I’m a Smartworker. In fact, I’ve been a SmartManager for more than 10 years and it has become second nature for me to manage my colleagues and external collaborators remotely. To get to this point, and to have my teams working efficiently and harmoniously with zero friction, I’ve adopted what could be seen as really useful best communication practices for distributed and remote teams.
To use a smartworking approach efficiently, as I mentioned in my previous article, you need more than just a web and video-conferencing solution. You also need a collaboration platform that provides an advanced asynchronous communication environment (and no – email plus WhatsApp is not a solution).
Once you’ve got that platform, here are 5 ideas to make team communication more fluid and effective:
Instead of spending hours in a video conference listening to each team member deliver their weekly report (which might be very useful for the manager, but is really boring for all those waiting for their turn), each team member publishes a post, shared with the whole team, listing the salient details of happened last week and what is planned for next week. This gets everybody focused on their goals but also increases the visibility of what others are working on.
Weekly video conference:
Have shorter and more focused video meetings by agreeing the timetable with the team and using the time to discuss only the topics that require whole-team discussion and participation. Each video conference is accompanied by a group chat containing relevant information (links, documents, etc.) which serves to surface any issues before, during and after the session. In some cases it may also be useful to share the video recording of the session.
For discussions on specific topics with selected groups of people, use group chats instead of endless threads of emails that are difficult to follow because the thread of the conversation gets lost or hijacked. In this way, shared knowledge will remain available to those who need it whether or not they were part of the conversation, providing a useful archive and helping continuity even when there are changes in teams or processes.
Informal group or one-to-one calls:
Being physically separated makes it more difficult to bond with colleagues, so to make the relationship more human, allow for moments of informal communication on non-business related topics. For example, in this period of COVID19, in our weekly update calls I have introduced a section in which everyone is free to update us on the situation in their region or nation. I’ve found that it really helps people to be able to share their anxieties and concerns with others.
Try to encourage your team to resist the temptation to continually call colleagues for information on this or that, as they would do if you were all in the office together. Instead, get them used to arranging calls via chat with the relevant expert. In addition, stress the need to respect agreed call times, because we all have to consider that everyone needs to adapt to their own family environment and will therefore work when it’s most convenient for them. For example, I have a collaborator who for various reasons has decided to work as if he were in the United States, so I can find him online at 3:00 am, but rarely before 2:00 in the afternoon. In this case, one-to-one chat has almost completely solved our communication flow. We leave comments and updates asynchronously in order to respect each other’s different working hours.
Simple, isn’t it? In the early days, changing how you communicate can seem arduous and ineffective, because old habits die hard. My recommendation is to take small steps, introducing only one change at a time, getting used to that change and giving it enough time to appreciate its benefits and drawbacks. It takes longer, but it’s worth it because you’ll end up with change that sticks.