The Awkward Person’s Guide to Navigating Remote Communications Like a Pro

The Awkward Person's Guide to Navigating Remote Communications Like a Pro

Wait, communications? I thought the best thing about working remotely is that I don’t have to talk to anyone???

Okay, calm down, my fellow introvert. While it’s true that telecommuting means you get to avoid awkward small talk with the people sharing your cubicle about how everyone’s weekend went (ugh), it won’t exactly enable you to live like a hermit either (much as we all might want to sometimes).

Fortunately, communication among distributed (e.g., work from home) teams favors written correspondence over actually talking on the phone. Skype chats, emails, and perhaps the occasional SMS are, after all, what makes the remote work industry go round.

However, being physically removed from your co-workers can also result in awkward silences in the chat rooms, flat jokes during conference calls, or a feeling of isolation. And since you don’t have non-verbal cues at your disposal, communicating effectively and efficiently without coming off as robotic can be quite challenging.

So, how do you make all those emails count AND still be on good terms with the people on your team?

1. Choose the right communication method.

Choose the right communication method

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Whether you should email, chat, or call your colleague all depends on the content and urgency of your message.

If you need to share a few lines of information and would like the recipient to see it at a specific time, a scheduled email would be the most ideal. On the other hand, if you need an immediate response from a colleague and you’re both still on the clock, dropping them a line via chat often works.

Difficult conversations such as the giving of constructive criticism or reporting a grievance, meanwhile, should be reserved for a solemn phone call or perhaps even a face-to-face meeting.

2. Keep tabs on everyone’s free and busy times, and inform them of your own in turn.

Keep tabs on everyone’s free and busy times, and inform them of your own in turn

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Should you find yourself on a team of remote workers from varying time zones and working times, familiarize yourself with time differences so you don’t end up inadvertently inconveniencing your co-workers.

For instance, if your working schedule begins a couple hours after theirs have ended, don’t ping them in the chatroom and/or email them and then expect an immediate response. Ditto for scheduling meetings and deadlines.

Conversely, make sure your team is also well aware of your working hours, especially if you happen to be leading or managing them in some form. Should there be a disruption in your schedule, such as an urgent errand, lunch out, or if you simply need to work undisturbed for a bit, give everyone a heads-up.

3. Read more than you type.

Read more than you type

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This is especially important at the beginning, where you need to get a feel for how everyone interacts.

Observe your team’s preferred communication style. Is there an unspoken hierarchy? Do the daily dispatches revolve solely around work? Or are your colleagues more informal? Do they like to crack a few jokes every now and then to lighten up the mood?

Once you get the hang of your group’s dynamics, adjust your communication approach accordingly.

4. Be polite - but get to the point.

Be polite - but get to the point

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Always begin a new email or chat thread with a brief, polite greeting and addressing your co-worker by name. Feel free to delve right into business afterwards, however, but keep things brief and concise, preferably no more than three or four sentences.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to set up a professional-sounding email address. isn’t likely to make your remote colleagues take you seriously.

Lastly, when drafting emails, make your subject titles specific and straightforward (e.g., “Will Be Out of Office on 15 May,” “PayStaff Website Update,” etc.). This gives the recipient a hint as to your email’s content and also makes it easier for them to retrieve it from their inbox should the need arise later on.

5. Use the caps lock button sparingly, if you must, and be mindful of your punctuation marks.

Use the caps lock button sparingly, if you must, and be mindful

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Online, typing in all caps makes it looks like you’re yelling, so avoid using it unless you really need to put emphasis on something.

Using the proper punctuation marks is also important, not just for the observance of proper grammar, but also, well-placed commas, periods, question marks, and quotation marks make for easier reading and as a result, clearer communication.

6. When in doubt, ask.

When in doubt, ask

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Never assume that a co-worker is okay with being pinged in the chat room while they’re out for lunch, or whether they prefer to communicate via chat or email. Instead, ask them about their preferences so that you’re able to remain respectful of their personal space.

Working from home can be especially beneficial for those of us who prefer to keep to themselves. Yet, even those of us who fall on the more introverted side of the spectrum would still like to form and maintain cordial relationships with our colleagues.

That might require a bit more effort if you’re not exactly the outgoing type, but so long as you’re clear about what you need, respect other people’s boundaries and keep to yours, and employ pleasantries when you need to, you should be just fine.

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