WITH SOCIAL DISTANCING guidelines in order, companies throughout the country have been forced to implement work from home policies so businesses can continue running while ensuring the safety and health of their workers during the coronavirus outbreak. However, with only 1 in 3 employees having worked remotely prior to this unexpected shift, as reported by the 2020 State of Humanity at Work study by WorkHuman.com, a software company that creates cloud-based tools to help manage employees, adjusting to this new situation will require extra care to ensure communication is not broken.
For those who rely on in-person interactions to collaborate on projects and get their job done, learning how to keep your team engaged and continue working effectively together when you’re apart is the biggest challenge workers face right now.
“Communication is really the foundation of good remote work,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, a career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs, a job listings site. “It helps you stay on the same page as your teammates and supervisors, and with the added pressure of the unique situation we find ourselves in, communication will help keep teams productive and cohesive.”
While adopting to the new and sudden work from home setting may feel overwhelming at first, there are several strategies you can implement to make the transition as seamless as possible. Here are 10 expert-backed tips on how to maintain effective communication skills from remote locations so business can continue as usual:
- Be proactive in communicating with your team.
- Schedule daily huddles.
- Set expectations from the start.
- Ask for communication preferences.
- Avoid the temptation to micromanage.
- Adopt new communication tools.
- Watch your tone.
- Prioritize video calls.
- Give more lead time on tasks.
- Keep the office culture alive, even from home.
Be Proactive in Communicating With Your Team
In the absence of seeing your team and colleagues on a daily basis, it’s easy to take your normal communication levels for granted. When you work from home, you must be proactive in keeping lines of communication open so no one feels isolated or left in the dark.
“To compensate, leaders must communicate early and often, leading with transparency to encourage accountability and engagement,” says Courtney Underwood, CEO and human resources alignment strategist at Kassar Consulting, a human resources consulting firm. “Seemingly small gestures, like checking in with team members first thing in the morning, speak volumes,” she adds.
Schedule Daily Huddles
Scheduling regular daily calls with your team, such as first thing in the morning, allows you to sync up on priorities for the day and resolve any items needing urgent attention, says Rebecca Cafiero, a business and branding strategist and host of the Becoming You podcast. “Establishing consistency creates certainty, and in uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to have processes in place to keep everyone focused and on the same page,” she says.
Such daily meetings are also a good time to strengthen connections with your employees and co-workers, which is essential to team building, says Jill Pioter, director of communication at Psychological Associates, an employee retention firm. “Make sure you’re taking time at the beginning of meetings to check in on people’s personal lives. When a team feels connected, they’ll be better collaborators,” she adds.
Set Expectations From the Start
Don’t assume your team will all be on the same page in terms of work hours or when you should be available for check-ins and conference calls. It’s important to outline your expectations from the get-go to reduce frustration and ensure a smooth transition to the new work from home setting. However, Cafiero says you should encourage employees to work around their most productive hours instead of requiring specific start and end times.
“Encourage employees to make their hours work for them, as long as they are communicating it clearly,” Cafiero says. “Some may want to get up and work a few hours before kids are awake, while others may be more productive in the evening. As long as there are check-in times when all hands are on deck, focus on the progress and not on the time period it’s happening in,” she says.
Ask for Communication Preferences
Your manager may prefer to communicate via email, while one colleague likes collaborating over instant messaging and another does best with occasional video calls. “Figure out who likes what, and then try to communicate in the way that meets their needs,” Reynolds says.
Once you get going, you may realize there are more streamlined approaches to tackling certain projects, so be open to new options. As Cafiero points out, “if you’re working on a complex or creative project that requires accessing multiple documents and discussion, meeting on Zoom or Google Hangout is infinitely faster than sending emails back and forth.”
Avoid the Temptation to Micromanage
You may feel compelled to check in with your team about their progress on certain tasks multiple times throughout the day, but this can be distracting and also sends the wrong message that you don’t trust them to get their work done. “Instead, chuck out daily deliverables,” says Chronda Higgins, owner and principal consultant at Forever Changed, a consulting agency. “This will allow for increased engagement because you’re showing that you trust your employees to manage their time.”
Adopt New Communication Tools
Email isn’t your only option to collaborate with team members when working remotely. In fact, there are many digital platforms and tools that can ease the transition to a remote work setting and create an environment that allows for better collaboration.
For instance, Slack is a collaboration hub where workers can chat directly, share files and documents, host voice or video calls and even share their screens with each other, which makes working on projects together easier from afar. There are also project management tools like Trello, Asana and Basecamp that allow you to clearly break down large projects to smaller tasks and monitor progress where workers can ask questions or comment on tasks, add assignments and set up alerts or reminders.
“Spend the time up front to ensure that your staff is on the same page and understands any technology you’re using. It only works well if everyone is using it correctly and feels empowered by it, not afraid of it,” Cafiero says.
Watch Your Tone
Facial expressions and body language play an essential role in your communication. When you no longer have the ability to meet in person, it’s important to realize that your typed words carry more weight. “You want people to feel respected and heard and your tone of voice could be hard to read in an email, so make sure you’re balancing a certain amount of warmth with clear, candid messaging,” Pioter says.
If you aren’t sure how your emails or messages are coming across, there are sites that can help assess your tone and provide suggested edits. For example, Pioter suggests checking Grammarly.com, an online grammar-checker site, which recently released a tone checker that will review your digital messages and suggest edits to be more positive and encouraging.
Prioritize Video Calls
When you lose the ability to meet with your team in person, video calls are the next best thing, providing opportunities to connect face-to-face, virtually. “If you’re used to seeing people on a daily basis, remote work can make you feel isolated,” says Peter Coppinger, CEO and productivity expert at Teamwork, a work management platform. He suggests staying in contact with colleagues throughout the working day by using video chat.
Just make sure that your meeting invites clearly include video chat so your team isn’t caught off guard.
Give More Lead Time on Tasks
Considering employees have been required to adopt new work habits overnight while simultaneously trying to care for and homeschool their kids, it’s important to be understanding and give everyone some grace.
“Productivity can take a dip in work from home environments due to distractions and other obligations like child care,” says Chris Chan, founder and CEO of 3C Strategies LLC, an event management, design and consulting firm. “Make sure you give extra time for projects and assignments to be completed so expectations are reasonable in these difficult times.”
Keep the Office Culture Alive, Even From Home
The informal conversations and interactions that happen in an office are essential to building company culture and strengthen camaraderie within a team, says Olivier Pailhes, CEO and co-founder of Aircall, a telecommuting services company. Even though it seems workplace culture has been put on pause for the time being, creating digital opportunities to connect casually can help maintain team rapport.
“Embedding informal time within the workday via a virtual lunch or happy hour can make employees feel more connected to their co-workers, and in turn, more inclined to work as a unit,” Pailhes says.
Other ideas include scheduling coffee dates and virtual team-building events like online cooking or beer-making classes.