How to Communicate in Distributed Teams

Effective communication and a structured work process are crucial, especially when the team is distributed across the globe. It is natural for coworkers to create informal groups based on location, and so the people who work from a different location eventually become “them”, and the “us vs. them” mindset could settle in.

So how to avoid this and make sure smooth and effective communication in your remote team?

1) Create an opportunity to meet in person

The challenge of working in distributed teams lays in the inability to meet your peers on a daily basis and share the news over coffee. Because of this, it’s very important to get together as a whole team, preferably at the beginning of the project. A few days of collective work will help you understand your colleagues way better as personalities, find some common ground and get along better. At Daxx, we practice regular business trips to the head offices of our clients to bridge the communication issues and enhance team spirit within the distributed teams.

Our colleague Sergey Pereverziev recently came back from such business trip to Australia, and here’s what he says:

“Before the trip, the idea of bringing me to Australia to get to know the team seemed weird – it’s far and expensive. But after having this experience, I think it was very important. In addition to working together, we had a lot of informal team buildings, lunches with the team. Thanks to my business trip, we developed a team spirit, I got along with everyone, began to understand better each team member, their ideas, intentions, what is the fuel behind their energy, what is their direction. The time spent together gave us a huge impulse, and I think that without this business trip, it would be much more difficult for all of us to work together.”

2) Communicate regularly and meaningfully

For distributed teams, it’s crucially important to have regular meetings, better with video. Thanks to the technologies now it’s not a problem at all like it was before. Make sure to take into consideration the timezones of your coworkers, so no one is left behind and participating. It also should be more than just updates and work-related discussions. Distributed teams need to maintain the interpersonal relationship somehow without the opportunity to be together during the working day or having lunches together. During your next call-in meeting, allow five minutes at the beginning or end for small talk. Try to start or conclude a meeting with a question that’s not work-related. Hearing everyone’s answers is a fun way to dig beyond surface-level small talk.

Informal communication and fun are very important too, but better to separate a special place, like Slack channel for these purposes to not create a mess in the working chats.

3) Pay attention to your writing

We bet you are annoyed and distracted when someone is writing you 10 messages, 1 word long each. Or when someone’s typos change the sense of the sentence. Or when someone writes “Hi!” and disappears. Don’t be this one person yourself. Check what you wrote before sending, and ask yourself, what will people get from this message, is everything I want to say clear?

To be sure your communication is clear and takes into consideration all the aspects, you can use the rule of “5Ws”: Who, What, When, Where, Why. This will help you to be understood correctly and your idea to be fully expressed.

4) Make sure you are on the same page

It often happens, that during the meeting some team members were flying in their dreams or just didn’t hear something because of connections problem. So after the meeting, they tend to create their own end of the story, which can and will cause miscommunication at the least. So how to make sure everyone is on the same page? Write the short summary after every meeting with the topics discussed, decisions made, responsibilities assigned and deadlines set. Also, just stop for a while during the meeting to re-ask if everything is clear to everyone in your team. In this case, it’s better to over-communicate:) Over-communicating will keep everyone the same page, avoid surprises, and, if you’re the sole remote worker, remind everyone that you’re still there.

5) Tools that can help to communicate better

    • To conduct your video calls you can use video conferencing tool, like Hangouts, or Zoom will be helpful if you need to record your call.
      • For asynchronous conversation tools like Slack is a good choice. You can create several channels for different topics
    • For your Kanban board and a better understanding of who is doing what currently, you may use something simpler like Trello or something with more options, like Jira.

While technology gave us almost unlimited opportunities to stay connected, it’s only up to every teammate, how to communicate and therefore – contribute to a smooth on the other hand problematic teamwork. Be mindful about this, because every member of the distributed team should put an effort to build strong and efficient communication.

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