In today’s working environment, effective business communication is more critical than ever, especially for the growing number of employees who work from home. While the number of remote workers may change after the pandemic, there are still many workers that plan to continue working from home.
A 2020 CNBC study found that approximately 42% of people are currently working from home, compared to only 9% who were doing so before the pandemic. With this massive increase in remote workers, some managers are struggling to keep up with the changes – communication being one of them.
The study also found that for those who are working from home, only 55% plan to return to work once the pandemic has settled down, and 24% of respondents say they will continue to work from home. Therefore, managers cannot “put off” adjusting to the remote working environment any longer.
Additionally, 19% of the respondents said they were working from home for the first time. This means management needs to take a close look at how they plan to teach newbies how to use remote tools and communicate effectively in this ever-changing world.
With this increase in the remote working environment, workers need to understand how to communicate effectively. Managers also need to be able to recognize problems remote workers are having; they can do this by looking for specific verbal and nonverbal communication clues.
For example, the CNBC study found that 40% of remote workers are less productive at home! So, how can management help their employees with problems like this, and how can they tell if their workers are having trouble?
This article will identify problems with employees based on their remote communication cues and will assist managers in solving these problems. It will also look at how to best communicate with teams and individuals.
Problems and Communication Cues to Watch Out For
How to Solve Problems with Remote Employees
Problem: Poor Time Management
Solution: Consider having your employee keep a timesheet so that you can see where their time is going; this should help you discover if they are using their time wisely or not and will give you the opportunity to help them.
Another similar idea is to have them turn in an informal wrap-up sheet at the closing time. For example, at 5:00 PM, have them turn in a summary of what they did during the day. This should help them stay accountable for what they did or did not do during the day.
Don’t want to be that hands-on? Encourage them to install a reminder application so that they remember to take two 15-minute breaks and a lunch hour (or whatever your company policy requires). This should help those who are becoming workaholics.
Alternatively, offer team members the opportunity to take free online courses on effective time management. There are YouTube videos on fixing time-wasters, and you can also find PowerPoint presentations to show how to manage time wisely.
Here are a couple of YouTube Videos on good Time Management skills:
Some common themes in these videos include:
- Calendar blocking
- Avoiding distractions
- Practicing prioritization
- Create long term goals and plans
Here’s a short slideshow on Time Management:
If you cannot find exactly what you need online, consider creating your own video or PowerPoint presentation for your employees, one that conveys the exact message on Time Management that you want it to say.
Problem: Isolation (Lack of Social Interaction)
Solution: If you sense isolation is a problem, you’re probably right. To solve this, allow your employees to hold video conferences, give online presentations, or engage in team conference calls, giving them plenty of facetime to just “check-in” with the team members.
The Harvard Business Review provided some unique ideas for employee isolation; they suggested virtual pizza parties or virtual office parties, where team care packages can be opened individually and enjoyed simultaneously during a team conference call.
The point is to reach out to employees that may be having trouble with isolation and to come up with ways for them to have the “watercooler” type of social interaction from home. If you want them to work hard for you, you must acclimate to their needs.
If you find your employees are having “cabin fever” from being cooped up at home, suggest things for them to do. Offer to have a hypothetical “open-door policy” (be available at any time during business hours) so that they can chat whenever they need to.
While we have gone over most of these suggestions, this article does have a few additional tips for employees who are suffering from isolation. Another recommendation is from this list. It discusses the 5 conversations that drive employee performance as being:
- Role and Relationship Development
- Progress Review
- Quick Connect
- Developmental Coaching
Implement these conversations with your employees to have open communication and to help them want to share their concerns, problems, or ideas with you. This can be tricky and may take some creativity as you don’t want to have boundary issues.
Problem: Difficulty Prioritizing Tasks
Solution: Provide employees who have difficulty prioritizing a to-do list to make it clear what projects have the highest priority. Consider having a weekly telephone/video conference call to reiterate what tasks have the highest priority. This will help them understand deadlines.
Encourage employees to take on their least favorite task first (rip off the band-aid) or implement the Eisenhower Box, which sorts important tasks from those that can wait, like this:
|Important||Do it now||Schedule for later|
|Not Important||Delegate||Delete it|
Make sure the employee understands what is urgent and important versus what isn’t. If you know they are having trouble, find solutions, helping them in any way that you can. This may mean doing some micro-managing until they get themselves more organized.
Problem: Lack of Adequate Productivity
Solution: If you feel your team members are not being as productive as they could be, it’s time to take action. Suggest ways to help them combat distractions.
For example, you might recommend that they install a distraction-limiting tool that prevents things like pop-up email notifications from occurring when trying to focus on a project. This article lists the best apps to help you focus and avoid distractions, so consider one of those tools.
Another idea you could suggest would be an energy log. An energy log is basically a schedule with a blank spot next to every hour to mark your energy level. You can create it yourself. Here is a sample of what you can make:
To fill out the energy log, you just keep the schedule with you during the day. Then, during each hour, just mark what your energy level was.
Use a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 having NO energy and 10 being as energetic as you can get. Here is an example of a completed energy log:
In this example, this person hit his highest energy levels in the afternoon, so he now knows that the afternoon is his most productive time of the day. That is the time when he should focus on his most demanding tasks.
The essential purpose of the energy log is to help you understand when you are most productive. During the most productive times, challenge yourself to do the most challenging things you have to do. This could greatly help an employee who is struggling with productivity.
Another tool you can try is the 1-3-5 Rule, which states that you are to do 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 little things during the day. This can help your team members get things accomplished during the day.
If your employee is having difficulty with distractions at home, consider suggesting that they keep consistent work hours, and have strict rules as to why they cannot be interrupted during business hours. Assist them in any way that you can so they can be productive for you.
More Solutions for Communication Problems
Here’s a summary with some additional tips for solving communication problems.
- Have an “open-door” policy where employees can come to you with any problem, concern, or idea they have at any time via any communication method.
- Make sure you listen well to what your employees are really saying in emails or chat rooms. Often, the tone of voice is difficult to detect, so listen (read) carefully for the correct intention behind the message or ask questions to clarify communication.
- Create an open place for employees to work together to share ideas, feedback, or problems. Use this place as a nurturing ground for your team’s garden to grow. In other words, take the information provided and use it wisely. This valuable data can help you solve many communication problems.
- Offer team-based solutions; any time you can provide all team members with information saves you time and energy because you don’t have relay messages over and again for each individual employee.
- Communicate as much as is necessary; clarify any misunderstandings; be proactive in speaking up, especially during conflict. Even though you may not be in person with your employees, it’s still your job to step in during disagreements to offer clarifications and solutions.
- Take frequent surveys, quizzes, and/or polls to get a feel for any problems that are present with team members. When you receive the feedback, create new polls based on the answers so that you can get to the root of any problems and fix them.
How to Communicate Effectively with Remote Employees
- Communicate clear expectations.
Create a set of guidelines on communication for your team. Many workers who are doing their job at home need clear expectations so they can understand the company’s goals, needs, wants, mission, and opportunities.
Consider discussing this information in a group chat in case there are any questions, concerns, and/or comments. This way, you can convey the information to everyone on the team without having to repeat yourself.
Provide handouts regarding the company’s expectations, which would be especially helpful for those who aren’t taking notes during important conference calls. Also, provide “minutes” for video chat meetings so that everyone understands what was said.
- Discuss which communication methods are available.
Make sure that the guidelines clearly outline the details on how the team can best expect to communicate with you and their teammates. Also, provide easy-to-understand instructions on how to use each method.
- Make sure employees understand how to communicate.
As employees adjust to the remote working environment, make sure they know how to use each communication tool. This may mean doing more than just handing out instructions.
Offer training on how to use these virtual tools, illustrate how to use each of the remote tools, and make 1-on-1 calls to allow them to get managerial support. Give them an opportunity to try out the communication tools with you to see if they are using them right.
- Be available for conversations by any means necessary.
Make sure you are available for any questions your team may have. If you are not available for some reason, let employees know how to reach technical support for any help they need.
Don’t under-communicate; in fact, it’s best to use all available connection methods with remote employees. For example, be available to reach via email, chat, video, telephone, and live if possible.
Individual Employee Communication
- Provide clear guidelines on how to communicate.
Do you prefer for your employees to communicate with phone calls, emails, or via a team collaboration tool like Trello, Slack, or Microsoft Teams? Let your team members know how you would like each of them to communicate with you.
Spell out what you want to be communicated (deadlines, numbers, amounts, questions, etc.), when you want to hear from them (daily, weekly, every Tuesday, etc.), and how you expect to be notified of their correspondence (email, chat, video conference call, etc.).
- Provide feedback on the communication you receive.
Was the email you received too specific? Too long? Too short? Remember that people can’t read your mind; even conveying your expectations via email can often be misunderstood as tone of voice is hard to get across online.
Explain in a detailed, specific way what kind of communication you were expecting, and how this can be accomplished in the future. For example, you can explain that you didn’t need the details on the XYZ Project, but rather just needed to know the status.
- Provide positive feedback when expectations are met.
Just as important as it is for you to set the record straight when the communication isn’t up to par, it’s crucial you give team members positive reinforcement when they get it right.
If you want them to continue to communicate in the manner that they did, be sure to let them know! Precisely explain what it is that they did right in this communication effort so they will remember to do it that way in the future.
Management or Personal Communication
- Write clear and concise correspondence.
When communicating, it’s often difficult to relay clear, concise information. Filler language is popular and easy, but it’s not a productive way to communicate. Instead, when writing, eliminate redundant, duplicate words or phrases.
Example: “So I was thinking that we could, like, change our meeting time from eight o’clock a.m. to noon, because I feel like I get more done in the afternoon; I think it’d be a better way to communicate. I don’t know. What do you think?”
Change to: “I’d like to change our weekly meeting time from 8AM to noon. Will that work for you?”
See how much clearer and concise the second message is? That’s what you need to strive to achieve.
Another way to be clearer in your communication is to be direct and to the point. Avoid using passive language. Active words are easier to understand. Check out the Hemingway App to see when you use passive versus active voice, and learn how to make necessary changes.
Reread your correspondence several times before sending it out. Triple check it for clarity. Edit until it makes sense in a direct way, but take caution that the communication doesn’t sound too direct or bossy.
Take a break from your writing before you send it so you can return with fresh eyes. You may catch something you would have otherwise missed.
- Watch your tone of voice (in your writing).
Psychology Today says that over 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words. So, what does that say about our remote communication? It says we need to carefully observe what and how we write.
Use the proper tone for the audience you are speaking with. To convey the tone of voice, you are trying to achieve, use emojis and/or special formatting, such as caps, bold, and italic font.
- Italics – Use when trying to lightly emphasize words or phrases or to refer to a book, movie, or other proper nouns.
- Bold – Use for definitions or to heavily emphasize words or phrases. You may also want to use it for titles, headers, subheaders, and main points.
- CAPS – Use capital letters when shouting or greatly emphasizing words or phrases. (If possible, avoid using all caps; it’s overly aggressive).
When writing a message to your boss or coworkers, keep the context of the conversation in mind. Always think about their location, the time zone they are located in, the topic of conversation, and what your office culture is like.
If you work somewhere informal and slang or certain keywords are frequently used, it’s okay to talk that way, but if you work in a professional environment, respect the office culture, and write appropriately.
- Italics – Use when trying to lightly emphasize words or phrases or to refer to a book, movie, or other proper nouns.
- Watch your body language during video conferences.
Treat a video call just as you would a meeting in person. Don’t talk with a mouthful of pretzels while you are talking to your boss. That’s very unprofessional. Don’t wear your pajamas or look sloppy, and always be on time or early if possible.
Instead, talk clearly, sit up straight and maintain eye contact with the camera. Also, don’t forget to wear professional clothing, and check that all your video equipment is working correctly before the video call starts.
Avoid distractions when you are on a conference call. Go somewhere private if you need to or make it clear to other people who are around you during video calls, that you need to be uninterrupted for a set period of time.
If you manage remote employees, video conferences, or calls are great opportunities to check on your team members and see how they are doing. At the beginning and end of each call, ask them how they’re adjusting to working from home.
You can also read their facial expression, tone of voice, and body language to see if something seems to be bothering them. If your worker is having trouble, it may be time to intervene to find out what’s going on or make video calls more frequent so that you can check-in on them more often.
You don’t want work problems to compound without your knowledge. If you find professional issues are going on, be sure to get to the root of the problem, even if it takes additional measures on your part.
- Make all communication via text easy-to-read.
You want your intended audience to read everything you have said, right? If so, you must organize your text in an easy-to-read formal. This may mean shorter, tighter paragraphs.
If appropriate, use emojis, images, or GIFs. Check your work with a spellcheck app like Grammarly. It can help you tighten your writing, and the basic version is free.
You can also use hyperlinks, links, interesting facts, bond accents, or ellipses to make your writing easier and more interesting to read.
At the end of your communication, regardless of the type of communication, summarize the key points and actions that you want your team member to work on.
- Use the right form of communication for the message.
If you have a lengthy message or need to convey important information, send your team members an email. If it’s an urgent request, consider sending them an instant message, so they know to check their email.
For quick conversations or informal statements, use a chat application like instant messaging, texting, or comments in a shared work forum.
If you need to send project updates, specific project-related requests, or task updates, convey your message in the project management software that your team uses.
You should now understand how to recognize remote employee problems based on the communication you receive from them. These problems may include poor time management, isolation, difficulty prioritizing work, and/or lack of adequate productivity.
However, this article has also gone over many tools you can use to help your team members if they are having difficulty working from home, ways that you can assist them in combating these problems – solid solutions!
Additionally, you should now know how to create general communication guidelines when working with a team, individual, or yourself, as a manager. This information should help you connect better with homebound workers.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of working remotely? How have you helped your employees when they have had problems working from home? What kind of problems did they have?
Please share your experiences in the comments section and let us know if you have any business needs that you could use some help with. We are happy to lend a helping hand, so get in touch with us today!