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Communication & Remote Work in 2021: Assess Your Skills

This article is part 4 of our 5-part Employee Engagement and Culture Checklist for 2021 Series:


“Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow and progress. It’s not just about speaking or reading but understanding what is being said – and in some cases what is not being said.” -Richard Branson

The last year has caused a great deal of disruption in our usual work environments, and especially our means of communication. For those who have made the shift to remote or hybrid work for the foreseeable future, our ability to communicate effectively has been tested.

The Importance of Communication in Employee Engagement

Employee engagement and communication are closely tied. The moments of connection, inclusion, and community created by strong lines of communication are invaluable to organizations.

Cultures of good communication aren’t easy to build and maintain, but they pay big dividends. By promoting open and consistent communication standards, organizations foster higher engagement levels – and keep in mind, highly engaged workforces are over 20% more profitable.

So, how do your communication skills measure up? Use the list below to assess how you’re doing and identify gaps in your remote-work communication toolkit.

1. Non-verbal Cues

The lack of non-verbal cues created by working in a remote setting can lead to miscommunication, defensiveness, and conflict. That said, there are some non-verbal cues still available, primarily via video calls. And while we are all aware of “Zoom-fatigue,” those video calls are essential to assess whether your message is being received.

Non-verbal cues also go beyond body language. Managers should take the time to interpret the tone of their employees' emails and messages to check for signs of distress, frustration, or burnout. Messages sent late at night, frequent errors, and a curt tone are some red flags to look for.

Finally, more overt actions or displays of disengagement like absenteeism or non-participation in meetings can be a red flag and a sign of a communication breakdown.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I monitor the wellbeing of my colleagues by reading non-verbal communication on video calls?
  • Do I assess the tone of voice in email and chat messages?

2. Access

Is your virtual door “always open?” Open-door policies are important whether you are in the office or remote. Sometimes your team needs to reach out outside of scheduled meetings and check-ins. In a survey conducted by Slack, 46% of remote workers believe the best managers are the ones who check in often. What’s more, a different study found that 84% of remote workers hide workplace concerns for a few days before informing higher-ups, and 47% admitted that they didn’t address issues for more than a week. With that said, it’s also important to set boundaries – you don’t need to be available 24/7 just because your office is your home. If a task needs your undivided attention, book that time in your calendar and set any messenger apps to “do not disturb,” and book other time slots to answer any questions that come up that day at a time that works for you.

Some managers address this by setting up “office hours” on Zoom where they sign into a Zoom room for an hour or two a week so their employees can pop in as needed to collaborate or ask questions.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I easily accessible to my team if they need me?
  • Do I answer instant messages or emails in a relatively timely manner?

3. Accountability

Accountability becomes even more critical in remote work environments. Without the visual cues that come with working in a shared space, your colleagues might be worried about your ability to meet an approaching deadline, especially if you haven’t communicated progress and/or have missed deadlines in the past. It's easy to give someone a quick nudge in the office's lunchroom, but it can feel intimidating to send a written message or email when working remotely.

The good news is, building trust and accountability in a virtual work environment is possible, according to Forbes. Some of their recommendations include: be predictable, be easy to read, support others, hold people accountable and tell the truth. For example, predictability by keeping expectations clear and consistent can help employees know what they need to do their job well.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I meet my deadlines?
  • Am I transparent about my progress on projects?

4. Personal Connection

According to Gallup, many remote workers are likely to feel adrift, lost, or forgotten in their new work environment. Companies are built on relationships, and while remote or distributed teams may be physically distanced, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be, or can’t be, tight-knit and supportive.

The key to building personal connections? Effort. While serendipitous water-cooler run-ins may be a thing of the past, for now, it’s still possible to create solid and meaningful relationships with colleagues if you make the time.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I take the time to have personal conversations with my colleagues to learn about personal news and any outside stressors affecting their work?
  • Do I check-in with my team on wellbeing and job satisfaction?
  • Do I celebrate my team’s birthdays, work anniversaries, and special life events?

5. Clear Expectations

According to David Maxfield, managers who are explicit with their expectations have happier teams that can deliver results. Specificity is critical in remote settings so that employees can get to work independently without waiting for guidance. Instructions like “let’s do this sooner rather than later” or “let’s talk next week” can be stressful and confusing, especially for remote workers who can’t just pop their head into your office for advice.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I clear about what I expect from my team?
  • Do I communicate clear timelines and next steps?

6. Individualization

One of the keys to engaging employees is meeting their individual needs and tailoring their work experience to their preferences. The global pandemic left many workers caring for children and elderly parents during work hours – offering flexible work schedules can help ease the burden for them.

Generational preferences should also be considered, with millennials typically preferring email or chat over phone calls, and Gen X or Boomers typically preferring a traditional phone calls over a video conference. Regardless, it’s essential to take the time to understand your team’s preferences and accommodate them whenever possible.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know my team’s communication preferences?
  • Am I considerate of other people’s time? If someone has a packed calendar, do I book their last remaining 30-minutes, or do I find a day when they have fewer meetings?

7. Recognition

A strong culture of recognition helps drive employee engagement and performance. Regularly communicating recognition is vital in a remote-work environment. When employees aren’t physically together, it can be easy to get caught up in daily tasks and forget to recognize a job well done. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a Deloitte study found that 85% of employees simply want a thank you (vs. a gift or celebration.)

A robust recognition platform like Kudos streamlines recognition across an entire organization. Peers can recognize and thank each other for great work, and managers can recognize their employees and spotlight their contributions for the organization to see.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I providing regular, meaningful recognition to my employees and colleagues?

8. Company Communication

Finally, communication and direction from executives and leaders must be considered and factored into any kind of communication review. Company news and successes should be communicated transparently and freely to keep employees informed and included. According to a report by PRovote (formerly The Holmes Report), companies with effective communication strategies have 47% higher returns to shareholders, more engaged employees, and less employee turnover.

Gallup’s Q12 framework is an excellent place to start when building a broad employee communication strategy. Gallup has identified 12 foundational elements of employee engagement, and using this framework as a guide, leaders can tailor communications to meet their employee’s common questions and needs. Some of the twelve elements include:

  • Q2: I have the materials and equipment to do my work right
  • Q5: My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  • Q8: The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel like my job is important

Ask yourself:

  • Does my organization have a clear communication strategy?
  • Do my leadership team’s communication efforts reflect the 12 elements of the Gallup Q12 employee engagement framework?

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If you answered yes to most of the questions – congratulations! You have exceptional communication skills and are setting your team up for success in a remote work environment.

If this assessment made you realize that there are some gaps in your communication skills - don’t be discouraged. Everyone is still adapting to the changes 2020 brought; it’s important to be patient with yourself and focus on minor improvements every day.

With that said, communication is vital in understanding what remote workers need to perform their job today, which could be different from what they needed six months ago and will likely look different six months from now. Continuously assessing and improving your communication skills is the key to fostering a thriving and engaged workforce.

Take your communication skills to the next level with Kudos®. Kudos is an employee engagement, culture, and analytics platform, that harnesses the power of peer-to-peer recognition, values reinforcement, and open communication to help organizations boost employee engagement, reduce turnover, improve culture, and drive productivity and performance. Kudos uses unique proprietary methodologies to deliver essential people analytics on culture, performance, equity, and inclusion, providing organizations with deep insights and a clear understanding of their workforce. Book your demo today!

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