How to communicate with colleagues while working from home
Lorraine talks about why communication and collaboration skills are so important to learn and use
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the world of work for many young people. Many of us have had to move from our usual place of work to a home-working environment in a matter of days or even hours. While this has led to many challenges, it is important to remember that there are also advantages. Employers have seen that they can now hire staff regardless of location, increasing the talent pool. Many young people have found that they are gaining new skills such as time management and improving their independent thinking.
A change to how we communicate
One of the lesser discussed areas which are critical in a remote working environment is communication and collaboration. As a young person, a huge amount of learning and knowledge-transfer takes place on the job and this often happens through communication and collaboration with colleagues. This should continue regardless of location, but it does require more effort at present.
Communication is a crucial part of building relationships with work colleagues and in networking, which is highly beneficial for future career development. In a normal work environment, young people usually meet with colleagues from other teams and departments in shared spaces such as the canteen or even at the water cooler. This is where you can learn about what other people in the organisation do, expanding your knowledge and understanding of the business. Operating in a remote environment requires you to put the effort in and intentionally reach out to colleagues and have these discussions.
In general, conversations with colleagues will be more focused on work than the general conversations that would happen in an office. However, it is important where possible to have some informal discussions about life and how everyone in a team is getting on. Many organisations build in time for this during the day, or in each meeting. This can be very beneficial especially in the current climate where many people are feeling isolated and mental health issues are increasing at an alarming rate.
These conversations help colleagues to better understand each other’s circumstances. For example, a colleague could mention that they have young children at home, and as a result, it might take longer for them to reply to an email or they may not be as eager to jump on an impromptu last-minute call. This can work both ways and you can make sure your colleagues are aware of your circumstances and anything that could have an impact on your work or your availability.
It is also good practice to have an open and transparent conversation with your team about preferred communication methods. For example, some people are happy to work through problems via instant messages or even lengthy email threads. Others would prefer to discuss things through a phone call or video call. It helps to have an estimate of how soon they can expect other team members to reply to messages. This is especially important if you are regularly working to tight deadlines. Sending a last-minute message to someone who checks their emails on an ad hoc basis is unlikely to turn out well. Your manager should help with these discussions.
Misunderstanding each other
Communicating through messages can be difficult if things are misunderstood and mistaken. There is also an unavoidable time delay between the sending of a message and reply. Even if they reply straight away, it will never be as quick as a voice conversation. Response times can vary significantly from person to person. Unfortunately, this can often lead to worries and anxiety.
Even during video calls, colleagues are shown in a small box on your screen and at times, this may only be an icon. Only 7% of our understanding comes from the spoken word and over 50% is through body language. Without seeing the person, it can be easy to misunderstand their message or even the urgency of a particular project.
Collaboration can be really difficult in a remote environment, but it’s an important part of the development of a young person in the world of work. Arguably, this is where the highest level of knowledge transfer occurs between colleagues. This is because collaboration leads to discussions about best practices and experiences, which can be important to know about. Even in a remote working environment, there are lots of online tools available to help with collaboration. Organisations should be trying to create these opportunities for their employees.
At the start of their career, many young people want to showcase their talent and why they’re valuable employees. It can be hard to do this in a remote setting. Remote employees often end up working longer hours and take shorter breaks. This can lead to burnout and really reduce motivation. It is better to plan your day based on your working hours and manage your time during the day. Long-term this will be a much more beneficial and manageable approach. Employers do not expect you to put in longer hours. Many have introduced systems to prevent their employees from working or sending emails after hours. There is also software available to employers which can flag employees who are working extra hours and can prevent them from accessing their devices. But it’s best to set your own boundaries so you don’t burnout.
Reach out if you're struggling
If you are struggling in a remote working environment, you should reach out to management and work together to solve the issues. Many organisations have a human resources department that can help guide employees through such situations. It can seem daunting to reach out and speak to management when things go wrong, but there is often a simple fix to the problem. It is important to note that management tends to view these as positive. They want their employees to have the most positive working experience possible. There are also many resources available to young people who are finding it difficult and need someone to talk to.
While remote working does present several challenges for young people, there are also countless opportunities and benefits. A greater work-life balance leaves time to try new hobbies, as well as spending more time with those around you. Remote working also significantly increases the opportunity for young people to travel in the future (in a post-pandemic world)! It allows young people to take more control of their work and build on self-discipline, time management, planning, and using our initiative. Communication challenges also build out communication and presentation skills. With effort and intention, young people can flourish in a remote working environment.