Working from home has always been more common among self-employed, even if in the last decade it has increased also among dependent employees. In Europe in 2009, only 7.5 % of dependent employees was working remotely, which went up to 11% in 2019. (source: Eurostat LFS).
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 millions workers in the EU and worldwide have started to work remotely: JRC study estimates that only in the past year there has been an increase of +10% in telework among Europeans. And more than half of these had no prior experience in working from home. Suddenly they had to face all challenges of this shift.
We talked about how the essential skill needed for successful remote work is communication. We will share today some tips on how to improve this skill when working online.
Great communication takes time, patience, reflection, but most of all it requires to intentionally interact in a clear way. This means avoiding ambiguity which can easily lead to misunderstandings.
Here are few points of reflection to keep in mind when working from home to aim for excellent communication:
- Choose the right tools. Determine the appropriate communication channels and technology to use in order to communicate effectively and use them depending on the kind of message you want to share and how urgent it is. If really urgent, a call would make more sense for example than an email.
- Ask your colleagues and team how they prefer to communicate. We are all different and have different needs. Some prefer email or instant messaging while others prefer phone or video calls: figure out what your colleagues like and feel more comfortable with and try to find the tool and the way that meets theirs and your needs.
- Ask clarifying questions. This is key to avoid assumptions and misleading interpretations. Very often, for optimizing our time, we tend to avoid questions. In many cases asking more questions to better understand the subject is going to help us avoiding working in the wrong direction and in the end, helps wasting time and energy.
- Assume good intentions and ask for more information. When we communicate in person we listen to what we hear and we integrate the message with the body language. With written communication, especially if asynchronous (that doesn’t occur in real-time) there may be situations when we read into the message more than there is. When you receive for example a short message asking for work to be done within 1h without any other explanations, you can start assuming an aggressive tone towards you and your work. Try always to assume good intentions from the other side and, when in doubt, take time to understand what has been said or ask for more information. It’s possible that your colleague had a sudden and urgent meeting and needs some information from you, without being necessarily angry at you but really need your help.
Written communication offers the opportunity to think about what we are going to say and especially how we are going to say it. This allows us to organize our thoughts and make them as clear as possible. A special look at the tone of what we are writing is important mostly in short messages: when not given the proper context, certain expressions can sound too aggressive or, on the contrary, too vague and give space to wrong interpretations.
Here are some useful questions to keep in mind before starting an interaction:
- Am I providing the appropriate amount of context?
- What do I need and am I asking for it clearly and directly?
- Am I concise, brief and getting to the point quickly?
- Am I providing all necessary documentation and information?
- How is the tone of the message?
Communicating our needs on how we’d like to interact, together with understanding the needs of the people we have around at work and in our personal life, is the key to start having better relationships. This will help to avoid all those small incomprehension that could lead to bigger conflicts.
- How do you react when someone has misunderstood one of your emails? Try reading the text and see how you could have avoided that.
- What is the one thing you want to start implementing when talking with your colleagues to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings?
- How have your communication skills improved in the past year?