Utilizing a remote team can provide a healthy ROI, but it doesn’t come without challenges — the biggest of which is communicating across geographic, chronological, and cultural boundaries. This is especially true in a virtual office, where missing visual cues makes deciphering context extra difficult.
I know this from experience. I employ roughly 30 employees on my marketing team. They all have different learning styles and live everywhere from San Francisco to India. However, I’ve found that with solid communication as the foundation of your work environment, your workplace will run like a well-oiled machine.
Improve your communication efforts by utilizing these tested tools and methods:
1. Understand the different learning styles. David Kolb is an American educational theorist who spent some time researching communication. According to Kolb, in order to avoid miscommunication, you must create context by always framing your conversations around explaining the “what,” “why,” “how,” and “what if” behind a project.
For example, my dominant style of learning is “what.” Once I understand what something is, I can begin to utilize it as a tool for my purposes. However, focusing solely on your learning style won’t benefit your entire team, so when you speak or write to your remote teammates, follow this simple outline to answer those four questions.
2. Maintain concise documentation. Never jump straight into working without a plan. Every meeting and every task needs to be documented in business. It seems mundane, but you never know when someone will miss an important meeting, when you’ll need new hires, etc. Documentation acts as your checklist for success, ensuring accurate reporting and holding you and your teammates accountable.
Content-rich documentation helps build a cultural moat around your company, allowing you to internally clone your processes without letting the secret sauce slip into public view. Just be careful not to overly document (e.g., having a weekly report to track daily reports).
3. Create visuals. Most people are visual learners, so getting your point across in text alone can quickly wear down both parties. Utilizing graphic design tools like Canva or Piktochart help you get your point across to all remote team members, regardless of language barriers.
For example, at my company, we deliberately focus on creating vibrant visuals to supplement our communication, and as a result, we’ve improved our internal branding efforts and were named one of CareerBuilder’s Top Companies to Work For in Arizona three years in a row.
4. Utilize multiple formats. It’s not enough to just create Delivering messages in multiple formats improves the likelihood that they’ll be seen and absorbed by employees.
To give my remote teammates a human face to put on the raving-mad, benevolent dictator always barking orders at them, I create short video announcements using my laptop’s built-in camera. I then edit the videos with Camtasia and upload them to a URL (because video files are too big to email) using Wistia. I also attach any necessary files to the email I use to send the link to team members.
Multiple communication formats provide your remote team with a choice of methods to keep up with or catch up on important company announcements.
5. Follow up consistently. All popular email providers — from Microsoft Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird — have a feature that delays an email from sending. This allows you to complete a draft ahead of time and schedule it for a certain due date. Not only will following up keep you from forgetting an important email until Saturday morning, but it will also help you hold people accountable for their work.
Collaboration tools like Basecamp and Rally also allow you to set such reminders. In addition, we utilize Basecamp to onboard our new hires. By setting expectations early, all remote workers understand what it takes to succeed or fail.
Communication is difficult, especially in a business environment. And when team members work from remote offices, this challenge becomes even more difficult. Working through these hurdles of miscommunication takes an understanding of learning styles, visual documentation in multiple formats, and consistent follow-through. But once you’ve mastered these basics, you can communicate with anyone.