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Communication

Long-term remote work requires all members of a team to continue to emphasize robust communication. Communication is everyone’s responsibility, and the team should work together to develop communication norms.

  • Maintain informal check-ins: Strive to maintain the social nuances and spontaneity (sometimes called the “water cooler effect”) that are key to engaged teams. If informal, spontaneous check-ins are a part of your office’s culture, such as saying good morning or stopping by a cubicle to ask how a project is going, consider translating them to IMs through Microsoft Teams, for example. Another way to foster connectedness is to create a 15-minute segment of a scheduled Zoom hour for coworkers to chat informally, just as they might at the beginning or end of an on-campus meeting. Limiting meeting agenda items to 20 minutes for a half-hour meeting, or 45 minutes for an hour meeting will allow time for informal conversations.
  • Schedule formal check-ins: Make sure you have formal check-in times by scheduling and using the time even when there does not appear to be a pressing need. The converse is also true: These check-ins remain important even when everything else appears to be a pressing need.
  • Response time: Team members should commit to responding to communications within the same timeframe as if they were onsite unless otherwise agreed. Backup plans, such as buddy systems, are useful in the event of digital bandwidth disruptions or urgent dependent care situations.
  • Guard against signaling constant work: By sending emails at all hours, managers may inadvertently be sending the message that employees should check emails regularly when they are not working. During the coronavirus crisis, however, many people are forced to balance family caregiving and work responsibilities at the same time, which can have the effect of pushing work into the late evening, early morning and into weekends. Teams should, therefore, get clear about their expectations for response times. To avoid unintentional shifting of these expectations, they can consider, for example, trying email tools that schedule message delivery during normal business hours and using high/medium/low importance indicators.
  • Communicate resources to guard against stress and burnout: Learn more about the causes and symptoms of burnout, and discover ways to prevent. Remind employees of available resources posted to the University’s COVID webpage. Discussing resources with the whole team, in advance of and separate from any individual’s particular challenge, helps to de-stigmatize the use of available supports, which is an important part of encouraging others to use them.

Measuring Success

Flexible work is successful when employers manage productivity by setting goals and timetables and defining deliverables clearly. Managers and employees should consider whether:

  • The quantity, quality and timeliness of work has been maintained, enhanced or diminished.
  • The work arrangement has met the expectations laid out originally.
  • The work arrangement has affected, either positively or adversely, relations with the employee’s colleagues, students and/or others.
  • The work arrangement has created a need for additional staff or caused a department/office’s other employees to assume more work.

Challenges along these lines should signal to employees and managers the need to assess working arrangements, to adjust them, or to provide additional tools or resources. While employees and managers are encouraged to approach these discussions open to the possibility of change, there will be some cases in which adjustments are not operationally feasible. In these cases, alternatives such as paid or unpaid time off should be considered.

Creating a Team Communications Plan is the Top Priority

It’s helpful to set expectations by developing a Team Communication Plan.

  • Communication Goals – Establish 2-4 agreed-upon goals on the use of e-mails and IMs, setting expectations, providing contact information and developing teams’ preferences.
  • Formal and Informal Communication Methods – Define how team meetings, one-on-one leader meetings, e-mail, instant messages, team newsletters and other forms of communications will be used during this period.
  • Expectations of Each Other –The team should collaborate and agree on timelines, deadlines, accountability, handling issues and managing conflict. Managers can direct conversations to include their expectations as well.
  • Protocols – Protocols help identify methods of communication and activities. They operationalize expectations for things like calling and managing online meetings, calendaring and signaling availability and how to give and receive information.
  • Buddy System – Each team member should have a buddy to cover for them and communicate developments and news during an absence.
  • Evaluation of the Communication Plan – It’s wise to check in weekly to see how well it is working, and how everyone is following it.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to interrupt each other!

This is the toughest social norm to break with remote work. If you can't see someone, then it feels like they aren't working, so you don't want to "bother" them. WE ARE ALL WORKING. Chat, call, ping each other. Regularly. You'll figure out a new rhythm.