by Clint Padgett, President and CEO of Project Success Inc. and author of How Teams Triumph: Managing By Commitment
Ready for the first one-on-one meeting with your boss in 2021?
If you’re like many employees across the country, you may have started the new year just like the old one – communicating through Zoom, Google Chat, email, text messaging, or any other place you and the other person have been physically a part.
That might be fine for a quick exchange of basic information. But it’s not the best way to deal with more complicated information or to build an esprit de corps within a team. One of the basic components of successful teamwork is communication. If you can’t talk to your team, you can’t be successful. The key to developing communication lies in personal eyeball to eyeball conversation. This is how you share complex information and build relationships.
But what is ideal and what is reality do not always go together. In 2020, many office workers saw each other less and less face-to-face as the pandemic forced them to work remotely, and that trend may be more likely to gain momentum than it does after the pandemic ends, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Pew interviewed people whose work could be done from home. Before the pandemic, only 20 percent had worked remotely all or part of the time. Now 71 percent of these workers do their jobs from home all or most of the time. And more than half – 54 percent – say that if they had the choice, they would want to continue working from home even after the pandemic.
I am appalled at the idea of remote working as a long-term solution, but it is up to managers and employees to find ways to make it work. One way is to understand the communication constraints that need to be overcome.
The way we communicate remotely – email, text messages, Zoom calls – replaces non-face-to-face meetings and the relationships you build with people when you can sit down in the same room and have a conversation. Communication and conversation are not the same.
Email and text messages are a series of one-way communications, not dialogues. Yes, it can go back and forth, but not like a face-to-face conversation. And remote working doesn’t allow break room chats where team members build their relationships and relationship.
For now, at least, remote working is a reality, so here are a few tips and some precautions:
Work on pushing the communication limits of technology.
Technology is great for a lot of things, but when you communicate with emojis or use as few words as possible, your message can be unclear.
If I ask you a question via email or text and your answer is a smiley-faced emoji, it can mean any number of things. Be honest, how many times have you misinterpreted the tone of an email or a static document? Skip the emojis in workplace communications and try to make your communication as clear as possible. Put yourself in the other person’s position. If you had received this text or this email, would you understand the context without further explanation?
Establish clear two-way communication.
The only way to effectively manage a project is to develop the project through clear two-way discussions. One-way communication should only be used for simple, clear questions that have yes / no answers or for piggybacking on conversations. In other words, it’s okay to ask questions via text message or email before a conversation takes place, or to get further answers afterwards. Conversation doesn’t have to be the only form of communication, but it is by far the most important.
While video chats have their own limitations, they at least offer the opportunity to engage in the necessary dialogue.
Appreciate technology; People appreciate.
Many managers (and others in an organization) may approach communication from a technical point of view because they want software to be the answer. But it’s not the answer, it’s a tool. From a technical point of view, communication on a project can take place electronically. However, if you choose technology instead of people, your project will be unsuccessful. While your communication will be quick, you will sacrifice quality, clarity, accountability, and ultimately success.
Conversations force clarity that you cannot achieve with other forms of communication. For almost a year now, companies have been trying to duplicate those face-to-face conversations using Zoom or Google Chat. This will remain so for the foreseeable future. We all have to make serious efforts to make it work. At the same time, we will continue to grapple with the question: is a conversation on a screen as meaningful and productive as a personal conversation?
Clint Padgett, the ForbesBooks author of How Teams Triumph: Managing By Commitment, is President and CEO of Project Success Inc., a project management company. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.