In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, many companies are asking — or mandating — that employees work from home for a while. As a result, some people are working remotely for the first time.
One of the biggest challenges for new remote workers is communication. Coordinating with your colleagues when you’re working from home is obviously a whole different experience than collaborating on site. You may be forced to work with new technology, or use familiar tech in unfamiliar ways. If you’re used to hashing out project plans and issues in person, it can be quite difficult to get used to doing it when you’re not in the same room.
The first step to making this work is to understand that things aren’t going to be perfect. You’ll have to get used to your (temporary) new normal before you’ll be able to work as efficiently as you’re used to. The next step: anticipate the issues so that you can prevent them turning into larger problems. These communication tips can help.
Working Remotely for the First Time? Here Are 7 Communication tips
1. Focus on lowering the stress
Stress and anxiety do not aid the communication process in any way. In fact, they dramatically inhibit it. The research is clear — stress has a profoundly negative effect on learning and memory. It’s difficult to focus and communicate effectively when you’re stressed, even on a short-term basis. So, it’s wise to focus on finding ways to lower the stress around remote work collaboration. Ultimately, doing so aids communication in a major way and saves time further down the road.
One great way to do this is to add some notes to your requests, such as “no rush on this” or “take your time here.” Don’t forget to say please and thank you either. These small niceties go further than you may think.
Also, focus on caring for yourself and lowering your own stress levels around communicating with your colleagues during this time. If you start to feel overwhelmed, step away for a little while. Any efforts you make to lower your own stress levels will serve you, and others, well.
2. Take your time with new tech
Patience is a virtue when it comes to remote work communication, especially at first. Again, one thing that’s helpful to keep in mind is that it might take a while to learn to use video conferencing software or other tools effectively.
If you’re using technology that you’ve never used before, anticipate that it will take some time to learn. Keep in mind that once everyone has gotten some experience, things won’t be as time-consuming. Be patient with the process of learning the ropes and anticipate some delays at first. That way they won’t take you by surprise. It takes some time and practice to get comfortable using tools you’ve never used before. Employ patience to ease the process as much as possible.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do
Be as reliable and consist as you can. Try to do what you say you’re going to do. Part of the equation here involves not overcommitting. Don’t say that you’ll have something finished by the end of the day if you’re not sure you can make that happen, for example. And, remember to write down to-dos. If you say you’re going to call a client and then follow up with your boss, record those details to be sure you attend to them.
With everything that’s going on, it pays to take a little extra time and care with these tasks. Normally, perhaps you’d be able to remember to make changes to a document, for example. But, under the present circumstances, it might serve you well to write down those instructions instead.
4. Allow time for a response
One of the greatest benefits of remote work is that people can plug in from their own space and in their own time. However, that’s also what causes so many challenges when it comes to communication, especially when folks are in a big rush. Sometimes, the trick is to slow down when you want to go faster. And now is one of those times.
So, be sure to allow plenty of time for a response from the people you’re communicating with right now. Under normal circumstances, it’s generally reasonable to anticipate a response within about 24 hours when posing a question to a colleague. Now, you may have to be more flexible.
Don’t be in too much of a rush. It won’t make anything happen any faster. In fact, it just gets in the way. So, take a deep breath and a step back. Allowing plenty of time for folks to communicate when they can will help everyone.
5. Check your connectivity, camera and microphone before meetings
You’ll want to make sure that you’re coming through loud and clear when working remotely. So, adjust your camera and your microphone settings when preparing for a meeting or call, or even just for a day of work.
You might run a test to make sure you’re coming across with no static. Email or text a colleague, friend or family member and ask if they can receive the call to help you check your equipment when you’re just getting started. Once you’ve been at it for a few days, you can probably just double-check that everything is turned on. At first though, it pays to invest just a little more time.
Also, ensure that you have a strong enough internet connection to support what you’re asking your technology to do. Video conferencing, for example, can use a lot of bandwidth. You might prefer plugging in with an Ethernet cable for a hard connection if possible. Nothing challenges communication more than a lagging video or voice call.
6. Avoid miscommunications as much as possible
Miscommunications tend to happen in a professional context even under normal circumstances. Whether working in a traditional setting or remotely, they’re just a part of life. But, some additional communication challenges do arise when people attempt to work together from different locations. So, it makes sense to be extra careful about how you express yourself when you’re working from a different place than your teammates.
Be sure to choose your words carefully when communicating particularly vital pieces of information. And, consider calling or scheduling a video chat when you need to be clear, instead of just sending an email.
Don’t overdo it, though. Remember that flexibility is key when it comes to remote work communication. You don’t want to put too many specific demands on others’ time if it’s unnecessary. Just remind yourself to slow down and communicate clearly, especially where especially crucial pieces of information are concerned.
7. Try to make a little time for fun
Even under normal circumstances, working from home can be isolating. Given what’s happening globally around the coronavirus crisis, communications are even more strained. We can learn something from folks who’ve had experience with working remotely — especially those who’ve worked remotely under challenging circumstances.
Kate Walton, owner and CEO of Steyer Content, headquartered in Seattle, runs a company of remote workers. She tells NPR that after the coronavirus outbreak, Walton canceled the company’s monthly lunches and the company’s use of online communication tools rose. But, folks didn’t just talk about work. They tried to have a little fun, too.
Walton used Slack to do things like hold trivia contests and celebrate birthdays. It might seem like posting pictures of pets is a waste of time. But, when remote workers have a little fun together and connect about topics other than work, everyone wins. It deepens bonds and lowers stress. Ultimately, this strengthens communication across the board. The company even started holding virtual happy hours where folks can opt to join in on a video conference call with their favorite drink after the workday is over.
“It was quite simply a way for us to shoot the breeze, you know, from a safe distance, to kind of have a little bit of that water-cooler effect that even after a few days we were started to miss,” Walton told NPR.
Try to make a little time for lighter non-work-related conversation along the way. Finding simple ways to brighten each other’s day, or boost your own mood, will serve you well right now. So, don’t forget to have some fun with your colleagues too when working remotely. It’ll only aid communication and make you better able to do your job.
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