How to Communicate Effectively While Working Remotely During the Lockdown
Technology empowers us to stay connected during the health crisis, but it comes with challenges. Here are common pitfalls to avoid.
18 May 2020
With millions around the world in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology is providing the much-needed ability to stay connected with family, friends and work colleagues. Many who avoided digital communication tools have had to adapt to avoid personal and professional isolation.
As we navigate uncertain times, tech is helping to keep life “normal.” In the past week alone, I’ve scheduled 63 video conferences, 24 phone calls and sent over 200 emails. During a recent weekend, I had two cookalongs with friends; a meal with family located overseas; a reunion with old colleagues with whom I had not connected in decades; and several private chats that went on for over an hour. I haven't done the volume of calls like this for many years, and I am pretty sure I’m not alone.
Beware of communication challenges
Although digital communication platforms help us stay connected, they can bring challenges. When we communicate in written form, for instance, we don’t have the benefit of vocal intonation or body language. (Thankfully, emojis can help describe our emotions.) Communicating through virtual services can sometimes lead to confusion: A frozen screen delaying the meaning of the conversation; a colleague talking while on mute; background noises when someone on the call is not muted; hearing the echo of our voice; people locked out of meeting … the list goes on. Hence the importance of ensuring that every meeting has clear and measurable objectives right from the start.
Continuous communication is key
During these uncertain times, putting forth messages clearly and empathetically is important to every organization. Now more than ever it is pivotal for business leaders to be communicative, as a lack of information can make employees feel powerless, confused and detached. It’s vital to be as transparent as possible with staff on the steps the company is taking or considering for the future.
A company I know runs a daily update, summarizing key announcements, so all staff is aware of what it means for them. A best practice is to overcommunicate with staff rather than not at all. Overcommunicating does not mean explaining everything but, instead, communicating the right things simply and effectively.
As there are so many communication channels today (Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams), the CEO keeps the cadence to regularly scheduled posts with the wider team (weekly summary, update on projects each team is working on, monthly employee award, etc.). Managers ensure they have good communication with their staff, building positive working relationships.
Communication fosters connection
Trust is the cornerstone of strong leadership. By increasing communication with direct reports and the wider team, employees feel empowered to achieve their goals. Regular virtual check-ins with your team to see how they are coping amidst these unsettling times is essential. It is also indispensable to give recognition to employees to make them feel appreciated and valued for their good work.
Every message you send is an opportunity to define the kind of leader you want to be. Leaving a positive and warm impression when you communicate across your company will build trust with your team. My friend Ellie was telling me how touched she was when she received a handwritten letter from her boss, articulating her praises over the work she had produced over the past couple of years. Ellie is now more determined than ever to perpetuate her good work.
On a similar note, I sent a bunch of flowers to my accountant last week, as I am so grateful for the work she does for me. This type of behavior helps to reinforce good relationships and trust, and enhance connections.
Empathize and listen
Coupled with communication is listening, another cornerstone of good leadership. Employees need to be heard, especially during these disruptive times. They need appropriate channels to voice their concerns, as well as anonymous surveys to express their opinions.
In times of crisis, good leaders know when to stand at the “top of the pyramid,” wear their “leadership hat” and change to suit the situation they are in. Showing understanding goes a long way. Direct leaders are aware that their employees need greater support to cope with the unknown.
Back in my corporate life, I had several leaders – some better than others. Henry was one of the best because he was always there for us, no matter what. He checked in with us daily and taught us how to look at situations from others' perspectives. Most of all, he ensured that everyone had the resources and knowledge they needed to meet their objectives. He helped me to develop the skills I needed to advance in my career. By choosing to put your team first, you help them to develop and perform.
COVID-19 has transformed the way we communicate. While not entirely seamless, most of us have adapted well to the new era. The coronavirus outbreak is dramatically changing the way companies communicate both internally and externally. Once we are on the other side and back to normality – whatever normality will be by then – it is crucial to take into account all we have learned during this period. Since we will have built more meaningful, deeper conversations over the months, we will feel more connected to the people we are speaking to, so the transition from virtual back to in-person will hopefully be a natural one.