How to communicate apart while working remotely
Healthy communication with your team is always important. But healthy communication with a remote team during a global outbreak is paramount.
Your team likely has a lot of questions and is wanting answers. They're looking for leadership and stability. The way you choose to communicate can either instill confidence or panic within your team. On top of that, many teams are now suddenly forced to work remotely, meaning the normal dynamics of communication have shifted.
How can you continue to communicate effectively with your team despite these challenges?
From our many years of experience working and communicating remotely, here is the best advice we at Close can offer you.
When switching from in-office to remote work, the fundamentals of communication don’t change. The only difference is that you’re suddenly flying blind.
In a physical office, your team doesn’t even have to open their mouth to communicate. All of us constantly communicate with our body language and facial expressions. Your team doesn’t need to speak up to say they’re anxious or burned out: you can see it on their faces.
Not so when you work remotely.
You won’t know what’s going on with your team unless they’re communicating with you. And they won’t know what’s going on with the company unless you tell them.
That’s why over-communication is essential.
This starts with team leadership: you as a leader, need to over-communicate with your team and set the example for them. Tell them what’s going on, what decisions have been made, and what needs to be done.
On the other hand, when you want to know what’s going on with your team, you need to reach out to them. When you check-in, make sure you ask the right questions. Don’t expect your team to always come to you when they need help.
Your team will need to develop the habit of communicating constantly: they don’t have that habit right now, and they may not be used to asking for help or reaching out for advice when they need it.
Instead, you as the leader need to facilitate this by encouraging open communication, and being an example of the type of communicator you want your team to be.
When your team goes from working together synchronously to working alone in their homes eight hours a day, it can be easy for them to feel isolated and unmotivated. If they think they’re out of the loop, they’re going to feel disengaged. Click to tweet →
A tool like Slack helps with communication, but nothing can beat a face-to-face meeting. And in this case, when I say face-to-face, I mean video calls. By hosting weekly video calls to talk about progress, company news, and life, you’ll help your team stay in the loop and stay motivated, even during a crisis.
Live by this principle: It’s always better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Click to tweet →
2. Tighten the cycle
How often do you currently check in with each individual on your team? If you’ve suddenly switched to a remote setting, that cadence needs to speed up significantly.
Don’t let two weeks or a month go by between check-ins. Especially during a crisis, you need to be checking in weekly (if not daily) with the members of your team. Click to tweet →
Tighten up your meeting cycles, and tighten your decision-making cycles. The decisions you made a month ago may not be the best decisions for today: so make sure you’re regularly checking in with your team and collectively working on the best decisions for this moment.
Be honest, be clear, be human
All of your communication during this time of crisis must follow these three principles:
If your team doesn’t trust you during a crisis, they won’t listen to what you say or they’ll doubt any direction you give them. That’s a sure way to kill productivity and collaboration on your team.
When times are tough, people appreciate honesty. If you admit things are bad now, they’ll trust you when you say things are getting better. Click to tweet →
And by being honest, you’ll build respect within your team.
So don’t shy away from the topic of COVID-19 with your team. We’re all concerned on some level: if you project full confidence during this crisis, it will come off as insincere. Be honest about your real concerns while helping your team feel confident about the future of your business. By discussing your concerns openly, you may also be able to brainstorm solutions with your team, helping everyone focus on moving forward through these hard times.
Make sure that the decisions you make are clearly communicated to your team, and give specific direction. ‘Maybe’ is not a part of your vocabulary when you’re informing your team of a decision or giving direction.
When communication isn’t clear, every member of the team can create their own interpretation of what was said and what actions to take. So, build a habit of summarizing decisions after every meeting. Make sure you clearly state what was decided and what each team member needs to do.
During this crisis, your team is going to face serious challenges. Many of these issues won’t have anything to do with work, but they will affect work.
We’re dealing with a worldwide outbreak. That means people suddenly have their kids at home while they’re trying to work. They’ll have family members to take care of. They might get sick. On top of that, they’re inundated with doubts and worries about their family and the world itself.
That’s why communication with your team must be human.
Forget about the project you’re working on or the agenda of your Zoom meeting for just a minute and focus on the people. Click to tweet →
Ask them how they’re doing on a personal level. Let them know you’re around to support them. If necessary, break people out of shocked silence with specific questions like, “What are you feeling right now?”
That level of humanity allows each member of the team to feel connected to each other and cared for.
This will have a huge impact on their mental state and productivity at work.
4. Get closer to your customers
It’s not just the time to get closer to your team: it’s time to get closer to your market and open up communication with your customers. Click to tweet →
To do this, talk to the people in your company who have direct interaction with your customers and prospects on a daily basis.
Get in with your sales team and ask these questions:
- Why are prospects buying or not buying?
- What are their main concerns right now?
- What are their fears and doubts?
Talk to the support team and ask:
- What kind of support tickets are we getting lately?
- What common problems are coming up lately?
Talk to the success team and ask:
- How are accounts being managed now?
If you don’t think you have the time right now to be delving into customer data, think again. This is not the time to distance yourself from your customers: it’s time to get even closer to them. Click to tweet →
By getting closer to your customers, you can spot trends and opportunities and adjust your strategy accordingly. Get into the world of your customers during a crisis, and you’ll be better able to serve them.
5. Be transparent
People in your company need to know what’s going on in order to have peace of mind and make better decisions.
Especially in a remote team, transparent knowledge of how your company is doing during difficult times will empower them to make better individual decisions. Click to tweet →
When you as a leader are transparent, this encourages your team to be transparent about what they’re accomplishing. With this generous cycle of transparency, each individual will take ownership of their work and be proud of the results.
6. Fight the urge to micromanage
For years, I’ve been receiving a very similar question from leaders and startup CEOs: If I go remote, how do I know that my people are working?
I’ve always given the same answer: Hire people you can trust and who love their work. Your biggest worry should be that people are working too much, not too little.
Right now, many leaders feel blind as their teams are suddenly working from home. They can’t just walk into their office to see if they’re working or playing Solitaire.
But if you’re worried about your team not giving 100% while working from home, it’s time to let go of those worries.
We’re living in the middle of a global pandemic. People are stressed enough without you telling them to send you a Slack message whenever they need to use the bathroom. When you try to micromanage your team with restrictions and rules, you’ll make your team want to lie to you because they feel controlled.
It doesn’t matter when or how your team is working. What really matters are the results that they’re driving. Click to tweet →
The best way to fight the urge to micromanage is to focus on the results your team is getting.
As a leader in your company, you’re already facing your own challenges during this outbreak, besides concerns in your personal life. However, by developing a habit of over-communication, being honest, and avoiding the urge to micromanage, you’ll prepare your team to work successfully from home through this outbreak.
Want more tips and advice on how to lead a company? Check out my free book From 0 to 1,000 Customer and Beyond — a step-by-step customer acquisition guide.