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August 4, 2020
Communication and Remote Work

What you can do to keep your team together while you’re apart.

It seems that the one thing we can’t stop hearing about since we started working remotely is the importance of C O M M U N I C A T I O N. Zoom became so popular that the CEO, Eric Yuan, has made over four billion dollars in three months, with other digital communication and project management software soaring during what has been the worst period for most businesses. So why is it that some employees are still feeling burnout, or less motivated at work?

     → C O M M U N I C A T I O N ←

With businesses reopening, you might choose to have a hybrid model with staff working from the office and some working remotely, a virtual model with everyone working at home, or you could be bringing everyone back to the workplace.

No matter the choice, this might be causing heightened anxieties in your staff, and the added communication challenges across so many avenues might not be making anything better. We asked some local entrepreneurs on their experiences in working remotely and how various communication strategies have had a positive or negative impact on their experience. Here’s what we found.

Zoom fatigue is real

It’s true, recent studies back up your feeling of exhaustion, anxiety or insecurity after a day of zoom calls. You may have noticed that since we’ve been working remotely, it seems like everybody wants to chat on Zoom ALL THE TIME. While videoconferencing was designed to simulate face-to-face communication, it actually requires much more focus than an in-person meeting. We need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone and pitch of the voice and body language which can drain your energy.

While silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation, delays on phone or conferencing systems of 1.2 seconds make people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused, stimulating feelings of anxiety. Furthermore, when we’re physically on camera, we’re hyper-aware that we’re being watched — you know everyone’s looking at you and if you casually glance out the window, reposition yourself, look down to take notes, it appears to viewers that you’re not paying attention to the call, when really these are natural actions that you would make in a physical meeting. Don’t you find yourself constantly checking your hair, your position and how you look in your camera, sometimes more than you watch others on the Zoom call? It’s nerve-racking!!

What do we do about it?

There are a variety of things you can do to help with Zoom fatigue:

  1. Opt for a phone call when you have 1–1 meetings. This gives you and your colleague a break from the screen and the chance to focus on what’s being said, not on how you look.
  2. Make turning on your camera optional. Imagine going to a lecture or presentation and having dozens of people stare directly at you while you stare back at them when only one person is talking. It’s pretty unnatural, and when you’re constantly reminded of how you look and that others are watching your every move, it’s hard to focus on the presentation at hand.
  3. Limit your zoom calls. Period. Consider sending detailed emails, shared files and documents to help save you and your colleagues time and energy to get work done.
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Focus on positive reinforcement

It can be difficult to read emotions, expressions and intent of someone via email, group chats and video conferencing, and the current state of affairs is taking a different toll on everyone. Taking more time to intentionally celebrate small wins, thank a colleague for hard efforts, and compliment someone on their work will go a long way — farther than you think! There’s no greater motivation than a pat on the back — which is why you’ll find your team’s productivity to rise when you start focusing on positive reinforcement.

Be over-descriptive in your requests, feedback and thought process

Along the same train of thought as our previous point — reading the room, tone, emotion and energy is next to impossible in our current situation. This is what makes clear and descriptive communication in explaining tasks, requests, your thought process, and giving feedback essential.

We’ve all been there — where we were tasked with a project with little to no explanation, submitted it to our boss, and found tons of red pen markings all over it. You might have made the suggested edits, submitted it, and found even more red pen correcting things you didn’t know needed to be corrected! For the employee, it doesn’t feel great and can put a damper on their productivity for the day. In retrospect, by spending an extra few minutes carefully explaining what you have in mind for a project and your expectations, you could save time and energy making edits, save your employee’s time and ego, and a fine red pen.

When it comes to meetings, clear and concise communication via video calls is essential to stay on time, and to keep your colleagues' attention away from browsing on the next tab. When sharing a new idea, communication experts advise to follow a clear and concise format.

Set boundaries

Some have enjoyed the pleasure of shorter workdays, less commute time, and disconnecting from their work; however, some of us feel so close to our laptops, inboxes and work settings that we don’t put them down. During a time that’s taking a different mental toll on everyone, it is important to set boundaries to working off the clock, making sure to respond to emails during work hours, and taking the proper time to recharge before you go back to the grind.

Check in with your colleagues

We’ll say it again, the Pandemic and current political affairs are taking a different toll on everyone. Taking the time to check in with a casual “how are you doing with everything that’s going on right now?” might give your colleague space to openly share what’s been difficult, what they’re working on, or even things they’re grateful for, that can give you a better understanding of what kind of support they may need to be happier at work. You’re not expected to give advice or have the magic cure for their challenges, but being a listening ear for someone who needs to talk might help them lift a huge weight off their shoulders.

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Communication is a hot topic for remote times like these, but it shouldn’t end there. The Pandemic has given us a chance to learn more about how we interact, what communication strategies are important, and how we can support each other at work in good times and bad. We know we’ve barely scraped the surface on this topic and we’re interested to hear from you: which communication strategies are key for those working remotely?

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