The importance of communication
and how to do it well
In all companies, communication is key. But, in remote companies, communication can be the
sword that they live or die by. Given that, while you build your remote team, it’s key
to make sure that communication is a big part of your consideration. Here are a few tips
on things you can do to ensure that communication is happening and then subsequently do it
Do daily stand-ups on a broken-up team-by-team basis and ensure that everyone has the
same access to the meeting as each other. So, if you have both remote and in-office
employees, make sure that the remote employees have the tools they need to be able
to communicate with them. They should have video cameras, microphones, and anything
else needed to make it easy for the two sides to communicate. You never want to have
a moment where someone says “what did they say?”
Once you’ve gotten all of that, keep the stand-ups short and meaningful. You need
only to present high-level, high-impact things to keep your team focused and aligned.
If someone is blocked on something they should communicate it here, but otherwise
communicating goals and what people are working on should be the focus of these
meetings. They serve to align people and get everyone on the same page about what
your company is working on.
Weekly company calls.
Every week you should be conducting a whole company call. If you can’t do that
because your company is too big, break it up into individual team meetings (and break
the team meetings mentioned above into still-smaller functional team meetings).
Weekly calls with everyone in the company help to align everyone and build
camaraderie between teams. As a note, when you do video calls, make sure that
everyone on the call has their video turned on. You wouldn’t go to a meeting with
a paper bag on your face, so don’t do what is effectively the same thing by turning
the video off.
Transparent goals set quarterly or yearly.
Every team in your company, as well as your company as a whole, should have
transparent goals that are set quarterly or annually. Having goals that everyone sees
and knows about aligns individuals on different teams towards a common mission. So,
instead of thinking, “hm, well, how does this serve my team?” people will be thinking
about how something serves the company as a whole. That distinction is incredibly
important and enables people to better assume positive intent in someone’s actions.
When you know that everyone is trying to accomplish the same thing, you aren’t going
to wonder about whether they are acting in a self-serving manner quite so quickly.
Have a water cooler space.
Having a place where people can go to talk about stuff that
is important. Some companies do this by having video calls where people (remote
or otherwise) can drop in before the end of the week just to hang out for an hour
or so. Others have lots of different general interest chat channels where people can
talk about the things they care about outside of work, like video games, cooking,
or building things with their hands. Letting people get to know each other outside
of the context of work helps to build rapport and creates a better, friendlier,
happier experience for everyone within the company. Even if it means taking a little
time out of their work day, it’s worth it for the amount of trust built between
members of different teams.
Practicing genuine appreciation for the people who work for you and around you
is incredibly important when working with remote team members or in an entirely
remote company. What that means is instead of saying, “Wow, great work!” explicitly
noting and addressing what you liked about the work. For example, you could say,
“Wow, the amount of detail that you put into that bug report was great, and really
let me dive deep to solve the problem much more quickly.” This gives specifics that
allows the person receiving your praise to understand what about their performance
should be repeated, and also feels better for them to hear than three words that
could be tossed out about anything.
Scheduled cross-team chatter (Fika, Donut, etc).
Similar to having a video chat or communal space where people can talk about their
interests, many remote companies have some kind of regularly scheduled, randomly
rotated meeting across teams. They go by many names, and now tools are even being
built to automatically schedule them, like
Having a randomly scheduled, non-work-related meeting with someone from another
team simulates the natural communication that would come from being in an office. You
get to know someone better and build rapport with them without having to go through
the awkward first dance of reaching out to someone over chat. When it’s scheduled for
you, both parties feel compelled to attend. This is important because it allows
people to communicate and humanizes people on other teams. It creates compassion, for
example, between engineering and support team members and lets remote employees get
to know people that they wouldn’t otherwise get to know.
Team retreats are one of the best perks about working remotely. Once (or twice,
) a year the whole company (both remote and co-located, if they exist) travels
to an offsite and does team building and in-person meetings for a few days. It sounds
exorbitant but it is
to maintaining and deepening bonds between people who don’t regularly get to see each
other. Having people have fun together is one of the best ways to ultimately ensure
that they are able to work together. In times of frustration and doubt, they can
remember back on the time they completed a climbing wall with two of their colleagues
or the awesome event where the whole company built dog houses to give to a local
animal shelter. This is another one of those instances where, while it may cut into
regular work, it’s worth it for the additional benefits in community, communication,
and friendship later on.
Even if someone is remote maintain a regular 1:1 schedule with them. Just like
employees in the office, remote employees have schedules that they maintain and
stick to. Having regular 1:1s gives employees and managers a cadence to track how
their performance and feelings about the job shift. It also gives employees a safe
space where they can expect to be able to go and talk about things that are bothering
them or how they are feeling. When a manager shifts or cancels a 1:1 right before the
meeting, it sends a signal to the employee that they don’t care or value the
employee’s time. So, schedule something regularly that the manager is able to stick
to, and do not cancel or shift it unless you really have to.
So, with all those meetings being so awesome for support, how do you do them?