It’s been a year since offices closed and entire workforces began working remotely. In that time, we’ve published a number of articles on how to improve your virtual presentations or sales, but it’s just as important to have strong communication within a team.
Particularly while working in different locations, having effective channels of communication helps teams to keep going and stay productive. Without the ability to talk face-to-face or email clearly, messages will get lost or misinterpreted, which leads to work being wrong, slow or simply not done at all. To help overcome the challenges of communication when you can’t just lean over the desk and talk to each other, we’ve come up with our top tips for great remote communication within an organisation.
1. Consider which method of communication is best
We’ve all been in meetings which could have just been an email. Similarly, we’ve all been forced to read long, confusing email chains which definitely should have been discussed in a meeting. Knowing which method of communication to use is a simple, but important, decision.
Sometimes you need an immediate response, so a call or video call is best; other times you want to send large attachments, so an email would probably be most convenient; and for a quick question, a message on Slack or Teams (or whichever instant messenger your team uses) could be easier than a formal call or email.
2. Respect your colleagues’ time
In a physical office, it’s much easier to see whether someone is focused on a task or in the mood for a chat. When working remotely and apart from one another, you can’t check on them before interrupting them, so you shouldn’t assume your colleagues will always be free.
It’s good manners to send them a quick message asking whether they’re free before calling out of the blue. They might respond straight away, or they might take the time to finish off what they’re doing before talking. It’s better than calling unexpectedly and expecting them to drop whatever they’re doing. Of course, some things are urgent and need dealing with straight away - but you should try to limit how often you do that. Additionally, if you keep calling about trivial issues, when it is urgent, your colleagues might not be so quick to answer.
3. Be responsive
Respect works both ways, and if someone emails or messages you, you should do your best to respond in a timely manner. If you’re in the middle of something, they’ll understand if you take a moment before replying, but try not to take too long. It may also help to ask whether it’s urgent, or what it’s regarding. This lets you get a sense of how long they’ll need you for. You may be able to squeeze in a five-minute conversation right away, but would want to schedule an in-depth hour long discussion for a more convenient time later in the day.
Even a quick message back to say you’re busy but will talk to them soon will help the communication process. On particularly busy days, you might want to set yourself specific times to check your messages and emails to make sure you haven’t missed anything important – for example, before and after stopping for lunch and before you log off for the day.
4. Use your ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting
As more and more organisations use Slack, Teams, Zoom or one of the many other communication and collaboration systems, it’s easier than ever to publicise your current status to your co-workers. Setting yourself to ‘Do Not Disturb’ or ‘Busy’ will signpost to your colleagues when to leave you alone. For this to work most effectively, you need to also respect your colleagues when they also set themselves as busy.
Furthermore, only use it when you are genuinely uninterruptable or too busy to respond. Communication is a key part of making a team function effectively and efficiently - especially when you’re all working in different places! While the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting is a good way to avoid distractions and focus, it also makes it harder to stay in touch and shouldn’t be overused.
5. Give (and ask for) feedback When someone does something annoying, there are usually two ways to deal with it. One way is to say nothing, let the issue build and become a bigger problem, and the other is to talk about it and fix it. We would always recommend the latter. If someone keeps calling without prior notice, but you’d prefer to set a time, or they send files over emails when you prefer a different method, then just ask them nicely to do things differently next time. If they’re contacting you in a particular way, that’s probably the way they prefer, but it doesn’t mean it has to be the way you do.
Similarly, when you get in touch with a co-worker, you should ask what their preferred way of being contacted is. They might find emails easier for record-keeping, or they might want a video call to avoid typing out a long, complicated response. As long as everyone respects and understands each other, the communication channels will continue running smoothly.
6. Not every conversation has to be about work
Being around people and building those relationships is, for many people, the best part of working in an office. Now that you’re working from home, there are probably people you haven’t spoken to since the last day you saw each other in person. You can’t have an impromptu chat around the coffee maker or the printer anymore, but that doesn’t mean you should lose out on those social interactions.
Try to reach out to other people in your organisation, just to say “hi” and catch up. It can be particularly lonely or isolating when the only time people talk to you is when they want something, especially for people working in smaller or solo teams.