Cofounder + CEO of The Bid Lab, an RFP consulting and technology firm.
As the pandemic fades into the rearview, it has become apparent that remote work is here to stay. There are tremendous benefits to remote work for both employees and employers. However, this change in how we work requires some updates and modifications to the old ways of doing things. This is apparent in what is arguably the most important part of any endeavor: communication. So how do you modify your communication style to best fit into this brave new world?
Don’t Read Into It
One of the downsides of remote work is that we can’t just walk down the hall to see if someone is busy. We don’t get the benefit of understanding that someone may be curt because they are heading to a meeting or have an exploding inbox. And we can’t tell from their tone of voice or facial expressions what someone is intending to convey. While it’s never great to hear the word no, it makes a big difference if that word is delivered in a gentle tone with a smile or just simply as two typed letters on a screen.
Always remember to not read into any text communication you receive at work. Think of it as an interaction with Alexa or Siri. There is no subtext, just a pleasant transfer of information. It’s easy when you are stressed to interpret someone’s words as coming from a place of frustration with you, even though that is almost never the case! Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you need it or directly ask if you are meeting expectations, but it’s also important to be aware of your own insecurities and not let them alter someone else’s meaning.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Formal To Remain Professional
When you work remotely, a vast amount of communication will be conducted through messaging apps like Teams and Slack. We’re all used to texting with family and friends, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that texting at work is still a form of professional, albeit more casual, communication.
Remember to make your responses clear and approachable, but don’t hesitate to expand on an idea or request just so everyone is on the same page. When people work in a remote environment, it takes longer to understand someone’s communication style and workload. Be sure to ask follow-up questions and connect with general check-ins to keep the lines of communication open and create a more natural dialogue.
If you have the kind of work environment that supports it, never hesitate to send that funny (but appropriate) gif. If you don’t feel comfortable sending gifs, don’t hesitate to send a message asking how someone’s day is going. Think of these informal texts as the new water cooler conversations.
No Wrong Answers—Except Single Word Ones
We are all busy and there is a fine line between effectively communicating and just plain overwhelming a group chat. However, try to avoid one-word responses in text when possible. Simply changing a “K” to a “Thank you. I’ll start on that right away,” really affects how you are perceived. Even if you have a million irons in the fire, it is well worth it to take the time to make sure you’re creating a supportive environment for communication. Never be afraid to go back and clarify your tone or intention. Even in person, a lot can be missed between our intent and how we are perceived. Just like you might go back and clarify an in-person interaction, you might also need to do the same with text communication.
The guidelines for communicating in a remote work environment are the same as they have always been: clarity, professionalism and kindness. We just need to be mindful of how communicating via text can alter how our intentions are perceived and adjust accordingly. And as with in-person communication, we need to remember that where we are at mentally can impact how we perceive others. Putting in a little extra effort and awareness can go a long way toward creating healthy lines of communication and joyful workplace relationships. Happy texting!
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