The coronavirus outbreak forced companies to embrace remote work en masse. Even tech titans like Google and Microsoft have instructed their employees to work from home, leading to a new remote work era. While remote work is not a new concept, it has gained more prominence in recent years. However, the sudden shift to remote work came with its fair share of challenges that firms have to grapple with. One of the biggest challenges for remote teams is communication. Communication between remote teammates is critical for effective collaboration, and it can adversely affect a project if it is faulty. This article explores the challenges and opportunities posed by remote communication.
Challenges of Remote Communication
Lack of Face-to-Face Communication
Face-to-face conversations can help us gain context and reduce misinterpretations. In remote settings, communication is often confined to email, chat, or phone calls. Remote teams may misinterpret or misunderstand team member’s communication, which can lead to delays, errors, and misunderstandings.
One way to overcome this challenge is by creating an opportunity for remote teams to have face-to-face communication. A company can opt to hold a virtual meeting or use video conferencing tools to unite remote workers. It provides remote teams with an opportunity to chat, get to know themselves, and grow a rapport. Casual communication could help minimize misunderstandings, increase team morale and make communication more comfortable.
Remote work implies that team members may work in different time zones, making communication a scheduling nightmare. The organization may have some team members spread across different parts of the world. As a result, coordinating meetings or conference calls could be quite an uphill task. The issue could become more pronounced if the time difference exceeds six to eight hours.
One effective way of dealing with time differences is being mindful of people’s schedules. The team leader can schedule meetings at times likely to accommodate everyone. Similarly, companies can adopt communication policies that respect the limitations of the different time zones. Strategies could include recording meetings, messaging asynchronous communication through emails or texts or using collaboration tools that work with flexible timelines.
Poor internet connectivity, outdated equipment, and technical glitches can hinder remote communication. For instance, one team member may be frequently dropping out of video calls, making communication more challenging. These issues create communication barriers and can derail a project’s progress.
To solve technical barriers, companies must ensure that remote workers have access to reliable tech tools. Ensuring employees have laptops or PCs, mobile devices, and ensuring the tools used for collaboration are compatible with their devices is very important. Equally, learning in advance what works and what does not work is essential to avoid wasting time during actual collaborations. In addition, providing on-demand IT support can ensure that problems are solved in record time, reducing downtime.
Another interesting challenge that remote teams face is effective communication alongside the overload of communication. Instant messaging apps, emails, and collaboration tools all contribute to the excessive amount of communication that remote team members have to deal with. This influx can lead to confusion, increased noise levels, and dilution of priority tasks.
To overcome the challenge of information overload, organizations must train remote workers on effective communication strategies. Enforcing communication protocols during work hours, and setting established channels for communication can limit the frequency of messages that workers must wade through every day. Similarly, encouraging team members to maintain clear, concise, and well-targeted communication could help reduce information overload. Having regular team meetings to review urgent tasks, set priorities and allocate tasks to specific team members can also help streamline communications.
Remote workers can feel disconnected from each other, leading to a sense of isolation. When team members feel isolated and disconnected, it can be challenging to deliver a project’s results effectively. Moreover, it can lower engagement and employee morale.
To overcome virtual disconnection, companies must prioritize team building by organizing online activities to promote team cohesion. Communication tools like a virtual whiteboard could be used to create areas where workers can exchange ideas and collaborate on projects. Introducing social events online can also help build camaraderie among remote employees, just like it does for in-person workers.
Language and Cultural Differences
Remote work often means that individuals work with teammates from different countries, cultures and different language levels. Language barriers can make it challenging to convey information and communicate effectively. Cultural differences can also lead to misunderstandings.
To overcome these challenges, companies must understand and recognize the diversity of their remote team members in terms of language and culture. Providing language classes or training sessions could be useful in this regard. Similarly, including different viewpoints in communication to ensure everyone understands the message is essential.
Opportunities of Remote Communication
One obvious benefit of remote communication is the flexibility it provides. With non-traditional hours and the ability to work from anywhere, remote workers have more time and control over how they allocate their time. It usually leads to higher work satisfaction and productivity.
To take advantage of the increased flexibility, organizations must focus on outcomes rather than on the number of hours worked. Task assignments with a clear description help remote team workers to understand the expectations and goals of the organization. Similarly, providing remote workers with flexibility to find their ideal work-life balance helps reduce stress and increase productivity.
Remote teams have the opportunity to work with individuals from various locations, cultures, and backgrounds. This diversity helps remote teams generate new ideas and perspectives not possible within one cohort.
To take advantage of diverse perspectives, companies must prioritize teamwork and foster collaboration. Encouraging group work and joint efforts allow workers to leverage one another’s strengths and draw from their experiences. This sharing of experiences and cultural perspectives leads to more successful outcomes as innovative and out-of-the-box ideas are generated.
More Focus on Results
Remote working puts more emphasis on outcomes than hours. When remote teams focus on results over efforts, it leads to higher productivity and efficiency levels.
To take advantage of the emphasis on results, companies must make it clear what is expected of remote workers. Setting specific targets and milestones for projects or assignments creates clarity on what is essential and what’s not. Encouraging accountability by tracking progress is also essential as it helps establish the culture of focusing on results, which is essential for remote work.
Wider Talent Pool
Remote work enables companies to access more workers than their local areas. It is particularly beneficial for firms located in rural areas that don’t have access to the same talent pool as urban areas.
To take advantage of the wider talent pool, companies must adapt their recruitment strategy to ensure that they attract a diverse range of applicants. Utilizing social media and job websites that attract remote applicants can also increase the talent pool. Organizations should also be more receptive to working with non-local workers who bring unique experiences and perspectives.
Improved Employee Morale
Remote work is a critical factor in employee satisfaction. The flexibility it offers is particularly attractive to workers with children, disabilities, or those caring for relatives. The higher level of job satisfaction and improved work-life balance is recognized and appreciated by workforces.
To take advantage of improved employee morale, companies must prioritize employee well-being. Offering remote employees a benefits package can lead to higher morale and improve their work satisfaction. Similarly, providing training, opportunities for career growth, and regular mini-evaluations or feedback, encourages continued growth and resonates positively with remote workers.
Remote work allows organizations to save on costs such as rent, utility expenses, and equipment. This cost-saving thus translates to more investment value and better financial results.
To take advantage of cost savings opportunities, companies must plan appropriately. Investing in flexible and agile tools and communication software will allow remote teams to communicate, collaborate and work efficiently. Purchasing tools that are reliable and accessible to everyone who uses them is key.
Remote work came with significant challenges, particularly for communication. However, remote work also presents opportunities for businesses that can adapt to the new way of working. While some challenges can’t be entirely avoided, remote teams can overcome them. To ensure successful communication in remote teams, constant effort to check in and clarify messages is necessary. There must be a mutual understanding of the communication tools used and ensuring that they are reliable, easily accessible, and meet security requirements. With a thoughtful and deliberate approach to communication, remote teams can capitalize on the opportunities while overcoming challenges that come their way.