Remote teams are the driving force of growth in the tech industry today.

An increasingly large number of companies are hiring remote workers – not just from around the country, but also from different parts of the world.

According to a study by Strategy Analytics, remote workers are likely to account for 40% of the world’s workforce by 2022.

While having a remote development team undeniably has its advantages, communicating with them can be a challenge at times, as you not only need to coordinate across different time zones, but you also have to be mindful of the language and cultural differences that exist in the workforce.

In this article, we take a detailed look at the strategies you can follow and the tools you can use to communicate with your remote development team effectively.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

A synchronous communication takes place between two or more individuals at the same time – it could be via live chat, video calls, voice calls, or phone calls.

An asynchronous communication, on the other hand, is more of a back-and-forth exchange between two or more individuals.

In order to effectively communicate with your remote team, you need to employ both these strategies as and when needed.

When a team member from a different time zone needs to leave a message, they can do so via email, a messaging app, or an online forum, to which you can respond at your convenience.

When there is an important topic to be discussed or when you need to bounce ideas off each other, you can set up a virtual meeting via a video call, voice call, or a live chat at a time of your team’s convenience (taking the time zone differences into consideration).

Apart from this, it is also advisable to arrange for in-person meet-ups on a semi-annual or annual basis. It could be a workshop, conference, or simply a get-together to celebrate your team’s achievements.

The Importance of Documentation

When it comes to communicating with a remote team, documentation is absolutely essential.

While it is neither possible nor advisable to avoid phone or voice calls altogether, a vast majority of the information shared among your team members should be in the form of text for the following reasons.

  • Documented information is centralized and acts as a single point of reference for everyone in the team. It can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time. If you need to revisit the conversation you had with a team member, you can simply take a look at the particular wall of text, rather than contacting them again.
  • Documented information is easily retrievable and searchable.
  • Documented information is reusable. Once you write it down, it can be used again and again for different purposes.

Proper Use of Communication Tools

One of the unwritten rules of remote workforce management is that video calls and live chats should only be used as a last resort.

You should not call your team members – nor should you encourage your team members to call each other – for trivial issues that can wait a few hours.

The standard mode of communication, as mentioned above, should be text. You can send an email or leave a message using an online tool like Slack.

You should call the person in question only if there is no response to your messages and if you urgently need an answer. Otherwise, you should leave a message, wait for them to respond, and then proceed with your task.

Remember – software development is a highly creative process. Any kind of distraction – including and especially a phone call from a team member or the team leader – can make it hard for the programmer to concentrate and affect their productivity.

So, it is essential for everyone involved in the project to learn how to communicate using the right tool at the right time.

Journaling

This is an excellent strategy to share your thoughts with your team members. A journal is similar to a blog, in which you can post updates on the projects you are working on and the ideas that you are interested in.

You can invite your team members to follow your journal and ask for their feedback on your posts.

Here is how you can use an online journal to share your thoughts with your team and collaborate with your team members.

  • Update it at least once a day.
  • Make sure your entries are brief and to-the-point.
  • Share valuable information with your team.
  • Reflect on your own work as well as that of others, point out what you like and dislike about it. Encourage your team members to do the same.
  • Ask for your team’s feedback on your ideas every now and then.

Managing the Time Zone Difference

One of the reasons why many people are hesitant to hire remote workers is the time zone barrier. However, with a proper communication strategy in place, the time zone difference can actually work in your favor.

If you have to collaborate with developers from a different time zone, it is essential to plan everything in advance.

Talk to each other and make sure your roles are defined clearly so that everyone knows what he or she is supposed to do.

Right at the start of the week, make a list of the tasks that need to be completed and the person responsible for each task. This way, you can create a 24×7 work cycle – you work when your team members from a different time zone sleep and they work when you sleep.

In case you need the assistance or input of someone from a different time zone in order to complete your task, do not wait until they wake up and come online. Focus on a different task until the person comes online.

If you have nothing else to do, try coming up with new ideas that can be implemented in the project you are currently working on or in the future.

At the end of your shift, leave some notes – if needed – for the next worker who is supposed to come online and work on the project. It can make their job easier.

Building Trust

If you are used to working in an office setup, you might find it difficult to adjust to the idea of working with a remote team.

An office is generally a high-trust environment in which employees can talk to each other, hang out with each other outside of work, and develop strong bonds over time.

It is very hard to replicate the same sense of camaraderie with a remote team. It does not, however, mean that you cannot have a closely-knit team of remote workers.

There are a number of ways in which you can develop a sense of bonding among your team members.

  • Create a separate online channel for each team member containing their bio data and background information. Every time a new member is added to your team, a new channel should be created for them.
  • Create a virtual space (Facebook group, chat room, or a forum) exclusively for non-work related activities. Your team members can share their thoughts and interests with each other, get to know each other better, and develop a sense of camaraderie among themselves.
  • Celebrate achievements – at an individual level as well as at a group level. Highlight the contributions made by individual members and the progress you have made as a team.
  • Arrange a fun get-together for the whole team at least once a year. Choose an exotic location which fits your budget and spend a few days with your team members. It’s a salient way to know more about the people whom you collaborate with on a daily basis.

Tools for Effective Communication with Remote Teams

Slack

It is an app which you can use to chat with your team members. You can set up official channels for individuals as well as your whole team. You can also set up personal channels to discuss non-work related things with your team members.

Trello

It is a project management tool using which you can plan and execute a wide range of tasks in an efficient manner.

TeamViewer

It allows you to share your mobile/laptop/computer screen with your team members.

Zoom

It allows you to make video calls and communicate with your team members.

Google Drive

You can safely store all your work-related data online at extremely cheap rates.

Google Forms

It is a great tool for conducting surveys among your team members.

World Time Buddy

If your remote team is spread across the world, you might find this tool useful. It shows you what time it is anywhere in the world, at any time.       

Constant Contact

It is a neatly designed, easy-to-use tool for sending newsletters to your team members.

Communication – The Key to Successfully Managing Remote Teams

The aforementioned strategies can help you communicate with your remote team effectively. By communicating clearly on an as-and-when-needed basis, you can make sure the whole team is on the same page and working towards the same goal.