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Working Remotely: Improving 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 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.

One challenge that seems significant is the ability to 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 lines remain open and productive is important for the smooth continuity of business. Problems such as 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.

1. Set expectations around communication early

Communication comes in many different forms. From quick instant messages to long emails, 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 alternative channels 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 Covid-19 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.

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 the entire team 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. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone communicates the same way. It helps to think twice and aim for clarity in your messages to keep your interpersonal relationships in a good place.

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 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 tools 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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