With the majority of the world under quarantine working remotely is the only option for many. However, even when social distancing isn’t enforced, remote teams will continue to grow. How can agencies handle communication challenges and engage with their remote workforce?

It’s a safe bet to make –remote teams are the future of work. The International Data Council has suggested that in highly developed countries, mobile workers could soon reach 75%  (International Data Council). With this shift to remote/mobile workers, it’s important to recognize there are unique communication challenges at play — communicating across multiple time zones, languages, cultures; all while trying to build an engaged team. Setting up a strong foundation for team communication will help alleviate some of these difficulties and ensure your employees are productive and connected.

Designate the Right Tools and Rules for Communication

Invest in the right tools for your team, and then establish protocols and guidelines, as a team, around communication. Set rules for when it’s appropriate to use chats, email or when to actually pick up the phone for a conversation. Email can be great for sending information, particularly if there are a lot of details to convey. However, if the subject is sensitive or requires additional clarification, schedule a call as well. Chats are handy for instant answers, but not for those issues that require a detailed response. Other guidelines may include the acceptable wait time for a response, or setting a time of day when teammates must be available for an hour or two to answer questions related to projects or workload.

Context is Key

Digital communication has the potential to go awry and can lead to misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Remember that the nuanced communication team members get from an office setting often doesn’t translate online. Those subtle visual cues are missing. Remote teams need to over communicate to counter this. Provide context for your communication…let team members know when you are heads down with work and can’t respond right away or if your response is concise and to the point. On the other hand, always assume positive intent with your colleagues, remembering tone is often not properly conveyed through chats will help to avoid misunderstandings.

Humanize and Empathize

With a remote workforce, it requires additional effort to ensure everyone is on the same page. Remote workers need to try harder to build a rapport with coworkers, and part of the solution is to have regular live meetings. Complement emails and messaging apps with video conferences so team members can see and hear each other. Find and create opportunities for people to connect as “just people.” To build good remote relationships, it requires intention. Remote teams can find connection points and common interests with one another despite distance, but coworkers need to put in the effort to have meaningful meetings and understand each other’s perspectives. As a manager, you want to help your remote team bond, so make time during online meetings for chatting and find ways to bring your team together for more than just work-related subjects.

As can be seen by the media coverage, in office work will not return as soon as was originally predicted. Instead, adjustments of society as a whole have to be made to this new normal. In these new adjustments staying connected with your team will be fundamental to success. 

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