Communication in remote teams is a topic that comes up often now that more and more people are working remotely. Usually the articles we see revolve around suggested technology: use Slack for instant chat, use Trello for organizing projects, use Zoom for video chat.
But there is something far more important than the technology you use to communicate: communication skills are key.
A remote employee must have good communication skills. In our interview process for a project manager position, one way we test those skills is by giving the candidate a web developer’s report back after a troubleshooting effort, and asking the candidate to “translate” the report for the end client. We’re looking for clear communication to the client who may not be up on web jargon. We also look for positive communication.
Communication in remote teams is not only important for project managers, though. Clear communication is every bit as important for those in web developer or designer roles on a remote team. RED has been a purely remote team since our creation in 2001, so we have learned some things about clear communication between remote team members.
Here are our tips for communication in remote teams.
- Read carefully.
When a team member sends you an email or task request, make sure you are not skimming. If you think at first you’re missing required information, slow down and take in all the details before reaching out to the team member for more information.
- Ask clarifying questions.
If you are still missing information after reading more closely, reach out to your team member with some clarifying questions. “When you say, X, are you referring to …?” “I understand that you are asking me to … Is that correct?”
- Cross reference.
In your email or task request, include links to all relevant information. This might mean sharing emails, task checklists, Evernotes, or URLs to the relevant pages of the website in question.
- Share information.
We use an internal “professional development blog” for sharing things each team member learns about independently. If we want someone on the team to share more in-depth with the rest of us on a certain topic, we ask them to make a presentation during one of our team video calls.
- Don’t make assumptions.
Don’t assume your teammate has information. Your teammate may not remember previous related tasks, or may not have been privy to the same conversation or email communication with the client that you were. Provide all required information explicitly or at the very least, be specific about telling your teammate where he can find the required information.
- Don’t use unclear pronouns.
In your notes to your clients, don’t use pronouns if it’s not abundantly clear what you are referring to. Pronouns cost you more time than they save when it’s not clear what or whom you are talking about.
- Don’t jump to conclusions or project emotions.
If you are reading negative emotions into your teammate’s communication, take a step back. Take a coffee break, clear your head. Then come back and re-read. Does your teammate really intend to be negative or critical, or are you projecting tone that isn’t really there? Remember, it’s hard to communicate tone in the written word. Give your teammate the benefit of the doubt.
- Confirm that you have been understood.
In the same way that you would ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something, make sure you are being clear and available for further information if necessary. “Is that clear?” or “Let me know if you have further questions” are simple ways to check in with your teammates when you’re sending a message.
Examples of improved remote team communication:
Why? Who is “them”? Who is “their”? Who is “they”?
Clearer: “I asked Bob Jones to include information in Bob Jones International’s first email campaign to inform the subscribers about how they got on this list.”
Why? What is “it”?
Clearer: “I will address the theme update in the security task [and then add a link to the task you are referring to].”
Clear communication saves time for everyone and makes working on a remote team much more enjoyable.
Do you work on a remote team? What are your top communication tips?