There is one thing that can ruin even a top-notch distributed team: communication. The way people talk to each other can either get them to the highest heights or cast them down into the abyss of failure.

We talked to a variety of specialists — managers, team-leads, developers — about the difficulties of remote communication and how to solve them. These are six of our main takeaways.

Get together in the very beginning

Working in distributed teams can be challenging sometimes because you can’t meet your peers on a daily basis and share the news over coffee. This is the reason why it’s so important to start out a project with getting together as a whole team. We mean like meeting in real life. Offline, to be more specific. A few days of collective work will help you understand your future colleagues way better. Natalia Milostna, QA lead at Beetroot, has a lot of experience working in distributed teams, and says that those collective brainstorming sessions can be the most productive time of your work.

Write understandable texts

You’re not one of those guys, right? Those, who write “hey” in chats and fall silent. “Hey, I need your help with one thing” is also bad. But the ultimate winner is:

hey

need your help

with one thong

*thing

lol

r u here

?

In order to make your communication understandable use the journalistic formula of “5Ws”, where “W” stands for Who, What, When, Where, Why. Answering these five questions will help you build clear communication.

But it doesn’t mean that you should speak like a robot all the time. For more informal chats — like, cheap flights to Sri-Lanka or Friday nights out — use a separate channel. Here, at Beetroot, we call it “random” and it’s full of utterly meaningless but fun texts.

Another good thing to have is a document, which describes responsibilities within a team. It might be challenging to create and maintain it, but at the end of the day, it can be a good tool to cut down unnecessary communication.

Talk to each other regularly and meaningfully

It sounds easy peasy lemon squeezy: just talk to each other and your distributed team will work efficiently. But this very principle can be turn into the most boring and inefficient activity on Earth. For instance, when you’re holding one of those meetings that should be an email.

If you want to avoid collective eye-rolls, prepare an agenda before a video call and send it to every member of the team. Trofim Prodayvoda, a Back-End developer with more than 10 years of experience on distributed teams, says that communication should always have a concrete reason. If there is no reason to have a meeting, just cancel it.

Spice up your messages with emojis 🙂

Australian specialists in body language and non-verbal communication, Allan and Barbara Pease, claim that we transmit only 7% of information through words. Another 38% is transmitted via a tone of voice and intonation, leaving 55% for posture, gestures and facial expressions. It means that reading an email people miss more than 90% of the initial meaning of a message.

You can fix this by making your messages more emotional. Add emojis, GIFs or more vivid words. But never ever write like this: “We’re screwed!!!!!!!!!!!” or “I don’t know……maybe ask me in a month, can you????????”.

When working on the same project people tend to develop their own slang. Which is good because it makes communication easier. But don’t use this slang when talking to someone outside of your group. They’lli barely understand it if you say “we’ve been rubberducking all day long”. As a sanity check-point, imagine saying these things to your grandma. Would she understand what “rubberducking” is?

Always have a plan B

Living in the era of technologies is a bliss but things like malfunctioning Skype, poor Wi-Fi or broken headphones still happen sometimes. Make sure that you have proper equipment: good mics, cameras and other devices. Also, you should always have a plan B in case something goes wrong. For example, get ready to jump to Hangouts if Skype doesn’t respond.

Apart from tech barriers, think of language barriers as well. Sometimes it can be hard to understand what people mean, even if you speak the same language. If you missed something from a conversation, don’t hesitate to ask again. It’s better to ask dumb questions that to write dumb code.

Make sure that everything is clear

Often teams end the conversation, asking “is everything clear?” It’s a typical phrase but it’s also useless. Picture this: you’re finishing an hour and a half call:

— “Is everything clear, guys?”

— “Totally!” — reply people who have just woken up from a meeting-caused coma.

Then they go back to their computers, start doing things wrong, ask clarifying questions and end up with doing much more work than they should. So, when having a meeting, you should better ask everyone to share their ideas on how things should be done.

So, is everything clear? 🙂