If remote work was gaining traction before the pandemic hit, it’s now mainstream. A recent survey showed that 55% of employees would like to work remotely at least three days a week after the pandemic.
But for managers, the decision isn’t so simple. How can you ensure your workflow stays efficient and productive when everyone’s working remotely?
Whether you’ve already moved to a remote-work environment and want to improve the way you communicate, or you’re expanding your remote workforce and putting the days of the office behind you, one thing is certain: There will be a lot of change.
Change in communication, change in culture and change in productivity. But the change doesn’t need to be chaotic.
Here are 11 ways well-known brands are improving their internal communications with their remote teams. As you read through these, try to think how you can adopt the tactic and bring it over to your own team.
Ready? Let’s roll!
Toptal: Explicitly state your values
Remote work brings a lot of challenges, and they’ll have to be met with unique solutions — a lot of what worked in a physical office environment simply won’t work here. And one of the biggest challenges will be culture.
Toptal is an entirely remote company founded on a clear plan for how remote work will happen. Mark Bosma, Toptal’s VP of sales, recommends explicitly stating company values, especially in the early days. Those statements helped define a culture even in an office-free workplace.
To succeed, you’ll need a strategy — not only in terms of what software tools to use and how best to use them but guidelines for a standard of communication, such as using messaging for general chat and email for more official communications. Whatever rules you decide on, make sure everyone understands them upfront.
Zapier: Show empathy by starting conversations
If you’re unsure how to lead your team remotely, you’re not alone. A recent survey by Harvard Business Review showed that 40% of managers feel low self-confidence about leading remotely.
But a single word can help you lead better: empathy.
Zapier has had a remote team since the beginning. One of the secrets to Zapier’s successful remote work is making time to talk to team members and express empathy. Asking specific questions builds relationships through the water-cooler type of chats in a physical office.
It’s essential to show patience and kindness and remember that we’re all human. Switching to a remote workplace involves a learning curve, and it will undoubtedly be more difficult for some than others, especially employees who aren’t tech-savvy. Make transparency and openness part of your strategy from Day 1.
JustReachOut: Save time by organizing technology
When working with a remote team, technology will be the backbone of the workplace. And the right choices can transform your productivity.
As the founder at JustReachOut, I saw firsthand how important technology is for communication. We sucked at it and it caused a lot of stress for our customer service and sales teams every single day.
Here is a common scenario:
- A customer would contact our customer support team with an issue.
- Our customer support would begin to help them out.
- At the same time the sales team would contact the same customer trying to upsell them .
- The sales team had to no idea about customer support team helping them out.
- The result was that the customer would get frustrated and so would the customer support and sales teams.
Those miscommunications grow exponentially when everyone’s working from somewhere different.
We decided to switch to a streamlined, automated process for managing inbound contacts. Setting up a better workflow with better technology saved our team an average of three hours a day and increased our demo attendance rate to 90%.
There will be many things to consider when picking the right communications tools for you — availability, ease of use, price point, features — and you may have to engage in a bit of trial-and-error to see what works best for your team.
A few examples of tools the I know we employed at JustReachOut were:
- Video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Skype.
- File sharing software, such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
- A collaborative/chat tool such as Slack or Asana.
- A cloud-based business voip solution (voice over Internet protocol).
- A helpdesk software tool with an internal communications feature such as a shared inbox (if an entire software platform is too bulky and expensive for your team, there are plenty of lightweight alternatives).
Buffer: Set expectations about availability
Buffer led the way with remote work long before the pandemic. And one of the cornerstones of their success has been setting firm work boundaries. The company established policies for Slack, minimum vacation time, and more guidelines to keep their remote team from burning out.
As anyone who’s worked remotely for a significant length of time can tell you, one of the main problems that often crops up with remote work is the “always-on” phenomenon. If you’re working from home, it may take extra effort to separate your work life from your home life, and that can be further exacerbated if managers and team members disagree on when people should be available.
By learning from Buffer, the best way to make a schedule that works for everyone is to set clear boundaries about office hours and expect everyone to follow them. First-line managers should be the first to set the example by clocking out and not answering work messages during off-hours.
Automattic: Create a regular check-in routine
Just as you can better organize communication with your team by setting the rules for availability, you can also improve communication by creating a routine and checking in regularly with your employees.
Check-in routines are essential at Automattic, the remote-friendly company behind WordPress. Teams start each day by sharing their daily agenda, and everyone is encouraged to share a greeting and sign off when they start and finish work.
This helps remove information silos, which happen naturally in any team, especially remote ones. At our team, we saw frequently missed opportunities between sales and marketing. And without a good way to get everyone in sync, we knew they would keep happening.
An excellent solution to these silos is a daily meeting. Outline the day’s agenda, or even say “good morning” and set a positive tone for the day. These quick meetings don’t take much time and can improve morale and set the stage for better communication throughout the workday.
Loom: Make (asynchronous) video a priority
A significant part of communicating effectively with your team is keeping everyone’s attention and making sure everyone understands everyone else, so switching away from lengthy emails and chat messages to video has several benefits.
But if you’re working asynchronously, it can be challenging to find a tool that works for team members worldwide. Instead, consider a video tool like Loom that lets you record short videos for teammates. After using Loom, Postclick reduced meetings by 50% while improving engagement metrics.
Video is more personal, makes it easier to have a lengthy conversation, and will hold team members’ attention the way text might not. No one relishes the idea of a redundant meeting to go over something already detailed in a long chat message or email — so just skip the middle step and go right for video chat.
MURAL: Emphasize the visual for more collaboration
Speaking of the perks of video, an overall swing toward a visual presentation of ideas can also play a significant part in better communication. For example, the product marketing team at MURAL uses its own whiteboard software for meetings. This makes for a visual way to connect with the entire remote team in an engaging way.
Bold, engaging visuals have an advantage over sterile walls of text in that they can be understood at a glance and understood quickly. Moreover, a remote pitch or idea presentation can’t always have the same energy as an in-person meeting where you can bring your charisma to the table. Strong visuals can help make up for that.
Visualization is also essential for presenting metrics, timelines and goals to team members. Instead of creating a simple graph timeline in Excel for your next team meeting, consider using timeline tools to make a visual that most team members will remember.
Close.com: Consider your tone
When Close went remote just three years after it was founded, effective communication formed the foundation for the remote team culture. And that foundation was built on setting the right tone — caring about the team and over-communicating.
It’s much harder to convey tone over text. An exclamation point might denote excitement, urgency or irritation. A short one-word reply might be taken as a snub or sign of annoyance rather than just being time-efficient. Even using a period in a chat message or email can be interpreted as hostile.
And I’ve seen the same in my experience. Our unified communication tool saved all customer messages in the same place, adding more context and helping us understand the situation with much more clarity and depth than before.
InVision: Avoid interruptions for better productivity
One aspect of the “always-on” nature of remote work can be the desire for instant communication all the time. But if a team member constantly receives emails, text messages, chats, and other notifications, all of them marked “urgent,” it makes it much harder to get anything done.
InVision, which has been remote since the beginning, recommends focusing for better remote work. The team recommends turning off notifications, using a distraction blocker and putting on headphones to keep others from interrupting.
For teams just now transitioning to remote work, we can learn from InVision. Get a handle on how your team works and when it’s ideal to get in touch with them, and if you have to interrupt their day with a message, try to make sure it’s as comprehensive as possible to minimize the time taken from work.
Another solution is automation. We found that several of the most common types of “urgent” messages were all focused on a few key issues. By putting automation in place to handle those common problems, we freed up our team’s time and gave them more space for focus.
HotJar: Connect with a casual space to build up the team
When everyone’s working from home, you can’t hold a birthday party, impromptu celebration or even meet for a celebratory high-five in the hallway. The nature of remote work already means you lose a bit of that personal touch. It can seem hard to provide a casual space where people can water-cooler chat, hang out or celebrate.
But that doesn’t mean you need to do away with a casual space to connect. Hotjar uses several virtual team-building activities each week, including “coffee and learn” sessions and “Wednesday bonfires.”
This kind of festive activity provides a little space for socialization — just make sure they’re not seen as obligatory or a chore.
Doist: Practice trust with everyone you hire
A final note about helping things to run smoothly in the remote workplace: it’s more important than ever to trust the expertise of your team. Amir Salihefendic, the founder of Doist believes in trust. Doist is the company behind Todoist and Twist, and it’s been remote since the beginning. “Hiring great people isn’t enough,” he writes. “After you’ve hired people, you must learn to trust them.”
Constantly looking over your employees’ shoulders to “make sure they’re working” is already an outmoded and unproductive managerial strategy, and it can be made so much worse by trying to micromanage team members via chat or email.
Some of the best ideas I saw in my business — including many of those I’ve mentioned here — came about from all-hands meetings. These meetings ensure that everyone feels heard and understands that we’re looking for ideas from everyone, not just the leadership team. That level of trust goes far in building a great remote culture.
Working from home has a different rhythm and different set of demands than working in the office, and that’s a reality everyone should accept. As long as your team meets the goals you set, don’t worry too much about whether they’re looking busy.
The final word on internal communications for remote teams
Every team that transitions from in-person to remote will have some growing pains. But with the right tools and mindset, those challenges can help your business become even more productive and efficient.
Above all, think of your team first. Ask what they’re looking for, what would make them feel welcome, and what you can do to serve them. Then build systems that help them get more work done — and set clear work boundaries.
Better internal communication might be challenging for remote teams, but it’s well worth the effort.