Communicating and collaborating effectively while working from home
[Welcome to the #LearnFromHome series where we talk about ways to tackle the various challenges that you face while working from home. Today we are going to talk about communication and collaboration.]
When you are working from home, you might feel like you are spending an exorbitant amount of time on calls and chats. It is a source of frustration for many first-time remote workers. This is because we instinctively place communication as one of the high-priority items when we are not in the same location.
And our instincts are right. Communication is a key skill in any environment. And when it comes to working from home it becomes the best way to build trust with your manager, stakeholders, and team members.
Communication is also a double-edged sword because there are so many ways to get it wrong! So today, we are going to look at some of the best practices around communication and collaboration, while working from home.
Tips for effective communication and collaboration while working from home
Embrace the tools
No matter what we personally feel about tools, while working remotely, tools are everything. When it comes to tools that are the primary mode of communication in your organization, like Slack or Microsoft Teams or email, keep them open throughout your work hours. Your colleagues should be able to reach you just the way they could if they were to walk up to you in the office environment.
Many equate being constantly unavailable to slacking off work. Being unreachable leads to delays in projects especially if you have teams that are dependent on your response to do their own work.
Now, I get it: sometimes you want to focus on work without constantly being interrupted by chats. In that case, indicate that you will not be available for a brief period. You could even include your mobile number in your message or on your profile so your colleagues can call you for anything urgent.
Similarly, if you are using project management tools or OKR tools, make sure to update them without prompting. This will keep your whole team informed on what you are up to.
Earmark communication channels
While it is important to use the tools effectively, it is also important to not use too many tools for the same purpose. Make sure that your team gets together and decides which channel will be the primary mode of communication, early on. Do not fragment your communication across multiple channels because everyone will lose precious time jumping between them.
For example, if you decide email is the channel where the most important updates are going to be sent and Hangouts is the chat tool to use, your team can monitor these two tools. They don’t have to wonder if important conversations are taking place on other channels like WhatsApp or Workplace Chat. Using the same channels reduces confusion and helps everyone get context quickly.
Follow meeting etiquette
We all know that people hate ineffectual meetings. Working from home only increases that sentiment. Sure, meetings are the best way to collaborate when you need multiple stakeholders to agree on several action items. And one-on-one meetings help two people understand each other and have deeper conversations.
But most meetings are deemed boring and unproductive because they fall under one of the following categories:
Meetings that don’t have an agenda – which leads to unnecessary conversations and posturing.
Meetings that lack preparation – which leads to no new information emerging from it.
Meetings that have more stakeholders than necessary – which leads to distractions and delays in decision making.
So draw a clear line between what should be a meeting and what could just be an email or chat message. If you do think a meeting is necessary, respect everyone’s time and run a well-organized one – at the end of which the attendees must feel like they achieved something.
Adhere to deadlines
Meeting deadlines is more important than ever while working from home. It’s hard for managers and other colleagues to trust by default when they don’t see you. So don’t be overzealous and over-promise. Help set realistic deadlines for your projects and do your best to meet them.
Communicate proactively and often
Everyone will be understanding of unexpected delays in your project as long as it doesn’t sound like an excuse. Whether it is with your manager or someone you are collaborating with, keep them up to speed on what’s happening with your project. More points to you if you do that proactively.
Keeping all the relevant stakeholders up-to-date also demonstrates ownership, which is a key factor in making ‘work from home’ work for you.
Check your tone while communicating feedback
The biggest advantage of giving feedback in-person is that the other person can see body language and hear your tone. And we rely on them quite a bit to express our intent.
Chat, emails, or voice calls cannot capture that. This leads to misunderstandings between colleagues because the intent behind the feedback is literally not seen. So giving feedback on someone’s work should definitely happen over a video call where you can see each other.
But no matter what channel you use, the best trick to giving feedback is by being kind and giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Working from home is a big responsibility that requires utmost discipline, ownership, and professionalism. It is not uncommon for teams to struggle with finding the right cadence initially, but always remember to go easy on yourself and others.
So what are your tips for effective communication and collaboration while working from home? Let me know in the comments below!
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