Working from home.
For some, it’s a dream. For others, it’s their everyday. Whether you love it or hate, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Be it a global pandemic, or a sore back, many of us are fortunate enough to have most of what we need to be productive wherever we are.
Now while working from home offers many conveniences, it also comes with a set of challenges that are unique to being separated physically from your colleagues and clients. And since these challenges are largely centered around communications and social topics, we couldn’t resist digging in.
Perhaps working from home is not something you do regularly, but nonetheless, it’s important to have your remote collaborative communication skills up to snuff. You never know when the need will arise.
Plus, much of what we discuss today is not only crucial when working from home, it’s also just good practice as our teams and clients become increasingly distributed around the work. Even if you are in the office, the people you engage with may not be, meaning these strategies still apply.
So enough prefacing – let’s dive in.
Alright, without further ado, let’s jump into some effective strategies for working from home:
Yes. You heard that correctly. We want you to communicate way more than you’re used to in the office.
When you are speaking with people face to face, you may not realize how much extra information you are conveying with your body language and facial expressions. When that communication switches to phone calls, email, and project management software, all of that extra information gets blocked by the barriers of technology.
For this reason, it is on you to provide far more detail in your remote communication than you may be accustomed to. Don’t make assumptions. Spell things out. Leave nothing up to interpretation. If you are frustrated, or you think the other person might be concerned, get clarity on that before proceeding.
You don’t have the luxury of seeing their non-verbal signals, so you’ll need to get them to articulate those instead.
I know that we often talk about keeping emails short. That still applies. But don’t confuse short with incomplete. Make sure you convey and collect all the information necessary for your team to operate effectively.
You might be surprised at how much others appreciate this extra level of detail. It will show you care about things going smoothly.
And if you worry that the recipients will view it as excessive, feel free to caveat your communication by saying something like “You probably already have a good understanding of this, but for the sake of clarity, I’m just going to spell it out to ensure we are on the same page”.
(2) Make space to make small talk
When you are in the office, it’s easy to catch up socially with your teammates. It could be as simple as leaning over to say “Hi”. Or you catch them on your way to the snack room. Or you might duck out for lunch or coffee with them. Offices are designed to create these kinds of informal interactions that help develop a sense of team camaraderie and belonging.
When you’re working from home, all of these little moments to connect informally with others disappear. You don't have the proverbial water cooler to hang out at. For that reason, you’ll need to be much more deliberate about making time for making that human connection with others.
If it's the first note you're sending someone in the day, try opening up with “Hey, how's it going? Did you catch that latest episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?” Or if you haven’t spoken with the colleague in a few days, you can say something like “Wow, I feel like it’s been ages since we last spoke!”
If you’re sending a dense email, you might not want to muddy it with personal side-chatter. Totally understandable. In that case, consider sending the recipient a personal note on the side with a warm greeting and letting them know a beefy no-nonsense email is on the way. G-Chat or any instant messaging tool you use in the office works great for this.
Adding a bit of personal flare to your communications can go a long way toward humanizing your interactions. It reminds everyone that we’re not just robots and that we care about each other’s feelings and lives. You’ll find that doing so engenders more fluid communication and better project outcomes.
And let’s be honest, it just makes work a lot more fun, so why not?
(3) Clarify Your Availability
This one is easy to overlook. When you are in the office, it’s obvious when you are available. People can see if you are on the phone, or out for coffee.
When you are working remotely, your availability is much less visible.
Your boss might send you an email, or try to call you, and if you don’t respond within minutes, they might start to panic. Meanwhile, you get back from walking your dog to find your phone exploding with frantic notifications. Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s not fun.
There are a few ways you can tackle this.
The best way is to set expectations with your team. Let them know that when you aren’t in the office, there is likely to be a bit more delay in your responses. As long as everyone on the team agrees to the same set of expectations, this can work really well.
In addition to expectation setting, you should check if any of the productivity software your team uses has a “Status” indicator. Often, you can set your status as “Away” with a custom message like “Toilet just flooded, be back ASAP”.
Or if necessary, directly reach out to those you know will want you on a moment’s notice to let them know you are heading out for lunch.
The reality is that when you aren’t in a controlled environment like an office, there are things outside your control that will impact your short-term availability. That’s completely understandable. It’s just important to make sure your team is on the same page about that so that there is no confusion as to how easy it will be to reach each other.
When it comes to remote work, patience is a true virtue.
So there you have it, three effective ways to level up your remote collaboration skills.
- Communicate way more than you are used to, ask the questions you need to ask, and leave nothing open to interpretation.
- Make space for being human because the computers and smartphones won’t do it for you.
- Set clear expectations about everyone’s availability while they are out of the office. There’s no need to be criticized for missing a phone call because you were cleaning up some spilled coffee.
The reality is that remote collaboration is the future of work. Sure, we’ll always have physical spaces where we all meet up, but as technology improves our ability to stay connected wherever we are in the world, the shift to remote work is already taking place. My advice to you is to embrace it and take note of the strategies we discussed in order to equip yourself for success!
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I would love to hear about how you collaborate remotely. What’s been working? What challenges have you encountered? Share that with me and the Explearning community in the comments below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡