Remote Team Communication and Technology

SweetRush has been a 100% virtual company since 2009. We’re sharing our best tips and expertise on the topics of remote team communication, leading remote teams, and working from home, to help leaders and individuals facing this transition for the first time. 

Question: Are there any particular technology or communication processes you find useful for having a workforce that is working remotely?

Technology and communication processes are important for any organization—and they become absolutely critical when working from home and leading remote teams. While many of you have likely had some flexibility for virtual work before COVID-19, we know that for some of you, this is the first time that you’ve asked your workforce to work remotely. 

In this moment, teams are having to make hard choices about shifting priorities and taking on new projects with accelerated timelines. Having the technical capabilities to allow your now-remote workforce to hit the ground running is critical, but putting standards and best practices in place around the use of these technologies will be key to a fully remote transition. 

And, as always, but especially in this moment, empathy and compassion are your most important tools. People will need some time to adjust. Buddy up people on your team who might be struggling and those who are making the transition more smoothly. Ask for feedback and make adjustments that help everyone feel connected and productive.

Remote Team Communication: Technology

Think of your technical systems in terms of what they provide to your team. The table below outlines the categories we think about. Depending on the work you’re doing, you may think about other categories that will help you effectively lead your remote team. 

CategoryWhat it provides the remote workforceTool examples
Synchronous 1:1 and group communicationA place to “pop in” and ask a quick question.Slack
Skype
Google Hangouts Chat
Video conferencingA place to hold meetings with video and audio capabilitiesGoogle Hangouts
Zoom
Webex
GoToMeeting
File sharingA place to save their work where others can access and, ideally, collaborate in real timeGoogle Drive
Dropbox
ownCloud
CollaborationA place to visually ideate, explore, and collaborateLucidchart
IdeaBoardz
Miro
Mural
Knowledge managementA place to go for answers around company policy, procedures, project details—all of the knowledge contained in an organizationConfluence
SharePoint
Social spaceA place to commune to share nonwork-related content and connect with one another.Workplace
Yammer
Asynchronous communicationA way to reach out when coworkers are not available for response at the same timeMarco Polo
Voice memos
email

Engaging your IT department is obviously vital as it will likely have licensing and security concerns and want to outline processes for how any newly introduced tools are used. In addition to security, you should consider the norms and best practices you want to establish for the team in using these tools. Communicate those clearly to your team.

It’s also a best practice to define your objectives for each technical system and periodically check in to ensure they’re meeting your needs. For example, when we established our solution for the “social space” category, we identified a list of objectives for the tool. A small committee meets quarterly to review analytics and “rate” how we are doing on our objectives. This often leads to ideas for improvement that are quick to implement and make a positive impact.

Remote Team Communication: Processes

Calendar Management

Consider instituting some best practices around calendar management. At SweetRush, we ask people to block their available hours (start and stop times each day). Folks also block time for deep work and leave a portion of time available for meetings. 

With our global workforce, consistency in calendar management helps us quickly schedule synchronous time with members of our community. With many employees juggling kids home from school, you may be opening up more flexibility in work hours. Having transparency of everyone’s availability will be important. 

Managing Virtual Meetings

Keeping everyone on track during virtual meetings can be a bit more challenging compared to in-person meetings—particularly if people aren’t on camera. In person, we become very reliant on body language and facial expressions to know if someone is engaged or checked out, in agreement or disagreement, or just confused. 

Bringing more structure to meetings helps ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and no one person dominates (or derails) the meeting. I like to use the concept of “rounds” in meetings. Here’s how it works at SweetRush:

  • First, have a set amount of time for someone to present an idea or update. 
  • Next, engage in a round of clarifying questions. 
  • Then start a round for reactions. 

Important tip: Use the hand-raising feature in your virtual meeting platform to keep the conversation organized and on track. Assign someone to track the hand-raisers so they can be called on in order.

Leading Your Remote Team and Finding Your Communication Flow

As you make the transition from office life to working from home, a good practice is to do a weekly assessment of how your team is pivoting to working remotely. Think about the meetings you’ve been in and led, conversations you’ve had via chat and live, the amount of emails you’ve seen and how effective they’ve been. Informally survey your team to get their thoughts on how communication has been and what could be improved. We continuously improve our practices, tweak and add to our system, when something we’re doing becomes inadequate, with input from our team. 

Making rapid change and designing your remote team communication in real time are going to be—understandably—challenging for you and for your team. We’ve found that people appreciate vulnerability in these moments. Sharing that you will be testing things, seeing what works, and adjusting based on user input is a good way to set the stage for future adjustments and iteration. You’ll likely have some stumbling blocks and people who need extra support. And you’ll also have opportunities for quick fixes and quick wins that demonstrate to your team how much you care.

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Lauren Granahan is SweetRush’s Director of Organizational Effectiveness. She loves to streamline communication and find new ways of working that make everyone more productive and efficient! Reach out if you have a question about leading remote teams; we’d love to help.