The Do’s and Don’ts of Remote Team Communication

remote team communication

I have a confession to make. I used to hate emojis. I would never use them. Why react to a message with a smiley face or a tiny gif of a party parrot when you could use actual words? But ever since joining our fully distributed team at Aha!, my anti-emoji stance has softened. Now I generously sprinkle thumbs-up and heart-eye cats into my messages.

As a co-worker wisely pointed out to me — emojis are the emotions of a remote team.

When you work remotely, you often rely on technology to communicate. And yes, this includes tone and emotions. For many distributed teams, casual conversation is primarily done via group instant messages (e.g., apps like Slack or internally built tools.) At Aha!, we also have meaningful dialogues in the comments within our own software.

Instant messaging helps us stay productive — we can quickly reach out and get an answer back fast. Even more powerful, it brings us together as a team.

In addition to 1:1 conversations that happen throughout the day, we have different group channels where people can jump in to talk about food, sports, or post a cute picture of their dog. (If you are not familiar, channels in instant message tools are similar to old-school chat rooms that were dedicated to a single topic.)

Obviously, there are work-related spaces too — each functional group has one that is open to the entire company. Anyone can contribute to those public team channels to share thoughts and ideas or ask questions.

But like any tool, the benefit can go wayside when not used correctly. This is why we make sure to share our instant message best practices when new people join our entirely distributed company. If you are considering joining a remote team or are already part of one, you may want to follow along.

Here are a few of our do’s and don’ts for instant messages within a remote team:

DO: Include the right people
Quickly consider if you are including the right group of people before you send. It is not dissimilar to choosing who to include on a meeting invite. For issues that impact a certain team but could likely be solved by anyone on that team, you can reach out to a large group (for example, one of those public channels) and see who has time to jump in. When in doubt, err on the side of including more people than fewer — that way, your co-workers have the option of following along with the conversation or letting you know that they do not need to be looped in.

DON’T: Send “empty” instant messages
What is an “empty” instant message? They have no real information and leave people hanging. You know the ones I am talking about. The ominous ping of “you there?” or “hey,” that is followed by stone-cold silence — while your co-worker waits for your reply. The recipient might be in a meeting or talking with a customer and not be able to respond right at that moment. So instead of writing “hey” and waiting for a reply, send a quick summary of what you need and any brief background info. This way, your co-worker can shoot off a quick “in a meeting” and then reply or ask for more information when they are able to.

DO: Respect time zones
Do your best to remember where people are and what timezone they are in. No one wants to get a midnight ping when they are on the verge of falling asleep. And if one of your colleagues forgets about your location and someone does ping you late at night, it is probably because they really need something or simply just forgot that it was late for you. But know that you do not need to answer right away (and your teammate likely does not expect you to). Make it easy for your teammates by listing your availability in your status and logging offline when you go, so they know when to engage you for a live conversation.

DON’T: Default to instant message
Instant messages are great for quick requests or hellos — but they are not always the best option. If you need to have a complex (or perhaps even difficult) conversation with someone, consider a video call instead. A good rule is to ask yourself how many messages the conversation would require. If it is more than a handful, it might be good to hop on video. Personally, I am a fan of starting quick video calls when I need to give more details on a request. It feels like I am stopping by my teammate’s virtual desk.

DO: Have fun
Being professional does not mean you cannot have fun! Do not be afraid to show off your personality or share a piece of your life. Maybe it is posting a photo of your vacation or sharing your weekend plans. When you are working remotely, you need to make a greater effort to spark these kinds of personal conversations. It helps your teammates get to know who you are — making everyone feel more connected.

For remote teams, it is important to make the most of your virtual time together — this includes the hours spent communicating through instant messages.

Be professional, informative, respectful, and friendly — just like you would in an office setting. And for bonus points, try throwing in an emoji or two. 😻

What communication do’s or don’ts would you add to the list?

About Nicole and Aha!

Nicole is passionate about building happy teams. She is the VP of People Success and Operations at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. Previously, she led product and solutions at Perceptive Software, where she saw their enterprise content management platform through a successful $280 million acquisition by Lexmark.

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  1. Susan Lowmiller

    I have made some of my very best friends over work chat, and it makes our in person meetings that much more fun.

  2. Kim

    I’d have to add–pick up the phone! So many people default to IM or text, which fails to fully convey a message, specifically tone. Spoken engagement enables to hear a smile, absorb intent, pick up on inflection… all of which helps us to better know our colleagues and their work style.

    1. Bruce Gandy

      I have to agree with Kim. The phone has been forgotten in the age of technology. Also, don’t use email as IM. The back and forth as opposed to putting all the details, for clarity, in the first message is a huge timesaver.

      The usual reason given is that people don’t read lengthy messages. While true, consider the length of time it takes to answer all the questions that arise from incomplete messages.

  3. Lorna Thompson

    If your messaging app supports it, It’s helpful to attach a copy of any document or other artifact you wish to discuss or reference in your message. Or if possible, include a link to the material on Google Drive, or other shared platform. This saves the recipient of your message from having to leave the conversation in order to locate and retrieve a copy of the document, chart, diagram, etc. at hand.

  4. Bryan Young

    I love your comment about empty messages. But I would add a tiny twist on it. Don’t initiate a conversation (“Time for a question?”) and then disappear! I can’t tell you how many times someone has requested my attention on IM, gotten it, and then ghosted on me! I stop what I’m doing to hear their question that never actually gets posed! “Sorry, I got distracted.” Well, yeah – so did I. You got distracted by something more important; I got distracted by something far less so!

  5. Prasanta Shee

    Effective remote team communication helps businesses in increased productivity, timely completion of tasks allocated, better employee manager relationship, team building etc. Various tools like webex, gomeetnow, gotomeeting, R-HUB web video conferencing servers etc. are widely used by businesses for effectively communicating with their remote teams.

  6. Michelle

    For effectively communicating with remote teams, you may try widely used tools such as R-HUB TurboMeeting, GoToMeeting, GoMeetNow, etc. They are very helpful for better communication between remote teams with improved productivity.

  7. Kyle

    Communication and collaboration will always be the biggest challenge for remote teams. That is why it’s very critical to address this issue. One way would be choosing the right collab tool for the team. One such tool would be Proggio. Thanks for the article.


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