Communication between team members is always hard because you’re asking a group of people with different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences to get along right away and understand each other well enough to work well together.
Even a lot of people who live in the same house can’t do that.
Then there’s the problem of communicating with diverse remote teams who may be working in different parts of the country or even in different parts of the world.
It’s not obvious how to talk to people on a team who live in different time zones and come from different cultures and generations. But there are ways to improve communication so that work days are less stressful and the team does better.
At Tackle, we operate with over 300+ teams spread across more than 800 cities worldwide. Here’s what we learned about how to improve communication within a team:
Table of contents
- 1. Improve team communication—in-person and remote
- 2. Start the week off with a quick meeting
- 3. Understand everyone’s unique communication style
- 4. Create psychological safety
- 5. Avoid overload and burnout
- 6. Send out surveys to help the team improve
- 7. Use the right communication tools
1. Improve team communication—in-person and remote
Half of all businesses now use a hybrid workplace model, in which some employees are based in an office while others work from home, so any discussion of how to improve team communication must take into account both onsite and remote workers. Additionally, 78% of companies use freelancers who work from home.
Current trends in the workplace indicate that you are likely to work with a vendor, partner, or contractor who is located in a different location, even if employees are required to work onsite.
It could pay off to make sure that all of your communication procedures are suitable for both local and remote workers. Some companies, for instance, require that even if only one employee can join a meeting remotely, everyone else in the room must sign in from their desks.
2. Start the week off with a quick meeting
Bringing the team together for a short check-in can save you time during the week, so don’t balk at adding yet another meeting to your calendar. These get-togethers need to:
- Bring the team together to align on goals and routines.
- Involve them in cross-departmental projects and keep them informed.
- Let people join your group has their concerns heard and their ideas discussed.
It is not necessary to devote more than 15 to 30 minutes per week to holding meetings. Make video calls a standard practice if your team has members in different locations. People are more likely to interact and form bonds after seeing familiar faces, which could help reduce the sense of isolation experienced by those who are geographically distant from one another.
Having a camera on the policy may help encourage participation. While Upwork does require all team members to always have their cameras on, we do recognize that there are times when this isn’t possible.
3. Understand everyone’s unique communication style
How you say things to other people and how you understand what they say are both important parts of good communication. If you don’t give members a way to learn about their different ways of communicating, they may lead to misunderstandings and fights.
For example, people who are action-oriented tend to pay attention to problems and challenges. They are often fast-paced and straight to the point. They may also ask a lot of clarifying questions and expect fact-based answers right away. They want things to get done, so they don’t mind telling you what to do.
A person who is more analytical may move more slowly and carefully. They like routines and would rather answer questions after giving them some thought. They might think that the action-oriented person’s quick pace is too pushy and dangerous, and they might see their directness as rude and demanding. This could make them less open to ideas and less willing to work together.
Communication involves so much psychology that the best way to learn how to talk to each other is to get help from a professional.
You can find help that fits your budget and what you need. For instance, members of a team can take basic courses online from places like LinkedIn Learning and Udemy. Or, you could hire a Human Resources (HR) expert or business coach to train your team in a way that fits their needs.
4. Create psychological safety
A study by Gallup shows that many employees hold back their contributions and ideas because they feel that the benefit of “saying nothing” outweighs the benefit of speaking up. In most cases, employees fear that their ideas will be rejected or that managers will go so far as to penalize them.
That’s why Heather Doshay, VP of People at Webflow says that the most important thing leaders can do to build a positive remote culture is to create psychological safety:
Here are six ways to foster psychological safety in your remote team:
- Acknowledge your mistakes and weaknesses as a leader.
- Be open to feedback and suggestions from your teammates.
- Encourage your direct reports to ask questions and disagree with your ideas.
- Actively ask the quieter members of the team for their opinion during your virtual meetings.
- Instead of blaming someone for a mistake, address the problematic behavior or outcome as a learning opportunity and use factual language.
- Measure psychological safety by asking employees how comfortable they feel sharing ideas and disagreeing with other members of the team.
5. Avoid overload and burnout
When people are working from home, the boundaries between “work-life” and “personal life” can fade very easily. That’s why it’s so important for you, as a leader, to set an example and encourage people to maintain a work-life balance.
Pro-tip: Check out our blog on how to Work Life integration to have a more in-depth idea of how to achieve WLB in your life.
6. Send out surveys to help the team improve
Rarely does a team’s way of communicating work perfectly the first time. To be honest, you may never be done because you’ll probably need to make changes as new team members join and as the business changes. Surveys are a good way to find out what needs to be changed and how to change it.
Making surveys doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money. Many tools, like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey, are free and have easy-to-use drag-and-drop tools that let you make a survey in minutes.
Here are a few ways to get more out of your surveys:
- Keep it anonymous so that respondents feel safe sharing candidly.
- Set a goal for the survey to keep questions on track. Say what you mean. I want to know if they like the new project management tool. Try saying something like, “I want to know why they’re still using those old spreadsheets.”
- Mix open- and close-ended questions to avoid survey fatigue and gather qualitative and quantitative data. For example, an open-ended question may be: What do you think we could do differently to improve XYZ?
- Close-ended questions can include ratings and multiple choice questions like, How many hours a week are you saving with the new software?
- Use simple, clear words and short sentences. Instead of asking, Was the training not good? Consider: How would you rate the training overall?
7. Use the right communication tools
To use the right tools for communication, you have to know which tool to use for what kind of communication. Tsedal Neeley, an expert on remote work, says to choose the right level of lean vs. rich media and synchronous vs. asynchronous communication channels. A video call is an example of synchronous communication. Asynchronous doesn’t require immediate response, like email.
The idea here is to be aware of your choices, so you’re not defaulting to what’s familiar. Instead, you’re choosing what’s best, such as when deciding:
Email or Slack?
Both of these ways of asking can get a lot of requests. Since both Slack and email are considered “leaner” media, email can be used for less immediate communication or for things that need a longer, more thought-out response from the recipient.
For example, if you have a meeting in 20 minutes but can’t make it, you could send the other person a quick message on Slack asking to reschedule.
If you have questions about a report that might require the recipient to do more research or provide more proof, you might want to send those questions in an email. Email gives them time to think about what they want to say and room to do so.
Meet in person or send an email?
Meetings are important, but you don’t have to have them all the time. Even a short video chat can stop someone from getting work done because every minute spent talking about work in a meeting is time not spent doing the work. Then, to make up for the time spent in meetings, they have to work longer days. That’s like putting oil on the wheels of a car that’s going to crash soon.
When deciding whether to have a meeting or send an email, you should ask yourself:
- Can your question or problem be solved to your satisfaction through email?
- Are you just getting together to make sure they’re working? (We’re not criticizing, but this sounds like micromanaging.)
- Could you wait a few hours to hear back?
If you need to talk about something hard or it’s urgent and complicated, it’s probably best to have a meeting.
But if all you want to do is share information or the problem isn’t urgent, email might be better. Then the other person can answer without stopping the first person’s work.
In the same vein…
Don’t “over Zoom.”
The world learned in 2020 that Zoom doesn’t have to be used for every meeting. Seeing faces on screens can make remote workers feel less lonely and alone, which can make them more engaged. But one study found that too much of it can make things worse.
Even though virtual coffee chats are fun, they add time in front of the camera, which can be stressful for team members. The research showed:
- 65% said that team engagement is best when they can see each other on video, but only 11% of their video meetings are used for that.
- 58% of people who say they are introverts and 40% of people who say they are extroverts are tired of being on camera.
People are all different and complex, so improving communication between team members requires work on a number of fronts, from tactical operations to helping each person develop their soft skills.
Your hard work might lead to a high-performing team that works at its best, but that might not be the real reward. They may be able to use the communication skills they learn at work in their personal lives as well. This will help them have better relationships everywhere.