Effective Communication: Five Best Practices for Remote Teams | Claire Lew | Skillshare

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Effective Communication: Five Best Practices for Remote Teams

teacher avatar Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Default to Writing Asynchronously

    • 3. How to Run a Remote Meeting

    • 4. Choose the Right Channel

    • 5. Reserve Uninterrupted Blocks of Time

    • 6. Emphasize Empathy

    • 7. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Become calm, cool, and collected when communicating with your remote team alongside Know Your Team CEO Claire Lew! 

Let’s face it—many of us have experienced Zoom fatigue and an influx of Slack notifications, at some point, while working remotely. Join Claire as she shares her five best practices for communicating effectively with your remote team!

Together with Claire, you will learn how to:

  • Prioritize communication by writing asynchronously 
  • Streamline and run a remote meeting well
  • Choose the right communication channel
  • Increase productivity by carving out uninterrupted blocks of time
  • Lead remote communication with empathy  

Whether you’re a CEO of a remote or hybrid-remote team or an employee on a remote team, this class will help you reimagine how to communicate well with your coworkers, putting yourself, and others, at ease.  


Claire’s class is designed for leaders and individual contributors of remote teams, but all students are welcome to participate and enjoy. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team


Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Team – a software company that gives managers the tools, resources, and training to help managers become better leaders. Her company, Know Your Team, has helped over 15,000 people in 25 countries at companies like Airbnb and Kickstarter. Claire’s mission in life is to help people become happier at work. She speaks internationally on how to create more open, honest workplace environments, and has been published in Harvard Business Review, CNBC, Inc, Fortune, among others. Claire is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at her alma mater, Northwestern University.

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1. Introduction: If you're anything like me, you've likely faced some kind of burnout from just being in Zoom meetings all day or having way too many Slack notifications. The reality is that communicating in a remote team, it doesn't have to be that way. There is a way to communicate remotely that feels calm, collected, and not frenetic and all over the place. In today's class, I'm going to show you exactly how. Hi, I'm Claire Lew, and I'm the CEO of Know Your Team, software that gives you the tools, training, and resources to help you become a better manager. The hardest part about communicating well in a remote team is really just letting go of a lot of our assumptions of the way we think we need to communicate. In this class, I'll cover the five most essential best practices for communicating well in a remote team, everything from how to best run your remote team meetings to the best channels of communication to writing asynchronously. If you're a CEO of a remote or hybrid remote company or an individual contributor or a manager at a remote company, then this class is going to be so relevant for you. You'll walk away from this class being able to figure out what is the best process for communicating effectively in your remote team. I'm excited for you to take this class today because communicating in a remote team can feel streamlined and enable you to be able to get your best work done. I'd love for you to join me in the discussion section and ask any questions that you have. I'm so excited to have you join us today, and let's dive in. 2. Default to Writing Asynchronously: The central tenant of communicating well in a remote team really begins with defaulting to writing asynchronously. What I mean by that is, instead of just pinging out a message and expecting a response within that second, is actually to write it down long-form and then know that the response actually might take a few hours, maybe it's the next day or maybe it's two days from that point. The advantages of doing this are really many. First and foremost, you enable your team to actually triage. They can figure out, oh, this is most important and then this is second most important, and having that priority really helps them not feel so overwhelmed. The second advantage is the fact that you're able to save your team some time and give them some time to actually think about issues and figure out, well, what's going to be the best approach for a certain situation? Then the third advantage is that you're going to be able to share the information that you are trying to communicate so much easier. Keep in mind you are essentially crafting written artifacts around meetings, around decisions, around ideas that didn't use to exist before, and writing asynchronously enables that. Now, if you're new to writing asynchronously in your remote team, have no fear. You can totally start off small. In fact, it's really the best way to approach this. So this means that you can literally take a single question or ask your team, hey, for any questions in general that they might ask instead of just pinging it over in Slack and expecting an immediate response, but place it in a project collaboration software. So that could be maybe it's a Basecamp, maybe it's Asana, and the expectation is that someone doesn't have to answer it until maybe the next day. That's one example. A second example would be say around a meeting, a kickoff meeting for a project, instead of having actually that meeting take place, what you could do is, you could have a long form memo that you would write and really outline, what are the objectives? What are the ideas you want people to come to the table with? Maybe you're able then to eliminate that meeting altogether, or it shortens that kickoff meeting. Either way, you can see how writing asynchronously just save that time and enables people to actually have time to think about that kickoff meeting instead of just show up and expect the information to somehow be absorbed. Another example would be around communicating a decision. Oftentimes, we do these in the form of meetings, but it really doesn't have to be so in a remote team, and you can really streamline a lot of communication if you move that to asynchronous writing. Instead of just maybe having that meeting where you announce that decision, you could actually take the time and write up something that really details the reasons behind that meeting and shares your vision for how that decision could be helpful. Those are some examples of how you can tangibly start small, take different pieces of communication in your organization, and figure out a way to actually transfer that into asynchronous writing. Now, keep in mind that as you're slowly working your way to writing asynchronously more and more in your team that you don't have to do it all at once. That gradually over time you can try moving just one communication channel then the next to writing asynchronously, and it doesn't have to be this one fell swoop of trying to tackle it all. The most important thing is that you're just trying it week by week to write more and more asynchronously in your remote team. Next up, I'm going to talk about, well, what should you do if writing asynchronously doesn't really fit for the given context? Whether it's a decision that needs to be made or certain idea that needs to be talked through, that's when, well, running a remote meeting is key, and the next lesson is all about that. 3. How to Run a Remote Meeting: When it comes to running remote meetings, there are typically six different types of meetings we run most commonly in our remote teams. There are problem-solving meetings, decision-making meetings, innovation meetings. These are just some of the meetings. Now, of these meetings, there are in fact, some of them which do feel like, you know what? These are pretty hard to replace by any other means. Those tend to be problem-solving meetings, team-building meetings, and innovation meetings. However, for status updates, for information sharing, for decision-making, these are actually meetings that you can move to writing asynchronously. The status update meetings in particular are a really powerful tool in fact, when you do move it to some asynchronous writing system. For example, in your team, every week or every day, you could ask the question, what are you working on? Or what did you work on yesterday and what are you going to work on today? Or what's your number one priority? Then you can have all those answers shared with everyone regularly in the team. There are systems that automate this for you, like Know Your Team, but you could also do this manually via email. What you'll notice though is that you actually won't have to have the status update meeting itself, and that this form of asynchronous writing really replaces the meeting. That's one example of how some of these meetings you don't in fact need to have. But for these other meetings, as I mentioned, these three in particular around problem-solving, team building, and innovation, those are some of the meetings where it is really nice to be able to talk through these issues live. How then exactly do you run a remote team meeting well? Especially when all of us are so overwhelmed and fatigue by remote meetings so much of the time. Well, there are a few tactics that are really useful. First and foremost, you'll want to kick off with some icebreaker. In a brainstorming meeting in particular, this can be massively useful for getting ideas flowing and people to open up. There was a study though, is in fact recently done that showed that when an icebreaker was asked in the beginning of the meeting, 26 percent more interesting creative ideas were generated. If you have a fun question to kick things off, especially think about it in a team-building meeting, you can only imagine how much more energetic and engaged folks are going to be. Another tactic around running a remote meeting well is to give some pre-work ahead of time to help team members feel prepared coming into that remote meeting, and to make that remote meeting so much more efficient. Of course, yes, you may set an agenda and set it ahead of time, but what if you also gave a template where you provide different points and outlines of pieces you wanted people to think about before you went into the actual meeting to talk about the decision, or you pose questions that you want folks to think about and consider before they come to that remote meeting? Being able to help support your team to be most prepared before the meeting helps you and your team get the most out of the meeting itself. Definitely try giving some pre-work. A third tactic is to make sure that you're really conscious of your own body language. So much of our facial expressions and body cues really give off communication and send some message to the rest of our team, and if we're in a remote video meeting that's going to speak volumes. In fact, there were two famous studies that were done in 1967 that showed how 55 percent of any communication that we receive as humans is actually our body language. The more cognizant we are of, hey, are we looking at our actual camera screen on the computer? Are we smiling or seeming really focused or distracted when talking to our peers? That's going to really determine how engaging that remote meeting is going to be for your team. Then lastly, consider recording your meetings, and so it gives the team members an option to not have to attend every single meeting here and there. So much of us feel completely overwhelmed by having so many remote meetings. You can really lessen this burden by giving your team members an option to maybe watch the meeting later or be able to fast-forward to different parts that are most relevant to them instead of completely cramming their calendar with so many meetings back to back. Now, these are just some best practices for running remote meetings well. But keep in mind that the most important thing is that you're finding different ways to make them a little more efficient, take the burden and pressure off your teammates a little bit, and maybe not even hold them at all to begin with. Up next, I'm going to talk about the communication that happens in between the writing asynchronously and the remote meetings. The day-to-day asks questions and information that needs to be shared. How do you actually choose the right communication channel? That's all in the next lesson. 4. Choose the Right Channel: In this lesson, I'm going to talk about choosing the right communication channel for communicating in your remote team. Because let's face it. Sometimes we'll be communicating with our team and that's not going to fall into the bucket of a formal meeting, nor is it going to really fit into some formal write-up. What do we do then? That's when we employ a technique that I call matching the message to the channel. Which essentially means that you just want to get super clear about which communication channels are being used for the messages that you are trying to communicate. One of these questions, for instance, that you can ask your team is, how urgent is the message, and if it's super urgent, what channel should that be going into? Or how about, what should the expected cadence and frequency that someone is checking in on a specific channel be? Answering questions like these can really help your team understand, "Oh I'm supposed to be paying attention to this every 15 minutes and keeping super up-to-date? Or, in fact, is it okay if I look at this later?" When you're really clear about those expectations and matching the message to the channel, it helps your team not feel they need to be everywhere all the time, but really just on the most important things at the times that you actually need them. When it comes to choosing communication channels for your remote team, it can often feel like a lot, which is why having some kind of how we work document is completely crucial. So many remote teams and companies that have been working remotely for 10 years or more will do this best practice. Which is essentially, they have a document that outlines, hey, here's what time zones that everyone is working in and what the expected time zone to be present online is. Or here's what exact message is going to go into which channel. That way you're not having just to remember this off the top of your head, but there's a playbook to go off of. Now you may be thinking, "For my small team though, Claire, I don't know if having our full how we work document is really necessary." Which I completely understand. In that case, having just a quick even communication cheat sheet that says, "What you should do if you to go run errands out for the day," or "what the expected working hours are during a day." Just little tips to help your team know, what is the right channel of communication to choose? What are the expectations around communication? Can be so helpful. The most critical thing to keep in mind with thinking through what the right channel of communication is for your team is just trying to make things clear. The things that usually go unspoken and unsaid in a non remote work environment, you have to make really clear in a remote environment and that includes the channels that you're using around communication. Next up, I'm going to talk about how you can actually carve out uninterrupted blocks of time to use that to your advantage in communicating well in a remote team. 5. Reserve Uninterrupted Blocks of Time: In this lesson, I'm going to talk about how carving out uninterrupted blocks of time is so essential to helping your team communicate well. After all, how do you get work done if you don't have the time to get it done? Now we often mistake communicating for getting work done, but we all know that if we're just sitting in meetings all day, then we don't have the time to get that real work done. Whether you're an individual contributor or a manager, we all need that time. So many of the best remote leaders truly recognize this. One of my favorite quotes and testaments to this is from Know Know Your Team customer, one of the founders of a company called Litmus, who talked about how really great work done is only possible when you're able to create quiet, and that's more important than any kind of office space or perk that you're going to be able to give someone. We've found that so true in really observing, working with, and being a remote organization ourselves. How do you exactly carve out these uninterrupted blocks of time when we're so short on time, to begin with? Well, first and foremost, you can in fact make meetings illegal, so to speak, on one day a week in your company. For example, there are remote companies that will have No Meeting Mondays or No Meeting Wednesdays to essentially create a forcing function to really protect that time, block it off, and enable their team to get real work done. A second tactic is one that's really employed by a remote company called GitLab that has been remote for at least a decade. It has over 700 employees, and in their remote manifesto, they encourage their team members to ask, " Can it wait?" Can it wait? Can you actually not interrupt one of your team members and let something brief for a little bit to protect that quiet time and give that time to get that work done? It's a question that you yourself as a remote leader or as an individual contributor can think about for yourself and for your peers. Can it wait? Lastly, a third tactic around carving out that uninterrupted block of time is around the default time you set for meetings. A lot of times, our meetings, as we know, they drag on for a little bit too long or you try to actually expand the amount of information to fill the time. To stop that, you could schedule your meetings for a default 30 minutes instead of an hour, or maybe it's even 15 minutes. Either way, you really want to try to conserve the amount of time that's spent in meetings and communicating and more around giving your team that time to do the important work. From all my experience working with remote managers and employees over the years, I've noticed how this practice of carving out uninterrupted blocks of time is actually one of the hardest to implement. So I encourage you, if this also feels a little bit difficult or maybe even impossible in your team to start small, pick that one day maybe to not have meetings or maybe it's just a single morning. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised even by that small action of carving out even just a little bit of time, how helpful that will be for you and your team to get that real work done. Next up, I'm going to talk about really the most overlooked part of communicating while in a remote team, and that has to do with empathy. 6. Emphasize Empathy: In this lesson, I'm going to talk about a area of communicating in a remote team that we often just completely don't think about, myself included, and this is around empathy. It's so difficult when you're working remotely, when you don't have facial expressions to go off of or you don't hear someone's tone of voice to be able to interpret something that you actually misinterpret it. I'm going to talk about specific tactics for avoiding those missed signals, or really making sure that we're leading from a place of empathy when communicating in a remote team. Specifically, one of the things to think about is the fact that in a study that we recently did here at Know Your Team back in 2019, we found that about 15 percent of managers and employees said that communicating without those in-person cues is the most difficult part of communicating in a remote team. One tactic for emphasizing empathy when communicating with your remote team is really all about cultivating as many opportunities as possible for you and your team to receive those in-person cues. Naturally, when you're in-person, of course, it's easy to do that in meetings when you see people in the hallway, but when you're working remotely, that really doesn't happen. Because of this, it's definitely a consideration for defaulting to video meetings as often as you can when you have the meeting. A second tactic around really infusing and emphasizing empathy in communicating remotely is the fact that we can give more grace and generosity when working and communicating remotely. It's so easy to often assume the worst when we're communicating remotely, that someone's quick message to you was a little harsh, or that someone has ill intentions, and really, what we're doing is reading between the lines. So instead of doing that, we can instead assume positive intent on the other side. We can keep in mind that maybe there are external circumstances. They've got stuff going on at home, stuff with the kids, things that are beyond our control that we don't know about that aren't being communicated. We can also perhaps keep in mind that maybe we're misreading the way something's coming across to us. This was really highlighted for me, in fact, in an interview that I did on our podcast called The Heartbeat with Wade Foster, who's the CEO of Zapier. They're a remote company with 200 employees, and he told me how for him as a CEO, it's something he has to constantly remind himself of that when he writes his messages in Slack, in emails, that he often circles back and double-checks with the team to ask, "Hey, did that come off wrong or can I just clarify where I'm coming from?" Because when we're sarcastic or maybe when we say something in a certain tone, that tone doesn't always transfer. It's again so important, whether we're sharing messages, receiving messages, just to keep this idea of empathy in mind. While it's easy to overlook, know that really investing in empathy in your communication is going to go such a long way. It's going to make your communication in your remote team so much smoother. Definitely be sure to try some of these tactics and if you're looking for more tips, you can definitely look at our class on how to manage remote teams as well. 7. Final Thoughts: From today's class, I hope you're able to feel a lot more encouraged about communicating well in a remote team and know that the way you're currently communicating doesn't have to be that way. That there's a way to communicate in a remote team that feels easeful and not draining. Feel inspired to throw out anything I talked about today that didn't resonate with you, but also to try and invest in some of these practices and techniques of communicating well in your own remote team. I'm especially excited to hear how it's all going for you. Please be sure to ask me any questions in the discussion section here on Skillshare, and most of all, thank you so much for your time today, spending it with me and I look forward to hearing how you continue to communicate well in your own remote team.