If you’re working remotely, or at least part of your team is, you’re probably used to the forms of communication that facilitate that, like Zoom meetings, team Slack channels, and direct messages. There are plenty of ways to communicate with your team, both synchronously and asynchronously. But, there’s something extra involved with remote team communication.
Every interaction feels much more intentional. Whether it’s having to schedule a Zoom call to have a brief five-minute conversation or having to track down some technical help by asking nobody in particular in a Slack channel, extra effort is required for communication.
I’ve found this has a negative effect on my own willingness to initiate communication of any kind. In a physical office, I can tap somebody’s shoulder or walk by for a quick chat. When it comes to remote team communication, there’s the additional barrier of not knowing if you’re interrupting somebody or if they’re truly available. It causes the same anxiety as picking up the phone to call somebody. Perhaps it’s irrational, but it still exists, and the remoteness of work these days exacerbates it. So I’ve done some thinking recently about what I’ve been able to do to overcome this. I have a few strategies to share about what has worked for me in terms of remote team communication.
Scheduling a daily check-in time for the team has been one of the most beneficial practices for me while working remotely. When physically isolated and working solo or even with a pair, it becomes easy to feel that you’re isolated in solving a problem. Sometimes this means you don’t reach out for help as often as in an office setting. Setting a time every day for the team (or part of the team) to check in with each other creates an open forum for seeking help. I find this strategy has helped solve this problem for me.
Direct messaging has lots of advantages as a way to communicate with people. You don’t feel like you’re muddying up a Slack channel, or you know that the person at the other end of the DM is exactly who can help you out. However, even though you can have a quick interaction and solve a problem this way, no one else on the team sees evidence of the problem or solution.
Having the same conversation in a public (or team) channel benefits the team in a few ways. It gives others a chance to see the conversation and makes them aware of problems the team is working to solve. It also allows them to participate in a conversation, maybe with follow-up questions or answers of their own. And it also makes the conversation searchable, so if anyone needs to reference it after the fact, it can be found by whoever needs it. I’ve found that this especially helps avoid having the same question asked by multiple people in private and encourages knowledge sharing among team members.
Using Spaces for Passive Voice Communication
This one is awkward to put in a succinct title, but the concept is simple. Use functionality like Slack’s huddles or Discord’s voice channels to make a space for people to hang out. These have been valuable for my and my coworkers’ teams as we’ve all been working remotely.
If you’re unfamiliar, the concept is to have a dedicated spot where you can drop in and out of an “always-on” call. Some teams I know have used these spots by sitting muted inside them. Whoever needs to speak up with a question can do so whenever needed, and everyone can hear them as if they are in an actual shared space. Other teams have treated them as a way for a team member to signal they’re looking for help by joining the chat. Then, others on the team can see and jump in themselves to help out. In particular, I’ve found this avoids the annoyance of spinning up a new Zoom meeting or Slack call every time you want to talk to people. It’s also something that doesn’t need to be constantly monitored.
Improving Remote Team Communication
A combination of these practices has greatly improved my personal experience of remote team communication. If you’re looking to compensate for the differences of communicating remotely vs. in person, I recommend giving one or more of these strategies a shot.