When you lead remote workers, it is harder to ensure everyone’s on the same page because of the absence of face-to-face interactions. Effective communication in the workplace is hard as it is. Add distance and different time zones to the plate and it creates another layer of difficulty.
It is so crucial to set clear expectations and clearly communicate tasks within remote workers. It may be more challenging, but it is not impossible. It requires a proactive attitude from the leaders which will bring about a better organizational structure. Building strong relationships with remote workers is essential to your company’s success. As Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, puts it, “Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.”
Here are some strategies that will help you effectively communicate with remote workers.
Implement tools that close loops
Can’t see workers face to face? Virtual interactions will do! Rely on videoconferencing or web-based tools like Skype and Google Hangouts for video and voice chats to build rapport with remote workers and be more in-touch with them. You can use World Time Buddy for scheduling calls because it shows overlapping times when you enter different time zones. By bridging the distance, they help overcome issues of asynchronous communication that might arise with remote workers.
But, suppose you have hired workers on each continent, you will most likely not be able to video chat with everyone throughout the day. When these aren’t feasible, communicating with text is the best alternative. Whether you use Slack, Join.me Google Drive, Dropbox or GitHub, written text tends to be the most convenient way to clearly get your point across. You can also create informational products such as online courses to share information with remote workers.
With a remote workforce, it’s especially important to put in place tools that keep everyone connected. Experiment with what works best and addresses the main issues workers are facing, but the most important thing is to create a channel to transmit ideas and give everyone access to each other. As Bill Gates believes, “Any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”
Make room for honest feedback
When you are remote, it’s harder for workers to know if you’re free to talk. Encourage them to ask questions or give you feedback by letting them know when you’re available. It’s very easy to misinterpret an email or other form or written text, especially across cultures and languages. You can’t afford these misunderstandings as they can negatively impact worker productivity. As Janet Choi from iDone puts it: “The biggest challenge of working in remote teams isn’t dealing with the physical distribution of your teammates but reducing the psychological distance between everyone. Bridging that distance is probably a test for all types of teams but requires more work as a remote team.”
Sharing feedback and listening to each other are minimal steps towards solving the problem. So be proactive about it. Find pockets of time during the day and advertise them as “open hours” for calls or real-time collaborative activities. This is also a manifestation of your company’s strong and healthy culture. During these meetings, you will not only get to know workers, but also evaluate their performance and drive engagement. In the words of James Cash Jr., “The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.”
When workers are distributed in different parts of the world, it’s much more challenging to manage them. You have to set clear standards of communication and optimize the tools that keep you connected with each other. On the flip side, workers will require less management and less of your time, and be more productive.
Shelcy Joseph is a freelance writer, social media strategist and career blogger. She is the voice of A Millennial’s Guide to Life, a career and lifestyle blog dedicated to helping multi-passionate creatives make a career out of doing all the things they love.