How do teams choose how to communicate?
In a co-located work environment, the answer is pretty clear: walk down the hall or pop into someone’s office for a quick check-in; send an email if they’re not there.
As researchers remind us, face-to-face may be the richest medium for communication, but when teams want to be more productive, cost-effective, and have access to talent, companies turn to remote and hybrid work. But as remote teams know, there are hundreds of choices for meetings, chatting, collaborating—synchronous and asynchronous communication tools . . . where does one start?
The selection of communication tools begins with understanding the unique challenges of remote team communication and defining processes that work for professionals who are not physically located in the same office space.
During our July Networkplaceless event, we welcomed three experts who led us in a conversation about overcoming common obstacles and developing best practices for communicating on a fully distributed or hybrid team. Our panelists included:
- Julie Armendariz, Director and People Business Partner at GitLab
- Sid Pandiya, Co-Founder and CEO of Kona
- Badri Rajasekar, Co-Founder and CEO of Jamm
The panelists shared collective insights into how different teams—small and large—can address challenges and communicate effectively while remote.
1. Select a few tools to use consistently.
Our panelists agreed that a “single source of truth” is much more attainable when there are fewer tools used. While the market for remote tools grows exponentially every day, our experts recommended sticking a small and standardized set of communication tools. Slack, Zoom, Google Docs remain fan favorites. This guide can help you round up what types of tools you should consider.
2. Unify your team communication.
Whatever tools you choose, you need to set clear standards about which tools are used for what purposes. Each of the speakers had their own recommended approach for how teams can unify communication.
Badri at Jamm recommends creating informal guidelines for when to use different communication channels. These guidelines, or what we at Workplaceless call a Communication Charter, can build trust among team members since there is increased clarity about how to communicate in different contexts.
GitLab chooses to use an external-facing handbook to centralize all information so anyone can access it with zero confusion. With open access, and open source contributions, the handbook is not only a tool for documentation but a way to communicate with the entire company.
3. Create opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.
Teams who seek both efficiency and connection in their work days will benefit from a combination of work methods. Use asynchronous work to offer flexibility and a chance for individuals to be productive when it’s best for them.
“True asynchronous workflow is awesome.” —Networkplaceless attendee
When it’s time for teams to collaborate, connect, and make decisions. Synchronous live meetings are ideal. Badri at Jamm explained that teams are likely to have varied workflows; like a wave, there may be frequent synchronous communication early in the week that leads to structured async deep work later.
It’s recommended that teams connect synchronously on a routine basis to ensure there are chances for building trust and relationships. Because remote work can result in employees feeling isolated, managers must initiate and create structured opportunities for check-ins. At Sike Insights, Sid explained that their Friday meetings are a guaranteed opportunity to connect with the team every week. They also stay connected while working independently. To know what people are working on, teammates post a list in Slack and bold current projects so others are always updated.
Remote teams often use different tools for synchronous and asynchronous communication. However, a tool like Jamm specifically allows for both synchronous and asynchronous communication in one platform—an important functionality to consider when optimizing your remote toolbox.
4. Meetings are . . . optional?
With a push towards asynchronous work, Julie from GitLab says that there’s a huge shift within her organization: meetings are not required. It is up to the individual to attend the meeting (or not), read the agenda, and watch the recordings. The panelists found efficiency and freedom in these practices, yet remarked on challenges like disconnection or loneliness. Find a balance with your team, or try running an asynchronous staff meeting.
For more our CEO, Tammy chatted with Basecamp’s David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) about Building a Calm and Ethical Remote Company with a Writing-First Culture.
5. Recognize that hybrid teams face unique communication challenges.
One of the challenges of hybrid teams is that remote employees miss out on the spontaneous conversations that happen in-office among the co-located team members. With companies like Twitter, Shopify, and Facebook stating that large percentages of their employees will stay remote in the coming years, hybrid companies will be increasingly common. However, as our panelists describe, culture and processes need to be carefully managed to ensure there is not a disconnected workforce.
“Some people communicate more openly over text than by voice.” —Networkplaceless attendee
In addition to remote workers commonly feeling lonely, virtual team members experience the added feeling of being disconnected from headquarters or the co-located team. With a hybrid team, there must be processes and best practices to ensure everyone is in the loop quickly— communications should stay remote-first. This could mean that meetings where some team members are virtual, necessitates that all meeting attendees, even those within the office, call in from their desk location.
Panelists also emphasized the need to consider personality differences that may be exacerbated when employees are given a choice of work location within a hybrid model. Will extraverts choose the office for socializing, and introverts choose remote work to conserve their energy? The panel reminded us not to discriminate against people who are quieter or may not be physically participating or voicing their opinions synchronously. One best practice to consider includes having a facilitator present in both co-located and remote meeting contexts to ensure all opinions are represented.
6. As always, avoid micromanagement.
When there’s trust and transparency, the tendency to micromanage is reduced. Managers that cultivate transparent team communication will naturally have less of a need to oversee every individual team member, because updates and project statuses are out in the open. Ideally, managers should moderate the amount of communication they share to avoid information overload. If there are systems in place for teams to communicate, as Sid from Sike Insights notes, when managers make themselves vulnerable, trust will flourish.
Teams seeking to further increase their effectiveness in remote communication need to systematically review their current practices and consider developing a custom communication charter. Our Building a Communication Charter Workshop can help you do just that.
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