It all started with COVID-19. The growth of a remote workforce surged with businesses worldwide rapidly adopting work-from-home measures to curb the spread of the virus. This led to a sudden and widespread shift to remote work in early 2020. But lots of people struggled to engage with the remote workforce, and this shouldn’t be a surprise.
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Between 2019-2021, the remote workforce tripled according to the US Census. This raised many questions including how to set employee expectations for remote work and how to increase remote communication engagement.
According to the Project.co’s 2023 communication statistics:
- 44% of people are still fully remote
- 18% are back to being fully office-based
- 13% split their time evenly between the two
- 10% work mostly in the office with some remote
- 15% work mostly remotely with some time spent in the office
What is Remote Communication?
Remote work isn’t a new concept. We used to refer to it as telecommuting or telework, where remote employees were able to perform their job duties from a location outside of the traditional office setting. Because the location is remote, it requires remote communication – the exchange of information, messages, or ideas between individuals or remote teams who are not physically present in the same location.
Typically, communication involves the use of digital or remote communication tools and technologies such as video calls, emails, instant messaging, and collaborative platforms to facilitate effective individual and remote team communication.
Why is Effective Remote Communication Important?
Even though we have slowly returned to a more natural state, remote work is a practice that has stayed with us. This means that questions of remote engagement have not gone away. According to McKinsey, by mid-2022, 58% of Americans had the opportunity to work from home at least once a week, and 35% had the option to work from home five days a week.
But, it’s caused a massive culture shift – one that includes many risks as well as rewards.
According to Hubstaff’s 2021 Remote Project Management Report, 45.8% of remote managers state that a lack of communication is the biggest challenge to managing remote work.
That’s not going to change anytime soon. Without face-to-face engagement, it can be very difficult to create a cohesive workplace, where everyone feels included, heard, and happy.
But, what does successful remote communication look like? How do you host engagement activities for remote workers in a fragmented work environment? Is there a difference between individual and remote team communication?
The answer is that there are many ways to ensure everyone’s success. Some strategies include setting standards right off the bat, measuring communication engagement, and planning social activities. Which strategy you choose needs to cater to individuals working alone and/or remote teams?
Exploring Types of Remote Communication
Grammarly Business and The Harris Poll define what they call “the new work communication ecosystem” in The State of Business Communication 2023. Essentially, it can either be synchronous or asynchronous and may be written or verbal.
“Historically, workplaces have existed so people could gather to discuss, negotiate, strategize, and even connect socially. In other words, where and how we worked was in service of human communication. Now, technology allows for a constant flurry of instant messages, which means we no longer have to be in the same place at the same time to collaborate with each other.”The State of Business Communication 2023
Synchronous Remote Communication
Synchronous communication takes place in real-time, usually in the form of texting, in-person or phone meetings, or via video links. When communicating remotely, it enables instant feedback and collaboration, mimicking the responsiveness of in-person interactions.
Synchronous opportunities to bond with co-workers and participate in something fun might not sound like a hit. However, if you pick the right remote employee engagement activities then it might end up being a fun and interactive way to get to know each other.
One activity that makes people feel good about their work is a virtual banquet for awards and recognition. Who doesn’t like being recognized for their accomplishments or shown appreciation for their hard work? People will also see all of the unseen work that their peers are doing.
While it may have sporadic attendance, a scheduled lunch date where anyone can join and eat could be a great way to build relationships. Creating opportunities for in-depth conversations and closer bonds is better in small groups. So, the people who show up will usually get a lot out of it.
Something that requires more team building and intense focus is an office olympics. While this isn’t a remote activity, there is still room for remote employee engagement activities that take place in person. Solving puzzles, engaging in physical challenges, and working as remote teams can put your people to the test. This is an awesome opportunity to gauge how well they work together. It is important to the office and fun to try and solve something as a group!
At Cerkl, we do a Broadcast Bowl with different teams and activities. Everyone meets at the office for one day and gets to see each other face-to-face, with different teams competing to win the trophy. You could do something similar with remote teams.
Asynchronous Remote Communication
Basically, the opposite of synchronous communication, asynchronous communication doesn’t take place in real-time. Instead, it is usually carried out via email, test-based chat, and online document collaboration. Announcements also fall under the definition of asynchronous communication.
The State of Business Communication 2023 report points out that most knowledge workers (72%) now use asynchronous communication. Even more business leaders (84%) use it as well. Their study found that it accelerates team performance because it makes their jobs more flexible.
Hybrid Approaches to Remote Communication
The hybrid approach to remote communication involves a flexible combination of both in-person and remote interactions. It allows individuals or remote teams to collaborate through a mix of face-to-face meetings and digital communication tools. This model accommodates a variety of work styles and preferences, providing a balanced approach that leverages the benefits of both physical and virtual interactions.
Navigating Challenges in Remote Communication
While remote and hybrid work can have negative effects on an organization, it can be managed well. There are lots of shifts being made, from onsite to fully remote — and then it is a hybrid of modes until there is another decision to go back in person.
There is no doubt that companies need to find adequate ways to set employee expectations for remote work through effective remote communication, including remote team communication. Without an open mind and trial and error, there is no way to know how successful it could have been.
But, before you navigate the challenges in remote communication, you need to recognize the challenges. Here are five challenges along with possible solutions.
Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
Schedule regular video conferences to simulate face-to-face interactions. This way you can foster a more personal connection among team members. Encourage the use of video during meetings to enhance visual communication. This helps remote employees identify with one another and is a particularly helpful way to enhance remote team communication.
Establish clear communication protocols, encourage active listening, and provide language or cultural sensitivity training if the team is diverse. It makes sense to use diverse communication channels to cater to different preferences and ensure your remote teams convey important messages effectively.
Provide training and support for the use of remote communication tools. Have contingency plans for technical issues and ensure that all team members have access to reliable technology. Foster a tech-friendly culture and address concerns promptly.
Isolation and Disengagement
Organize virtual team-building activities, social events, or casual online gatherings to strengthen team bonds. Implement regular check-ins for both work-related discussions and casual conversations to combat feelings of isolation.
Misalignment and Miscommunication
Communicate expectations and objectives clearly. Use project management tools to track progress, and encourage open dialogue to address misunderstandings promptly. Establish a feedback loop to ensure that messages are received and understood correctly, preventing misalignment.
Best Practices for Optimal Remote Communication
It is difficult to navigate how to set employee expectations for remote work. How is everyone supposed to come together when they aren’t in the same location? Experts suggest several best practices.
Set a weekly meeting time
Consistency is a crucial element of effective communication for remote workers. This is a great way to make it consistent and open, with opportunities for questions when they have them. Talk about what projects are on the horizon, what each person is working on, general company updates, and anything else that’s relevant. If you want even more insight into what is going on with them, they could be camera-on mandatory.
Be clear about when you should be working
People crave structure. That’s why it’s so important to establish a routine. It makes life a lot easier when there are times that are set aside to be productive. If people have set times that they need to work, then there is less guessing about what they are doing with their time. Making sure that everyone works from 9 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday (their time) makes it easier for everyone to align.
Create to-do lists for everyone
To-do lists or task lists create targets that people should hit while they are working. That way, you can eliminate as many guessing games as possible. Your remote employees then know what they should be doing and you know what rate they are working at. Maybe this can be a part of the weekly communication blast they receive.
Craft Effective Communication Policies
Establish clear, comprehensive communication policies that outline expectations for response times, preferred communication channels, and guidelines for effective remote communication. Be sure to ensure a shared understanding among team members.
Leverage Technology Tools
Utilize a well-integrated set of communication and collaboration tools. These can include video conferencing, messaging platforms, and project management systems. Ultimately, you want to streamline communication, enhance connectivity, and facilitate efficient remote collaboration.
Enhance Team Dynamics
Foster a sense of connection and teamwork by encouraging regular team meetings, virtual check-ins, and open communication channels. Emphasize the importance of building relationships, and provide opportunities for team members to share updates, feedback, and ideas.
Host Remote Employee Engagement Activities
Organize virtual team-building activities, social events, and online forums to maintain a sense of camaraderie and combat feelings of isolation. These activities contribute to a positive remote work culture, boosting employee morale and engagement.
How Can Virtual Leaders Ensure Effective Communication with Remote Workers?
Successful remote communication is built on high levels of engagement. But if you don’t know if they are engaging, how do you even start?
There are many internal communication platforms that measure engagement in order to get everyone reading and actively responding to messages.
A lifeline that is cut when you’re not face-to-face acknowledges that they have received/read the message. But there is a way to measure this in an easy and effective way. If you put acknowledgments within email blasts, there is a number that tells you how employees are engaging with them, especially if they are important communications that are not as gripping.
Remote communication can also benefit from individualized messaging. How are people supposed to feel good about the work they are doing, the company they are working for, and the branding behind it if they just feel like an email address among hundreds or thousands? Custom communication means each person is getting content based on attributes (interests, location, position, and others). This makes each employee feel important.
For example, systems like Broadcast allow for personalization fields. This allows people to send emails (or Broadcast Email Blasts) that look like they are sent individually. According to Cerkl’s product stats, personalized emails always perform better than those with default settings. Data shows that the click-through rate and open rate for default setting performed much lower for every sending frequency (up to 60x lower for daily delivery). Omnichannel capabilities elevate personalization even more. Once a piece of content is consumed in one channel, it won’t appear on the rest of them.
Deskless and Email-less Employee Communication
Deskless remote workers can also be a major barrier to navigate. Without having a “basecamp”, it seems difficult to keep communication streamlined. However, with an employee mobile app, every employee has an internal communication platform to receive updates and ask questions without it being connected to a desktop, leading to a better experience for your remote workforce.
Cerkl Broadcast has superior solutions for email-less and deskless employees. It doesn’t matter where your remote teams are, you can keep them engaged 24/7, keeping them informed, satisfied, and happy.
Find out how successful companies set clear and realistic employee expectations for remote work and improve remote communication. Get the template they use for free, no risk, and with no commitment.
- Review the types of content your team creates and distributes across your channels
- Outline all of your department’s channels and mediums
- Measure the frequency of each platform
- Receive suggested employee survey questions
- Access a personalized, downloadable audit to share within your organization.
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Remote communication refers to the exchange of information and ideas between individuals or teams that are physically separated. It is often facilitated by digital tools and technology.
The two types of communication are synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communication occurs in real-time through methods like video calls or instant messaging. Asynchronous communication involves the exchange of messages or information without the need for immediate responses, such as email or collaborative documents.
There are many ways to communicate remotely with teams. Popular methods include video calls and various messaging platforms. Emails work well because they can ensure clarity, encourage regular check-ins, establish clear objectives, provide constructive feedback, and maintain an open channel for questions and discussions. Setting up regular virtual meetings, both one-on-one and with teams, can help to maintain a sense of connection and alignment.
A good example of virtual communication involves using video conferencing software for a collaborative project. Teams conduct regular video meetings, share screens to discuss progress, and use chat features for quick updates and discussions. This allows for face-to-face interaction, effective collaboration, and real-time problem-solving despite team members being in different locations.
Communication is crucial for remote work because it fosters collaboration, maintains team cohesion, clarifies expectations, ensures alignment on tasks, and helps to prevent isolation. Clear and consistent communication is essential for productivity, problem-solving, and maintaining a sense of connection among remote team members.