How to Improve Communication With Your Remote Team

Here are three communication tips to increase productivity, empathy, and performance among a remote team.

Remote work has worked.

Halo Top, the reduced-calorie ice cream brand, grew from $230,000 in 2013 to more than $100 million in 2018 and they achieved that growth with all 75 employees working remotely.

Remote work has to work.

Eighty-three precent of office workers want to work from home at least one day a week, and 55 percent of employers anticipate that most of their workers will do so long after COVID-19 is not a concern. Global Workplace Analytics predicts that thirty million US employees will regularly work from home within the next two years which is six times as many as did before.

Remote work has to be worked.

Forty four percent of high-level executives are “completely confident” that their companies can maintain employee engagement during COVID conditions, but only 25% of employees feel the same. And 48 percent of high-level executives are “completely confident” they can maintain good communication between themselves and employees during the crisis, while only 28% of employees agree.

Workers won’t be returning to the same workplace they left behind. All workers will need to discover new ways to collaborate, connect, and perhaps most importantly... communicate.

3 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Remote Team

1. Schedule Times for “Bursty” Communication

A “bursty” communication style, where ideas are communicated and responded to quickly, leads to a 24 percent performance increase among remote teams.

A remote team can cultivate burstiness by identifying a common day and time (Tuesdays from 3-4pm EST for example) where the entire team is online and prepared to engage with any team communications. Using communication channels like text, chat, or email synchronously instead of asynchronously during times of burstiness enables teams to achieve higher performance. Productivity and engagement increase when team members know someone is ready to immediately respond to their communications.

Scheduling bursts of activity is particularly important for teams distributed across different time zones or who may have varying work schedules. Burstiness differs from meetings in that there is no set agenda and the central goal is the rapid exchange of information and/or ideas.

Burstiness allows remote team members to align their activities where the result is energetic and focused collaboration.

2. Clarify the Emotional Intent of the Communication

Vague digital communications such as “Sure” or “Fine,” can leave recipients spending unproductive time and energy reading into the emotional intent behind the text. In fact, 90 percent of the time people think their emails and texts are understood be recipients but the messages are understood only 50 percent of the time. As digital communications grow, the lack of facial expressions and tone of voice leave more room for misinterpretation. For example, 60 percent of the time a two-word email or text is interpreted as sarcastic.

When the intent of a message isn’t clear, humans will fill in the gaps using a negative bias and will assume the worst. In order to avoid negative biases hijacking the intended meaning of your digital communications, clarify the emotional intent of your communications.

Here are two ways to clarify the emotional intent of your communications:

  • Use emojis. The same part of the brain that processes human faces also processes emojis. Emojis can help close the generational gap, enhance relationships and have become more prevalent at work.
  • Use more descriptive words. Instead of texting “Ok,” which can be interpreted in many different ways such as apathy, submission, passive aggressive or acceptance, consider adding more description such as “Ok, happy to follow up with the client later today.” The word “happy” removes the emotional ambiguity and clarifies the emotional intent.

3. Communicate Using Voice Only

Voice-only communication enhances emphatic accuracy. While working remotely, it’s tempting to turn on video for every interaction. However, if you want to know what someone is feeling, you might be better off just hearing their voice. In experiments, people read other people’s emotions more accurately when the room lights were turned off or when the video feed was disabled. When virtual cues are absent, people tend to focus more on the conversation content and tone of voice of the person speaking.

Additionally, deciding to turn off video during communications can allow introverts to more fully contribute. Introverts are more sensitive to stimulus and consistent eye contact or visual stimuli can be overwhelming and exhausting for them.

Video communications is very useful, especially when establishing trust with someone, however, when trust is established considering using voice-only. Next time someone asks you which video platform you prefer for the meeting, tell them audio.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™, is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and author of Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All-In. For a decade, he has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, create inclusive cultures, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the premier resource for addressing workplace loneliness. Follow his latest insights at @RyanAndSteven.

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