The increase in remote work has changed the employment environment forever. In 2019, only about 4% of company roles were remote or hybrid. Hybrid work continually increased in 2022 from 42% in February to 49% in June to almost 55% by the end of year, according to Gallup.
Does this mean companies that increase their hybrid options are stronger? Not necessarily. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.25 million people quit their jobs in January 2022, up from 3.3 million in 2021.
Whether you are a manager looking to keep your top talent or an employee wondering if you should stay or go in your current role, there’s one key factor that can support your efforts: communication.
How to Make Remote Work Engaging
Remote work communication may not always be easy, but a little intention goes a long way to make this whole new world one we all thrive in.
Beware of Multitasking
Video meetings are a way of life, but how present are you in each one? Some people may be able to stay productive while multitasking during meetings (checking emails or creating a to-do list for the next morning) but that often doesn’t build trust in work relationships. In fact, multitasking uses more brainpower, therefore can leave us feeling more exhausted.
A few years ago, Microsoft conducted an in-depth survey on multitasking in a remote setting. When comparing meetings of 80+ minutes versus 20 minutes, employees were six times more likely to work on other things during the meeting. And the appeal to multitask in these settings is understandable. However, each meeting is an opportunity to build bridges with other attendees. By focusing solely on the meeting, we can demonstrate a level of respect and care that only supports healthy communication.
Use Clear and Concise Language
When your updates come through a screen instead of an in-person conversation, it’s important to be clear and concise in your word choice. Make sure your message is easy to understand and you are using the right words to get your point across.
Reading through an email before sending is a great habit (your high school English teacher would be proud of your daily incorporation of editing!). Whether you mistype two, too, and to or use repetitive phrases, a second glance before clicking send is always in your favor.
Be sure to balance clarity and conciseness. For example, a simple “sounds good,” may be concise but not inherently clear. If someone has mentioned a plan, especially one with options or layers, be sure to say, “I think plan A is a perfect fit, and we should proceed with that solution.”
An extra two to three minutes of proofing can cut out threads of miscommunications.
Be Timely with Responses
On top of clarity, remote work communication needs timely responses. Without them, we often fill in the silence with worst-case scenarios. We might assume:
- Our colleague forgot about the matter
- The content of the email didn’t seem significant
- They disagree with the idea, so they are delaying a response
Companies such as Merck have created a fantastic solution to guard against misinterpretations: they coin email-specific acronyms. For example, “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” bring certainty to virtual communications. And individual teams have the freedom to create their own norms on platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack by using specific channels or statuses. These details bring a level of clarity and camaraderie that is essential in a thriving remote environment.
Make Time for Conversations (and Not Just To-Do Lists)
A go-go mentality can exist, even in a virtual setting, and we can fail to make time for sincere conversations. HBR mentions three ways distance can be a challenging factor in remote life:
- Physical – you are not in the same place and time as your coworkers
- Operational – you have significant differences in team size, bandwidth, and skill levels
- Affinity – you have a disconnect when it comes to values, trust, and interdependency
The most important of the three? Affinity. Team performance is strengthened when the gap is closed in this particular area. While you don’t want to overdo video meetings (and create an increase in multitasking), make time to connect with your people. Schedule monthly virtual coffee chats to build comradery and increase engagement. People need to know they still matter as individuals, not just for what they can accomplish.
Whether you are a manager or employee, you can lend a hand in celebrating the milestones of your fellow coworkers, no matter how big or small. Everyone can offer some much-needed encouragement to their fellow colleagues.
In the office, you could start a company newsletter. From highlighting those who hit their sales goals to volunteering in the community to announcing the arrival of a new baby, shine the spotlight on momentous occasions. This adds a personable touch, especially in a remote environment.
You could even create a channel just for shoutouts and praiseworthy moments so everyone is in the loop when someone closes a deal or gets positive feedback from a customer or client.
If you are a manager or leader, going the extra mile makes a lasting impression. Small gifts for an anniversary or a kind note sharing how much you appreciate an employee’s hard efforts lays the foundation for a supportive culture – one where the team knows their individual contributions matter.
So, is remote work communication easy? Not always, but building these habits and responses are strong steps to making this whole new world of remote work a beautiful endeavor for everyone involved.
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