Maintaining Effective Communication When Working Remotely

Posted by Gillian Gryz

At this point, most professionals have worked from home for many weeks and are settling into the rhythm of their new work days. Organizations that didn’t previously have remote work programs in place have quickly adapted to effectively function in the new business climate. Working from home is becoming routine and the employee-manager relationship is evolving, along with team dynamics. As it becomes more likely remote work arrangements will extend through the summer months, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate how to be most productive and effective in this new reality.

This includes understanding how to best communicate with your manager and team members. Especially if you had been used to coming into a physical office and interacting with colleagues face-to-face, communicating virtually may require shifts in your standard behaviors. The tactics that work in person will not be as successful in a virtual environment. Here are a few ways to ensure clear and consistent communication that promotes collaboration and alignment.

chatOver communicate.
When you’re in a physical office building, it’s much easier to have casual conversations around projects, provide updates and discuss assignment details. However, when working from home, these interactions must be more intentional. Ensure your manager knows what you are working on, the status of each project, and any hurdles or delays you might run into. Are you still on track to provide teammates with necessary deliverables? If there’s been a change in a timeline or responsibilities, have you communicated it to all stakeholders? As you continue to adjust to the current normal, strive to ensure alignment at multiple checkpoints.

Assume positive intent.
When you’re used to sitting in close proximity with your supervisor and other team members, it is much easier to gauge their tone, vocal inflection and body language. Additionally, when in the office, these individuals are able to focus solely on work, without having to care for elderly parents, tend to virtual learning and manage childcare needs. Assume everyone is doing their best and has the best interest of their teammates in mind. Go into conversations with positive intent and strive to solve any problems or miscommunications that arise proactively, without reading too far into a short email or instant messenger response.

calendar-2Set frequent checkpoints.
In this time of change, there’s bound to be several gray areas. Work with your manager to talk through communication preferences, including frequency and methods. If you have a one-off question, would she prefer you send an instant message, text or pick up the phone? How often should you expect to have a formal touch base? For instance, if you previously met once a week for a scheduled one-on-one, is that still most effective in the virtual workplace? How often should you check in or share progress updates? It’s likely these answers will evolve as your team becomes more comfortable with remote work.

Establish clear expectations and priorities.
Make sure you understand what is expected of you and the projects that are highest priority for the week and month. If you’re unclear, ask questions. In today’s physically distanced work environment, ensure you’re in sync with your manager about timelines and project goals. These can be clarified in your recurring one-on-one meetings. It’s better to align early on than realize there’s a disconnect later in a project.


Leverage all methods of communication.
If your team didn’t previously have Skype or Slack, consider recommending it as a way to stay connected throughout the work day. This could include lighter conversations you might otherwise have in passing, as well as updates that impact the whole team. At the same time, when scheduling meetings, consider a video conference rather than just a standard conference call. Seeing facial expressions and glimpses into home offices can help build relationships and humanize team members, even from afar. Emails and phone calls are still practical tools, but strive to add new communication methods to the mix to compensate for the lack of informal conversations and in-office face-time.

callOffer and ask for help.
If you’re having a slower week, offer to assist in areas that might not typically be in your purview. On the other hand, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and personal obligations, be transparent with your manager and work to establish a game plan so high priority projects aren’t delayed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Time magazine has referred to this as “the world’s largest work from home experiment,” and Gallup predicts there will be many learnings coming out of the current situation. While many individuals and organizations are adjusting as they go, continuous and consistent communication with your manager and team is key to success. For more insights on remaining productive in the current environment, read our recent post, “Best Practices for Working Remotely.”