7 Communication Tips for Remote Teams
Over the last year, I’ve gone from a team of zero to about ten people, all working various hours on various tasks for multiple parts of the business.
I’ve realized the onboarding process is complex because we must train for the work and, most importantly, the communication. This style of communication is unorthodox. It borderline feels like a lack of trust; but, it’s meant to foster trust. And the basic premise of remote communication is this: don’t let anyone guess what you’re doing and ensure that there are no gaps in expectations. This process will build loads of trust thousands of miles away.
Here are a few principles for clear communication for an asynchronous remote team.
- Ask questions: The most under-rated win is to ask clarifying questions. Clarifying questions help you clear up any confusion within the process and reiterate to the other team members you understand the task at hand. It’s always a bad situation when you respond I got it, and then when the work is delivered, it’s not the right project. So, ask questions to ensure you understand the task at hand.
- Communicate intentions for the work: Most people see a task given to them, and the first thing they do is see if they can accomplish it. Instead, evaluate it, see if you need more information, and send back a clear response including two things: receipt of the task and when it will be complete. For instance, “Confirmed, I’ll start working on this and will have it back to you by xpm tomorrow.”
- Communicate when the intentions are complete: Okay, you have completed the work by xpm on a specific date. Great! Now, communicate what you have completed and send it so they receive a straightforward way of accessing what you completed. The work is complete only when you have notified the relevant team members. It needs to be delivered. I always send a dropbox link, a Notion page link, or a link to access what they are expecting, even if I’ve sent it before in previous emails. It’s a repetitive task but helps ensure that no guessing or anything is getting in the way of what you want to accomplish. Even if the app you use sends a notification to the given team member, please let them know. When I use Google docs or sheets and leave comments, I know the app will email anyone I tag in the document, but I still send a notification when I’m done to let them know I’ve reviewed the entire document. Tip: Also, ensure you clarify what you did and if anything is lacking, be clear. Don’t let them guess.
We also use a three-step approach when delivering work. We use Slack + Notion, so it goes something like this:
1. Change the status of the task to the next relevant status
2. Change assigned to the next relevant team member
3. Notify them in Slack
This process works great because the system will notify them and they will receive direct notification in Slack confirming work has been handed to them.
- Ask more questions: Seriously, questions are a great way to show confidence that there is a precise diagnosis of the problem and a clear understanding of what needs to be completed. Questions are the way you build connections with team members.
- Expect it from everyone: It doesn’t matter if the team member is new or has been on the team since 1984; ensure everyone is on the same page with communications. This process removes so much back and forth and loads of stress.
- Respond to everything across the board in a similar fashion: Don’t ignore anything. If you skip a few messages and only respond this way to some, you end up with inconsistent behavior. And the inconsistency leads to confusion on expectations. Manage expectations, and you will be so much happier & your team. Note: This doesn’t mean that you need to respond immediately to any message you receive and always being available. That is the last thing I advocate for, but to build consistency and strength within your team, use consistent behavior.
- Bonus: If you have a task that is part of the funnel, for instance, like my video editor. He edits videos in the queue each day. There are no daily or weekly tasks assigned to him that are new. What he does is send us a message like this in the morning: “I’m working on video title today & I plan on completing it by xpm tomorrow.” Every day he sends this message, and it helps us know what he is up to.
Remote work leads to a lot of life flexibility, but to fully enjoy the freedom and make it more valuable for everyone, have clear communication standards that remove any guessing.
This process delivers a fantastic byproduct, trust. Jason Fried & DHH call it charging the trust battery. “A trust battery is “a summary of all interactions to date” with another person. Think about your relationship with someone where the battery is 50% charged. A successful interaction will raise the charge, and an unsuccessful interaction will lower it. What can you do next? Or, think about when someone behaved unexpectedly toward you. Was the trust battery out of juice?”
Create meaningful work relationships by building trust through overcommunication.
Clear remote communication will build rapport and trust with other team members to the point that they know that you will always handle the work.
Have ideas? Questions? Drop them in the comments below.