10 Communication Tips For Distributed And Offshore Teams
Distributed teams are becoming increasingly common, creating the need for strong and effective communication across geographic and cultural boundaries.
Remote working and distributed teams are becoming increasingly common. In fact, one study found that 63% of companies employ remote workers. In the world of software development this is even more pronounced, with distributed teams becoming the norm. While there are some major benefits to this new standard, there are a few challenges with distributed teams – especially on the communication front. Bridging time zones and cultural gaps, as well as building constructive relationships with people geographically far away is not always easy.
How To Communicate With Offshore Teams
Distributed teams come in many formats. Distributed teams are generally comprised of the standard or “main” team in place at a company’s home office, plus the addition of the following:
- Full-time employees working from a different geographic location than the main office
- Remote workers such as contractors or freelancers
- Onshore, nearshore, and offshore outsourced teams
These types of teams, and especially offshore teams, bring with them some inherent properties which are sometimes seen as challenges:
- Differing time zones
- Differing work environments
- Differing cultures
These differences apply to all team members, from those leading offshore teams, to developers, project managers, and others involved.
10 Communication Tips For Distributed Team Communication
There are several things you can do to bridge the gaps – both geographical and cultural – when working with teams in different areas and from different backgrounds. Here are ten tips on how to communicate with offshore teams to build trust, maintain a unified culture, and achieve cohesion.
1. Overdo It
Over-communicating isn’t always a bad thing. When it comes to long distance or cross-cultural communication, a high frequency and level of detail in communication is key — even if it feels like “too much.” In the absence of in-person access or the availability to hold physical meetings where you can read cues like body language, it’s better to overshare or over communicate information to ensure all parties are on the same page.
2. Take Advantage Of Tools
There are many tools available to facilitate communication in distributed teams these days, from Slack to Zoom to JIRA. When working across far geographic distances, make use of tools to facilitate communications, share project status and updates, and connect. Most tools allow for commenting and maintain a record of all content, meaning they’re searchable and it’s easy to go back and reference previous notes. This is especially helpful when different parts of the team are working at different times or logging hours in different time zones.
3. Schedule Facetime
While communicating via messaging platforms is great, it’s still important to get some “facetime” when working in a distributed or offshore team – even if that facetime is digital, too. There’s something positive and impactful about seeing someone’s face, and video chats can be just as effective as in-person meetings. Facetime also helps the team to connect and achieve better cohesion and trust, which in turn improves the effectiveness of communication overall.
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4. Ask Questions
When it comes to communicating with people from different backgrounds or cultures, it can sometimes be hard to find a middle ground straight away. Asking questions is a good way to learn more about one another, including cultures, preferences and details about the working environment.
5. Consider Culture
While working on development may seem universal, cross-cultural differences can still impact communication and functioning. Be aware that cultural differences do exist, and be sure to consider you may not be viewing or interpreting things the same exact way. Avoid using slang language, as this is often hard to translate. Also be sensitive to varying expectations, norms, and standards of members of teams in other locations, and never make assumptions. Cultural diversity is a great benefit to working with a distributed team.
6. Find Common Hours
Whenever possible, find hours where both parts of the team (onsite and offshore) are available. It’s essential to have a window when all team members are logged on at once, even if it’s only a few hours per week. Be sure this time window is well-communicated, and always log on when planned. This allows all team members to know when they’ll have a chance for a live chat, and sets an expectation about when synchronous conversations can occur.
7. Always Be Prepared
Always know what is “up next” so there isn’t any downtime for one portion of the team. Stack up your JIRA or project management queue accordingly, or assign out tasks in advance. This ensures team members don’t get stalled or delayed if they’re in different time zones and not working concurrently. If a member of the offshore team logs on when you’re asleep, they’ll still know what to do!
8. Align Around A Goal
It’s essential to define the end goal and vision upfront. This enables everyone to align around a central goal from the start, regardless of location. Aligning onsite and offshore teams around a goal is a best practice that helps facilitate communication as ensures everyone is working towards the same result.
9. Stay Organized
When working across teams – or oceans – it’s more important than ever to remain organized. Keep notes on work to be done, and follow consistent processes which all members of the team understand and have access to. Keep things simple, organized, and straightforward whenever possible. Less confusion and clear instructions and processes will lead to more effective communication across the distributed team.
10. Be Inclusive
Be sure to include all team members in important decisions or events. Even if an offshore team cannot attend in person, keeping everyone in the loop allows them to feel included and thus more cohesive. Just because the team isn’t sitting next to you does not mean they aren’t there! When everyone feels valued and included, they will be more apt to communicate and the entire group will benefit.
Whether you’re working onsite or offshore, these communication best practices will help ensure the entire team is cohesive and collaborates well.
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