Communication is the oxygen that drives collaboration in a remote team. There are ups and downs, and it takes effort to communicate well. Like any other skill, you can practice over time and get better.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, touches on the growth mindset: “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others,” she said. “Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
What she is suggesting, in other words, is that a growth mindset can be a powerful tool for personal change.
Would you like to improve communication on your distributed team so that you can have a bigger impact?
In this article, we’ll discuss best practices around remote team communication. To do that, we’ll hear from five veterans of remote work to learn tips based on their experience and expertise. These best practices were shared on Running Remote conference – the premier event for the founders of the remote-first businesses.
1. “Have an actual onboarding session” and “No agenda, no meeting” from Zack Onisko at Dribble
We’ll begin with Dribble, which is a community for designers. Brand designers, iconographers, graphic designers, web designers, and other creative professionals use Dribble to upload and share their work through portfolios. Businesses and organizations across the world can find and hire talent.
Zack Onisko, CEO at Dribble, discusses how to get new employees off to a good start:
“When we hire new employees, we have an actual onboarding session where new employees meet and have face time with the entire leadership team,” he said. “They get to understand all the functional teams, all the inside nuts and bolts and workings of the company from day one. So they hit the ground running, and they’re not learning this stuff sporadically over six months. Over documenting, again investing in communication of an internal wiki. Every single functional team has deep notes of everything that’s happening within the company that any employee can go and look into.”
What Onisko suggests is to invest in laying a solid foundation for new team members on their first day. By doing so, you can set expectations about communication upfront and avoid miscommunications later on.
Have you ever been stuck in a boring meeting that seems to go on and on?
Onisko also has a recommendation for meetings:
“If somebody throws a meeting on your calendar and there’s no agenda, you’re totally free to just kill it. The agenda also gives people heads up time to review the problem that we’re trying to solve before you meet in person. We can spend the meeting time to work on the solution, to work on brainstorming, and actually get the work done. That agenda doc also becomes a permanent record for notes of what happened in the agenda, so people who weren’t in the meeting can go back and look at that document in getting caught up.”
Rather than rushing into a meeting unprepared, an agenda forces you to slow down and think through a problem. This preparedness helps keep a meeting on track, so you can address the issue, and get back to meaningful deep work.
For our next industry expert, we’ll turn to X-Team.
2. “It’s got to be asynchronous” and “Video is a tool for remote teams” from Ryan Chartrand at X-Team
X-Team provides on-demand teams of high-performing developers to global brands. They’ve been involved in remote work and distributed teams for more than a decade. Team members are located in over 50 countries.
The CEO of X-Team, Ryan Chartrand, shares some sage advice on asynchronous communication and encourages making virtual events asynchronous. He highlights that this type of communication allows someone to participate at any point in their day. “You know if you want a lot of people to engage in something, it’s got to be asynchronous, and the more real-time it is, generally, the less people that are going to show up because you’re pulling them away from their focus time. And really they want to engage on their time,” said Chartrand.
Asynchronous communication allows distributed team members to communicate when they are at their best.
Ryan Chartrand also has a suggestion on how to create a sense of belonging in your organization.
“I can’t stress enough how important video is a tool for remote teams. I’ve mentioned it many times a day how much it can upgrade the energy levels in your company and the feeling of belonging in your company.”
With this suggestion, he says that you should be mindful of delivering video in an engaging way. He uses a Zoom meeting as an example where a fellow colleague gives a passionate speech, yet team members seem to be disengaged and bored. In this instance, a recorded video would have worked better because team members could watch it based on their schedule. (This is an example of asynchronous communication).
Next, we’ll check out how Basecamp approaches communication on a distributed team.
3. “The power of writing” and “Occasionally connecting with others at work about something else” from David Heinemeier Hansson at Basecamp
Basecamp is a project management tool that lets teams collaborate and stay on top of projects. They are veterans in the remote work world as they’ve been doing it for over 20 years. The founders of Basecamp have even written a book on remote work called Remote.
David Heinemeier Hansson, a co-founder at Basecamp, comments on how to communicate through remote work:
“To me, the power of remote work is the power of writing. This is the number one switch you can do if you are used to running your organization in terms of status updates and general communication through meetings,” said Hansson. I don’t think it’s a good idea to run a company through meetings as the primary and first mode of communication. I think it is far better to run your company, whether it’s remote or not, with writing as your first mode of communication.”
Choose writing over jumping on calls and meetings. Writing makes you a critical thinker. In the words of the author Anne Lamott, “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.”
Hansson also has a recommendation on using video chats to help team members bond. “…about social connection, which I think is actually where video chat meetings have the greatest benefit for most people. It’s not about making the work better. It’s about at least occasionally connecting with others at work about something else.”
He shares an example of a weekly event on Fridays. It’s a standing game session for an hour. Team members can jump in and play a game or do something else interesting on video chat. “There’s nothing work related to it, it’s not a board game about work. It’s just a way to connect with your coworkers for an hour. It just so we don’t need to squeeze this human connection out of all the other ways we collaborate,” said Hansson.
Let’s now talk about how UYD Management thinks about communication on a remote team.
4. “A unique time for collaboration” and “I encourage something I call empathy hours” from Tayo Rockson at UYD Management
UYD Management is a consulting firm that helps organizations increase their impact through social justice, inclusion, hiring, retention, and diversity. They specialize in communicating clearly across cultures.
President of UYD Management, Tayo Rockson, discusses opportunities for having conversations on retention and promotion:
“It’s a unique time for collaboration on things like retention and promotion criteria where you decide ‘hey, we heard you!’ We have this conversation — these are the things you need to hit to be promoted. These are the things we’re doing to make sure that we’re tapping into different talent pools,” said Rockson. “But leaders have to say they’re going to do that and be willing to be authentic and even public about it.”
What Rockson is sharing is that now is the time to invest time and energy into employee engagement. Get clear with staff about expectations for growth and promotion. An engaged employee that feels valued will stick around.
Rockson also has a tip to remind ourselves that organizations are made up of people. He encourages something called empathy hours. Empathy hours are an opportunity for your team to share what’s on their mind. “People are talking about things that are affecting them, or they’re excited about outside of work, every week. I try to get teams to do this at least once a week because the whole goal here is to humanize people, and people forget that companies are made up of people,” said Rockson.
Empathy hours create an open space to have discussions, and this is important for your team’s well-being.
We’ll turn to words of wisdom on remote team communication from Help Scout for our final set of recommendations.
5. “Create communication guidelines and norms” and “Be in charge of what your working hours are” from Leah Knobler at Help Scout
Help Scout makes simple, easy-to-use, help desk software. Team members are distributed across the world in more than 75 cities.
Leah Knobler, Director of Talent Acquisition at Help Scout, has advice on setting expectations for remote team communication. “Remote companies need to be clear about communication and create communication guidelines and norms,” said Knobler. “Then, you use tools to make that easily known.”
She shares that team members at Help Scout use Google Calendar, and they set working hours within it. By doing so, it helps team members understand when fellow team members are available. Setting availability also carries over to Slack: “We also use Slack and encourage everyone to put snooze notifications from hours you’re not working.”
Knobler also touches on another recommendation on managing and protecting your time. “You have to be in charge of what your working hours are and how you manage your time and protect that. I think it also stems into being asynchronous and remote work tends to favor async work. You don’t have to respond to everything right away if that’s your company’s norm as it should be,” she said.
In other words, be intentional about creating communication processes. Once they are in place, make sure that your team is on the same page about what is expected.
Do you know what the above experts have in common (apart from being remote work enthusiasts)? All of them took part in the Running Remote conference – the premier event for the founders of remote-first businesses! If you want to scale and accelerate your remote team, this is definitely the place to be. The best part of it – you can join the virtual edition of Running Remote absolutely for free from anywhere in the world. The next Running Remote Online takes place on November 18 and our lineup already includes such thought leaders as Davit Baghdasaryan, Co-Founder and CEO of Krisp, Kuppulaxmi Krishnamoorthy, Zoho’s Evangelist, and Morgan Legge, CEO of Convert.
Sign up before October 18 and become part of our growing community. You’ll get access to the top industry experts, networking sessions, special offers, and more! 30 days prior to the event event pass will be sold at $49!