The past few months have taught us a lot about the way we communicate at work. As many of us have transitioned into an all-remote way of working, adjusted our working hours around caring and family needs, and communicated primarily using technology instead of face-to-face, we’ve unwittingly exposed the gaps in our communication.
Bridging these gaps might require smaller process changes, like remembering to write things down for absent team members, or more complex behavioural changes to help other team members feel more included. However, as we look towards the future of work, these are challenges that organisations will need to solve if they expect to navigate the transition to hybrid or remote-first cultures successfully.
In this piece, we take a look at the way communication will change if hybrid and remote-first workplaces start and offer suggestions to help mitigate these changes:
- Communication will be more asynchronous by default
- Writing everything down will become the norm
- Awareness of tone will become especially important
- Different messages require different formats
- Communicate with equity in mind
1. Communication will be more asynchronous by default
As many of us have learned working remotely over the past few months, work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone. Today’s world may be always on, but that doesn’t mean that your employees should be, or that they should miss important discussions because they’re offline or in a different time zone.
While we have the technology to support the connectivity issue, conversations between team members, particularly on tools like Slack, can quickly become fragmented and difficult to follow later on.
Our suggestion: Being more intentional with any communication will help mitigate this shift. Instead of reacting in real-time to debates or topics that are not time-sensitive, organisations should encourage employees to gather and refine their thoughts in writing, allowing those in other time zones to catch up and contribute when they’re next online.
This helps avoid floods of messages, and confusing back-and-forths. Organisations may also want to invest in technology that facilitates this type of communication, such as shared inbox software, for example.
2. Writing everything down will become the norm
As we learned in our recent series on work in lockdown, working remotely threw a few curveballs when it came to communication efficacy. Anything said in remote or hybrid video meetings has the potential to be misheard, miscommunicated, or just plain lost in translation — and if employees are unable to attend, they have to rely on secondhand information.
This causes unnecessary frustration, and doesn’t enable employees to work at their best. Transitioning to a hybrid working model will mean organisations will need to find ways to document the knowledge-sharing process that takes place in traditional meeting formats, and make it accessible across multiple platforms.
Our suggestion: It might seem old-school, but taking the minutes and documenting everything in a written format will ensure understanding of strategic and mutual goals, prevent excessive catch-up meetings, and crucially, ensure clarity.
Shanice, based in our Auckland office, shared that her team has been working on a process to facilitate this goal: “Often, if you’re not in a team meeting, you miss out on the information,” she says. “Instead of talking about stuff out loud in meetings, we realised that we needed to be more intentional about our communication. Team members rotate to take those notes each meeting, and we record these into Slack and emails so that everyone can benefit.”
3. Awareness of tone will be especially important
We’ve all had those moments where we’ve sent a text or an email and it gets misinterpreted — and this can happen at work, too. As teams globally are using technology to stay connected, it’s not always easy to pinpoint intention or tone in written communication like Slack or email.
In a hybrid or remote-first context, clarity and empathy in written communication will be critical, because written documents will become a vital source of knowledge-sharing and information.
Our suggestion: Clear, empathetic written communication will be a key component of an organisation’s success in the hybrid or remote-first working models. Organisations should turn their attention to providing a best-practice tone of voice guide that models to employees how they can communicate effectively, empathetically and respectfully, both in one-to-one messages and in a public forum.
All-remote organisation GitLab’s guide on this topic is a great example of how companies can take the lead on establishing a framework for tone of voice that both stays true to their company values, and drives a culture of transparency.
4. Different messages require different formats
There’s a time and a place for everything, so the old adage goes. In a hybrid or remote-first context, organisations will need to make use of multiple communication methods and platforms to enable their employees to achieve their goals — however, the larger goal should always be centered around driving empathetic and clear communication.
This will translate to both social and professional contexts — so just like an employee coaching session might be best delivered over a video call, sensitive conversations should not be conducted over Slack.
Our suggestion: In addition to writing a best-practice guide on tone to encourage clear, respectful communication, organisations can use this opportunity to build a framework around communication tools and technology, and how these can best be used. Providing multiple formats for communication, such as video calls, messaging apps and collaboration tools will be key to allow for self-expression, as well as ensuring employees are on the same page when it comes to communicating with one another.
5. Communicate with equity in mind
Decades of organisational research tells us that feeling a sense of belonging is important for driving employee engagement. Yet hybrid and remote-first cultures can pose a few challenges when it comes to fostering inclusive employee experiences.
Problems with background noise, bad audio and connection delays are some technical issues that can make it harder to communicate effectively. However, employees based remotely may also feel more isolated, particularly when the majority of the team is gathered in one meeting room together.
Facial expressions are harder to read on a computer screen, and it’s not always easy to tell who’s talking if there are multiple people in the same space. These challenges put hybrid and remote workers at a disadvantage — not only with their workload, but with their social interactions, too.
Our suggestion: Organisations considering a transition to more hybrid working practices must enable methods of communication that foster inclusivity and employee equity at team and company-wide levels. They must consider the experience of remote employees, and enable them to make work work for them in the same way they do for those in the workplace.
Fostering more equitable and inclusive communication will involve removing as many of these barriers as possible — and understanding how different individuals prefer to communicate. For example, employees can dial into team meetings separately on their own devices to avoid background noise or bad audio, as well as creating a more level playing field for social interactions.
Looking for more content on the hybrid working model? Take a look at our articles below.