In the last few months, teams from all over the world have faced unprecedented challenges and total upheavals of their normal working patterns. Seismic changes to established behaviours can easily lead to decline and a reduction in productivity and efficiency. In the face of immense difficulties, clear communication between team members has never been more important. This guide will help you ensure that your team is well connected and engaged as you take on the months ahead together.
Getting set up
Many people working from home in recent months will be doing so for the first time. Ad hoc home offices will have been set up without ideal work conditions and equipment. Making sure everybody has what they need to do their job and communicate with each other is the most basic and arguably most important step to take. As a leader, it is always best to avoid assuming that people are equally equipped or set up to adapt. Easy things to check include making sure your team all have a good internet connection and access to your shared servers or cloud-based storage systems.
Another important question to consider is whether you’re happy for your team to be working on their personal computers from home. If employees don’t have their own work computers but you would rather have people working from designated machines, look into hiring laptops for your team whilst they’re working remotely. This can be done relatively inexpensively and can increase productivity and security. It is also an equalising tool that prevents people falling behind from their colleagues for a lack of quality equipment.
Other important bits of equipment include a good quality microphone if your computer’s in-built one is causing you problems. Similarly, investing in a webcam will help make the most of your virtual meetings.
Picking your communication tools
Finding the right combination of communication tools is going to be crucial for the success of your remote team. If you only use email, now is the time to try introducing an instant messaging platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Maintaining those shorter conversations that happen spontaneously in an office setting is a great way to keep your team engaged and talking to each other. In addition, a platform for virtual meetings is crucial. Again, it is worth trying different options to find the best for your needs. Zoom has become the go-to option for many, whilst Microsoft Teams can be a useful all-in-one alternative when combined with its messaging features.
It is all too easy for remote teams to become isolated and stop communicating completely. Introducing morning meetings or short briefings can be a great way to keep teams engaged and make sure everybody is up and going. This is an opportunity to run through anything on the agenda or check in on tasks. Keeping calls like this short and punchy is recommended so they don’t end up eating into the morning too much.
It’s also important to vary the register of your communications. The social interactions of the office are central to people’s lives and can easily be missed with everybody working from home. Try adding virtual coffee breaks or happy hours to check in on your colleagues. During difficult times, it is important to know there are support networks available for people to share their concerns. Letting your teams know that you’re all there for each other will help build and maintain morale.
Shake things up
An easy way to increase engagement across your remote team is to vary the ways in which you communicate and particularly the visual side of things. In your virtual meetings, make the most of features such as screen sharing or virtual whiteboards to get away from the split screen grid that can easily lead to people switching off, especially when days are full of Zoom calls. Try using virtual backgrounds (https://www.hellobackgrounds.com/zoom-backgrounds) as a way to vary the visual experience for your team. You could all use the same meeting room background for example to see if that improves focus, giving the feel of being in the same space. Alternatively, use a cafe or bar setting for your breaks or social calls.
This is a time to experiment. The ideas set out in this guide are designed as starting points for teams to find their own new communication rhythm. Whichever combination of tools you settle on, the main thing is to keep talking. If you find you’ve gone a whole week without speaking directly to a member of your team, make a change. Make an effort to connect with the naturally reserved members of your team remotely and try to stay positive during all your interactions.