The rapid shift towards remote work and working from home (WFH) caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic has presented several challenges for organizations and their IT departments. One of the main challenges many companies have to grapple with is ensuring effective remote team communication.
A strong company culture relies on consistent communication and a collaborative work environment — both considerably more difficult when colleagues are physically distant. When managing remote workers, team communication strategies take on extra importance. This article highlights the specific challenges of maintaining company culture remotely and offers some remote team communication tips to help overcome these obstacles.
Communication challenges for remote teams
Employees can quickly begin to feel disconnected from their colleagues and their companies when remote working becomes the status quo. With a damaged company culture comes a reduction in productivity and an increase in employee turnover.
The causes of the disconnect employees feel with their wider company culture when working from home vary. At the heart of it are several virtual communication challenges that can cause disengagement and isolation. Here are some of the most common challenges to consider and attempt to address.
Many companies require distributed teams to use virtual communication tools, with video replacing in-person meetings. However, it’s still common for remote workers to miss important company updates and feel left out of the loop. This situation becomes especially difficult when some members of the team come to the office and the others stay at home.
Pre-pandemic, informal social gatherings such as coffee breaks, lunches, and after-work drinks provided a way to catch up on news that people might have missed if they were too busy to attend meetings or read emails. But such informal gatherings don’t happen with a remote workforce. When people feel left out, they begin to lose sight of the company culture and see themselves as disengaged from their co-workers and employers.
Humans are social creatures who are bound to be affected by the reduction in social interaction when working from home. Even the most introverted employees can feel socially isolated without the regular hustle and bustle of office life and the face-to-face interactions that come with it. Furthermore, without direct interaction with managers, employees can feel like they have less support.
Whether due to unsuitable collaboration tools or failing to establish clear guidelines around different types of communication, interactions can become chaotic rather than strategic in a remote workforce.
Employees will avoid or abandon collaboration tools that offer a poor user experience, and they may adopt a go-it-alone approach by finding alternative ways to contact people or sharing documents that others cannot access. Back-and-forth exchanges lasting hours that should have taken minutes can frustrate employees and seriously impact productivity.
Loss of motivation
It’s tough to keep everyone enthusiastic when remote work is the norm because several of the healthy motivators for employees are diminished or taken away. The Harvard Business Review identified three positive motivators for employees: play, purpose, and potential.
It’s easy to see how these can be reduced when employees spend all their time working from home, alone. For example, a feeling of purpose derived from work could decline because people who work from home no longer see the impact of their effort on customers, clients, or colleagues. As another example, it can be difficult to learn from other colleagues when working with remote teams, which results in a decline of potential as a motivator.
Degraded IT support
Any technology issues become amplified when managing remote employees. At the office, employees know they can depend on the IT team to fix their issues without too much hassle. When working from home, it can feel like they are on their own.
Even if the IT team is on-hand to assist remotely, it’s the feeling of being alone that matters, and contributes to low satisfaction levels. Technology issues that interfere with work further reinforce the sense of isolation and disengagement from the usual collaborative workplace culture where different teams help each other out.
Team communication strategy tips for a remote workforce
Every company with a remote workforce needs a WFH policy. When creating and refining your policy, consider the following tips and strategies for better communication and collaboration.
Hold regular virtual meetings
Communication should not be limited to email, chats, or other text-based platforms. Scheduling regular audio and video conferences plays an important role in keeping employees motivated and updating people with news or developments. These regular meetings can reduce the isolation people feel when working from home.
Invest in effective team collaboration software
Several factors play a role in how effective team collaboration software is, including the following:
- Usability: Is it frictionless to add new users and get them up to speed?
- Integration: Does the software work well with other tools?
- Use cases: Does it solve a particular use case better than other tools?
With effective collaboration software that employees feel comfortable using, it’s easier to maintain a robust company culture.
Use online calendars and scheduling tools
Online scheduling tools make it easier for employees to manage their time effectively and stay in the communication loop. Many tools offer one-click scheduling, which lets team members click on each others’ calendars to arrange meetings. This reduces frustrating back and forth exchanges around choosing an appropriate time slot.
Make communication more visual
An emphasis on visual communication can positively impact several of the above remote communication challenges. Video conferencing provides several of the visual communication cues that make face-to-face interaction so important. The real-time nature of these conversations support complex discussions and avoid lengthy back-and-forth written exchanges that waste time.
Arrange virtual socializing
It’s important to think about ways managers can facilitate the kind of informal communication that promotes a sense of belonging among employees. Arranging weekly virtual hangouts is a good way to promote this informal communication. These events could be based around activities, such as hosting a quiz, or they could take on a virtual ‘pizza party’ vibe in which pizza is delivered to employees while they chat casually using video conferencing software.
Establish communication guidelines
It’s vital that managers set guidelines around the frequency, method, and timing of different types of communication for employees. This could mean setting up daily virtual meetings to check in with team members or using instant messengers to deal with non-complex urgent issues. These guidelines will provide a structure to communication and keep everyone on the same page.
Assess your company culture with a Culture Survey
Culture Surveys provide a comprehensive diagnostic of your current culture, as well as a detailed understanding of the culture you are aiming for, by examining your employees’ perceptions of your organization’s current practices and the values they consider desirable. Here at Umbrella, we use the business consultant, Doug Diamond. We were sending out Doug’s culture survey twice a year until COVID, when we increased the frequency to every two months. This survey provides amazing insight into our culture and allows us to plan for improvements. The process gives our staff the feeling of being heard by leadership.
In summary, maintaining company culture can be a challenge for newly remote teams. Some of the main strategies to help maintain that culture includes:
- Establishing communication channels and guidelines
- Emphasizing visual communication
- Making smart use of effective software and tools
- Encouraging informal interactions
Make sure to also set and regularly review Key Performance Indicators around remote communication.
Ensuring effective remote team communication depends upon a well-functioning IT department. Get in touch with Umbrella today for a consultation about how we can help you deliver high-value IT solutions that maintain company culture remotely and ensure high productivity.