The Secret to a Remote Worker’s Success: Matching Communication Styles

Prepare, streamline, and vary your communications to create meaningful conversations and more effective outcomes while working remotely.

For many people, remote work has become the new business model. While we previously may have enjoyed work-from-home privilege only when the washing machine repair tech was scheduled to stop by, now many of us work from home every day or most days. Instead of face-to-face meetings in the boardroom or breakroom, we’re Zooming from breakfast until dinner. All those Zoom meetings can get old quickly, especially when they feel largely inefficient or repetitive. To top it off, while we’re Zooming, our e-mail inboxes are filling up and the phone’s buzzing. Yikes!

So with all this terrific technology, how do we ensure that our remote communications are efficient, worthwhile, and meaningful for ourselves and our teams? We can learn to streamline and vary our approach. Here’s how:

  1. Consider the method of communication.

Have you ever found yourself caught up in a lengthy or confusing e-mail exchange that could’ve been solved hours or days faster with a short phone call? Yep, me, too. It’s the worst. Have you ever organized your entire day around a midday phone call, which then takes 60 seconds and provides information that easily could have been communicated by e-mail? Yep, been there, too. Both are frustrating.

Keeping the frustration at bay is key to maximizing success when working remotely. Think about the type, size, and complexity of information that will be exchanged and then select the appropriate communication method:

Zoom/Skype: They are great for relationship building since facial expression can facilitate understanding and connection. For team meetings, it’s easy to see when others are engaged, supportive, confused, or displeased, or if they have a comment to add.

Phone: Although we can’t view body language over the phone, we can hear tone, which provides additional information beside words alone. Phone is a great option for explaining something complex or talking when face-to-face isn’t necessary.

E-mail: This method is best when a paper trail is needed, or the recipient needs time to understand and digest the information, or when providing information after hours.

Text: If acceptable in your organization, use text for quick check-in or scheduling. Avoid long, detailed conversations over text.

Can’t decide? Consider what’s preferred by your audience. Some people understandably may want a break from screens (call) or may prefer to handle things on their own time (e-mail). The point is, don’t always use the same method for your communications—use the most appropriate method.

  1. Consider what information to share.

Aristotle once wrote: “The guest will judge better of a feast than the cook.” You are the cook—what do you think you should serve in your feast so your guest is most likely to devour it? What is it that your colleagues most need to hear during your Zoom/phone call/e-mail/text to quickly maximize their understanding and buy-in? Some options may include:

Anecdotal evidence: Tell a short, interesting story about a real person or event that supports your initiative. A relevant example often can significantly improve understanding.

Data: Provide data and evidence-based facts to support your work. How many people will benefit if we implement this idea? By what percentage will results or outcomes improve?

Dollars: What’s the financial impact? How much will this cost to implement? How much will we earn or save? What’s the impact to top- or bottom-line revenues?

Expert authority: Is your recommendation backed by experts? How and why?

Leader support: Explain how your work is supported by your leader or manager. What do they think about this initiative?

Outcomes: Share potential downstream implications of this work. How will the team, organization, or customer ultimately fare from this approach?

Social proof: What does everyone else think? Other people’s opinions often are viewed as quite important.

Remember that you’re more likely to connect with your teammates in a meaningful way if you recognize that they have different positions and perspectives from each other and you. Preparing and sharing the right information will allow you to efficiently maximize their ease of understanding. It respects and honors other opinions and views. It allows you to showcase your work in a way that is most valued and appreciated by those who will rely on it.

If you bulldoze into every meeting with lots of data, but your colleagues won’t commit until they learn what your leader thinks, then come prepared to share what your leader thinks (you’ll need to ask them first, of course). Otherwise, your colleagues will feel unsatisfied with the communication—and potentially with you. If the norms of the situation dictate a particular type of information be shared, then supplement that information with whatever also motivates the attendees.

Recently, I was engaged in a consulting project for a company that was reviewing its financial policies. During a conference call with various stakeholders, one stakeholder wanted to know what the investment managers suggested (expert authority). Another asked about the range of investment returns under various scenarios (dollars). Another asked what strategies are used by similar organizations (social proof). Another compared the situation to organic farming and theorized how the farmer might react under different scenarios (anecdote—and, yes, this actually happened!). That call clearly illustrated varied perspectives and the need for varied types of information to gain buy-in within a diverse group.

  1. When discussion goals have been met, end the meeting.

There’s no need to expand a discussion to fit the time allotted. Be respectful of others’ schedules and responsibilities. You’ll be appreciated for this! Also, it’s generally appreciated if meetings run 25 instead of 30, or 50 instead of 60 minutes, to allow attendees a short break between remote meetings to stretch, grab coffee, or take a bio break.

Overall, by preparing, streamlining, and varying your communications to best match the situation, goals, and attendees’ perspectives, you’ll create meaningful conversations and more effective outcomes while working remotely. Yes, it is possible to reverse the tech fatigue and make those interactions efficient, interesting, and worthwhile. Good luck!

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Christine Hofbeck is an actuary, keynote speaker, and author of “Winning Conditions: How to Achieve the Professional Success You Deserve By Managing the Details that Matter” (Viva Editions, 2020) (amzn.com/1632280701). In 2017, she was the runner-up on CBS’ hit reality television show, Survivor.