After a whirlwind of a year in 2020, there’s almost no workplace on the face of the earth that hasn’t changed in some way.
But despite trading long commutes for home offices and conference rooms for Zoom accounts, the need for respectful and effective workplace communication is perhaps more important than ever.
Remote work communication can differ dramatically from workplace communication in a pre-COVID world where oftentimes employees were working in the same building—and often on the same floor.
If you and your employees don’t make a special effort to improve your workplace communication, even when working remotely, it can easily fall through the cracks—leading to unhappiness or even animosity among teams.
So today, we’d like to share some of our communication best practices when working remotely.
1. If It Didn't Work in Person, Don’t Do It Online
The first tip we want to emphasize is that while technology changes a lot of things, it doesn’t change what it takes to be a genuine, kind, and respectful human being
Multiple studies have shown that people just aren’t the same in a digital world than in real life. We tend to be more blunt, bordering on rude or cruel at times, and if we’re not careful, we can forget we’re dealing with real human beings on the other end of the screen.
So if any advice we give today is going to work, you have to remember: You’re still dealing with people at work.
If you wouldn’t belittle them in front of their coworkers at the office, then don’t do it in a group email or Slack message.
Take time to notice the difference between how you act in person and how you treat others online, and then resolve to reconcile the two and be a more decent boss, manager, coworker, or employee, despite the distance technology creates.
2. Take Extra Effort to Foster Group Identities
Working remotely means despite frequent Zoom calls, emails, and collaboration, most of your coworkers or employees are still spending the majority of their day alone.
While this can lead to increased productivity and job satisfaction, it can also make it difficult to foster company or team culture and connect on an intimate level with the people you work with each day.
That’s why you’ll need to take extra effort to foster group identities, such as company-wide culture or team culture. You can accomplish this the same way online as you might in person.
Instead of getting right to business when a meeting starts, take time to get to know one another better, ask about your hobbies, family life, and other non-work interests.
Plan fun group activities over Zoom just like you would in the office.
If you use a messaging app like Slack, set up a "water cooler" channel where people can talk about anything they want—related to work or otherwise.
Where some of these things may have happened naturally in the past (group lunches, pre-meeting chatting, etc.), you’ll have to go the extra mile to foster these important relationships when working remotely.
3. Smartly Communicate With Your Team and Coworkers
Another hurdle you’ll have to overcome when working remotely is ensuring everyone is on the same page when it comes to your tasks and projects.
Because each team member is working in more of a physical silo than previously, it's easy to lose track of who's working on what and when it will be accomplished. For that reason, you need to over-communicate important objectives, tasks, projects, and details and ensure expectations are clear.
But here’s the important part: think beyond Zoom. There are often better options that enable team members to have more autonomy with their schedule, which makes them more productive overall, while also affording the luxury of taking time to craft a well-considered response. The best ideas often take a while to surface.
Particularly if your team are on different timezones, there are other tools that can make it easier to communicate asynchronously, such as loom – which is to zoom calls what voice messages are to phone calls.
4. Stay Close With Each Team Member
Just because you don’t see your team each day at the office anymore doesn’t mean you don’t need to build a high-quality relationship with each of your individual teammates.
Whether or not you’re one of the 72% of managers who agree 1-on-1 meetings are one of the most important things you can do to manage your team, one thing is clear:
You’ve got to build a relationship with every member of your team.
Of course, 1-on-1 Zoom meetings are a great way to do this. But you can also use feedback apps to give feedback to your employees or in truly remarkable situations, consider sending a tangible reward.
The closer you can stay to each member of your team, the more likely you’ll be able to spot potential issues before they spiral out of control and the more supported your team will feel—allowing them to deliver their best work.
5. Establish Clear Rules, Tools, and Protocols
When it comes to digital tools, everyone has their favorites. Some people love Zoom—others hate it. Some people prefer email, while others would rather make a quick phone call.
In order to run your team and company efficiently when working remotely, it’s important to set certain rules, protocols, and boundaries for communication.
Project details can quickly become lost if one person sends details via email, which then get copied and pasted into Slack and sent to the rest of the team.
Likewise, team members working remotely can get frustrated easily if people don’t respect their home life—calling in the middle of the night because a less-than-considerate coworker is in a different time zone.
To get started, call a group meeting and ask your team to come prepared with suggestions, concerns, and solutions for clearer communication and task management. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what your team comes up with.
From there, be decisive (if you’re the manager) and select a few tools and protocols to test moving forward. Don’t be afraid to adjust again when something’s just not working. If people say they want to use Slack, but keep reverting back to email, bring it up and work it out together.
Be Patient, These Things Take Time
If you suddenly find yourself thrown into the world of remote work, here’s our final word of advice on communication:
Everyone on your team—your boss, your coworkers, or your employees—are all figuring out what working remotely means to them.
Some will pick it up more quickly.
Others will struggle.
Your job is to be patient and understanding while moving forward with the remote work communication tips we’ve outlined above to help improve workplace communication as much as possible.