Overcoming The Communication Barriers in Remote Work
Remote work communication is a hot topic, especially as the number of workers choosing to work remotely has increased by 24% since 2021.
It’s easy to see why remote work has exploded in popularity. Not only does it offer increased flexibility and reduced commute time/expenses, but it also allows companies to access global talent. On the flip side, remote work also introduces new challenges, such as the steep learning curve to overcoming remote communication barriers. Many first-timers are discovering that remote work management is a unique art that is very different from the experience of working with on-site employees. You must take a new approach to hiring, training, and communicating from the ground up to remain competitive in your industry.
As such, the best time for companies to consider remote work communication is now! Whether you’re a beginner to remote work, are looking to implement hybrid work solutions, or simply want to refresh your knowledge—this article will have the answers you’re looking for. We’ll explore how communication commonly fails in remote settings and present five strategies for overcoming them.
Why is Effective Communication in Remote Work so Challenging?
Remote work settings can experience unique communication issues such as:
- A lack of face-to-face interaction
- Different time zones and work schedules
- Over-reliance on digital communication tools
- Language/cultural barriers
- Lack of non-verbal communication (such as body language/facial expressions)
On the other hand, physical work locations, such as offices, enjoy a great deal of open dialogue. The constant mingling of team members and managers provides a platform for communal chatter, such as in break rooms or workspaces.
In this environment, if someone has a query or concern, they only have to mention it in passing to the relevant person. In contrast, a remote setting requires the 2 team members to have an open communication channel and to both be online before they can communicate in real-time.
However, working remotely also has its advantages, such as increased flexibility and autonomy, the ability to work from anywhere in the world, and reduced commuting time and costs. Additionally, remote work has been shown to increase productivity and reduce stress levels in some individuals. However, it is important to ensure effective communication is in place to fully reap these benefits.
As you can see, the manager in the remote space will have to take an entirely new approach to effective communication within their team.
How to Identify Your Main Obstacles to Communication
Getting started in remote work can seem like a mountain of challenges to overcome. However, with the right attitude and resources, anyone can improve their workflow.
Managers new to remote work may want to reflect on their experiences working with on-site employees. For example, they may consider what factors contributed to communication breakdowns and whether they were related to technology, language barriers, or cultural differences. Alternatively, they could ask for feedback directly by conducting surveys and interviews with employees, therefore helping to identify common obstacles and areas for improvement.
More experienced remote managers may want to focus on the technological side of things. For instance, evaluate your digital communication tools to ensure they are reliable and free of technical issues. To go one step further, you could analyze communication metrics on these apps, such as response times, the volume of messages, and engagement rates.
5 Strategies for Overcoming Communication Barriers
Whether you’re moving to fully remote or implementing hybrid work solutions, here are some best practices that can help your team communicate more effectively.
Embrace Digital Tools
According to a 2022 Business Communication Report by Project.co, online tools account for 45% of daily communications between employees. That’s considerably higher than emails (at 30%), and face-to-face interactions (at 12%). Perhaps even more surprising is the placement of phone calls, which make up just 6% of all business communication in the report.
The key takeaway is that to thrive as a remote company, you must adopt some form of digital communication solution. Many businesses opt for a cloud communications platform, as you can usually access these from anywhere in the world as long as you have a reliable Internet connection.
Vonage alternatives like Dialpad provide unlimited global VoIP calls and seamless integration with other business tools, such as Zapier or Microsoft teams. On top of this, it also offers a unified communication platform, incorporating phone calls, video conferencing, and instant messaging.
A digital platform like this allows your team to connect wherever they are and provides many other benefits. The numerous integrations make it easy for various teams to plug it into the digital tools they already use, making adoption easy. What’s more, as Dialpad compiles different communication channels, it improves remote communication, as the likelihood that communications are missed or forgotten is significantly reduced.
Ensuring everyone has a high quality headshot can personalize internal communications, and virtual tools now make headshots easier than ever. Another useful digital tool for remote teams are webinar platforms, which allow for interactive presentations and discussions, making them ideal for team meetings, training sessions, and client presentations.
Build a Strong Team Culture
The best remote teams are those that can maintain a close-knit team culture in the face of the geographic disparities that keep individuals apart. But how can you foster a strong team culture in your remote workplace? Try following these steps:
- Set clear expectations: Every individual should know what is expected of them, their project timelines, work hours, and communication protocols.
- Host regular meetings: Open and transparent communication, such as video conferencing, can give everyone the chance to contribute.
- Promote collaboration: Digital collaboration tools such as project management software and shared documents can facilitate seamless collaboration and teamwork.
- Recognize achievements: Celebrate team successes and recognize individual achievements to motivate team members to keep working toward their goals.
- Organize team-building activities: Reinforce company values by hosting communal activities like online games, virtual happy hours, and team challenges. This will help foster a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation among remote team members.
Ultimately, building a strong remote work culture is about the same values of transparency, honesty, and respect that you will be familiar with in managing any team. The main hurdle is translating this across to a digital environment and getting the most out of your technology solutions.
Improve Communication Skills for Managers
Communication strategies start and end with management. After all, if your managers refuse to follow established protocols, then it will only be a matter of time before employees fail to communicate properly too.
To avoid this, your managers should have all the tools available to them in order to cut down on time-consuming processes. For instance, if your communication app goes offline due to a technical error, you should have a backup communication channel for reaching out to team members. Even time saving-features like templates for Gmail can help maximize productivity.
And to avoid extensive micromanagement, managers should be trained on how to use automated workflow apps and employee productivity tools.
Hopefully, this will free up time for your managers to engage in more constructive endeavors, such as providing training & development sessions for employees. Make sure to instruct your team supervisors on the best methods for communication, such as practicing active listening, empathy, and providing constructive feedback.
You should also offer a dedicated portal for team members to report feedback or complaints about company policy. Anonymous responses will always be the most honest and can provide insights into areas for improvement. Make sure to advertise these feedback mechanisms to your employees so you can continuously learn about the challenges facing your workforce.
Develop Cross-Cultural Communication
Remote teams are not constrained to a single geographic area, which means that team members may come from different countries, speak different languages, and follow different cultural norms.
Be mindful of these differences in communication styles, including language and nonverbal cues, and provide training to your team members as necessary. Try to avoid making assumptions based on limited information, and seek solutions that will make conversing with one another easier. For instance, you may want to offer a real-time translation tool or pair team members living in the same time zones to work on projects together.
Another consideration to bear in mind is the inaccessibility of international calling. In many cases, the pricing for global telephony calls can be extremely expensive, making it an unviable option for remote workers in a dispersed team. You may want to search for something along the lines of “how to get virtual phone number”, to make that switch to more affordable VoIP calling.
However, effective communication in remote work is not just limited to within the team. Clarity in client communication should always be considered. Remote work settings may face additional challenges when communicating with clients, such as different time zones, cultural differences, and language barriers. Therefore, it is important for remote managers to develop communication strategies that consider these factors and ensure effective communication with clients.
Measure Communication Effectiveness
A positive of working with technological solutions in remote workspaces is that you can access a wide pool of data from which you can draw conclusions and evaluations. Make sure to identify and track the key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and processes that provide insights into the quality and impact of communication. Here are a few to get you started:
- Response times: Measuring how long it takes team members to respond to messages or emails can provide insight into bottlenecks or delays.
- Message volume: The number of messages/emails exchanged gives you a window into the hours when your team is most active.
- Meeting engagement: Factors like meeting length, attendance, and agenda completion are all indicative of the engagement rate of your employees.
- Feedback surveys: Asking team members for their direct input can help identify the lesser-known obstacles or pain points.
- Project completion rate: Measuring the percentage of projects completed on time and within budget will give insight into how well team members collaborate and highlight any issues.
- Customer satisfaction: If you’re dealing with a customer-facing remote role, you may want to ask your customers directly about their experiences.
Altogether, tracking and monitoring these KPIs will bring you one step closer to a remote team that is happy, productive, and successful.
The Future of Remote Work Communication
The accelerating shift toward remote work is making effective communication a more important topic than ever before. To the biggest businesses and enterprises, it is clear that communication plays a critical role in the success of remote teams. The question now is, which businesses will successfully make this transition, and how will they do it?
The answer lies in identifying your team’s particular problems and adopting the correct technology as it evolves and improves. Building a close-knit company culture is also essential, as it helps promote collaboration and team morale. Whether you’re looking to successfully start a business or improve your current processes, the responsibility starts and ends with management. Embracing change and improvement will help your company thrive and succeed in the long term.