Remote teams are the future of work. The Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update estimates that 1.87 billion employees, over 40% of the world’s working population, will be mobile by 2022.
This means a new kind of leadership and management approach is required. Remote teams face unique communication challenges, such as coordinating across time zones and overcoming language and cultural barriers. The distance also makes it harder for team members to feel like a team. Too often it feels like strangers who happen to be working on the same project and exchanging messages but missing out on the collaboration that can make work exceptional and emotionally fulfilling.
New collaboration skills are required. One important aspect missing during remote communication is body language. The tone of emails can be misinterpreted causing confusion and hostility. These misinterpretations create an anxiety that can become costly, affecting morale, engagement, productivity and innovation. To perform at the highest levels, remote teams have to find new and better ways to operate.
When remote teams communicate well and leverage their strengths, they can actually gain an advantage over co-located teams. One of the best practices to master is to establish communication norms.
Remote teams need to create new norms that establish clarity in communication. Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to virtual conversations. Individual teams can also establish their own norms, such as what different communication platforms are used for. Norms can also exist on an individual level, such as people’s preferred response time, writing style and tone. For example, some individuals prefer short and quick messages, while others favour lengthy and detailed responses.
As more and more of our interactions happen digitally, we will continue to experience new forms of miscommunication and misunderstanding. The solution will not come from new technologies. Instead, the solution is in understanding the new rules of engagement and in building a communication skill set that reflects the demands of our digitally-driven age.
Cooper, B.B. (2019). How to build strong relationships in a remote team. Retrieved from https://zapier.com/learn/remote-work/remote-team-communication/.
Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/02/how-to-collaborate-effectively-if-your-team-is-remote.
Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update. (2016). The Global Mobile Workforce is Set to Increase to 1.87 Billion People in 2022, Accounting for 42.5% of the Global Workforce. Retrieved from https://www.strategyanalytics.com/strategy-analytics/news/strategy-analytics-press-releases/strategy-analytics-press-release/2016/11/09/the-global-mobile-workforce-is-set-to-increase-to-1.87-billion-people-in-2022-accounting-for-42.5-of-the-global-workforce#.WtQT1y7wbX4.