Part III: General Best Practices for Remote Work Communication
Once you have a clear communication framework and a team composed of the right people, it’s important to have a clear set of guidelines on what is expected of your team members.
Now that we’ve gone over all of the basics that you need to know about synchronous and asynchronous communication, here are some general best practices for remote work communication to tie it all together.
Incentivize Clear Communication
Rewarding clear, legible communication through frequent feedback is a good way to keep everyone on the right track. An example of this would be requiring detailed weekly activity reports and responding to those reports with good feedback.
Have Core Working Hours
Your ability to implement core working hours depends on the geographical placement of members and team lead preferences. However, if possible, a core working hours policy where everyone is expected to be online and working for around 3 to 4 hours every weekday allows for a good balance of synchronous and asynchronous communication.
With core working hours, there is enough time for necessary real-time discussions. You also still get the asynchronous communication benefits of schedule flexibility and the ability to engage in deep work.
Deep work is focusing on a cognitively demanding task without distractions. It lets people quickly process complex information and produce higher quality results in less time. Examples of deep work include:
- Writing an article
- Researching a topic
- Analyzing data and creating a report
Increasing team members’ ability to do deep work is important in boosting the overall productivity of your organization. Core working hours make sure your team has time to be connected through synchronous communication and time to engage in asynchronous communication and do deep work.
Set the Right Expectations
Once you have a clear communication framework and a team composed of the right people, it’s important to have a clear set of guidelines on what is expected of your team members. This is important for both in-person and remote teams, but particularly so for remote teams where there is less supervision and ability to give and receive immediate feedback.
There are innumerable books on how to manage people, so we’re not going to go into detail here. Just keep in mind that setting healthy expectations and being clear on company policies on communication (and everything else) is essential!
Something that can help with this is having a section dedicated to remote work communication best practices in your employee handbook or having an entire, separate training and guidebook on communication available to team members. Asynchronous and even synchronous communication in remote work, unlike synchronous communication that happens in-person, may not be as intuitive. So, it’s good to have written guidelines available for team members and new hires so that everyone is on the same page.
Hire the Right People
Not everyone is a good fit when it comes to a remote working, distributed situation. Remote work places an emphasis on certain skills and attributes that may not be as important in an in-person office environment.
For example, because the amount of face-to-face, spoken communication is reduced when working remotely, writing skills become very important. The ability to communicate clearly through writing, whether that be writing in a chat app or writing a multi-page report, is necessary for a good remote worker.
So, when you are hiring for your remote team, make sure the candidates are good writers.
Some other things to look for are:
- Evidence of discipline and self-motivation
- Pre-existing remote work experience
- Ability to focus on the job at hand (avoid side-hustlers)
Some red flags are:
- Evidence of anti-social / loner behavior. Remote work positions can attract people who want to be as isolated as possible. Loners may work well for specific positions that don’t require much collaboration, but generally speaking they are difficult to work with and not a good fit.
- Experience in only highly supervised roles. You need someone who can get work done without having the feeling of being watched or constantly nagged. This is why hiring someone with pre-existing remote work experience is ideal.
- Evidence of lack of focus, or the side-hustler. Remote work listings can attract people who are looking to start their own thing but still need a paycheck, or people who engage in many gigs / side-hustles at one time. Make sure the person you are hiring is planning to dedicate enough time, energy, and focus to the job.
Remote Work Communication Checklist
Since we’ve given you a mountain of information to digest, here is a checklist to help you quickly and easily improve or create your remote work communication framework.
We recommend sitting down with your laptop or a sheet of paper and writing down your answers to the below questions. Your answers to these questions will create a complete remote work communication framework for you and your team so you can either start off on the right foot or optimize your pre-existing set-up.
- What modes of async communication are you planning on using? (Email, Wiki, Discussion Forum, Task Management)
- What tool or app are you using for each mode?
- Is it clear to your team members which app to use for what modes and topics? Do you have a handbook, or do you need to create one to make this clear?
- How much face-to-face time do you have scheduled for your team?
- Will you do in-person company retreats? If so, how many times per year?
- What tool or apps are you using for chat, audio and video calling, note taking, and task tracking?
- What is your approximate public vs. private message ratio in your chat app? Is it working well, or do you need to adjust?
- What is your current video to voice call ratio? Is it working well, or do you need to adjust?
- Have you provided clear guidelines to team members about chat and video/voice calling?
- What are your core working hours (hours each workday when everyone is required to be online and available)?
- Are all of your team members meeting or exceeding expectations when it comes to communication and collaboration? Or do you need to adjust with training or hiring?
- Do you have a clear set of written communication policies available to your team?
As a result of technological advances and global events, remote work is becoming a permanent reality for many people. The ability to effectively communicate and collaborate is the most important factor for a successful team, and the tools and skills needed for communication in remote work are different than those of an in-office environment.
We hope that this guide will help you and your team find the right communication tools and policies for you to thrive as a remote work, distributed company.
If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, you can click the links below to read them.