A recent blog post by Wayne Turmel about tools for remote teams does a good job of breaking down the communication needs of remote teams. I liked Mr. Turmel’s approach of defining the tools by breaking them into synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication. I work in remote work team every day with colleagues spread across the country.
The communication of my team revolves more around the need for a point-to-point solution or a multi-point solution. I’ve found that person-to-person communication most often involves either phone or email depending on the required immediacy of the response. I’ve also found that point-to-point solutions are more likely to use non-standard or specialized versions of software that are shared by the two parties involved. Some common examples include video phone services, brainstorming tools, or shared directory space.
We use a multi-point solution for situations that require three or more parties to communicate. As with the point-to-point solution, email and phone conference calls are still the most common forms of this type of communication. We often use software specifically designed for groups such as Webex and GoToMeeting.
I’ve learned a few things about remote team communication over the past couple of years. These are good to remember when trying to decide on which tools to use.
Teams must get beyond email
Email is a popular communication vehicle for a couple of reasons: everyone has it and it’s easy for the sender to create a message send it. But email is an increasingly poor choice for the best communication between remote team members.
1. Email attachments don’t version well. Team members don’t know if they have latest version of a document. This leads to confusion and wasted time trying to synchronize with each other.
2. Team members with an abundance of email or that are challenged to manage items in their inbox often don’t respond in a timely manner.
3. Some corporations now actively delete email that is older than a certain age based on legal policy. If you need to retain information or keep records of conversations then email may not be the best solution.
Use company standard tools where possible
If the software is a company standard, then everyone already has it, or has access to it. Many companies prohibit the download and installation of software from the internet as a security measure to keep out viruses and malware. In addition to having access to it, it works well because most team members probably already know how to use it. People use the tools they are familiar with and will not choose to learn a new tool unless forced to do so. If you need to communicate with members outside of your team this concept becomes even more important. You don’t want to send a person not in your immediate work group a request to communicate with you via some tool they don’t have or in a location that they don’t have access to read.
One a personal note, I’m reallying loving my Gmail inbox from Google these days. I have access to email, chat, voice calls, and video calls all from a single location. I can even use Google docs for remote file sharing. But it’s not a company standard. So I use it now as a special point-to-point solution for certain members on my team.