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How to communicate effectively online: best practice and boundaries

Despite organisations’ best efforts at making it easier for people to connect remotely, this is still one of the biggest challenges that most of my clients are facing

 

It’s not only the big formal presentations that are tricky to get right through a 2D screen.  

It’s the casual chats, the swing-your-chair-round and have-a-words, the ‘could I just asks?’ and the bump-into-you-in the-lift type check ins that just aren’t happening. 

And Jabber, Teams Chats and Coffee & Connects aren’t quite filling the gap. 

One solution that some people are turning to are platforms that we might otherwise reserve for our nearest and dearest. Getting WhatsApp messages or Facetime calls from colleagues may tick the informality box, but could be blurring the lines even further between work and play. This isn’t ideal for employee wellbeing, particularly at a time when many are juggling work and caring responsibilities and getting a break can be tricky. 

So what can you do if you want to stay in touch with your colleagues away from scheduled team meetings or socials?

  • Create a team agreement about when informal communication can take place, which platforms should be used and which are reserved for personal use
  • Encourage your teams to proactively communicate when they’re available and when they’re not. Everyone has different commitments and so it’s important for everyone to be flexible, but also assertive about their needs
  • Set an example yourself by sharing your availability at the beginning of each day and marking up ‘thinking/self-work time’ into your own calendar
  • Suggest walk-and-talk meetings to break up the video calls
  • Begin your one to ones with a genuine “How are you?”, and be prepared to match their response. Some will be very happy to open up, others will want to stick with the work in hand. Pay attention to non-verbal cues which may reveal more that what’s being said

And of course not all communication need be verbal: written communication can save time and be the only solution when communicating across time zones. In these instances, the words you choose can make all the difference. 

Here are some tips on building relationships virtually, whether via social media, instant messaging or email, taken from the Relationships chapter of my book, Power Up:

  • Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone face to face: remember it lives forever
  • Be accurate: it’s easy to overlook your grammar when your tapping on your smartphone, but many people will judge you for sloppy writing, especially in a professional context
  • Be careful with punctuation: CAPITAL LETTERS LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING. And emojis or kisses could be misinterpreted, look childish or even undermine your credibility
  • Don’t be offended by short messages: often the most senior people in an organisation or those more comfortable with verbal communication don’t spend time on pleasantries. The best policy is to match their style

For more, check out my book, Power Up. Or book me for a session on online communication. 

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