An animated image of a woman at a desk working at a laptop. Above her head, three people on screens with speech bubbles float, symbolising communication skills.
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How to improve your communication skills when working remotely

19 Aug 2021

Communication skills have become more important than ever, but the way we communicate at work has changed.

The last 18 months have plunged much of the world’s office workforce into a remote setting. Almost overnight, many employees and businesses had to adjust to fully remote communication.

Having done it for so many months now, many people might feel like they don’t need to learn or enhance their communication skills any further, that they’ve gotten used to the remote setting and they’re good to go.

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However, it’s imperative to always try and improve your skills, particularly your soft skills, and adapting to new forms of communication during a pandemic is very different to gradually building up the skills required to communicate effectively.

Acknowledge the difference

The first mistake many people make when they adapt to working remotely is trying to replicate exactly how things were done in the office, and this goes for communication as well.

Communicating with your team remotely will not be the same as talking to them in the office, and even if your virtual meetings feel similar to boardroom meetings, they’re not and that needs to be recognised.

This might include changing how and when meetings are run. Just because you had an hour-long meeting every Monday at 10am when you were in the office, it doesn’t mean you have to replicate this in a virtual meeting. Remote working could mean there is a better time for that meeting, or that it could be split, or even that it could be run on a live document.

Learn people’s preferences

There are many ways of communicating remotely, be it over the phone, on a virtual meeting, via email or through instant messages on Microsoft Teams or Slack.

While some workplaces might have policies on which method to use and when, there may also be some grey areas where how each team communicates with each other is left up to them.

With this in mind, it’s important to learn which communication methods work best for you and other members of your team. That might mean different methods are better suited to certain types of communication, whether they’re team updates, project check-ins or explanations.

Take extra care with tone

When improving your communication in a face-to-face setting, there will be plenty of advice around how you use body language, facial expressions and tone of voice to convey meaning.

However, a lot of that falls by the wayside when it comes to written communication and, even in video calls, it can be hard to discern these things.

When working remotely and communicating primarily via written methods, it’s important to read over what you said and consider the tone that might come across. Humour or sarcasm don’t always translate well in writing and could be taken the wrong way.

Improve your writing skills

Where listening and speaking clearly are the key components of improved face-to-face communication, clear and concise writing are the vital elements of communicating remotely.

Many people are using live documents in place of long, drawn-out meetings in the new world of work, particularly to support hybrid and asynchronous work.

The benefit of written communication means you have that extra time to think about what you want to say, so use it effectively. Make sure you’re getting your point across with enough context that explains the point well without adding too much unnecessary information.

When in doubt, pick up the phone

Not all communication should be done by email or instant messaging. When you feel like the point is getting away from you, or you feel something isn’t completely clear, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.

If you feel like it’s something that could have once been hashed out in person, that’s a sign that a quick phone call or a 10-minute video chat will clear the matter up – and avoid 20 minutes of back-and-forth emails that may only confuse things further.

You can still follow up with an email so that everyone’s on the same page, but not all remote communication has to be done in writing.

Don’t forget to chat

One thing that is often taken for granted when working in an office is the banter and general chit-chat that can occur organically.

However, that is not a reason to bring all staff back to the office, and nor is it a so-called office perk that should have to be sacrificed in the name of remote working.

Consider the interactions you used to have, such as saying good morning and goodbye, chatting about pets or talking about the latest books or shows you’re watching. This can all be easily replicated in the form of messaging apps, virtual ‘watercooler’ channels or during free time at the end of meetings.

These social interactions play an important role in maintaining our communication skills and they ensure remote workers are talking about things that aren’t just about work.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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