One day we’re all sitting next to each other in an office, and the next day we’re sitting in our living rooms trying to figure out how to work effectively in our pajamas.
The good news is that according to a survey from February 2020 (The Remote Work Report by GitLab: The Future of Work is Remote), nearly 90% of the remote workers surveyed said they were satisfied with existing tools and processes that enable remote team communication. And 84% of respondents said they were able to accomplish all of their tasks remotely.
And the best part of the survey: respondents found that working remotely actually reduced anxiety, improved health, and reduced office politics. I think we can all get on board with that right now.
So, now that we know success is possible in our new work environment, here are some ways to keep communication open and collaboration alive within remote teams.
1. Invest in Communication Tools
Investing in the right communication tools is probably the most important piece for a remote team. While everyone on your team probably has an email and a cell phone, those aren’t the most efficient ways to work on projects together.
For many businesses, project management software like Slack or Basecamp is already part of your workday. Slack is great because it allows you to integrate with other file sharing and communication tools, like Trello, GitHub, GoogleDrive, Zendesk, etc. If you want to keep all communications, files, and creative assets under one roof, Basecamp is also a great option.
Whatever messaging/communication/project management tools you choose to use, make sure each of your team members is equipped to access those tools from home.
And while our main focus is on business communications, remember that chats don’t necessarily have to be all about work. As coworkers, you become really close to each other, and maintaining those friendships is crucial to sustaining a positive work environment. Encourage your team to continue to chat in the same way they did at the office … you know, except with messaging tools instead of their faces.
2. Communicate Clearly
When your team goes remote, communication changes. You’re no longer able to peek your head around your cubicle to ask a simple question or clarify a request made earlier in the day. Everything has to be communicated clearly and concisely the first time.
In an attempt to be efficient in our communication, we are often too brief. When we assume everyone is on the same page, we leave out information. So, err on the side of caution and assume nobody is on the same page. If you keep that mindset, you’ll be sure to include all the necessary information.
If you don’t want to write a novel but still need to include a lot of content in your messages, use bullet points. This helps your readers to skim the information more easily and gives your message the appearance of conciseness. Bullet points also make it easier for coworkers to find the information they need when referring back to the message.
And don’t be afraid to use images or tables to clarify information.
Remember, it’s way better to overexplain yourself than to have every team member respond with, “I’m not sure what you mean by …” You’re actually saving time by writing a longer, more thorough message the first time. You can never be too clear, but it’s super easy to be confusing.
3. Schedule Regular Team Meetings
In the office, how often were you meeting together as a team? Did you have a morning standup every day? Did you have a debriefing meeting every Friday? Whatever your regular meeting schedule looked like while you shared an office, try to continue that schedule when you go remote.
And since you’re used to meeting face-to-face, try using Zoom or Skype for video conferences. Holding video meetings will allow team members to get the face time they’re missing and desperately need right now.
Video conferencing also helps bridge the communication gap. You communicate so much with your face and hands, so allowing your team members to see your face during conversations will help avoid miscommunication.
4. Set Boundaries
Remember how everyone went nuts for 4-Hour Workweek and started checking their email only twice a day? Now, apply that type of boundary to your new work life.
When working from home, it’s easy to stay in work mode 24/7. But it’s also a terrible idea. Set boundaries for yourself early on. For example, decide you’re going to turn off all notifications from 6 pm to 8 am.
Back in the day, I worked for a remote team and my boss was nonstop—we would get emails well into the night. Since remote work was new to me, I assumed I had to be on-call at all times. Not true. It was fine for my boss to work crazy hours—that was her choice. But that didn’t mean I had to.
Make sure your team members know when you’ll be online and when they can expect email responses from you. Give them your cell phone number in case of emergencies, but you may also want to define “emergency” before handing out your digits.
5. Be Human
Just because you don’t work in an office right now, doesn’t mean you can’t maintain the fun traditions from the old, pre-quarantine days.
Sure, you won’t be able to share a box of doughnuts on Friday morning or gather to sing Happy Birthday, but keep the fun times alive with adjusted traditions. Send virtual birthday cards, songs, and doughnuts. If you’re feeling crazy, you could have real treats delivered directly to team members.
And don’t forget to celebrate each other’s wins. Stay aware of one another and the good work each of your team members is doing. And be sure to send some love via Slack and IM.
And like I mentioned earlier, not all your conversations need to be work-related. Some of the best ideas come from random, funny conversations between friends. Keep your work friendships alive to improve morale and creativity.
The human part of your workday doesn’t have to disappear just because in-person contact is limited.
When all of this craziness ends—and it WILL end—celebrate your sweet, sweet reunion. Take a team lunch and actually sit in a restaurant together. Have a party to reconnect. Shake hands! I’m so excited just thinking about it!
The times they are a-changin’! But hopefully, we’ll see some changes for the better. While these transitions may be hard, we might find new efficiencies and freedoms that we wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Just remember to keep the best parts of in-office work-life alive—friendships, fun traditions, and good communication.