How to Communicate Change to Dispersed Teams

August 18, 2021
The Culture Equation
How to Communicate Change to Dispersed Teams

Is your business about to undergo change? Or do you want to get ahead of the curve and learn how to effectively communicate change to dispersed teams?

Change can be a difficult process, and when teams aren’t always in one central place, there is an added challenge. It might not be possible to sit your entire company down and explain exactly why, when and how changes will occur. This makes it difficult to effectively communicate new processes to your team.

Ambiguity surrounding why and how a company will be changing can place significant stress on employees. In fact, 51% of Australians reported experiencing higher anxiety and stress about organisational change and job security last year. (IPOS, 2020)

But change doesn’t have to be stressful. Communication is the key to ensuring you and your team smoothly transition to a new way of working and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Here are 5 keys for effective communication to dispersed teams during times of change:

Define the vision

The first step is to make sure you and your people know what the vision is and why exactly the change is occurring. This will ensure that stress caused by uncertainty or unease about the future is reduced.

Also, an aligned, strong vision acts as a motivator by getting your team excited about a fresh new initiative they want to work towards. Your vision needs to be clear, short and simple. It should strongly align with the company’s purpose and should be repeated at every opportunity. Everything you need to say should fit into half a page with a good balance of information, emotional appeal and inspiration.

Create a clear communications plan

Change doesn’t happen overnight so your communication plan needs to have layers. It needs to include designated strategies and goals for each stage of change, underpinned by your vision. Things such as risk assessments, channels, frequency, feedback and the additional challenges of communicating to dispersed teams also need to be considered.

Elements of your communications plan might need to be personalised for different dispersed teams or positions. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution so adjust it to your unique needs.

Additionally, the plan is for more than just informing how changes will be implemented. It’s also about including your people in the processes and getting them invested in your vision.

Establish two-way communication

Throughout a transformation process, it’s important to make sure every voice is heard. Create a channel or platform that allows dispersed employees to express their ideas, grievances or worries in a safe, possibly anonymous space. This could be through surveys, polls, opportunities for 1-1 conversations, skip level team meetings and many more. It’s important to remember dispersed teams may influence what platforms you can use so think about online factors when designing these.

It’s good practice to prioritise answering your team’s questions to avoid any unnecessary stress and keep them moving towards your vision and end goal.

Honesty is key! So, if management is honest and transparent, employees will be too, leading to a smooth and successful period of change.

Explain “how it benefits you”

Simply put, we have to look after ourselves and put our interests first. And it’s not different for local or dispersed teams. This means your people need to know what’s in it for them. This will help to grow their support and motivation towards the end goal. It can’t be a generic answer – “this change will take the business to the next level” – it has to be personal and meaningful to your employees. Yes things will be different but this is what you can expect and this is how we are going to make it worth your while.

In some instances, there may not be direct benefits. If that’s the case, be open and honest rather than hiding behind buzzwords. Transparency stops people from reading between the lines and coming up with their own conclusions, which is very often how the rumour mill starts!

Start the change with managers

The best way to communicate change to dispersed teams is to lead by example. In order to lead by example, your managers need to know exactly what is happening. A Towers Watson study found that while 68% of senior managers say they understand why organisational change is happening whereas only 40% of front-line supervisors say the same, this highlights a gap that you need to be aware of – just because you have communicated to your senior leadership team does not mean the messaging is getting through to the next layer down (smarp, 2020).

This is why all the components – vision, personalised communication strategies and feedback platforms – are critical to ensuring your managers know how to lead their teams into the change processes.

Leaders of dispersed teams need special consideration to give them the knowledge and skills they need to incite motivation and movement with their remote staff. From there, they can lead by example.

So while communicating to dispersed teams has some added challenges, when you create a clear communication plan with a strong vision and team collaboration, you’ll have a smooth and successful transition process.