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Essential Communication Strategies for Remote Employees

Essential Communication Strategies for Remote Employees

by Carlos A. Vázquez   |   November 1, 2017   |     6 min read

Clear communication between a manager and a remote developer undoubtedly sets the stage for the company’s and the employee’s long-term success. One of the top reasons that remote employees or outsourced teams fail is because they lack good communication practices.

The most important factor is not communicating itself, but organizing the communication between the manager, team and remote developer.

Let’s dig into some best practices in communicating with remote employees and how you can employ them.

Communication Basics

Establish clear dates and times for repetitive meetings.

Having a periodic check-in with remote engineers is not only healthy but necessary. Every single day counts in the coding world. Establish dates, times, and agenda’s from the get-go to ensure that they know what is expected of them. Be sure to send out calendar invites and getting confirmation.

Implementation ideas

Standups – Daily 20-minute or weekly 50-minute meetings where attendees describe:

  • What they worked on
  • What challenges they faced
  • What they completed
  • What the next steps are
  • What possible blockages or questions they have
  • What needs they have to proceed with their work

Sprint Review Meetings – After finishing a sprint (usually 2 weeks if using agile scrum methodology) discuss:

  • Work done by each team member
  • Discuss setbacks and challenges faced
  • Talk about new ways to improve current flow

Quarterly Review – 30-50 minute meeting to review the quarter’s efforts to discuss:

  • Performance feedback
  • Next quarter review
  • New ideas

Employ guidelines for break-out or task-specific meetings.

Much like Bezos famous “two pizza rule”, where he limits the people involved in a meeting to “however many can eat two large pizza”, having clear rules for separate meetings is paramount.

Like repetitive meetings, they should have a hard start and stop, an agenda, and calendar invites sent out beforehand. However, it is important to add that every meeting should always end with action items and a due date for them.

People involved in the meeting should participate in every meeting, and as the manager, it is important to make sure that remote developers become part of the conversation early on by asking questions and looping them into the fold. It will pay big dividends when their ideas and thoughts start impacting the business.

If it can be answered with an email or through a quick Slack message, then you don’t need a meeting.

Implementation Ideas:

General Meeting Flow:

  • The one planning the meeting sends the calendar invite to everyone
  • Meeting planners set the agenda and moderate the conversation
  • Be prepared before the meeting with what you’re presenting
  • Meeting leader will make sure to recap the bullet points covered, the takeaways and the needs for follow-up

Don’t Forget Time-Zones!

Time-zone inevitably comes to mind when thinking remote. Of course, it serves to have a remote developer or a distributed team that resides in the same or similar time-zone as yours. It makes coordinating meetings, follow-ups and quick questions easier, opposed to having to schedule a daily stand-up meeting at 8:00 pm local time.

Communication Availability

Remote developers should be readily available whenever a manager needs to communicate with them. Employees should stay logged in to Slack, respond to emails within 1 hour and participate to stand-ups – if they are in place –  during work hours.

Communication Mediums

Provide an overview and how-to of communication tools used

Remote team members should know where they should expect to interact with the manager and the rest of the team to perform their daily tasks and how to use them.

Walk them through how they work on the onboarding and explicitly state what you use each medium for. These include team chats, video conferencing, email, phone call and project management software packages.

Some tools and you can use them for:

  • HipChat, Slack – everyday communication, quick questions and general team conversation
  • Uberconference, Google Hangouts, Zoom – standups, breakout meetings
    • Pro tip: Every member should be in a quiet place and use a headset.
  • Gmail, Outlook, or other emails – follow-up emails, meeting scheduling, sending proposals, longer questions or non-emergency items.
  • Phone Call – urgent matters
  • ProofHub – a project management tool with a built in chat.

Although it sounds obvious, it must be clearly stated and shared with the remote employee whenever they are onboarded to ensure that everything flows naturally.

Communication Planning  

For there to be no surprises in communication one must plan ahead and start thinking about this before the remote employee starts with the company.

Establish clear guides and expectations for them. Read through them and ask them if they have any doubts or questions and make sure you know how to respond whenever they fail to follow one of the rules.

If it’s your first remote employee then use the interactions you have on a daily basis with your on-site team members as a base and build on that, adapting it to the remote nature of the relationship.

Implementation Ideas:

  • Create a reference communications manual and include it during your onboarding, running down through again it during their first day on the job.
  • Map out the next quarter and how you’d like things to rundown, include review dates, stand-up hours and other communication dates and times you think you’ll employ. Once the remote developer or employee is onboarded see how they adapt to the organization and then iterate.
  • Start with the basics like weekly meetings and monthly meetings, build on those as you see fit.

Conclusion

Communicating effectively means there is more time to tackle issues and build great things. Employing communication strategies helps your remote tech team do just that, but in order to do so you must consider meeting flows, repetitive meeting protocol, which mediums to use and for what, as well as establish a clear guideline for them to reference.

It’s all about building and iterating. Take what you think works for you and implement it, review and then try it again. Great communication is an essential characteristic of great companies, and we are all great companies.

Do you have any questions about communicating with remote developers? Let us know in the comments section below!

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