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Improving communication between office and remote employees

Piotr Horzycki
10+ years of professional dev career. I have experience from numerous projects in media, advertising, education and finance. I use mostly Java and PHP. I also have some team leading experience.
・3 min read

Remote work is challenging. People working remotely need perfect communication skills and discipline because no one is watching over their shoulder. However, the real struggle starts when we try to combine office and remote employees. What problems are we going to face and how can we improve the situation?

I was tired of working in a crowded and noisy open space, so switching to a remote job was a big relief to me. However, I still had to cooperate with people sitting in an office and it turned out to be quite a challenge for all of us. Luckily, with some understanding from everyone in the team, things improved quickly.

Let others know where and who you are

Your coworkers should know if you’re available or not. Set a status which says “In the office” or “Working remotely 9-5”. Use “Away” when you have a break and “Do not disturb” when you need some peace.

At some point, my employer forced everyone to set their photos as profile pictures on Slack. All the funny cats as avatars are now gone. Having real pictures is a good way to integrate people, especially when remote guys visit the office from time to time.

Improve conference calls

We often have calls where one group of people is sitting at the office and another group is remote. The biggest challenge is to create equal participation opportunities for everyone in the team.

Both office and remote people must have a good connection and a good microphone, so everyone can understand what other people are saying. Remote folks usually have headsets; please check their sound quality upfront! If your mic sounds like an old telephone, buy something better.

The best table setup for a call with remote people. Every person maintains the same distance from a microphone. A webcam captures everyone at the table, so that remote participants see exactly what’s happening.

The office group can have a shared microphone on the table. You can find some good products with an omnidirectional mic and an integrated speaker for around $100. Quality matters even more because people are going to sit in a distance from the microphone, thus remote guys will hear more room reflections. Maintain an equal distance from the microphone, so that everyone can be heard equally loud.

When the office team joins a meeting, they share one user account. Remote people do not know who exactly is present in the room. The solution is simple: turn the camera on! The best way is to have an external camera with an overall view of the conference room. If you don’t have it, just rotate a laptop whenever someone else is starting to speak.

Any new people should introduce themselves, like “Hi, I’m Mark, I’m resposible for X and I joined the meeting because …”

It’s good to know who’s joining us and why, and it’s nice to see people smiling. Remote people should launch their cameras too.

Share anything valuable hanging on the office walls

Sometimes people at the office find it convenient to draw things on the wall, or stick some cards here and there. Remote workers do not see these walls. You need to at least share a picture of any diagrams you made on that wall. Make sure remote folks are somehow able to contribute to those drawings.

The same goes with any printed announcements, like “Hey, we’re having a party tomorrow”. Of course if remote people can relate to them. You don’t have to share information about a broken coffee machine, for instance.

Meet in person from time to time

You should meet and have some fun together. The team spirit is much stronger when you can share memories from crazy trips and parties. An organization can facilitate this by organizing different events, like trainings, conferences, lightning talks, etc. Of course you can also have your own initiatives, even if it's just having pizza and beer.

Mixing office and remote workers can bring a lot of fun. It increases diversity because a company does not limit itself to hiring only the people available in a specific location. However, it takes some practice to do it right and get rid of any communication obstacles.

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