Whether you’re used to working remotely or are just now getting a feel for it, you’re certain to notice a difference in communication between you and the rest of your team. At first, it’s normal to feel a sense of paranoia, anxiety and maybe even a bit of fear surrounding your team’s productivity. It makes sense; you can’t see what each person is doing all day long (is that person on a call, in the restroom, or on the back porch drinking a beer during business hours?). However, effective leadership thrives on trust, so the first step is to find a way past those feelings. The key to building trust and moving past those feelings of fear and anxiety is building effective two-way communication and as a leader, it’s tantamount that you remove any obstacles preventing clear and effective communication from happening.
Communication between you and your team has been turned on its head. If you’re used to being a road warrior and managing while you’re away, you might be used to calling into meetings and leading them from a TV monitor, looking onto your conference room full of all of the people who are there collaborating. What was, at that time, a one-to-many conversation has now turned into many one-to-one conversations. The challenge here is to convey your intent, objectives and meaning in a very unambiguous sort of way.
Let’s take it back to just a few short years ago, when Doug was in his freshman interpersonal communications class: the one takeaway was that most communication is done non-verbally. In fact, 55% of communication is done through body language, 38% is through tone of voice, which leaves only 7% to the actual words you say. That email you sent Michelle, stating what you need to get done this week? Well, chances are she only picked up on less than 1/10 of what you intended to convey. There’s so much room for ambiguity and miscommunication in the rest of the 9/10 that was not written in the email! So, how do we combat this? One impactful way is through video calls – and we get it, not everyone is used to joining a call with their video turned on. Simply educating your team on the benefits of turning on their video is usually enough to compel them to do so.
As a business leader, what’s important is removing any obstacles that your employees might have in accessing video communication tools. For example, from day one of the pandemic, Portland Internetworks rolled out Webex licenses, and we’re big users of Slack (which also has a video calling tool built in). Sure, learning new things can feel like a chore; there’s bound to be friction in adaptation but in true Portland Internetworks fashion, we held a contest to see how many video calls each employee held and awarded prizes to the people who had the most (either work related, or not!); it was a way of encouraging our people to get comfortable with what we’re now considering a new normal. Think about it, a few months ago, if someone sent you a link to a Webex call, how often would you turn your camera on? Probably not very often. And now, it feels strange if you can’t see the person with whom you’re on the call, DIY haircut and all. That’s a big change in a short time, but why not embrace our less-than-perfect hair and messy offices, we’re all in the same boat after all.
It’s important to continue to show up for work and put forth the effort you’ve always given. Yeah you’re at home and the sweatpants are calling your name, but you and your team owe it to each other to show up as normal, just like you all would during normal times. If you’ve ever been by our office, you probably noticed that everyone is wearing a Portland Internetworks logoed shirt or sweater. Even in quarantine, we’re still going strong and wearing our beloved logos, every day! It’s important to us that we maintain a sense of professionalism with not only our clients and vendors, but also with our housemates, spouses or kids. Wearing your work gear can be a signal not only to those around you, but also to you, that you’re on the clock. When you’re in that frame of mind, things fall into place easier; you’re more focused on work which makes you more productive.
Communication has the potential to be impacted when transitioning from a normal office setting to an entire workforce logging in from home; but with care and attention, it’s one aspect of work that doesn’t need to suffer. We all may need to make some adjustments at first, but it is possible for everyone to adapt, and as an added (and unexpected) bonus, you’ll make it out on the other side with a greater appreciation for who your employees are outside of the office.