Remote work has a lot going for it. It affords employees greater flexibility and (potentially) greater job satisfaction while enabling them to spend more time doing their best work. Already on the rise over the last several years, the pandemic forced many organizations to adopt a remote-first approach—and it’s likely that things will stay this way for many to come.
While remote work isn’t a new concept, it is new to many people. And while it has plenty of benefits, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of—particularly around communication. Companies that were rushed into remote operations may be feeling the effects of these difficulties.
If that’s you—first, know that you’re not alone. And second, know that there is a way out, and it can result in an even stronger team in the end.
The Fragments Of Work
If not set up thoughtfully, remote work environments can have a tendency of pulling people apart. Some may be in the office, some may be working from home, and some may be working from a completely different time zone. This can also mean that devices, apps, and data are also pulled apart—staff may have a work phone, a personal phone, a desk phone, a work laptop, a personal laptop, an iPad… you get the picture.
Information often ends up spread across multiple devices and accounts, and coworkers can never be quite sure which phone number or email address to use at any given time to reach someone. When files get fragmented, it can cause a whole slew of other problems.
This is further accentuated by hybrid work schedules because it introduces uncertainty about the best way to reach someone on any given day. Are they in the office or at home on Tuesdays?
What this all means is more difficulty in getting things done and, as a result, more stress. Deadlines get missed, customers become unhappy, and teams burn out. That’s not good.
It’s important to realize that a transition to remote work is likely not the reason your team is having a communication crisis. These are likely issues that have been bubbling under the surface for quite some time, and remote work is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
5 Solutions For Fragmented Communication
Now, on that note, it’s also important to realize that these are totally fixable issues. If you can get through them, your team will come out that much stronger for it. So let’s get down to business.
1. Foster A Culture Of Open Communication
The first thing on your to-do list should be to make open, clear communication the standard on your team. A lot of problems can be immediately solved by simply speaking up and asking for clarification. But, for various reasons, employees tend not to do that by default.
Similarly, team members should be encouraged to provide detail about projects and initiatives, rather than assuming others know everything already. This all becomes much more important when the majority of work is happening asynchronously, because coworkers can’t always ask for clarification in real time.
To counter these tendencies, instill a culture of communication in workers right from the outset. You can make this a key tenet of your onboarding process, ensuring that it’s part of their training. And model the behavior yourself. You know the old saying: be the change you want to see in the organization.
2. Centralize Your Team’s Communication
Confusion about where and how to reach team members can be a major challenge for remote workers. You can alleviate much of the confusion—and streamline your team’s communications in the process—by centralizing communication.
This largely comes down to tools. Decide on a platform you’ll use to communicate as a team and stick to it. This platform could be chat (think Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or Slack). It could be email (although we think there are much better alternatives).
Alternatively, if you’re relying on a project management tool to keep everyone on track, that makes a fantastic place to house the majority of your communication. Naturally, we’re partial to Trello here, and users have come up with some excellent ways to bring communication into the platform. Regardless of what tool you land on, the idea is the same: get everyone in one place, and make sure that place is not email.
Finally, be patient. If everyone has different habits and preferences, it can take a while for a major change like this to happen. However, once your team is fully integrated, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
3. Focus On Making Collaboration Easier
Speaking of project management—if your team does a lot of communicating back and forth around specific projects that they’re working on, doing what you can to ease that process might be one of the best things you can do.
Project management software is designed to do just this. In fact, in a lot of ways it can eliminate the need to communicate entirely on some of the more mundane aspects of work. For example, you can upload and attach files directly to the project, so nobody needs to ask for them or hunt them down.
Other ways you can improve collaboration is by choosing software that makes it a priority. For example, Google Docs and Google Sheets are the gold standard for collaborative tools in their respective categories, so it makes sense to go with them if collaboration is important.
Other ideas to ease collaboration include:
- Shared calendars and contact lists. Instead of everyone keeping their own calendars, a shared team calendar ensures everyone is on the same page—or at least has access to the same information.
- A company knowledge source. A centralized hub of knowledge for your organization, like Confluence, can be a powerful tool. Compared to typical corporate documentation, a knowledge base has the major advantage of being built by the employees themselves, so it contains the things they find themselves most needing.
- Centralized cloud storage. One of the best things you can do for your team’s collaborative abilities is to centralize assets on a shared drive. This eliminates the need for team members to hunt down files.
Most tools and techniques for strengthening collaboration also impact communication for the better.
4. Solidify Your Processes And Workflows
We’ve got this one at number four, but it could easily have been number one. Having clear processes and documentation for everything you do just makes everything easier. It’s an excellent way to improve performance, in addition to communication.
Some people shy away from this level of structure, because they feel it’s too rigid and stifles creativity. The reality is actually the opposite—having a plan and process in place may enable you to free up your mind for more creative thinking, since you don’t have to worry as much about the details.
What we mean here is essentially a procedure for how to carry out all projects of a certain type. Let’s say you need to write a blog post. Your process here might involve creating an outline, submitting that to a particular editor for approval, then writing your draft, editing it, submitting that for approval, and so on.
The goal is to have a clear idea of how this project is done (typical timelines, tools involved, and the required steps) every single time, and who the different people are that need to be involved. This enables you to move through the phases of work without needing to wonder who’s got the current draft and where it’s at.
5. Make Video A Key Part Of Your Meetings
A lack of connectedness is a major challenge for remote workers and teams. When you don’t see people face-to-face for several days a week, if at all, it can cause feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, which can eventually seep back into daily communication.
To help offset this, make video a part of your meeting culture. There are a huge variety of video conferencing apps available today, from the classic Zoom to Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Which you choose will likely be based on the overall software package your organization uses—if you’re on Google Workspace, for example, it makes sense to stick to Google Meet, since it’s built in.
While video conferencing is far from perfect, it goes a long way toward adding back some much-needed human interaction to the digital world of remote work.
Picking Up The Pieces
At the end of the day, solving fragmented communication—remote or not—is about flexibility, cultural shift, and putting the right tools and processes in place to empower your team. And the end result isn’t just better communication, but a stronger overall team that’s equipped to do better work.
Just don’t forget to unmute that microphone.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!