Workplace communication skills don’t always come easy, especially when we’re working in frenetic environments or experiencing high-stress moments. Add to the mix the challenges of a flexible workforce and a remote working team and you’ve got all sorts of opportunities for things to go wrong. Looking to improve the way you connect with your co-workers? We asked three experts to share their anecdotes and advice on communication skills in the workplace.
When you’re a manager, the way you speak to customers and employees has a great impact – it really sets the tone for your whole business. “When you can successfully communicate with your team, you create a positive work environment that allows each team member to better understand their roles and responsibilities,” says Angie Martin, a business mentor and founder of The Growth Manager. "Feeling valued and connected motivates staff in a way money never will.” The opposite is also true here – when you don't communicate well with your team, it can lead to confusion and disharmony.
For effective communication in the workplace, Martin recommends being positive, clear and concise when speaking with staff, as well as setting up a routine so there’s structured time for a verbal catch-up each day or each week. “This is really important when you're in a remote team,” she explains. “Saying good morning or checking in on a team member creates loyal and productive workplace environments. Regular catch-ups, whether these are weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual, also allow you to correct any ‘hiccups’ sooner rather than later.”
When giving feedback, particularly negative feedback, stay calm and constructive, and be consistent with your words and tone. You can even stick to a script if you need to. “I always suggest creating structured protocols to minimise the negative impact of these situations,” Martin reveals. “By using standard processes and templates, you’re able to streamline the experience and reduce the sense of overwhelm and stress for team members.” It’s a good idea to record these discussions, or take notes, so you can refer back to them later.
Vannessa McCamley of Link Success is an expert in the neuroscience of leadership and performance. She's even written a book – Rewire For Success – about making better choices at work. When it comes to written communication in a hybrid work environment, McCamley believes it’s a powerful tool. “It can capture the hearts and minds of your people and encourage creative action and ownership,” she shares.
The number one goal for any written workplace communication should always be clarity, she adds – but using fewer words as a ‘less is more’ shortcut isn’t always an efficient approach. “Don't take it for granted that people will pick up on your shorthand – you don’t want them to waste their time attempting to decipher your messages. Instead, communicate with the goal of being as clear as possible, and at every opportunity start your messages with the overview of the purpose – the why.”
For a flexible workforce that engages in remote work, it’s a good idea to organise a daily structure with time set aside for individual work as well as team meetings and progress sessions. Always consider the timing of your written communications – is something urgent? Should you discuss this issue in a Zoom session or over the phone? Sending a flurry of demanding emails just before someone logs on for the day can have negative consequences.
“Survey your team on where and when they do their best thinking and how they would prefer to communicate in different scenarios,” McCamley suggests. “When you know when your people do their deep thinking and their best work, protect this time from distractions – including emails.”
Without a coffee machine or a water cooler to bring us together, the new working from anywhere model can sometimes feel isolating. Marketing and communications expert Anna Ball, director of The Brand Team, says remote work can sometimes lead to a lack of cohesion and intimacy in a team.
“Every opportunity should be sought to engage with people on a personal level,” she says. “If they are comfortable sharing, find out a little about their home lives, ask after their family. Provide opportunities for them to present their ideas for the business. In this way, employees feel valued and respected and more engaged.”
“When you’re remote working, body language is extremely important,” Martin shares. “With virtual communication, your team can only see your face, shoulders and sometimes your hands, so you need to actively express yourself. And never forget to smile – smiles go a long way in inspiring and motivating people.”
Ball agrees, explaining that every action or gesture we do sends a message, and that can be just as important as what we say and write. “The key is authenticity,” she says. “Keep in mind that saying one thing while your body language screams something else makes you seem insincere or untrustworthy.”
McCamley suggests using the body language of others as a tool to uncover how they’re feeling or responding to you. “The more you know about your boss, team members, co-workers or clientele, the easier it will be to understand their body language,” she says. “Seeing and understanding these subliminal messages can help you measure how a person or team is responding to your ideas and proposals.”
DO start the week off with a bang. “Every Monday, my team and I do 30-minute managerial and departmental check-ins,” Martin explains. “We review any stresses or issues and go over our wins and top priorities for the week. It’s something we all look forward to and it really boosts morale.”
DO get creative and think outside the box when you’re communicating with a flexible workforce. “We process visuals 60,000 times faster than text so, where possible, use visuals to help convey your key messages to make them powerful, memorable and engaging,” McCamley suggests.
DO invite employees to give their opinions and share feedback. “Communicating isn’t just about delivering information – it should be a dialogue,” Ball says. “There should always be a two-way conversation, where both parties listen, not just talk.”
DON’T leave staff with flexible working arrangements to their own devices, without any support or leadership. “This is my number one warning,” Martin shares. “Even with remote-working businesses, teams still need to be managed. Make sure you check in with people regularly and insist they prioritise their breaks, leave and appropriate work hours to prevent burnout.”
DON’T take everything personally. People have their good and bad days, and it’s not always a reflection on you or the situation at work. “When there’s friction, breathe deeply – the increased oxygen will help you remain calm and make better decisions than when emotions are heightened – then consider the emotion through a different lens or perspective,” recommends McCamley. “Look at the reaction with awareness, acceptance and curiosity – what has been the trigger?”
DON’T leave anyone out when there’s significant news to share. “No employee should read important information over a text or hear about it second-hand,” says Ball. “Instead, use video conferencing, or even face-to-face meetings for major announcements. It’s really important.