Communication Tips for Working From Home #WFH

I hope this post finds you and your loved ones well. Things are unpredictable in the context of the spread of COVID-19 and it’s hard to know what’s normal as we adjust day-by-day to new information. Stay well, get outside while social distancing and do what you can to stay connected, healthy, and support those with the most need. 

Meanwhile, one thing is 100% certain: we are communicating at an increased rate with work colleagues online through emails, Slack, and every other digital mode of communication.

To support you, I have put together a reminder and some tips about how to bring some human kindness and ease to these times communicating online.

Breathe. Bring in some patience, gratitude, and connection. 

The benefits of online communication are numerous. We can quickly communicate ideas and collaborate regardless of where we are in the world. The transfer of information can be speedy and thorough. We can send and complete our tasks without dependency on someone else’s immediate availability. Or we can ping someone with a brief question and swiftly resume our work at hand. Also, perhaps the greatest benefit… we can work in our “dayjamas”!! (Daytime – Pajamas).

However, there are drawbacks to online communication if and when we lose our intentionality. The speed and immediacy of online communication can bring a sense of urgency stimulating our currently overtaxed nervous systems. The time is rife for us to accidentally say things we regret out of a general ambiance of mild panic. We can move too fast and become careless and unkind in the words we type. We can get hyper focused on tasks and projects and deadlines, and lose sight of the human beings behind our screen. Our stress and rapid-fire actions can get the best of us.

It’s easy to forget the tool of crafting a thoughtful and effective request. We can slip into making demands, expressing urgency for someone to respond to a message or to complete something right away. For example, we may find ourselves relying on shortcut communications like, “I just sent you the project details, I need your approval ASAP. Please respond by 5pm.”. This note may work in the context of numerous communications with one person. However if it’s a one-off message it conveys impersonal urgency and may result in a back and forth of escalating irritation and can land in misunderstandings or negative feelings.

Adding a few simple components to your communication can bring a sense of spaciousness, calm, connection, and gratitude. You can start by adding someone’s name to your messages and check in briefly with a simple, “How are you [name]?” or “[Name], I hope you’re well.” This indicates you have some curiosity about what’s happening “over there”, and it supports a level of basic care that we all need right now. Folks also engage more when people use names. The next component is to make your ask. State what you would like to happen or what you need. (You can opt to use the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) request formula of stating an observation, expressing your emotional tone and the mutual benefit or needs on the table, then making a request. For example, “I noticed x wasn’t done, I’m worried and want to understand any barriers to completion that I can support you with so we can move forward, would you be up for a 15 minute phone call to figure this out as a team?”) Then after this request ask something like, “Would that work for you?” This last part acknowledges the numerous tasks and actions that may be on your colleague’s plate right now. It’s an act of empathy to show care for someone’s current experience while also seeking out their willingness rather than just telling them what to do. Things can be most effective when people experience connection and choice. Lastly, a drop of gratitude can go a long way. Flood your channels with a classic:  “Thank you.” or “I appreciate all you’re doing to move this along.”

An as you sit there working in your dayjamas… remember to also attend to your own nervous system. You can choose to flexibly respond to people and design your pace. You can complete the task at hand, choose to put the flood of online communications out of your view as you focus, and then selectively address your queue of online communications when you are available to do so. Take breaks. Stop at 6pm if you can. Breathe. Stretch. Zoom your colleagues for some joy and laughter too!

Everyone is under some degree of anxiety at this moment. We have friends, family, and loved ones here and around the world navigating a variety of challenging situations. The social and environmental unpredictability alongside the complex and multi-leveled approach being taken to address COVID-19 impacts all of us and our stress levels. 

In terms of communication, this renders us prone to quick and careless expressions. It makes sense in this moment for the natural tendency of self-preservation to pop up and for us to focus narrowly on our own needs and experience. Yet, whatever small changes and stretches we can each make to consider our colleagues with whom we are directly and digitally communicating… these incremental changes will help bring forward the necessary human component to this escalated online experience and allow for all this unpredictability to be more sustainable. 

Maybe we can come out of this with more human connection, who knows!

Be as intentional and thoughtful with your words as you are able to, now more than ever. 

Use this as an opportunity to grow your communication skills. We all need compassionate and effective communicators as we navigate the current state of affairs and maintain connection with one another.

Sending hope, an invitation to take a deep breath, and as always, I am available here for coaching sessions via Zoom or phone as you need. 

With care,