By: Caitlin Gibson
As the COVID-19 pandemic has been intensifying, many companies have instated voluntary or mandatory work-from-home policies for the first time, in order to practice social distancing as advised by the CDC and World Health Organization.
For these businesses and those more familiar with managing remote teams, now is an ideal time for companies to refine their communication practices, so they can better serve their remote employees.
So, whether your company is used to working from home or you’re new to it, incorporate these five tips to enable more meaningful internal communication.
#1 Make the most of regularly scheduled meetings.
Whether it’s a weekly team meeting or bi-weekly all-hands, take advantage of these opportunities to connect. First, make sure everyone has access to the same virtual meeting software, such as Zoom. Next, send agendas in advance, so meetings are structured and everyone’s prepared to participate, particularly in any planned discussions. Then, if possible, ask everyone to turn on their video during the meeting. Knowing you’re being seen and can see others will encourage folks to pay attention and get more out of the meeting.
Finally, make sure you have a designated facilitator. This person will guide the group through the agenda, field questions, and oversee discussions, so the meeting runs smoothly, feels purposeful, and keeps everyone focused. Even if there are glitches in your connection, these meetings will help everyone feel more accountable to their work, their team, and the company’s priorities overall.
#2 Use the right communication methods at the right time.
Before you connect with a coworker, ask yourself, “is this the most effective communication method I could use?” By choosing the best communication method, you can minimize distractions for your employees, work more efficiently, and have better conversations overall.
For example, if you think something would be easier to talk about in real time, you can hold a quick phone call or video chat. If you need to share something that might need to be referenced later, consider sending it via email, so it can be more easily saved and retrieved. For business-critical initiatives, including crisis communication, you can utilize communication journeys. They can be created for any initiative, like digital transformation, culture alignment, or program adoption. They’re a great way to reach and engage remote employees, particularly during times of change.
Whichever method you choose, don’t be afraid to overcommunicate. It’s better that someone receive the same message twice than inadvertently be left out of the loop. When remote employees don’t feel looped in, it’s much easier for them to become disengaged and feel less motivated.
#3 Use 1:1s to effectively communicate expectations and goals.
Expectations include things like which working hours everyone should observe, how quickly folks should respond to emails, how employees should log or otherwise account for their time, or how performance and output will be measured, while goals include things like weekly priorities, short-term objectives, and long-term plans. By communicating expectations and goals regularly, everyone knows, on any given day, what they should be working on and why it’s important.
The best way to manage expectations and goals is through regular one-on-one check-ins between employees and their managers. Initial expectations should be set when remote working starts. Then, ideally once a week or every other week, managers should check in to see how each employee is managing those expectations, progressing on their goals, and handling their remote work set-up in general. This’ll help managers keep a pulse on how their team is doing and, when paired with other employee motivation strategies, help remote employees feel more accountable and motivated.
These check-ins are also great places to communicate or reiterate daily and weekly priorities to each person, so everyone knows what they should be working on, how they should schedule their day, and how the work they’re doing fits into the bigger picture, all of which makes remote employees more likely to stay engaged.
#4 Maximize the technology available to you.
For both communication and productivity purposes, take the time to set up each employee for success technology-wise. This starts with ensuring each employee has the equipment they need to get their work done efficiently, including a laptop, cables, and monitors, as applicable.
Then, make sure everyone has the access they need to any intranets, portals, virtual collaboration platforms, and other team tools. If you have IT support, they can be hugely helpful in making sure appropriate technology set-up, access needs, and security measures are in place for each employee and the company as a whole. By reducing any technology barriers, you’ll enable more effective, efficient communication with your remote employees.
#5 Get creative and cultivate personal connection.
Just because you’re not sharing an office space doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate and enjoy your company’s culture. For example, as GuideSpark shifted to a mandatory work-from-home policy, the People team partnered with motivated employees to create a weekly newsletter sent via email. It features department updates, tips of the week, some comic relief, a weekly recipe, and more. It’s a great way to keep everyone looped in on key happenings and share in something fun and lighthearted.
You can also get creative by maximizing your use of platforms like Zoom and Slack. You can schedule virtual coffee hangouts before work starts, have lunch together and talk about the shows you’re watching, or even meet on Friday afternoons to celebrate the week’s accomplishments, each person bringing their drink of choice and excitement for the weekend ahead.
Finally, to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, or other achievements, you can send e-cards, GIFs over Slack, and even personal video messages. By taking a little time here and there to exchange personal anecdotes and perspectives, you’ll be able to cultivate a sense of connection and community across the company.
Even if you’re not sharing an office or having regular, in-person conversations, you can still keep remote employees engaged and strengthen your internal communications. It’s about making the most of the times when you meet virtually, employing the right communication methods at the right times, clearly communicating expectations, maximizing the technology available to you, and cultivating personal connections. By doing so, you can help everyone make the most of every day, wherever they may be.