George Bernard Shaw offered some deep insight into communication when he said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Drop the mic (as the young folk like to say).
Communication is a vital life skill. Yet so many people seem incapable of mastering it. If we spend a few moments thinking about it, I am confident we can each recall at least one example when an attempt to communicate with another person has failed miserably. You may think you have conveyed the message clearly, but the other person has received something quite different than intended.
Sometimes the misfire results in hilarity. The misunderstanding is identified, everyone has a good laugh, and then you go about the business of trying again. If you are not so lucky, hurt feelings not easily resolved can occur. Maybe the other person does not even tell you they are upset by your words, so you go about life assuming the intended message was received loud and clear. The other person is silently stewing about it, building up resentment. In the workplace, that can lead to an inability to collaborate effectively as a team and lost productivity.
Communicating Effectively with a Remote Team
Communication already was difficult enough without adding remote working to the equation. Thanks to a global pandemic, remote work is becoming the norm rather than the exception. More companies are embracing the notion of a permanent shift toward permitting employees to work from home according to data from a June 2020 PwC report.
That is leaving many businesses wondering how to improve communication with a remote workforce if they struggled with it when their employees were all on-site. Here are some suggestions and practical tips for developing effective remote communication.
Tip #1: Pucker up, buttercup
When I was in Journalism school, one of the first rules of writing I learned was the K.I.S.S. method. If you are panicking, relax. It does not require you to literally pucker up. K.I.S.S. is short for a basic piece of communication advice: Keep It Simple Stupid.
Now, this does not imply that people are too dumb to understand complex thoughts. It is a nod to the way most people choose to communicate with one another. Imagine your coworker sends you a message about a joint project that starts out like this: “In this brief missive, I will explore the rationale for pursuing an economizing of our overheads.” You would probably roll your eyes hard enough to give yourself a concussion. And rightly so. A simple, “I’m working on ways to reduce our costs” would have worked fine. These are what I like to call $25 words. You might think they make you sound all fancy and smart, but they open the door for miscommunication. If you want to reduce the chances of a communication failure, speak (or type) simply.
Tip #2: Pick a tool, any tool
The average worker spends 2.6 hours each day reading and responding to email. That does not even account for the phone calls, Zoom conferences, and check-ins on Microsoft Teams. With so many new channels of communication available these days, it is easy to get so caught up with checking in that you get nothing else accomplished. Do not go down the rabbit hole of communication when working remotely. Every team needs clear guidelines on preferred methods for relaying information to their coworkers, clients, and management. Chat channels like Slack work great for teams to keep in touch while collaborating on projects or for daily updates on progress. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet are great options for weekly staff meetings.
Whatever options you choose, make sure you are not expecting workers to jump from one to the other all day long. Choose specific times – and communication tools – for touching base and reserve the rest of your working hours for attending to work-related tasks.
Tip #3: Tone it down
With written communication methods – email, chat, text – it is important to follow formatting rules. One of the biggest challenges with this kind of communication is the difficulty in denoting another person’s tone. You may think your words are pleasant and polite, but the person on the other end may interpret them quite differently. There are some things you can do to help lessen confusion.
Tip #4: Watch it, buddy
Everybody seems all about video conferencing these days. Videoconferencing services reported upticks in usage since the global pandemic hit earlier this year. Using these platforms to keep in touch with coworkers and clients is an advantage for remote workers. The convenience is not without drawbacks. When we are on video, there is any number of things that can – and usually do – go wrong. From pets and children wandering into the background to embarrassing gaffes when the mic is still live, there is hardly a shortage of examples of videoconferencing gone wrong.
Some of these mishaps are out of our control. Others are not. For example, body language. It speaks volumes about how we are feeling whether we mean to convey those feelings or not. Sitting up straight, holding eye contact, and minimizing hand gestures is a great way to keep your body from betraying your private thoughts and feelings. Yes, meetings can be boring. You probably have 20 other things to do. Your job at that moment is to be invested in the conversation. Act accordingly.
Tip #5: Break down (on the communication highway)
Do not wait until there is a complete breakdown of communication to address any issues. Remote work is challenging, especially for those who are used to an office dynamic. If you find colleagues are not responding in a timely fashion and it is impacting your workflow, take steps to address the breakdown before a complete communication failure occurs. When emails and texts are ignored, pick up the phone and call. Electronic communication is not foolproof. Emails end up in spam and texts sometimes do not get delivered. It can be tempting to rely on the convenience of all these handy new electronic tools, but sometimes, a good old-fashioned phone call is best. As a last resort, reach out to management to help resolve communication failures.
The Bottom Line on Remote Communication
Communicating remotely is a challenge, but it should never be an excuse for failure. We live in an era of amazing possibilities, with technological advancements and tools designed to facilitate better communication readily at our disposal. It may take some trial and error to find the right fit but committing to a remote communication plan is worth the effort.
Need help improving your remote workforce’s communication plan? Reach out to The Write Reflection to schedule your no-obligation consultation with one of our team members today.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.