Working from home and telecommuting have become more common, while workers who regularly travel can stay in the loop and still be productive team members even while they’re on the road.
One of the biggest challenges facing remote workers, however, is communication. Between different time zones, missed messages, and unclear instructions or expectations, communication for a team of remote workers is perhaps the aspect of their jobs with the biggest potential for problems.
Here’s how you can improve communication for a team of remote workers.
DEVELOP GREAT COMMUNICATION SKILLS
First and foremost, everyone on the team should have great communication skills. Since communication is so important to remote workers, it’s important that they know how to talk to each other effectively. All the technology in the world can’t fix poor communication skills.
Today’s communication is all about mobile. Have your workers focus on clarity and conciseness in messages—keeping things brief and clear will help communication. Emails that are too long, text explanations that aren’t clear, or instant-message instructions that are too convoluted will only serve to confuse and bewilder employees.
Similarly, employees should also be able to communicate in a respectful tone—so that no one is offended or upset. Text-based communication can be tricky, since vocal intonation and body language are missing—you might know something is a joke, but will your co-workers?
Telecommuting and working remotely has largely been made possible by technological advances that allow workers to keep in touch instantly and effortlessly. Harness that technology to improve communication for a team of remote workers.
If your workers are scattered across different continents and time zones, picking up the phone or scheduling face-to-face meetings may not be the best options: An employee in Tokyo might be calling at midnight to schedule a conference. Instead, use newer communication technology such as chat and texting to keep in touch. Employee communications apps often have chat features built right in, which means your employees can contact each other instantly.
DON’T NEGLECT TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATION
Even with all of the new communications available, there is still value in older methods. Talking things out over the phone is sometimes easier than sending a lengthy email or a bunch of chat messages. While newer methods can also be efficient, sometimes a verbal conversation is an even easier way to sort things out.
Face-to-face meetings, when possible, are also important. Encourage your remote workers to schedule meet-ups so they can work together in person, talk things over and remember that their team members are indeed people! Talking to a screen can sometimes make you forget there’s a person at the other end.
SET UP A SCHEDULE (AND USE UCT)
Another trick to improving communication for a team of remote workers is to designate a time zone. Using Universal Time (UTC)—also known as Greenwich Mean Time—puts everyone at the same time. You then add or subtract hours the further east or west you go from the UK. For example, New York is in the Eastern Time Zone of the US, which is UTC-5, five hours behind England. California is UTC-8, eight hours behind London, and another three hours behind NYC.
Once that’s been established, it can be easier to schedule chat times and meetings that work for everyone. While it can be tricky to get everyone at the same meeting, especially if one person is in Beijing and another person is in LA, it can be done.
BE CLEAR AND CONSISTENT
Perhaps most important for communication for a team of remote workers is knowing exactly what’s expected of them. Set clear and consistent expectations at the outset of a project, and you’ll be doing both yourself and your employees a favor. When everyone knows what is expected of them, it is much easier to do the job—even if you are half-way around the world.