Remote work has suddenly become the new normal in light of the coronavirus pandemic. While working from home reduces the cost of commuting, it may increase the cost of communication. Unlike face-to-face communication in the office, remote communication comes with some limitations and barriers. To ensure continued efficiency and productivity, telecommuters need to master some effective communication skills. Read on to find strategies for keeping up communication in the workplace now that the workplace is at home.
Synchronous online time.
One advantage of remote work is that it can allow for a bit more flexibility. For many office workers, it doesn’t necessarily matter at which hours the work is completed – just that it is. Maybe you catch up on some work at night after the kids are in bed, but you know that you can’t necessarily expect a response to an email at 9:00pm. While allowing flexibility is helpful, especially in these unprecedented times, it may be beneficial to have a period during the day where everyone on the team is expected to be online – say, from 10:00am to 2:00pm. The early birds and the night owls will both be available for any meetings scheduled during this time, and team members will know they can count on reasonably timely responses from coworkers within this window.
Reading email and other communications in a timely manner.
On the subject of timely responses, it’s all the more crucial while working remotely to keep a close eye on incoming emails, chat messages and other forms of communication. Remote workers don’t have the ability to just pop into a coworker’s office to ask a quick question, and managers don’t have the advantage of seeing employees physically at their desks.
Being responsive helps workflow and builds trust as managers and team members adjust to remote work. Timely replies assure others that you are in fact in front of your computer when you work from home! Additionally, it helps to know individual team members’ communication preferences, whether email, chat or phone. Adapting to the best, most reliable way to reach everyone can go a long way toward successful communication in the workplace.
Ensuring work priorities and expectations are set.
Both managers and team members should ensure that expectations are clear on work content, priorities, deadlines and which employee should be completing each task. Managers new to managing a remote team might need to implement slightly more formal strategies to keep consistent communication and make sure tasks are being prioritized. Depending on the nature of the work, it may be helpful to set team or individual check-in calls on a weekly or daily basis. As a bonus, re-evaluating these strategies now can help communication in the workplace going forward – clear prioritization and expectations are helpful no matter the work location.
Checking the tone and avoiding ambiguous expressions.
As anyone who texts regularly knows, it’s easy to misinterpret the tone of a message on a screen. Tone of voice, facial expressions and body language play more of a role than you might realize in making sure your message comes across as intended. It’s especially important to communicate warmth, as we tend to interpret written words as more negative than intended. Grammarly offers a tone detector tool that can make word choice suggestions and help you present your message in the manner you intend (and offer grammar and phrasing corrections).
If you’re able to delay sending an important message, take a break and then re-read for clarity and correctness. Often you’ll realize it’s not immediately clear or that there are areas subject to interpretation. Choose words carefully, be specific and encourage the recipient to ask clarifying questions as needed.
Making good use of video and voice communication.
There are plenty of technology options to explore for however you’d like to stay in touch: Slack for chat, Zoom and Skype for video conferencing, Google Docs and many other tools for file sharing, collaboration and project management.
Don’t underestimate the power of an old-fashioned phone call! If you have reliable phone service at home, a two minute phone call can sometimes resolve an issue that would have taken multiple back and forth emails.
On the mental health side, loneliness can be an issue for employees who work from home. Engaging with coworkers can combat loneliness while also boosting motivation. Especially if you’re used to socializing in person with coworkers, use technology for fun – have a video gathering for lunch or an optional post-work virtual happy hour.
It may take a bit more effort to keep up communication in the workplace when the workplace is spread out, but implementing these strategies will pay off during the pandemic and beyond.