What is more important when working remotely or virtually: written, verbal, or visual communication? The answer might depend on the kind of work you do or your personal preferences, but today’s remote workers realize one of the biggest challenges for effective communication is the lack of physical cues.
Ever since email has been around, you’ve likely wondered at one time or another what someone meant in an email. Are they upset? If not, why did their email seem so terse? Compound the lack of cues in today’s remote work environment, and you need a way to make implicit communications explicit to function effectively as a team.
It’s critical to set clear, comprehensive, and adaptive rules for how best to communicate with remote co-workers. To succeed as a team, you really need to leverage effective remote work communications.
Here are a few tips to help you create an explicit communication environment that won’t leave team members guessing.
Start with the right mix
Technology is the foundation of remote work communications, and you have plenty of options to connect and collaborate. Instant messaging and chat apps allow your team members to quickly communicate when needed. You also need a visual or virtual face-to-face communication option. Many platforms available let you share your computer screen to help viewers understand better through visual representations.
Finally, it helps to have a social network where people can virtually meet “by the water cooler.” Encourage unstructured meetings and sharing non-critical or non-business information in the “water cooler” network. If your own community is an important part of your work culture, cultivate it.
Create a clear remote communication plan
How will you remotely “peek your head out of your office” to announce an important message or idea? You may have remote workers in different time zones or working different schedules. Your team might be so focused on their work that they don’t pay attention to the social “water cooler” or a company chat channel.
Planning ahead helps you tackle these scenarios easily. You can find cloud-based planning tools that let you create specific plans for covering functions, audiences, messages, and more. Part of planning involves laying out communications on a calendar so you’re evenly spacing out messages and not overwhelming your team. These tools also allow collaboration with your team so everyone has a voice in structuring how, when, where, and why communication happens.
Try new communication tools
Email might be your go-to tool, but there are many digital platforms and tools that help you reach your team members in a style they prefer. In a recent survey by Workplaceless, 59% of respondents felt written communication was the best, 23% wanted visual communication, and 11% selected verbal. If you can nail down communication and collaboration virtually, your team will function better.
To determine how team members prefer to communicate or receive and share information, consider using surveys to gather feedback. A quick, weekly survey can help you assess how well you’re meeting individual and team communication needs. Also consider soliciting suggestions on ways to improve and other channels or tools to try.
Track employee engagement
With everyone spread out, it’s hard to see any tangible effects of your team’s communications on their work. You may think communication is flowing well, only to be surprised when things collapse. Some issues that were easier to address in the office can easily balloon out of control in the virtual workplace; again, it’s important to make the implicit explicit.
In remote workplaces, tracking employee engagement through surveys takes on a new level of importance. Make sure you have well-defined metrics you need to track such as comprehension, satisfaction, productivity, etc. Make time in the workday for your team to answer and submit these surveys. Another effective engagement practice is to schedule one-on-ones with each individual on your team. This gives them an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions with a certain amount of anonymity from the rest of the team.
Watch your “tone”
Usually, facial expressions and body language are essential elements of communication. When you’re no longer meeting in person, it’s important for all to realize that your typed words carry more weight. Part of a good internal communication plan is helping your team know how to help everyone feel respected and heard. This is a balancing act between a certain amount of warmth in your tone and candid, transparent messaging.
Certain on-line grammar checker platforms have a tone checker that reviews your digital messaging and suggests ways to blend more positive and encouraging. Another suggestion is always asking for feedback and questions your team may have. Make sure you have an “open door” policy in your online communications so everyone is on the same page.
Be mindful of too many video calls
A year into the work-from-home surge thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are tired of “in-person” video meetings. Carefully consider whether a video call is necessary or if you can communicate your message to your team without interrupting their workflow. With a variety of channels to communicate through, you can find better ways to communicate that aren’t so intrusive.
Many teams use the time blocking method to protect their productivity and get work done. As a team, decide what blocks of time they will dedicate to work, meetings, even personal responsibilities at home. Every team member knows when others are unavailable thanks to blocked off time on their calendars.
The key to making the implicit explicit in your remote team’s communication strategy is opening the lines of communication and getting feedback. Two-way communication is critical when team members work from home and are isolated from one another. Set up avenues for feedback and make it easy for employees to get in touch. Also, make sure you respond just as quickly. Many chat or collaboration apps or platforms offer dedicated, private channels that allow a team member to reach out when they need help, have questions, or have a great idea.
Creating a culture of feedback is invaluable, and it’s especially critical in finding out what’s working and what’s not working with your remote work setup. Honest and realistic responses — both from you and your colleagues — will keep your communication, productivity, and culture strong.