The Do’s and Don’ts of Communicating for Remote Employees
Communication in the workplace can be challenging in the best of circumstances. There has always been the potential for emails and messages to be misunderstood, issues involving team meetings, and problems related to after-hours communication. Now add in a global pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work and you have a recipe for communication disasters. So, what can you do to ensure productive and positive communication with your colleagues?
We’re reviewing our top five remote team communication tips that will help you avoid the drama and work more effectively with your coworkers, teams, and managers.
DON’T confuse brief communications with clear communications.
Maybe you’re trying to make your emails more concise or you prefer to send messages that are short and to the point. But before you hit the send button on your next email reply, it can be helpful to pause and consider how your words will be interpreted by others. While brevity on its own isn’t a bad thing, are you sacrificing clarity when limiting yourself to using less words? Did you include shorthand, jargon, or terms that others might misunderstand?
It’s easy to assume that your colleagues or team are all on the same page when it comes to your current project. But how would your communications change if you instead started from the assumption that they aren’t? Rather than focusing on writing a short email, spend time making sure your message is clear, no matter what platform you’re using. Your coworkers will appreciate the clarity much more than a short but confusing email.
DON’T bombard your coworkers on multiple communication platforms.
Have you ever been working on a project when you get an email from another team member asking for your input on something? A few minutes later they follow up by phone or instant message to see if you got their email. Not long after that, they add you to the task in your project management system and again ask for your feedback. You’re probably nodding your head right now because we’ve all been there.
Not only is this kind of communication frustrating, it’s also inefficient. Each communication medium creates different demands on the receiver and using them all wastes everyone’s time. Switching back and forth between communication platforms can also lead to loss of information and added confusion. Instead, pick a channel and stick to it. Better yet, ask your colleague how they would prefer to communicate and use the medium where they are most likely to see your message and respond in a timely manner.
DO establish communication norms.
In a remote work setting, it’s easy to blur the boundaries between work and your life outside of work. Unlike working from the office, there isn’t always a clear end to the day when you’re working remotely. In order to help maintain a healthy work-life balance, it’s a good idea to establish communication norms or guidelines within your team or company. For example, during what hours are work related communications acceptable? What response time is expected for messages? If an urgent issue arises, how will it be communicated and addressed? What, if any, platform is appropriate for after-hours communications?
In today’s digital world, we’re always connected to our devices, which often tie us to work even when we’re off the clock. Unfortunately, this constant connection can cause added stress and anxiety for many. Establishing communication norms that set clear boundaries can go a long way in maintaining a good work-life balance and help you and your coworkers be more productive when you are at work.
DO make space for coworkers who might not speak out in other forums.
While there are potential pitfalls to remote communications, there is also an upside. For some people, speaking up during in-person meetings or offering honest opinions face-to-face can be a challenge. For these introverted colleagues, online forms of communication like instant messaging and written communication may be more effective. Research has demonstrated that introverted individuals are less inhibited in online interactions and feel less apprehension communicating.
When meeting virtually with your coworkers or communicating about a project via email, are there ways to invite colleagues who might not speak out in other forums to contribute their opinion? Making space for these employees and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas can go a long way toward helping a remote team work more effectively together.
DO block off time for work and communication.
According to the Harvard Business Review, human communication generally involves periods of high activity, what they term “bursty” communication, followed by periods of almost no communication activity. Research conducted by HBR in 2020 found that these bursts of rapid communication with long periods of silence in between are actually a hallmark of successful teams. In the silent period, team members can develop ideas and do the deep work necessary to resolve challenges or find new solutions to problems they may be facing. The “bursty” periods, on the other hand, help to focus these ideas and enable the team to achieve closure on a question or challenge.
The study suggests that, in order to facilitate bursts of communication, teams should align their work routines and communicate during designated periods when everyone is available to respond and engage. How would this look in practice? Try blocking off times on your calendar to work on new projects or brainstorm ideas, and during these periods make sure you won’t be interrupted by muting any calls or messages. In addition to setting aside time for focused work, schedule periods of time where you’ll be available to colleagues and can respond to any emails or messages promptly. Communicating and engaging with your coworkers and team in this way may take a little getting used to, but in the long run leads to more effective communication and more productive remote work.
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