two retro robots holding tin can phones
PHOTO: Adobe Stock

Remote work is no longer a novel idea. Companies large and small have moved operations out of the office, whether it was forced due to the circumstances of the last year or simply because the company decided to capitalize on the potential benefits.

Even though remote work has grown, several challenges need to be overcome. Clear communication is an absolute requirement for a successful remote workplace, yet it is also one of the most challenging things to get right.

With employees scattered across various locations instead of one centralized office space, it’s not uncommon for distorted messages and communication issues to arise. So how can remote teams ensure that the vital message presented at the last meeting gets passed along to everyone without getting lost in translation?

Here are some of the steps remote work veterans have taken to avoid getting their wires crossed. 

Why Remote Work Communication Issues Happen

One of the communication challenges in the remote workplace is that people are no longer located a few feet away from each other. In fact, for many companies, employees may be scattered across multiple locations and, in many cases, time zones. This can reduce the frequency of communication between bosses and employees as well as between various departments. 

However, when it comes to avoiding distorted messages, Gilles Berteaux, founder and CEO of Paris, France-based web conferencing software company Livestorm, said the problem goes deeper than that. Remote workers need clear expectations and details for their jobs to avoid important details getting lost in communication.

“Many of the misunderstandings come from the lack of clarity between people regarding what they have to do,” he said. 

Whether it's a poorly written message that is then passed along to someone else in the company or people involved in a meeting only passively listenening to what was said, there are quite a few things that can cause miscommunication in a remote environment. 

Related Article: How to Strengthen Company-Wide Communication, In and Out of the Remote Workplace

Tips to Avoid Distorted Messages

According to statistics from business data platform Statista, 20% of surveyed workers in 2020 and 16% of workers in 2021 found communication and collaboration issues to be their greatest struggle while working remotely. So how can these challenges be overcome? 

Leverage Communication Systems

A system for communication, such as having both the person who received a document and the person who sent it acknowledging that the information was passed along, can go a long way to ensuring that communication issues are avoided. Companies can also leverage existing systems to improve communication.

For instance, Rob Freedman, vice president of marketing at Austin-based bookeeping service provider Fourlane and his team have adopted the Entrepreneurial Operating System to set up a framework for communication amongst teams, he said.

Hold Weekly Meetings

Since everyone isn’t available at the cubicle next door or the office down the hall, it’s essential to schedule and commit to weekly meetings. “Each department and team, including the leadership team, holds a weekly meeting where there is a fixed agenda,” Freedman said. 

While some remote workers are not fans of regular meetings, having a specific schedule can make things easier. For Freeman and his team, one agenda item is specifically to review messages from other teams and messages or information they want to make sure gets out to other teams.

Weekly departmental or interdepartmental meetings are also a great way “to keep the whole company updated on certain projects or issues that need to be addressed immediately,” said Vanessa Phan, managing consultant for HR at Cardinal Education, a Burlingame, Calif.-based tutoring and test prep service.  

Related Article: 8 Ways to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging

Use Messaging Apps

Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams have become much more common in companies for swift internal communication. Such tools are perfect for preventing communication issues, following up and clarifying what was said during a previous meeting. 

Repeat Important Messages

Another great way to avoid distorted messages is by repeating key points in multiple formats at multiple times. That way, the essential things employees need to remember are not lost in translation.

“To be sure that you’ve understood correctly, I advise always repeating all the calls to action and essential items and always confirm for alignment," Berteaux said. "It’s better to do this in writing, which gives everyone involved confirmation of action points.” 

Keep Notes and Recordings

Finally, having notes and recordings can ensure that people can go back and reference them if there are ever any issues. “Virtual meetings are recorded so that anybody who needs to clarify certain issues or details on some topics, they have references,” Phan said.

Assigned notetakers can record essential data and distribute the notes to all attendees, she added. 

Distorted messaging can happen in any remote workplace. While cutting through the noise and distance can be a challenge, following these guidelines can help to reduce those issues and ensure your messages come through loud and clear.