The top skill for working online

Working from home, at COVID-19 times, has moved from being a privilege to a need.

A Fluentpulse research done in May 2020 says that “59% of the people currently working from home would continue to do so once restrictions are lifted and offices reopen“. Companies have been working to put in place the correct tools and services to ensure effective virtual collaboration.

But what is necessary to ensure great remote teamwork?

According to two Canadian professors, what makes the difference is the workers’ skills. In 2019 Roberta Sawatzky from the Okanagan College School of Business, and Nathan J. Sawatzky published an academic paper on the necessary competencies for success in a virtual environment. They went on a tour of coworking spaces and remote work meetups and through surveys, interviews, and data analysis they discovered the essential skills for a successful virtual workplace. Communication was the top one.

Roberta and Nathan share that “in every conversation over the course of the research, respondents stated that excellent communication skills are vital and nonnegotiable for success as a remote worker… particularly written communication“. They underline the critical importance of accuracy when communicating, to avoid ambiguity and therefore misunderstandings.

How has our communication changed when working remotely?

As employees, it is important to understand that dynamics are different when working from home. Before we just got up and looked for our colleague or met someone in the kitchen to exchange ideas, insights, or questions. Now we need to reach out to our colleagues digitally and we have to consider the possibility that we will not receive an answer to our messages or our calls right away. It could take some time and it’s important to respect that time.

We were also used to exchanging knowledge and foster collaboration between colleagues not only through official meetings, but it was also happening spontaneously during lunch or coffee time, during breaks, or when meeting in the kitchen or communal areas. Right now this in-person interaction is happening to the minimum if not at all. As a company, it is important to be aware of this and find ways to foster this exchange in different ways. As employees, it is crucial to remember it and find ways to exchange information in as many ways as possible. 

How should we communicate?

First of all, we should be considerate of the kind of communication we are choosing for the kind of information we need to share with our team or colleagues. Written communication is for example not adequate when the context requires reading emotional cues, or when sharing decision processes, complaints, or conflict resolutions. A video call is helpful to avoid confusion, misunderstanding, and consequent frustrations, in all moments where context explanation and in-depth information are needed. 

We should then be mindful of the tools we are choosing for our communication. The choice should depend on the type of information we need to share. Instant messaging (like Slack or Whatsapp) is best for short messages that require a fast response, while email is used for longer messages and when we can wait for the answer. Video calls are ideal for meetings and face-to-face interactions.

What are we learning?

We are starting to work in a more time-sensitive matter, paying more attention to how much time we are spending in online conversations. To avoid the so-called “Zoom fatigue” we are learning to keep away, when possible, from unnecessary meetings and hours after hours of online calls. Many people are also discovering that to get things done, we do not need to discuss as much as we were doing before.

Not having colleagues and managers nearby and always available, forces us as well to deal by ourselves with smaller but also bigger issues which, through time this creates a stronger sense of independence and self-confidence.


  • What’s your preferred way to get in touch with your co-workers? How has that changed through time? 
  • Which aspects of the communication with your colleagues or team has improved in the past year? 
  • How do you choose the kind of communication and the tools to use when getting in touch with your colleagues?

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