Working remotely is no longer unusual. In fact, today, it’s standard practice, with contemporary working habits offering notable flexibility. For the most part, this has been a massive improvement. Workers get to decide how they manage their workloads, and employers get to cut back on their office-space commitments. But it isn’t perfect. One area in which remote working still presents some major challenges is communication.

Insights have shown that around 20% of remote employees struggle with communication and collaboration. In the end, it’s critical that communication remains effective when your employees aren’t sharing an office and can’t simply discuss issues in person.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to effectively communicate even when the team spans several locations. In this post, we’re going to set out five ideas for improving communication among remote teams — so let’s get started.

Choose the right communication tools

Productive discussion at a distance is only possible because of the remarkable technology available to us all, but the sheer proliferation of tool options can cause confusion. You can’t use all of the channels at the same time, after all. To ensure that communication is smooth, you must be selective and avoid splitting your conversations across too many platforms.

There are many services geared towards remote workers specifically, so it’s worth looking at those. Slack has over ten million daily users for a reason: even if you’re not a fan of the platform, you must acknowledge how well it does what it’s designed to do. At a minimum, you should have an instant messaging system and a video conferencing application. Anything beyond that is up to you.

Remember to consider all the costs of using a particular tool: not just what you pay to access the service but also how much you’ll need to invest in employee training and what you’ll lose in opportunity cost if there’s something more effective out there.

Encourage the whole team to come together

Communication is about more than just keeping track of deadlines. It’s also about fostering team ties. After all, one of the most serious issues facing remote workers is loneliness. Feeling alone and disconnected can lead to disengagement, poor performance, and decreased production. For this reason, bringing the entire team together is critical.

Why not organize little coffee breaks on occasion? Invite everyone to join a call and talk about non-work-related topics. Alternatively, you could put together a team quiz: answering questions together can really bring a team together. Be mindful to avoid doing this too often, though. Not only can it lead people to feel pressured into enjoying themselves, which is counterproductive, but it can also frustrate their efforts to get important work done.

Arrange in-person contact where possible

Finding opportunities to get people together for in-person events is always worthwhile because even the occasional get-together can generate significantly greater team morale. You could host a team lunch, perhaps, or run a full training day to justify getting everyone in. The more comfortable people become, the more easily they’ll communicate.

Now, it’s true that you might not be able to bring everyone in. It’s perfectly possible for a modern company to rely heavily on freelancers, or even to retain full-time overseas workers through an employer of record service (Remote has more details), making it impractical to gather people physically. But you can still gather some of your employees, or even find the budget to cover a full international company trip. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Possibly.

Have a clear agenda for every meeting

While holding meetings is necessary for running a business, holding too many meetings is a common problem. Consecutive meetings quickly become tiring and ineffective, and plenty of meetings simply aren’t worth having in the first place. Before you book a meeting, be sure that you have something worthwhile to say. If you can say it effectively through an email or memo, then don’t disrupt people’s work by calling them into a meeting.

In addition, you should set clear expectations concerning how attendees need to contribute and what (if anything) they should produce as a consequence (Nuclino has a good guide to making an agenda). This will help you avoid unnecessary discussions and come away from each meeting knowing that it will actually lead to meaningful and worthwhile action.

Get to know people’s preferred communication styles

Everyone has a slightly different set of preferences for how they like to communicate. Some people prefer their managers to be extremely blunt, for instance, while others dislike direct confrontation and prefer to be criticized and/or rebuked much more gently. If you’re going to maintain productive lines of communication with your remote employees, you need to understand how they want you to address them.

The best way to find this out, of course, is to ask. Reach out to each employee in turn and ask them how they’d like to be addressed, then do your best to accommodate their preferences. You might not be able do things their preferred way all the time, but simply making an effort to do what you can will make a big difference.

Good communication will always be valuable in business. If you can make an effort to implement the tips we’ve outlined here, you can achieve a significant improvement in how well your employees interact. Good luck!