How to Communicate Effectively When Working from Home [8 Tips]
Millions of workers who went to a physical office or even coworking space on a regular basis are now working from home. This has been a disruptive shift for many who were not set up to work from home, must compete with spouses, kids, and housemates for time and space, and suddenly have other responsibilities thrust upon them (e.g., educating their kids and keeping them entertained).
COVID-19 Work from Home Creates Positive Disruption
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, growing numbers of entrepreneurs and businesses were embracing remote work—either a hybrid model where workers come to a physical workspace or coworking space part of the week and work from home the remainder of the time. But COVID-19 completely disrupted the status quo, prompting more than half of the workforce to move to a 100% work-from-home model. Even those businesses that reversed work-from-home policies in recent years had no choice but to “readopt” that which they had previously rejected.
The immediacy of the change has obviously been one of the biggest challenges. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a consulting firm that helps businesses set up work-from-home policies, explains: “Typically, a company will take six months to a year to roll out a [work-from-home] program. Here, people are thrown into the deep end of the work-at-home pool.”
Yet, the fears of businesses and managers that their employees would slack off and not fulfill their work responsibilities have not come to fruition. Productivity is up by as much as 47% according to one study. It finds that the average worker starts work at 8:32 am and ends work at 5:38 pm, CRM activity is up 176%, and email is up 57% and chat up 9%.
Effective Communications Key to Working from Home
The success of remote work is closely tethered to communications. Workers concur. In a recent study conducted by a team of organizational psychologists from the University Georgia and University of South Florida that looked at success factors for workers now working remote from their home, communications and collaboration with colleagues is cited as their number one challenge. Other issues they listed include (in decreasing order):
• It is hard to unplug at the end of the day
• More distractions and interruptions
• It is too easy to raid the fridge
• Juggling both work and children’s schoolwork
• Increased workload
• Technology woes
At the same time, workers see various factors as advantages, including:
• Reduced commuting time
• Better ability to balance home and work responsibilities
• Getting to spend more time with those who live with me
• Flexible hours
• Fewer distractions and interruptions
• Increased productivity
Remote Work Communications—Recommendations
So, what is needed when it comes to effect communications? An article in the Harvard Business Review a couple years ago pinpoints three types of remote communications: physical (place and time), operational (team size, bandwidth, skill levels), and affinity (values, trust, and interdependency). The authors argue that the best way to drive team performance is to reduce the affinity difference. Professionals need to focus on opportunities that create virtual team-building interactions and track collaboration in real time. Ravi Gajendran, an organizational psychologist at Florida International University, notes, “Telecommuting is like any work arrangement or any work practice. If the ecology is set up right, the practice can be successful.”
With that in mind, the following are some of the ways entrepreneurs and businesses can communicate effectively:
Make Intent of Communications Clear
All professionals have probably done it before. In order to be more efficient, you use fewer words to communicate. The assumption is that brevity equals clearer communications. But this also can mean that your recipients—coworkers, partners, or even customers—must expend valuable time trying to interpret your messages. Before sending an email, text, or chat or submitting a request in your project management system, think about the following:
• What action is being requested? Does the communications make this clear?
• What is the deadline for the request—time and date?
• With whom does the person need to work to complete the task?
• Why is the request important and for whom does it matter?
Do Not Assume the Recipient Knows What is Being Said or Requested
The reality is that most professionals aren’t good communicators. The skills aren’t innate but rather learned. Research by Nick Morgan indicates that messages are only understand about 50% of the time. We must remember that virtual communication lacks the feedback, empathy, emotions, and intent conveyed through body language. Thus, it is critically important to ensure intent is clearly communicated in chat, text, email, and other virtual forms of communication.
Use Collaborative Chat for Effective Communications
Vague words can confuse recipients. Words such as maybe, might, perhaps, unlikely, likely, and others that lack determinacy can leave recipients uncertain. The reference for words such as “It,” “That,” and “This” can also be unclear or create confusion. For example, the following sentence lacks the clarity virtual communications require: “I change it to reflect that which we discussed at the prior meeting.” Instead, the sentence should specify the actual reference: “I changed the email to reflect the team’s decision at least week’s meeting to send flowers rather than chocolates.”
Include the What, When, and How
The “what,” “when,” and “how” are critical to effective communications. Here, those communicating need to answer the following:
• What is the context?
• When is the deadline?
• How am I supposed to complete the task?
The following is an ineffective request: “Could you update that today?” This lacks context and a hard deadline. Instead, the following is a much more effective communication: “Can you update the memo by 3 pm so that I can send it out to the rest of the team?”
Avoid Bombarding the Team with Messages
Sending follow-up reminders can consume valuable time and also irritate team members. Choose one medium to communicate a message and avoid using the others unless no response is given. Using all of your channels—email, chat, text, and project management tools—can be a digital annoyance and drain productivity. One outcome is that you must carefully evaluate which communication channel is the most effective one for the message being sent.
Establish Communication Protocols
Setting protocols for your team—and it could vary across a company—brings clarity to communications. Having two or more chat communication channels would be very unproductive and noisy. Choose one—Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.—and ensure everyone within the company uses it and not others. You may even want to think about creating your own set of acronyms such as NNTR for no need to respond or 2HR for two-hour response needed. Other policies such as preferred/expected response times, tone, length of messages, and which communications channel to use for different types of messages are also important to consider.
Watch Punctuation, Grammar, and Word Choice
Unconscious bias encompasses both in-person and virtual communications. Punctuation, grammar, and word choice can convey unconscious biases and connote certain attitudes that you don’t intend. Indeed, there typically is a significant deal of meta-communication that happens in digital environments such as use of exclamation marks, different emojis, or use of title case.
Connecting with Customers
Not every entrepreneur or business has the time to handle their incoming calls, emails, text, and live web chats. And these communication channels may be even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses during COVID-19. Here, it is critically important to outsource the work to organizations such as Davinci Live Receptionists and Live Web Chat Services that have done it for years and have the right onboarding and management procedures in place to ensure they effectively communicate on your behalf—whether over phone, email, text, or live web chat. Hiring the wrong team to communicate on your behalf can have some serious ramifications.
Communications Have Never Been More Important
Effective business communications has always been critically important. With over half of the workforce now working from home for the foreseeable future, entrepreneurs and businesses need to ensure they have the right tools, policies, and processes in place to ensure effective communications occur. These can literally make the difference between success and failure during difficult economic times like those of the present.