Best Practices for Communicating with Remote Teams – Part 1

As Charles Darwin, the father of the Theory of Evolution, famous observed: “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Oliver Wendell Holmes shared a similar sentiment: “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another’s mind than the one where they sprang up.”

Being able to collaborate with your team effectively is essential to its success, but what if the members of your team are not physically present? A staggering 37 percent of all U.S. workers now telecommute, according to recent analysis. Collaborating with remote team members is nearly unavoidable, no matter what your business is or how much in house capacity you’ve cultivated.

Follow these tips to encourage productivity and great relationships with your remote workers:

1. Practice good email etiquette.

Every email should be clear and concise. Train your team members in your desired email protocol. Be specific about what you expect, and provide feedback regarding style, tone and timeliness, especially with respect to client management. Practice what you preach. When you receive an email from a team member, reply to it as soon as you can. If you won’t be able to fully respond in a timely manner, send a short note to let the sender know that you haven’t forgotten him or her. Consider discussing/implementing David Allen’s productivity rules for permanently ship-shapeemail inboxes.

2. Encourage phone calls.

When an urgent matter arises or an email isn’t clear, encourage your team members to call you directly. Likewise, if you need clarification or immediate action on the part of a team member, don’t hesitate to call. Train all members of your team to return your phone calls as soon as possible. Avoid passive aggressive behavior and sitcom-like errors and omissions by creating a process that forces open communication.

3. Reserve time to talk face-to-face.

Even though your remote team members aren’t in the office with you, you can still speak face-to-face with the help of technologies such as Google Hangouts, Skype and FaceTime. When important topics require more in-depth discussion, these virtual meetings break down the barriers and encourage faster, more effective problem solving. Regular face-to-face meetings also help your team members to become more comfortable with one another, which facilitates better communication in the future. Finally, remember that body language conveys a tremendous amount of information that the content of language and even voice inflections cannot describe – you need that full visual to get a sense of what’s going on with your virtual team.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series. For more help honing your leadership skills, please call or email me for a free consultation.

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