Businesses that adopted remote work arrangements for the first time this past year have had to overcome numerous challenges and pick up new skills — one of the most important being how to effectively communicate with their remote team members. Smart leaders know effective communication with distributed teams requires more than just investing in the right tech tools to send out a quick message. It’s essential to consider how to best track projects and serve customers, as well as determine the right frequency and focus for meetings so that team members feel supported but not overwhelmed.
While the leaders of every organization have to determine what works best for their unique situation, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust have experience leading remote teams and can share what’s been helpful for them and their team members. Below, 13 of them share their insights to help you establish procedures to keep the lines of communication open — no matter where your team members are.
1. Ensure leaders are easily accessible.
More communication is best right now. Being easily accessible to employees has always been a priority. Now, with remote work arrangements for our employees, emphasizing accessibility is even more important. Also — and I hope this continues post-pandemic — be human. Ask employees how they’re doing and how their families are. These are such uncertain times; teammates need to know we’re in it together. – Derek Ellington, Bank of America
2. Leverage collaboration tools.
We incorporated Teams from Microsoft through our 365 Suite. It’s made a huge difference. We can chat quickly with each other. We can organize projects more efficiently. And we can do quick video calls with the click of a button instead of having to send Zoom invites all day long. Plus, if your vendors, partners and clients are on Microsoft Teams, you can integrate them as well. – Bryan Sarff, True Wealth & Company
3. Hold regular all-hands meetings.
I have started having monthly Zoom calls on the first day of each month with all of the attorneys in my firm so we can discuss recent issues and share information. My office manager also holds monthly Zoom meetings with our staff so they can talk and exchange information as well. Seeing each other once a month — even if it is just over Zoom — helps us all stay connected. – Donna Stockham, Stockham Law Group, P.A.
4. Integrate ‘Zoom rooms’ into the physical office.
Goodbye conference rooms, hello Zoom booths and rooms. Our agency’s office design has integrated several small- and medium-sized spaces with good lighting and soundproofing. This way, individuals and small teams can break away to hold virtual calls in a professional, effective manner. – Keith Woods, KB Woods Public Relations
5. Engage all attendees in meetings.
As some workers shift to a flexible work arrangement and not all employees are in the office, our leadership recognizes the importance of engaging all team members during meetings. Having all attendees, whether remote or live, contribute to the discussion is difficult but imperative. Communicating with those on video conferencing takes effort, and our leadership has worked hard at this. – Alan Litwin, KLR
6. Add a little fun to town hall meetings.
Online town hall meetings with employees are one way to keep staff informed and engaged. Try to have some fun with them by adding a personal piece to each meeting — perhaps allow staff to submit family news and pictures, or try an “online fire drill” where everyone goes outside for a few minutes and takes a picture. Be willing to try something else that makes the meeting more of a two-way conversation. – Mark Coronna, Chief Outsiders
7. Encourage small talk at the beginning of video calls.
We encourage a few minutes of small talk at the beginning of video calls to try to recreate that important bonding that happens in person. Is the new puppy potty trained? How did your kid’s game go? What vacations are you planning this summer? Those chats are so important — they help us feel like we’re part of each other’s lives even if we haven’t been in the same room in a while. – Mary-Cathryn Kolb, brrrº
8. Develop ways to engage socially.
We have created social engagement opportunities using Yammer and other tools. These include a CEO book club, music sharing, virtual happy hours, virtual meet-and-greets, and many others. – Jim Wallace, BPM
9. Adopt asynchronous communications.
We have adopted an asynchronous communication strategy in the remote workplace. This ensures there’s no undue pressure on remote employees. Respecting their varied time zones is something that our employees expect from us. We have made advanced tools available to practice asynchronous communication and keep managers updated. It has made the flow of communication smoother and enhanced documentation. – Alina Clark, CocoDoc
10. Schedule one-on-one virtual coffees.
I have “coffee” with every team member once a month. We talk about cars, kids, books — whatever we want. We all miss the water cooler connection. Having it via Zoom is never going to replace casual chats, but it helps keep us talking. – Maggey Oplinger, The Florentine Opera Company
11. Chat face-to-face — even for quick questions.
When some people are in the office and some people are working from home, it’s easy to just interact with the people you see — the others are out of sight, out of mind. We use G-Suite. In addition to scheduled meetings, we can “video call” using Hangouts to talk face-to-face when we have a quick question — kind of like knocking on their office door. – David Sprinkle, Veritas Recruiting Group
12. Hold regular department huddles.
You can’t overcommunicate with employees, especially if they are remote. The more face-to-face conversation — even via video — the better. We’ve added regular department huddles that focus on sharing what we are doing and issues we are running into; they’re also just an opportunity to connect. Other strategies we are using include weekly newsletters, video updates from the president and one-on-one meetings with each employee. – Robin Throckmorton, strategic HR inc.
13. Set up channels for each department.
We have built a great way to unify our team through the use of Microsoft Teams. With built-out channels for each department to communicate through and our main internal communications coming from the organization through news videos and posts, our company never misses a beat. It also allows for breakout sessions, one-on-ones and file-sharing so that everyone stays connected. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group