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Connection Point October Game On
ATD Blog

How Working Remotely Is Destroying Dialogue

Wednesday, June 9, 2021
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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a large number of us have discovered a new world (and yet another acronym) in WFH—work from home. Depending on your point of view, the WFH world has turned out good in some ways and bad in others—more time to be with your kids, or lots of noise and trying to figure out how to homeschool. Or maybe it’s less time spent in rush hour traffic but now you’re way behind on your podcast episodes.

Communication with co-workers has also been affected while we work from home. According to recent research from VitalSmarts, WFH communication over the past year has changed dramatically for everyone in at least one negative way: how likely we are to resolve conflicts with co-workers.

In an online survey of more than 1,100 respondents, people stated they are more than twice as likely to avoid speaking up about concerns with colleagues and managers virtually than when they worked together in person before the pandemic began. Top frustrations for remote employees include colleagues and managers not following through with commitments, making changes to projects unilaterally or without warning, and giving half-hearted commitment to their priorities.

When any of these or other problems arise, many of us have been using our newfound physical distance to stay emotionally distant as well. However, these silos of silence can lead to terrible consequences as the lag time between seeing a problem and saying something about it drags on. The most common of these issues listed by respondents included more stress, more time-wasting, lower morale, and lower productivity.

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It’s easy to see how working from home affects employees and how this can translate into drags on organizational effectiveness. Speaking up and establishing a culture of openness and effective conversations is essential to ensuring employees feel able to address and solve individual, cultural, and organizational challenges.
So how can we overcome this dialogue distance and help others do the same? Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • First, overcommunicate. What you think is clear can be understood differently or unknown to someone else. The more you correspond, the less likely misunderstandings (or worse) will arise.
  • Second, use your voice. Writing an email or message may sometimes be easiest, but doing so exclusively can make it easier to avoid tough conversations. A video chat, or at least a phone call, can help prevent misunderstandings and lend a personal touch.
  • Finally, make time to have small talk and build personal connections with your co-workers, even in virtual settings. Knowing someone personally and professionally can help establish a more solid foundation for having crucial conversations when the need arises.

Thirty years of research and consulting have taught us that in cultures where silence prevails, individuals disengage, relationships and teamwork are at risk, and results are elusive. In your organization, promote dialogue and don’t allow distance to be an excuse for silence.

About the Author

Emily Gregory is the VP of product development at VitalSmarts. She co-designed The Power of Habit Training, a transformative new training from VitalSmarts. Emily travels the world speaking, training, and consulting with leaders and employees from Fortune 500 organizations.

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