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Breaking Down the Distance Barrier in Your Communications

Friday, November 16, 2018
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These days, many organizations have locations across multiple sites and employees who work from home part or all of the time. Yet, I find that organizations still hold on to old ways of communicating. As we shift to working more with distanced employees, whether they are at another location or working from home, we need to adopt different communication practices—ones that are inclusive of all and are effective for connecting at a distance. While it can be slightly more difficult to communicate at a distance, it's not impossible! You simply need to be more intentional about when, how, and why you’re communicating.

Here are three things to consider when communicating from a distance:

1. Use the right tool for the right situation: There are a wide variety of tools available to us—email, webinar, video chat, instant messenger, discussion boards, phone, and more! Don't default to using the same tool all the time. Think about the message you want to convey and use the right tool for that. Do you have a quick message or question for someone that is time sensitive? Phone or instant message may be the way to go. Do you have a message that will require responses from a variety of people? You could use a discussion board, webinar, or group video chat for that. Be mindful of who needs to be included in the communication and consider the best tool for the message.

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2. Have a conversation with your team about how you will communicate: As a team, discuss what methods of communication you will use and when. For instance, will you use a discussion board for news or email? What about questions for the team? Will that be shared in a meeting, discussion board, or other forum? By working together as a team to identify the best methods of communication and setting your expectations up front, you are less likely to have frustrated employees. Once you form your communication agreement, be sure to remind everyone that this is a team agreement and everyone should hold each other accountable. Revisit your agreement periodically; you may find out that what you originally decided no longer works for the team.

3. Be present during your communication: It's easy to become distracted when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re communicating with. However, that can be extremely frustrating for the other party. You may think they don’t know you’re answering an email or text, but they do. They can hear it in the pauses in your voice or the way you drag out a sentence. When this happens, your distanced colleague will start to disengage and will be less forthcoming in the current conversation and potentially future ones. So, how do you stay focused? Try turning away from your computer, or handwriting notes to capture what the person is saying. If you’re in the middle of sending an email when someone calls you or sends an instant message, ask for a moment to complete your thought so that you can give them your full attention.

While this may sound like extra work, it's really just an investment in your distanced relationships. It may take some time on the front end, but after a while, it will just be the way you communicate on a regular basis. And this investment is worth it! When people feel they have a voice, they are more likely to share ideas and be engaged in their work.

About the Author

Talent development consultant focused on driving manager effectiveness, business acumen of all employees and engaging employees in their own personal development. I'm someone who fosters connections between people and ideas with a goal of improving performance. This could be done on discussion boards, enterprise social networks, small group discussions, in training workshops or while walking down the hall to a meeting. I'm passionate about helping people learn from and with each other and making learning part of everyday life. One of my strengths is being able to build and facilitate peer-to-peer learning experiences through online discussions, our enterprise social network, small learning circles and virtual workshops.

4 Comments
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1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual team? 2. What challenges do you expect the team will face because of its multicultural makeup? 3. How can you help the team overcome these challenges? 4. What are the opportunities presented by the multicultural makeup of the team?
Key opportunity is diverse perspectives! This doesn't mean that you can't get diversity in perspective from those in the same office location; however, when you open the doors to a wider audience, you will benefit from that diversity in thought. Everyone brings their unique experiences and backgrounds to the team. Can also have productivity benefits if employees can work when they need to and not have to worry about commuting to an office (if working from home).
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As for challenges, my initial thoughts are about identifying HOW and WHEN to connect, communication and collaborate. If not identified at the start, it can lead to frustration and misunderstandings between team members. To overcome, one thought is to create a team agreement on types of communications and when to use what tool. Also, when will you meet? When spanning time zones, it can be difficult. Agree on what works for most and then change up times a few times a year.
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A few thoughts: 1 - Advantages - not being constrained by location when searching for talent, depending on location it allows for employees to be more productive faster due to no commute. Disadvantages - can be isolating for the employee, have to be more intentional about collaboration, communication and connections which can take some time to set up.
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