Priya Parker – author of the ‘Art Of Gathering’ – wrote recently about how communication is not necessarily under threat in these difficult circumstances. She argues that, despite teams being physically apart while working remotely, there are more opportunities than barriers to staying connected.
Communication is the most crucial thing organizations need to nail for good business. It connects employees. It strengthens their relationships. It empowers them to execute effectively. Remote working has made it even more important, but also even more challenging.
Here are four ways you can help overcome those barriers, and put communication where it should be, at the heart of employee and business success.
1. Mix up the mediums
As employees and their managers continue to adjust to working remotely, and perhaps struggle to juggle work priorities and deadlines in an unfamiliar context, there is a danger that work becomes increasingly task-focused rather than collaborative, and the human touch disappears.
An in-the-moment conversation in the office to solve a tricky problem is replaced with an exchange of short emails or messages. The problem is that these kinds of communications not only miss out on the bigger picture but also risk being misinterpreted. When the recipient is already feeling stressed or busy, it’s too easy to read the email ‘negatively’ and assume the sender means something they didn’t.
Finding the most appropriate communication medium is vital. Emails and instant messaging have their part to play but must be balanced with calls or face to face communication so that important information is delegated in an engaging and clear way. Video conferencing, for instance, reduces distance and helps retain company values, trust, and teamwork, by reminding employees they are engaging with people and not a mailbox.
2. Make use of collaborative tools
Alongside regular communication, most employees thrive in an environment where there is structure and transparency. Fortunately, there are a number of online tools available (often for free), that can help.
- Project management boards are an excellent way of assigning work, keeping team members up to date on tasks, as well as ensuring calls to action and project deadlines aren’t missed.
- Calendars make it easy for employees to be clear about their scheduling, as they enable them to see which team members may or may not be available to assist.
- Time-tracking software can also be a huge benefit, helping employees manage their own time, as well as allowing managers to identify where tasks are taking up too much time, and where support may be needed.
Tools such as these provide simple, effective ways for employees to stay on top of what is expected of them, and keep each other up to date.
3. Talk about performance and progression
Employee engagement is key to teamwork and performance. For line managers, one of the best ways to maintain engagement is to provide regular, constructive feedback alongside opportunities for employees to continue their professional development.
There are several ways you can achieve this. Managers can implement check-ins, whereby regular one-to-one conversations are held with their team members about work, progress and goals that are ongoing. This provides an opportunity to discuss what might be getting in the way of activities as well as giving employees a chance to ask for support or training if they feel it is needed.
If employees feel they are being asked to take on a task they lack the expertise to deliver, they’re likely to become disengaged and anxious or even avoid communicating with colleagues. Continued and demonstrated investment of time and resources into their development will see a decisive return.
4. Protect your company culture
Company culture has become increasingly important to everyone. However, protecting it might be challenging as remote workers aren’t engaged in the informal banter and chit chat that defines in-office culture. Managers can’t force their workers to video calls during breaks, or demand that they socialise remotely. Nonetheless, they can still facilitate wider communication. For example, you might consider:
- Fostering cross-departmental collaboration, by getting individuals with different experiences or from different teams to work together where they may otherwise not have.
- Bringing the office banter to video meetings, where the host can, for instance, include an opening ritual that allows employees to share their unique experiences of working from home. For example, an employee might discuss something fun they did during the weekend, or your team could become closer by sharing their hobbies and interests in video calls.
- Raising the game, by adding a harmless competitive touch, perhaps offering incentives, such as a shout out in a company newsletter, and celebrating employee achievements.
- Sharing news and inviting feedback through online employee portals, which can both act as a communication hub, and make sure key announcements or information isn’t missed and is easily accessible.
Creating a space for socialization is very important to building and maintaining strong employee relations and wider organisational collaboration, as it provides employees with the means and motivation to stay connected and succeed.
Leaders cannot force their workforce to remain together. However, they can provide avenues and promote collaboration so employees are encouraged to reach out to each other in varied ways. Beyond this, employers with approachable leadership will see employees more willing to communicate out of their own volition.
It is businesses that are able to strike that balance that will leave the COVID-19 crisis with their heads held high – their relations boosted, and their culture intact.
Will Jacobs, a graduate of the London School of Economics, heads social media and authors content at Cezanne HR, a leading supplier of modern Cloud HR and payroll software.