“We take communication for granted because we do it so frequently, but it’s actually a complex process.” — Joseph Sommerville
When is the last time you fully experienced the smiles, the gestures, the vibe of an in-person connection at work?
For some of us, given the current push to work from home in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may only have been a few days. How are you feeling? You may already be struggling communicating only virtually and that is okay! Hopefully I can offer some help 🙂
For me, it has been the better part of four years. In my remote work journey, I have had to rely on remote communication skills to make up the gap in understanding that comes with a computer screen in the way of a message.
Technology has allowed us to communicate faster, more often, and to a wider group than ever before. With more access, we also need more attention on how to effectively communicate in a digital world.
Below are the “three T’s” I have found most useful in ensuring effective remote communication:
1. Tools 🛠
· Use tools for a specific goal: The tools you use are only as good as how you implement them into your company culture. Write down all the major ways your company communicates, what the goal of that communication is, and then choose a tool to suit your needs. An example below:
· Asynchronous versus Synchronous best practices: It is important to consider the timing of a conversation and determine which of your business conversations can take place asynchronously and which ones will benefit from a real time interaction. Asynchronous communication is great for important but not urgent messaging and sharing information that requires deeper thought. Whereas, synchronous communication is beneficial to cultivate rapport, reduce misunderstandings, and discuss more complex issues. It is important for remote companies to have tools that will help with both types of communication along with clear rules of engagement on how and when to use each tool.
· Meet your team where they are at: Even with fun and flashy tools at your service, it is important to take into account the comfort level of your employees. When it comes to certain technologies keep the learning curve top of mind. Starting with more familiar tools (Google Docs, Email, Phone Calls) can get the job done while you are implementing a roll out for more advanced tools.
2. Team 👥
· Get to know your “remote” communication style: How you interact with others face-to-face may not feel natural or comfortable for you remotely. As you transition to virtual communication it is worth getting to know your remote communication style.
If you heavily rely on facial expressions and hand gestures when communicating how can you share those emotions and tone over text or video calls? How do you use emojis to relay messages (and how to you ensure mutual understanding)? Do you need a “warm-up” when getting text messages or do you prefer the sender to dive right into the crux of the matter? Do you prefer asynchronous or synchronous communication, and why?
Getting to know your own answers will help you fully show up in your remote communication.
· Have a People Kickoff: Once you have more insight into how you communicate online, it is important to remember the other person or people involved in your communication. After all, it takes two to tango! Before you communicate with a new team member, stakeholder, or client online, I recommend holding a “People Kickoff.” This is an initial meeting where you discuss your preferences and needs in communicating online. You can use the above questions to create a social contract of how you will interact virtually.
· Don’t forget the person behind the message! Never forget at the other end of a “send” button is a real life human, with stress, distractions, emotions, and sometimes misunderstandings. Spend time investing personally in each other, talk about topics outside of work, and have some fun! While you can do your best to communicate clearly sometimes conversations get difficult. I love the idea of the “Most Respectful Interpretation” assuming positive intent can help you overcome those awkward, negative communication experiences and move forward to shared understanding.
3. Trust 🤝
· Set clear expectations and follow through: Setting expectations for your team can help minimize friction in communication and can build trust through positive interactions. Make sure to have guidelines around availability, expected turn-around time to acknowledge and respond to certain messages, and behavioral norms around water-cooler chats, asking for help, and disconnecting. As people get comfortable with virtual communication, don’t be afraid to follow up or ask questions if your expectations are not being met.
· No news is no longer good news: The old adage of “No news is good news” is no longer true in the world of remote communication. Silence can be alarming to someone wondering if their message was received and is waiting for an answer. Over-communicating can help build trust by acknowledging the receipt of a message and setting proper expectations on next steps. When it comes to project management more frequent updates can help alleviate anxiety on a timeline by sharing important micro-updates, or creating vulnerability based trust, by asking for help when coming up against particular challenges.
Bonus: A note on video calls 👩💻
One of the most frequent topics that comes up when talking about remote communication is the use of video calls. Video calls are great for synchronous communication, building trust, and keeping the personal touch alive. In general, I usually recommend keeping your video on when possible to help provide nonverbal cues that will enhance the success of the conversation. Though with all things, there are exceptions to that rule, be open, experiment, and find what works for you!