For remote workers, teams, and supervisors, many of the opportunities for casual, daily communication are not available. Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice all play an important part when we communicate in person. But when separated, we miss those subtle signals. These effective communication tips can help you make up for those missing ways of connecting with and understanding each other.
For example, you may find that you are more frustrated or overwhelmed than usual when working remotely. Part of that, of course, is adjusting to a new work situation. You may feel isolated and disconnected from your colleagues, and that can sap much of your motivation.
But there is also a need to fill in with clear, specific communication.
We depend more than we realize on expressions, voices, and other knowledge that we communicate in many subtle ways. When the opportunity for that communication is gone, we have to get better at verbal communication.
Perhaps you and your boss work well together in person, but lately it seems that she is piling on tasks and ideas without regard for the projects you already have open. In a personal interaction, she might notice your hesitation or stress, which could naturally lead to a discussion about priorities and timelines. When you’re in different places, however, you can’t depend on that type of in-person noticing.
It’s time to break out those communication skills and put them to good use.
Effective communication tips are valuable
It’s important to remember that communication is not a burden or an imposition. Your boss or client or coworkers need to know what you can handle, how you’re doing, what the priorities are, and so on. This helps you all work together in a more effective way. They can make better decisions. And you can all avoid frustration.
When you’re in the same office or other location, information is often shared as a matter of course. It’s also easier to pick up “ambient knowledge.” For example, if coworkers see you rushing from meeting to meeting one day, they’ll know without being told that you are under pressure. When you are working remotely, you have to be more explicit. If your boss cannot see physically how stressed you are about that new client, you have to communicate your experience with words.
Here are some effective communication tips and methods that can help remote workers to stay calm, understood, and efficient.
Tell others what’s going on with you
Telling others how you feel, what you think, what you’re doing, and what your experience is helps them understand your availability. Telling others that you have conflicting priorities isn’t about complaining; it’s a way to work together to define the top priority and be more efficient and focused.
Here are some examples:
- “I have too many open projects and I feel overwhelmed.”
- “I’m not sure which project should get priority right now.”
- “These overlapping deadlines have me really stressed out.”
- “I have client meetings that will take all my attention tomorrow; I can’t get the report done at the same time.”
- “Client X is needing a lot of hand-holding right now and it’s taking most of my time.”
- “Project B is much more complex than I anticipated and I’m not sure if I can stick with the original timeline.”
Ask for what you need
When you ask directly for what will help you to work in a more enjoyable, calm, and productive way, you might just get it! And that’s great for everyone. When you can work efficiently and with ease, your work will be better quality and more creative. Stress, urgency, and frustration do not lead to better output.
Here are a few examples of how to ask for what you need:
- “Can we put one of these projects on hold?”
- “Could we move a few deadlines around?”
- “Can we get someone else to help with these reports?”
- “I need help dealing with this client; I don’t understand their expectations.”
- “Will you delay that email so I have more time to think about the options?”
It’s also helpful to ask directly about details, expectations, and what is negotiable or isn’t. For example, if you’ve just been handed a new project and you’re still busy wrapping up the old one—or feeling overwhelmed with your normal work tasks—start asking questions:
- “How firm is this deadline?”
- “Can we talk about the scope of this project?”
- “Is there any way we can simplify this?”
- “Which of these reports are necessary?”
Suggest better approaches for remote workers
Offer ideas, solutions, and other suggestions for how to make things work for you and for the organizational goals and needs. This not only helps you do to better work, it also helps everyone involved to understand how to handle remote work situations.
If you’re new to being remote workers, there are challenges and changes. The methods that worked in a traditional office environment may not work as well for a remote team. Time for an upgrade! Suggesting ideas, tools, methods, or new ways of assessing and working on projects can help your whole team and organization.
Here are a few examples:
- “If we share the project tasks between two of us, I can still get mine done by deadline.”
- “If we simplify the first-phase requirements for this project, we can still meet deadline and I will have time to wrap up this project x.”
- “Here’s a tool that is helpful for me in this situation.”
- “Can we schedule all our client meetings for afternoons so we have mornings free for creative work?”
- “Here’s an easier way of sharing information we could try.”
Discuss and cooperate for clarity and action
Sometimes you don’t know what to suggest, what to ask, or even what the problem is (or isn’t).
In that case, taking time to discuss things with your teammates, supervisor, or clients can be helpful. Start the discussion with a focus and ask for input and time to look at the options or get clarity. If you have a particular point of confusion or uncertainty, bring that out as well.
- “Can we talk about your goals for this project? I’m not sure I understand what you want to achieve.”
- “I’d like to hear about the bigger picture. I’m having trouble connecting everything we’re working on right now.”
- “In our last meeting, you stated that X was a priority. But now I have Y and Z projects going, and I’m not sure what to focus on. Can we talk about it?”
Communication for remote workers
When it comes to remote work, you don’t know what you don’t know. And neither does anyone else! Communication is key for remote workers. You can’t depend on those subtle signals that work when you’re all in the same place, at the same time.
If it feels intimidating to say that you’re stressed or overwhelmed, or to ask for help or clarification, remember that your clear communication helps everyone. If you’re unsure about priorities, stressed about projects, or overwhelmed and unable to focus, your work will suffer. Effective communication tips can help remote workers. Take the small risk of communicating clearly, up-front, so you can do better work and focus on the most important things in the right order.