The rapid development of technology has birthed many opportunities for entrepreneurs, including the ability to collaborate remotely or engage with co-workers in satellite offices seamlessly. While there are many benefits to this new way of working, the lack of direct interaction can sometimes lead to miscommunication '” a potential catalyst for larger problems down the road.
A recent survey of 400 companies (composed of 100 employees) cited an average loss per company of $420,000 per year due to inadequate communication to and between employees. So how do we stay connected while working in different places across different time zones?
Part of my role takes me away from our corporate office to one of our remote offices, and sometimes for days at a time. While the scenery may change for me, it's still business as usual back home. When I have time outside the four walls of the main office, I've witnessed firsthand how crucial it is to adjust my communication style to match my new surroundings.
While every business is different, I've seen how minimizing isolationist tendencies, setting aside more time to connect and aligning communication practices can keep productivity uninterrupted among team members, whether they're five feet apart or five states away.
When you're busy working on a project independently and you don't have your team immediately accessible, it's easy to isolate your ideas and thought processes. While you may think you're being productive, too many things can be missed in an environment that lacks synergy.
Here are a few ways you can create a collaborative culture and camaraderie when your team is spread out.
Encourage the use of Slack or other communication tools
When you can't just swing by someone's desk, a quick chat is the next best thing. Chatting gets quicker responses and keeps colleagues more engaged than emailing back and forth.
Say 'œhello' first thing in the morning
Once you've settled in with a cup of joe and are ready to take on the day, jump onto your chat platform for a quick 'œgood morning' before jumping into emails. It politely shows you're online and ready to take on the day.
Avoid ever setting your status as 'œaway'
When you're already isolated, one of the worst things you can do is put up a wall between you and collaborators. Choose either 'œactive' or 'œin a meeting' to set expectations for response time.
FaceTime for more face time
Use Skype, Google Hangouts or other video platforms for meetings whenever possible. It may seem unnecessary, but the ability to see someone's expression while they talk can add a lot of value to the conversation. Some people come across as cold, distant or even mean via email or chat. Talking 'œin person' through video chat helps to minimize potential miscommunication.
The fastest way to miscommunication is through assumption. Don't ever leave anything up to chance and increase clarity with these communication tips:
Respond to all emails within 30 minutes of receiving them
The inefficiency of unanswered emails is not only bad for communication '” it's annoying, and when done repeatedly, can lead to frustration between co-workers. As a courtesy, always respond to emails with a sense of urgency. You may be in a meeting or your response is a bit more complex '” that's OK. Send an email acknowledging that it's on your radar, even if you can't respond thoroughly right away.
Keep everyone on the same page
Set up a stand-up “meeting” bot so everyone has a clear idea of team members’ top three priorities for the day. If you don't use a chat tool, you can accomplish something similar with iDoneThis. Synchronized tasks help keep everyone on target and in the loop. If it's a project you're not involved on, it still gives you a pulse on co-workers bandwidth that day.
Keep your schedule transparent
If you're in the midst of traveling, block off your travel time so your team knows when you'll be unavailable and gives them the opportunity to plan ahead for when you are.
Assign an in-office liaison
Select a point of contact (POC) for projects while visiting other offices '” someone on the ground to help and direct questions to the proper place while you're away. It's good to have POCs for each office that can help communicate updates with each other and trickle down any new information without taking away too much of your time.
Ensure your team is on the same page from day one by establishing these communication best practices. These tips are just as important as any other office process they'd learn in their onboarding.
Be aware of the differences
It's thoughtful to consider other offices' time zones or international holidays when scheduling meetings with those in different states or countries.
Be available to all offices
It's crucial to widen your availability after hours to cover any gap in other offices' business hours. This way everyone can reach you. Text or email back even if you cannot talk after hours.
Keep decision-making inclusive
It's one thing to give orders from afar, and it's another to seek input on important company decisions. Including key employees in larger decisions is good for morale and encourages cohesiveness over distance.
Use Google Drive or similar tools for non-sensitive data
Keep your files in a place where they are easily accessible, no matter your location. Furthermore, online documents and spreadsheets allow for immediate and transparent commentary and/or feedback and real-time collaboration.
Set windows of non-travel
When possible, set aside a few days every month for a travel freeze. Have real face time with your team and take advantage of the opportunity for on-ground collaboration '” it can mean a lot to them.
Maybe you've been working remotely for years or are just thinking ahead to the possibility. Either way, these techniques will help you stay connected while on the move.