April 27, 2020

Top Tips to Ensure Effective Communication and High Productivity in a Remote Environment

Whether you are new to managing a remote team or you have years of experience working in virtual environments, taking steps to ensure communication and productivity tools are implemented and used consistently is key. How do you keep track and ensure your team is performing at their best? We did our research. We asked around. We consolidated the information we received into a top tips list for you to utilize as you navigate this new world of work with your team.

#1 Key Area: Communication

  1. Set expectations
    Working remote allows an employee to have more control of their workday structure. It is up to you as their employer/manager to make your expectations very clear. This should be done as soon as possible and should cover topics such as:

    1. How to respond to urgent tasks from the business
    2. Your level of availability and how best you can be reached and vice versa
    3. Acceptable working hours and flexibility
    4. How often you would like to receive updates
    5. The organizations ‘Work From Home’ policy if available
  1. Set up an effective meeting cadenceIt is extremely important to regularly check-in with individuals and teams, but even more so when working remote. The exact frequency will depend on the person and type of role they are in. Recommendations to take into account are:
    • Have a daily check-in with individuals. This can be a quick call or a short email/message to say hello and identify any challenges blocking them from achieving their goal. These check-ins show the individual that they are still connected to you as they would be in an office setting, and have support from you when they need it.
    • Host a weekly team meeting. This will help your team stay connected, have a space to brainstorm together, improve productivity, and keep projects moving forward.  As appropriate, a weekly team meeting also provides a group setting to share any issues that have arisen and minimize the need for various individual meetings and emails that would otherwise need to take place as these topics can be handled in a single meeting with the entire group.
    • Holding a monthly all-hands call, also commonly referred to as a ‘town-hall’, is an excellent way to gather an organization together when in a remote work environment.  This is the place for leadership teams to share information so that employees all receive the same messages at the same time to align goals, strategies, and provide important company-wide news.
  2. Choose the right communication channel that suits your business, and your teamThere is no doubt that communication breakdowns lead to a lack of productivity and grave business failures. The biggest challenges facing remote teams and employees who work from home stems from poor communication. Without the right tools to facilitate real-time communication, teams connect less with one another, employees feel more isolated, and collaboration suffers.  However, when teams leverage a suite of project management and real-time communication tools, they foster best practices that positively influence employee engagement, encouraging collaboration and boosting productivity.
    • Email remains the primary channel for internal communications across most workplaces. Email will never be replaced as a primary method of communication, however when teams are working remote, consider what topics can be covered with a quick discussion or though real-time chat versus email as a best practice.
    • Instant Messaging, or real-time chat, is one of the most efficient ways to communicate when you do not have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. Messaging allows you to have a discussion that emulates an in-person meeting, get answers to questions on the fly, and utilize emoji’s and GIFs to share emotions that you would otherwise be able to portray through your body language or facial expressions.
    • Video Conferencing is the best tool to utilize when it comes to effectively engaging employees within a remote work setting.  While people will remember 20% of what they hear and 30% of what they see, they will recall 70% of what they both hear and see. The combination of visuals and sound make video communications a ‘super-engager’ and one of the best methods to connect virtually during your 1:1 meetings. Video Conferencing with your entire team is also important to help individuals connect with one another, especially for newer teams who have not yet met face-to-face.
    • Intranet tools are effective to streamline company-wide communications by bringing timely messages and valuable information and resources together in a single place. An intranet allows internal communications to flow top down, as well as providing a space for individual employees to share feedback, ask questions, and engage with their colleagues.
  3. Be clear and present
    Whether through email or real-time chat, the majority of communication with your remote team will be written. It is extremely important to be aware of your written tone and how it may be perceived. The top three considerations to always keep in mind when you’re communicating are clarity, tone, and brevity. Getting any of these wrong can create unnecessary misunderstanding or worse, cause offence. Maintain a friendly or neutral tone and keep written messages short while providing the necessary information.  Nobody wants to wade through a 500-word email in search of the 10 words that apply to them.
  4. Be wary of email and chat overload
    This is difficult because you need to make sure everyone is communicating enough, but it can get distracting and overwhelming managing a high volume of messages. It’s important to strike the right balance, so talk to your team about your communication expectations and ask them for their feedback on the cadence and volume of messages to ensure it is serving their needs, as well as yours.
  5. Use screen sharing tools
    Screen sharing enables you to present information, collaborate in real-time using annotation tools, and visually share content that you may have utilized a projector or whiteboard for if you were in an office setting. Screen sharing is very helpful for collaboration and group decision making, as well as setting an agenda at the start of a virtual meeting. When presenting information, the ability to share your screen so that meeting attendees can follow along is the determining factor in pulling off a productive, successful meeting, rather than one that is tedious, confusing, and relatively ineffective.
  6. Celebrate successes
    When working alone from a home office, individuals may feel disconnected from their co-workers, and at times that their work may go unnoticed. This feeling of isolation is preventable if effort is made to highlight each other’s accomplishments, and recognize project successes both at the individual and group level. A quick shout out during a weekly team meeting or an email to say ‘thank you’ to an individual from the entire team is sometimes all that is required. This will help energize the team, boost morale, and reinforce the message that everyone is working together to achieve a common goal and everyone’s contributions count.
  7. Beware of a mixed office and remote culture
    When your entire team is remote, it is an easier adjustment as the entire team is adapting to this new way of working together. However, when part of the team in an office setting and others are working remote, it can cause some challenges. Team members who are not in the office with their colleagues can often feel neglected or may accidentally be forgotten when critical information is shared. Don’t allow this happen. It is important that all meetings are set up with remote staff in mind, including impromptu meetings. If the entire remote and onsite team is unavailable for a meeting, share information through a team chat or within a group email, to ensure everyone receives the same information at the same time.


#2 Key Area: Productivity

  1. Implement systems and processes
    Without effective systems and operations in place for remote work management, your business can fail. A business run with employees on-site can at times compensate for not having these tools in place as they can connect face-to-face to solve challenges and collaborate. In a remote work setting, this is not as easy. Individuals may develop their own processes and procedures that are inconsistent with the way others are working, which hinders productivity and collaboration. It is best to have a documented, standardized way of working that maintains consistent expectations for everyone, and helps unify the team.
  2. Set clear goals and deadlines
    Just like you do in an office setting, communicate clear goals and deadlines when discussing new or recurring tasks and projects with your team. Due to being in a remote work environment, when there is a new project determine if this requires a kick-off call so that expectations and questions can be addressed in real-time, or if an email will suffice. Precise information and communicating deadlines and priorities lowers the risk of having unfinished projects.
  1. Measure performance
    Whether your team is virtual or not, measuring productivity and performance is key. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) of success for each job?  Transparency around KPIs are important so that as a manager, you can easily identify if individuals on your team are being productive and meeting the requirements of the job, or if added trainings, support, and tools are needed.
  2. Ensure everyone is using the same technology
    Mastering remote work is all about finding the right tools to stay productive and connected. Having the right technology stack will allow you and your team to collaborate productively, creatively, and seamlessly. Cisco WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365, Basecamp, Trello and Slack are just some of the many great examples of software and programs that are available to synchronize your team wherever you happen to be located.
  3. Use an effective document collaboration tool
    This shift towards remote working has led to the rise of many online document collaboration tools that can help remote teams work together virtually. Document collaboration tools allow multiple team members to view, edit, and work simultaneously on a document without sending email attachments to one another, and avoids issues of version control.  It allows employees to work remotely from home while still being able to directly communicate and collaborate on projects and documents.
  4. Keep consistent hours, but provide some flexibility
    Just like within an in-office setting, people will require flexibility with their work hours and may need to adjust their schedules to adjust to working from home. It is important to allow a degree of flexibility; however, it is equally as important that adjustments in schedules do not affect the team’s ability to work. If a member of the team has work hours that are inconsistent or during off-hours, that may cause challenges for collaboration across the team if others are working a similar and standard schedule.
  5. Maintain an up-to-date calendar
    It is a best practice and more important than ever when teams are working remote to ensure individuals’ online calendars are up-to-date and accessible. This will allow others on your team, and across the organization, to schedule meetings that align with your availability. When working remote, use your calendar to represent when you are in a meeting, at lunch, working offline, or taking a break.

With proper planning, open lines of communication, and the right technology, teams can be just as successful and productive working remotely as they are in an office setting. Make no mistake about it, the future of remote work is now.

Quality. Commitment.

Whether you want to advance your business or your career, Oxford is here to help. With nearly 40 years’ experience, we know that a great partnership is key to success. Start a conversation today.