Smooth the Transition to the Home Office

Perhaps the biggest challenge with working from home is learning to communicate effectively under new circumstances. Many people suddenly feel cut off and on their own when they move to a home office, but strong communication is the remedy. Good communication shortens your day, lowers your stress, and makes you feel like a part of a larger group.

Take time to reassess and hone your communication skills. When we work with others in an office, we fill in so many gaps with in-person communication--the water-cooler talk, the elevator chats--and sometimes we don't even realize how much work really gets done in those moments. Consider these simple but important points to make sure your communication is at its most effective.

See everything through colleagues' eyes

Whether it's because humans seek or assume consensus, or whether we simply can't get out of our own heads sometimes, most of us too often mistakenly assume others share our knowledge or opinion. What's more, it's even easier to make these assumptions without face-to-face contact when all the signals of facial expressions and body language might normally alert us to our error. 

So when working remotely, actively put yourself in colleagues' shoes to guard against erroneous assumptions about what they know or think. Be sure to keep your message clear and concise, but don't mindlessly gloss over critical details because you've assumed everyone already knows. Ask yourself who you're addressing and what you can reasonably assume that they know or think. Developing this self-check will make you a better communicator in general, helping you to avoid conflict at work, and even in personal life (and how important that is right now if you're sharing living space!).

Match your medium to your message

The same message can fail if you choose the wrong means of communication, so choose wisely to suit your goals and your message. While rather basic ideas are at play here, you'll be surprised how often you catch yourself not really choosing the best means of communication once you start paying attention to your habits. 

Text: Immediacy is critical. Text is best when immediate communication is required, whether you're asking a question that needs a rapid response or informing someone of something they need to know now. It's also best for simple, and direct communications--not long exchanges or nuanced questions and replies. Think yes/no questions, and other simple questions. Think before your text: When you abuse texting for the unimportant or overly complicated subject, you appear intrusive and annoying, leaving you prone to being ignored even when things are truly urgent. 

Email: Documentation required. Ever try to find a text from a month ago, or longer? A true nightmare. If you or someone else needs a record of conversations, email is the best. Keep emails short and to the point, but use them to document important information, such as confirming the results of a conversation ("I'm so glad we have a plan to proceed. As discussed, my team will do X, and your team will follow up on Y.") And don't CC the world, only write to those who truly need to know. And definitely don't reply-all unless everyone truly needs to know what your reply is (and "Thx!" doesn't count as need-to-know information!). That said, when someone sends documents or important information, do reply to the person who needs to know that you got it and understand it. 

Phone or video chats: Discussion and nuance required. These take the place of in-person meeting and are best for complex or nuanced issues, or subjects that could lead in many directions, such as brainstorming or open-ended discussions. Also keep in mind that it can be ideal for issues that have a lot of political repercussions, because voice intonation, facial expressions, and other cues will speak volumes and help you assess the situation more readily.  You may want to check out this article for tips on successful video meetings and ettiquette (tiered access).    

IMs and chat apps: Short, simple conversations. If you're working from a computer, and not a phone, IM/chat exchanges are a happy medium between text and email. They're not great for documenting information, but they're often seen as less urgent than texts but still more real-time than email. If your organization doesn't have a default choice for IMs, try to compare notes and get everyone on the same app. You'll regret having to bounce between multiple platforms for chats with different people if you could have avoided it.

Be flexible and adaptable 

Working with different people means encountering different styles. Agree on whatever you can--set up daily calls, or weekly video chats, for example. And when you can make your preferences known ("It's more efficient for me if you simply email me with this kind of information, if possible. I can keep track of it better that way.") and respect other people's wishes. This kind of attitude will go a long way toward smoothing out your work day.

Respect everyone's time, including yours

However you choose to communicate, be sure to respect others' time. Choose the best medium and be succinct but polite. If you get a reputation for wasting people's time--whether by being wordy, or by calling or texting too frequently--it will be hard to repair the damage. And don't be afraid to diplomatically stand up for your own time. Ultimately, you're in charge of your time, so if someone is wasting it (or you see it that way), address the specific issue in a way that doesn't accuse or offend ("I think in this case a scheduled conference call might be more effective than calling everyone individually, don't you?") 

Good luck, and remember we're all in this together. Have a story of your own switch to the home office? Share your own personal tips and stories about improving communication in the comments below. Have other questions or experiences you want to discuss? Join in the Engage discussion on how you're coping with working remotely