If you cast your mind back to February this year, to what now seems a lifetime ago, the year had started and, for many of us, was going according to plan. We were in our offices, our natural working habitats, managing and developing our respective businesses surrounded by colleagues. We were driven and motivated by their presence and camaraderie, which contributed greatly to our ability to network both internally and externally and, in turn, to develop our careers. Then, almost without warning, COVID-19 arrived in our lives, moving us overnight into the alien concept of remote working permanently. Our homes, a place previously reserved for family life alone, were now having to take on the dual purpose of workspaces, with colleagues and clients only available over video conference or the telephone. What training had we been given for such an eventuality? How would we cope? The answers were, for most of us (including me), ‘little to none’ and ‘not sure’ respectively, immediately throwing a cloak of uncertainty and trepidation over our professional lives – which is not easy for a species which typically thrives on a reassuring, communal environment driven by continuity and consistency.
Like many, as a senior and experienced figure in my market, I have learned (and am still learning) my ways of working in a remote environment. I have sought to ensure that I am both compensating for the lack of human, professional facetime (real not virtual!) while simultaneously leveraging such time in positive ways. Here are my tips for effective communication and progression in a remote working environment.
Firstly, we should recognise that communication is a basic human need, something we thrive on and must replicate, even when working remotely. One of the most dramatic changes to our everyday working lives was the sudden loss of face-to-face contact with others, immediately depriving us of traditional forms of communication.
It is easy in such situations to disappear into one’s shell as we are now physically by ourselves: ‘I can deal with this myself’; ‘I don’t want to trouble anyone’; ‘I’ll just send an email’; even ‘I can’t be bothered’. To any of these reactions, I would urge think twice – continuing to make the effort to call your colleagues is not only motivational and will help build relationships, but will also just as importantly mitigate early-stage issues and prevent them from developing into fully-fledged problems.
Further to this, dealing with an issue on one’s own, big or small, is always more work and can be counterproductive. As the saying goes, ‘two heads are better than one’: nobody should be ‘too busy’ to listen to a colleague’s question or issue and, to borrow another expression, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Emails should be reserved for confirmations and non-important issues and never for potentially conflictual situations – at the very least, pick up the telephone but ideally get on screen: whilst there is no substitute for the ‘real thing’, video calls are integral for organic discussion.
Conversely, I have found colleagues (myself included) more amenable to being spontaneously contacted via video call than perhaps being interrupted at their desks. Although we should always respect someone’s time and check that it is convenient to speak, this is an unexpected positive which can help us communicate faster across all levels of the business.
Ultimately, if we do not maintain good communication, relationships can become compromised or even damaged, sometimes irreparably. To mitigate this, you can build time into your day for effective and productive communication with people, whether direct colleagues, other stakeholders or clients. From this, you will see immediate rewards through more regular and enhanced contact, better decision-making and stronger relationships, making your role more enjoyable and productive while benefitting your career in the process.
Finally, we should not forget that we are all in this together and the chances are that others are experiencing the same issues and are just as keen to speak with you as you are with them! More than ever, we need each other, and working together to derive something good from this situation can be the most effective interim antidote to COVID-19 before the long-awaited vaccine arrives.
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