say thank you!

On the other hand, it’s safer and more effective to critique privately and speak via DM or over a one-on- one call. This way, you can discuss the issue in a more amicable environment, free from distraction and the risk of upsetting your team spirit or being misunderstood. 

9. Balancing the lack of personal contact with colleagues

In the remote work environment, it is not uncommon to work with a colleague for years without ever meeting them in person. This makes it difficult to build friendships, but not impossible! Here are some activities that can help build relationships remotely:

  • Virtual happy hours - this is exactly what it sounds like: a company-wide, virtual call that everyone can attend to talk about anything and everything, with preferred choice of beverage of course. To help the conversation flow, you could introduce some different topic suggestions every week.
  • Share photos of your workspace - InVision and Zapier, for example,  have a common theme of sharing desk photos to show how everyone is setting up their workspace and maybe inspire some of them to improve it. Simply create a Slack channel for #workspace-inspiration so that everyone can post their images, and one day you could even create a blogpost out the collection!
  • Book club - This is a great way to create a common discussion point for a team and encourage ongoing education, improvement and entertainment. Whether it’s a role-specific book (ex how to excel at sales) or a book on cultural diversity, there are only benefits to be reaped. (Tip for the ultimate remote flex: include Kindle in your employee onboarding swag!)
  • Weekly chats with new faces - There’s a great Slack integration called Donut which simply pairs you on a weekly basis with a teammate that you’ve never talked to on Slack before and schedules a call for you together, so that you get the time and occasion to properly meet each other.
  • Company wide challenges - There are tons of fun challenges you can organise! For example: a step-tracking challenge, a runners club, a virtual game night, a blogging challenge (write about a topic, example your favourite hobby, and the winner gets published on your website),..

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