When remote working goes wrong

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soft skills in the virtual workplace - video conference illustration

CJ Walker, Firehead founderThis week we are focusing on how to improve your communication with teams and colleagues if you are now working from home (WFH). We’ve already looked at what soft skills are and 10 valuable skills for virtual working. Now let’s see what happens when remote working goes wrong…

Please also join us this Thursday 22 October at 4pm (BST), when Firehead’s founder CJ Walker will be sharing her best communication tips for managers, team leaders and co-workers as a guest presenter on ‘Coffee & Content’ – Scott Abel’s popular Content Wrangler webinar.

CJ has spent almost 30 years as an international remote worker in technical communications and digital communications, with a team distributed across the northern hemisphere and kids who like to jump in on the call. She says: “I’d like to think I have learnt a few things about how to do remote team communication well – and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.”

Register here to join the webinar: Soft skills in the virtual workplace.

When remote working goes wrong

Isolation, miscommunication, lack of team identity and lopsided workloads are all potential pitfalls of virtual working.

Remote working is impersonal and can make workers feel isolated, even if they are working in the same organisation as others. People can listen to you in your meeting online, and then forget to keep their commitments when they don’t see you again afterwards. It can leave a teleworker with a sense of being forgotten or unimportant to the team. Policies need to be made to handle this at the project setup stage. For example, make use of free group chat apps, like WhatsApp or FaceTime, to have informal conversations. For some teams, a monthly off-topic virtual tea break or happy hour is a great way to build that sense of belonging. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been having a lot of virtual coffees “just because” at Firehead.

Miscommunication often happens when people don’t employ their soft skills. Not getting back or not following up on meeting actions is common when working virtually. People may think they have been heard or listened to, but remote working adds an additional layer of distance, and resentments can easily build up if commitments aren’t kept. A year ago, an important project I’d done a lot of work for was cancelled because of a series of miscommunications and confusion over roles and expectations. This can be a costly experience for businesses and particularly painful when lack of soft skills is the reason.

Finally, beware of an uneven workload developing in virtual teamwork. A lot of people are new to online collaboration and communication tools and may be nervous to use them. For example, if your employees use team collaboration tools such as Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Confluence or Asana, you need to make them comfortable to share what they know instead of waiting for the more technically skilled members of the team to take most of the workload.

Similarly, with video conferencing software, be careful to make sure everyone is introduced to build team identity and also that they get a say. For example, you may have to show them how to ‘raise hands’ in larger meetings where muting by the host happens. And don’t stress about small talk before or at the end of a meeting. Virtual workers who do not build relationships with colleagues are unlikely to build relationships with their customers and clients. Plus, they are more likely to struggle with new processes and more likely to change jobs often.

Make your Zoom calls and virtual teamwork more human

We are all working in a new landscape with entire organisations now working from home. The technology and communication tools are here. AI is here and revolutionising communication channels. And the coronavirus outbreak is changing our relationship with work – not just now but for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately, it is the human factors that are going to make the difference as we adapt to these new and challenging conditions.

Give your team time to adapt when introducing new tools.

And take a moment to think of the human-level soft skill that the current distanced work environment brings to future projects, work opportunities and careers.

This post is an extract from an article that was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Summer 2020. Reproduced with kind permission.

Image (CC): Alexandra Koch/Pixabay

Register for the webinar

webinar soft skills in the virtual workplace

Join CJ Walker this Thursday to improve your remote teamworking and digital communications. Firehead’s founder will be live on the Content Wrangler‘s  ‘Coffee & Content’ talking about the importance of soft skills and how they can be a huge help in remote teamwork during the Covid-19 era and beyond. The webinar will last 45 minutes. Details and sign-up info are below.

  • Event: Soft skills in the virtual workplace
  • Date/time: live online, Thursday 22 October, 4pm (UK) – or after on demand
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Sign-up and details here.

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