COVID-19 is changing the way we work and interface with our work teams and clients. Prior to the pandemic, over 7 million people were already working from home in the United States. Currently, over 43 percent of the workforce in the United States have joined the work from home (WFH) workforce. These numbers continue to grow as the future of the traditional office approach continues to dim. Communicating with a WFH workforce is more important than ever.
Organizations around the world are trying to better communication among employees. The onset of new technology has seen its largest increase since March this year. New forms of communication are introduced constantly to improve the struggling WFH workforce and enhance productivity. Our desktops are now filled with more apps, software shortcuts, and collaborative tools than we could have ever imagined. Yet, all these tools and gadgets are not useful if the right strategies are not deployed when communicating with a WFH workforce.
Remote Communication is Different from In-Person Communication
Remote communication connects employees that operate from various locations around the world. It relies heavily on technology to bridge the distance. And it allows communication and collaboration that supports productivity and facilitates a seamless working environment. It does however require effective and efficient management.
Cloud-based infrastructure and technology-backed programs assist in remote communication. But, it also greatly differs from traditional communication in many ways. Communication is not just less personal. It is also less anticipating. Employees are not able to read nonverbal signs or body language. This makes it difficult to gauge another party’s response or reaction.
To add to the complications, technology causes many problems in remote communication. Remote communication is frustrating for many employees. Some experience lags in response and low internet connection speeds. Others are dropped from conference calls during important discussions. Critical calls are not logged for future reference. Important messages are missed. Or they go into the spam folder. And when you least expect it, vital information is not relayed accurately, and discussions quickly escalate into misunderstandings.
Remote communication requires everyone to be precise, careful, and have empathy. To make remote communication work, employees need to have specific strategies and tools. Resources help facilitate seamless communication. Communicating with a WFH workforce requires more than just emails. It requires patience, professionalism, and attention to detail. This type of communication is new to many and will need extra thought into how to best make it work.
How to Improve Communication with a WFH Workforce
Remote communication is tricky. It requires a different approach to giving and receiving key messages. Speaking in person is easy compared to this. However, communicating with a WFH workforce is possible. With the right strategies and tools, it can also be very effective. A good communication plan can reduce stress and miscommunication. It also reduces overhead expenses from unnecessary infrastructure. Not to mention the huge amount of responsibility it can take away from having to micromanage everyone at home.
At Press8 Telecom, we work with hundreds of remote teams. Here are key strategies that have helped companies thrive with communicating with a WFH workforce. These strategies also set the stage for effective and efficient communication.
1. Set clear goals for remote employees
Effective communication begins with having clear goals. Employees who are given a clear set of goals are more likely to communicate at standards that you expect of them. In addition, setting clear goals provides direction that can help clarify what employees should or should not do.
Adjust existing goals and objectives to meet the requirements of a WFH workforce. Include key remote communication goals as an overall company plan. Establish workplace policies that support effective remote communication.
Avoid goals that are too vague or misleading. Be straightforward in your goals. State what you expect of employees in daily communication. List clear objectives and initiatives the company is taking to improve and enhance communication. Convey what you require in terms of attire and attitude for the various forms of communication tools they will be using.
Once you have set your goals, share them with employees. Revisit these goals every now and then. This will ensure that goals are current and relevant. Don’t be afraid to switch them up or completely remove them when it is necessary. It’s all about adapting and balancing.
2. Invest in WFH communication tools
The internet is exploding with online communication and collaboration tools. There are software or programs to help when communicating with a WFH workforce. On top of that, new apps are emerging every month, hoping to provide solutions to better communication.
There is no one-tool-fits-all solution. The tools you choose depend greatly on your goals (see why the first tip is important?). Once you define your goals, select the tools best suited to meet your needs and budget. An important guideline when selecting the right tools is that it should enhance productivity and streamline collaboration.
A popular video conferencing tool that is widely used in organizations and schools is Zoom. Zoom offers video and screen share capabilities while allowing the recording of calls for future reference. Basecamp and Monday.com both offer collaborative platforms that consolidate project feedback, action steps, and messaging into one program. Screencastify and Loom offer video recording and creation tools to easily convey important messages through video.
Another important tool that every WFH workforce relies on is a versatile and reliable phone system. Your ideal small business phone system should have capabilities that support remote communication. Look for a VoIP small business phone system that offers flexible plans and valuable services that enhance communication with employees and clients. Some of these services should include a conference bridge, voicemail to text, as well as call transfer, park, call reporting, and call recording.
3. Communicate regularly and schedule check-ins
Remote work is so different from being in the office. Especially for those who spend 8 – 12 hours around others, the WFH workforce can seem daunting at first. Transitioning to remote communication is difficult for many. It can also be frustrating initially, having to fit all this technology on a screen that some might not be used to staring at all day.
Remote work is lonely and isolating. It removes any human interaction and emotions from the workplace. There is no one you can spin your office chair around to ask a quick question. Lunching together to discuss the day is not happening anymore. Pantry breaks have become kitchen trips to the fridge alone. Not to mention, many employees have other responsibilities to juggle from home and this can be frustrating for them.
Regular check-ins can help employees stay connected. It boosts employee morale and workplace relationships. Also, communicating with a WFH workforce regularly can help identify potential problems or help figure out which employee might need additional help and support. With early triggers and signs, it is easier to anticipate wants and needs and provide for a healthier working environment.
4. Stop relying solely on emails
While emailing is easy and quick, it does not take the place of a phone call or a video call. Emails remove any emotion from communication. Employees can easily misread lengthy emails. While it saves you a lot of time to send a quick email, employees often feel disconnected and removed from the workplace.
Use emails only when needed. If it is something that you can quickly clarify over a phone call, pick up the phone. Personal communication makes employees feel important within an organization. It is easy to clarify messages or requests over the phone. Voices can be a source of comfort and assurance during these times. And it is always important to constantly engage employees, so they do not feel underappreciated or neglected.
5. Avoid unnecessary meetings
The one thing remote employees do not need is one more meeting to attend, over the most trivial matters. In addition to already juggling kids, homeschool, chores, and other responsibilities, one more meeting just adds to their plate.
Staring at the computer screen every hour is already tough enough. How many meetings can you possibly have? Yet, many organizations do that! There are team and company meetings for every small matter that can otherwise be resolved in other ways. On top of that, having to attend meetings too often adds stress and pressure to an already new and difficult way of working. However, a lot of these meetings are unnecessary. You can attain a lot of information from one phone call or a video call. Many employees feel that they did not even have to be part of a meeting.
Reduce the number of meetings in a week so employees can also take that time to stretch and get off the computer for a bit. Only include key personnel who are directly involved in meetings. Spare others the agony of having to sit in and listen all the time. Keynotes can be disseminated through memos and emails.
6. Encourage feedback
An important aspect of ensuring employees have adequate support and are productive is to encourage feedback. In a remote world, many employees sit behind a screen, unable to effectively express themselves. Without an open office door, it can be difficult for employees to voice grievances or ask for help.
Encouraging feedback can help provide an avenue for employees to voice concerns that might arise from working from home. Employees have a chance to voice concerns. Managers can provide direction and praise for work well done. In addition, it creates a healthy working relationship that values everyone in the organization.
Feedback is vital to improving workplace communication and collaboration. Also, it provides a way to get ideas for increasing productivity. Encouraging feedback helps everyone feel included and that their opinion matters. Many quiet employees actually have really good ideas. They just need the chance to share their ideas.
Great leaders listen to feedback, not just from employees but also from clients.
7. Have empathy for your WFH workforce
Not everyone takes working from home easily. And not everyone knows what is required of them when they begin working from home. Many are experiencing stress, frustration, and exhaustion. Working from home comes with a myriad of responsibilities that employees are not used to. It is critical to have empathy and compassion when dealing with employees.
Having empathy means being kind when communicating. It means understanding that every employee is different and has a different set of problems they face daily. Having empathy is about showing patience, kindness, and gentleness when communicating and collaborating.
Striving to promote a WFH culture that embraces empathy will encourage employees to do the same for others. Teach employees to be more understanding of everyone else working from home. Remove the stress factor in communication with understanding and care for those working from home. Empathy also helps when someone needs to respond to emails and texts. It creates an environment where employees think before shooting an email off. Employees begin to consider others’ feelings before reacting or communicating.
Nothing beats a harmonious working environment where everyone is able to communicate with ease.
Taking a New Approach to Communication with a WFH Workforce
As times change and employees adapt to working from home, remember that everyone has their own difficulties and struggles. The transition might not be easy. In fact, it is stressful and intimidating for many.
The key to success is being able to adapt to constantly changing times. Workplace communication efforts need to pivot when necessary. More importantly, organizations need to provide the resources and support employees require to get their jobs done. As more employees in the United States transition to working from home, organizations begin to explore the various options available to support this. Whether it is in terms of technology or expertise, remote communication is taking over the workplace.
At the end of the day, we are only as good as our employees perform and succeed. Knowing what is available for your organization is important and can help create a more stress-free, productive remote workforce in the long run.