Remote teams rely on async and written communication. But they don’t always have to. Here’s how to keep internal comms creative and fresh.
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The first electronic mail–or email–was sent by computer engineer Ray Tomlinson in 1971*. With it, he revolutionized how people communicate and opened the door for electronic communication of all kinds.
Fast-forward to 2023 and our ability to find creative ways to communicate with remote employees (hello, Slack!) would probably be beyond Ray’s wildest dreams. Many people now run fully remote companies based almost entirely on electronic communication.
Remote teams rely on async working and written communication more than in-person teams, which comes with some unique challenges, like missing messages and navigating multiple channels, which can be overwhelming and contradictory. And if you’re not careful, written messages can come across as dry and abrupt.
This means you need to use a bit of creativity to bring a personal touch to the way you communicate with your people. This helps create a great remote company culture people want to be part of.
Here are four engaging ways to do that.
Want a more creative way to communicate with your remote team?
Switchboard keeps spontaneous workplace interactions and conversations alive—and your people thriving.
4 engaging ways to communicate with remote teams
As a remote team leader, you need to find ways to keep internal communication fresh, personalized, and engaging—so you can make real connections with your team. Here are four tips for doing so.
1. Think about what you communicate and how
What and how you communicate sends a message to people and shapes your company culture. In fact, the way your team communicates—and their ability to collaborate—depends on your leadership philosophy. Or as Forbes writer Randy Shattuck calls it, your “energy field.”
Although it sounds a little new-age, your “energy field” is basically the effect you have on people over time. For example, when people enjoy talking to you, they trust you more. And trust is the vital link between solid leadership and greater remote team productivity and communication.
To improve how you communicate with your employees:
- Set up a process to get to know new people. To build trust early on, set up an employee onboarding program and make time to meet new employees. For example, you might send new team members a quick video or a short, personalized message to introduce yourself and help them get to know you.
- Get everyone’s input during meetings. Use an agenda and make sure everyone gets to voice their concerns, opinions, and comments during team meetings. This helps keep everyone on the same page while building team–and leadership–trust.
- Make psychological safety a key pillar of your interactions. For healthier group dynamics, create a safe space where your employees feel free to voice their opinions and know that these are welcomed and valued. To do this you might encourage sharing, vulnerability, or peer-to-peer appreciation during team meetings, as well as open and honest communication across the board.
- Handle sensitive issues with team members privately. No matter how close your remote team is, you still need to know when to keep certain communication and conversations private. This helps build trust and psychological safety—and protects individual team members.
- Vary how you deliver content and messages. For more engaged employees, and to appeal to different learning styles, switch up how you create and deliver your messages. Try using video, voice notes, gifs, and polls, to connect with or update your team—without asking them to read a novel every time.
2. Think about when you communicate
The timing and frequency of your communications, especially when people are in different time zones, can turn isolated remote team members into a connected unit. It also shows that you know your employees.
For example, if you know your team meets on Monday morning for brainstorming sessions, don’t send an important internal process update on Slack at the same time. This will avoid it getting missed or buried under unrelated content.
Instead, think about how your remote team works best and when. When do they host important meetings? When are they available? What are their working and communication styles? What time of day are they most likely to digest new information?
Here’s our advice:
- When in doubt, over-communicate. One way to make sure everyone on your remote team is on the same page is to over-communicate with them. Keep repeating key information and following up in the right way at the right time. This enables your team to do their best work without second guessing which task or update they should be focusing on at any one time.
- Keep messages relevant. When you do communicate with your team, keep messages centered on current projects, topics, and solutions. You don’t want to add to information overload or make them dig around for an announcement you posted last month that’s only become relevant now.
3. Use tools that allow your team to be more creative
Email has come a long way since 1971—but we still use it all the time. In fact, remote workers rely on email and Slack for async working more than video conferencing and real-time communication.
That’s not to say that one way of working is better than another. There’s a time and a place for each—and you need to know when that is.
For example, async emails are best when you’re in different time zones contributing to a project without a strict deadline. But real-time collaboration rules when you’re teaching someone, creatively brainstorming, or need to tackle a time-sensitive challenge or task together.
That means you need to find the right communication tools that let you work async and in real time.
For async, tools like Notion let you document and share information so people can access it when it’s convenient for them. For real-time collaboration, you want a collaboration platform like Switchboard that goes beyond one-way screen sharing to act as a permanent virtual hub where your people can find each other anytime. This is because remote workers think less creatively in Zoom meetings as they’re relying on tools that weren’t built for true remote communication and collaboration.
To communicate more creatively with your team, you also need tools that were made for two-way spontaneous communication. Here are a few examples.
Virtual whiteboards like Google Jamboard and FigJam let you share ideas with your team visually and with lots of color. They make it easy for you to communicate in creative and engaging ways with your remote team by giving you the space to play around with ideas and brainstorm new ones.
You can add your own ideas, build on those from other team members, and keep it all in one place without worrying about it getting erased. You can also work on projects in real-time, or async, which lets you respect and make the most of everyone’s working style.
For example, your product team might use a virtual whiteboard to conceptualize multiple product roadmaps. After comparing them side-by-side on the whiteboard, they realize two product timelines are in conflict with one another. Once they’ve spotted the issue they can quickly (in real-time or async) communicate about new timelines, pitch their ideas, scratch them out, collaborate on them, and come up with a plan together—all on the digital whiteboard.
Switchboard is a browser-based collaboration hub that lets you and your team work on documents and apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen. It’s designed to foster team connection, collaboration, and productivity through intuitive meeting rooms.
Switchboard lets you communicate in real time with video, audio, and chat. You can also work side-by-side allowing everyone to scroll, type, and browse the same document at the same time. And because it’s built for remote teams, it lets you think and communicate more creatively.
You can create cloud-based virtual rooms for brainstorming, host spontaneous meetings with your team, and connect with clients in an interactive space.
Throughout the meeting, you can explore any file in the room, moving around and viewing whatever you want without getting in the way of others. Best of all, Switchboard saves all your files after every meeting, so you never need to download anything or repopulate the room again.
For example, your marketing team can do an audit of their ideal customer profile (ICP) and compare all your customer personas side by side within the meeting room. So everyone at the meeting can spot new or outdated characteristics before finalizing them together. And they can record the meeting and upload it into the room, so anyone who missed it knows which changes were made and why.
Slab is a document collaboration tool and knowledge base that lets you unify internal communications within your company and find everything you need. It helps you easily create templates for any type of internal communications and admin, like employee handbooks for HR as well as standard operating procedures for Ops Teams, and intuitively store them.
With tons of features that encourage creative communication, like customizable templates, documents that integrate with your tools, and a Unified Search bar, you can focus on writing and collaborating on important insights from your team.
Use Slab to unify all your processes and make your internal communication crystal clear. For example, your hiring managers might use it to create an employee onboarding handbook. So everyone can follow the same process and know exactly when and how to communicate with new employees and which resources to offer them.
4. Use creative ways to get your teams communicating
Email is great for a lot of things, especially non-urgent communication like newsletters, but it’s not the best for connecting and building relationships, especially for remote teams with tons of written communication coming their way that don’t want their tone or intentions to be misinterpreted.
According to Gallup, having a best friend at work makes you more likely to get more done in less time, innovate, share ideas, and have fun while working. So it’s important to find creative ways to get people interacting and create a better work environment that empowers your team to love what they do—and who they do it with. Here are some suggestions for doing so.
Virtual coworking sessions
Virtual coworking sessions are a great way for employees to virtually meet face to face, work together on projects and tasks, and form friendships. Let’s face it, when was the last time you were able to use Google Docs to get to know your coworker?
When you go beyond traditional video conferencing tools that only let you share one person’s screen at a time, you get the feeling of working intentionally and side by side with your team rather than just exchanging information.
You also get the feeling that you and your team are all in it together, working toward the same goal. By sharing more than just your screen, you can empathize with others and form tighter bonds—which is important at times of stress and overload.
Pro tip: Use Switchboard to turn virtual coworking sessions into creative jam sessions. Get everyone working on the same file, or looking at the same image, within your video call. With Switchboard, you can move beyond screen sharing and get an engaging multiplayer experience that boosts communication and side-by-side collaboration and helps build relationships.
Virtual water cooler moments
Virtual water cooler chats are conversations that mirror standing around an office water cooler with your team. They’re spontaneous, informal, and often unrelated to work. They also help break up the day and your workload and boost morale. Think of it like sending a non-work-related email to your in-person team back in the day.
To help your team engage in more spontaneous conversations, you need a place where they can chat online. For example, a dedicated Slack workspace with channels that encourage spontaneous conversations. Our favorites are Donut and #virtualcoffee.
You can also use an online workspace that comes with its own in-app chat. For example, Switchboard lets you see who’s online in your shared workspace, chat with them, jump into spontaneous 1:1s, and fill your room with funny gifs, tasks, or notes. And there’s less room for miscommunication or coming off as abrupt or dry since you can call and see anyone in your shared room in real time.
Virtual team building events
It’s a good idea to host virtual team building events where everyone can get to know each other and put a face to those screen names. Fun get-togethers also help you spot potential talking points you can use to strike up a conversation later. This helps break the ice and is less pressure than starting a 1:1 with someone you’ve never talked to before.
Here are some virtual team-building event ideas you can use:
- Virtual happy hour where everyone brings their favorite drink and can share a story about a common theme or experience. For example, a spooky story or their favorite trip.
- Movie night where everyone can vote on a movie and watch it at the same time. Snacks encouraged!
- Employee spotlight where one or more employees share an important story or cause that’s close to their heart.
- Virtual employee wellness sessions to relax and guide employees through shared practice. Such as meditation, yoga, or mindfulness.
Like team building events, planning fun virtual games for your team can bring you closer and reveal new things about your team members. For example, how they think under pressure, and how much of a team player they are. Things you’ll never learn through async working or communicating over email.
It also lets you form quick connections and a sense of camaraderie with people you might not know very well. If you win a game playing for the same team, you’ll always have that shared experience and feeling of being part of something together.
Here are some virtual games you can play for creative communication:
- Escape rooms where everyone has to find the way out of a virtual room by working together and solving clues.
- Trivia or quiz night where you test your team’s knowledge on anything you want, company-related or not.
- Scavenger hunts where you hide something like an emoji in a company document, channel, or asset, and employees need to work together to find it.
- Virtual murder mystery where you break into teams to solve who had the motive, means, and opportunity to murder a fictional character.
For more ideas, see our post on virtual games.
Creative ways to communicate with remote teams: Share more than just your screen
Thanks to Ray Tomlinson’s electronic communication breakthrough in the 1970s, email is now a cornerstone of remote team communication. Maybe you only use it for certain things these days, but we bet it’s still an essential part of your communication tech stack.
Successful remote team collaboration naturally relies on async working and written communication more than traditional in-office teams, though. And that can get buried or siloed, be overwhelming, or even come across as dry and abrupt, so you need a bit of creativity to bring a personal touch to how you communicate with your people.
Think about what, when, and how you communicate so you don’t overwhelm people or risk important information being lost. Also, use creative tools and methods like virtual coworking sessions, water cooler moments, and team-building events to bring people together. This creates a greater sense of connection and empathy among team members.
And when you use tools like Switchboard with permanent meeting rooms designed for remote communication and collaboration, you’ll never run out of creative ways to connect and keep it fresh.
Want a more creative way to communicate with your remote team?
Switchboard keeps spontaneous workplace interactions and conversations alive—and your people thriving.
Frequently asked questions about creative ways to communicate with remote employees
How do you engage remote employees in a fun way?
To keep remote employees engaged in a fun way, you need to come up with creative ways to communicate with them. For example, virtual meetings based on team-building activities or games. Or changing up how you deliver your messages, like using a video instead of an email to deliver an important team update.
You also need the right tools built specifically for remote work and communication. For example, Switchboard lets you do more than share your screen, like work side by side with your co-workers on important projects and tasks.
How do I make remote employees feel more connected?
To make remote employees feel more connected, you need to find ways to build community and encourage spontaneous conversations. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to miss out on opportunities to make small talk with your team. Use the following team-building activities to help you do just that:
- Virtual happy hour
- Movie night
- Employee spotlight
- Virtual employee wellness sessions
How do I keep remote employees focused on the mission?
To keep remote employees focused on the mission, you need to give them the right tools to succeed in a remote working environment. For example, an effective communication tool with features like instant messaging, video conferencing, and virtual workspace capabilities.
Tools like Switchboard, for example, let you meet and work side by side with your remote team members in a single workspace, which boosts productivity and keeps teams happier and more focused.