March 2020 brought with it a tidal wave of unforeseen changes — to both our workforce and economy. Ready or not, a huge number of businesses had to pivot quickly to a 100% work-from-home model to keep their employees safe and their operations moving.
Now that the dust has settled from the initial shift to working from home, leaders are tasked with determining how to manage their teams efficiently and effectively. This requires a concerted, strategic approach in both overseeing and communicating with workers.
Below, we discuss a few ways to open up the lines of communication among your remote team in this brave new world.
Make Sure Your Employees Understand “Netiquette”
The premise of digital etiquette (or “netiquette”) is simple: treat others the way you want to be treated.
The catch? Without in-person nonverbal cues, it’s much easier to unintentionally misconstrue the meaning of communications — and, often, harder to resist the temptation to enter into a conflict.
“For various reasons, people often behave with far less restraint in a virtual environment than in the physical world,” writes Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) Keith Ferrazzi. 1
This is a phenomenon known as the “online disinhibition effect.”
Given this reality of digital interaction, here are a few key tenants of “netiquette” you can use to help guide your employees’ remote communications:
- Be respectful, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
- Double-check messages before hitting send and be aware of how your communication might be read
- Create (and follow) rules of conduct or community standards for forums and chat rooms
- Keep messages and posts as positive as possible
- Leave abbreviations and emoticons out of formal communication
- Don’t write in all-caps — it may seem like you’re yelling
- Be careful with humor, as it’s not always easy to distinguish in written communication
Adjusting to the new norm of remote work means taking extra care to ensure communication is effective. Some of the biggest sources for uncertainty for employees in remote communication are collaboration, staying connected to one another and ensuring that everything is communicated effectively with fewer interactions and nonverbal cues.
While you won’t be able to compensate for the loss of organic water cooler moments and in-person interactions, here are a few ways to reduce sources of uncertainty for your employees:
- Drive collaboration and communication with video conferencing
- Err on the side of over-communicating by writing things down, and making them easy to reference and share
- Hold regular, structured meetings (including agendas that are sent out beforehand)
- Facilitate problem-solving by creating a “forum” where employees can submit/answer questions
Teach and Reinforce Positive Intent
Even before COVID-19 created an untethered workforce, one of the most effective ways to manage teams was to “always assume positive intent.” Assuming positive intent is powerful, but for it to be effective, “you must first recognize your automatic tendency to see negative intentions when something impacts you negatively, and then you must deliberately practice looking for positive intent,” write the experts at Collaborative Way. 2
This is especially critical now that workers don’t have nonverbal cues to help them interpret their colleagues’ intentions. Common remote channels for communication including e-mail and instant messaging are impersonal by nature, and cut out 93% of essential nonverbal cues 3 typically present in face-to-face interactions.
Set Up Clear Processes
From meetings to conflict management, it’s critical to set up formal processes to manage day-to-day goings-on in the workplace, especially in areas that are more vulnerable to miscommunications and misunderstandings.
- Set up a conflict management process, including mediated video meetings where disagreeing parties can talk face-to-face
- Create a remote employee onboarding process (including regular check-ins and pairing new employees with a mentor)
- Make sure everyone is connected through common chat and project management apps
Above all, perhaps the most important thing to remember and understand is that just about everyone’s “surge capacity” has been depleted. 4 We’ve all been in a chronic, physiological “state of emergency” since COVID-19 turned life upside-down, so our emotional reserves are much lower than they usually would be.
By helping employees understand digital etiquette and positive intent, as well as setting up clear communications and processes, you’ll be setting up your newly remote team for success.
Maximizing employee security and minimizing stress among workers starts with a great team — and a business guided by best practices.
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2020-110616 Exp. 10/2022