5 Ways To Combat Communication Problems In Remote Software Development

Gimena Aguerreberry
July 19, 2021

Most employees are no strangers to communication problems in traditional office environments – but remote workers experience the effects of these issues quite differently.

Remote work can be beneficial to employees and organizations alike, resulting in increased levels of morale and productivity. But at times, working remotely can be difficult, stressful, and lonely.

Successful remote employees, and forward-thinking organizations, are aware of these obstacles and actively work to overcome them.

A recent study by Queens University of Charlotte found that:

  • Only about 27% of employees receive any kind of training in communication.

  • A similar 27% are confident in their communication role at work.

  • Nearly 3 in 4 employers rate teamwork and collaboration as "very important".

  • However, 39% of the surveyed employees believe their organization does not collaborate enough.

The good news is that you can help remote workers overcome these issues by recognizing common problems, using strategies to prevent them from happening, and addressing problems when they arise.

In this article, we present the most common barriers to productive remote working, along with ways to combat communication problems in remote software development.

1. Inability to "Switch off"

In a 2019 survey by Remote.co, 40% of remote employees said that "unplugging after work hours" is their biggest challenge. When your office is in your house, you can work all hours of the day — so it’s harder to draw a firm line and step away from your desk, especially for perfectionists or high-performers. They feel compelled to keep going, but working continuously can cause problems.

Making work a priority at all times isn’t realistic or desirable, yet some employees have a hard time saying "no," which means work-life balance becomes nonexistent.

Solution: Encourage employees only to work their contracted number of hours.

Some companies opt to use software to track these hours. Employees should be able to decide when they work — but managers shouldn’t let employees work too much each week. Help employees prioritize their work to complete the most important tasks first. If less important work remains at the end of the day, they will feel more comfortable leaving it for the next day.

2. Poor Communication

Remote working can’t be successful without effective communication. Employees need to be able to talk to one another, but they also need to know they can speak to their manager. Unfortunately, not all organizations are equipped for the real-time communication necessary for remote work, which will cause off-site employees to feel disconnected, isolated, and frustrated, especially when they don’t receive the feedback they need.

Solution: Foster a Culture of Communication

Good communication begins with fostering a culture of communication throughout the organization. Give regular updates and hold check-ins with your team. If your staff sees that you’re an effective communicator, they’ll follow suit by picking up your good habits.

Be explicit about how your staff should communicate. Remove the ambiguity that so often surrounds workplace communication by providing written guidelines that outline what kind of messages should be sent through which mediums, and how team members are expected to interact with each other.

3. Low Productivity

Productivity is an obvious risk when employees work outside of a traditional office. In an environment without day-to-day oversight, some team members may not use their time wisely. On the other hand, certain employees risk burnout when working remotely due to a lack of boundaries.

Not everyone thrives as a remote employee — you need a tremendous amount of dedication and motivation to keep working when you know you don’t have a manager looking over your shoulder or urging you on.

Solution: Form Supportive Structures

Be sure to pay attention to your best performers as much as you do to the rest of your remote team. These may be the people at risk of overworking themselves. Without the clear boundaries that office life provides, the go-getters on your team may have workdays that never end, setting themselves up for exhaustion and resentment toward the company.

4. Trust

Trust is key in any relationship. When employees trust their managers and believe they’re working toward a shared vision, collaboration and engagement happen naturally. But it’s hard-won in an environment where face-to-face interaction is a rarity.

Solution: Encourage Collaboration and Team Building

Effective collaboration helps teams bond and builds trust as people get to know one another’s thought processes and working styles. When staff is able to build on each other’s ideas and play to their strengths, relationships flourish.

First, it helps to have clearly defined teams. This sets the expectation that people should be working collaboratively, even from a distance. It may seem like a no-brainer, but startups and small businesses sometimes undermine collaboration by failing to form teams within the company.

5. Feelings of Isolation

For some, working remotely is great in theory but, in practice, proves to be isolating. We’re sociable creatures, and we need a degree of social interaction to get us through the day. For most of us, our co-workers are an important part of our social circle.

Remote teams can feel disconnected because they rarely see their colleagues – if they see them at all. Working from home makes it harder to build camaraderie because team bonding moments often happen during off-work interactions – eating lunch together, for example, or engaging in small talk by the water cooler.

Solution: Take breaks for social interactions with colleagues during the day

Casual conversations are important; they encourage the development of social bonds, but they also allow for brainstorming sessions that can result in big ideas for the organization.

Remote teams can also bond by using instant messaging apps such as Skype or Microsoft Teams. Using these tools can bridge the gap remote workers often feel when communicating online.

Conclusion - 5 Ways To Combat Communication Problems In Remote Software Development

Managing a virtual team can be challenging, but addressing those challenges head-on is worth the effort. Remote workers experience many communication problems. But you can use these strategies when encountering these problems to ensure that the distributed workplace is safe and productive for everyone.

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"5 Ways To Combat Communication Problems In Remote Software Development" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Charles Deluvio

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