Content consultant Jessica Thiefels has been working remotely for more than four years. Here, she shares some of the things she’s learned about communication along the way.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Gallup, an estimated 62pc of American employees are now remote workers. Of those that have taken to remote work amid the pandemic, three in five want to continue working from their homes even after the crisis.
Not only is remote work essential right now, it also benefits employees in numerous ways. Remote workers don’t have to deal with the hassle of a tedious commute or a nine-to-five schedule. They can flex their hours and tackle work from any location, as long as they meet deadlines.
In fact, according to a 2019 report from Harvard Business Review, with access to more autonomy and flexibility in their routines, remote workers tend to be 4.4pc more productive than if they were office-bound. This can add as much $1.3bn in value to the US economy.
If you’re one of the many employees who wants to continue working from home, you have to make sure your communication skills are fine-tuned. This is especially true if you’re a manager or want to be promoted to a leadership position.
Harvard Business Review explains the importance of communication, based on a study of 1,153 work-from-home professionals: “Respondents emphasised the importance of stellar communication with their manager and their co-located colleagues.
“The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of overcommunicating, all while modeling the same behaviours for others on the team.”
If you’re struggling to stay connected with your team during Covid-19, use this time to spruce up your digital communication skills. Prove you can be successful when working from home while staying connected to your team, just like you would in the office.
1. Prioritise informal check-ins
At an office, the casual interactions between colleagues in the hallway or on lunch break can help you develop strong relationships and be part of a positive culture. Just because these water-cooler moments can’t happen face-to-face right now does not mean they should be overlooked.
It’s important to touch base with your co-workers and managers at least once a week to maintain a sense of camaraderie and continue to get to know one another professionally and personally.
As Peter Coppinger, CEO of Teamwork, says: “Spaces need to be created where employees can continue to express themselves and bond about common interests on a human level outside of the work hustle.”
2. Ensure messages are both direct and concise
Digital communication can, and should, be as simple as it is in person. Communication experts at Hubgets, for example, say: “No matter its form or medium, in order to get through, communication must be kept simple.”
Hubgets further advises that writing a 1,000-word email about your next meeting can have the unwanted effects of both confusing and frustrating people, not to mention defying the point of having a meeting in the first place.
This is when the old adage ‘less is more’ becomes critical to remember. This is likely most often a problem when sending emails so, before you hit send on your next message, keep these tips in mind:
- Use short paragraphs
- State your need or question right away
- Bold and highlight deadlines so they don’t get lost
- Attach images to the email instead of embedding them in the text
3. Be cognisant of your tone
Since emails, chats and text messages lack the verbal cues of body language and facial expressions, word choice matters more than ever.
Alex Shevchenko, co-founder of Grammarly, says: “Whether I’m providing constructive feedback, working through a difficult decision or showing appreciation for a job well done, I look at my emails and think: ‘Does this say what I need it to in the way I want someone to take it?’.”
In an effort to be clear and succinct, don’t lose sight of how your words might be interpreted by co-workers. Strive for a balance of considerate and respectful yet forthright and professional in your tone, so people don’t feel offended but still understand the importance of your directive.
4. Choose your communication platform wisely
There are so many ways to connect with your team or your boss. Knowing which platform to use is key to getting your message across without overcommunicating or getting your message lost in the noise.
How do you choose? Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Phone or video is best for difficult conversations and extensive brainstorming or collaboration sessions
- Email is best suited to long-form messages, such as explaining how a process works or outlining a new project
- Chat is ideal for messages when you want a quick and easy response
Jessica Thiefels is the founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She has been working remotely for more than four years.