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You’ve seen the announcements by now—Twitter is allowing employees to work from home forever, Zillow through the remainder of 2020, Nationwide will be permanently hybrid—it’s safe to say that the shifts to remote work have accelerated rapidly. But with all of these sudden expanded remote work adoption policies, are organizations ready to tackle some of the biggest challenges of remote teams at scale? Always rising to the top of the list is remote work communication challenges.
When teams are distributed, what are the more effective ways to share information, transfer meaning or understand one another? We gathered as a remote community during our May Networkplaceless event to brainstorm in detail the types of challenges in remote team communication.
We first asked attendees to consider the four components of communication:
Fifty-nine percent of participants agreed that written communication is most important when working remotely, a nod to the remote work community’s push for asynchronous communication. However, since isolation is a common concern, especially for employees new to remote or new to their companies who do not have an established community of support, leaders must create spaces—formally and informally—for their teams to connect and share information synchronously.
During our Networkplaceless event, participants uncovered the following,
Remote Work Communication Challenges:
Varied preferences and needs for communication.
In remote teams, one of the biggest impediments to effective communication is the lack of physical cues, which often provide signals to others about boundaries and preferences. The ways individuals adapt can vary by team and person.
- What is the ideal frequency for communication? It’s hard to find the balance of just the right amount of communication—not too little, not too much.
- What are the ideal channels? There’s an abundance of communication tool options, but are all team members using those channels with aligned expectations? How do you prioritize tasks coming from multiple channels?
- How do individuals prefer to receive information and share information? As mentioned, 59% of our participants believed written communication was the most important, but an additional 23% selected visual, and 11% selected verbal.
Supporting diverse preferences and combating hybrid team inequity are just a few of the benefits of async communication.
Overcommunication turns into micromanagement.
At Workplaceless, we tend to advise, “when in doubt, overcommunicate.” But what happens when overcommunicating turns into leaders constantly checking in on employees, asking for status updates, or sharing advice that interrupts work flow? Leaders who are used to seeing employees in the office unknowingly micromanage. They fall into habits of closely observing, controlling, or reminding because they crave the comfort of always knowing what their employees are doing.
We address overcoming these micromanagement tendencies in our Leadplaceless virtual leadership training course. One antidote is to set clear expectations. Each manager and employee will need to establish norms about the appropriate use and amount of information shared via each channel.
Interruptions to productivity flow.
With the abundance of alerts, notifications, and chats across multiple channels from various teammates, it’s sometimes difficult to get work done. Setting boundaries at work is critical to minimizing these disruptions—enter a Boundaries Agreement which we can help your team develop in our Preventing Isolation and Burnout Workshop.
Alerts can interrupt productivity flow, but so can impromptu meetings or even meetings that are scheduled sporadically throughout the day. Consider the method of time blocking your days as an individual, or even as a team. At Workplaceless, we love using Caveday for deep work sessions—and we notify team members that we will be unavailable during this blocked off time.
Difficulties with technology.
Lagging internet and connectivity issues means synchronous communication is difficult, and sometimes avoided. Participants shared that it can feel awkward to remain on a call when video chats are not working properly or team members are talking over one another. There’s even Video Conference Bingo.
Misunderstandings due to differences.
Differences in language, culture, communications style, and learning style are common, since remote work means connecting with colleagues and clients from around the globe. The Culture Map is one of our favorite resources for understanding cultural differences, and developing awareness around the needs of individuals from a range of cultures. (Here’s an article that provides an overview of the scales mentioned in the book.)
However, a simple framework to understand culture doesn’t go deep enough. Every person is different. Participants shared that cultural norms, personality, and flexibility all play into tensions in communication. Not to mention time differences and family life which can pull us in different directions. There are many perspectives coming together with a range of needs. (Note: leaders must be able to recognize and address the difference between cultural miscommunication and toxic communication.)
Hybrid team communication gaps.
Hybrid teams, which has become a common structure in the future of work, as demonstrated by company announcements mentioned above, have the challenge of multiple norms and cultures, and like companies with siloed or decentralized organizational structures, the question of communication is top of mind. Communication gaps specific to hybrid teams include:
- When spontaneous conversations happen in-office but remote team members miss out
- Remote team visibility challenges
- Conference room vs conference call participants
Developing your remote work skills is critical to overcome remote work communication challenges is critical to success in every remote role.
We followed up this conversation on challenges by welcoming a panel of experts to share their 6 Steps To Improving Your Remote Team’s Communication.