By Jenna Wenkoff

Communication between employees has been forced to evolve substantially since late 2020.

As many companies decided to move their workforce online, a vast majority of communication professionals have also had to pivot. Since then, I’ve pondered the question: How do we communicate well, yet remain connected to our team and our business?

Though I’m a bit less experienced in this area, I was able to put together some helpful ideas around a recent chat with Scott Sargent.  A business writer on the employee communication team for Stantec, Scott began working virtually on day one. He laughs but like many new hires during the pandemic, Scott hasn’t even seen the inside of an office building yet.

Out of that friendly discussion, I’ve summarized several tips that may help you improve your team communication.

1. Use the Right Tools.

Zoom may have reached the height of its popularity during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job.

Microsoft Teams offers more than simple video chatting. It integrates with your Outlook calendar and displays your online status so you can easily ping a teammate to set up meetings that can include audio, video and screen sharing. To a user, this feels much less “clunky” than some of the link-sharing and other features in Zoom.

2. Host Informal Team Building Events.

It’s important to remember that some team members may not enjoy team-building events as much as others. This doesn’t mean they are being rude, however. Everyone is different. Some people are simply more introverted or may have other commitments outside of work hours.

Alternatively, extroverted people like me often jump at the opportunity to join team-building events. One of the benefits of making events informal is that there’s less pressure for those who aren’t interested.

Even large companies like Google have found that informal chats around “water coolers” result in idea generation. With everyone working from home due to COVID-19, informal Zoom get-togethers can substitute, if not replace that valued water cooler banter.

3. Check-in Weekly.

Scott says his team has a recurring meeting scheduled every Tuesday that works for everyone, including one member based in the United States and one in the United Kingdom. They start with one member sharing a “safety” or “wellness moment” followed by a short round table discussing everyone’s projects so that everyone is in the loop and can ask for help when needed.

Meetings like this are a terrific way to create a sense of routine and keep everyone on the same page.

4. Maintain Updated Process Documents.

As a somewhat recent university graduate new to the workforce, this is an area I’m familiar with. I can attest to how useful process documents are and this is especially important while onboarding during a pandemic.

There’s nothing worse when you’re a new employee who’s reading a process document that is old and missing steps or has outdated information. It puts you in an awkward situation, where you either need to slow down productivity by asking others multiple questions or slow down your productivity learning from scratch and updating the process document at the same time.

5. Consider tone in written communication.

There are several figures concerning types of communication but they usually agree that roughly 93% of communication is nonverbal.

Any time people meet face-to-face, non-verbal communication is significant to understanding each other. As someone new to the workforce, a few times during the pandemic, I misunderstood the tone of an email and incorrectly thought I had made a mistake. I then felt silly when I called the person and a three-minute conversation cleared up my confusion.

Depending on how formal your workplace is, consider adding exclamation marks, Emojis or even light-hearted jokes to your emails to keep the tone light and positive. This will can help to make it clear when you are simply being humorous or if a more serious tone is required.

Some email or add-on apps will let you know what the tone may sound like.

6. Don’t neglect those who work from home.

It’s important to devote extra time and attention to those working from home when working on a mixed team.

A 2013 study out of Cambridge found that while employees were more efficient working from home than from the office, those who work from home are promoted less. This is likely because they have less interaction with managers and other employees and can be forgotten. Therefore, it’s important to schedule time to have both casual and business-related meetings with those who work at home to replace in-office water cooler interactions.

7. Create an Honest and Open Culture.

Quite often, I find understanding what doesn’t work is the only way to understand what will.

Innovation happens when diverse groups of people come together and bounce ideas off each other. You don’t want to miss out on great ideas because employees are afraid to talk openly with their bosses. Leaders must go out of their way to create a safe space and let their people know it’s fine to own up to mistakes and to present ideas that won’t work.

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