Leaders of teams that are now working remotely face a new and unique set of challenges when it comes to communication; challenges that need to be managed carefully if misunderstandings and disengagement are to be avoided. A whole new approach might well be needed to help remote workers feel like they’re still part of the team and communicate effectively in the same way as those who meet face-to-face every day.
Which channel to use
Perhaps the most obvious challenge comes from the way in which we choose to communicate and the opportunity this allows for ambiguity and misunderstandings to creep in. Although the sentence you’ve written in an email might make perfect sense to you, how can you be sure that the recipient will interpret it in exactly the same way?
Emails and group messaging services all, of course, have their place but sometimes a simple telephone call remains the most effective way to communicate one-to-one. Video calls, too, can help to uncover the non-verbal clues that might be needed about how someone’s feeling or their understanding of what they’ve been asked to do.
How often is too often?
How often managers communicate with their teams remotely can be a difficult balancing act. Too little can signify apathy, yet too much can feel like micromanagement – and too far in either direction will almost certainly have undesirable effects.
It may be that getting this balance right is the biggest challenge of all.
Keeping teams connected through social media groups, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, is increasingly popular and offers an outlet for sharing ideas, feedback and information on a day to day basis without the need for a more formal meeting.
However, it’s highly unlikely that the work chat about their latest project is going to be the only one on everyone’s phones. With the lines becoming blurred between work and social lives, how can you possibly know what other chats the team are engaged in, including those with their colleagues that might deliberately have excluded you?
Defining the processes
Communicating across different time zones and/or with people working different shift patterns may well mean that they’re not all available and able to communicate with each other at exactly the same time.
Having clear and structured processes in place and sharing information in a mutually agreed and pre-defined way can save time and help everyone to work more efficiently, even if colleagues aren’t always immediately available.
Ultimately, everyone in a team is working towards a common goal and wants the organisation they’re operating in to thrive. But when it comes to working remotely, managers may need to develop an even greater understanding of team members and their individual circumstances, if they’re to facilitate the communication required to achieve that goal.