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Communication Tools for Remote Teams

Remote work can be challenging for telecommuters, which is why you need the right software solutions in order to successfully communicate and collaborate with all members of your team.

Communication Tools and Strategies for Remote Teams

Remote work, when properly implemented, can be highly beneficial for employees and employers alike. Many employees enjoy a greater work/life balance and flexibility, while employers can boost employee happiness and increase their bottom line. But for all its benefits, remote work and/or telecommuting also presents unique challenges for both workers and their supervisors. Because it is still relatively new, remote teams have to get creative to overcome the difficulties they experience with telecommuting.

Communication may be one of the biggest obstacles you face in the traditional workplace, and it only becomes more complicated when working remotely. Without in-person meetings or impromptu chats by the watercooler, it can be hard to connect with your manager and coworkers. Communication is crucial to staying productive, engaged, and satisfied with your work. Whether you manage a remote team or are a telecommuter yourself, it may help to learn more about the communication challenges you can face, as well as what strategies and tools are available to you, so you can conquer those challenges for good:

1. Communication Challenges for Remote Teams

2. Communication and Collaboration Strategies and Tips

  • Communication Tips and Strategies
  • Collaboration Tips and Strategies

3. Recommended Online Tools for Remote Teams

  • Collaboration and Communication Tools
  • Project Management Tools
  • Video Conferencing and Screen Sharing Tools

4. Remote Work Communication Tips for Employers

  • Common Communication Challenges for Remote Employers
  • Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team

5. Understanding How Communication Software Facilitates Teamwork

  • Communication and Collaboration Software
  • Project Management Software
  • Video Conferencing
  • Other Considerations When Choosing Software

6. Additional Resources for Remote Leaders and Managers

1. Communication Challenges for Remote Teams

There are certain aspects of communication that can be especially complicated or hard for remote teams to handle:

  • Accountability: It can be more difficult to create accountability and know who is responsible for taking care of a task or project. When you’re all working in the same location, it can be easier to oversee projects or check in with others to see what they’re working on.
  • Collaboration: Remote work requires a certain amount of self-motivation and self-discipline, but it does not naturally foster collaboration between team members. It’s hard to have a spontaneous meeting or a fast-paced brainstorming session when you aren’t all in the same conference room.
  • Effort: All remote workers must actively communicate with one another. Unlike chatting in the office, using various communication tools takes time and effort from each employee.
  • Interruption: That being said, communications in the form of emails, video calls, or instant messages can distract people and interfere with their work. You need to consider how you can minimize these disruptions while still communicating necessary information to your coworkers.
  • Misunderstandings: There’s always room for miscommunications between employees, but misunderstandings are more likely to arise when working remotely since you can’t see others’ faces, hear the tone of their voice, or read their body language. You might also be working with employees or clients who live in other parts of the world and who speak different languages or have different cultural customs.
  • Repetition: Remote work requires overcommunication. You may need to repeat yourself in order to get your point across (such as sending out an instant message and an email with the same information).

Each team faces its own unique challenges when working remotely. You may find yourself dealing with different issues or struggling in different ways. Simply being aware of the difficulties you’re personally experiencing, though, is the first step toward overcoming them in a productive and meaningful way.

2. Communication and Collaboration Strategies and Tips

No matter what difficulties you encounter as a remote worker, it’s important to find communication and collaboration solutions that work for you and your team. Don’t be afraid to experiment or try new things while you discover strategies that work best for your needs.

Communication Tips and Strategies

Try implementing the following strategies to improve your own communication in the workplace, as well as the communication abilities of your team members:

    • Be Specific: When it comes to remote communications, it’s best to be as specific as possible. Clearly explain the purpose of your message or meeting, as well as what you expect or need from others. Being specific from the get-go will reduce confusion among your team members and save everyone’s time.
    • Be Concise: That being said, you should also try to be concise in your messages and meetings. Get straight to the point to be respectful of others’ time and reduce confusion over long or rambling messages.
    • Ask Questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you have them. Of course, you should try to read over communications or instructions to make sure you aren’t asking a question that’s already been answered. However, it is better to make sure you understand what someone meant than it is to waste time figuring it out on your own.
    • Consider Time Differences: If your team works in different places in the U.S. or even in different countries, do your best to take any time zone differences into account. If you need to connect with someone whose schedule differs greatly from your own, it can set your own workflow back several hours, or even a full day. Try to plan your communications around these time differences so everyone can work more productively.
    • Make Communication Searchable: If possible, make your communications (like emails and instant messages) as well as your different tools and documentation searchable; this can help save you and your coworkers’ time. With integrated search functionality, your coworkers can refer back to this information no matter where it is contained and easily find what they need without having to ask questions and wait for a response.
    • Be Work-Appropriate: Just as you would have guidelines about appropriate conduct in a traditional office, you need to be appropriate in all of your online communications too. Being virtual can make things feel more casual, but this is still a professional environment and it’s important to treat it as such.
    • Avoid Meeting Fatigue: Having video conferences and phone calls is necessary for remote teams to discuss their work and connect personally and socially, but having hours of meetings every day can be exhausting for remote workers. Try to avoid extraneous meetings so your teammates can stay focused on their work.

    Collaboration Tips and Strategies

    Remote collaboration is a challenge in and of itself and requires different strategies for success:

    • Host Brainstorming Sessions: When you need to get the creative juices flowing or work on an ambiguous project, don’t hesitate to ask your coworkers to join you for a virtual brainstorming session. Even exchanging a few messages to workshop an idea or find a solution to your problem can get you out of your rut and end up saving time in the long run.
    • Over-Communicate: While you should keep your messages specific and concise, it doesn’t hurt to be highly communicative with your coworkers and managers. It’s easy for team members to miss messages if they work on a different schedule or step away from their desks, so over-communicating with them will help keep everyone on the same page.
    • Give and Solicit Feedback: Remote work can be an isolating experience, making it difficult to know how you or your teammates are performing. Even if you don’t oversee anyone else, let your coworkers know when they’ve done something good or impressive, either in a private message or a public forum. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask others for feedback so you know what you could do better.
    • Take Initiative: Because accountability is a major challenge facing telecommuters, try to take initiative on new projects or processes when you’re able to. Be sure to let your team members know when you do take on something new!
    • Make Thoughtful Decisions: When dealing with different workflows, communication platforms, and time zones, it can be difficult to get everyone’s input or approval before starting a task or making a decision. Depending on the situation, you may be able to make that choice on your own and communicate your thought process after the fact. You can also work with your coworkers to come to a solution or decision together when you need others’ advice or perspectives.
    • Be Open: Be open with others about what you’re doing and where you’re at in your work day. Use status updates or emojis to let your coworkers know when you’re in a meeting, taking a break, or trying to focus. That way, your coworkers know when they should reach out and when they should wait to contact you.

    3. Recommended Online Tools for Remote Teams

    As a growing number of businesses offer telecommuting options to their employees, there has also been a growing number of tools created to facilitate remote work. If you don’t have the right tools to support your remote team, it’s time to upgrade your business technology. Without these tools, neither you nor your team members will be able to do your job effectively or efficiently.

    Generally, remote tools fall into three distinct categories: collaboration and communication software, project management solutions, and video conferencing and screen sharing platforms. Each tool or software solution has different features and functions, some of which may work well for your team and others which may not. Be sure to take your challenges and needs into account while you explore new tools to support your team:

    Collaboration and Communication Tools

    • Google Suite: The Google Suite is a free set of work tools — including email, calendar, word processing, visual presentations and spreadsheets — that are all integrated with each other for improved efficiency.
    • Slack: Slack is an instant messaging app for the workplace that integrates with other popular platforms, offers video call and file sharing functionality, and fosters collaboration between employees, clients, and customers.
    • AppWise: AppWise, integrated with the AppMarket platform, is an intelligent, cloud-based workspace that fosters collaboration by letting employees search across all of their accounts to find the information they need.
    • AppIdentity: AppIdentity allows users to manage access to multiple applications with a single, secure password across teams of people.

    Project Management Tools

    • Asana: Asana is a web-based project management application that helps all members of your team organize their tasks, track projects, and manage their workflows.
    • Clarizen: Clarizen is a complete software solution that offers oversight, transparency, and accessibility to all members of the team.
    • FunctionFox: FunctionFox doesn’t just provide project management tools; it also offers administrative functionality, including timesheets and budget management, to further boost efficiency and productivity.
    • Jira: Perfect for software developers, Jira helps teams plan their projects, track their progress, and release their products to customers. It uses real-time reporting to collect, track, and showcase data about your organization’s performance.
    • LiquidPlanner: LiquidPlanner is a dynamic project management solution that easily adapts to any changes in your priorities or deadlines.
    • Microsoft Project: Microsoft Project is a simple, minimalistic, and straightforward project management software solution that is easy for all employees to use.
    • Podio: Podio offers a variety of diverse customization options so you can make this platform work for your team and your needs.
    • ProWorkflow: ProWorkflow was crafted with telecommuting in mind, giving remote workers a variety of tools to help track time, manage projects, and stay on-task.
    • Trello: Between boards, lists, and cards, Trello has a number of different ways that teams can organize and manage their tasks and projects.

    Video Conferencing and Screen Sharing Tools

    • Zoom: Zoom offers functionality for online meetings, webinars, and virtual conferences to support remote employees all over the world.
    • Google Hangouts: Though it was created for virtual social connections, you can use Google Hangouts for business meetings, collaborative brainstorming sessions, or to connect with members of your team.
    • Google Meet: Google Meet is a free, secure business meeting platform with screen sharing and text-chat functionality. Further, you have to approve whoever joins your meeting, making it safer and more private for all involved.
    • GoToMeeting: From one-on-one meetings to outward-facing webinars, GoToMeeting provides a range of different meeting options and collaboration solutions for remote teams.
    • Join.Me: Join.Me provides users with customization options, including personalized URLs and backgrounds, so you can host meetings that work for your team.
    • Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is an all-encompassing communication tool that includes instant messaging, video conferencing, phone calling, and file-sharing capabilities.
    • Screenleap: Screenleap allows you to share your screen with your team members, no matter what kind of device you’re using.
    • Skype for Business: Skype is a classic video conferencing tool. Skype for Business builds on its essential features to suit the needs of organizations and businesses of all sizes.

    4. Remote Work Communication Tips for Employers

    In addition, there are a few things you can do as a company leader, manager, or supervisor to further improve communication among your remote workers. Things will look different in a remote environment than they do in the office, and part of being an effective remote leader is learning about and adapting to those changes.

    Common Communication Challenges for Remote Employers

    As an employer or leader, you will likely face some of the same struggles as your team does. However, you may also have your own difficulties while trying to manage your remote team. Some common communication challenges you need to be aware of include:

    • Engagement: Keeping employees engaged and interested in your company culture can be tricky, even in a physical workplace. It can be hard to encourage your team to participate in remote activities or get them excited about company events. While it certainly isn’t impossible to convey the importance of company culture to remote employees, it can take more effort on your part.
    • Micromanaging: Because you can’t see your employees face-to-face, you may find yourself erring into the territory of micromanagement. You may feel the need to continually ask where employees are at in a project or remind them of deadlines or due dates. It’s hard to find the right balance between making sure your team is on-task and giving them the room they need to be productive employees.
    • Scheduling: Staying on top of your own schedule is hard enough, but working with your employees’ schedules presents another challenge. If you have employees based in different areas of the country or world, you may have a limited window to talk to them each day. You have to be constantly aware of where your employees are and how their location impacts your ability to communicate with them.
    • Trust: Remote work requires you to trust that your employees are actually working, even though you can’t see them in-person. Many managers struggle with trusting their remote employees, and it may be especially hard for you if you or your team is new to telecommuting. While it’s true that some employees may take advantage of the freedom and flexibility remote work offers, you have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt (unless they do something to break your trust).
    • Work/Life Balance: You may find it difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance while working remotely or from your home. As a leader, you may feel like you must always be available to your team or your own supervisor. This could result in scheduling phone calls during your off hours or responding to emails at all hours of the day and night, making it difficult to truly separate your work life from your home life.

      Again, these may not be challenges you face, or you may find yourself having other difficulties on top of them. Do your best to identify what you, personally, struggle with, so you can begin to brainstorm solutions.

      Best Practices for Managing a Remote Teams

      Luckily, no matter what challenges you face, there are several things you can do to improve the process of communicating with your remote employees:

      • Lead by Example: Be a role model for your employees and communicate with them in the ways you want them to communicate with you. It’s unfair to ask your team to be open with you if you aren’t willing to do the same for them. The more you communicate with them, the more they’ll likely do so with you.
      • Check In Frequently: Touch base with your team, either on an individual basis or as a group, to see how they’re doing. You don’t need to have a heart-to-heart every time you interact with them, but a simple instant message each morning or weekly team meeting can show your team that you’re thinking about them even though you aren’t all in the same office.
      • Set Expectations: Make sure each one of your employees knows exactly what is expected of them in regards to communication. How long do they have to respond to a message or email? When do they need to be available for a phone call or video chat? Further, make sure they know what projects or tasks they need to work on and how long they have to accomplish that task.
      • Give & Solicit Feedback: You should give each one of your team members feedback on a consistent basis. When working remotely, it’s hard to know what they’ve done well and how they can do better. Additionally, ask for feedback from your employees about what you can do to be a better manager for them.
      • Make Time for Development: With remote work, it’s easy to get in the groove of simply working on the task for the day or a given deliverable. Do your best to create time to help your team members develop professionally. Regularly set aside time for each one of your team members to talk about their professional ambitions, what internal learning opportunities are open to them, and how you can help them work toward their goals.

      5. Understanding How Communication Software Facilitates Teamwork

      On top of knowing how to communicate better, it’s important to learn and know about how you can use communication software to facilitate teamwork among your remote employees. It doesn’t matter if you find the right software solution if you don’t know how to use it effectively or in a way that benefits your team.

      Communication and Collaboration Software

      Communication and collaboration software is designed to simplify and streamline virtual communications between remote employees. It is essential to any partially or fully remote workplace and often serves as the backbone for internal communications. Because these platforms are an integral part of remote workplaces, it’s essential to find one that works well for your team, if not your entire organization. The right solution will make it that much easier for your team to connect with each other and complete their daily work.

      Consider what you need out of your communication software. Is saving money more important than having an all-in-one platform that’s more expensive? Does the solution need to integrate with other frequently used programs? How do your employees like to connect with each other and with company leadership? There are countless different software solutions available, each with different functionality and integrations. You can look at any cloud marketplace or Software as a Service (SaaS) marketplace to shop for and compare various platforms.

      Project Management Software

      Project management software is important for virtually all modern workplaces, but it is absolutely vital for remote teams or businesses. It’s almost impossible to know what you or your team needs to work on if your various projects and tasks aren’t organized in the same place. Without a project management platform, you would likely have to reach out to many different people each day just to find out what you and your employees are supposed to be working on. This could result in lost time and reduced productivity for your entire organization.

      When researching different project management platforms, you have to find a solution that works for your team, as well as your company as a whole. The right solution will help your team complete their own day-to-day work, but it will also help foster collaboration and teamwork across your entire organization. When looking for your solution, it might be helpful to ask all of your employees about what they need from a project management tool in order to improve their productivity and performance.

      Video Conferencing

      While instant messaging and email are effective means of communication, they can’t completely replace face-to-face meetings. Since this isn’t always possible with remote teams, you need a video conferencing tool to facilitate these interactions. This provides a valuable opportunity for you and your team to work together without relying on text-based platforms. These conversations can save time and provide employees the chance to ask any follow-up questions they may have about their work. It can also be used to power company events or more social gatherings.

      However, it’s equally important that you and your team don’t have too many video meetings. As remote work has risen in popularity, more and more telecommuters have suffered from “Zoom fatigue,” which refers to the psychologically and mentally drained feeling that comes from too many video calls.

      For many people, staring at a screen while trying to navigate different social and professional situations — and get their work done or deal with distractions at home — can be exhausting.

      For most workplaces, video calls and virtual meetings are inevitable at some time or another. Do your best to combat Zoom fatigue, both in yourself and in your employees, by avoiding unnecessary video calls. When possible, try to use other communication tools if you need a break or even schedule a phone call instead. To be an effective communicator, you need to know when you need a break or when another tool would be better for you or your team instead.

      Other Considerations When Choosing Software

      While researching these software solutions, you should consider how they will work with your existing ones — or if you need additional solutions to fully meet your business’s needs. For example, if your employees use wearable technology for work or have company-issued wearables, such as smartwatches, you may need an IoT device management platform to keep track of them. This software solution may not seem as vital as your other communication tools, but it is still vital for providing tech support and ensuring security for employees who do use wearable tech.

      Overall, when looking at any type of software solution, it’s most important to make sure you and your team have all of the tools you need to complete your work as efficiently and effectively as possible. With the right technological tools, you can connect, communicate, and collaborate with your team as easily if you were all together in the same workplace.

      6. Additional Resources for Remote Leaders and Managers

      To learn more about how you can support your team while working remotely, check out the following resources for more information:

      • FlexJobs: This site helps interested individuals find remote positions, and helps employers find the right telecommuters for their companies. They also have a variety of helpful resources and original research about remote work.
      • Managing Remote Teams - A Crash Course: This article details how to set up and manage different types of remote teams successfully, making it a helpful resource if you are considering how to implement telecommuting at your organization.
      • This website is devoted to remote work. In addition to helpful articles and blog posts about remote work, they also help connect interested employees with remote positions in a variety of different industries.
      • Remote Leadership Training: Comprised of four short videos, this free workshop explains how to build “an effective, productive, and inclusive” culture for remote teams.
      • The Certificate Series: This program educates company leaders on how to effectively manage and support remote teams over the course of six sessions. It will discuss the specific challenges of leading remote teams and provide you with the knowledge you need to deal with them.
      • The Remote Show: This podcast interviews different remote workers and leaders to discuss the ins and outs of telecommuting. Their purpose is to support and improve the lives of remote workers, which could be helpful in your efforts to guide your own team.
      • We Work Remotely: This online community provides resources for remote workers and managers, and helps connect qualified applicants to fully remote positions.
      • Workplaceless Catalog: Workplaceless offers a number of different training courses to help remote managers lead their teams, help HR professionals support remote organizations, and help remote workers with professional development.