Optimizing Communications With Work Teams Who Are Working Remotely

By: Mike Townshend, Organizational Psychologist

Published: June 2020

Today, out of necessity, a large percentage of our federal workforce is located away from the agency’s offices, often at home. This way of working has broken the stereotypes of offices with workers during set hours at desks and toiling away. Agency leaders are finding that mobile workforces are, in fact, productive and agile.

A fear that many have expressed about adapting to this new world of work is primarily about the effectiveness of Communications while trying to remain productive and feeling that we still belong in the culture of our teams, departments, divisions, and agency.

I have spoken with colleagues at several federal agencies and each has expressed that working at home has its pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, I hear that many daily interruptions to the thought production processes have been minimized. These have included, for many, “stop by” visits, non-work-related conversations, and so forth. While remote, we can often schedule activities such as team calls and leadership interfaces throughout the day in ways that were not previously practical. We are able, also, to work on documents along with our teams using the document technologies that have been around for a long time, but whose efficiencies were, often, not optimized while our team was physically located so nearby.

But, on the challenging side, the most common observation has been that team communications can be problematic and that the socialization that was inherent in the office environment feels missing. The way that this has been expressed is that the feeling of camaraderie that we have always enjoyed, though sometimes problematic, is now missing. New team members join, for example, and we only meet them online, we don’t really feel that we know them, and, in many cases, the sense of “team” takes far longer to gel than before this.

Recommendations for Leaders – Here are 5 suggestions for leaders of remote teams:

1. Get regular feedback from your teams
2. Communicate success stories and best practices to create a positive work vibe
3. Praise worker accomplishments and invite constant feedback for improvements
4. Help employees recognize each other for good work
5. Make a point to recognize new team members and encourage the group to introduce themselves

Recommendations for Team Members – Here are 6 suggestions for improving remote work:

1. Be proactive in communicating with your team
2. Attend daily huddles
3. Clarify expectations from the start
4. Watch your tone
5. Prioritize video calls
6. Keep the office culture alive, even from home

Mike Townshend is a professional philosopher, social psychologist, and a certified mediator and Retirement Coach. He has over 30 years of experience as a coach, senior trainer, and facilitator to both major corporations as well as government agencies. He has extensive presentation experience providing a variety of programs emphasizing career development, retirement preparations, alternative dispute resolutions, change management, leadership development, and performance improvement.