Communication Challenges for Remote Teams Due to COVID-19
Due to challenging times in 2020, including the COVID-19 spread, more companies are arranging work from home than ever. A PwC survey in June 2020 indicated that 83% of workers expected to work from home at least one day per week, and 55% of employers anticipate keeping remote work arrangements in place even after the pandemic danger has passed. Remote work is poised to become the new way of working, which means that remote teams are likely to face new challenges.
How can project teams weather the challenges and develop into strong remote teams? A good way to start is to identify and address common communication challenges that remote teams face.
- Lack of face-to-face interaction leads to lost information.
Nonverbal communication makes up 60-80% of communication. Body language and visual cues offer important insights that are often lost in virtual interactions.
To overcome this issue, use videoconferencing wherever possible to preserve some nonverbal communication. Since meeting in-person is less common now, make sure everyone gets a chance to be seen. Encourage everyone on the call to keep their video camera on during the entire meeting/call.
- Engagement may be lower overall.
During remote meetings, especially longer meetings, some team members may “check out” and exhibit signs of low engagement. If too many team members lose engagement, they can cause disruptions. This issue can affect hybrid teams especially if some teams are closer to the main office and therefore have more clarity than others. Teams can overcome this issue by asking everyone to adopt a team charter with ground rules. Utilizing a shared workspace where anyone can ask questions also ensures that everyone can stay in the loop, leading to more productive and time-bound meetings. Try to distribute the meeting minutes within 24 hours of the meeting so the discussion items and decisions remain fresh for everyone.
- Technical difficulties are bound to happen.
Almost everyone has had a problem with meeting software or a network connection during a critical virtual meeting. Such problems introduce extra “noise” that can inhibit communication.
Plan for this issue by budgeting for hardware or software solutions, like dedicated bandwidth or a stable, dependable meeting platform. Having a backup solution available, such as an audio conference, can also help keep virtual meetings running smoothly. Having a dedicated support specialist available to quickly diagnose and fix issues can be the difference between a successful or failed remote team meeting.
- Challenges with time zone differences can lead to stress.
When team members are spread out by four hours or more, finding a common time to meet can be a source of friction. Someone on the team has to meet outside of normal business hours, putting additional stress on them, inhibiting their productivity, and causing tension.
Teams can overcome this issue by rotating meeting times so everyone has to compromise at different times instead of just a few people. Establishing clear expectations that team members may need to compromise also lets them arrange their schedules to ease stress.
- Cultural or language differences can cause misunderstandings.
Cultural differences between virtual team members from other countries, or regions within the same country, can cause confusion. Differences in accents, idioms, syntax, and jargon are all possible contributing factors.
To address this issue, introduce cultural training so team members can develop greater awareness of other cultures. Budgeting for travel so team members can meet in person also helps bridge cultural gaps but may not be feasible due to COVID-19.
- Remote teams have a steep learning curve.
Team members who have not used videoconferencing or worked remotely before may have a steep learning curve to catch up. Differences in technological savvy could lead to team members missing important details in meetings or being unable to connect at all, leading to frustration.
Addressing this challenge requires getting everyone on the same page. Make sure everyone has the same or similar technology to avert issues related to compatibility, such as a platform working better on Mac OS than Windows. In addition, make sure minutes are ready quickly for anyone who does have an issue with attending a meeting. Finally, if you have a dedicated support person, this person can be very helpful to make sure everyone is caught up.
Following these tips can help you overcome common communication problems and succeed on projects with teams distributed across the world. With the need for virtual communication among team members growing rapidly, project managers who can effectively manage virtual communication are in a better position to help their projects succeed.
Learn more by watching our webinar on Communication Challenges for Virtual Teams.
1. PwC (June 25, 2020). “When everyone can work from home, what’s the office for?” Accessed at https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/us-remote-work-survey.html