Logistics: Recommended Communication Tools and Habits
Here's a list of tools reviewed for remote teams and the best habits to implement them for effective communications.
Effective communication is essential for any company. With remote teams, it becomes even more important, but also comes with its set of challenges Like most aspects of remote work, communication needs deliberate planning and attention to detail.
That is not to say it is significantly different from large corporations, where teams on projects might be distributed across different silos and locations, yet have to find a way to share information effectively. There are many studies and best practices which have been identified from these experiences and tools that also apply well to remote team communication.
Before we get into communication tools, the habits which make them work have to be defined.
There are good reasons for a start-up to be remote first, and one of them is setting up a culture of habits and tools that will scale easily as you grow. The right habits will also help you bridge differences in communication styles to build a dynamic cross-functional and diverse team.
All companies now rely on new communication tools to enhance their employees' effectiveness. Most of the studies refer to larger and office-based organizations, which may not seem to apply at first glance. A deeper dive shows there is a lot that can be learned.
An analysis by the Harvard Business Review looked at the unique needs of remote team communications. It found that the most effective communications were focused on bridging the distances involved. However, it went on to break the concept of “distance” down to three key areas of communication to bridge them:
- Physical, across space and time
- Operational, across job functions and skill levels
- Affinity, across different values and cultures
The first two are naturally bridged by careful planning and company culture. Affinity, or values based communication, can be the most difficult for remote teams and requires special attention.
A separate study by Deloitte found that constant engagement with a high degree of transparency bridges this gap well. They derived their methods from the latest B2C consumer communications emphasizing lifestyle and authenticity.
What may be surprising is that all companies face this issue, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. They found that 80% of employees use texting for business purposes. The value which they found came from the perceived intimacy of it, which helps build trust and direct connection.
Getting the Job Done
What about the operational distance? Here, the challenges of remote team communications are not necessarily unique to a remote-first company. The effective use of communication tools, particularly new ones, is an issue for all companies.
First and foremost, remote-first companies pay more attention to this issue. As such, they are providing great leadership for all corporate communications.
It has been shown for operations that written communication is always more effective. There are three main reasons for this, as written form communication:
- Requires the initiator to think before they write, meaning they are more organized.
- Creates an instant archive which can be referred to later.
- Allows operation in different time zones and schedules.
This may seem opposite to the need for empathetic, value based communication, which closes the identified affinity gap. It certainly can be. In practice, this explains why a diverse set of remote communication tools are necessary and how each of them is used most effectively.
Remote Work Communication Tools
There are many guides pointing out the best remote work communication tools, each with their own emphasis and bias. Generally, they all agree on the key tools which every remote-first company will need to implement as part of their daily habits and practices.
Generally, they can be divided into synchronous (immediate) and asynchronous (time independent). Given the different types of distance, which must be closed by remote team communications, each has their place.
Slack forms the backbone of communications at Torre. It has the intimacy and immediacy of texting, but provides an organized archive which can be referred to later. It also interfaces well with other tools we use.
In order to use Slack most effectively, we have these practices and habits:
- Every team has a channel for their general communication.
- Every project has a channel for the daily workflow.
- Labels are used to mark projects which are immediate, urgent, etc.
By setting it up this way, there are well defined spaces for general strategy and values, as well as the tactics and workflow. Slack is very good for being the center for remote team communications.
There are many video tools which are available. None are as flexible and reliable as Zoom. It is the synchronous remote team communication tool of choice.
While written communications is the backbone, there are times when a video call is useful. Workers are human, and a certain amount of “face time” can ease anxiety and work through various issues much more quickly at times.
Zoom works across many different devices. It also integrates well with Slack, allowing recording and archiving of all calls.
Larger files and documents are also a key part of remote team communication, and they need a repository. Google Drive serves as this, handling spreadsheets, documents, slides and more. It has built-in security, and can limit access to documents as needed – a feature which is important for intellectual property protection.
However, it can be hard to find documents once they have been created, so organization at the very start is how to make it work well.
As a tool for organizing work flow across teams, nothing is better than Trello. It is highly visual and immediate, allowing status information to be shared quickly at a glance. Individual responsibilities are conveyed along with the team progress in one seamless package.
It can also be used as a central archive for version control as work develops. These are visible to everyone, organizing everything by project, task and history. The intuitive nature of it makes training for new employees simple.
When it comes to organizing and tracking workflow, Trello is magic for remote team communication.
Generally, e-mail is not a good tool for employee communication. It should only be used externally.
WhatsApp and Everything Else
There are times when WhatsApp and other forms of communication can be a useful backup, in case of emergencies. But that's where their usage ends. The ability to organize and archive makes the tools described above superior to everything else for remote team communications.
Implementing Remote Communication Tools
In all cases, the goals and values of your company have to come first. The following habits that become part of your culture will form naturally. Communication tools are not going to solve larger problems that are not addressed in your company values and culture.
They can, and they must, reinforce them. They represent the way every aspect of your culture is represented, from the strategic big picture to the daily processes of getting the work done.