Small everyday things can make a huge impact on our workplaces. Take for instance the way we communicate with each other. We do it all the time and take it for granted. Especially with remote working practices kicking in, communication has assumed new importance. It is one of those things which can work wonders when done just right. Too much of it or too little of it can wreak havoc in our everyday professional lives. Here’s my take on overcoming communication challenges in remote working, coming from my experience of working with multiple cross-functional teams during the pandemic.
At the outset of the lockdown, a lot of my days were marked by managing replies from co-workers and superiors on multiple devices, screens and platforms. At the end of the day, I would feel exhausted and overwhelmed without getting much productive work done. We don’t want that for ourselves as employees. We also don’t want to be scrambling for important information when we need it urgently which is what happens when we have our office-messages all over the place. In the humdrum of our work day, we forget that with each text, e-mail, phone-call, WhatsApp ping we are reaching out to a fellow human-being and not just a colleague or a customer, a subordinate or a superior.
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1. Counter the communication overload
In remote working, we are naturally inclined to over-communicate. But now that all of us are settling into a rhythm, slight discipling of our everyday habits can work wonders. Setting a communication norm could go a long way in rescuing ourselves from unnecessary stress. We can definitely start at a team level, if not at an organization level.
Here are a few things that I tried at my workplace. Sharing across the same:
- Stick to a few modes of communication
Instead of all modes of communication: ex: a Slack or an MS Teams only rule for short messages and mails for formal long form communication.
- Don’t repeat information across communication media
- Avoid WhatsApp and SMS texts for work. It can become harrowing for people to sift through personal and professional pings.
- Create routine time-slots/catch ups in a day and try bunching up all communication points in one go. This will avoid overwhelming your colleagues with information-overload
- Set reply norms: make it clear how much of a window is okay for reverts. Ex: defining core working hours can help when people are expected to revert within 30 minutes. However, for messages sent in non-core hours, a revert can’t be expected. People may revert as per their availability. A call could help address unavoidable, pressing matters in the non-core hours.
- Indicate the level of urgency upfront in your messages. Make use of indicators like FYI’s, FYA’s and Urgent
- Don’t mark every message as ‘urgent’ lest you lose the power and impact that the word carries for your recipient. Use it with care and caution.
- Limit phone calls only for urgent matters. Stick to mails and pings for regular times.
2. Communicate Using the Right Methods
As mentioned earlier, stick to a few modes of communication only. Use Instant messaging only for short messages, emails for formal communication and if you have something substantial to say, or there’s an open topic for detailed discussion organize a video call with your colleagues. Most importantly, set the ground rules clearly with others so that people you are collaborating with are on the same page.
3. Minimize the risk of interruption
Avoid pinging your colleagues at times when they are engaged in important tasks. Of course, you might always not know their schedule but until it’s an emergency, do not interrupt them for updates or discuss random ideas as it might hamper their workflow and make their working hours less productive. Instead, set up designated time at the start of the day for these discussions so both you and your colleague can plan the rest of the day accordingly.
4. Encourage Feedbacks and Discussions
The best way to minimize the room for errors, without having to overcommunicate, is to encourage feedbacks and discussions. It’s important to make it easy for your colleagues to ask you questions so that they have a crystal-clear understanding about the topic, especially if you are the one leading the project. One way to do it is to include informal time within the workday such as virtual lunch or coffee meet. Facilitating informal discussions with your colleagues will help strengthen the camaraderie within the team and improve the culture of feedback and discussions.
Streamlining communication norms could go a long way in countering anxiety levels of ourselves and our colleagues. As a result, it could boost productivity and focus of the entire team. Hope these tips help you in overcoming communication challenges in remote working and make your life a little less stressful. Do let me know your thoughts in the comments.