A guide on distributed team communication

Remote teams can break because of communication. What can you do to avoid this?

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As your company grows & goes global, the challenge of maintaining effective communication within a distributed team grows too. There’s no universal recipe for building a top-tier remote team communication. However, there are ways to avoid the most frequent mistakes.

How to communicate within a remote team

To dive right in, there are seven main rules that can help you set up an uninterrupted communication with your distributed squad:

  1. Over-do planning. Pay extra attention to crafting plans and schedules since syncing with a team becomes more complicated at a distance.
  2. Set a reporting procedure. Don’t rely on random reports; your virtual team needs to know precisely how and when to prepare an important information.
  3. Don’t underestimate in-person meetings. Although technologies expand our ability to connect with people around the world, nothing replaces the face-to-face personal communication.
  4. Find the right time. Time differences can become a real pain in the neck and decrease the efficiency of your catch-up with a team.
  5. Be a cultural diplomat. Neglecting cultural differences can ruin the trust in your team.
  6. Use simple language. Leaving aside the complicated phrases that only native speakers can understand will enhance the process.
  7. Use a stable connection. Make sure that your conversation lasts as long as you want it to.

Now let’s talk these things through in more detail.

Over-do the planning

As much as in-house teams benefit from over-communication, distributed teams require it too. You need to plan the communication activities ahead of time. Then, spread this blueprint out in front of your team in the most concise and understandable manner. Thereafter, ask if everything’s clear and repeat everything again, just in case. Feeling the urgency and priority of different agenda items is harder when you’re not in the middle of an active office.

When miles and seas separate you, it is better to avoid vague terminology such as “ASAP”, “in your own time”, or “whenever you have a chance.” These expressions could be efficiency-killers even within an in-house team. Create coherent plans, set specific deadlines and don’t rely on chance.

Set a reporting procedure

Reporting is a logical and essential extension of proper planning. Once you set clear objectives, make sure that your employees report on the results.

As a team grows & goes global, the challenge in maintaining high quality communication grows too.

The most important thing to consider here is trust. Carving out trusting relations within a distributed group is a complicated process, as a strict and cumbersome reporting procedure might jeopardize that faith. However, before you search for the right balance, remember that insisting on regular reports doesn’t mean that you doubt your team’s honesty. It’s better to perceive reporting as a way of establishing the connection and creating another communication tool to collaborate effectively.

Nothing replaces eye-to-eye meetings

One of the main advantages of a distributed organization is cost reduction, and so it may seem counterintuitive to suddenly leverage eye-to-eye meetings.

Organizing a trip every three months is actually not more expensive than if your team were all in one physical office. Run the calculations and you’ll see. It’s also an important factor for supporting a friendly atmosphere, while also maintaining business alignment.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of in-person meetings. According to this study, eye-to-eye meetings aren’t only a team-building tool, but also a powerful instrument for completing projects. The participants of the study reported that after working remotely on complicated tasks they couldn’t fully solve certain issues until they met together to brainstorm and share knowledge. This is not to say that a team needs to be together on a daily basis, but seeing someone’s gestures and body language in real-time definitely helps with establishing a better connection.

Find the right time

In case your team is scattered around the globe, you’ll encounter challenges related to setting up a time for meetings inevitably. The possible solution for mitigating the problem is to opt for nearshoring instead of offshoring (that is, looking closer to home). When you hire a dedicated development team in neighboring countries, scheduling a meeting won’t be affected by time differences. In addition, you’ll be able to maintain continuity in communication by excluding the influence of mismatching holidays and days-off.

Distributed Teams Break Down Because of Communication

In any case, finding a good time to gather all members of a global team is complex. You’ll have to walk that extra mile to make it work. To help you out, there is a website called World Time Buddy, which will show you the time zone of every team member and help find the most suitable time for a team communication.

Be a cultural diplomat

There are plenty of culture-based business communication patterns that can cause misunderstandings. Long glares, empty promises, unwanted interruptions, handshakes (or their absence)—these are the things that differ from country to country.

In order to avoid awkwardness, stock up on research (or, you know, reach out to a trusted friend on Facebook Messenger that understands the culture in hand). In our opinion, cultural diplomacy is mostly about being open-minded and not jumping to conclusions. Any time a fellow coworker acts in a manner that you’re not used to, take your time to consider cultural differences. You need to treat your colleagues with equal tolerance and respect. Another way to secure cultural understanding is to build a team within the neighboring countries that share similar traditions and behavioral patterns.

Use easy language

In multilingual environments, distributed teams also encounter frequent complications with language.

To make distributed teams’ communication a bit easier it is advisable to set some rules.

–          Native speakers should dial down their fluency, avoid idioms and use simpler language, which can be very helpful to an active listener—e.g. rephrasing complicated sentences or asking clear and concise questions.

–          Non-native speakers should always have a chance to participate in discussions, comment, and share their opinion. Eventually, they’ll find their place in these meetings. Yet, it is vital to remain prudent, as it’s good practice to ask if everyone understands what they are trying to communicate on a regular basis.

–          Team leaders should coordinate the process actively through shortening the unnecessarily long speeches, encouraging collective discussions, and sticking to the schedule at hand.

Stable connection

There is a great deal of relying on technology in distributed teams as you spend much of your time communicating online. There are many video chat platforms out there and they all have a few inherent flaws in common.

Distributed Teams Break Down Because of Communication

There is hardly any way to prevent bluescreens or app crashes, but some things are within your influence. For example, make sure that you have a stable (and secure, if needed) Wi-Fi connection before starting the call. If possible, use cable, instead of Wi-Fi to avoid any unexpected failures. Check the app’s audio recording and playback settings. Make sure the camera is detected.

Find the technology that suits you the most, and then accept its shortcomings, because no one’s perfect.

Tools to communicate and collaborate within a distributed team

To cap it all, here is a list of distance collaboration tools and apps, which you might find useful for your day-to-day communication. This list is not ultimate, because technologies keep changing and improving on a regular basis. However, we’ve been using some of these remote communication tools for a long enough time to say: hey, you should give them a try:

  1. Slack. This is a digital version of gathering around an office watercooler and having a refreshing round of gossip. Using this app, you can have an informal chat with your colleagues, while sharing photos, posting GIFs, and even discussing work-related questions in some cases. It is also possible to create different communication channels in the app by adding only those people that really need to participate. The only Slack’s shortcoming is that it deletes older messages unless you buy a premium subscription.
  2. Google Hangouts. This tool can be leveraged whenever you want to see your team and have an almost face-to-face talk with them. It is possible to create a unique link for every video call and share it with the participants in Google Hangouts. If you need something more sophisticated, consider Zoom, which offers more useful features for conferencing, e.g. simultaneous sharing of several screens.
  3. Google Drive. Following the list of Google tools, we can’t avoid mentioning Google Drive. Here you can create folders, share documents, presentations, and photos, while commenting and editing each other’s work. Another similar tool is Dropbox, but it offers considerably less storage for free.
  4. Trello. It’s a Kanban board that will help with organizing your daily tasks and following the work of the other team members. Using Trello, you can create boards and cards with tasks, mark their completion, assign tasks to specific people, and leave comments. Another similar tool is Jira, which has similar features but targets mainly software teams and tech professionals.

At the end of the day, all these tools are pursuing the same goal, namely, to help you build an effective and productive team. Check out more tips on creating a successful software development team in our ultimate guide.

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