COVID-19 Updates

Successfully Communicating in a Remote Work Environment

April 6, 2020


Remote working is a global business trend that has grown exponentially within the last five years, and, looking beyond today’s current needs, is showing no signs of slowing down. Whether working remotely full-time, part-time, in a contractor role, or in response to a business continuity need, managing virtual teams poses unique communication and cross-cultural challenges.

Managing and working within a remote team requires mindful interactions that consider broader team and work-related needs, as well as individual cultural backgrounds.  Culture influences all interactions whether they are virtual or face to face and can have a large impact on the engagement and overall efficiency of individuals working in a virtual environment.

The following tips and best practices will support implementing mindful guidelines that consider virtual employees’ needs on both organizational and cultural levels. 

Setting Meetings

Scheduling regular meetings creates a routine framework for workflow and discussion. Consider the following best practices to create an optimal, inclusive meeting environment:

  • Set engagement guidelines and agendas in advance to manage employees’ expectations
  • Alternate call times to accommodate employees across multiple time zones
  • Use video, if possible, to connect face to face. Visual cues and communication can help reduce misunderstandings and drive engagement among teams or between individuals.
  • Establish a back-up plan in case of technology issues

Driving Engagement

Encouraging employee input is a simple, successful approach to driving participation and engagement among remote colleagues. Implement the following mindful actions to build an environment that gives opportunity to different communication styles:

  • Solicit input or opinions (offline or pre-meeting as necessary) from colleagues. This type of request puts individuals in the right mindset to contribute and drives team engagement.
  • Pay extra attention on non-native speakers and non-verbal communicators

Inclusive Communication

Sharing understandable information is a critical component of remote collaboration. The following tips support the creation of an effective, inclusive communication environment:  

  • Determine the best medium or mix of mediums (telephone, e-mail, IM, conference call) for your colleagues and establish usage expectations for those tools
  • Be sensitive to the usage of slang, acronyms, jargon, metaphors and accents in cross-cultural communication. It is critical to build an open environment, so individuals are comfortable asking for clarification if or when misunderstanding occurs.
  • Make yourself available and provide options for offline or private discussions – especially for feedback or challenges that are being shared from individual team members
  • Offer visual support, whether written or graphic, wherever possible to provide clarification and understanding or to offset an individuals’ need to only hear a conversation to remain engaged with it

Cross-Cultural Communication Checklist

Inclusive communication requires consideration and cultural awareness to ensure that the approaches being taken are the best fit for the individuals involved. Use the following checklist to evaluate:

  • Know the cultural values that drive your personal behavior
  • Evaluate how using a certain style or mode of communication will be perceived by the receiver
  • Assess the expected level of formality, personal, and etiquette norms
  • Ascertain how much context or background information might be necessary to ensure understanding of the purpose or intent of a communication
  • Understand implications of trust and credibility in virtual interactions
  • Look for clues that indicate cultural values are creating barriers to understanding
  • Engage in style switching
  • Be slow to take offense and quick to apologize

Remote working capability has quickly grown into a critical component for business landscapes regardless of industry and will remain relevant both in today’s environment, and in the future. The challenges that derive from working remotely will continue to evolve as the practice grows. It’s important to remember there is not a one size fits all solution, but rather a combination of best practices that will drive success in different environments.