The modern business structure is changing. Where before, businesses housed most, if not all, of their employees in one space, contract and distance employees are now slowly but surely dissolving this traditional model. The internet has facilitated the move towards a distance collaboration, allowing multiple offices and independent employees to contribute and collaborate in real time. This change comes with a number of benefits, including reduced commute time, less need for large office spaces, and the ability for companies to hire their perfect employee even if they live several hours — or even states — away.

However, it also has its downsides. It can be difficult to effectively and professionally communicate across online platforms. For media and advertising companies, an extra difficulty lies in having timely and constructive collaboration and feedback. Keeping employees on task can also prove difficult. Even if you’re just talking across offices, effective online communication is vital for a smoothly functioning business. Here are four tips for handling effective online business communication, whether you’re talking to remote employees or colleagues at another location.

Creating Connections

One of the most important parts of effectively managing business communications online is to establish connections with your employees. Whether they work in another office or from home, getting to know your employees a little more and communicating directly instead of through group messages can help create an easy channel for getting in touch. It can be difficult to create relationships with employees and colleagues when you don’t share a physical space, but putting in the extra work to set up and maintain connections will make it easier to maintain collaboration and foster independence.

Transparent communication is even more important for distance employees. Whether you use phone calls, emails, instant messages, or video conferences to talk, employees need to know that they have a support system and that their bosses and colleagues are as invested in them as they are in the company. According to the Executive Vice President of Global Enterprise for Benify, Chris Wakely, these connections are vital for success. In an interview with Business News Daily, he said employers should “build stronger relationships with virtual workers. Personal, short, direct and honest [communication] is crucial.”

Establish a Time Schedule

A regular time schedule is vital, particularly if you have employees in different time zones. Random or spontaneous meetings can create chaos and may not be feasible for many distance employees, which can lead to them feeling unsupported or left out of the loop. Instead, setting up regular meetings at a specific time can not only create a sense of stability but also ensure that everyone gets the information that they need.

This is especially important if you work with a blended team, with some employees in the office and some remote. Lauren Moon at Trello points out that “If two out of three people are constantly making decisions themselves and filling the remote team member in, not only does the remote employee not get a chance to give input before a consensus is drawn, but they are also constantly plagued with the feeling of being left out.” This can create a lot of frustration and stress.

Time schedules should also extend to project deadlines. Using tools like Gantt charts can help manage workflow across multiple locations and with multiple remote employees. Creative projects require a lot of components, and organization is imperative when managing a creative team, remote or not.

Real-Time Communication

Image via Flickr by Ryan Morse

Simply relying on one form of communication may not cut it with distance employees. If you don’t already have it available, you may want to look into alternate forms or options. Some popular choices include business Skype accounts, Google Hangouts, or even text messaging. Emails can get buried and phone calls can take up a ton of time. Instant messaging or brief video calls can help not only increase the availability of you and your team but also can help solve quick problems in real time instead of them getting lost in a full inbox or even overlooked. Plus, real-time communication can help improve office communication and foster a true sense of teamwork instead of separation.

However, it’s important to establish boundaries. Off-hours communication should be limited to emergencies, and professionalism is even more important when using rapid-pace communication. Use business-specific accounts instead of personal ones, and be sure to log conversations for later in case there is a need for review. We often use immediate correspondence technology like texting, instant messaging, or video chatting with friends and family, so business accounts can help mentally separate the two types of communication and remind employees that professionalism is expected.

Professional Yet Personal

As stated above, professionalism is one of the most important components of effective business communication. That doesn’t mean that your correspondence needs to be cold, however. It means a lot to employees that their colleagues and bosses look at them as complete people, not just producers or creatives. Acknowledging good work or milestones like birthdays can go a long way toward bolstering employee self-esteem and creating a cohesive creative team.

Personal correspondence in a workplace environment should be friendly and candid but well within the bounds of professionalism. It can be difficult to remember that you should communicate with remote employees the same way you do with ones in your office since they aren’t there for day-to-day office business. This is especially true when it comes to difficult conversations, like when delivering constructive criticism. It may seem easier to just fire off an email, but it’s much more effective to be as in-person as possible. Face-to-face communication is far more effective in these situations and also adds a personal touch to it. It’s easy to misconstrue the tone of an email — it’s much easier to say what you want how you want while video conferencing.

Communicating effectively with remote workers doesn’t have to be difficult. These tips can help you open and retain effective lines of communication and help your team work more smoothly!