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5 remote work communication challenges and how to fix them

Remote work communication is only as effective as the supporting technology and its users. Learn the challenges of remote work communication and how to address them.

Communication is key to the success of remote work. Many organizations have deployed unified communications tools to better support the communication and collaboration needs of remote workers. But, if the tools are insufficient or if employees aren't properly trained to use them, communication suffers.

Organizations that don't address remote work communication challenges risk decreased productivity, efficiency and collaboration among remote teams. A strong strategy to support remote teams can mitigate communication roadblocks.

Explore five common remote work communication challenges and how organizations can solve them through technology upgrades, end-user training and company culture shifts.

1. Miscommunication

One communication challenge is employees aren't all located in the same space, like the office. They can't swing by someone's desk to ask a question or pop into a collaboration space for an ad hoc meeting. As a result, many organizations have deployed a plethora of cloud-based unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools to address different communication needs for remote workers.

But too many tools can lead to miscommunication. Text-based communications, like email and chat, can make it difficult to convey tone. Even video conferencing doesn't fully replace the effectiveness of in-person, face-to-face communication.

The key to avoiding miscommunication when working remotely is to choose the right communication channel. To choose the right medium for the message, employees should consider how formal the message should be, the nature of their work and the level of collaboration required. This enables employees to determine if a quick, informal chat or a more formal video call is required.

2. Insufficient technology and infrastructure

Technology challenges, whether from the underlying network or end-user devices, can hamstring remote work communications. If the technology isn't working properly, employees can't communicate. Insufficient technology problems include the following:

  • Poor network connections. An organization could have the latest and greatest communication tools, but users don't have a good experience if the network can't keep up. While IT departments may not have control over a home user's network, they can make improvements to the corporate network to support remote workers, such as scalable bandwidth, remote access to company resources and software-defined WAN.
  • Interoperability issues. Organizations may deploy multiple communication tools for internal and external communication. For external communication, in particular, employees may bounce around different apps due to a lack of interoperability with their organization's chosen apps. Organizations can use a third-party interoperability service to connect to external platforms. UC vendors are also offering more support for interoperability, but users may find only basic features, like chat and calling, are available.
  • Tool sprawl. If an organization deploys too many collaboration tools, employees can get overwhelmed and not know which tool is best for certain tasks. This can result in employees wasting time switching among apps, which slows down workflows and decreases productivity. IT teams can address tool sprawl by reviewing app data usage to determine where overlapping services can be consolidated and establish best practices for what tools are most appropriate for internal and external communication.

3. Poor-quality meetings

Remote workers rely on video meetings to replicate the face-to-face communication of working in an office. But poor-quality meetings prevent communication from being effective. Meeting quality can be hampered by both technology and end-user issues, including the following:

  • Network issues. If a video meeting is held on a weak Wi-Fi connection or there isn't enough bandwidth to support multiple users on video, users may experience frozen or jittery video and audio. IT teams must ensure that the network can support the bandwidth requirements for video meetings.
  • Audio and video issues. Video attendees must be seen and heard clearly for a meeting to be effective. Jittery video, for example, makes it difficult for participants to read nonverbal cues. While a meeting can continue without video, the experience is diminished. Issues with audio, on the other hand, can completely disrupt a meeting if no one can hear or understand each other. IT teams can minimize audio and video issues by ensuring enough bandwidth to support video calls, as well as enabling video meeting features that support high-quality audio and video, like background noise suppression. End users can also support audio and video quality by upgrading their home networks and testing the quality of their cameras and microphones.
  • Poor meeting structure. Sometimes, a meeting could have been an email. Meetings with no agenda or structure can be too long, or some participants may realize the meeting discussion isn't relevant to their work. Too many meetings, or ones that run too long, keep employees from prioritizing the work that needs to be done. Setting a proper meeting agenda provides structure and determines who should be invited to the meeting and what preparations they need ahead of time. Appointing a meeting leader or moderator can help meetings stay on task and encourage attendees to participate in meeting discussions.

4. Siloed employees and departments

The secluded nature of remote work is a communication challenge as employees can feel disconnected from their colleagues. While employees continue to collaborate remotely with close team members, they may be less likely to collaborate across groups or departments.

Organizations can address communication silos by using engagement tools built into their collaboration platforms, such as ice-breaker or happy-hour apps, to foster connections between remote employees and encourage camaraderie.

Organizations must also create cultural change to foster collaboration among teams and departments. This includes establishing best practices for communication across teams and creating opportunities for cross-group engagement.

5. Lack of proper training

Organizations can't roll out communication and collaboration tools and expect employees to learn to use them on the fly. Without proper training, employees may not know which tool is most appropriate to use or understand all the features available within the tool. Remote work communication also suffers if employees don't understand how the tools fit into their workflows.

With proper training, employees have a better understanding of how and when to use their communication tools. Training should include not only best practices for communication tools and where they fit in remote workflows, but also how they can be used for informal, social communications.

Training should also focus on changing behaviors to better support remote work communication. Remote work tends to be more asynchronous than in-person work as employees are often geographically dispersed and may be working from different time zones.

Adopting models that support the asynchronous nature of remote work can help mitigate remote work communication challenges. Employees learn the types of communications that benefit from being real-time, like a brainstorming session for a project, and what can be communicated asynchronously, like a quick project update.

Katherine Finnell is senior site editor for TechTarget's Unified Communications site. She writes and edits articles on a variety of business communications technology topics, including unified communications as a service, video conferencing and collaboration.

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