If you’re leading an out-of-office team for the first time, engaging with your employees remotely may feel unnatural. Best practices for communicating with remote workers may even feel counterintuitive. A good rule of thumb is that for a remote communication strategy, especially in a crisis, overcommunication is the appropriate level of communication.
Your people are your greatest asset. It is crucial to protect and nurture your team and build a strong remote work culture, providing employees with an environment that encourages productivity and connection. Whether you are discussing a big proposal or laughing over coffee with your team, at the end of the day engagement matters.
Meeting structures for well-rounded communication
While the traditional office setting offers natural opportunities for connection—whether in planned meetings or some watercooler mingling—these moments are easily lost when your team is no longer physically together. Though you may never have thought of it this way, there are four types of meetings in a traditional office setting:
- Intentional, scheduled work-related meetings
- Unplanned, unscheduled work-related meetings
- Intentional, scheduled non-work related meetings
- Unintentional, unscheduled non-work related meetings
For optimal communication with your remote team, each of these connection types must be replicated. With a little time, investigation, and creativity, it’s possible to do so even in a remote work environment.
Work-related communication is what most team leaders naturally begin building in. The catch is to build in the right balance of scheduled and unscheduled time to address work concerns throughout the week.
1. Scheduled meetings
Every team should plan times to discuss work projects and issues. This is probably what comes to mind when you hear the word “meeting”: something on your schedule, structured, and strictly work related. If you don’t have regular intentional meetings at least weekly, use this pivot to remote work as the impetus to start.
Also consider sprinkling more short, “touch-base” meetings into the dynamic of your (virtual) workplace. These quick meetings can be used to check in and solidify team goals for the week.
With a remote team, it is crucial to increase the frequency of intentional meetings in order to combat the interruptions that can come with remote work and set a solid foundation for effective communication.
2. Unscheduled meetings
What about when a sudden and urgent issue comes up? These unscheduled, work-related meetings are dedicated to addressing your employees’ pressing concerns so that no team member is unable to make progress on goals and tasks.
While these meetings are unplanned, they should be every bit as intentional as scheduled work meetings. While the specifics of how and when you facilitate this time will depend on what your days typically look like, the key is to leave time in your schedule for urgent communication. Create a calendar that can be shared with your team members so they can book appointments with you as needed.
Non-work related engagement
If you are asking yourself, Shouldn’t all meetings be professional?, you are not alone. As a leader, it can feel challenging—uncalled for, even—to let your guard down and show your human side. However, it is possible to be more personal while remaining professional even in a non-work related context. Modeling this behavior and creating space for who your team members are—not just what they do—builds a culture of trust, empathy, engagement, and authenticity. This is a strategic investment that should not be overlooked.
1. Intentional non-work related engagement
These are planned times to engage with your team about more personal topics outside of work, as you would if you were grabbing coffee with a team member in a traditional office setting. With a remote team, this type of engagement might look more like virtual chats to check in, or even virtual office happy hours where anyone can jump on a call and pour themselves their favorite drink. Brainstorm with your team what they would find enjoyable—it is the engagement that matters!
For optimal success, weave these meetings into the fabric of your organizational culture, whether a quarterly virtual lunch or a ten-minute team coffee date once a week. Be cognizant of time zones and ensure you are taking your entire team into consideration when scheduling these virtual get-togethers.
2. Spontaneous non-work related engagement
In a traditional workplace, this might be sharing lunch or the proverbial “water cooler chat.” Translating this type of casual engagement to the digital world starts with modeling it in your leadership.
Want to connect with one of your employees who may be having a hard time? Spontaneously deliver them coffee to reach out. Find new ways to connect through inspired, unplanned moments to replicate the spontaneous engagement that occurs in a physical office setting.
Communication protocols and tools
Developing additional communication protocols for remote work is essential. This includes establishing which mediums work best for your team’s needs and in what manner—say, to call twice in an emergency or to use Slack when the full team needs to weigh in on work issues.
Clarifying these communication patterns supports your team and keeps you engaged with the most high-value activity in any given moment. For example, these boundaries will prevent you from interrupting a critical strategy meeting for a non-emergency call from an employee.
Platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Hangouts, and Slack can help your team stay in communication. When choosing tools for your team, it is important to distinguish between synchronous (real time conversation-style dynamics, as in Slack) vs. asynchronous (time-shifted dynamics, such as in email, where responding the next day is often standard). Choosing the right communication channels could make the difference between a connected team and an isolated one.
Communication → Engagement → Productivity
Communication is the fertilizer that allows employee engagement to bloom. Without it, team members will become isolated and, ultimately, disengaged. Disengaged employees are unproductive employees—especially in a remote work setting.
To promote healthy, consistent engagement for your team, set expectations for how communication will be conducted and establish behaviors and rhythms that reinforce a communication-heavy remote work environment. As a leader, model what it truly looks like to engage others, and remember that there is no such thing as over-communication. Amp up your communication, and watch your organizational dynamic transform.