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How to Work With Remote Teams When Communication Lag is a Problem

At work, communication lag is something most remote workers experience.

It takes a few hours for someone to respond to a message.

A conversation gets lost in a Slack channel.

An important project update falls through the cracks.

In the old days of snail mail, this type of communication lag was expected. But now, people want and need responses sooner. As a remote organization, consistent communication has lasting impacts on your team’s ability to collaborate effectively.

We know because we have remote workers. We’ve had similar challenges.

Thankfully, if you’re experiencing an increasing amount of communication challenges, there are a few ways to get the conversation flowing and frequent. And when you can decrease communication lag, your team can create and connect like never before.

How To Work With Remote Teams That Experience Frequent Communication Lag

When you experience a lot of communication lag, it’s difficult to move projects forward or collect feedback. You work off old responses and don’t know what information to trust. It’s a nightmare for remote teams.

Of course, a few instances of communication lag here and there isn’t the end of the world. But when your remote team frequently has issues connecting, morale and productivity start to erode. However, with the right systems and technology, you can drastically improve your team’s communication. There are a few communication lag tactics we’ve employed to keep our team on the right track.




1. Set A Clear Standard

If you had to guess, how long does it usually take your team to respond to a message? This is almost impossible to predict if you have communication lag. It's not like an office, where you can tap someone on the shoulder. That’s why for many teams, it’s critical to set a clear, set standard for response time.

A two-hour reply requirement is a good place to start. Even if team members need to provide a brief update, such as, “I’m working on getting the right answer to your question,” it can move things along and help team members feel heard. However, due to the nature of remote work, it's important to keep in mind that you'll probably experience a slight time delay from time to time.

2. Maintain Regular Work Hours

In an office, it’s easier for team members to gauge when it’s time to go home. People get out of their chairs and leave. Your boss waves at you on the way out. But when you’re working remotely, there’s no way to tell when is the right time to sign off. Work hours easily bleed into leisure time, and team members find themselves working late into the evening.

While working more isn’t always a bad thing, when team members are responding to messages outside of traditional 9-5 hours, it can cause erratic communication patterns. If someone answers a Slack thread at 10 p.m., and a co-worker in another time zone doesn’t receive it until they wake up, hours have passed, and no one is working in unison.

3. Encourage Different Response Methods

Sometimes there isn't a great way to answer a question within a one-line messaging app. A team member may plan to schedule a meeting or hop on a video call, but other priorities get in the way. Then, they forget to respond to messages, and the lag begins.

Of course, there are certain updates that require more context and color, and a comprehensive response is worth the wait. But to prevent a huge lapse in response, there should be set guidelines and additional tools that equip team members to respond. For instance, Loom is a screen recording plug-in for Chrome that makes it quick and easy to record a video.



4. Hold Weekly Accountability Meetings

As a remote team, team members can go days without talking to each other. It’s crucial to have weekly or bi-weekly meetings to talk about progress. With a set accountability meeting in place, there’s a designated time to only discuss open and ongoing tasks.

Ideally, during this conversation, everyone on your team is in attendance. You can also record the session with a web conferencing app like Zoom or GoToMeeting. This way, you can keep your entire team in the loop about what’s going on, and there’s a documented record of project updates for that week.

5. Build Rapport

It can be challenging to bond a remote team. Unlike an office, it’s unclear whether team members are overwhelmed or overworked. If you're only communicating over tools like Google Hangouts, it can be difficult to gauge someone's mood. If this goes untreated, this kind of disconnection can lead to unmotivated teams and serious dips in productivity.

However, when morale and productivity are high, collaboration is consistent and fluid, making it easier for teams to connect and get things done.

6. Use One-Line Messaging Strategically

For remote teams using common one-line messaging tools, sometimes there are just too many messages and places to find them. You check Slack only to realize that you have questions waiting for you on Monday.com. You open Google Hangouts to find a ton of unread notifications.

Often it comes back to the tools you're using to communicate and how well your team understands how and when to use them.

You can make messaging clearer by setting expectations about formatting and tagging team members. When does someone send a Slack message versus a project update in Trello? Which tool is used for compiling design or content feedback?

One way to ensure notifications don't get lost in various tools is by designating one notification channel. For example, if you did so with Slack, regardless of the auto-notifications from other tools, you understand that Slack will always have the most recent and accurate information.

Resolving Remote Team Friction

Overall, if you’re working remotely with your team, communication lag can happen from time to time. You can reduce it with the right communication tools and systems.

Published by High Fidelity July 16, 2019

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