When your team is not meeting face-to-face, the potential for miscommunication or insufficient communication increases significantly. Managers may find that crucial conversations aren't happening because people are afraid to bring up controversial or difficult topics over the phone, email, or online meetings.
Asynchronous conversations make collaboration more challenging and less creative. We lose the subtext and benefits of body language when we work over videoconference, email, and Slack. As a result, deadlines are missed, your team feels disconnected, and mistakes are harder to catch early.
As more and more companies adopt a hybrid approach and adjust to a workforce that is both in the office and remote, strong communication skills are critical.
The U.S. Remote Work Survey, published by PwC in January 2021, found that more than half of all office workers would prefer to work at least three days a week remotely. Most continue to see the benefit of going into the office to collaborate with team members and build relationships. While companies have become better at supporting remote workers, employees still see room for improvement. There are three specific actions your company can take to improve the effectiveness and satisfaction of your remote workforce.
1. Set clear expectations around when employees must be available for work.
For many employees, one of the greatest benefits of working remotely is the flexibility they have to manage their work schedules. But managers also need to know that their team will be available and will attend important meetings. Clear communication around whether your team needs to be in the office on certain days or available specific hours of the day allows them the freedom to create their schedules, while assuring you that they will be available when you need them most.
2. Talk with your team about their workload to make sure it's manageable.
When your entire team is in the office, it's a bit easier to monitor everyone's workload. You can see who is frazzled and step in even if they don't mention it to you. But when a portion of your team is working remotely, it's a lot harder to gauge their workload. It's easy to assume that they are managing everything just fine, and so you assign more tasks to them.
The problem is that not everyone speaks up when they're feeling overloaded with work. Many of us think we should be able to handle the workload, no matter how crushing it is, and don't want to appear incapable. So make a date every week to have a one-to-one conversation with each member of your team (especially those working remotely) to understand their current workload and help them manage it.
You need to be intentional about your conversations with remote employees because they do not benefit from the impromptu discussions and check-ins that happen in the office.
3. Check in with your team and create opportunities to connect.
Remote workers can feel isolated. In an office environment, relationships are formed when we share what we did over the weekend or recap our favorite TV shows. Friendships at work are cemented when we celebrate one another's birthdays, grab lunch together, or go for happy hour as a group. But when your team is remote, the typical opportunities for connection are not available. This lack of connection can create distance between people. It can also make it harder to identify when one of your coworkers is struggling.
Make a point to check in with your team at least once a month to see how they are doing. Also, make a plan to foster camaraderie amongst your colleagues. You might organize an online social event, like a coffee break, or a group lunch date if your team is local.
Everyone wants to matter and be a part of the conversation. As policies, procedures, or expectations change, make sure you communicate those changes clearly. Transparency is an important part of supporting your team and building trust.
And when you ask someone how things are going, don't accept "good" as their answer. Ask a follow up question: Are you running into any challenges? How can I support you? Do you need help with something today? The person on the other end of these conversations will feel cared for by you and the organization. Feeling heard and listened to can have a big impact. No one is motivated to work for a company that doesn't seem to care about them as a person or include them in the conversation.
But good communication is a two-way street.
Many times, employees will not raise concerns with their manager because they don't know how to talk about challenging topics. Knowing how to have difficult conversations about burdensome workloads, missed deadlines, or unhappy clients, translates into a positive and engaged work environment. It is a critical business tool that cannot be undervalued as the implications are far reaching. Limited communication creates a disconnected workforce, ultimately affecting the organization's bottom line. Whereas strong communication skills, such as those taught in "The Communication Protocol," improve teamwork, productivity, and profitability.
Whether your company is entirely virtual or one of the many adopting a more flexible work-from-home policy, it is important to clearly communicate the policy and expectations for employees working in the office and those working remotely. Connecting with each employee and offering transparency, even when you are still dealing with uncertainty, reassures your team that they matter. It sets an example that encourages open communication and creates an environment of trust. And trust is critical for a company to thrive in today's business environment.