If remote work were as simple as messaging over Slack and meeting over Zoom, we’d all be pros by now. But the reality is that virtual collaboration is more than the apps we use. It demands a transformation of work culture and the ways employees connect and stay productive.
In this guide, we're sharing our top tips for effective communication and collaboration in a remote work environment.
1. Improve your writing skills (yes, really)
It’s hard to talk about becoming a better communicator without mentioning becoming a better writer. With so many of our day-to-day interactions happening over email and instant messaging, it’s more important than ever to master the art of written communication (even if writing isn’t necessarily part of your job description).
Consider these best practices the next time your fingers hit the keyboard:
- Be concise. Ask yourself, What’s the most important message I want to get across? Write it clearly and to-the-point, avoiding any complicated language. Jargon only gets in the way of clear communication.
- When appropriate, organize your ideas into bullet points (just like this). Bullet points have the ability to transform a wall of text into bite-sized content that people (especially busy ones) are more likely to read.
- Include all essential information. Keep your writing brief, but don’t forget to include context. For example, when assigning tasks via email, make sure you give your team all the background they need to be successful.
- Edit. Capture your thoughts with your first draft, then revise. Use your second pass to review tone, cut unnecessary words, and add missing details. No time to edit? Writing apps like Grammarly (pictured below) and Hemingway Editor are free and easy to add to your workflow.
Image source: Grammarly
2. Choose the right communication channels
Ever had a question and thought, Should I ask over email or Slack? With so many communication tools at our fingertips, our tech stacks can quickly turn into tech tangles. The solution: understanding and defining each channel’s purpose.
The top four ways to share essential communications, according to Axios HQ:
- Ad hoc emails, most effective 1:1 or in small groups. “Use these sparingly to synthesize progress, monitor and report issues, and relay opportunities so stakeholders or collaborators stay informed,” says Axios HQ.
- Meetings, most effective for “clarity, creativity, and collaboration.” Just be sure that your meetings are well-planned, so that you can maximize everyone’s time.
- Recurring newsletters, ideal for sharing essential information in greater detail than ad hoc emails. Newsletters are also sent on a regular cadence, making it a reliable and predictable way for employees to receive their info.
- Intranet, best for knowledge and documentation (think SOPs, employee handbook, brand guidelines, etc.). Knowledge hubs are “great sources of historical context and insight,” says Axios HQ.
(For more, check out Axios HQs full 2023 Communications Report.)
3. Set communication norms and expectations
Team norms are guidelines for how team members should interact with one another. They set expectations around what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable.
Communication norms focus specifically on how team members communicate. ‘Be punctual’ and ‘Don’t interrupt another person when they’re speaking’ are both examples of communication norms.
Leaders and team members should work together to define their communication norms. For remote teams, it’s especially important to include norms that emphasize digital wellness.
Here are some key questions for the team to consider:
- What communication tools will we use for different types of messages?
- How often should team members check and respond to messages?
- What are the preferred channels for urgent or time-sensitive communication?
- How will we handle collaborating and scheduling across different time zones?
- What information should be included in messages for clarity and context?
- What are the expectations for preparing for, conducting, and participating in meetings?
- Are there guidelines for sharing feedback or handling disagreements constructively?
- Are there any privacy and security considerations for certain types of communication?
- What are the guidelines for sharing updates on projects?
- How do we handle communication during weekends and non-working hours?
- How will we regularly review and update the communication norms to make sure they stay effective and relevant?
4. Encourage regular team meetings
It’s easy to feel disconnected from your colleagues when working from home. Regular team meetings provide opportunities for remote employees to connect face-to-face, fostering a stronger sense of unity and shared purpose.
Whether it be weekly, monthly, or quarterly — pick a meeting cadence that promotes teamwork without eating people’s Focus Time. Plus, read our guide on how to make team meetings more effective, engaging, and fun.
5. Utilize remote collaboration tools (in the right way)
Every virtual team needs the right tech stack. But it isn’t necessarily a matter of more, more, more.
One study from Asana found that among workers who use 16 or more apps, 25% said they miss messages and actions. Knowledge workers using more than 16 apps also reported they could save 9.6 hours each week if their company improved processes.
The bottom line is that remote teams need to be selective about the tools they use. Apps should streamline their workflow, not hinder it.
Let’s explore some essential collaboration tools. Use these as a starting point for your tech stack:
- Project management tool: Platforms like Asana, ClickUp, and Monday.com allow teams to plan, track, and execute projects from start to finish. Key features of a project management platform include assigning tasks, adding due dates, and managing the statuses of each work item.
- Video conferencing tool: As we talked about above, virtual meetings can play a huge part in keeping team members engaged when working from home. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet are a few of the most popular video conferencing tools today.
- Knowledge management software: Make it easy for your team members to find what they need quickly. Knowledge management tools serve as a centralized place to store your company's or team's docs, wikis, SOPs, and other important resources. We recommend checking out Notion, Slite, and Confluence.
6. Leverage async collaboration
Asynchronous collaboration, or async for short, is teamwork without the need for real-time interaction. Think email, Slack, and Loom, where it isn’t necessary to respond right away. For example, someone emails you at 8 am, and you respond at 9 am.
Compare this to synchronous collaboration like video calls, where everyone participates in real-time discussions. This type of teamwork is best for brainstorming.
So, why does async matter? Async is important for remote teams because it empowers individuals to structure their workday in a way that’s most supportive to them. It creates a more inclusive work environment for parents and caregivers, individuals who live in different time zones, people who are introverted — the list goes on.
Effective remote teams balance both synchronous and asynchronous communication for the perfect combination.
Bonus read: Check out our complete guide to asynchronous work for remote teams.
7. Be mindful of time zones and schedules
Your working hours might not be the same as your colleagues’ working hours, whether that’s due to different time zones or different schedules. This is why it’s increasingly important to account for these time differences when you’re scheduling virtual meetings.
Try a tool like Clockwise, which uses AI to optimize your team’s meetings. It uses AI to suggest meeting times based on a number of factors, including:
- Your preferred meeting hours
- Other invitees’ preferred meeting hours
- Cost to Focus Time
- And more!
Check out these additional tips for remote teams coordinating different time zones and schedules:
- Have a dedicated team calendar that shares team members’ availability, including out-of-office dates
- In Slack, be mindful of team members’ statuses (Clockwise automatically syncs your Slack status with Google Calendar)
- If you’d like to reach someone and it’s outside of their working hours, Slack has a feature where you can compose your message but schedule it to be delivered at a later time. Email clients like Gmail and Outlook also have a similar scheduling feature.
8. Practice active listening
Now, for a skill that’ll transform your relationships at work and at home: active listening. As the name suggests, active listening is all about deeply engaging with what another person has to say. It involves paying close attention to a person’s verbal and nonverbal communication in the effort to understand what they wish to communicate, make them feel valued, and keep the lines of communication open.
Here are some ways to incorporate active listening today:
- Maintain eye contact
- Observe the other person’s body language
- Be a reflective listener by paraphrasing and restating their words back to them, which shows that you’re making an effort to understand
- Don’t interrupt the other person while they’re speaking
9. Promote open and honest communication
Trust doesn’t happen overnight, and team leaders need to take an active approach to creating a psychologically safe work environment. One of the best ways to do so is by holding 1:1 check-ins.
These check-ins are an opportunity for managers and team members to discuss topics beyond the day-to-day. Managers, consider asking questions like:
- How are you feeling about your current workload and overall work-life balance?
- Are you experiencing any challenges or roadblocks?
- Is there anything I can do to better support you in your role or career growth?
Often, these types of conversations get pushed aside (or worse, buried) under everyday matters. When this happens, teams become misaligned, needs remain unspoken and unmet, and team members can feel like their perspectives are not valued.
In short, promote open communication by deliberately carving out the time for it.
10. Foster virtual team bonding activities
There are plenty of virtual activity ideas to explore if in-person team-building is off the table.
Here are our favorites:
- Virtual escape room: Put teamwork and problem-solving skills to the challenge with a virtual escape room.
- Online trivia night: From pop culture to questions about the company you’re working at, everyone loves testing their trivia knowledge!
- Virtual cooking class: Prepare a meal together over Zoom or another video conferencing tool, guided by a professional cooking instructor.
- Online team games: Play digital versions of classic games like Pictionary and charades.
- Virtual talent show: Encourage team members to showcase their talents outside the workplace.
- Appreciation circle: Give team members the opportunity to share their appreciation for each other.
- Remote work tips exchange: Ask team members to share what they’ve learned about remote work.
- Virtual book club: Allow the readers in your organization to bond over a new book, whether it be a professional development book or a mystery novel!
- Virtual volunteer activity: Participate in a remote volunteer activity, like writing letters or creating care packages to community members in need.
Remember to consider team members' interests and preferences when selecting virtual team-building activities. The goal is to create an enjoyable and inclusive experience that encourages team bonding and strengthens relationships, even when physically apart.
Looking for more ideas to boost camaraderie among remote team members? Read Zoom team building: 25 activities that are actually fun.
To enhance your remote team’s communication and collaboration:
- Write clearly and concisely
- Make sure each communication channel has a dedicated purpose
- Agree on communication norms
- Meet regularly to stay aligned
- Use the right tools
- Balance async and synchronous collaboration
- Use a scheduling tool like Clockwise to account for different time zones and schedules
- Be an active listener
- Use 1:1s to foster open communication
- Explore remote team-building activities