For over two years, companies are navigating the steep path of remote work. For many, the payoff is worth the struggle – 61% of remote employees believe they are more productive, 70% were able to find cheaper living options, and 94% of remote workers want to continue working this way. Managers aren’t as impressed. At the beginning of the year, 50% of leaders wanted their teams back in offices full-time. 54% of managers worry that teams have become less productive when working remotely. We believe that the difference in perception comes from remote communication gaps.
While frontline workers are benefiting from the ability to tune out the noise and focus on deep work in an environment they are comfortable with, managers are left struggling to get status updates, unable to catch burnout red flags, and anxious about the productivity of their reports.
In this post, we will untangle the challenges of remote work communication and offer 10 remote work tips for collaborating effectively online.
Downsides of remote collaboration
Remote work is supposed to be an ability to cut through the noise of meetings and unproductive discussions and get more time for working “in the zone”. That’s not what numbers are showing: according to Microsoft, the number of meetings across organizations has increased by 153%.
Being pulled into multiple back-to-back meetings is already enough to explain growing exhaustion. Once you add the pressure of having to be on camera during calls, there are even more reasons for anxiety and discomfort.
Research shows that women feel more pressure than men to look presentable (although both reported feeling stress on the matter) and new employees feel like their workplace relationships are impacted by their appearance during the call.
Last but not least, concentrating on a virtual meeting requires more focus than sitting through an in-person conference call. Remote employees struggle to zone out of their background environments (often dynamic and noisy) and concentrate on video calls – often monotonous and not engaging.
Establishing regular cadences with employees is another challenge remote managers are struggling with. Increased employee mobility and the ability to hire internationally led to the formation of geographically dispersed teams. As the result, it’s difficult to schedule regular calls that accommodate everyone’s schedule.
Compared to the office, where sharing space brought teams together and a lot of communication happened outside of meetings, remote work is a lot more silent. According to those working from home, they don’t know if it’s worth scheduling a call for a quick Q&A session or a status update. As the result, they don’t bring questions up as often and bottlenecks pile up over time.
For managers, the inability to have daily cadence with teammates is nerve-racking – at some point, they start wondering if everything is going well, if the team cares enough about the project, and if people are working in the first place.
Rigid team communication
Even if managers succeed in setting up a regular meeting schedule and try to put teams at ease by allowing them to keep cameras off, the feeling of presence and participation is lower compared to in-person meetings. For one, leaders have less data to read the room, as they can no longer catch subtle cues in gestures, posture, and overall tension/relaxation. “Reading the room” becomes a problem so a leader can be off-beat with the rest of the team.
Also, in-person meetings have a higher degree of mobility – teams can change conference rooms depending on the nature of the meetings or have different sitting arrangements to improve engagement. In video conferences, communication is limited by the fourth wall of an unsophisticated rectangular interface, limiting the range of engagement tools meeting hosts have at their disposal.
Slow asynchronous responses
Asynchronous communication has undeniable benefits: it removes the pressure of having to be “always on” and gives employees the opportunity to balance work and life commitments.
However, managers often feel like asynchronous communication doesn’t give enough visibility. Their stance is understandable: it’s easy to lose track of important conversations in online collaboration software like Slack or email, and important discussions end up falling through the cracks. Teammates end up excluded from decisions and might be unhappy for not getting to contribute to projects or being left out of the loop.
High employee turnover
The flexibility of remote work meant that employers could hire talent everywhere but it also implied that employees were free to leave whenever they didn’t get a pay raise, didn’t get along with each other, and so on.
For the last two years, managers had to put up with a tight and impatient job market. Employees left en masse and replacing them took months and thousands of dollars. The ongoing recession might help tie people to their desks for a while but, as the rule, employee turnover is higher in remote workplaces because attachment to the office culture, relationships with co-workers, or an established routine no longer bind workers to organizations.
Statistically, employee networks tend to become more narrow and static in a remote workplace. Research showed that WFH teams are more likely to interact internally but are not eager to connect with people from other departments. Having to go through formalities like a written introduction and scheduling an introductory meeting discourages employees from exploring other departments in their organization.
Consequently, companies are trapped in an insulated atmosphere, with fewer opportunities to share knowledge, ask for help, and get expert feedback outside of people’s close-reach networks.
No unified communication stack across the organization
Sometimes, the speed of remote work adoption varies from team to team. If that is the case, some teams will be the frontrunners of adopting online collaboration platforms and streamlining communications while others will become outliers. The difference in employee training, experience, and readiness to embrace remote work will be reflected in the company’s communication stacks.
Managers who have already built the backbone of the online communication infrastructure will introduce innovative solutions to fix small but important issues like high-stress employee onboarding.
On the other hand, those who were late to jump on the bandwagon might have rather rudimentary infrastructures and struggle to communicate effectively.
10 work from home tips for bridging communication gaps:
In remote teams, communication is no longer seamless and enjoyable the way it used to be at the office. Working with people you might never meet in person makes people feel like there’s no point to put effort into getting to know each other. As the result, relationships become transactional, there appears to be no point in walking the extra mile, and workplace trust declines.
For managers, all of the above are major red flags, as in disconnected environments, employees are less likely to be creative and might focus on simply clocking their time instead.
Being intentional about bridging the communication gap is the key success factor in streamlining remote communication. Here are 10 tips for working remotely and keeping online communication effortless and fluid.
Rethink the importance of keeping the camera on
Since having to tune in on video calls adds to workplace stress, leaders can help remote teams feel comfortable by allowing them to keep their cameras off in some cases.
For example, teammates can keep the video on during all-team meetings to strengthen the feeling of presence and improve engagement. However, when it comes to one-on-one performance reviews or chatting in a small group, leaders should be more flexible and allow teammates to stay off-camera if they feel like it.
It’s a small step towards destressing meetings and making it easier for remote teammates to connect spontaneously.
How oVice helps implement this: oVice users can move around the virtual workplace as avatars. A moving avatar with an employee’s picture offers more presence than a static picture in a video conferencing tool.
Also, in oVice, teammates can have designated desks decorated to match their interests which would help people get to know each other better (the idea is reminiscent of how seeing people’s walls and bookshelves in the background offered managers more context).
Facilitate instant communication
Another way to improve the frequency of interactions with the team and make communication less draining is by removing the long chain of steps employees need to take to jump on a call.
If there was a way to get conversations started without the need to text “Do you have 5 minutes” or set up conference calls and share links, remote employees would feel less resistance about approaching each other or their managers for quick discussions or clarification.
How oVice helps implement this: as a virtual office, oVice is similar to a physical space. Much like you can walk up to someone’s desk in an office space, you can easily reach people in oVice by walking up to their workstations and speaking up.
Know when to use synchronous and asynchronous communication
Deciding between asynchronous and asynchronous communication should not be an either-or choice. In some cases, sharing ideas in writing is the best way to make sure everyone sees them, avoid misunderstandings, and give people time to offer informed feedback.
On other occasions, you might need to make quick decisions and there’s no way to keep the team dwelling on answers. In these cases, getting everyone on a call and brainstorming solutions to a pressing problem together is the way to go. If you want to decide which communication type to choose, take a look at the guide we wrote on synchronous vs asynchronous communication.
How oVice helps implement this: a virtual office space gives leaders more contextual awareness helping them make intelligent decisions about the right communication channel to use. For example, if a manager sees that a teammate is not in the space or has a red circle icon next to the avatar, then it’s better to communicate asynchronously than to corner someone into an unwanted meeting.
Bring all operations under one umbrella
Remote team leaders can break communication silos by replacing a wide range of team communication apps with all-in-one versatile collaboration platforms. Doing so will help managers cut infrastructure costs and eliminate the “too many tools” problem WFH are typically facing.
How oVice helps implement this: oVice has a wide range of applications and features allowing remote teams to trim their collaboration stacks. The platform has a built-in chat, video conferencing, audio calls, and file-sharing feature, helping managers run all remote operations in a single space.
Create communication opportunities for international teams
Due to time zone differences, it’s not easy to find the right meeting slot for all international employees on your remote team. That’s why a more viable approach is to make it easier for your teammates to reach each other and give international teams tools to catch up with each other whenever the timing is right.
How oVice helps implement this: the platform helps crease easily accessible spaces for reiongla departments to give international teammates more tools for spontaneous communication.
Facilitate access to important data
Walk the extra mile to make sure teams in your organization can follow each other’s work effortlessly. Create a way to easily access and discuss key organizational documents – onboarding workflows, announcements, project updates.
How oVice helps implement this: embedded content feature allows team leaders to facilitate access to important documents and files.
Zero in on virtual team building events
To improve communication, team building activities have be in the center of a leader’s focus. Make celebrating milestones a deliberate practie. Hosting quarterly internal events to praise high performers is a way to keep teams motivated.
How oVice helps implement this: create a customizable virtual event venue and host an internal award ceremony. The platform allows event attendees to chat and network seamlessly and makes reacting to speaker presentations a lot easier.
Set core hours
Most remote employees feel uncomfortable about incessant monitoring. However, with no workplace visibility, team leades can feel anxious about building trust in the workplace. To make sure you have a stronger sense of connection ith the team, create core hours – dedicated time where everyone is available.
How oVice helps implement this: in oVice, manages can cerate a few hours where the entire team would come to the space to chat about projects and work side-by-side. These daily interactions will help foster organizational unity.
Have clear engagement rules
Overcommunication is a side effect of managers trying to bridge collaboration gaps. However, in the long run, it gets in the way of productivity and leads to stress build-ups. O make sure teammates have enough time to focus on work, have clear engagement rules that let people communicate their availability.
How oVice helps implement this: in oVice, checking someone’s availability typically boils down to three simple rules.
Next to the avatar, there’s an icon that can represent a teammates’ status:
- Green – available for communication
- Yellow – avaialble only for urgent/important discussions
- Red: do not disturb
In the office, teams would feel a sense of proximity by working next to each other. However, this sense of unity is easily lost in remote organizations. Finding ways to replicate the synergy of working close to each other can help fight isolation and create more opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
How oVice helps implement this: in oVice, people can sit next to each other at virtual desks as if they are at the office. If someone has a question or neds a clarification, they can quickly chat with the desk buddy the way they would in-person
Frequently asked questions:
What is a challenge of communicating with remote teams?
The key virtual team challenges in communication are:
- Meeting fatigue
- Irregular communication
- Rigid interactions
- Slow asynchronous responses
- High employee turnover
- Siloed operations
- No unified communication strategy
What would be the challenges of remote working?
The key challenges of remote work are:
- Communication gaps
- Team performance tracking
- Managing geographically dispersed teams
- Burnout going undetected
- Slow decision making
How do you overcome communication challenges on a remote team?
You can overcome remote communication gaps by following these tips to work from home:
- Reducing resistance to video conferencing calls
- Streamlining the process of scheduling a meeting
- Balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication
- Having a unified collaboration stack in the organization
- Intentionally creating team building opportunities
- Setting up virtual team building activities
What is effective remote communication?
Effective remote communication is comfortable to everyone involved, allows making quick decisions, gives employees room for spontaneous chatting and serendipitous interactions like on-spot brainstorming sessions. Generally, effective remote communication should feel as seamless and engaging as in-person communication is.
What are the best communication channels for remote working?
The best channels for remote communication are email, online collaboration tools, video conferencing tools, and, as of recently, virtual office spaces that increase the immersion and seamlessness of virtual interactions.
Learn how virtual offices help streamline remote communication and teamwork by exploring an extensive list of reasons to use a virtual office space. To see real-life examples of leaders transforming remote operations by setting up a virtual office space, take a look at our case studies. Finally, you can explore a virtual office on your own – take a quick tour.