How Do You Improve Internal Communication for Remote Teams?

Effective internal communication is essential to the success of an organization.  Effective communication builds strong company culture and strengthens employee morale. It becomes all the more critical when an organization faces challenges and changes, both internal and external.  Poor communication creates stress and weakens employee engagement. 

Communication gets more complicated when you add remote work and different time zones into the mix. Now you’re trying to collaborate and scale your culture in myriad locations around the clock?  Talk about a challenge! So, how do you improve internal communication?  Let’s take a look at three critical components of effective internal communication (and how to improve them when teams are working remotely):

Does Your Communication Have Quality or Quantity?

When it comes to effective communication, quality is what matters. Effective internal communication does not mean more meetings.  Overwhelming team members with Slack messages and email does not improve internal communication.  Moreover, inundating and overwhelming employees with communication volume can actually backfire.  It can create an atmosphere of micromanagement that breaks down trust and employee experience. 

This is especially dangerous with remote employees. Managers of remote workers may have an urge to “check-in” more often with their out of sight employees.  The manager may think they are keeping the employee connected to the team with these frequent contact points.  The employee, however, may interpret this as a form of verification, that the manager is making sure they are indeed working.  

Instead of quantity, focus on quality.  To help employees and improve the quality of your good communication:

  • Designate specific formats for sharing critical information.  How (and where) do employees communicate their focus for the week?  How (and where) do team members alert the group to important decisions or sudden delays or arising problems? Consider the systems, processes and habits that should be utilized and reinforced to keep communication streamline and employees feeling connected.
  • Establish a cadence to communication.  Create designated times for team members to share information on a regular basis.  These do not have to be meetings. Instead, use online communication tools to create a framework.  Create a rhythm of sharing information. Individuals can signal to others what they are working on, where they may need assistance, how a project is tracking, and debrief how the week went. Leaders should utilize real-time town halls to help employees feel connected to the vision. For enterprise organizations, this means running virtual events (or hybrid events paired with off-site).
  • Resist the urge to check-in/check-up on employees.  Channel needed information sharing into the previously established formats and cadence.  For everything else, create a virtual open door that encourages two-way communication between your team and you.  Focus on reinforcing trust and the common goals of the team, not on micromanaging. 
  • Celebrate accomplishments and wins.  Vocalizing compliments and broadcasting achievements are always important.  They are essential for employee morale, however, when working remotely.  Find ways to praise employees (and for them to compliment each other) with regularity.  This is critical for relationship-building across the team.  It strengthens connection when individuals are working in physical isolation.
  • Measure your remote collaboration.  That’s right:  know how well you and your team are communicating by looking at the actual data.  Assess your strengths and your areas for improvement in your organizational culture. (Pro tip:  check out OrgVitals for an easy-to-use culture dashboard that gives you real-time people analytics and culture analytics to measure how well you work together).

What Kind of Communication Is Your Team Using?

In any organization, multiple kinds of communication are at play:  

  • Direct communication.  This is specific, often formal or even official communication.  It is clear, informative, and seeks to convey meaning accurately.  Agendas, goals, and communication directly focused on work tasks ideally have direct communication.  Often, an organization may have an internal communications strategy developed to support effective, direct communication.
  • Indirect communication.  This is less specific communication. It often makes assumptions or veils the actual meaning behind the verbal or even written communication.  Indirect communication can convey more emotion and tension.  With indirect communication, information is gathered outside the face-value of the words used.  Indirect communication is especially cumbersome when teams are working remotely.  Misinterpretation of meaning and mood complicates communication via digital tools.  It is important to note that certain cultural areas around the world default to indirect communication styles, while others default to direct communication styles.
  • Non-verbal communication.  This intertwines with indirect communication.  It is conveyed in the way a team member sits and leans forward into a discussion.  An employee uses non-verbal communiction when they glance across a conference table to detect signals and security from co-workers before raising a topic. This form of communication is severely limited and even skewed by remote working. Body language, posture, even silence are more challenging to recognize and interpret when your team is not physically present with each other. Video conferencing improves this to a certain extent, but still filters the non-verbal information.
  • Unplanned communication.  This is very informal communication.  In a traditional office setting, it’s the small interaction at the copier.  It’s the greeting and brief exchange as someone passes a team member’s desk en route to lunch.  Or it’s the few moments of small talk outside the conference room while waiting for the previous group to vacate.  These small brushes may seem insignificant, but they act as tiny nudges that reinforce the connections your team has to one another.  They occur without planning and often catch individuals unguarded and more natural.  This form of communication is practically non-existent in remote work settings.

Often, only the more formal formats of communication are officially acknowledged.  Organizations plan for and around the formal kinds of communication.  But the less formal kinds of communication are important as well. They help reinforce the bonds and connections between individuals and the team as a whole.  When working remotely, less formal kinds of communication do not occur naturally. Specific attention is required to improve and augment those forms of internal communication.

To acknowledge and reinforce different kinds of communication:

  • Streamline formal and direct communication. Designate which communication tools get used for what information. Aim for using the most minimally invasive tool while still being effective. We’re all familiar with the meeting that could’ve been an email.  Or the email that could’ve been a Slack message. Determine what needs to be communicated and to whom. Then establish a framework for how to share specific workplace communications and with what online tools.  Your internal communications strategy may have already identified some of this for you.  Streamlining this communication improves its effectiveness and employee engagement with the information.
  • Know your team.  Involve your team in determining their preferred methods of employee communication.  This may differ for individual teams.  The sales team may prefer more verbal or video communication.  The accounting group may prefer documenting things via written collaboration tools.  The critical thing is to listen.  And to ensure employees feel heard. Look for remote collaboration methods that allow team members to interact authentically with one another, regardless of the tool. This may involve the ability to react with emojis in lieu of the usual forms of non-verbal communication. Or it could involve dedicated daily signals to alert others on the team to how an individual’s workday is going.  Knowing your team helps you employ the most effective forms of communication for your unique group.  This also strengthens their interactions with one another.
  • Know your team even better.  How do the individual team members you work with communicate stress?  Is that communication typically non-verbal?  If so, what is a communication method that translates that in a detectable way when working remotely? How do your team members want recognition for excellence in their work?  Set aside dedicated space to give that recognition.  Pay attention to tools that allow for the communication of emotional well-being.  This is important in any work setting.  It is especially needed when working remotely (in the midst of a pandemic or otherwise). Knowing your team even better helps you listen to the emotional health of your team members.  It helps detect burnout and stress, as well as strengthen the connections and compassion across the group. (Pro tip:  OrgVitals measures employee performance indicators like stress, engagement, and capacity).
  • Reinforce your communication methods and strengthen your culture. Unlike in a traditional office setting, communicating across remote working teams requires dedicated attention.  Keep communication front of mind and don’t neglect it when workloads increase or deadlines approach.  Oftentimes, corporate culture is seen as a nice to have, not an essential element of working together. Remote work settings, however require proactive muscles communication muscles.  This repeated effort in turn strengthens the overall culture of the team.  Be rigorous in reinforcing the different forms of communication your team needs. 
  • Create space for relationship building. Set aside time at the beginning of team meetings or in other formats for team members to share non-work related interactions.  Use these moments to build bonds with each other.  Maybe you have a dedicated Slack channel for following a tv show or sports season. Maybe you have an internal team competition going across a digital platform, complete with team mascots. Find digital ways to foster engagement and sharing. As ironic as it may sound, plan space for unplanned communication.  You also want to concentrate on listening to your team members and establishing trust within the team.  This entails reinforcing a sense of safety and respect across the team.  When tackling challenges, focus feedback on the problem, instead of critiquing the people working on the problem.  Be vulnerable with your team about your own challenges in working remotely. Employees who feel respected and emotionally secure are more likely to feel comfortable voicing concerns. They are more comfortable raising alarms about things going wrong with a project.  They are also more likely to bring forward innovative ideas, knowing their risk will be treated with respect.
  • Forge bonds across cultural areas.  As mentioned before, some cultural areas of the globe give more weight to different kinds of communication than others.  If your team includes members from different cultural areas, it may be worth exploring this dynamic openly.  Everyone needs a better understanding how information is best received.  Look for tools that incorporate different kinds of communication.  Look for tools that allow you to choose features that work effectively for your unique team.

Is Your Communication Real-Time or Asynchronous?

Thanks to technology, organizations are now able to have talented workforces around the globe working at any hour of the day.  That’s great for moving work forward, but not great for scheduling a team meeting across multiple time zones.  Effective communication today requires the ability to be both real-time, and also asynchronous. This is especially true for teams using remote collaboration.

Asynchronous communication is the ability to transmit information without regard to the external limitation of the clock.  Information is absorbed and transmitted intermittently, as opposed to all at once (like in an all-hands staff meeting).  The rise of asynchronous communication is driven by several factors:

  • Technology allows for teams to be distributed across different time zones around the globe.
  • Remote work is driving increased flexibility around different work schedules.
  • Research is improving and better understanding knowledge transfer.

To improve internal communication, especially for remote collaboration, organizations need to be focused on asynchronous communication.  This requires thinking differently about how knowledge is transferred:

  • How will information from today’s meeting be captured, organized, and conveyed?  How will that information then be transmitted to team members not present in the initial meeting?  How will the information be accessed in 6 months when it is needed?  How will new employees catch up on these past work-related conversations?
  • How will new employees engage with onboarding in real-time training programs that contains asynchronous knowledge from their new colleagues? How will new employees learn strong communication skills?  How will new employees integrate with their new teams while working remotely?
  • What systems will augment or even automate effective asynchronous communication?

Effective internal communication is foundational to the success of an organization, especially for remote teams.  A critical component of organizational culture is knowing how to improve internal communication with the right strategies and tools. 

For more information about knowledge management, check out these articles:

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