The WFH Era: Tips for Effective Remote Communication With Carsten Thiel
It should be safe to say that this year has not turned out the way any of us expected it to. From having to maintain your distance from your family and friends to getting used to wearing a face mask, the coronavirus pandemic has brought about many unprecedented challenges both at home and at work. One of the biggest difficulties has been the shift many companies have had to make to remote work, and for many of us this is the first time we’ve been put in such a situation. The required shift in behaviour, routine, and even mindset can be a difficult transition for many, and working from home can often feel like you are isolated from the rest of your team and make it more challenging to work collaboratively.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the majority of human interaction relies not on what you say, but how you say it. In one of the most commonly cited studies on verbal and nonverbal communication, Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California found that we overwhelmingly deduce our feelings, attitudes, and beliefs about what someone says not by the actual words spoken, but the speaker’s body language and tone of voice. He even quantified it, coming up with the 7-38-55 rule of personal communication. These numbers refer to the percentage of which each factor is utilized to interpret in communication, with 55 percent being body language, 38 percent being tone of voice, and a scant 7 percent being the words themselves.
Factoring this in, you can see how a lack of face-time amongst your team could potentially have unintended consequences. Thankfully, many companies have already managed to make the remote work model successful even prior to the pandemic, showing that with effective and clear communication a business can survive and even thrive in the move to WFH.
Biopharmaceutical expert Carsten Thiel has held numerous leadership positions in some of the largest biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the world. With over twenty five years of managerial experience at international brands who have employees all across the globe, Thiel has learned to communicate effectively with teams across a wide spectrum of methods including digitally and remotely. This new way of working can cause disruptions in the workplace that evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, and can even create chaos, which is why leaders must identify all areas that would be impacted through remote working and come up with a communication plan for each of them.
Below are some of Carsten Thiel’s tips for leaders on how to effectively communicate when working remotely.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT FORMAT FOR THE RIGHT TIME
In today’s modern world, there are a myriad of communication tools that have made working from home more productive than it ever would have been before. However, having so many ways of getting in touch can also inhibit communicating effectively if the right method isn’t used at the right time. From instant messaging to phone calls to video chats, it is important to use the proper channel in order to get the response time and depth of communication you need. When facing a situation that needs a prompt response, a phone call or text is the most reliable way to get a hold of someone since people are rarely very far from their phones. Email is a less immediate tool, and better saved for topics that require less urgency and can be responded to when the reader has time to give it the proper attention.
Speaking of email, if you choose to work late at night and are sending emails at that time, make sure to be clear that you don’t expect a response until working hours or send it on a delay so it doesn’t arrive in the recipient’s inbox until the next day. With the lines between work and home becoming increasingly blurred, it is important to be clear on what your expectations are so a co-worker or employee isn’t perturbed by a perceived unreasonable ask.
Instant messaging tools such as Slack have made vast improvements to remote communication, but are best utilized for quick progress checks and high priority updates. The longer a conversation goes or the more people that are involved, the more convoluted communication can become on those platforms, and longer discussions that require heavy explanations or debate work best over a video conference or phone call.
FIND OPPORTUNITIES TO SOCIALLY INTERACT WITH YOUR TEAM
It was easy to take for granted the small social interactions break rooms, shared offices, and iconic water coolers were able to provide before working remotely, but without them it can be easy to let company culture fall to the wayside. With the pandemic adding additional feelings of isolation and anxiety, it’s more important than ever to make sure that everybody is staying connected outside of keeping the business running. If you are a leader, make sure to schedule events like virtual coffees or happy hours to keep everybody feeling motivated and connected to the workplace, even though they are not physically in the office.
In addition to group activities, it’s a good idea as a manager to plan one-on-one virtual meetings with each member of your team in order to catch up and truly listen to them. Many people who work remotely feel under-appreciated if they are not getting feedback whether it be positive or negative, and an individual catch-up is ideal because it gives them a safe space to let you know how you can best help them succeed during these times of uncertainty. By showing your team that you hope to come from a place of empathy and understanding, you further gain their trust and motivate them to do their best work even in unprecedented circumstances.
Finally, it is important to find as many opportunities as possible to show your appreciation toward your colleagues. While you can’t organize a team lunch or post a success on a bulletin board, even things as simple as a congratulatory email or Slack message to the company-wide channel can be an encouraging display that the work your employees are doing still matters.
BE PROACTIVE IN MANAGING
When it comes to remote communication, it is imperative to remain proactive rather than reactive to ensure everything continues running smoothly. The more proactive you are, the easier and more fluid the transition will be for your team and the way your employees operate. Keeping employees abreast of situations like large upcoming projects allows them to mentally prepare themselves for a change in demands from work, making them less likely to feel overworked when the time comes. This is also applicable to time off requests, as less inter-office communication means that others may not be in the loop as to when an employee isn’t working, and they need to be able to plan around it in order to minimize delays that may be caused.
Whether you’re working with your team remotely or in person, it’s up to the leader to set the standard when it comes to communication. Of course, these terms, goals, and targets are all dependent on your own company’s nature, culture, and expectations but the process should be the same no matter what business you are in. Sometimes, this can mean knowing when to hold back on bombarding your employees with communication. For example, before sounding the alarm in a Slack or phone call, do a gut check on whether your issue is an actual urgent problem or just an inhibitor for you. More often than not, the urgency isn’t in the problem itself, but in the roadblock you’ve run into mid-work that you don’t want to lose your place on. Another example would be giving your employees the chance to turn off their email, Slack, and put their phone on silent in order to knuckle down and tackle a project that needs their full concentration. In permitting your team to ask for flexibility in communication, you keep the channels open as to how each person can turn working remotely into a successful enterprise for them.
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