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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 really well.

  • Daily stand-ups. 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 doesn’t work 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.
  • Genuine appreciation. 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 Donut. 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. Team retreats are one of the best perks about working remotely. Once (or twice, if you’re Zapier ) 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 integral 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.
  • Regular 1:1s. 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?