5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

Communicating effectively is one of the most difficult challenges for teleworkers and virtual teams. The physical separation from your team can inhibit trust, visibility, collaboration, focus, effectiveness, and the building of relationships, and is often cited as the least enjoyable part of remote working.

Nonetheless, these challenges can be mitigated and overcome with deliberate practice and effort. Here are five tips to help you communicate more effectively as a teleworker:

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

1. Make your calendar visible to coworkers. In a recent post, I introduced the WIPS time management technique (Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling). WIPS advocates for the use of a calendar tool, like Outlook or Google, and most organizations will have access to this type of technology. I highly recommend ensuring that your teammates have access to your schedule and that you make the details of that schedule visible to your immediate team. When used in conjunction with WIPS, your team will be able to see the meetings you are taking, the projects you are working on, and how you’re spending your time more generally. Now, this may seem a little intrusive, but it will build additional trust with your colleagues and provide everyone with visibility on the projects you’re working on.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

2. Seek feedback proactively and frequently. Because many teleworkers don’t regularly interact with their colleagues face-to-face, we often miss out on opportunities to get feedback on our work. In a traditional office environment, this can come from non-verbal cues during meetings, during chats in the break room, or in a number of other ways. To remedy this, I recommend being proactive about seeking feedback. Techniques like email follow-ups, regular touchpoint discussions, and asking for thoughts on a teleconference can all lead to valuable feedback that you wouldn’t otherwise have obtained. This will not only help you perform better as a contributor to your team, it will often foster enhanced collaboration throughout the team as a whole.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

3. Call out others’ successes. One characteristic of a high-performing team is the ability to share ideas and feedback in an open and safe atmosphere. Many teams take this to mean that they can challenge and debate their colleagues, which is true, but the role of positive feedback and affirmation is often underutilized in this dynamic. The best teams have a healthy degree of both, which can contribute to a sort of positive feedback loop; positive feedback leads to better relationships and higher trust, which in turn leads to more and better collaboration, making the team even more effective. So call out those good ideas during meetings, reach out via IM to congratulate a colleague, and pass along your praise of a teammate to your manager; it will highlight your role as a team player and make your team more effective.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

 

4. Maximize calls and minimize emails. How great are emails? I mean, nothing beats that pile of Monday morning emails that takes you hours to file through, right? WRONG. Emails have value, but they are overused by almost every organization. The vast majority of emails, especially internal emails, would’ve been better as a quick call or instant message. There’s also the added clarity inherent in voice communication. We’ve all received a email or text message with an ambiguous statement and thought, “what do they mean by that?” That’s because vocabulary is only part of communication. According to Albert Mehrabian, words only contribute 7% to a statement’s meaning. The other 93% comes from tone and body language. So not only are voice calls (or better yet, video calls) more efficient in communication, they’re also more effective. By calling more and emailing less, your team will have better time management, clearer messages, closer relationships, and will perform at a higher level overall.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

5. Use collaboration tools. Speaking of reducing emails, an entire industry has emerged based on this principle. Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms focus their business on helping teams work more effectively. The reduction of emails is part of these platforms, but their missions are beyond that; to help teams collaborate better. And while this includes more emphasis on voice and video calls, they also incorporate hubs and channels where teams can work together in a shared virtual space. This principle is also shared in project/task management software, like JIRA, Asana, and countless others. And while none of these tools are perfect for every team, and team members can dread using them at times, they really do work. So try them out! As a general rule, the more ways virtual teams can emulate co-located teams, the better they will perform as a single unit.

As you can see, there are many ways to communicate more effectively as an individual, and as a team. The 5 tips highlighted here are the best in my experience, but I’m sure there are others out there! What communication tips do you have for remote workers and virtual teams? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly! Thanks for reading.

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 2: Excelling)

This article is number two of a three-part series that will help you succeed while working remotely. Part 1 focused on the basics: create a dedicated work space, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off. This second installment focuses on tips to truly excel while working away from the office. Enjoy!

  1. Develop a morning routine. What do you mean “morning routine”? I thought working remotely meant you didn’t need a morning routine?! While that might technically be true, those who excel while working from outside the office generally have a regular and consistent morning routine—and I am a big advocate for it. You see, morning routines do more that physically shift your body into a certain place at a certain time, they prepare you mentally for the work of the day. How one prepares themselves will vary notably from person to person, but I like to do things that get me into “work mode.” First and foremost is getting dressed. It may seem trivial and unnecessary, but your brain probably links pajamas to rest and relaxation, so getting out of your PJs—however comfortable they may be—is a good first indicator to your subconscious that it’s time to get to work. After putting on a pot of coffee, consider some form of mild physical and/or mental exercise. On the physical side, it might be some light stretching or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block; on the mental side, try setting aside a few articles to read as you enjoy your coffee. This need not be work reading, but it also shouldn’t be fluff; pick articles that are engaging and interesting. Everyone’s routine will vary slightly, but it’s important to build consistent triggers into your morning to help you hit the ground running when you’re finally ready to log in.
  2. Set two goals for the week. This tip can apply to anyone, but I think it’s absolutely critical for teleworkers. Why? Because those of us working from home have ample opportunities to become distracted. Family, odd jobs, solicitors, and a million other things are constantly present to pull you off track, in addition to many of the same work distractions and short-term fires that plague your in-office colleagues. In this wash of distractions and time-suckers, these goals will help keep you oriented and aligned with what’s truly important. And it doesn’t have to be two goals; depending on your day-to-day workload and schedule, it may only be one. It could also be more, but I caution against making more than four, because then it becomes a to-do list—which these goals are not. To-do lists tend to be collections of tasks that are agnostic to timeliness, priority, or both. These weekly goals should be how you define success for the week; these are high-level strategic objectives that will drive you, your colleagues, your partners, and your customers forward. For example, my goals for this week are to support the transition of my development team to a new sprint and to successfully brief my new boss on a suite of internal tools that I manage. These may seem fairly mundane, but each include a number of sub-tasks, as well as significant preparation and follow-up. Looking back at the end of the week, barring any cataclysmic events, if I have been successful in these two areas, I will have had a successful week.
  3. Make yourself visible. By far the biggest downside to working remotely is your physical separation from peers and superiors. This is especially pronounced if most of your team is collocated. It’s easy to take for granted the amount of team building that takes place in the office, even in informal settings. This can make it hard as a remote employee to connect with your teammates. Similarly, it can be more difficult for your accomplishments to get due visibility and credit when you’re not interfacing directly with your superiors. To remedy this, it’s important to find ways to make yourself and your accomplishments as visible as possible. Obviously, this must be done in a measured and tactical manner; no one wants to hear you brag. Instead, send drafts of work out to peers and superiors for feedback. Rather than sending an email for assistance, try to schedule a brief call to talk through what you need. To build better relationships with your teammates, connect, engage, and endorse them on LinkedIn. To stay involved, schedule recurring (but brief) meetings to touch base with peers and superiors to discuss important projects and ways to contribute. If you manage your time closely, as I do, make your calendar visible to others so they can see what projects you’re working on. Being proactive about making yourself more visible will take additional effort, but will be well worth it in the long run.

The final part of this article series, focusing on enjoying your time while working remotely, will be released tomorrow. In the meantime, please share your experiences and feedback in the comments below and reach out via the Contact section above. Thanks!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com