Ever been annoyed because your coworkers keep pinging you when your account clearly says you’re busy? You’re not the only one, according to a 2007 study at the University of Illinois, calling or even messaging someone at an inconvenient time not only makes people mad, it also drastically reduces productivity.
In fact, some sources say offices lose as much as 6 hours of productivity a day due to interruptions. That’s 31 hours a week. But you probably didn’t need a study to know that.
Things may be more difficult today too. Studies like the one above were conducted in standard workplaces back in 2015. Now that everyone is working from home, we’re having to tackle one of the greatest challenges in work we’ve ever faced:
How can organizations communicate with each other effectively while working remotely?
In the modern office, remote workers have to make a decision every time they decide to communicate with anyone in the office:
- At what point is a task large enough that it requires a verbal meeting?
- When someone lists themselves online as busy, are they really busy?
- Which form of communication is best for my request?
- Can I rely on my coworkers to answer my requests in an emergency?
That’s a lot of indecision and stress over simple communication.
Why remote communication breaks down easily
The biggest problem with remote communication is that it’s hard to know the availability of others. We cannot physically see each other while remote, and communications tabs on messenger platforms frequently can only be set to “available” or “unavailable”. “In the office” or “out of the office.”
Having employees make their own decisions about availability doesn’t solve the problem of work productivity either. In a 2006 study by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found frequent communication breakdowns for this very issue. Researchers found that when people controlled their availability by turning their phone on and off they often either forgot it was off or they left it on when they meant to shut it off.
Not only did they usually forget to set their availability, they often made themselves uncontactable during emergencies:
“By applying a single rule for all incoming calls, the rule ignores other important factors, such as the identity of the caller and urgency of the call.”
– AVRAHAMI, GERGLE, HUDSON, KIESLER (2006)
The same study also found perceived urgency played a big role in the communication choices of both callers and receivers. Both parties generally agreed whether or not a call was urgent, but screening calls on one end would cause all calls to be blocked no matter the urgency. That’s not good for communication either.
So how can your organization arrange communication to minimize disruption but also allow for smooth emergency communications?
How to fix disruptions in the remote workplace
Fixing how you manage your remote communication to be both productive and agile may be as simple as setting a couple of ground rules for your organization to follow.
In a 2015 interview for the Washington Post, an efficiency expert named Edward G. Brown who works with companies like Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Citiban outlined a plan he came up with called a Time Lock.
A Time Lock is an agreed-upon time where workers verbally agree to only interrupt if there is an emergency. According to Brown, his clients reported productivity shooting up as much as 40 to 60 percent once these Time Locks were implemented.
Therefore, some easy steps you could take to start having more productive remote working hours include:
- Clearly map out for employees a way to determine how urgent their request is. Then give them clear instructions on which form of communication is required based on that urgency.
- Create an easy-to-access employee database. Make it easy for workers to check up on general information or project progress without sending disruptive messages.
- Have employees – especially management – schedule Time Locks where they are only able to be contacted in the case of an emergency. Make these Time Locks public knowledge so the burden of time management is placed on everyone.
But how do you decide which communication channels are better for different types of communication?
Finding the right media mix for your organization
How many video meetings have you had to sit through that you feel should have been an email? Today with an increasing number of ways we share information and contact each other in the workplace, it’s easy to get wires crossed.
Our communication tools open up many great opportunities for efficient remote communications today. However, you need to consider the strengths of different media and how they fit into your organization for them to work effectively.
When to use video calls
Video calls are one of the best methods today for keeping the human element to your work. Many of us immediately gravitated towards this form of communication after the pandemic because what could replace face-to-face meetings better than a video call?
Video calls definitely help bridge the gap between remote employees and the rest of their team. However, they may not scratch the itch for social interaction as well as you might think. The numerous articles out there on Zoom fatigue today seem to prove that.
Consider video calls for:
- Small meetings and group discussions.
- In-depth one-on-one meetings.
- Virtual team-building sessions.
When to use email
Email was one of the first ways we communicated online and it’s still one of the most effective. Its optimization for long, text-based messages and message organization make it a great tool to communicate and share complex data today. Plus, everyone has one.
However, email today may not be the best choice today for delivering urgent information. Especially because most businesses now rely on messenger apps for instant notifications.
Consider email for:
- Project briefings: Don’t only brief on chat or by phone.
- Company announcements: Posting company announcements on the messenger feed is great too, but they can be lost easily. Anything important should be posted via email.
- Scheduling meetings.
When to make a phone call
For a long time, the phone call was king for remote communication. Today, especially with the invention of caller ID, calls are a great way to relay information and interact more intimately with coworkers.
A quick phone call allows for faster communication with less room for misinterpretation than emails and messenger apps. They’re less stressful than a video call too since you don’t need to make yourself presentable for the camera to make one.
Consider phone calls for:
- Quick one-on-one exchanges of information.
- Large group meetings.
- Informal chats with coworkers.
When to use a company messenger app
Company messenger apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams have suddenly taken over the workplace. It’s easy to see why they are popular, they make it easy for employees to quickly and organically communicate online without the pressures of a phone or video call. Better yet, all conversations are recorded and can be searched for future reference.
Consider messenger apps for:
- Passive exchanges of non-urgent information.
- Filling in small details on a project quickly.
- Transferring media quickly.
- Group editing, brainstorming.
- Nailing down logistical information like meeting times/locations.
- Fun banter.
Beware of too many communication platforms
Today we suffer more than ever from information overload. That’s why it’s important that any company switching to remote work clearly defines which kinds of content go over which channels. But if you get your communications right, having so many options for communicating isn’t all doom and gloom.
As companies become increasingly global, the ability to communicate easily across borders and time zones quickly is invaluable. Remote communication also creates a whole new way of thinking about employment. In fact, one of the biggest ways remote work is helping businesses is by making internships desirable again. Both for businesses and interns.
Your business can take advantage of remote work with a virtual intern
Even a small organization today can benefit from hiring a remote intern. A virtual intern working with your organization online can be just what you need to keep your operation vibrant and upskilled without large financial or time commitments. A virtual internship can also be a pipeline to talented new hires for positions you may not even know you need. Or it could be a way for your organization to experiment with remote work. Either way, we can help you:
At Virtual Internships, we partner with leading universities and educational institutions worldwide to inject fresh talent into the workforce. And we’re looking for new organizations to join our growing list of partners forging the way into the new era of work.
When you partner with us, we help you find interns, create your own virtual internship, and manage interns all at no cost to you. All you need to do is sign up.
Head over to our signup portal for host companies today and give us your email. We’d love to chat with you about how a virtual intern could benefit your business.