Remote teams often experience distorted messages and communication issues where a meeting's conclusions are communicated to other teams or departments. Those conclusions can sometimes be distorted, leading to misalignment. What are some tips to avoid this situation?
How Can You Make Communication Work For Remote Teams?
It has been over a year since project meetings became primarily virtual. It is difficult to think of the added pressure and chaos businesses would have faced had we not had the technology that allows us to interact remotely. This does not mean online meetings have been easy. At times, remote work has tested everyone's patience and resilience. Whether everyone likes or dislikes virtual meetings, it is a feature that will likely remain even after the pandemic has ended.
Teamwork makes the dream work is a well-known phrase. This, however, is easier said than done, especially when it comes to remote work. When remote teams work across functions, or with clients and partners, there is additional complexity in dealing with others who are outside your team. There is often miscommunication, confusion, and various levels of knowledge.
So, how can you improve communication between teams? We spoke with a list of professionals and industry leaders who shared so much valuable insight with us. We asked each of them to provide tips for any remote team that wants to create a successful remote working environment.
Having the ability to understand and connect with people is a key to success in any work environment. To nobody's surprise, individuals who are aware of non-verbal queues and can interpret what is being said are more in-tune with their team members. Today, using video conference platforms like Zoom, there are fewer non-verbal queues to lean on to interpret meaning.
"Remote workers miss out on some important aspects of communication when participating in virtual meetings. Non-verbal queues are at best limited when participating in a full video conference.", says Carl Fransen, founder, and CEO of CTECH Consulting Group. "After the meeting, it is important to set up a centralized collaboration area where staff can work from the same documents. They can include clear notes, goals, objects, and expectations of the meeting so everyone can refer back and update their progress."
Participants can be assigned a responsibility during the meeting as well as a follow-up item. This will ensure everyone is accountable for their tasks in the meeting and will require engagement even after the meeting. "Having the ability to communicate after the meeting is also important through a variety of different ways such as forums, chat, video, and of course email. This helps physically distant staff feel less isolated and more engaged", says Fransen.
Nick Martin, Director of Managed Services at MainStreet IT Solutions also weighed in with his thoughts on virtual meetings by stating:
"We would recommend someone being available to take notes during the course of the online meeting, outlining specific action steps, if any were described during the meeting, and who those steps are assigned to. Virtual meetings can be difficult to focus, so having someone responsible for outlining what was talked about and having those actions steps outlined to the team will help everyone follow up appropriately. Being organized is key to having successful remote environments."
Ashu Singhal, President of Orion Network Solutions advises remote teams to use effective meeting tools and leverage technology because this combination can lead to a more seamless experience. Singhal shared the following advice:
"Ensure you have good video/audio meeting tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams and leverage technology to have seamless experience for remote teams. Just merely have these tools is not enough but rather engage your technology team to seamlessly integrated into your meeting invites so they become part of the culture and to also optimize them to avoid issues during the meeting. Follow up with a quick note summarizing the takeaways or key conclusions and if possible a recording of the meeting."
Oral Communication is Key
Working in a remote environment may cause us to rely more heavily on words to get our message across, but oral communication skills are still necessary when working with others. Video chatting and meetings allow team members to rely less on the keyboard and more on the interaction with members of the team.
"The best way to avoid distorted messages is to convey your thoughts orally in a face-to-face conversation. Things are often lost in translation when put in writing and you miss out on important cues like body language, tonal inflection, and other non-verbal forms of communication.", says Craig Beam, President of MicroXpress.
To improve communication with a workforce of remote workers and telecommuters, companies are leveraging various technologies especially video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. "With the rising popularity of products like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, there's no reason not to have a quick face-to-face meeting whenever important topics are discussed between departments.", says Beam.
Secure Employee Communications
More companies are anticipating downsizing office space and moving more workers to remote positions. This will represent a major transition in the ways people view the workplace and the nature of work. This transition also comes with cybersecurity risks, as workers chat, access more files, and communicate with customers using remote technology tools. On how to enjoy the communication benefits and cost savings of remote environments without the cybersecurity risks, Johny Bogard, of EB Solution shared this:
"Small companies who are looking to expand are often too focused on growth during their early stages and neglect the importance to plan for the worst-case scenarios. If the pandemic taught us one thing it is that. Potential outages can cost business a substantial amount, especially when majority of the knowledge workforce work at home. EB Solution provides cloud branch deployment where you can work from everywhere with no special equipment and without any concerns that the local office will be disconnected from the internet.
From our experience we find small businesses are particularly susceptible to ransom attacks, especially when employees are not trained to detect threats such as phishing scams. Ransomware attackers targets small companies specifically because they don't have much digital security resources. EB Solution provides backup systems to clients that are created to scan data backups for mass file changes and ransomware as soon as infection is detected administrators are alerted immediately. In doing so, we ensure that our clients can immediately respond to attacks before the infection spread across their network to other servers and computers.
Small, fast-growing companies often rely on apps such as Google Drive and OneDrive for data Backup, which were designed for file sharing with limited data recovery option. Unfortunately, they cannot provide adequate protection on a company's data infrastructure. To combat that, EB Solution offers reliable and comprehensive business continuity and disaster recovery solution that safeguards our client's full infrastructure. By recovering client's data through virtualization technology, clients can access protected devices and services instantly."
Stay in Touch via Video
Various tools allow seamless video conferencing, and this allows you to benefit from real-time remote collaboration meetings online. When asked to share how his teams are able to avoid sending distorted messages, here is what Aaron Kane of CTI Technology had to say:
"Video, Video, and Video...we have an open video policy. Video anyone at any time. Those gotta-minute meetings from pre-covid seemed to be unproductive and annoying hallway conversations. What I don't believe people accounted for was that 1 min (10min usually) personal connection. That one on one link filled a much-needed "I want to be heard" message.
This is why we allow people to video at a moment's notice. To be seen is to be heard, and when someone is heard visually, they feel connected. In the future hybrid office, I will be more open to that "gotta minute." "
Build a Culture of Accountability
As remote work continues to make its way to more businesses in every industry, some leaders are struggling to manage their teams due to problems with communication. A successful remote work environment will boil down to communication, trust, and accountability. Consider this advice from Myles Keough, CEO of Spade Technology:
During the Covid pandemic, as companies moved to a more remote workforce, the ones that had the most success were the ones that had a culture of great communication and accountability. Some companies improved their performance when they went to remote teams because it forced them to focus on tools and system to enforce better, more precise communication.
There are three components to help remote teams communicate better, and therefore be more aligned;
- A well-planned meeting rhythm. This should include daily huddles, which are quick 5-to-10-minute check points within small teams. It should also include your weekly, monthly, and quarterly meeting schedule. For each meeting there should be a well thought out purpose and agenda. Both the purpose and agenda should be in the recurring meeting invite and be read at the beginning of each meeting. This will allow you to take turns having everyone run the meeting, which helps encourage inclusion of the whole team. All participants should be required to have their video on as well to ensure everyone is focused on the meeting and not getting distracted by email.
- An accountability tool. This does not necessarily mean a piece of technology. Often, it's as simple as a word document or spreadsheet. A lot of common business planning solutions have these templates readily available. For example, Gazelle's uses a WWW form which is completed during the meeting which identifies Who will do What and When after the meeting. EOS has similar tools for tracking action items and accountability. A simple document like this should be used at the beginning and end of each meeting.
- Leverage technology for communication. Properly and thoughtfully implementing tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack can help with communication amongst remote teams, especially ones that aren't all working in the same time zones. Like most technology implementations 90% of the work is in the planning of the rollout. For example, setting up a Team in Microsoft Teams for your clients and having a channel under each Team for each individual client. Then have the "rules of engagement" on the first page of that Team that specifically states how the tool should be used. A group training and some initial monitoring is often necessary. These tools are a great way to have a history of a conversation amongst a remote team and allow others that might not be part of that particular team to be aware of situations with a client or project. Think of this as what was once heard at the water cooler in the office.
Having the three components above will increase the clarity of your communication amongst remote teams. It is also important to remember that everyone processes information differently. To accommodate everyone and get the most of your organization wide communications, be sure to send any content for your meetings well in advance of the meeting time. This will give people time to read, process, and digest the information so you can maximize the virtual time together with your remote team. Your time together should not be reading a report as a group, it should be spent talking about anomalies in metrics and KPI's, as well as any roadblocks stopping you from reaching your goals.