It’s hard to exaggerate how important good communication is for remote work.
When you’re working alongside someone you’ve never and perhaps won’t ever meet in person, you might rely solely on written forms of communication. Unlike in a traditional office set-up where non-verbal cues like body language and one’s tone of voice can sometimes suffice, there’s no room for such ambiguity in the world of telecommuting.
Now, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” for effective communication in a virtual environment, and coming up with patterns that work for you and your employer/customer can take a while. However, there are some rules you can look to for guidance as you do so:
1. Use an instant-messaging service.
These applications allow for real-time communication, as though you were also in the office.
Email can be effective too, but for really urgent matters, let the IM’s fly. Those status indicators are also great at letting your boss and co-workers know whenever you’re available.
Apps like Skype and Hipchat are great examples of instant-messaging services that cater to remote workers. You can even create group chats if you’re not the only one working from home on the team, and these allow everyone involved to get real-time updates on ongoing projects or assignments.
2. Set your working hours and be available during those times.
Since you aren’t physically present in the office, it’s important to establish a period of time where you can be available to your co-workers and boss. This may vary by week, or even by day, but always be sure to advise your team about your availability so they can also adjust their schedules should they need your input or approval on something.
Once you’ve declared your working hours, be sure you’re online and available then too. Try not to schedule any doctor’s appointments or home repairs or any other engagement at this time. Showing up and being ready to work precisely when you said you’d be so goes a long way in proving your reliability, and that’s always an asset for any remote worker.
3. Learn how to use the tools.
Technological dinosaurs (i.e., people who don’t know how to use the necessary technology) can be a real drag on virtual teams since they slow everybody down.
Don’t be that person. Ask around for help or watch a video tutorial if you’re having trouble understanding how a program or an app works. If you can’t contact your team or submit your work through a virtual platform, you’re simply not cut out to work from home.
4. Recognize when you need to actually talk.
Emails and IM’s might be the lifeblood of remote work, but you should also know when you need to talk to your boss or to a colleague via a phone call or a face-to-face meeting.
For instance, if you need to discuss something complicated (e.g., asking for a raise) or possibly something contentious (e.g., a slight grievance), banging out a long-winded email simply won’t do it, and key nuances might get lost in the process. It would be best to set up an appointment or a meeting for such things so that you can deploy your full arsenal of verbal and non-verbal cues for maximum effect.
5. Provide regular status reports.
If you’re shy and aren’t that good at making your presence known, periodic work updates are a great way to stay on your boss’ radar. One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is reminding the people at the office that you still exist, and updating them regularly about your progress is the way to go.
So, check in with your boss and your colleagues every week and don’t forget to share what you’ve been up to.
While telecommuting might seem like an introvert’s turf (though let’s be honest, it sort of is), remote workers still aren’t exempt from communicating with the outside world. In fact, as we’ve just seen, working outside of the office actually means that you’ll have to be even better at communicating with those who’ve remained inside it.