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Communication Breakdowns in the Digital Front

by | Dec 3, 2020 | #COVID-19News, Construction, For-Profit Entities, Not-for-Profits, Professional Services

Angry crazy modern designer in glasses with beard yelling and crumpling paper on his workplaceAfter months of coping with the world changing at a rapid pace, discussions with coworkers, clients, and other professionals, the consensus seems to be the same issue: Staying productive and focused.

As an employee, most individuals want to do quality work while enjoying reasonable challenges. As a manager, most individuals want to help their team grow, learn, and consistently meet goals or project deadlines. Struggling with focus and completing tasks can derail both the employee and manager on their path to greatness. Who actually wants to underachieve?

Red flags that staff may be demotivated appear in a variety of ways and can be much harder to identify in a remote work environment. Punctuality, preparedness, and engagement are defining characteristics in denoting a motivated employee. However, the lack of in-person interactions may limit your ability to observe these attributes. Focusing on employee input during calls, virtual meetings and customer engagements can help you uncover underlying issues.

Identifying the issue is easy compared to finding, recommending, and most importantly implementing a solution. A common thread that appears to be woven into our collective struggles, is the change our communications have gone through since the pandemic began. While working from home was normal for many, it has become a reality for many more. Accountants and auditors who may work from home at night or a day or two a week now only enter their office on a periodic basis, if at all. Restrictions and health precautions turned the daily water cooler and strolls around the office to chat with colleagues into practices from a bygone era.

Email has been a vital part of the business communication process for years, and increasingly became a favored form of communication. Now it is the main or only form of business communication. Picking up the telephone seemed to happen less frequently in recent years, and may have diminished altogether for some teams during the pandemic. Emails are usually intended to be direct in nature. However, when sent to a group, the participants receive and respond asynchronously. Asynchronous communication refers to an exchange of ideas that is not occurring in real-time and where participants not required to respond immediately. This delay can prolong discussions and the formation of solutions. Contrarily, groupthink may occur when one team member responds immediately, discouraging others from providing viable but contradictory input.

Annoyed designer gesturing in front of her laptop in her office

Email can also strain the development of business relationships. Developing working relationships with your associates and coworkers can improve communication and overall productivity. A kind email, a genuine conversation, or a pleasant phone call can erase the rough start to the day. These conversations can help create interpersonal connections that strengthen work culture. Getting to know your team allows for customized objectives that pair with the unique strengths of each participant. Check-ins can also allow you to preemptively identify issues and provide feedback to assist in team goals. Acknowledging challenges and praising accomplishments can mitigate self-doubt, increase confidence, and encourage motivation within an employee.

Pretty travel agent speaking to customer in the office

Humans are social creatures, as much as some of us want to deny that fact. It is critical to recognize the humanity and compassion transmitted through communication.  How do business relationships develop without taking a few minutes to discuss hobbies, interest, children, and sports? Putting a line in an email about watching the game coming up is not the same as discussing the team and how fun winning is or how the habitual losing teams will ‘get them next year.’ Email is much more impersonal compared to a handshake and a genuine conversation. We can hope for ‘normalcy’ to return, but since the future is unknown, the best we can hope for is to work through the current circumstances and excel through the pandemic caused adversity.

We do not need to reinvent ourselves, but take a few minutes a day, less than five, and do a little extra. Here are some examples:

  • Stop the endless email train, pick up the phone and have a conversation
  • Call you coworker or client and ask how they are doing before getting down to business
  • Hold conference or video meetings with an agenda of checking in or doing ice breaker exercises
  • Communicate often and honestly with colleagues – most managers would rather allow an inconvenient absence for a dentist appointment than train a new employee
  • Offer to meet the client or coworker in person, while following all necessary health and safety guidelines, to work through complex or time sensitive problems
  • Give your client or coworker the benefit of the doubt – It’s okay to have a bad day, rebound tomorrow!
  • Understand that we all have our own perspectives and experiences – no two individuals will interpret the same message the same way, every time
  • Periodically take a step back and do a self-assessment
    • How can we do better?
    • What are people trying to tell us that we might not want to hear?
    • Do we need to work harder?
    • Do we need to take a break because we are working too hard?
  • Stay positive! While we cannot do some of the things we used to be able to do, we can still make a difference for our coworkers and clients by supporting them!

One fact remains unchanged by the pandemic: a little extra goes a long way. The few minutes that were just used to read this article can be the beginning. It can take less than five minutes to pick up the phone and avoid weeks of dead end email trails. Every interaction from what is discussed to the way we say our names; it all creates value. We can make small steps to take advantage of opportunities to increase communication.


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