4 Keys To Effective Communication In a Global Remote Business
Humans have evolved to rely on reading body language, understanding changes in voice tone, facial expressions, and long form use of language through speaking. When we use text, we have none of that to rely on. You can’t see someone’s body language or facial expression or hear their tone over text. So, how do we communicate clearly and effectively in this digital age?
This post is a guide on how to adapt to a world of digital communication. Learn the 4 keys and you will discover how you can master remote communication techniques.
I’ve never been one for an office, I’ve been a digital nomad since 2016. I’ve spent the last 7 years developing tools and techniques for effective communication that have helped me to run and grow a remote business with employees and clients spanning 19 plus time zones, from New Zealand to California and many in between. I’ve met less than 5% of my clients, and until recently I’d only met half of my team in person.
So how do we stay productive, communicate effectively and build relationships in this digital age where people are working on their computers thousands of miles apart and across different time zones?
Key 1: Video On In Meetings
Meetings can be a huge waste of time and be very unproductive. They can also be essential and effective. In a remote business, I think they are very important. Humans are not robots 🤖 and need connection and relationships. They can also do their best work in collaboration.
Yes you have my permission to leave your pants off and I don’t even mind if you don’t brush your teeth 🪥, but brush your hair and put on a nice top because cameras have to be on 📸! As a rule!
Your facial features literally help the person on the other side of the camera build empathy towards you. Where do you think phrases like “your eyes are the window into your soul” come from? Your facial features have a serious impact on people. They help people read you and they help build connection. Sometimes my clients send me their phone numbers and ask me to call them, and I send them a zoom link and say lets rather meet here. You have to be strict on this one. Video is a far superior tool of communication because you get to hear tone, see facial expressions and to some extent feel the energy of the person on the other side of the screen. You can see if they are stressed, relaxed, rushing etc. Also it’s harder for people to multitask and fold their laundry 🧺 while on a call with you if the video is on!
Key 2: Communication Cadence
When you are so disconnected geographically from your clients and colleagues the forms of communication and cadence with which you communicate are essential to consider.
If you feel like someone you work with is feeling a bit distant, like you‘ve forgotten the sound of their voice it’s probably because it’s been way too long since you met up. Drop them an email or a message and organize a video call with them. Just find an excuse, and jump on video call. This is essential to relationship building. Make people feel like you are actually engaged and there to support them.
Respond to emails within 24 hours ⏲️, no more. This must be a hard rule.
If you are waiting on something urgent and haven’t heard back – follow up after 24 hours, otherwise 48 hours for non-urgent matters.
Set reminders ⏰
Set reminders on when to set up certain calls with certain people, maybe after you have a call with a client or team member, set a reminder to schedule another call on whatever timeline seems reasonable. Keep up regular video check-ins with teammates and clients. It can get pretty lonely without these.
Key 3: Communication tools and tactics
Always start video meetings with a short catch up – ask the person how they are doing, if you know something about their lives bring it up, it will be a huge connection building moment. If you don’t know anything try to remember for next time. Maybe even write down a reminder in your meeting minutes so that next time you can ask the person about whatever life event they mentioned in the last meeting! Take an interest in them, I like to get personal and intimate, and show that I care about them, because I do. I like to steer away from the go to icebreakers 🧊 like weather 🌨️ but they are great to use sometimes when you don’t have anything else! Big news items can also work but I like to get real with people. I talk to and share vulnerability and openness.
Trust yourself – people want to see your authenticity, your humanity, your vulnerability. So be silly, be funny, let your personality come through. It doesn’t have to be all business; this is what people relate to and build rapport with. Our imperfections are what people connect to.
If you are nearby or are able to meet up – just do it. It’s always worth it to meet up, occasionally face to face, if you can.
Writing Tools ✍️
Read and reread your emails before sending.
Have a grammar and spell check extension like Grammarly. Don’t send shabby communication. Take pride in your emails. Use short sentences and clear concise language. If you want to learn how to write clearly we have a whole blog on just that.
Use an instant messaging app like Slack with your team or your clients. Emails 📧 will remain an essential part of business communication but each messaging tool has its own culture around it, and emails are seldom quick or urgent. It may be useful to also use an instant messaging tool for collaborating quickly with your team and clients. We use Slack and occasionally Whatsapp too.
Acknowledge receipt of every email, every Slack message, everything. Even if it’s just an emoji and doesn’t really require a response. This makes people feel like you got them and reassures them that you’ve received their communication. It makes them feel supported and safe.
This may sound funny but trust me on this one! Type emails and Slack messages with emojis 😀. It may be annoying but it’s very endearing. In a world of text, where tone does not exist, emojis are an amazing tool you can use to convey tone, to get a laugh, a smile, and fellow-feeling. Emojis are an important visual symbol in computer-mediated communication. Emojis are proven to strengthen emotional communication and improve the quality of relationships. Emojis are a set of expression symbols 🔣 that make up for the non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, intonation and gestures, which affects the transmission of information.
Key 4: Timezone Overlap
Mindset to Timezones
We work across the entire world’s time zones. We have clients and team members from California to Christchurch. It can be an absolute headache trying to get everyone on a call at the same time. People wake up at 6am, and go to sleep at 2am to be on video calls. Bloodshot eyes, croaky voices and all. This shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence and where possible limit these awkward times. But sometimes they are necessary.
The benefits of being in a remote team is that you could be working from anywhere. Upsides and downsides. You enjoy these benefits but the trade-off is needing to be available at weird hours. But that just comes with the territory. You can likely sleep it off and make up the extra sleep hours by avoiding the commute time to the office.
We have monthly full team meetings. That means 9 people across many time zones are on one zoom call. This is essential for team building and for people feeling like they are part of a supportive network of people with a shared interest and common goal to support them. We all really look forward to these meetings and we also just chat about our lives as well as help solve any issues plaguing our team, whether personal or professional.
It may be hard to overlap but make sure you are overlapping with team members for at least 3-4 hours a day if possible. This means some team members will have to switch up their working hours.
What does overlap mean? In our business, we’re super flexible. This means our team can work whenever they want. Although, they have to be on certain meetings and they need to be online and responsive during certain overlapping hours with their teammates and clients.
During these overlapping hours the team is essentially on call and answerable to any messages. This is key for productivity so that we don’t have bottlenecks and delays. This ensures team members are able to continue with their work without waiting for answers from other team mates.
Of course with a global digital team there are challenges and so flexibility is key. An understanding that there are so many perks and also some disadvantages.
I use a website called worldtimebuddy that allows you to line up 4 different timezones for free. To get more you have to pay but this is amazing value and really makes meeting scheduling way easier.