Effective Communication in a Virtual World
As 2022 rolls in, remote and hybrid work are here to stay. While many federal employees are back in the office, others have made the permanent shift to remote work. With two years of experience in remote work under our belts, many managers, teams, and individual contributors have developed ways to stay connected and keep productivity high. Nevertheless, challenges are bound to continue. Without face-to-face communication, many struggle with not being able to “read the room” in the absence of body language cues, water cooler talk, and the ability to pop into a colleague’s office quickly. This deficit can create a loss of comradery and lead to misunderstandings. Even for those back in person, the office environment is not what it once was. With safety measures impacting office dynamics and a shift in how many employees think about their relationship to their jobs, developing and strengthening communication and relationship-building tools will make people feel included, avoid conflict, and set the tone for effective relationships and a productive environment.
Words matter. Strategic and intentional internal and external communication is crucial to maintaining strong relationships. Strategic communication enables you to incorporate day-to-day tactics into broader team goals by being deliberate with not only what you say but also how you say it. When considering the information you need to convey, think about how those you communicate with will receive it. Where one person may prefer a detailed email, another may prefer to connect over Zoom. Ask for feedback from your team members, vendors, or others you work with regularly to determine how to best communicate with these individuals and groups. Pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Good strategic communication is an ongoing commitment.
Carefully consider how you can make people feel included and reduce stress related to the realities of hybrid work. While remote workers may miss working at the office, those who have returned to the workplace may struggle to reacclimate. Remember that staff who started during the pandemic may need extra support because they have not had opportunities to bond with existing team members in person. During virtual meetings, make sure everyone can participate. How many of us have been on a virtual meeting where the lack of visual cues causes people to interrupt each other? Schedule a regular time for a virtual team lunch, build time into meetings to check in, or hold icebreaker activities, and keep remote employees in the loop about office activities. Celebrate accomplishments and find creative avenues to build and sustain your team.
No matter how carefully you plan, things will go awry. When they do, remain flexible and welcome feedback. Communication tools that facilitate video and voice calls, document sharing, and chatting help keep your team connected without overwhelming them. Give employees space to complete their work without hovering. Interpersonal relationships can always be improved. Many employees are likely to need to navigate changes in their family and personal circumstances. Keep an open door and offer support to your team, especially during unexpected situations.
As the nature of our workplaces may be different, taking the time to be thoughtful about how we communicate in this new reality helps all of us thrive. Management Concepts supports these efforts with a number of courses, webinars, and advisory services that can help you and your teams achieve your missions.