How to Strengthen Communication in Distributed Teams: Best Practices From the Experts
So you’ve got team members scattered across the country – or even the globe. While remote work certainly has its perks, effective communication can be challenging when you’re not face to face. How do you strengthen connections and improve collaboration with your distributed colleagues? We talked to experts in organizational communication and virtual teams to get their top tips for building trust and facilitating meaningful interactions, even from afar. From video calls to coworking to old-fashioned phone time, here are 15 strategies to improve communication in your distributed team. Whether you’re a team leader looking to boost productivity or a team member seeking to strengthen relationships, these best practices from the pros will help you work better together, no matter the distance.
Adopting Location-Agnostic Communication Tools
If you want your distributed team to stay in sync, using the right communication tools is key. Focus on solutions that work regardless of location so no one feels left out of the loop.
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams are must-haves. They allow for rich, face-to-face conversations where people can pick up on visual cues and connect on a more personal level. For quick questions or updates, team messaging apps such as Slack or Microsoft Teams (again) are ideal. They’re great for chatting in real time or checking in asynchronously when needed.
A project management tool such as Asana, Trello, or Jira provides a central place to store files, track tasks, and monitor progress so everyone has visibility into what needs to get done. Using a shared cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox gives people a way to access the latest versions of documents from anywhere.
Establishing some ground rules around when and how to use the different tools will help maximize their effectiveness. For example, decide that video calls are for collaborative work or complex discussions, messaging is for quick questions, and project management tools are for task updates. The key is choosing options that suit your team’s needs and making them second nature.
With the array of communication and collaboration tools available today, distributed teams have many options for staying connected across locations. Finding the right mix of solutions and committing to consistent usage is what turns a group of remote individuals into a cohesive team. Using tools that transcend physical barriers and bring people together, regardless of where they are, creates an environment where relationships can form and productivity can thrive.
Kicking Off the Week Together
Starting the week off together is one of the best ways to strengthen communication in distributed teams. As a remote team, it can be easy to feel disconnected from your coworkers. A quick weekly meeting helps align everyone and prevents misunderstandings that can happen when people are working asynchronously.
Kicking Off the Week Together
To make the most of your weekly meeting:
- Keep it short, around 15-30 minutes. No one wants to spend hours in back-to-back video calls. Focus the meeting on high-level updates and save detailed discussions for smaller meetings.
- Have a clear agenda and share it ahead of time. That way people can come prepared with questions and updates. Discuss things like:
- Team priorities and objectives for the week
- Cross-functional initiatives or projects
- Roadblocks anyone is facing
- Quick wins or successes to celebrate
- Make it a video call. Seeing each other face to face, even if virtually, strengthens connections and engagement. It’s much easier to read body language and facial expressions on video versus a phone call.
- Share a recording or meeting notes. Not everyone will be able to attend live due to time zones or scheduling conflicts. Share a video recording, summary of the discussion, and any important takeaways so the whole team stays in the loop.
- Be transparent and follow up. Discuss how you’ll act on any feedback or ideas from the team. Closing the feedback loop shows your team you value their input. It also makes them more willing to participate in the next meeting.
While an extra meeting may seem like the last thing you need, a short, well-run weekly meeting can save you valuable time by aligning your team and avoiding miscommunications. The benefits of strengthening relationships and improving transparency with your colleagues, whether in-person or remote, far outweigh the costs. What do you have to lose? Give it a try and see how much more productive your team can be.
Understanding Communication Styles
When working with a distributed team, understanding each other’s communication styles is key. How your teammates prefer to share and receive information can make or break your working relationship.
Some people are more direct or blunt in their communication. They want the facts and details right away so they can take action. If you have an “all business” approach, be aware that it may come across as rude or impatient to others. Make an effort to start conversations casually before diving into tasks. And when giving feedback, focus on constructive suggestions, not criticism.
Others prefer a more thoughtful, analytical style. They like time to process information and think through their responses. If you tend to be reflective in your communication, share updates proactively so your teammates don’t feel left in the dark. Be open to answering follow up questions to provide reassurance. And try not to interpret a fast-paced person’s communication style as reckless or disorganized. They just have a different way of working.
A caring, empathetic style aims to build rapport and trust. If you value emotional intelligence in your communication, check in on how your teammates are doing personally and professionally. Your thoughtfulness will help strengthen your connection, especially when working remotely. At the same time, avoid sounding patronizing to someone with a more straightforward style. Focus on the issues, not their feelings.
The key is adapting your communication to fit your audience and the situation. Get to know your teammates’ preferences through casual conversation, then tailor your messages accordingly. If there seems to be conflict over styles, suggest team training on effective communication. With openness and understanding, you can leverage your differences to become a high-performing team.
Using the Right Tools for Each Communication Type
To effectively communicate across your distributed team, you need to utilize the right tools for each type of exchange. The communication medium you choose depends on the message and urgency.
|Quick updates and questions||Messaging apps||Use instant messaging like Slack or Teams. These tools are great for short, informal messages that don’t require an immediate response. You can quickly share a file, ask a quick question, or give a status update without disrupting someone’s flow.|
|Important discussions||Conference software||Have a video call. If you need to collaborate on a complex issue, brainstorm solutions, or come to a group consensus, a video meeting is best. Seeing each other face to face, even on screen, allows for more natural interaction and helps avoid miscommunication. You can share screens to review documents together in real time. For dispersed teams, video calls help build rapport and recreate the feeling of an in-person meeting.|
|Project management||Project management apps||Use a dedicated project management platform like Cadrelo, Asana, Trello or Basecamp. These tools provide a single source of truth for task lists, deadlines, files, and conversations related to specific projects. Everyone stays on the same page about responsibilities and progress. Project management software also gives managers better visibility into workloads and the status of key initiatives across locations.|
|Document sharing||Wikis||Choose a cloud storage service like Notion and Confluence. These platforms make it easy to share and collaborate on files with team members anywhere. You have one centralized place to store and access the latest versions of documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Permissions and sharing features help keep files secure while still enabling collaboration.|
By matching the right communication medium to your needs and objectives, you’ll find it much easier to stay connected and work together effectively, even when you’re not in the same room. Frequent communication, transparency, and a shared understanding of tools and processes are key to high performance for distributed teams.
Hosting Effective Meetings
Effective meetings are essential for distributed teams to stay aligned and make progress. As the meeting host, it’s up to you to ensure everyone’s time is well spent by following some best practices.
Define clear objectives
Before scheduling a meeting, determine the goal and specific objectives. Ask yourself why you’re meeting and what you aim to accomplish. Share the objectives with attendees ahead of time so they can prepare and participate fully.
Create a thorough agenda
A detailed agenda helps keep meetings on track. List the topics, goals for each item, and allocate time estimates. Share the agenda at least 24 hours in advance, and ask for input or additions from attendees. During the meeting, stick to the agenda and keep discussions focused.
Choose the right tools
For remote teams especially, selecting the proper meeting technology is key. A video conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex allows attendees to see each other, pick up on nonverbal cues, and feel more engaged. Consider recording meetings to share with anyone unable to attend.
Start and end on time
Respect everyone’s time by beginning and ending meetings as scheduled. If discussions run over, ask the group if they want to continue or table remaining topics for another meeting. Late starts and overtime reduce productivity and frustrate busy attendees.
Share follow-up items
At the conclusion of the meeting, quickly recap any next steps, action items or takeaways to confirm understanding. Designate individuals responsible for each task. Then, share meeting notes and a summary, including action items, with all attendees to keep everyone on the same page going forward.
Following these best practices for conducting engaging and productive meetings will strengthen communication and collaboration between your distributed team members. Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time if you go in with a clear plan and purpose. Keep attendees focused on objectives, choose tools that enable participation, start and end on schedule, and be transparent with follow-up items. Your team will thank you!
Building Trust Through Team Activities
Building trust among distributed team members takes effort and consistency. One of the best ways to strengthen connections between remote coworkers is by organizing virtual team-building activities.
Online Team Lunches or Coffee Breaks
Schedule 30-minute video calls for casual conversation over a meal or coffee. These informal chats give people a chance to bond over shared interests outside of work. You might be surprised by the inside jokes, advice and support that emerge from these meetings.
Virtual Game Nights
Play online games together like Pictionary, scavenger hunts or escape rooms. Gaming is a great way for teams to problem-solve in a low-pressure environment. Laughter and friendly competition bring people together, even from a distance.
Share Personal Updates
At the start of team meetings, have each person share one personal update. It could be a hobby, favorite book or movie, or recent experience. These quick updates help humanize your coworkers and build understanding. Find interest areas in the Cadrelo directory and focus discussions around those shared areas of passion. Hearing about people’s lives outside of work fosters empathy and trust.
Celebrate Wins and Milestones
Make time to recognize important dates and achievements with your team. Wish people happy birthday or work anniversary. Congratulate them on promotions or completing big projects. Giving shout outs for big and small wins shows you value your teammates and the work they do.
While technology enables remote work, human connection is what makes it sustainable. Team-building activities counteract the isolation of virtual teams by giving people opportunities to bond through shared experiences. Strengthening personal ties leads to greater trust, cooperation and job satisfaction—no matter the distance.
Respecting Time Zones
Respecting everyone’s time zones is key for effective communication in distributed teams. With team members scattered around the globe, finding mutually agreeable meeting times can be tricky. But making the effort to accommodate different schedules builds goodwill and inclusiveness.
Some tips for navigating time differences:
Use a time zone converter
You don’t have to worry about this with Cadrelo – we do it all automatically for you, so you know who’s in and what time it’s on their end automatically. Otherwise, tools like World Time Buddy, Every Time Zone and Timeanddate.com make it easy to see what time it is for your colleagues. Enter multiple locations to find overlapping work hours.
Set a weekly standing meeting
Pick a time that’s reasonable for most time zones and stick to it. This gives everyone a chance to sync up, ask questions and feel like part of the team. If some members can’t make it due to the hour, record the meeting so they can review it later.
Have one-on-ones at convenient times
In addition to group meetings, schedule individual chats when it’s convenient for each person. This shows you value them and their time. Ask about their typical work hours so you have that context for the future.
For some discussions or brainstorming, consider alternating between time slots so the same people aren’t always inconvenienced. If critical decisions need to be made, do your best to include as many voices as possible, even if that means multiple meetings.
Share time zone information
Make everyone’s general work hours and time zone visible to the whole team. This avoids confusion and prevents people from making unrealistic demands on each other’s time. It also builds understanding about the challenges of collaborating across time differences.
Keeping time zones in mind and making inclusiveness a priority will help strengthen communication in your distributed team. While it requires extra effort, it leads to greater cohesion, productivity and job satisfaction for all.
Giving and Receiving Feedback
Giving and receiving feedback is essential for improving communication in distributed teams. As a manager, make it a habit to regularly ask your remote team members how things are going and if they have any feedback. Be open to any thoughts they share, whether positive or critical. Then, actually listen without judgment and ask follow up questions to make sure you fully understand their perspective.
- Share feedback openly and often. Don’t wait for scheduled meetings or reviews. If something isn’t working, speak up right away. And when you receive feedback, say thank you – your team will appreciate knowing their input is valued.
- Focus on behaviors and actions, not personal attacks. Explain how certain behaviors impacted you or your work, rather than accusing someone of being “rude” or “unprofessional.” This approach is more constructive and helps the other person understand specifically what they can improve.
- Share feedback in a spirit of helpfulness. Your goal should be to build your teammate up, not tear them down. Frame feedback around how you can support them and work better together. Ask open-ended questions to make sure you fully understand their side before responding.
- Close the loop. Follow up on any feedback or concerns raised to show you took them seriously. Explain what will change and how you’ll address the underlying issues. Closing the feedback loop builds trust and shows your team their voice is heard.
- Practice active listening. Pay close attention to understand the other person’s perspective and emotions. Ask clarifying questions, paraphrase what they said, and share eye contact to convey your focus. Active listening helps diffuse negative emotions and leads to more productive conversations.
Giving and receiving thoughtful feedback is challenging, but the rewards of improved team communication and collaboration make it worth the effort. With regular practice, providing constructive feedback can become second nature, allowing your distributed team to operate at their full potential.
Improving Interpersonal Skills Through Training
Effective communication is essential for distributed teams to work well together. One way to strengthen interpersonal connections is through training. While project management tools and efficient processes are important, at the end of the day, teams are made up of individuals. Helping members develop strong soft skills can make a big difference.
Focus on active listening
Active listening is a skill that requires effort and practice. When done well, it makes people feel heard and understood. Training on techniques like paraphrasing, asking open-ended questions, and avoiding distractions can help team members become better listeners. This leads to fewer misunderstandings and feelings of isolation or being unseen.
Address different communication styles
People have different ways of expressing themselves and interpreting information. Learning about communication styles, and how to adapt your approach to different styles, leads to more effective interactions. For example, some people prefer direct, straightforward communication while others respond better to a collaborative approach. Accommodating these differences will make your team more cohesive.
Give constructive feedback
Giving and receiving feedback in a constructive way is essential for growth and maintaining good working relationships. However, it needs to be done carefully, especially when working remotely. Training on how to give feedback that is specific, balances positive and constructive elements, and focuses on behaviors and actions rather than personal attacks helps set the right tone. It also equips members to receive feedback openly and make the most of it.
Having empathy for others is a skill that allows you to understand different perspectives and build trust. While it can be more difficult when you have less in-person interaction, empathy is key to overcoming challenges that stem from differences in work styles, cultures, experiences, and priorities. Exercises that help members identify how others may think or feel in specific situations cultivate empathy.
Developing these interpersonal skills through training leads to a cohesive, high-performing team environment where members feel motivated and supported. Continuous learning and improvement in communication and soft skills are well worth the investment for distributed teams.
So there you have it, 15 proven ways to strengthen communication in your distributed team. The key is to make communication a priority and be intentional about it. Don’t just assume it will happen on its own. With the right tools and techniques, along with a willingness to connect, relate and support each other despite the distance, your distributed team can build meaningful relationships and achieve great things together. At the end of the day, we’re all human – we crave connection and understanding. Make the effort to truly listen, share openly and bring your virtual team together. Your team’s success depends on it.