With the uncertainty of the pandemic still looming in India, organisations and their teams continue to function remotely. But after more than a year, remote working is no longer a new phenomenon or a novelty for that matter.
Most employees are now used to having meetings and presentations over video calls and getting tasks accomplished via email or phone calls.
However, coming to this point has not been a smooth ride. There have been many hiccups on the road to adjustment. Working remotely still poses a host of challenges for teams, which makes coordination and communication quite challenging at times.
Working remotely still poses a host of challenges for teams, which makes coordination and communication quite challenging at times.
Why is communication so important?
In an organisation, individuals do not work in isolation. There has to be a constant flow of information, ideas, and updates within teams and between teams to get the job done.
The level and quality of communication between these entities will ultimately dictate how efficiently and smoothly work will run.
Therefore, effective communication and employee cooperation are vital to avoid missing deadlines and achieve overall business goals.
Communication also helps build bonds, camaraderie, and a shared vision. It boosts team morale and increases motivation. And most importantly, communication builds trust. All of this ultimately helps in the smooth functioning of a company.
So, good communication gets a job done and is thus crucial.
The benefits of good communication
Apart from the benefits mentioned above, good communication has a host of other benefits:
- It keeps employees engaged
- It increases productivity
- It makes sure that relevant and vital information is received
- It decreases employee turnover
- It increases knowledge sharing
- It creates a positive and healthier company culture.
In the absence of effective communication, there would be chaos, confusion, and wasted time, which would eventually lead to decreased productivity, motivation, morale, and affect the company’s profits.
Different types of communication in the workplace
Most employees are primarily concerned with interacting only with their immediate teams and colleagues. But communication is far more significant than that. Organisations have very complex communication networks and channels that exist within them.
1. Intra-company communication
Internal communication is the flow of information between all the different departments and employees in an organisation. Simply put, it includes all the communication that occurs within an organisation.
Communication both up and down the management/employee chain needs to work seamlessly if a company is to function optimally. Any organisation must function effectively.
A solid internal communication system also helps nurture a positive company culture and builds employee engagement.
2. Inter-team communication
It takes the effort of the whole organisation to work together to achieve goals, and that requires different departments to liaise with each other effectively.
Inter-team/inter-department communication is crucial because it determines how efficiently a business will run as good communication is an essential factor in efficiency and speed of execution.
Disagreements in terms of ideas, misunderstandings, or a sense of being side-lined can often create conflicts among teams. A culture of communication, respect, listening and prompt conflict resolution always works wonders to address these issues.
3. Intra-team communication
Intra-team communication is the communication that occurs within a team. Without proper intra-team communication, it is impossible to create inter-team communication or intra-company communication.
Thus, to create solid teams and a strong organisation, good communication is a must.
A team with good internal communication and collaboration will always come out on top and contribute positively to the company culture. A symbiotic relationship among team members helps align, work towards, and achieve goals more efficiently.
4. Client communication
Last but not least is effective communication with the clients. This plays a crucial role in organisational development and business success.
There are four different ways of communicating within organisations:
- Verbal communication
- Body language (physical cues)
- Telephonic communication/ video conferencing and
- Written communication (emails, notes, text messages)
Both employees and managers use these throughout the workday.
How communication has changed with remote working
Remote working has isolated the employees. Little or no face-to-face interaction has nullified the use of verbal communication and body language to a great extent. This has left them to conduct the complex task of communication via telephone, video, or email only.
Although communication tools and technology have allowed companies to carry on their businesses through the lockdown, they have also contributed to one of the main challenges of remote working.
But, since remote working is here to stay and things like calling for a meeting in the conference room or walking up to a colleague’s desk to ask for clarification/information is no longer possible, employees and companies will have to find ways around these challenges.
Communication challenges of remote employees
According to Buffer, 20% of employees say that communication and collaboration are their biggest struggles when working remotely.
Everyone is rueing the lack of effective person-to-person interaction.
Remote communication is difficult because of several other factors like:
- Connectivity issues
- Coordinating across time zones
- Combating information silos
- Determining the ideal frequency and balance of communication
- Communication gap-lag response
Many organisations are trying to overhaul their communication strategies completely, considering the above.
The dangers of inefficient communication
Communication gaps have caused several problems for companies with remote workers.
Let us look at some of these.
1. Lack of visibility
When teams met at the office and communicated, it was simpler to stay updated. However, remote working has raised the issue of visibility.
It has become difficult for everyone involved in the project to get a clear picture of the project, understand objectives and their role in meeting this goal. It has also become challenging to stay updated regarding the status of the project.
Teams struggle to be on the same page, especially when there are communication hiccups, and in addition, project updates are not easily available.
2. Accountability issues
Employee accountability has also become a pain point for management when it comes to remote working.
However, communication is the key to accountability. When communication slacks and employees are not regularly asked for progress updates (which is more complex over the phone), they tend to be less accountable.
Regular communication facilitates initiatives and responsibility towards fulfilling a commitment.
3. Lowered productivity
Employees find it difficult to be as productive and accomplish collaborative tasks with remote colleagues as compared to when working in an office setting.
While virtual technology has its merits, people cannot be as effective when they’re collaborating on a remote basis all the time.
4. Lack of transparency
Remote working has made it difficult for managers to keep tabs on their team members.
It is crucial for managers to be well-informed and have smooth communication with their team members as it helps them track the progress of their team and maintain a healthy workflow.
5. Frustration and Conflict
For most employees working from home, the daily workday consists of a never-ending string of follow-up emails and calls.
Emails, especially, can leave a lot of room for interpretation if not worded carefully. And surely, it is frustrating to have colleagues ignore or misinterpret an idea or message. If left unresolved, this can often lead to conflict.
6. Decreased morale and frustration
Studies show that virtual employees feel that they are not heard as much as on-site employees.
Often, morale is low and stress is high for remote workers. This typically happens when there is a lack of face-to-face reassurance about their value and contributions to the team.
Also, a lack of explicit communication from managers regarding expectations and goals can lead to fear, insecurity, and mistrust among employees.
7. Lack of teamwork
A distributed workforce has made it difficult for managers to keep everyone on the same page and build a cohesive team culture.
Apart from feeling disconnected and isolated, remote team members may also not be motivated when their co-workers are not around.
8. An overall decrease in speed and output
Face-to-face interaction enables employees and teams to come to quicker decisions, respond quickly, and execute with speed.
However, the speed of communication with remote team members is always slower. This can lead to communication gaps and delays.
Overcoming the Communication Challenge
Yes, these may seem like many woes, and management may be tempted to do away with remote working as soon as possible. In a global research by Lenovo of 20,262 workers, it was revealed that 50% of Indian respondents believe they would be happy if work from home replaced actual offices.
So, let’s face it, remote working does have a lot of benefits and is here to stay.50% of Indian respondents in a global survey said they would be happy if work from home replaced actual offices. Click To Tweet
The good news is that improving communication can significantly resolve all of the above woes.
Here are some ways to smoothen out the process to combat conflict, miscommunication, and connectivity issues.
1. Create guidelines and a set format for project updates
Since it is difficult to maintain visibility when working remotely, companies can develop a system for brief scheduled project updates, a dashboard, and a task calendar so that employees working on a project are on the same page. This will also enable them to know when their tasks are due and how not respecting deadlines will impact the rest of the team.
This can help maintain a smooth workflow, avoid communication gaps and ensure all employees are up to date. Clarity can help employees feel more empowered, and they will procrastinate less.
2. Create detailed meeting minutes
Meeting minutes are written accurate accounts of all that is decided at the meetings. These become even more relevant when there is no face-to-face communication.
Keeping minutes and including everything from who attended the meeting to points of discussion, people responsible for action, deadlines, follow up action etc., can serve as a reference for remote employees working collaboratively.
But also, for employees with a connectivity problem, minutes can help get an accurate understanding of what they missed and leave no room for misinterpretation.
3. Establish a clear reporting structure
Establishing a clear structure for reporting and setting down policies for how management should handle disagreements and communication gaps can be helpful.
If there is chaos regarding assignments, approaches, or deadlines, the person in charge can use the set policies as guidelines to sort out the issue.
4. Keep your communication clear
There is scope for people to misinterpret written communication in the absence of verbal communication and body language, especially if it is not carefully worded. Therefore, for the message to be heard and understood as it is intended, it must be crystal clear.
Encourage written communication in simple language, stating what they mean with no room for misunderstanding.
5. Repeat communication
Employees working from home battle a lot of distractions, in addition to the many work calls and emails they have to attend to.
Therefore, it helps to repeat the message so that it is heard as well as absorbed correctly.
Reiterating messages using 2-3 different channels like email, instant messenger, newsletter, bulletin board, broadcast, or phone call can leave no room for misunderstanding- when in doubt, repeat and repeat again!
6. Keep meetings and messages short
After all the virtual meetings and calls, even the most dedicated employee can be weary.
Virtual content and meetings should be short, to the point and engaging. And with the phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue” on the rise, unnecessary meetings should be avoided.
7. Standardise communication tools
Every organisation has different needs when it comes to communication.
Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all. Each organisation needs to find communication tools best suited to its needs and standardise those across the company. This will save employees time, energy and enable them to avoid compatibility issues stemming from the use of different tools.
8. Connectivity hiccups
In India, wi-fi connectivity has been one of the main woes for most employees working from home.
While most cannot do anything about lousy connectivity, there is always a backup plan.
Companies can work around this problem by giving their employees high-speed data packs or reimbursing them for the same. This will allow them to access fast and stable connections, and lousy connectivity will not become a regular excuse for not working.
If wi-fi connections are down, employees can temporarily use mobile hotspots until connections are back up again.
9. Video calls
Video calls are a great way of communicating. Agreed that they are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they come the closest to simulating face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
A video call enables the audience to see expressions on the speaker’s face and engage and connect more with the speaker.
10. Set an acceptable response time
Working from home can lead to an overwhelming overload of digital communication.
Employees go from call to call and email to email, and this can be exhausting to deal with daily. It may cause them to fall behind on their responses and communication.
Setting an acceptable response time gives everyone involved the space to plan and manage their communication effectively.
11. Keep the virtual door open
Now that teams are working from home, it is more crucial than ever for companies to maintain transparency with their employees and keep the lines of communication to management open.
Managers who are always available, supportive, and proactive in sorting out the concerns of their teams tend to have more satisfied and engaged employees. In the context of the remote working environment, it will keep them from feeling isolated and side-lined.
12. Go the extra mile
Finally, it is easier to build camaraderie and trust in an office setting. However, this becomes very difficult when teams are working remotely. Keeping employees engaged and their morale high becomes quite a task.
Companies have an essential role in supporting employees and creating an environment where they feel comfortable communicating their struggles. Therefore, organisations have to go that extra mile to keep the bonds strong and the teamwork high.
The pandemic and the lockdown have been tough on everyone. Management must find ways to keep their employees inspired, happy, and motivated. Therefore, in these difficult times, it falls on the management to build appropriate and effective communication channels to hear their employees and keep business functioning smoothly.
And now, it’s your turn! If you have any interesting thoughts or experiences on how you can more efficiently communicate with a remote workforce, you could leave us a comment or get in touch with us- we would love to hear from you!