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Remote Work

Here’s How to Communicate on Remote Teams

Originally published in 2015. This article has been updated with stats from 2019.

Working from anywhere, virtually, is where we’re headed. Some may argue that it’s already here since remote work implies different frequencies. Some people work remotely once or twice a week, others work remotely full time.

In fact, regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 103% 173% since 2005 which is 11% faster than the rest of the workforce. When I originally wrote this article in 2015, that work-at-home number was 103%. That’s a 60% increase in the past four years!

When I started working remotely in 2013, I didn’t have any guidance besides, “be online when the client is”. That’s a good start but the intricacies of working with a team of people through a screen takes more tact.

untethered

After working another year untethered, here are 3 tips for working on a virtual team:

Sometimes you have to meet up.

When things aren’t going well (i.e., you aren’t seeing the progress you would like or the team comradery is in the hole) it is time to set up a physical meet up. There is no denying that it is easier and faster to ask your teammate across the table for help instead of instant messaging them and waiting for a response. When we work in the same place we play off each other’s visual queues and it helps to restore team balance.

The traditional 9-5 is heading out the door – set standard office hours.

In one project I had coworkers in India, Poland, and the West and East coast. That’s four different time zones! We set standard times that everyone would work so that we knew when everyone would be available online. This reduced confusion and uncertainty for the team and made it clear when to set up meetings or to expect calls back.

For instance, one teammate on the West coast worked from 10AM-6PM EST which is 7AM-3PM PST. Our teammate in Poland worked from 5AM – 1PM EST. Sometimes folks on the East coast would log on early or stay late depending on who we needed to work with. This way we had enough overlap so that we could still work together.

Even if your remote coworkers are in the same time zone as you, schedule flexibility is one of the main reasons people work remotely. This is another reason to set standard office hours (like during Go Lives). In fact, schedule flexibility is 92% more important to remote workers than those on-site. So if your team is mixed, keep that in mind when it comes to team communication.

Encourage your teammates to be responsive and vocal.

The key to successful virtual projects is having vocal teammates. It doesn’t matter how many emails you send out or updates you make to your project’s hangout/social page/forum if no one else from the team responds. We can’t always pick our virtual coworkers but we can encourage them to communicate with the tools we have.

Speaking up and communicating regularly is a balancing act. People choose remote work because they feel more productive, yet remote workers spend more time in meetings each week.

14% of remote workers are dedicating time to more than 10 meetings per week (vs. only 3% of on-site workers).

2019 State of Remote Work

If your remote team does need to have a meeting, help it go as smoothly as possible.

A few tips for remote meetings:

  • Send an agenda in the meeting invite. Include slides or relevant reading material.
  • Use a headset and microphone to ensure audio quality.
  • Take your meeting at home or co-working space – wherever you have the best internet connection.
  • Silence your phone and put it in a desk drawer to stay focused during the meeting. Set your IM or Slack to Do Not Disturb during meetings.

22% of remote workers lose more than an hour per day of productivity due to meetings

2019 State of Remote Work

Remote team communication is so important because despite the advantages of increased productivity and schedule flexibility, managers are still concerned about their remote workers. Even with remote work training, managers worry about employee productivity, focus, and engagement and satisfaction. Hopefully, using these tips will put remote managers at ease and turn remote teams into well-oiled machines.

Need more info on creating a remote work environment? Check out the Remote Work Playbook by Toptal.com. The playbook includes everything from recruitment, to remote work setup basics, and overcoming common problems.

Do these tips work for you? Have advice of your own on how to work on a remote team? Let me know me know in the comments below!

Featured photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash


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1 reply on “Here’s How to Communicate on Remote Teams”

There is a definite shift in how people are working. I believe virtual teams are part of what is driving this shift, but also think expectations of what is a workplace is also changing the perception. We have more people working from home, or remotely, and some working non-standard hours. It’s not as different as it once was.

Still, even with all this change, you need to be ready to bring everyone together to reset the team and build cohesion. Things may be changing, but a team still has to learn to rely on each other.

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