Communication Habits of Successful Remote Teams

By George Fironov ·Subscribe

Communication is the foundation of effective cooperation. But how do you stay in touch with your team when everyone works from a different place, and at different times of the day?

Switching your team to remote work can be a catalyst for positive change. It forces you to adopt all the management principles that perhaps weren’t so necessary for an in-house work setting.

How do large remote teams operate? It’s all based on developing appropriate remote team communication practices.  


Meetings have a different meaning for remote teams

We’ve all spent unnecessarily large amounts of time on meetings that should’ve been an email. It’s easy to do when your office has too many meeting rooms, and the company culture encourages meetings as a way to solve issues.

But meetings aren’t really the best way to address most daily issues of a modern company. Managers that are going remote need to realise that.

For remote teams, the meaning of meetings changes. It becomes a time for team-building and discussing low-priority issues, long-term plans, or even non-work related things.

Why is that? Managers of successful remote teams at market-leading companies like GitLab or Zapier have found that it’s simply too much hassle to try and solve issues during meetings. There are time-zone differences, and their workers can organise their workday as they see fit to maximize individual performance. In such conditions, getting all the key team members on a call together becomes virtually impossible.

So instead of forcing employees to get on calls in the middle of the night, or organise their schedule around virtual meetings, GitLab and Zapier reserve meetings for non-essential topics. They also record every meeting so people can catch up.

All the core strategy parts of those companies are managed through documents and task management tools. Everyone has access, and can collaborate on them whenever they have time for it.


Write everything down, over-communicate, maintain documentation

This might seem counterintuitive, but the best teams rely on the simplest tools — like Trello and good ol’ Google Docs. 

They may seem like too simple tools for the task of managing a global remote team. But it’s not what tools you use, but how you use them.

There’s no need for fancy project management software when you have a healthy culture of communication, with clearly defined – and documented – practices.

You don’t need sophisticated features, because they won’t help your team members be more communicative. Communication practices need to be the foundation of your team, and tools come later. 

As a simple example, you need to work with people who know not to use the comments in Google Docs to make jokes or write down their thoughts, but to actually contribute useful insights to the issue at hand. Buying more expensive project management software won’t change your team’s habits. 

When it comes to complex processes, like software development, there are specific tools for that. GitHub is the best example. That’s because, while it’s a bit more complicated, using GitHub effectively requires the same things that using Google Docs does — rules and clearly defined, documented team practices.

But some things can’t be taught, and unfortunately remote work isn’t for everyone. Adopting best practices for remote work won’t be effective if you’re working with the wrong people.


It all starts with hiring the right people

Not everyone can be a great remote worker, even if they outperform other people in office environments. 

It takes a lot of self-management. Which is why Basecamp simply advises to hire managers of one.

Any amount of time you spend worrying about whether your remote workers are actually doing their tasks, is time that you’re not spending on improving your business.

Cooperation is built on communication, and communication requires trust. You need to be able to trust that everybody on your remote team is working on their tasks as planned. Constant micromanaging of even a small remote team is a stressful, and time-consuming job. It’s not a good approach. 

This combines with several important modern work trends. One of them is evaluating workers by the results of their work, and not how much time they spend working. 

Ultimately you’re paying people to deliver tangible results. Given the ability to work on their tasks on their own time, and for as long as they feel necessary, remote workers optimize their work time to finish tasks faster, and have more time for personal affairs.

And that’s another important trend — work-life balance. Stress is one of the biggest killers of our time. Setting their own work hours helps remote workers maintain productivity by allowing them to de-stress on a regular basis. They can spend time with their families, engage in their favorite hobbies, and do their work when they feel the most energized to do so. 

The last trend is gig economy. People who go remote are often the same people who enjoy taking part in several projects at one time, instead of just one major project. Which ultimately benefits the managers who hire them, as these workers continue to grow professionally and acquire new skills.


Communication in remote teams isn’t rocket science

The best remote teams don’t use special software that’s inaccessible to any other mortals, or insanely complex practices and strategies for communication.

They rely on approaching common things like meetings in a more strategic way, on documenting business practices, tasks and processes, and on the most basic, but hard to find element of all – trust.