Change is inevitable for remote teams. Teams that show the most adaptability and resilience in moments of change share one common quality: clear, consistent communication.
Your challenge is to adapt to the evolving landscape of remote work, supporting your team as they adjust to necessary changes to their ways of working. It won’t always be easy. A McKinsey study has shown that employee resistance to change attributes to 70% of change programs being unsuccessful in achieving their objectives.
If you can articulate your messaging thoughtfully, facilitate discussions, and create action plans, you will go a long way towards helping your remote team adapt to changing circumstances. By engaging with these best practices for communicating change, you can ensure positive progress.
In this blog, we highlight three key best practices for communicating during change that can make or break your remote team.
1. Provide a rationale for change
In a Gatehouse employment engagement survey, only a quarter (27%) of respondents agreed that company employees had a good understanding of why senior leaders made certain decisions. If you leave a major gap for people about ‘the why’, you will have lost a majority of them at the start.
The best rationales are sincere and make sense. This rationale should connect directly back to the challenges the team or the business is facing, giving context to the situation. If the circumstances have you stranded in a difficult situation, what is the difficulty and why do you need to do something differently?
Facilitate conversations to highlight any upcoming changes that may impact your remote team’s work. Ideally, you’ve already built trust by prioritising your team’s best interests. Now it’s time to articulate the adjustments ahead and persuasively justify them for your remote team.
If you’re struggling with what to say, take some time to develop a well-thought-out vision, that can help overcome any resistance you may encounter. Think through the benefits that will spark from this change and paint a word picture your people can hold on to. You’re on an island that’s running out of food, and if you don’t hop aboard this passing ship you might not have another chance. Word pictures are a powerful way to build momentum and demonstrate positive outcomes.
Your team will come to understand ‘the why’ of the adjustments ahead. Change is usually uncomfortable for some, but with a clear ‘why’, at least your people will be more likely to join you for the next stage of the journey.
Here are some questions you could ask yourself before you first flag the changes with your flexible or remote team:
- Is my justification for change sensible, clear and carefully considered?
- Have I connected the change with our context?
- Are the benefits well explained?
- Am I using word pictures to help visualise the vision?
2. Engage your team in a two-way conversation
The most powerful type of change communication is the type where people are not just informed, but involved. You have probably noticed the power of an open-door policy, where team members know their feedback is not only welcomed but truly valued. In communicating change we need to take this a step further.
Your communication strategy needs to allow room for feedback, pushback, and an open exchange of ideas. Leadership teams set the stage for the conversation, using positivity and open-mindedness to set an example. As the details of changes unfold, it’s important to create a two-way conversation where team members feel comfortable engaging.
You can achieve this in a few ways. Incorporate time for team members to share their opinions, encouraging each person to add their voice. Set up an ‘all hands’ meeting to communicate updates. Use tools like Mentimeter and SurveyMonkey to collect anonymous input. Have a ‘drop in room’ – virtual or in person – with yourself and other leaders, where anyone from the business can join you to ask questions. Kath Blackham, CEO at Versa has regular ‘Ask Kath Anything’ sessions to achieve this aim. A great idea, since change is a constant.
Having these conversations at the beginning of any change process will do more than help avoid future mistakes and diffuse communication roadblocks – it will give you valuable information that can inform your approach.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you establish a two-way conversation with your team:
- How can I encourage my team to engage and share their opinions?
- Am I setting up conversations that encourage a two-way discussion?
- How can I make it easy for all my people to add their voice?
- How will we act on what we hear, to demonstrate that it was worth engaging?
3. Set clear and achievable goals
You’ve articulated the need for change with your remote team, discussed their concerns, and are ready to create a change plan. The challenge ahead of you now: sticking to your action plan. This is the most important step in the process. Without follow through, your team cannot move forward. If you cannot meet your deadlines, your milestones will be at risk. Even more importantly, you risk depleting the trust bank you hold with your remote team.
The key to communicating change is articulating realistic commitments, to ensure the work gets done. Don’t overpromise. Don’t underdeliver. You risk losing the confidence of your team if they learn that your words can’t be trusted.
And because your team members may be scattered across locations or working at different times, it is even more critical that your communication efforts be clear and comprehensive. You are probably aware that inexperienced remote workers are more likely to struggle with communication and collaboration, so realistic goals will help them develop effective habits for remote work.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you ensure that your stated goals can be delivered:
- Are these goals realistic for our business?
- How can we ensure these milestones will be completed on time?
- Is the plan of action clearly articulated, so we will avoid delays from confusion?
Resistance to change is normal. Flexible and remote teams are no exception. What we can change is the way we communicate. Leaders who offer clear, thought-out communication are best equipped to overcome the usual resistance to change.
By sharing rationales, having a two-way conversation about the change and following through with action, leaders can set a new standard for adaptability and resilience.