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4 minute read

Working Remotely: Improving Remote Communication Skills to Collaborate Better

Finding ways to communicate and collaborate in remote work settings requires a toolbox of adapted interpersonal skills and the adoption of technology. Here’s how.

With many professionals transitioning fully to company-wide remote work and experiencing it for the first time, there are many changes that will take getting used to.

From adjusting work-life balance to using new telecommuting tools, remote work is a new ballgame.

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Why is remote communication difficult?

Remote communication can be difficult because it lacks the nuances of face-to-face communication, such as body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. These are important for conveying emotions and understanding the context of a conversation.

Additionally, technical issues such as poor internet connectivity or unclear audio can hinder the flow of communication and cause misunderstandings.

How then can your remote employees retain and continue communicating in healthy, productive ways?

Communication challenges have always existed, even in traditional office environments. That said, they present differently for remote employees.

Making sure communication channels remain open and productive is important for the smooth continuity of business. Problems such as communication barriers, miscommunication, feelings of isolation and tending to different social needs can crop up during this period of remote work.

“To compensate, leaders must communicate early and often, leading with transparency to encourage accountability and engagement,” notes Courtney Underwood, CEO and Human Resources alignment strategist at Kaasar Consulting.

Because remote work is likely to stay, identifying and coming up with solutions to these communication challenges can foster better environments.

This means setting sound remote work policies in place that create health collaboration patterns company-wide.

How can you overcome communication challenges among remote workers?

1. Set expectations around communication early

Remote communication comes in many different forms. From quick instant messages to long emails to video conferencing, the need and effectiveness of each one vary.

Being clear about which medium and for what purpose you’re using it can help set some expectations around conversing remotely. Instead of swamping your colleagues with messages on several platforms, you can begin to set some ground rules that introduce certainty.

Stick to emails for formal and longer messages. Use collaboration tools such as Slack or Skype for time-sensitive questions, informal conversations and regular check-ins.

Implementing company-wide acronyms such as ‘Do Not Disturb (DND)’ can help colleagues understand where you’re at virtually and reduce the margin for misunderstanding.

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has left little time for preparation in remote capabilities, it’s never too late to set some rules to help cultivate a healthier digital communication line.

Review the forms of communications your company leverages and identify what can be replaced to facilitate greater connectedness between remote teams.

2. Prioritise clear communication over conciseness

We often opt for brevity over clarity, whether we realise it or not.

Remote work depends heavily on communication abilities, so taking the time to craft your messages clearly can be beneficial for entire remote teams in the long run.

Sending short and quick messages on Slack might seem like the best way to be efficient, but if misinterpreted, can be costly for time and productivity on both ends.

In-person, non-verbal cues such as the crossing of arms or shifting of gaze can help colleagues pick up on signals better but more needs to be done to bridge the gap online.

Using shorthand or emojis can help keep messages lively, emotive and personal.

Consider video calls to discuss more serious and sensitive topics.

However, it’s important to remember that not everyone communicates the same way.

Back-to-back virtual meetings via video conference can lead to what the industry has termed, zoom fatigue. Video communication can also be difficult due to language barriers, which make text communication tools a more productive mode of collaboration.

It helps to think twice and aim for clarity in your messages to keep your interpersonal relationships in a good place. This means considering how you carve your message and the medium through which you choose to relay it.

3. Create new rules of engagement to keep connections alive

A big part of collaboration is linked with feeling connected with your colleagues. Working remotely does not erase the need for connection.

Making the time to connect with your colleagues can be beneficial to your overall well-being.

Spending all day staring at a screen with no interactivity can take a toll on even the most introverted of us. Simple things like asking your colleagues how their day is going or if they’ve had their lunch can go a long way.

You can also add a personal touch by having a regular coffee chat every Friday or having lunch online together on days that demand more emotional support.

The activities matter little but the desired outcome is keeping those workplace relationships strong.

Remote work is likely to stay, with some organisations implementing firm-wide remote work.

With more time spent online and conversations happening virtually, it’s only normal that we will encounter many more new technologies and challenges along the way.

Digital forms of communication alone cannot bridge the communication gap. Remote employees will need to adapt their interpersonal skills accordingly to newer ways of connecting and communicating.

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