Best Communication Practices in a Remote Workplace
Guest contributor: Jennie Bria
As we near the end of 2020, a new tone of optimism has sprung up surrounding the pandemic. While it’s widely acknowledged that winter will be a very difficult season, experts believe that the arrival of vaccines is essentially the beginning of the end of our strange new reality. Comments on the virus from a Brown University professor of public health may have put things in the clearest light: the virus is “not likely to go away,” but “we’re not going to be living like this forever,” and by springtime things will likely get much better.
This is a tremendously refreshing outlook, and has all of us dreaming of life as we knew it. At the same time though, this professor’s comments should be taken in their totality. That is, the virus isn’t going to disappear so much as we will gradually gain more control over it. This means that precautions will still be necessary for a while — and it means a lot of workplaces may remain remote for the foreseeable future.
In fact, it’s become clear that some businesses are already planning to keep things distant. An update on remote work from Axios noted, for instance, that a number of prominent tech companies are leading the way in alerting workers that they will at least have the option of remaining remote for a while longer — and perhaps indefinitely.
The indications then are that even as we escape the clutches of the pandemic, remote work will remain — sometimes due to precaution, and sometimes as a new option or policy. And one thing that this means is that places of business may have to give more thought to how to establish and maintain effective communication practices under remote conditions. Until now, plenty of companies have essentially adopted a wait-it-out mindset, accepting a slight drop-off in communication and efficiency in the hopes of getting back to normal in 2021. But for those businesses now eyeing longer remote working periods, a more strategic approach is needed.
It’s with that in mind that we’re going to touch on a few helpful practices worth remembering.
Keep Up the Virtual Meetings
In a previous blog post on the ‘To Meet or Not to Meet?’ That is the Question! so many businesses are wrestling with these days, the most important point made was that the very term “social distancing” is something of a misnomer. What we need to practice is physical distancing, while we find opportunities to socialize in other ways.
Yes, it’s become one of 2020’s most common tropes to show exasperation over Zoom meetings. Many of us aren’t doing quite as many virtual happy hours or family catch-ups, and we’re all “tired of Zoom.” But social activity is still healthy, and in a remote working environment, video chat is the best way to maintain it. So while it may be true that too much time on Zoom can be somewhat numbing, businesses planning for long-term remote work should keep up semi-regular virtual meetings. Touching base socially is good for the psyche, and this also remains one of the most direct ways to cover work-related matters that need discussing.
Test Out Platforms
Whether it’s a video chat platform, a project management software, or a system for exchanging files and messages, chances are there’s something new your remote workplace is adjusting to. And in the course of a wait-it-out strategy, the specific platforms you’ve turned to may not have mattered a great deal. But if you’re anticipating a longer work-from-home arrangement, now is the time to really test out platforms and perhaps even survey employees to ensure that you land on favorable options. Give employees the chance to offer feedback, try a few different competitors in certain spaces, and see which communication platforms work best for all involved. It may be a little bit tedious, but it will make things smoother in the long run.
Emphasize Mobile Content
“Mobile” can sound almost like a buzz term it gets thrown around so much in today’s business conversations. When it comes to how we communicate at work though, the transition to mobile content is now so apparent that it’s studied by aspiring career professionals. According to Maryville University’s program for online communication degree studies, it’s expected that the average number of devices and connections per capita is expected to be 3.6 by 2023. This speaks to our growing dependence on mobile devices, as well as why communications experts are focusing more and more on optimizing content for those devices.
When considering long-term remote work, this is certainly something to give some thought to. Employees working from home and on the go are likely to be accessing business materials on phones and tablets at least as often as on computers. This means concise and accessible content of all kinds — memos, emails, chatter on group communication platforms, etc. — will be better for consumption than denser or longer alternatives.
Allow for & Encourage Pure Social Activity
By “pure social activity,” we mean that there should be some communication that doesn’t necessarily revolve around work. Typically, there is actually some debate in the modern workplace about just how much employees should freely socialize. Some believe a bit more office friendship fosters wellness, togetherness, and productivity; others see it as something of a distraction. But this whole debate overlooks the base level socialization that takes place at work: the fleeting interactions, the hellos and goodbyes, the shared lunches and coffee breaks….
These things are all missing in a remote work atmosphere, and that can make employees feel isolated, both socially and with regard to their work. So, for the long term, it’s a good idea for companies to look into ways to encourage at least some non-work socialization between employees. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly involved, but providing an outlet for social needs is a good idea.
A long-term remote work arrangement will ultimately present a number of difficulties, some of which you’ll foresee and others of which may surprise you. But by adopting some of these communication practices, you can ensure that your team stays on the same page and develops productive working habits.
Written for joshuamevans.com
By Jennie Bria