7 strategies to help remote workers overcome communication problems

We look at the effects of communication problems on remote workers and outline how you can help

7 strategies to help remote workers overcome communication problems

Most employees are no strangers to communication problems in traditional office environments – but remote workers experience the effects of these issues quite differently.

The good news is that human resource professionals can help remote workers overcome these issues by recognizing common problems, using strategies to prevent them from happening, and addressing problems when they arise.

Read more: Remote work: Is HR doing enough to support well-being?

Why is communication important?

Good communication allows teams to work effectively with each other. This is even more important when working with remote teams because traditional in-person office interactions can make use of effective non-verbal cues – such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

For remote workers, however, written communication is the most common channel – which can cause several problems down the road. Let’s take a look at some of the effects of these communication problems on remote employees and examine some strategies to manage them.

1. Miscommunication

Miscommunication can happen when the intended message isn’t successfully relayed across the team. Remote teams that rely mostly on emails and chats are more susceptible to this issue, since effective communication frequently relies on other non-verbal cues, most of which can’t be translated succinctly into words.

Strategy:

Take advantage of technology and make use of the range of communication channels that are available – such as emails and chats, video meetings, and voice calls. And since even a simple punctuation mark can be misconstrued, it is probably a good idea identify the right channel to use for specific purposes. For example, teams can use video calls for brainstorming activities, while disseminating lengthy instructions can be done through email. Provide guidelines on which communication tool to use for each purpose and have your teams use separate accounts for work to keep their communications compartmentalized.

Read more: What's the most effective COVID-19 communications?

2. Lack of connection

Remote teams can feel disconnected because they rarely see their colleagues – if they see them at all. Working from home makes it harder to build camaraderie because team bonding moments often happen during off-work interactions – eating lunch together, for example, or engaging in small talk by the water cooler.

Strategy:

Have teams work in the schedule and give them access to real-time communication tools. This may prove to be a challenge when your remote workers are from different time zones but making working hours mandatory for all members will help improve team unity.

Remote teams can also bond by using instant messaging apps such as Skype or Microsoft Teams. Using these tools can bridge the gap remote workers often feel when communicating online.

3. Lack of collaboration

A lack of collaboration happens when team members don’t actively engage in conversations and avoid sharing their ideas and feedback. The most common cause for this issue is the feeling of being undervalued, which can happen when employees feel they were shut down or dismissed.

Strategy:

Encourage and initiate interaction by having team meetings where everyone just hangs out to talk about their interests outside of work. Make sure everyone gets a say and everyone is acknowledged for what they bring to the conversation.

If your remote workers are stubbornly passive when it comes to communicating, HR managers can help by initiating the communication themselves and regularly encourage remote workers to ask questions.

Read more: Is this the key to collaborative HR?

4. Lack of trust

Like team unity, trust builds over time. But remote workers often find it harder to trust team members and managers who they rarely interact with face-to-face.

Another common cause of lack of trust is when conflicts between employees aren’t successfully resolved. Conflicts can cause communication barriers if not identified and resolved early.

Strategy:

The best virtual equivalent of “my door is always open” is to be transparent and available to your team. This means being accessible and being able to respond within a respectable timeframe after a receiving a message. HR managers might need to delegate this responsibility to other coworkers especially if you have several teams working around the clock. But it’s important that remote workers have someone they can go to for questions.

5. Feelings of alienation

Remote workers may feel alienated when working in mixed teams – or teams with both remote and in-office workers. Seventy percent of remote workers feel this way, according to a report by Igloo Software – and those inside jokes and allusions to events that happened in the office can further exacerbate these feelings.

Strategy:

Encourage more informal conversation between team members and managers. Remote employees will feel included if they can kick back and have informal conversations with their team. Have them use a separate chat channel for more informal talk, such as Slack or Google Hangouts. You should also make sure that the tools are uniform for everyone, so no one feels left out.

6. Overcommunication

While communication is essential, overcommunication – ignoring boundaries by communicating too often – can quickly turn into micromanagement.

Strategy:

Set limits and boundaries when it comes to emails and calls. A great way to prevent overcommunication from turning into micromanaging is to give remote workers an “off-switch” that they can use if they do not want to be disturbed. HR managers can also set time windows when workers and their managers are accessible and ensure that these limits are followed for both calls and emails.

7. Personal aversion to interaction

Some remote workers just aren’t comfortable with interacting with others – a common trait among introverts who choose low-profile remote jobs just to avoid talking with people.

Strategy:

Initiate low-profile interactions and suggest counseling and therapy if needed. Find out if the remote worker is under extreme stress, experiencing trauma, or has a mental health problem that makes them uncomfortable with verbal and face-to-face conversations.

Remote workers experience many communication problems. But HR managers can use these strategies when encountering these problems to ensure that the distributed workplace is safe and productive for everyone.

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