Working from home is still a relatively new phenomenon. Even with the advent of more sophisticated communication mediums like instant chat and text messages, many employers feel that remote work has a negative effect on team communication. It's true that communication is one of the biggest challenges in managing a team of remote workers, but with the right approach, you can compensate for that weakness.
Advantages of Remote Workers
If communication is such a problem, why are remote workers advantageous in the first place?
More hiring choices. Traditional businesses are sometimes limited by logistical employment obstacles. For example, you can't hire someone from out of state to come into an office, and you can't hire a new parent who needs to stay with their child. But with 90 percent of families with children having at least one employed parent and workers available all over the country, opening the doors to more hiring options means a greater possibility of finding the perfect fit.
Less commuting. No commuting means your workers will have more personal time, they won't come into work as grumpy or tired, and you'll all spend less money on gas and travel.
Lower expenses. As conducive as it is for communication, an office is expensive to maintain. Not only do you need to pay for the lease and other property costs, but you're responsible for the internet, utilities, and amenities.
Higher productivity. Though the evidence isn't foolproof, there is some data to suggest that working from home can increase worker productivity, meaning you'll get more done with fewer man-hours spent.
Preventing the Communication Problem
Now, let's look at how we can better manage our employees' communications so we can continue earning those benefits:
Set expectations early. Your first job is to be clear and upfront about the expectations your company has for remote workers. This is going to vary based on your company culture, your workers, and even your current needs, but the more direct you are the better. For example, do you need your workers to be available during certain hours of the day? Do you need for your employees to use one medium preferentially over the other? Don't make assumptions here--spell it out, preferably with some kind of formal documentation.
Use the same apps and platforms. There are hundreds of chat, management, and collaboration apps available. If all of your employees are using different tools, they'll never be able to communicate with each other effectively. Make sure all your team members have downloaded and know how to properly use the apps you've chosen for your organization. It may cost some extra money to get all the seats or software licenses you need, but it will be worth it.
Be proactive. Set a standard for proactivity for yourself and all your team members. If you know there's a big project coming up, let your workers know about it well in advance. Conversely, make sure they tell you well in advance if they're going to be taking some time off. The more advanced notice you give each other--even for minor developments--the more time you'll have to react to each other.
Avoid interruptions. One of the reasons working from home is more productive than office work is the removal of interruptions--but interruptions can still happen. Try your best not to ping someone over messenger or call them when you know they're busy working. Reserve your emergency communication for actual emergencies. Speaking of which...
Have a plan for emergencies. Emergencies can and will come up, and when they do, you can't be scrambling to find one of your team members who's actually online and responding to your messages. Make sure to put a standard in place for how to reach out and how to be ready for emergency communication. It could be as simple as using phone calls instead of email--but be clear about your expectations.
Remain concise, but clear. In all forms of communication, most of which will be some kind of written communication, strive for conciseness and clarity. The more concise you are, the better you'll be able to hold each other's attention, and the less time you'll waste with fluff. The clearer you are, the less room you'll leave for misinterpretations, assumptions, and other disastrous missteps.
Encourage questions and concerns. Finally, keep the communication open in both directions. Let your employees know that you're available at any time to address their thoughts, comments, questions, and concerns. This will encourage them to bring up any issues they face quickly, directly, and proactively, helping you solve problems more efficiently, and will help them stay satisfied and feeling appreciated as a part of the team.
Put these strategies to good use when managing your own team of remote workers. The more time you spend getting to know each other's habits and speech patterns and the more effective you are at keeping your standards consistent, the better you're going to be able to communicate.
And with a team in perfect communication, all your problems will be solved faster.