How to Improve Communication with Remote Employees
New technology has contributed to a rise in employees working remotely. Right now, there’s a good chance your job has become remote thanks to COVID-19. This opens up the door to all sorts of communication problems, and many organizations are feeling stressed about how to maintain healthy communication with employees during this time. We’re here to help you navigate this by exploring ways to not only maintain communication with remote teams, but to enhance it to be stronger than ever before.
The Importance of Good Communication
It’s no secret that good communicators go far in life. Effective communication in the workplace can help enhance client relationships and increase employee engagement. Just because you can’t communicate with your employees face-to-face doesn’t mean that you can’t maintain positive and effective communication with them.
Communicating well can help engage teams in their work more fully. Highly engaged teams are 21 percent more profitable at their work; therefore, teams that communicate well and are engaged with each other and their work are able to contribute to higher profits for the organization. Additionally, 89 percent of HR executives agree that ongoing check-ins and feedback between employees and management lead to successful outcomes for organizational goals.
According to Forbes contributor Greg Satell, you can’t know something without knowing how to effectively communicate it. He argues that we should know how to communicate ideas to just about anyone in any context in order to be good communicators. This is relevant today more than ever, as more and more organizations are creating remote roles for employees. If one cannot communicate just as well to remote employees as they can to in-person employees, they have a serious shortcoming in leadership skills. Being a good leader requires communicating effectively.
How Communication Can Be More Challenging During Remote Work
To fully understand how to communicate well with remote employees, it’s important to be aware of some of the most common challenges that occur when people work remotely. It’s not always easy to foster open and efficient styles of communication within remote teams. Remote methods of staying in touch, such as email, can be slower than simply popping over to someone’s office to ask them a question. Furthermore, other communication breakdowns can result from teams working remotely:
- Socialization opportunities than encourage bonding and the company culture can easily be forgotten in remote teams
- It can be hard to maintain an open-door policy of communication when leaders aren’t literally sitting in their offices with their doors open
- Employees may not have access to critical communication tools and/or software
- There can be confusion if consistent communication channels are not established
How to Improve Communication with Your Remote Team
Some aspects of communicating with your remote team are quite similar to communicating with a team you work with in-person. You should still strive to enhance the following aspects of healthy communication from a distance:
- Active listening
- Paying attention to nonverbal cues
- Asking questions for clarity
- Being friendly and open in demeanor
- Showing confidence
- Using empathy to understand people
- Being open-minded and respectful
- Giving and receiving feedback when appropriate
- Using the right channel for communicating certain ideas
- Help remote employees define goals. This is especially important for employees who are used to working in an office environment; the transition to remote work can be tricky. Make sure to properly communicate your expectations for your remote team, preferably in writing. Offer tips and tricks that can help them achieve their goals just as they would in the office
- Be proactive, not reactive. As a manager, it’s a good idea to routinely check in on remote employees to make sure they’re staying on track and feeling confident doing their work from afar. Be careful not to micromanage, but rather to provide guidance and to lead by example. Be sure that your employees feel heard and respected, not that they’re being babysat. You don’t have time to control every second of your employees’ days, anyway!
- Encourage feedback and discussion. Set up a group discussion board or instant messaging location. There are many software options to help you do this. Make sure that employees know that they can collaborate with leadership and other team members to keep sharing ideas just as they would if everyone were together in a conference room
- Help employees minimize interruptions. Not everyone has the luxury of working from a peaceful and quiet home environment! Speak openly and respectfully to any employee who has concerns about productivity. Ask your employees how you can help them focus. Maybe you can avoid sending them instant messages or calling them during certain hours. Maybe keeping communications concise will be helpful
- Use the right channels for the right reasons. Avoid instant messaging employees every 30 minutes. If you can condense important information into a single email that goes out at the beginning of each day, do so. If your information needs to be heard by everyone, wait until you’re all on a video chat or conference call. If it’s time-sensitive, go with an instant message or a phone call
- Stick to scheduled team video or phone calls. Try not to randomly call for video or phone conference calls if you can avoid it. This should be reserved for special circumstances. Plan out your communications so that you can minimize interruptions for remote employees
- Make sure no employees feel forgotten or invisible. Check in with remote employees to make sure they’re feeling included in the company culture. Perhaps every two weeks, leaders can schedule time to reach out to remote employees they don’t always keep in touch with
- Remember praise and recognition – when employees do their jobs well, it’s important to recognize this! Consider starting a newsletter to highlight employees who have done good work (with their permission, of course). You can also recognize employees who have met goals and accomplishments at the end of regular group video or phone calls
This is a great time to assess your organization’s leadership styles. Going remote with non-essential employees can be the cause of many headaches, but it’s important to see this unusual time as an opportunity to improve your company’s views on communication. What areas have you thought of that could be improved within your own organization? A great step to take now is to check out KnowledgeCity’s course, “Common Communication Challenges,” which addresses common communication barriers, how to communicate with difficult audiences and more. When you can’t simply walk up to someone and clear up communication breakdowns in remote work situations, these topics are more important than ever. Companies that can maintain positive communication and thrive while remote are the ones that will succeed.