Excellent communication in virtual spaces is an ongoing challenge, and an absolute necessity.
Founders and other business leaders need to be continually reminded that projects are made by people, even if those people make themselves manifest on a video call or as avatars in a chat box. Success comes from understanding how to foster efficient, healthy internal communication, and while remote work is still a structure that many companies feel unsure about, surveys have noted that an overwhelming percentage of staff members hope to have some type of hybrid or remote work option post-pandemic.
As founder of AMAI — a San Francisco-based company that produces AI voice engines — I knew that our teams would be spread across multiple time zones and that we’d face a number of remote work challenges. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about improving internal communication and overall morale.
1. Create separate work and personal channels
There are so many avenues for online dialogs that it's no longer a problem finding easy ways of connecting — the issue is that stress and anxiety can result from juggling too-frequent communication. We realized that having a single channel for chats wasn't working well because it lumped work and "fun" messages into the same platform — a sure way of making people avoid updates and muting chats. (Imagine getting a ping in a work chat at 10:30 p.m., feeling a spike of anxiety, then realizing it's a coworker sharing a picture of his cat?) To fix this, AMAI used separate platforms for work and fun — Slack chat was selected for work, Telegram for personal messages. Maintaining this distinction helps declutter work discussions while minimizing the burden of remote chatting: workers can log out of Slack chat when the day is done, but still stay connected with each other.
2. Set up beyond-work virtual spaces
When an entire team is remote, it can be hard to foster meaningful bonds. It's easy to overlook the value of being able to pop into a coworker's office to chat or make plans to meet up for drinks, and fostering these kinds of casual connections should be a priority. We want our teams to feel as though they are just that, not simply a group of individuals with shared skills, so we have established virtual “hangout” spaces where people can meet to talk about shared hobbies or other interests (using Discord servers, Zoom or any other medium that fits your culture). For example, we have a dedicated book club chat where people can discuss what they're reading and choose something to read together. There’s another for those who embrace photography and want to talk about creating perfect shots… we even have a board game space to chat about games people love and/or want to make. Don't be afraid to think outside the box with this, and be sure to ask for input from team members.
3. Encourage regular and company-wide connections
There's nothing wrong with segmented communication when you're managing multiple teams, but leaders need to strike a balance between team-specific and company-wide information channels. This is especially true if you're forced to discipline or change direction for one of the teams, which can cause worry and tension for neighboring teams because they feel out of the loop and/or wonder if they're next on the list.
Beyond disciplinary worries, keeping communication too segmented also means that teams never get to mingle and feel as though they're part of something greater. For us, the entire company meets every Friday, no matter what. Sometimes we celebrate successes, other times mark failures, but always set aside time for transparent dialog, which helps us brainstorm fresh ideas and collaborate in new ways. Other companies have strategies like a digital whiteboard that all employees can access, or “digital team-building” meetups. How you handle this will depend on your internal culture, of course: just make sure you're keeping everyone in the loop, whether news is good or bad. This lowers stress levels and makes everyone feel like they're essential.
Since the future will almost certainly be partially remote, there's no better time than now to start experimenting with ways to develop a healthy and tight-knit virtual work culture. The better your internal communications are, the more motivated your workers will feel and the faster your business will prosper.
A version of this article appeared on entrepreneur.com, posted on January 18, 2022
EXPERD, Human Resources Consultant, Jakarta – Indonesia