How Would You Overcome Communication Challenges on a Remote Team? Insights from Startup Owners
We all know that remote work is the new normal, and it’s here to stay. However, some companies still find it hard to adapt to the current working environment, wanting to do “business as usual.” Remote team management, remote team onboarding, and remote hiring bring an array of communication challenges, disrupting the established approaches and functions. The road to building an effective and smooth remote work process can be bumpy because businesses often face various common issues.
The leaders have to be aware of the issues they might expect along the way, be it a dedicated team or a former in-house team that shifted to remote work. The challenges vary from developing trust to staying on the same page.
How would you overcome communication challenges on a remote team? That’s the question Qubit Labs focused on when researching the topic. We compiled the top four challenges startup owners face and explained their approaches to the following issues in this article.
So, let’s get down to business.
Challenge #1: Employees Feel Dismissed or Undervalued
Leaders have many things to do, and remote work complicates their workdays, making staying in touch with the employees harder. The managers are often losing sight of what matters most to their team members, facing the negative repercussions caused by the lack of focus on deepening relationships with employees and remote team communication strategies. The workers begin to lose trust in leaders, growing frustrated and less engaged.
So, how can virtual leaders ensure effective communication with remote workers? Let’s see what startup owners say.
April Maccario, Founder at AskApril
AskApril is a website that specializes in posting actionable and well-researched information to the readers. Its primary focus is relationships between people. The platform’s mission is to provide information the readers can use in their daily lives.
How would you overcome communication challenges on a remote team? That’s what April said:
“As a start-up founder, challenges while working in-house differ from working remotely. Traditional workplaces can enjoy synchronous work schedules, build rapport with colleagues, and interact with the help of non-verbal cues. Unfortunately, remote workplaces have to rely on written communication which can cause several problems and hinder progress. Sometimes, the lack of onsite interaction decreases employees’ morale and affects employee engagement.
With employees geographically separated, collaborations can be tricky to maneuver. Some team members often feel left out when pitching ideas. They feel dismissed or undervalued, and they avoid interacting with teammates. Address this issue by practicing mindfulness. Encourage everyone to take part in the conversation. Initiate interactions that allow people to share their interests and create bonds with their coworkers. Allow everyone to speak and give their opinions. Make sure that everyone is acknowledged for their contribution.”
Main insights from April:
- establish engaging work from home communication by allowing everyone to speak and share their opinions
- initiate interactions between team members by encouraging off-topic conversations
- acknowledge the contribution by providing feedback
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- show genuine intent and interest in establishing consistent remote team communication by building it into your routine
- celebrate achievements
- regularly take time to say hello and check in with employees
- separate the positive feedback from the developmental feedback
Challenge #2: Micromanagement
A lot of leaders are worried about being uninvolved because of the peculiarities of the remote work model. So, they try checking in as much as possible, and it eventually transforms into micromanaging. Micromanagers are the bosses who delegate tasks without actually showing trust or delegating decisions.
Consistent interventions and imposed preferences imply detriment to employees, undermining their effort. In this way, the team members don’t feel trusted, have no room for developing new skills, and never get to have a sense of ownership over their work.
Micromanagement is one of the common communication challenges remote team management imposes, and it needs to be timely addressed.
But how to improve communication with a remote team and avoid micromanagement? To know this, take a look at how the following startup leaders handled this issue.
Rambabu Thapa, Marketing Head at Wolfmatrix
Wolfmatrix is a web and mobile application development agency. Its primary motive is to serve businesses and startups and make amazing tech products. The company strives to build strong collaborative relationships with its team and clients.
“When the whole world turned remote in 2020, our workplace was also forced to embrace the new virtual work challenge. So we started to telecommute, which initially didn’t go well.
Our manager, who was used to controlling his team, the workflow, and in-time submissions of reports, had trouble keeping up with remote work management. Not having in-person access to his teammates had him worried, resulting in him micromanaging the team. Screen recording was the last straw.
The team soon started to feel pressured, and having to report to him on the task now and then started disturbing their workflow. I began receiving complaints that they could not work properly because they felt micromanaged.
The main issue with this is the lack of communication. The manager didn’t want to come to me and express that managing a remote team strains his self-confidence. Neither did team members try to communicate to their manager that their workflow was being disturbed due to frequent reporting, which most of the time wasn’t of much priority.
To resolve these issues, we started using ClickUp and Slack. Tasks were scheduled based on priority with due dates. Unless necessary, only two communication on videos per day was mandated before beginning the day where managers do work briefing. Team members do daily reporting over video chats at the end of work hours.
This settled our communication issue and micromanaging too. Our remote working has been smooth for the past few months. While some challenges arise now and then, simple communication has resolved 90% of them so far.”
Main insights from Rambabu:
- Schedule tasks based on priority with due dates
- Avoid holding too many calls if they aren’t necessary
- Ask the team about how they want to be managed
- Use such remote team communication tools as ClickUp and Slack
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Introduce remote team communication strategies, metrics, and objectives
- Remember that trust is one of the most effective remote team communication methods
- Create transparency by implementing a project management system where you can view the status of the tasks
- Share what’s important to you and why with your team
- Articulate expectations clearly and frequently
Michael Rosenbaum, CEO, and Co-Founder of Spacer
Spacer is one of the biggest parking marketplaces in the U.S. The company has been featured by several acknowledged news aggregators and blogs, including BusinessInsider, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times.
When asking Mark about how to improve communication with a remote team, he mentioned the following points:
“Back in early 2019, right before the pandemic, we made the switch to become a fully remote team. Being a global company — there’d always been some aspects of remote work in our business but becoming completely office-less was a big change. Now, almost three years later our team at Spacer is totally remote and operates across 4 continents and more than 8 different time zones. Of course, there was a teething period when we first crossed over, with everything from equipment to logistical problems. Now, I’m proud to say that we’ve definitely adapted — although we still of course have some problems with communication from time to time.
The communication issue we found was around checking in with the team and keeping everyone on the same page, without making them feel micromanaged. This can be an extremely difficult balance to strike, and we found it came by establishing daily processes and handovers so that the information everyone needed was always accessible. For example, our customer service team submit a daily report each in a Slack channel with the whole business in it, outlining the queries they handled and the outcome of each. This not only improved communication across the CS team themselves, but the visibility across the whole business kept everyone accountable without them feeling like a manager was breathing over their shoulder.”
Main insights from Michael:
- Establish daily processes and handovers
- Use remote team communication tools, such as Slack, to ensure the information everyone needs is always accessible
- Ask your employees to outline the queries they handled and the outcome of each
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Adjust your approaches to remote team communication to fit the context (e.g., manage junior and senior team members differently)
- Asking to see “slices” of work to give timely feedback and praise
- Have a two-way street conversation with your employees about their working from home communication preferences
- Reward creativity and embrace failure when communicating remotely to avoid team’s stagnation
Challenge #3: Misunderstandings
Misunderstandings often hinder remote work communication because frequently, leaders are trying to convey one thing, but the employees understand something entirely different. Such situations often lead to personal conflicts, missed deadlines, and uncoordinated meetings. They turn a healthy working environment into challenging, creating unnecessary obstacles.
So, a couple of CEOs answered the question, “how would you overcome communication challenges on a remote team?” They pointed out the following information:
Jesse Thé, president & CEO of Tauria
Tauria is a B2B SaaS platform on a mission to make digital privacy the new standard. It provides secure and convenient services by gathering all the communication tools in one place. These include video calls, messaging, scheduling, file sharing, and more.
“Tauria is conceived at the beginning of the pandemic. When the government locked down the country, our team was forced to work from home, something that we weren’t accustomed to at the time. In this, we became reliant on using the Internet to communicate and collaborate in place of our in-house office. We adapted to 100% remote work even after the lockdown. Therefore, the ease and smoothness of communication is definitely the most important thing for the success of remote teams like us.
Due to the lack of communication methods we used to rely on, including body language, intonation, and facial expressions, it has happened a lot that our team members misunderstand others. For example, you might sound very serious or even angry if you send a long text message in a plain tone without any emojis or words of appreciation.
So, what we do is try not to use pure text messages if we can make audio/video calls. However, in the situations that text messages are necessary, make our tone sounds friendly by saying “thank you”. Eventually, the virtual “work atmosphere” of our team has been improved a lot. What’s more, the team has also become more centripetal.”
Main insights from Jesse:
- Handle audio/video calls if they are possible instead of using pure text messages to ensure effective communication while working remotely
- Make your tone sound friendly by saying “thank you” when sending text messages
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Identify the right channel to use for specific purposes (e.g., video calls for brainstorming sessions and instructions via email)
- Have your teams use separate accounts for work
- Bond and facilitate remote working communication between employees by using instant messaging apps
Zac Houghton, CEO at Loftera
Loftera is the leading source of home improvement advice for UK households, providing accurate pricing information for most home improvement jobs since 2017. Loftera also offers construction, renovation, and interior services to local clients.
How can virtual leaders ensure effective communication with remote workers? Take a look at what Zac noted:
“Working remotely has been a hot topic over the past year or so with all that has happened. It has let many businesses continue to operate through multiple lockdowns, and it has worked wonders for employee productivity and working-life balance.
Increasing social distancing measures and the reliance on communication software increase the isolation experienced by remote workers. Effective remote work communication is more crucial than ever.
A communication issue we previously faced was that there were no face-to-face interactions, which frequently leads to miscommunication. Hence, it is very important to be very clear about how team members are expected to communicate. Provide written guidelines on what type of messages should be sent, to whom, and when. Tell team members how they should communicate with each other. If you do this, it will resolve any questions that they may have about communication and it will also make it easier for them to ask you questions about it.”
Main insights from Zac:
- Be very clear about what working from home communication approaches you expect your employees to follow
- Provide written guidelines on what type of messages should be sent, to whom, and when
- Tell team members how they should organize their work from home communication with the colleagues
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Encourage the informal conversation between team members and managers by using a separate channel for such talks (for example, Slack or Google Hangouts)
- Set limits and boundaries when it comes to emails and calls
- Stick to actionable information and keep your message simple and direct when communicating remotely
Challenge #4: Asynchronous Communication
How to ensure good communication when your team is remote? Ensure that all the employees understand how the work is done and what practices are adopted in a workplace. For example, some workers might be used to receiving the response immediately, while others reply when it’s best for them.
That’s why many teams find it hard to stay on the same page. Also, time zone differences play their role in remote team communication. If employees can’t reach out to each other when needed, this causes delays and conflicts.
The best way to establish a stable working environment is to combine both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Let’s see how it’s done in a real-case scenario:
Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group
Cloud Peak Law Group is a law firm specializing in asset protection, helping their clients navigate trust law and the estate planning process, protecting assets from overly zealous creditors, bad luck, poor decisions, bankruptcy, and divorce. It specializes in helping clients form and operate trusts and LLCs in the state of Wyoming.
Answering the question “how can virtual leaders ensure effective communication with remote workers,” Mark responded in this way:
“The biggest challenge we faced when switching to remote work was asynchronous communication. We found that we needed a system to support this new way of communicating in the workplace. Here’s what we learned:
A communication system needs to support both synchronous and asynchronous communication, so a combination of Slack, Zoom, and email needs to be used. It’s also important to set guidelines for how and when these systems are used so that communication runs smoothly. The best way to support hybrid employees is to ensure that they can communicate easily with colleagues and managers from wherever they’re working.”
Main insights from Mark:
- Combine several tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and email to support both synchronous and asynchronous communication
- Set guidelines for how and when these systems are used
- Combine different remote team communication methods to support hybrid employees
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Ask team members to designate a time when they’ll check in with you and each other for project updates
- Create a hybrid remote working communication policy that implies you expect a response to your messages within 24 hours
- Provide detailed messages to your team members
- Reduce reliance on synchronicity
Harriet Chan, the co-founder and marketing director of CocoFinder
CocoFinder is a growing source of online phone number lookups and other forms of searches. It provides in-depth information on a person, including their photos, address, criminal history, property holdings, relatives, and more. The information obtained by CocoFinder is from reliable sources that are already made public.
When asking Harriet, “how would you overcome communication challenges on a remote team,” she commented:
“When we switched to remote teams suddenly due to the unexpected pandemic attack, communications became a great challenge to serve immediately. Initially, we had issues with the different time zones for my employees scattered worldwide. To cope up with these changes, our processing team had scheduled a project workflow. Remote meetings were held at specific timings using the Slack tools with video conferencing and file sharing features. Every meeting is supervised by HR to ensure the business flow is in line without any delays.
Before commencing the meetings using Slack tools, the HR team arranged remote training sessions for the employees to bring awareness about this communication app. Once a week, I will monitor the communication channels of various remote teams and figure out the struggles they encounter during the sessions. Based on their needs, I will implement respective changes with the meeting schedules to enhance timely project deliveries.
Sharing my opinion with you has been a pleasure. Please feel free to reach out should you need further insights. Feel free to check us out on Twitter and LinkedIn or visit CocoFinder.”
Main insights from Harriet:
- Schedule a project workflow
- Use lack tools with video conferencing and file sharing features
- Invite HR to supervise the meetings
- Monitor the communication channels of various remote teams
- Pay attention to the struggles employees encounter during the sessions
- Implement changes to enhance timely project deliveries
Advice from Qubit Labs:
- Choose messages over calls
- Focus on good documentation
- Hold status meetings
- Provide employees the opportunity to review updates at their own pace
- Communicate everything up front (don’t leave your “hello” message dangling in the chat before following up with the rest of your information)
Reduce Remote Team Communication Issues with Qubit Labs
So, how to ensure good communication when your team is remote?
- Make the employees feel valued and appreciated by providing feedback
- Eliminate micromanagement by trusting your employees
- Reduce misunderstandings by emphasizing clear communication and using the right tools
- Embrace asynchronous communication
Qubit Labs has been building remote teams for 5+ years now. We know all the hardships of remote teams and deal with any challenges to establish healthy and thriving working environments.
Reach out to us to ensure effective communication while working remotely and discuss your ideas during a free consultation call.