Working Together, Apart
The transition to a distributed workforce setup had been a jarring experience to many employees, especially those who have no experience nor prior intention of working from home. The similarities and differences with regular office work, particularly in communication and collaboration, is already apparent after weeks of going through this new setup. The challenge, as always, is how we can remain productive and maintain work relationships even with the change of platforms. Communication, as it has been mentioned in previous articles, is the most critical piece of this setup. Without getting this right, a lot of what we intend to do can get confusing, tedious, or downright impossible. If your work communications aren’t effective, collaboration can degrade into a frustrating back-and-forth between two or more misunderstood individuals. And therein lies the key: every good communication is about making yourself understood and understanding the other person. The active approach to communication has never been more important than now. With various sensorial and social limitations, getting remote communications right can lead to both time and relationship saved. 1 - Extend your patience and suspend all assumptions You can expect that communication lines will sometimes not be at their clearest, and the messenger may struggle to find the right words or simply not be sending their message while at their peak. Sometimes, they may just be in too much of a hurry to get their message across right. In any case, be very patient with anyone trying to communicate with you. You cannot know for certain what is going on with the other person on the line. If they seem frazzled, rude, or confusing, it may just be a case of something getting the better of them and it is not really meant for you. Try to understand them and ask politely what they mean. Who knows, your active listening might just be the help they need today. 2 - Ensure that you are clear and precise with your language On the other hand, given your awareness of your situation, try your best to communicate as clearly as possible. Do not rely on others to make assumptions and inferences on your behalf. Your goal is to always be specific with what you are saying, all the time. Take time to review your emails before sending them. Rehearse in your thoughts the goal of your conversation before picking up the phone. Always be mindful of your language and perceived tone. A professional tone will most likely be your go-to as this is the safest. Additionally, keep your words within context to avoid confusion from alternative jargon and expressions that your reader or listener might not be familiar with. 3 - Do not imagine or presume “body language” Our imaginations are always running, and when the other person is not visible, we tend to imagine what they must look like from the other side of the remote conversation. Don’t rely on these thoughts. These are misleading and can instead steal your thoughts away from really understanding the other person. Derive your understanding based on the words you are reading if limited to emails and chat. It is definitely easier to hear and see more when you are on a call or video meeting. 4 - Always have the intention to understand Strive to understand the main context of every conversation. Seek out the main objective and the call to action, and if you are not clear, ask. Always be professional and make no assumptions other than that people are trying to get their jobs done the best possible way they can, and everyone is likewise striving to collaborate regardless of any technical challenges. 5 - Strategically use the appropriate communication platform In general, there are two types of communication platforms: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous platforms include making a call and having audio or video meetings. You have everyone engaged at the same time and can use these platforms for conversations that require an immediate response. Also, meeting platforms allow you to conduct lengthier discussions, training, and have intimate team check-ins. Meanwhile, asynchronous platforms, such as emails and chat, are meant to be used for conversations that have lesser time sensitivity. It allows workers to receive messages that they can respond to at a later point so they can focus better on their present tasks. Make sure that in these platforms, you do not ramble on and bury your lead. Ensure that your topic and call to action are clear, so it will be an easier read. You can humanize your language, but do not be meandering. Sometimes a topic of conversation can go around in circles, or frustration may be mounting between collaborators who are getting confused by a person or the direction of the conversation. Do not get stuck with one communication platform when it isn’t working anymore. As we seek to be more understanding, we must choose to not be bogged down by the limitations of our present medium. You can get together on a call or video meeting, prepare materials quickly for presentation if documents and visual aids are needed to supplement the conversation. 6 - Use other systems that will supplement better communication While it is valuable to over-communicate during this time of remoteness, sometimes the openness of communication itself can hinder productivity and deep work. As such, other systems and apps can be used to improve the dynamics of work relationships without constantly relying on people talking. Collaboration tools, such as task management systems and shared documents, allow for the reporting of activities without having to breathe down on someone’s neck to get an update. You can set workable deadlines and make follow-ups sparingly when you have visibility on where everyone is at with their tasks. You can often use the chat to let someone know before you call them and discuss something, so you can be sure they will be available to pick up your call. You can also use shared calendars to set meetings so everyone can make adjustments with their schedules ahead of time.