In 2022, 17% of employees surveyed by Statista reported difficulties with communication and collaboration in a remote work environment. This is down from 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, when 20% struggled to maintain open communication lines in the digital workspace.
So while we seem to be heading in the right direction, there’s no doubt about it: communication in a remote work environment presents a significant challenge to companies big and small.
This begs the question – how can we reopen communication lines and empower employees to collaborate effectively when the workforce can be scattered around the world?
Outline expectations and goals
Before anything else, you need to outline your expectations and goals to establish effective communication in a remote work environment. Whether you’re a business leader or team leader, the onus is on you to set down the rules for engagement and make them clear to your employees and coworkers.
This goes just as much for your own team or department as it does for others. Cross-functional collaboration is most effective when the lines of communication remain open and employees from different departments can quickly and easily send messages back and forth.
Be clear from day one as to what you expect from your team.
Do you need them to show up for regular morning online video briefings or is a weekly Zoom call check-in enough?
You should also give some thought to the means of communication, which we’ll cover in more depth later.
Keep it brief
When working remotely, it’s easy to take messages you receive out of context. You could perceive a company memo as terse, or an email from a coworker as being rude, when in reality the tone they wrote the text in was neutral.
This is more of a problem in the digital landscape as messages are often open to interpretation. Without the cues of body language or tone of voice it’s down to us to read them in our mind’s voice, for better or worse.
So how can we avoid this issue of misinterpretation?
It’s simple: keep it brief.
If you can distil down the essence of your message to as few words as possible, you’ll be able to communicate succinctly without leaving room for the wrong interpretation. As such, you’re unlikely to inadvertently offend your coworkers.
This rule especially applies when communicating with employees in other departments, and you should also go light on technical jargon in these instances. When you load your message with technical terms, those not in-the-know will have a hard time deciphering what you mean without spending a lot of time on Google looking up each acronym or specialist vocabulary.
Finally, though it may seem inappropriate for a formal work environment, emojis are your friend when communicating positively. A well-intentioned smiley face makes it hard for someone to misinterpret your message as being rude.
Streamline internal communication
When your workplace becomes remote, internal communication can become fractured. All of a sudden departments and teams have to find new ways to keep everyone in the loop, and this can slow down progress in the short term.
To get around this issue, it’s a good idea to set up a frequent internal newsletter or memo that aims to keep everyone up to date with the latest developments within the company or department.
Be sure to keep these messages as brief as possible, and sign each one off with an invitation to respond along with an email address those with questions can reach out to.
Better still, actively listen to what your peers have to say so that your internal communication can be largely informed by the thoughts of those who read it.
Harness both synchronous and asynchronous communication
There are two main types of communication, each of which plays a significant role in the remote work environment. The first is synchronous communication, and the second is asynchronous communication.
Synchronous communication in simpler terms is real-time communication. That is to say, whenever there are multiple people chatting simultaneously.
As such, video conferences over Zoom, instant messaging through apps like Slack, and phone calls are all considered to be examples of this type of communication.
During the transition to remote work many companies experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the primary form of synchronous communication – speaking face-to-face – has been replaced by these digital means of communication.
Synchronous communication is hugely important for discussing crucial issues that require a swift resolution, receiving updates on project progress with live discussions, and checking in on coworkers and how they’re doing.
With real-time communication you can resolve issues immediately, yet this isn’t always possible especially when you have a global workforce operating across different time zones.
Asynchronous communication is arguably even more important for remote teams since it’s available to everyone 24/7. Regardless of location and time zone, you can always use this type of communication to get your message across.
Of course, you won’t always receive an instant response, but you can communicate effectively without having to wait for your coworkers to become available.
This type of communication works well when everyone has a slightly different schedule, and can help move projects along slowly but surely.
Make the most of remote work tools
Communication and desktop monitoring tools are becoming a cornerstone of every remote workplace.
Cloud-based messaging, video conferencing, and channel chatting is on the rise and task manager apps that facilitate these forms of virtual communication are becoming increasingly popular.
Onboarding the whole company or department with a specific communication tool can streamline operations, and ensure everyone stays in the loop at all times. Tools can harness both synchronous and asynchronous communication to encourage ongoing interaction for meetings, briefings, and project-related tasks.
It’s important to establish and maintain clear communication lines in the remote work environment. Failure to do so can sever the ties between coworkers and hinder teams’ abilities to collaborate effectively on tasks and projects.
Make the most of both types of communication using software, clear expectations, and brevity and you can’t go too far wrong.