Remote team communication: Using software to prevent misunderstandings

August 28, 2020


Some people will say that now, we’re in the golden era of remote work. But anyone who’s ever worked this way knows well that distributed teams face many challenges on a daily basis.

Remote team communication is probably the toughest nut to crack.

When you struggle to get on the same page with your team, many things are likely to go off the track. Increased project costs and failure rate, longer task delivery periods and decreased productivity are only a few to name.

But worry not. Today, we’re coming to you with 9 actionable tips on how you can use software to improve communication in your remote team.

Where do misunderstandings even come from?

But before we get to the remedy, we need to assess the problem that bothers your team.

No solution applied will ever be effective if you don’t understand where the issues with remote team communication come from in the first place.

And there are at least six most common reasons for why misunderstandings happen between people who work from a distance.

Let’s have a look.

Reason #1: Your team tries to apply old ways to the new setting

Imagine this: you’ve got a task for your colleague. They work just a few steps away from you, in the same office. What you’re going to do, most likely, is to get up, approach them and delegate said task verbally.

Now, in the remote setting, there’s quite a bit of distance between you. Many companies try to replicate this “approach and delegate” method. Doing so, they end up on endless video conferences or call each other several times a day.

When you look at it from the side, it doesn’t make much sense to do so. Just because something worked in the office, it doesn’t mean it will work in the remote setting. Things once effective may now be your biggest time wasters.

And nobody likes daily calls anyway, right?

Reason #2: Your team has got no idea on how to get organized

If your team is new to remote work, then it’s likely you’ve got no idea where to even begin. Should you just get video conferencing software and call it a day? Do you need more tools? New processes?

Don’t beat yourself about it if you’ve got no idea how to organize your team’s work in the new setting. It’s not an easy task even for the seasoned remote workers.

That said, keep in mind that being clueless on how to organize things could lead to mistakes that kill effective remote team communication.

Reason #3: You’re bad at written communication

To limit the number of daily video calls, teams often turn to written communication as an alternative. From emails to chat rooms, the options are plenty.

Now, written communication is an art in itself. You may do excellent when talking in person and, at the same time, be horrible when it comes to conveying ideas through written messages.

The written communication sins are plenty: from leaving things out because they “go without saying”, to misinterpreting the other person’s tone (because we don’t hear it, of course).

And they might be the main reason why you and your team suddenly can’t get along.

Reason #4: Lack of shared working space

In an office, you share a common space where you see your team on a daily basis. Maybe you meet up in a social room. Maybe you’ve got a giant whiteboard where people pin their messages and add notes about projects.

With remote work in the picture, the physical office vanishes. And with it, the precious aspect of sharing your working space.

Suddenly, you lose all ties to your colleagues. You’re alone in your own home office. You’ve got no idea where others are and what they work on. To get an update on tasks, you need to get on a (yet another) video call.

It’s hard to communicate when most that you’ve got in common are spreadsheets you’ve shared online.

Reason #5: Unclear rules and undefined processes

It can be related to the fact you’ve got no idea how to organize the work of your newly remote team.

Because of their limited ability to quickly communicate on the changes, distributed teams have double the need of working according to strict patterns. When questions arise and you can’t immediately get in touch with the right person, processes and tasks get delayed.

Remote team communication suffers from lack of processes. Getting them right could solve quite a few of your problems.

Reason #6: Different expectations and habits related to remote work

Imagine the situation in which the team switches to remote work. They were happy in the office and collaborated well. Now, the manager, full of trust towards their team members, believes they are fully capable of getting around the new setting.

Meanwhile the employees, even though having the best of intentions, are lost in the situation and count on being guided.

This is an easy example of how different people can view remote work. Some people need more flexibility. They want to be trusted and left to work independently. Others, on the other hand, need guidance and a daily to-do list delivered to their inbox.

People are different. And if you don’t get the expectations clear on the table, you might end up with a whole lot of communication issues.

Using software to solve remote team communication issues

Now that you know what troubles your team most, let’s talk about the solutions.

Software is a wonderful addition to your workflow. There’s an app for practically any issue you struggle with, including:

  • Task distribution (project management software)
  • Time tracking software
  • Customer relationship management software
  • Online support software
  • Appointment scheduling software

That said, many of these tools share some common features that you can implement right away to improve communication in your remote team.

Let’s have a look at it step by step.

Create visual workflows

Visualization is probably one of the strongest tactics that a remote team should implement. The easiest way to get started is simply by using a Kanban board. This way, you can devote a column to every stage of your process and move tasks along as they progress. This way, you will easily see which stage has currently the busiest one and where more action could happen.

Not every process in your company can be visualized with kanban due to its complex nature. However, setting up a kanban board can encourage you to streamline and simplify some of the processes so they fit the project board. It’s an excellent way to get rid of some needlessly complex elements of your work.

Get into (extreme) details

If you go with a task assignment/project management tool, you’ll have plenty of room to describe what you want from your team. Use it to the fullest.

Include checkpoints, control lists, useful materials, examples, samples, templates – anything that your team can use to get the job right.

Think of it this way: you’re not in the office and you can’t look over your colleague’s shoulder to check the progress. Oftentimes, you won’t see the task until it’s delivered to you. That’s exactly why you want to offer sufficient information to get it done right from the get-go.

Pick the right communication channel

You and your team needs to agree on one crucial thing: your main communication channel.

It could be email threads, once-a-day video calls or setting up a chat room. You may also keep all the discussion to the comment section of your task.

Don’t be afraid to innovate and experiment.

Use task tags, deadlines and assigned Users

The majority of software you will pick comes with deadlines, tags and user assigning (if they don’t, they’re probably not good enough for you ). These are features we often underestimate in managing workload of our teams.

Meanwhile, by applying such simple filters you can easily see if your work is evenly distributed across areas, employees and deadlines. Depending on your software, it may take two to three clicks to understand if someone is overloaded or whether deadlines come too closely together.

Create knowledge base

It’s good to have an easily accessible knowledge base for all the processes and workflows you’ve documented and shared with your team. It could be a separate shared folder or a whole kanban board with different categories.

Consider setting up one to store everything that is important to your team – from your logo and mission statement, to process documentation and best practices for a variety of tasks.

Create templates

It’s going to be so much easier to stick to processes when you create templates for your workflows and tasks.

Most of the project management tools offer this option and if you don’t use it, start today.

It’s an easy way to include the roadmap, checkpoints and guidelines for your team without spending additional time on recreating their content.

Use appointment scheduling tools

Most teams use an appointment scheduling tool to arrange meetings and calls with their clients. But it’s a creative thing to do to use them to arrange team calls as well.

By choosing the date from a shared calendar, you can cut out the annoying shuffle related to picking up the date that works for everybody.

Use the task-related threads

Do your best to limit your task communication to one particular channel. If it’s a comment thread for the assignment, keep it there. If it’s a Slack chat thread – don’t move away from it.

Do this to avoid scattering communication across multiple channels and eliminate wondering where was given information or guideline shared.

Set up notifications and reminders

An important milestone approaching? Set up a reminder for your teammates to make sure they don’t miss it. It will land directly in their mailbox when the time is right.

Use notifications to keep your team in loop about the important changes to the tasks, workflow, processes, scheduled events and more. There’s plenty of options to do it – from integrations to email and your communication channels to simply using built-in options from your project management tool.

Final thoughts

Using software to improve remote team communication is one of the easiest fixes when you know what your problem is.

The options are out there and the decision is up to you which of the platforms you will go with. Don’t be afraid to experiment and test them out as you go. It may take a while before you find the right fit for your team.

Good luck!

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

  • Learn how your business can survive a recession with this business guide. You should start applying it now.

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