Remote work has become the norm for many organizations across the globe because it can benefit employers as well as their workers. Not everyone is convinced about clear benefits of remote work because there are some downsides they mention, but overall, influential sources support remote and hybrid work. Most workers say they welcome remote work mode, especially knowledge workers such as public relations and communication professionals. However, one struggle that teams often have to face with remote workers and a combination of remote and in-house (hybrid) workers is internal communication. This article explains how remote PR teams can improve internal communication within their own team, and overall for their organization.
It can be difficult to stay connected with remote workers at the same pace and reach as in-office employees, no matter how advanced your technology is. However, there are often ways to improve internal communications and boost success for your internal communication team. A greater understanding of those improvements and knowing how to implement them will boost your business and foster a better workplace environment whether your employees are at home or in the office.
So, how can you build a cohesive and communicative PR team with remote workers, and why is it important to do so, in the first place?
Remote PR professionals need to be well coordinated within their own team
The global disruptions caused by Covid and the invasion of Ukraine to the economic environment have obliged many PR professionals to work at home or in hybrid mode. Teams spread out the most have had to adapt the most. For instance, the headquarters of one PR team has 3 members based in the US, with two other team members based in London, one in Japan and two in Latin America. Plus the role of supervising a PR agency in London and one in London. Coordination complications!
Team and inter-departmental communication, collaboration and coordination are key to being successful – because public relations regularly rates in the top 10 most stressful jobs (usually between 5th and 8th) around the world. Therefore keeping track of tasks and workload is essential. In PR, no two days are the same. Things move fast, and we often need to deal with urgent PR needs at short notice. Nevertheless, it is important to balance long-term priorities with urgent demands on our time.
Some of the biggest challenges reported in Muck Rack interviews about remote PR teams are time management, maintaining connection throughout the team, excitement, solid communication as well as prevention of team burnout. A big challenge is making up for the lack of informal office drop-ins to chat with fellow team members.
One of the challenges has been onboarding – bringing in a new team member remotely. To overcome this problem, online meet-and-greets can be arranged with other teams to share a little bit about their work and themselves. That way, new arrivals to the PR team are able to put names to faces to other employees they may not interact with regularly.
Tips for managing remote PR teams
Some of the tips shared by Muck Rack interviewees about managing a remote team and doing PR remotely are discussed below. You don’t need to be a manager to suggest some of these within your own PR team.
Establish clear communication channels
Muck Rack uses these tools to keep in touch:
- Google Workspace — Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Presentations. This is super helpful when it comes to remote collaboration on projects. Feedback from the PR managers interviewed by Muck Rack indicated that the easiest way for small teams to collaboratively keep track of activities and team input was to use basic Google Docs for all to access.
- Zoom. Ensure Zoom calls are effective, run smoothly and work to pre-prepared agendas. Zoom has definitely become more popular since the start COVID-19. Pro tip – Muck Rack records their meetings. That way anyone who can’t make it can refer back to the recording.
- Trello is a go-to project management tool that helps to track projects and stay on task.
- Hubspot and Intercom help to engage with prospects and customers and support a whole lot of marketing, sales and customer success activities.
- Highlight and celebrate wins. In your weekly meetings, carve out two minutes up top to give kudos, or set up a “wins” Slack channel where you and other members of your team can call out awesome accomplishments. This allows anyone to celebrate a win.
- Document everything. Anything that can be documented should be. Yes, creating training documents, how-to guides, company and team policies, expectations, process flow charts, document templates, strategy playbooks, and FAQs isn’t exactly thrilling, but it’s crucial, especially when you’re leading a remote team.
- Find new ways to have fun and connect with colleagues. It is important to find ways to have some fun and connect outside of your weekly team meetings and 1:1s. Carve out time once every month or two to plan a virtual team lunch, play a game of virtual bingo or have a Zoom happy hour.
For PR professionals, internal communication can also boost both productivity and creativity. When everyone is on the same page, they can use their strengths to come up with fresh ideas and move projects forward. That’s especially effective during meetings and brainstorming sessions.
Why internal communication is so important for remote workers
Effective internal communication is essential for the success of any organization. It keeps everyone informed, allows for a more cohesive workflow, and ensures that everyone has the same information no matter which department they’re in or which project(s) they’re working on. In addition, good internal communication can also improve the workplace environment for your remote employees, with benefits like:
- Faster response times to problems
- Clearer goals
- Reduced retention issues
- Employees who feel valued
- Increased employee contributions.
It’s important for every employee to experience these benefits, but you should pay special attention to ensure your remote workers are just as in tune with what’s happening in their specific work area. Not only is it better for your organizational performance, but it will foster a better overall environment no matter where they’re working.
How to elevate internal communication for remote workers
What can you do to streamline effective communication when you have employees working across the country – or even across the world?
For starters, have a reputable communication tool in place. Platforms like Slack are great for keeping everyone connected and encouraging discussions. You can have larger Slack channels while breaking down smaller groups for specific teams, people working on certain projects, etc. Being able to share information quickly between these groups will keep things running smoothly.
Next, make sure you’re staying in touch with everyone through weekly meetings. A short meeting gives everyone a chance to give professional updates. Do it at the beginning of each week on Zoom or the equivalent, and it will be easier for your teams to set goals for the next few days. Scheduling meetings earlier in the week makes Thursdays and Fridays feel a bit lighter. Do it at the end of the week and everyone can head into the weekend with a feeling of accomplishment. Even better if you try to have no meetings on Fridays.
- At the start of the week, meet for 15 minutes for “team activation”, where team members go around the zoom and “inhale” a positive intention for the week and “exhale” anything negative that they are feeling or any road block whether personal or professional. The team really seems to be enjoying it and the transparency has bonded them.
- Encourage the team to break up their days, go for walks, get fresh air, meditate, end early if you need to make a workout class. It’s important we take care of our bodies and our minds during this time.
Find out your employees’ preferred communication channels
- Importantly, take the time to find out your employees’ preferred communication channels. Some people might prefer or rely on phone calls or emails while others love chatting and direct video calls. For instance, ‘deskless’ employees such as nurses, doctors at hospitals, factory workers, linesmen, salespeople in between client visits, etc are limited in what they can use. In response to this need, employers tend to use digital phones and printed material to reach them with key messages.
- While you don’t necessarily need to cater to each individual’s communication preference, having a mix of different styles can help to meet everyone’s needs and make them feel more comfortable with open communication.
Open communication is essential when it comes to productivity and reducing human error. People make mistakes — it’s a part of life. However, people should always have a goal to reduce human error in the workplace as much as possible. By prioritizing communication, your employees will be more likely to ask questions, express concerns, and receive clarification about their tasks. They can also ask for help when they need it, reducing the likelihood of human error, and improving productivity across the board.
Check in regularly with the team and 1:1 to personally see how everyone is feeling and ensure prompt help if anyone is feeling overwhelmed.
Caring for your remote workers
It’s not uncommon for remote employees having to face issues like:
- Lack of networking opportunities
- Poor work-life balance
- Lack of motivation
With those problems in mind, you can shift your perspective on what it means to improve internal communication. It’s about more than just making sure every job gets done. In addition to encouraging communication for productivity, use it for the betterment of your remote employees. Check in with them often, encourage frequent breaks, and a better work-life balance.
Burnout. A high risk in our stressful profession is burnout. People working under flexible, hybrid or remote policies often do feel more grateful to their employers. That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep pressing ahead with their work until they run out of fuel. Frequently, it’s the employer intensifying the workload with requests that can’t be achieved within given timeframes. Remote employees are tougher to diagnose with burnout because others can’t see changes in their personality on a day-to-day basis, so ensure there is a process of checking in and being aware of the signs.
Making time for communication is a remote work hack that can make your remote team more likely to feel connected with the internal working parts of the business — especially if you have a hybrid operation.
How Google keeps its teams working together when they are not together
In order to better understand the impact of distributed work, the Google People Innovation Lab team sent out a survey to 5000+ Googlers and held focus groups with about a hundred employees across the globe. They measured well-being, performance, and connectedness (among other things) and on how to ensure that those things remain consistent, even if your team is spread out across the world. They consolidated their findings and best practices for distributed work in a set of playbooks to share with Googlers and other companies, too. Here are their top three tips for making distributed work feel more connected and enjoyable:
How to make teams feel more connected
- Get to know each other as people: Instead of jumping right into an agenda, allow some time at the top of the meeting for an open-ended question, like “what did you do this weekend?” It’s an easy way to build remote connections and establish a rapport. We found managers leading by example and making an extra effort to get to know distributed team members can be extra impactful.
- Set boundaries: Instead of making assumptions about preferred working hours, take the time to ask your co-workers when they like to have meetings; some may opt for a certain time of day if given a choice or like to disconnect completely from their computers at other times.
- Forge in-person and virtual connections: Sometimes it’s just easier to be face-to-face. Managers should provide clear guidelines and opportunities for team members to travel for in-person meetings. On a video call, express reactions to co-workers’ ideas noticeably to indicate they’re being heard. When you do have the opportunity to meet for face to face interactions – take advantage in order to reinforce connections forged virtually.
In its Playbooks, Google also addressed the fact that “building and maintaining relationships is important for collaboration across distance”. “A little rapport goes a long way. Create opportunities to get to know your distributed teammates just like you would if they sat in the next cube over.”
Here are the Google tips for getting talking:
- Start your meetings with an open-ended, personal question. Try “what did you do this weekend?” (You’ll get more than asking “how was your weekend”).
- Consider creating a group chat that is always “on” for work-related questions or fun, social messages.
- Share a virtual meal over video conferencing. But keep time zones in mind – your lunch may be someone’s breakfast or afternoon tea.
- Say hi! Check in on a distributed teammate with an encouraging message, a project-relevant news article, or a funny photo – just because! Pick up the phone or send an email to a colleague and ask about their day, weekend plans, etc.
- Share quick daily updates via email (even better if photos are included).
- Take teammates on a virtual tour of your office space over video conferencing.
Internal communication is more important than ever
Internal communication in today’s remote-friendly world is more important than ever. While technology has made it easier to stay connected with employees across the world, human connection will always be what matters. Keep these ideas in mind to improve internal communications with your remote teams, and create a company culture where everyone feels heard, understood, and valued. Not only are you likely to see greater success from an organizational standpoint, but you’ll enjoy the benefits of happy, healthy employees who aren’t struggling with burnout or confusion.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.