6 Communication Habits of Successful Remote Teams

How to make a virtual office work and stay connected with distributed co-workers

Feb 21, 2017 · 6 min read

It’s been said that communication is the “oxygen of a distributed company.” And that’s a good analogy, because remote teams must have good communication strategies to survive and thrive.

Just think about all the ways that office-based teams interact with each other: there’s traditional meetings, brainstorming around a whiteboard, popping into someone’s office to ask a quick question, hashing out a tricky problem one-on-one over lunch, catching up in the break room, and many other small ways co-workers bond and interact with each other.

The question is, how do you make these important connections when your co-workers might be spread across multiple cities, if not countries?

Until you’re part of a remote team, it’s easy to take for granted how important these types of interactions are for team-building and creating a sense of togetherness and purpose.

Jared Ponchot, the creative director at Lullabot (a fully distributed company), suggests three types of communication that all remote teams need to incorporate into their workflows:

Asynchronous communication

For remote teams where most collaboration happens online, this would most likely look like one person leaving a note in a messaging app — say, Slack or Skype — where the other person can read and reply at their convenience. For that reason, this method is best used for issues or conversations that aren’t time-sensitive.

Examples: email, direct messaging, posting updates or issues on project management platforms (GitHub, Trello, Basecamp, etc.)

Synchronous communication

Synchronous communication is a good option when things need to happen more quickly, or when it’s important to ask questions and get immediate answers or enable participants to bounce ideas off each other and get active feedback.

Examples: live chat, video calls or meetings, online voice calls, phone calls

In-person communication

Ponchot points out that some things are really difficult to achieve without people being together in the same room, such as:

  • building relationships
  • strategizing and vision-casting
  • resolving complex problems or conflicts

But how can you make room for all these types of communication when you’re working from a home office or co-working space? With a plan in place, effective remote team communication isn’t hard. Here are six tips based on the experiences of successful distributed teams:

6 Tips for Effective Communication with Your Remote Co-Workers

1. Give each communication method a designated purpose

When communication is a free-for-all rather than strategic, tools that are supposed to be time-savers and efficiency-boosters can turn “every minute into an opportunity for conversation, essentially “‘meeting-izing’ the entire workday,” to borrow a phrase from Samuel Hulick’s essay on the potential pitfalls of an always-on approach to workplace communication.

This kind of constant distraction can take a serious bite out of your workday, and put a damper on your focus and productivity. But the antidote to communication overwhelm is simply giving each tool or platform a specific purpose. Instead of leaving it up to each person’s preference, work with your manager or team to set up some guidelines: for instance, designate Skype for live chatting or urgent conversations, and Slack for messages that aren’t pressing, with a designated channel for fun or informal conversations.

When remote workers have a game plan for how to best get in touch with teammates for each situation, everyone can avoid wasted time, frustration, and missed connections.

2. Use calendaring and task management tools

Sharing online calendars or schedules, posting updates about availability and time off, and using references like Every Time Zone or World Time Buddy when planning meetings or other team activities can all be good practices.

For tracking projects, tools like Trello (free) and Asana (free for up to 15 people) are popular choices with remote teams.

3. Set up a virtual “water cooler”

But for distributed teams, that’s not necessarily the case, and you have to be more intentional about connecting. How do you do that when you’re part of a virtual team?

One thing that can help is creating an online space (a chat room, blog, Facebook group, etc.) for sharing non-work-related and just-for-fun content. In addition to keeping those distracting cat GIFs and weekend recaps out of work collaboration channels, it also helps reduce the feeling of distance between team members and create a sense of community.

For example, Buffer has a room on Hipchat just for sharing music, and Automattic maintains themed microblogs where teammates can discuss shared interests.

4. Make use of check-ins and milestones

Making a progress-tracking or to-do list app part of your workflow can be a great way to keep the whole team on the same page. Not only can it serve as a motivational and accountability tool, but it can also function as an asynchronous way for team members to stay updated on tasks and projects.

Some popular options to check out include Todoist and Weekdone.

5. Celebrate successes

This feeling of isolation is preventable if the whole team makes an effort to recognize each other’s accomplishments and point out good work getting done, both at the individual and group level—even if it’s only a quick shoutout on Slack or a thank-you email. There’s nothing that energizes a team more than feeling that they worked together to accomplish something.

6. Watch your tone

That’s why it’s worth going the extra mile to review each message before sending it off, maybe writing a little more than you might be inclined to — overcommunicating — just to make sure your meaning is as clear as possible.

Many remote teams find that using emojis can sometimes help humanize, clarify, or lighten up the tone of a message, but of course this will depend on your company’s culture and what is or isn’t considered professional.

Did we miss anything? Share your best remote team communication advice with the hashtag #remotecommtip

The Crossover Blog

Welcome to the future of work.

The Crossover Blog

Welcome to the future of work. The Crossover blog is your resource for staying up to date on topics that matter in the modern workplace-like tech skills, remote work, recruiting insights, and more. Learn more about Crossover and browse remote tech jobs at www.crossover.com.


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The Crossover Blog

Welcome to the future of work. The Crossover blog is your resource for staying up to date on topics that matter in the modern workplace-like tech skills, remote work, recruiting insights, and more. Learn more about Crossover and browse remote tech jobs at www.crossover.com.