Practical Strategies For Communicating Effectively When Working Remotely

The ability to work remotely has been a saving grace for many businesses since the start of the pandemic and has led us to new ways of working. Even though most companies are allowing staff to return to the office, the idea of virtual working is here to stay with flexible days and hybrid working becoming the new normal. However, some working practices can be ironed out for more effective remote working. We’ve designed a pathway for navigating virtual impact to benefit you and your employees when working from home.

1. Videos on/ Mute off

Encouraging your staff to keep their video on where possible will facilitate better engagement as visual stimulation creates a deeper connection. Urge your team to stay off mute where possible, otherwise, this can create an invisible barrier for collaborative discussion. Unless there’s lots of noise in someone’s background, it can be useful to hear the feedback of your team, just as you would in a face-to-face meeting.

2. Create clear agendas

This is important for every meeting but particularly virtual meetings. With back-to-back meetings being commonplace in some organisations, it is vital that people know what the meeting is about and why it’s important to them- otherwise you may find that they spend half the meeting working on something else.

3. Manage Expectations

I’m sure you’ve all experienced the tumbleweed moment when someone asks, “does anyone have any ideas that build on this?” The problem is not so much the question itself, but the way it’s being asked. When communicating virtually, we need clear expectations about what kind of answer is being requested. A punchier way of asking this might be “It would be great to hear some ideas that are coming up for you. Let’s hear from three of you.” Now the group has a clear instruction that the speaker is looking for three voices and they can be more forthcoming with their involvement.

4. Value different communication styles

Do you prefer extroverted, energetic communication? Or communication that is quieter and more introspective? When leading a team, it can be useful to be aware of your blind spots when it comes to communication, to prevent misinterpretation or confusion about your team member’s intentions. This is particularly strong for people leading multicultural teams. For example, the Japanese are known for being particularly comfortable with silence, even during negotiations. By understanding your team’s communication style you can set up your meetings to work to the advantage of both your loud colleagues and your quieter team members. One way can be to create space for thinking before or during a meeting. This may be something you add on to an agenda you send out in advance such as “I’d like you all to come to the meeting prepared to talk about X”, or, it could be during the meeting itself. After asking a question you might offer a minute for your team to process individually before asking for responses. This also helps people who are not working in their native language.

5. Hold space and steer

As a chair, you want to hold space for both questions and injections. Pause for this to happen and you will also make sure the conversation stays on track. If you get a curveball question that isn’t linked to where you are in your agenda you can skilfully hold the space by:

1. Finding them right. Say “thanks for that question”

2. Then reaffirming by repeating some of what they’ve said and highlight its usefulness “I appreciate your concern about the climate change strategy”

3. Then finally, redirecting: “We’re going to be looking at that shortly so could you hold that important flag for us now, and if it hasn’t been answered will you please remind us to loop back?” This strategy makes the person asking the question feel heard and acknowledged. It also creates co-responsibility for bringing it back at a later point. By doing this, you’re asking them to hold the question on behalf of the team - which subtly points to the idea that the question is a voice of the team as opposed to belonging to solely to the individual asking it.

6. Only invite people to the meeting who are essential

Do you really need to invite everyone from your department to that catch-up? Only inviting necessary attendees will ensure that things stay on track and you can be finished in the allotted time. If you do you need the entire team on board, then does it need to be a whole hour? Shorter 25-minute and 55-minute meetings are a great way of making sure people don’t go from meeting to meeting and thus end up multi-tasking or being late to the next invite in their diary. Remember, in person we often have to walk between meeting rooms, which gives us some space to process, stretch our legs, and pop to the loo. Virtual teams need the same space too. Meetings can also often interrupt a person’s daily workload. As leaders, you want to create an inspiring and motivating environment for your staff, so rather than pack your team’s calendars, keep meeting times to a minimum for a more efficient workday.

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