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Seven Ways to Hone Communication Skills While Working Remotely

There is little doubt that working from home has changed the way we all deal with the world and transact business. Even though every day may be a "casual Friday" in terms of how you dress, communication skills are perhaps more important than ever before. Among the benefit of this new reality may be a more relaxed approach to doing business and more personal freedom. However, it is a fact that limited social contact has reduced the sense of belonging to a cohesive business community.

Cell phones and teleconferencing may have replaced weekly meetings around the conference table, but effective communication is still the key to success in most fields.

Communication Skills Are Vital

Written reports, statistical analysis and other documentation are still necessary to transact business, of course, and there is increasing reliance on conference calls, teleconferencing, and digital communication for sharing ideas, developing strategies and solving problems. Global communication, even across time zones, is entirely possible and that ability has ushered in new possibilities for companies large and small. Coworkers may no longer have the opportunity to get to know one another on a personal level, but it is expected that business will continue as usual.

When it's impossible to meet face to face, it can be difficult to assess the nuances of facial expression, body language, intent and even temperament. Written statements may also be misinterpreted when communicating in the digital universe. Modern communication requires new skills and strict attention to scheduling. Advance preparation is still necessary. Although immediate response and instant feedback have become easier, evaluating those responses is sometimes problematic, and not everyone is equally proficient.

The goal should be to master the methods that make digital communication as effective as possible, turning the reality of working remotely into a distinct business advantage.

Remote business meetings are every bit as important as meeting a client or an associate face to face. Here are some tips that will help you perfect your skills:

Know Who You're Meeting

If you were scheduling an in-office appointment or attending an important roundtable meeting, you would no doubt want to know who else would be joining you. The same holds true when attending a digital meeting. Find out in advance who will be on the line or joining the teleconference. Keep jargon, technical language and casual comments to a minimum. Always be fully present and prepared for the session. Address everyone with respect; be courteous even if you're disagreeing with someone, and always state your reasons clearly.

Have a Clear Objective

Just as every sales meeting or planning session has distinct purpose, online communication should be purposeful and concise. Anything else comes with the risk of being burdensome and boring. If there is no clear reason for communicating, don't do it.

Follow a Written Agenda

Online meetings might not require elaborate preparation, but there should always be a plan and a schedule for a teleconference, or even for a phone call. The agenda need not be detailed or even formalized. But whether you are the person in charge or simply a participant, scribble a few notes before signing on to a Zoom meeting or dialing in to a conference call. It will pay dividends in terms of efficiency, focus and results.

Don't Overload the Network

A teleconference is only effective when all participants are prepared and engaged. Limit the number of attendees, and don't assume that more is better. An ideal number is usually no more than three to five people. If additional input is desirable, ask for written comments from others and circulate those questions, ideas, and suggestions in advance. In that way, the actual participants in a digital conference have access to the same information at the same time.

Listen More than You Speak

As always, clarity comes from listening. The traditional advice to think before you speak is even more vital today, in an age of instant communication. If you're communicating in writing, via text or email, always check your message before you push "send." It's hard to recall or recant a digital message, even if you later delete the text.

Deal in Specifics, Keep Messages Simple

Online meetings and digital conferences are no time to try to be clever, poetic, or overly detailed. Provide information that is pertinent and state your views succinctly. Try not to be overly detailed. If your topic demands a fuller explanation, follow up your initial comments with a written report or a concise email.

Be Aware of Your Attitude

Are you aware that your mood can affect your tone of voice? It's true. It's also true that a positive attitude is one of the most vital communication skills you can develop. If you're dealing with serious issues, focus on a positive outcome. Even if you're only talking on the phone, try smiling and see the difference it makes!

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