Within any working environment, effective communication is paramount to ensure productivity and efficiency, whilst helping to build strong working relationships amongst colleagues.
We as humans are naturally social and without sometimes even realising it, are communicating with each other all the time, with as much ease as breathing. For those that work face to face with others on a daily basis, physical signals and cues are going to be picked up on easily. However, working remotely, means you will lose some of that context, so other ways need to be found to make up for this.
Whilst we are natural communicators, communicating effectively within a professional setting requires a lot of skill and sophistication. With the emergence of ever advancing technologies, promoting positive communication becomes far easier and more effective if done correctly. For people that work within a remote capacity, the importance of effective communication becomes ever more crucial. It is far easier for misunderstandings to be made and tasks performed incorrectly, without the appropriate procedures in place to bring about clear communication.
As more and more businesses adopt remote working solutions, it is critical that information is shared openly and is easily accessed whenever necessary. For workers that operate remotely, one of the most important aspects of their day to day duties and tasks is to have robust communication processes in place. It is often a misguided thought that people who work within a remote capacity are placed at a disadvantage as being ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
When working remotely, daily communication, openness and transparency really do play a pivotal role. The employee, who works remotely, will need to consider the implications of effective communication and how this can go a long way to reassure those business owners who find it difficult to delegate and relinquish control of areas of their business. Equally, it is vitally important that the employee is provided with all the necessary tools and information to carry out their tasks effectively. The communication road is definitely two way and providing there is a level of mutual understanding and robust communication processes in place, effective productivity and a strong, professional working relationship will follow.
So, what can be implemented to ensure that the communication landscape is as smooth and effective as possible?
From experience, it is important that regular, clear and transparent communication lines are in place from the start. The sharing of information with clients is key to building trust and these can be engaged in the following ways:
Effective communication starts with listening
Before we get to the practical tools and methods that can aid effective communication, one of our natural gifts, the one of listening should not be underestimated. Listening is one of the most important communication skills to master and when it is done well, it can ensure that not only are you fully and actively engaged with your speaker, but you can then assess and respond in the most appropriate way possible.
A lot can be gained by active and effective listening with an open and relaxed mind. You will be able to remember key parts of a conversation, as well as being best placed to have fully understood what is being expected of you. There are many ways to apply good listening skills and lots of practical training that you can access should you wish to develop your skills of listening.
There are significant differences between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ and providing you have a clear understanding of them, you will be well on your way to becoming a first-class communicator.
The practical regular delivery of important information – using a CRM tool
If supporting a client, it is vital that they have a clear picture of progress of the day to day tasks that are being carried out at any given time. Having a happy and satisfied client is an essential part of any successful business and this is ever more important when there isn’t regular direct face to face interaction. Some of the benefits of having a CRM tool in place can be demonstrated in the following ways:
- It provides clarity to both the client and business
- Enhanced level of communication in providing updates on the progression of designated tasks
- It improves customer service – all the information is stored centrally and can be accessed easily
- The standardisation of everyday tasks
- Provides the ability to upsell to clients
- Increased revenue and profitability
There are excellent video conferencing tools that can be used to form weekly catch up meetings or on an ad hoc basis, providing there is access to a Wi-Fi connection. The face to face interaction provides a personable approach and is a cheap and accessible alternative to holding face to face meetings where travel would otherwise be necessary.
This is a rather obvious option, but emails really do have their place and can be used to help form a strong and trusting working relationship. Email accessibility nowadays is incredibly easy and can be done from most mobile phones and other hand held devices. Emails are also an excellent tool to document conversations and communications in a real time setting. To develop really good skills in communicating effectively via emails, it is important to bear in mind that many of the social prompts and cues will be lost and what you are trying to communicate may be misinterpreted or even misunderstood. To be an effective communicator, it is critical that you pay attention and re-read the content of your emails before sending to ensure you have a really good understanding of how this will be received and interpreted.
As an important note, if you have questions about a particular task or request, ensure you think very carefully about whether there are further questions that can be included in one email, or indeed if there are unnecessary questions that could be avoided. There is nothing more frustrating for both parties, should there be a cascade of emails with questions that can be covered by sending a ‘one to the point’ email. The gathering of information to perform a task should remain on point, clear and concise.
This is probably the easiest, most practical, and quickest way to communicate effectively. Sometimes, there will be occasions when you have concluded that it is appropriate to pick up the telephone, rather than send and receive emails, especially if it is to simply clarify one or two points relating to an outstanding piece of work. This can also be used effectively for example when something of a confidential or sensitive nature needs to be discussed. If you have decided that it is simply easier to call rather than use another method of communication, then it probably is. A telephone call is more personable and can help to mitigate any misunderstandings simply and quickly. However, it is important to note that whilst picking up the phone is very effective, always ask yourself how necessary it is, as you do not want to make lots of calls to clients who are time restricted. So always think twice before making that judgement – as effective as a telephone can be, it might not be always necessary or welcome!
A simple, yet effective tip that I was given a few years ago by an actor was to smile when talking on the telephone. As strange as it sounds, this actually works and will make your tone and inflection pleasant and friendly. The term that is used for doing this is ‘smile and dial’. Try it next time; you will be amazed at how effective this is!
To sum up, using all the technological tools available to maintain effective communication is hugely advantageous. However, it is just as important to remember that we as humans possess excellent natural forms of communication, such as listening as well as using our own judgement when faced with certain situations. By combining all these skills together using just the right blend, you can become a master communicator who will instil trust in others, not to mention gaining yourself a formidable reputation as a consummate professional remote worker.
Key things to remember
- Ensure that you respond promptly to emails and messages.
- Acknowledge emails, even if you cannot complete a task in the first instance.
- Provide your client/colleagues with regular updates via the most appropriate channels.
- Choose the best method of communication for a particular task or request.
- Stay up to date and on track with what has been asked of you.
- Remain clear, visible and transparent in your day to day activities.
- Make sure you are satisfied you have all the information that you need when required to perform a task.
- Put yourself in the client’s/colleague’s shoes – how would you like to be communicated with and how often?
- Remember the ‘smile and dial’ approach – it works!
- Always ensure you are actively listening!
SmartPA Partner Claire Adsley
Claire is a dedicated support specialist committed to delivering SmartPA’s world-class services to businesses. She has a wealth of experience in business administration and executive support roles, having worked for charities and companies in the construction, heritage, education, training, creative and financial services industries.