Posted by Sandy Yu on 12.20.2018
Nearly 4 million employees now work remotely at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million back in 2015. And while millennials might come to mind when you think of telecommuting, the average worker is actually 46 or older.
These statistics, from a December 2017 FlexJobs report on the state of telecommuting in the U.S., prove the workplace has changed and will likely continue the trend of more employees working remotely.
It hopefully doesn't surprise you that employee experience is just as important for these workers as it is for those located in the office. However, communicating with them clearly, effectively, and efficiently often presents challenges -- and when communications break down, emotions can run high.
Unfortunately, our research found only 19 percent of remote employees said their company engages in frequent and effective communication to create a positive experience at work. Additionally, an underwhelming 9 percent said their employers encourage questions and feedback from them.
So, we asked the experts to explain exactly how you can improve communication with remote teams.
Because I travel so much, it’s rare for me to have every member of my team available in person. In these distributed teams, misunderstandings can happen all the time.
When I communicate with my team, I don’t write well-groomed sentences. I have a bit of military background, so I like to keep it short, military style. Depending on their personality types, some people can interpret that style as being harsher than I intend. In that way, communication can get infected.
There are two ways I’ve seen that play out. I’ve held 'ping-pong' type communications over email or Slack, where I’ve spent a lot of time explaining what I really meant in the first place. I’ve also been in situations where I thought we were 'all cool,' but then I hear that, actually, things are not so great.
What I’ve learned to do that works really well is to just instantly pick up the phone and call when I sense that something might be going wrong.
At Favro, we have no internal email -- only Slack for messaging and Favro for planning and management. Slack has built-in call and video functionalities that are very easy to use. When I feel that something’s gone wrong, or I feel the other person isn’t getting me, I just push the call button.
Managers of distributed teams should be sure to make time to actually meet their teams and try to see them on a regular basis.
When managers do see their remote employees, they should focus on the social aspects of the interaction. If you feel that you know the person on the other side, that you have some trust built up, it’s much easier to resolve the conflicts you have online, and it feels natural to push the button to call them.
Leaders need to know if employees have had negative reactions to communications or are unhappy in their job responsibility. It is important because two-thirds of the workforce is disengaged, and that costs companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year. If employees do not communicate their emotions, their resentment can build -- and that leads to poor productivity. Poor communication can also lead to employee conflict.
Leaders need to make it clear to remote employees that communicating their emotions is safe. If they believe there will be negative ramifications for sharing their emotions, people will shut down and let things build.
One way for employers to help their employees is to ask them to paraphrase what they believe regarding communications, their job responsibilities, how what they do ties into the overall goals of the company, etc. If people learn to paraphrase what they have learned from things communicated to them, they can share any misunderstandings that could lead to negative emotions.
I recommend that these discussions occur on the phone or through video conferencing. A follow-up email is appropriate to summarize what was learned, but should not be the main form of communication.
The best way to ensure communication remains open and honest is to put it on the calendar to have feedback sessions. Cultural changes and expectations must come from the top. If leaders do not embrace the need for good communication, it is unlikely it will occur.
Leaders can start by sharing their emotions. Many leaders fear looking like they don’t know everything. If they admit that they could use help from employees, it empowers employees to not only do more, but also share their honest emotions with their leaders. It has to be do as I do and not just do as I say.
I have had many leaders on my show who have incorporated their cultural goals into every meeting. They tie every decision into how it helps them reach their goals. Helping employees see how their jobs and responsibilities tie into the overall goals will improve engagement.
Through scheduling consistent meetings to go over how well this occurs, leaders can tell if employees have heard employees’ concerns and if communication is clear.