5 best practices for communicating with your suddenly remote team

Forced to adapt your communication to a remote workforce seemingly overnight? Follow these tips for guidance.


Editor’s note: We are re-running the top stories of 2020 as part of our year-end countdown.

For many companies affected by the recent pandemic, all employees are suddenly working from home for the first time. We’ve supported both in-office and remote employees for quite some time now and can offer these tips and recommendations for success.

Rule #1 — Provide clear “working time” guidelines.

What becomes apparent quickly about working remotely from home is the lack of separation between work and family life. They get intertwined.

So that 7 a.m. email or 8 p.m. call seems normal when you’re working remotely and constantly connected, but when you’re in the office, that’s considered “outside of office hours.”

If you don’t set guidelines and expectations, expect your communication to get out of control, with team members working at all times of the day leading to frustration or burnout.

Therefore, HR and communications leaders must provide working guidelines, and define “how we work.”  Don’t leave it up to your team members to figure it out. Strong company culture defines what is acceptable and clearly lays out expectations, so groups and teams know how and when they can work together and rely on each other.

It’s OK to be explicit. “There is no expectation to read, respond, or send an email or chat message before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Do not take phone calls after 6 p.m. unless it’s an emergency” are examples of things you can say, and helps establish connectivity balance for your suddenly at-home workforce. The opposite is OK, too, if that’s the culture of your company and is expected and approved.

Rule #2 — Short, sweet, and more frequent is the right answer when communicating via email.

When broadcasting email to employees, we can tap insights from the data of over half a billion internal emails to understand how to best engage internal audiences. You can find the full report here.

Here are the key tips:

  1. Keep your subject line to about five words and 42 characters or less. Use a full sentence and make it interesting
  2. Aim to keep your email to 250 words. Messages over 500 words perform worse.
  3. Include a relevant, high-quality images when appropriate, but text only works when you use short paragraphs, plenty of whitespace and bullet points.
  4. The fewer links you include, the more likely you are to get a click. The ideal number for the highest click-through rate is sending one link.
  5. Send (or schedule to send) in the morning.

Rule #3 — Use the right channel for the task

When everyone is remote, you can expect your digital communications to increase significantly. Having email, phone, chat/messenger and online meeting tools available for the whole team is vital.

Here is what we have found works when communicating with our teams:

  • If you’re sending information that doesn’t require a rapid response or any response, like a daily or weekly publication, send email.
  • If you’re sending information that needs a response within a few hours, use chat or messaging. If the audience is not using chat or messaging, or isn’t online at the time, email still works.
  • If you’re sending information that needs a response within minutes, text or call.
  • If you’re sending important reference or long-form information, put the documents or articles on an intranet page, and share a brief summary via email and your messenger platform.

Rule #4 — Set video call expectations.

Some companies have suddenly mandated that all calls be video, but that is generally out of fear and projects a lack of respect. Yes, we want to keep people connected and working, but always on sets an expectation that everyone be “video-ready” at any time, which isn’t realistic for everyone working at home all the time.

We want employees to be productive, but also comfortable. Be flexible with video—when your team knows the expectations, they will turn the camera on or off when appropriate.

What works great for us is our daily stand-up and weekly team meetings are all video calls. All other online meetings are at the employee’s discretion. This way, everyone knows when they are expected to be on video and aren’t caught by surprise with a sudden video call from their manager.

Rule #5 — Create trackable performance metrics.

This works great when employees work in the office as well, but is even more important for a fully-remote workforce.

Since it’s hard to know what everyone is doing at all times, we found that performance metrics tracked on a bi-weekly basis are good checks for everyone to ensure projects and tasks get completed and the team is moving in the right direction.

For example, for marketing we use incoming lead counts, content pieces posted, page views and readership. Sales uses demonstrations, quoted opportunities, and closed contracts. As long as the metrics are clearly defined, simple to measure and report, these data points will improve communications amongst your managers and teams.

Managers and employees will also benefit from daily emails of what they working on and what got done. This creates a documented record and eliminates anxiety for managers responsible for keeping their teams productive and working toward company objectives.
If your company finds itself working remotely for the first time, we hope these tips will help you communicate more effectively. If you’ve discovered other tips that work, let us know!

Michael DesRochers is the CEO of PoliteMail, an email intelligence platform for Outlook. This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.


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