December 22, 2016
When your workforce is distributed across multiple offices, you face a number of unique challenges. One of these challenges is ensuring that communication between team members remains productive. When these efforts are successful, the results can be amazing. When they aren’t, they can be catastrophic.
Let’s start by looking at a couple of brands that are perfect examples of ensuring that communication remains a strong point even between remote teams.
Buffer: Combining Technology and Support
Buffer’s remote teams are distributed across multiple time zones. Because of this, the company gives each team member the technical resources that they need to communicate effectively with one another. These tools include:
- HipChat to facilitate casual communication
- Timezone.io so that everybody knows where everyone else is located
- Speak to empower team members with video conferencing
However, there is more to communication than technology. Buffer has taken a firm stand when it comes to respecting cultural differences and fostering an environment of trust.
Basecamp: Designed For Distributed Teams from the Start
One notable thing about Basecamp is that they didn’t have to adjust to having remote teams. Instead, the company was founded with a plan to allow, even encourage team members to work remotely. Of course, in spite of avoiding the growing pains that other brands do when adjusting to having distributed teams, communication is still something that requires thought and planning.
As one might expect, Basecamp makes distributed teams work largely by eating their own dog food. They use Basecamp 3 to facilitate communication and collaboration among all team members regardless of location. This solution has been adopted for both casual communication and socialization, and also to ensure communications add value during the most intense work projects as well.
Making Communications Work for Your Distributed Teams
Clearly, technology and cultural acceptance play a big role in making communication work in a distributed environment. However, creating policies and procedures is important as well. These give teams a set of guidelines to work with.
As a result, they know what to do in a crisis to ensure that things don’t break down. It also ensures that communication (too much or too little) doesn’t get in the way of productivity.
Determine When Communication Is Necessary
Obviously, communication should never be entirely off the table. When issues come up or there is a need for immediate clarification, of course the only solution is to open up whatever means of effective communications that are available until things are resolved.
On the other hand, completely unfettered communication can get in the way of team members getting things done. For example, the sales manager who contacts a remote team lead each time they have a new thought or question instead of waiting for the regularly scheduled project meeting. Or even the IT person who end-runs a formal communications protocol in order to get unofficial expense approvals.
Even if it is very loosely defined, some kind of a communication schedule should be established. It should stipulate when teams will be available, and when they will not be available.
Get Everybody in the Same Room
This isn’t always possible. However, if you can get everybody together, it can have a very positive impact on communication in the long run. Face-to-face contact helps people to reveal their personalities to one another.
The result is that team members tend to react more positively to one another even when they can only communicate remotely. It also helps to solve the problem of things being lost in translation.
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