Communication can be hard enough when a team is located in the same office, so how does Uhuru manage to communicate effectively with clients and each other from remote locations around the world? Our excellent internal communications system did not happen overnight. It has taken years of trial and error to discover a truly streamlined, effective communication system—and we’re about to share it with you.
What Is Effective Communication?
When you’re working at a fast-paced marketing agency, it’s essential that all team members are in sync. Add different time zones into the mix and effective internal communications become not a—but the—top priority. We’ve mastered the techniques that cause productivity to soar, but this wasn’t always the case.
Like anything that marketers do, creating a work culture that engages and inspires employees takes time. Our ability to evolve and adapt over the years helped us design what we now call “The Uhuru Way.” This work (and life) philosophy allows our team to be vastly more productive than they would in a nine-to-five office setting.
How, you may ask? The success of our remote team relies entirely on effective communication.
Here are our six best tips for hyper-communication in a remote work environment:
Tip #1 – Touch Base Regularly
Just because you aren’t in an office with your coworkers doesn’t mean you won’t talk to them throughout your workday. Your physical distance means it’s that much more important to put the extra effort in, to chat throughout the day. Schedule daily check-in calls with your team at a time that’s convenient for everyone.
This can be challenging when your team is dispersed across different time zones, but we’re living proof that it isn’t impossible! This past summer, two of our employees were in the same time zone in Switzerland and South Africa while another team member was 12 hours behind in Hawaii. Our daily calls were in their evenings and mornings, respectively.
Tip #2 – Be Mindful and Respectful of Time
Working remotely means that you can create your own hours and have flexibility with your schedule. This is especially helpful for those at the mercy of other people’s schedules, such as parents of young children. When time zones and work schedules differ, it’s extremely important to be mindful of your coworkers’ time.
Create Transparency with Shared Calendars
At Uhuru, we have access to everyone’s calendars so we can see exactly what they have scheduled at any given time. When planning a meeting or call, we can look up a person’s availability and suggest a specific time that we are both free instead of blindly throwing a time out there and hoping it sticks.
Not every item, task, or priority from another team member that pops up is urgent and demanding of everyone’s full attention. Just because something comes across your virtual desk right now, doesn’t mean you should disrupt someone else’s well-organized schedule by demanding immediate attention. It’s important to create an appropriate time and space to address each issue so you can prevent disruption to the team’s calendars.
This practice forces coworkers to be more mindful of their own and others’ time and ensures that everyone stays on top of their tasks. Proactivity pushes employees to push themselves and each other to be better communicators. For this reason, giving your team the tools to properly schedule and structure their week will set them up for success.
Create An Agenda for Every Meeting
Another key to being mindful of everyone’s time is to create agendas for every meeting, both internal and external—and stick to them! How many meetings have you been a part of where time was wasted discussing things that had nothing to do with the meeting’s initial purpose? When you share a meeting agenda, you set a tangible expectation of how the meeting will go and exactly how long it will take. This helps everyone stay on track and prevents wasted time.
Tip #3 – Itemize and Assign Each Task
When multiple people have their hands on a single project, it’s easy for team members to assume they are not responsible for certain elements. But if everyone assumes someone else is taking care of a task, it won’t ever get done. This vastly increases the risk for errors. It’s better to ask two times then get it wrong once and waste resources resolving the mistake.
Always ask for clarity on which team member is responsible for a certain task. Or better yet, define details to not only ensure that everyone is on the same page and decrease the margin of error, but also empower employees to work independently. The more clarity there is upfront, the more work flexibility and life balance can be prioritized.
Tip #4 – Assurance Is Key
Similarly, it’s important for team members that are sharing information or commenting on a task to be acknowledged so they know their contribution wasn’t ignored. Always confirm statements, even if it’s a simple thumbs up to quickly assure the person that the message was received and understood. Otherwise, how will they know you’re not ignoring them?
Tip #5 – Be Flexible
When working remotely, things will happen that change the course of your day. Maybe your coworker owes you a blog post by the end of the day so you can edit it in time for your weekly client conference call, but they got the flu and aren’t able to work.
As a team, it’s now your responsibility to reassess everyone’s capacities to determine who is best suited to fill in for that assignment. Whoever steps up may have to move an assignment or two to the next week to be realistic with their capacity and capabilities—no employee should be expected to take on the job of two. Things like illness, family emergencies, and extreme storms happen, so it’s important to adjust the schedule accordingly.
Tip #6 – Be Aware of Your Tone
Constant communication is great, but the way in which we communicate is extremely important as well. Because remote teams are spending the majority of their time communicating via online platforms, most of your internal communications will be written. We’ve all received an email, text, or instant message that came off as rude or snarky—imagine how detrimental it could be if your brief, blunt, or sarcastic tone didn’t translate as a written message? It’s important to be aware of your written tone. If you’re delivering bad news or there’s any chance that a message may be otherwise misconstrued, it’s important to make a call so that it is appropriately received.
What Effective Internal Communications Look Like at Uhuru
I’m about to share Uhuru Network’s biggest communication secret that will change the dynamic of your remote workplace. Are you ready?
Communication platforms are best utilized when they serve only one purpose.
That’s it. At Uhuru, we use a number of tech platforms, but each serves one main purpose. Pretty simple, huh? By segmenting our communication, we know exactly where to find specific information. And guess which form of communication we barely ever use? Email. Is your overflowing inbox scowling with envy? Keep reading to discover the many systems we use instead of email.
Every day, we have a 20–30 minute daily touch point called a daily huddle. During this mandatory team call, we make sure everything is on track by reviewing what has been completed the day prior, what is being completed the present day, and any impediments that are preventing us from completing our work.
Daily huddles are crucial to connect with our remote team and address any concerns or questions that employees may have. They’re also a good opportunity to catch up with coworkers and keep the rapport and strength of the team intact. With video chat platforms like GoToMeeting and Zoom, face-to-face communication makes our staff feel closer to each other.
Internal Communications and Collaboration
Because Uhuru uses a variety of effective communication tools to categorize and divide different topics, we have a number of tools used solely for internal communications.
We like to think of Slack as our virtual office. It’s the place where we inform team members of client success stories, ask them how their kids are doing, and have collaborative conversations about ongoing projects. In short, it’s the water cooler of our tech artillery.
If Slack is the water cooler, Google Drive is the file cabinet. This is where all of our documents, presentations, and spreadsheets are stored. The collective location allows for team-wide collaboration and interaction from conception to the moment the finished work is shared with the client. Our clients are given access to their client share folder so they can easily review and edit blogs, ebooks, website copy, and more. Documented histories conveniently allow our editing team to see what changes were made instead of having to ask coworkers or clients for updated copies—this protects the team from losing older versions yet still provides full client-facing transparency.
I don’t have an office-themed analogy for Google Calendar because, well, a calendar is already a prevalent item used in offices. However, the way Uhuru uses Google Calendar is certainly unique.
Having a calendar for the entire team allows the freedom to plan optimal work hours—that is, the time that you, as an individual, get your best and most productive work done with little to no distractions—while maintaining the demands of the client and team time needed to stay connected, updated, and balanced. Working with a company that is 100% remote and allows its employees to determine their optimal work hours may sound too good to be true. And if you’re not self-disciplined, detail-oriented, and hyper-communicative … it is. Keeping a real-time, updated calendar takes practice and discipline and, once mastered, can be hard to imagine living without.
Client-Facing Agile Project Management
Redbooth is an agile project management software that features digital Kanban boards to collaborate on projects and create a visual representation of their status. Although we used to use Redbooth for both internal and client-facing agile project management, we now solely use Redbooth for our client-facing communications.
Redbooth allows us to communicate with clients so that everyone on both sides has access to the latest information. It also keeps the noise of the marketing team out of client communications to prevent confusion and prioritize the voice and needs of the client.
In addition to daily management of our client Kanban boards, we have weekly stand-up calls with clients to review what we are waiting on from them and the project status of our contributions. An agenda is created for each stand-up, complete with links to the projects on Redbooth. This creates clear expectations on both sides of what will be discussed and how to move forward.
Internal Agile Project Management
For our internal agile project management system, we use a software called Jira. It also uses a Kanban board framework that is similar to Redbooth’s, but a bit more extensive in nature. Jira organizes projects in progress so that anyone on the team at any stage of the project can see where it is at and what is to come. This transparency helps us to visualize what and who is needed to successfully complete a project to the highest quality. The ability to tag coworkers in comments on different projects allows the team to communicate with each other without the formality of client interaction.
Each Jira card represents one task, assigned to one employee. Each card has detailed instructions on how to properly complete the task and how to proceed once finished. The cards are linked to a larger project—here team members can conveniently link documents and resources and pass along the project when their part is done.
Are you still with us? Good, because now we’re getting to the good stuff.
Internal Resource Management
Each Jira card is assigned a number of points. Points are used to measure the complexity and effort it takes to complete a task in order to best plan for the time and resources it will require to result in a high-quality outcome. Points can also be utilized to capture the progress of a project and best determine its completion rate.
Points are not a way to micromanage a team. However, they do determine the resources available based on the capacity of the team or individual. This can also project when the peak of capacity is approaching and determine what additional resources are necessary for high-quality, timely production.
Points are important to keep the work loads fair among the team and make sure no one individual is taking on too much. We review each individual’s capacity during our weekly Scrum planning meeting. Regularly evaluating point allocation helps us to best determine priorities and opportunities to re-delegate tasks.
While points are an extremely valuable tool to manage each employee’s workload, they are not always an exact timestamp. One point does not always mean one hour. It could mean 31 minutes, or 50 minutes, or maybe even 63 minutes. The points are an average to account for the time, complexity, and effort needed to complete the task. If the task is consistently taking much longer or shorter than its estimated point allotment, it needs to be noted so that the Scrum master can review the week’s workload capacity and ensure that all work will be completed in a timely manner.
What Is a Scrum Master?
You may be asking yourself what a Scrum master is, exactly, and how they contribute to the team’s success. I can speak volumes on this topic because I, Michele Lopez, am Uhuru’s Scrum master. My position is dedicated to the organization of the hive, the management of Jira, and resource planning. My role is essential in making sure the team is being effective and productive. Everyone can focus on what they need to do—be it design, copy, strategy or ads—because I manage Jira and the rest of our external and internal communications platforms.
Just as it is the Scrum master’s responsibility to keep projects on task and check in on employees, it’s the employees’ responsibility to communicate how long things are taking them to help plan out points in future weeks and ensure they don’t overschedule themselves. To accommodate client and internal communications, the Scrum master will also give certain employees—such as strategists—fewer points so they will have time set aside to support and collaborate with the team on their projects, as well as manage client engagements and communications. According to our Scrum master consultant, Mark Long, 75% of point capacity should be dedicated to client work, but 25% should be dedicated to planning and team communication. When considering a traditional 40-hour work week, that means ten hours a week should be allocated to talking to coworkers and clients.
Want to Learn More About Scrum?
Uhuru uses Scrum to organize its agile marketing processes. This fast-paced framework allows us to produce high-quality work quickly and consistently. Uhuru is 50–75% faster than we were before agile and it’s had an incredible impact on our culture. Thanks to agile marketing, we’ve become better communicators, more productive workers, and have improved our Internal communications..
Schedule a free strategy session with us if you’re interested in learning more about our agile marketing practices or would like to know how we can help your company!