9 Tips for Communicating Effectively When Working Remotely
By: Nicole Wood, Ama La Vida
Zooms, texts, calls, emails, IMs… oh my! Given today’s various communication technology options, the challenge with remote work isn’t a lack of getting in touch with one another. It’s using the right method at the right time – no more, no less. If this is your first time operating in a remote environment, it may feel like the rules have totally changed, and you may be confused about how to best interact with your team.
Much goes into creating a thriving remote team. However, that successful communication is foundational. While each team will need to determine the right channels and processes that work for them, there are best practices and lessons learned that I can share after having worked remotely in some capacity for nearly 10 years. Here are 9 key tips for how to communicate effectively when working remotely.
We don’t realize how much we pick up on just based on context clues, body language and overhearing bits and pieces of conversation. With all of that taken away, the burden is on us to keep each other in the loop. This is bilateral and includes downward communication from leaders to their teams and also upward communication from you to your boss. Ensure you have consistent one-on-ones scheduled, and you may even need to up the frequency. BCC your boss on important communications to keep them in the loop on what has transpired. You may want to institute a new form of status update like a daily stand up or a simple email wrap up at the end of the week. Don’t be scared to pick up the phone for a quick call for a question or update – this is the new equivalent of swivelling your chair around.
But don’t micromanage.
“When our environments feel out of control, it’s a natural response to want to control things in our lives,” says ALV Coach Jill. It can be your knee-jerk reaction to want to insert yourself into every detail to ensure work is getting done because you can’t see it with your own eyes like usual. However, Coach Jill adds that “Micromanaging will only create more distance and distrust between teams and employees. We want to use this time to build trust, support, team rapport and open, honest communication.”
Select the appropriate communication channel.
It’s important to utilize the right communication channel or platform for the need. If you send someone a Slack message or IM for something important they may think it is just a casual chat. Similarly, if you text someone instead of emailing or Slacking, they may interpret that as an urgent matter. ALV Coach Kristin says, “Do use appropriate methods of communication based on urgency (slack vs call), and make it clear when requests are urgent. Don’t assume the other person knows details, so be as clear as possible with reiterating important details.” I recommend that you actually get together with your team and agree on and document when you’ll use each communication channel. Here are some things to consider when determining your protocols:
- Urgency – If something is urgent, steer clear or email or other platforms that can easily get bogged down. Instead pick up the phone and call or send a text message. If it is necessary to utilize email, make sure your email subject reads “URGENT” or “FOR IMMEDIATE RESPONSE” so that the receiver knows to prioritize it. If something is less urgent, use a more passive communication method so that you don’t unnecessarily create stress or concern for something not top priority.
- Documentation – The challenge with Slack messages, IMs and even phone calls is that after it is done, there is no record of what was discussed or that record may be hard to find days, weeks or months later. Make sure that you follow-up with an email or another similarly searchable communication method when wanting to get agreements on something that you’d like to be able to reference later or to communicate something you want absolute clarity on.
- Importance – This is a bit different from urgency. It may or may not be something that needs to be communicated right away, but it is something critical to the person or the business, and you want to ensure the message is delivered properly. This might be critical feedback or important updates on strategy. Choose a method like Zoom or email to emphasize the importance of the message versus a more causal channel.
- Likelihood of miscommunication or misinterpretation – We all know that even with all the emojis in the world, it is easy to misconstrue tone in digital communications. If you have to deliver difficult feedback or if you want to have an important personal conversation, make sure you pick up the phone and call or better yet video to have that conversation.
ALV Brand and Strategy Specialist Randalyn summarizes these protocols nicely when she says, “Think of it as how you would call a meeting versus water cooler conversations. For us, Slack is a water cooler chat and maybe little things to think about or quick communication during the work day. Email is anything you want documented or something you may call a meeting for. Text means I need an answer ASAP, but also no one is dying. Calling means the situation is urgent, and I need your input.”
I know, I know. Brushing your hair and making yourself quasi-presentable can feel like unnecessary work. But videos can really do a tremendous job of building personal connections. ALV Coach Sara says, “Video is a great way to truly feel connected versus phone or email. Right now with everyone remote this is more top of mind, though this becomes even more important when you have several employees in a physical setting and a few others joining remotely.” Using video allows you to still pick up on non-verbal cues and see each other’s faces which is invaluable in building relationships and having meaningful conversations.
Adapt your meeting facilitation style.
If you’re used to leading meetings in person, the switch to remote can be a bit of a shock. It’s more difficult to feel the energy of the group and challenging to get a sense of people’s reactions since you’re not able to see everyone all at once. You will need to learn some new facilitation skills to engage the group and ensure everyone has a voice. ALV Coach Sara says, “How you communicate in meetings may need to shift to ensure you get more participation. You’ll need more pausing to allow space for conversation, and you have to directly ask others for feedback. Embrace all the different modes for feedback in a virtual meeting including chat, raising hand feature and screen share.”
Find ways to continue to share knowledge.
You might be used to saying, “Hey look at this” or calling together impromptu meetings to discuss lessons learned. This also changes when you move to a remote environment, and yet you still want to be intentional about how the team learns from one another and how knowledge gets shared and documented. ALV Coach Kristin says, “Over-documenting and creating clear guidelines around how to label andwhere to house documentation is critical. Create transparency and frequent communication around any changes in the knowledge sharing processes.” This might be as simple as asking someone to share a great finding with the rest of the team on Slack or starting a new folder to house important analyses or resources. Whatever this looks like, it will simply take more intentional effort to ensure the knowledge sharing still happens.
Manage the temptation to always be on.
Remote work naturally blurs the lines between work and life. It’s up to you to create boundaries that work for you and your lifestyle. ALV Coach Jill says, “It’s important to set boundaries around work. Since our personal and work spaces are basically one now, we still have to make sure we’re prioritizing our down time so we can recover and give our brains a break. Set boundaries around when you want to begin your work day, boundaries around when you want to take breaks throughout the day (Absolutely necessary! 10 min. minimum.) and boundaries around when you want to end your work day. I’d also take it a step further and create boundaries around when you step away from your phone completely at the end of the day. This is vital for sleep, energy and mental health!”
Have fun with it.
Virtual communications and meetings can feel so serious and can tend to go right to business. Don’t forget to have fun and maintain your normal culture and sense of humor. Schedule a virtual happy hour, have fun with Zoom backgrounds, share photos of your pets or your workspace with co-workers or send each other funny gifs. Don’t take remote work too seriously!
Be patient with one another and assume positive intent.
Some of us will adjust to remote work and communications protocols faster and more easily than others. That’s okay! Especially in the current climate, we are all under a tremendous amount of stress. Be patient with yourself and with others. If someone is short with you or utilizes an inappropriate communication channel, assume that they have positive intent and are just in the process of adjusting. “Stay patient while teams transition to remote environments. Just because you might have a job, there is still a significant amount of stress, anxiety and fear that people are dealing with everyday, which could impact work. This is uncharted territory for everyone now so transparency, communication and patience are key,” ALV Coach Jill adds.
There is a lot to think about and to put into practice as it relates to remote communication. It’s important that these procedures get established as a team and that everyone is made aware of them. Over time it will start to feel natural, I promise! Give yourself grace as you work through the initial hiccups, and don’t forget to have fun with your team as you try your best to enjoy this time working in sweatpants.