In today’s world remote work has become the norm, not the exception. For the small business community, this is a game changer. But it does come with it’s own set of challenges. Namely, the challenge of building strong communication within remote teams. 

According to a study by Upwork, freelancers contributed 1.2 trillion dollars to the US economy in 2020. And, as Jeff DeVerter writes in a recent Forbes article, one full-time remote worker reduces company costs by an average of 22 thousand dollars per year. 

Hiring remote employees and contracting freelance specialists is a cost-effective way to build a talented team. 

But as any small business owner knows, a company is only as good as the workforce on which it is built. Some days, keeping your scattered team functioning well and communicating clearly begins to feel like it’s own full-time job. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

From creating an intentional system of check-ins and updates, to setting clear expectations through well-placed HR videos, there are plenty of ways to build strong communication in your remote team — without wasting hours of your precious time. 

Be intentional about your check-ins

If your team is remote, it’s important to be doubly intentional about your check-ins, above and beyond scheduled staff meetings and employee one-on-ones.  

When everyone was in the office together, you probably spent more time with some of your employees than you did your own family. You knew when their dogs died, or when they were having a bad day, or when their workloads were getting the best of them. 

Writing for Thrive Global, Richard Greathead points out the importance of maintaining a pulse on employees. Regular check-ins help minimize miscommunications, identify and maintain company goals, and keep employees feeling motivated, engaged, and valued.  

When everyone is in the office together, this is easy to do. On-the-fly conversations happen more than we realize, and we constantly assess our employees and colleagues — both for their performance and for their personal wellbeing. It’s just human nature.  

But when everyone is scattered far and wide, it’s easy to fall out of step with your team. This is true for full-time staff members and doubly true for contractors and freelancers.  

Whether you are starting a new business or looking to improve your current company, make mid-week check-ins the norm. In my experience, I recommend managers should check in with their employees and contractors at least once a week outside of regularly scheduled meetings.  

Tyler Quiel, CEO of Giggster, says "This can be as simple as a quick Slack message telling the person they’re doing a great job and asking them if they have everything they need. It doesn’t have to be major, but it should be intentional and regular. Put it on your calendar if that helps. (It usually does.)"

Your employees, their morale, and their productivity will thank you for it. 

Keep an open-door policy, even if the door is digital 

Checking in with your employees is important, but does this communication go both ways? 

In a well-functioning team, employees and contractors should feel comfortable bringing questions and concerns to their managers. But maintaining an open-door policy is tricky when that door is digital.  

Writing for ToolBox Tech, Jeff Dickerson points out that in a remote setting, it isn’t enough to just say you have an open-door policy. Be clear about how this policy works in practice. 

When and how can employees schedule meetings with you? If they need an on-the-fly conversation, what’s the quickest way to reach you? Do you prefer email, text, a Slack huddle? 

The more clarity you give employees about when and how they can reach you, the more likely they are to take you up on the offer. 

Set consistent expectations about communication 

Whether it’s hearing from your bookkeeper about late customer payments or keeping tabs on a project, you need to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in your business. Likewise, your employees need to know that their colleagues are communicating important information to them in a timely manner. 

But when you’re remote, it can be hard to get all the information you need without feeling like you’re hovering. This is where clear expectations are crucial. 

How often should employees check in with you or their managers? How often should they check in with one another? This includes an expectation about frequency, but also think in terms of specific events like a negative customer experience or a project delay. Do these things also warrant communication? And if so, who needs to be informed and how? 

"Technology can really work to your advantage in your quest for open communication, and project management platforms and messaging apps are an easy way to nudge these conversations", according to Craig Anderson, the Founder of Express Dentist. But don’t just throw the technology out there and hope it sticks.

Think through the specifics: set up a Slack channel dedicated to sharing customer challenges and wins; be clear about who should be tagged on project management cards; let everyone on your team know who they should inform, how they should do it, and why it’s important.

Bring remote contractors into the fold

Freelancers and part-time contractors often aren’t involved in day-to-day discussions, so it’s easy for them to miss the big picture. 

Although you don’t want to waste valuable billed-by-the-hour time by bringing contractors into every discussion, do make sure they’re kept up-to-speed about major wins, new product developments and the like.

Pro-tip. You can encourage your remote contractors to use independent contractor time tracking apps to keep track of the working hours.

This is true even if the updates don't directly relate to the person’s role. You never know how this big-picture view might indirectly spark a new idea or help them do their work more effectively. 

I help business leaders and HR professionals create videos to engage and inform their teams. So I’m biased toward using short update videos as an easy, effective option. It’s quicker for you to put together than a lengthy meeting or a wordy email, and it’s more engaging for the people on the receiving end. 

But there are plenty of other ways to communicate this information effectively. Invite contractors to a quarterly Zoom meeting where you share business highlights and future goals. Send out a monthly email featuring a handful of customer success stories. 

The most important thing is that you find the mode of communication that works best for you. This could take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say your business depends on it. 

About Author: Leah Diviney is a content manager at Biteable, the world’s simplest video maker. When Leah isn’t busy making videos, she’s writing about them for the Biteable Blog.