When working from home with remote teams it is very important to understand how time zones impact meetings and performance for different stakeholders. When at home, all people can appear equal on video calls. This can have tremendous implications for collaboration and creativity as well as making people feel comfortable in sharing ideas. I previously worked for remotely from Asia for a US company. I often had to take phone calls very late at night to accommodate internal stakeholders based in California. One of the things that I learned from this experience is that I was tired during calls and I was often at home.
One of the great things about working from home when all stakeholders do so is that they create uniformity in communication standards. There are two main benefits that enable remote communication to be improved from a working and home environment. The first is that you can really see everyone’s body language and faces clearly on a video call. When everyone is in front of their computer you can see what they are saying and you can hear them clearly. This stands in stark contrast to when people are crowded into an office conference room and you are the sole person dialing in from afar on a video call. For example if 6 people are at a table and you are hearing them speak sometimes it’s challenging to identify which person is talking. Or it’s hard to read through their exact words. Or it’s hard to understand body language.
The second other benefit of communications working from home is that people are always accessible during business hours. Certainly you hope that this is the case. Think about the world before the lockdown in covid-19. People would often travel, people would be on flights or in taxis. In short, they would be hard to reach as they moved around within differing time zones. Imagine the very real business situation when three or four or five people would need to chime in to make an important decision. Well what would happen if one or two or three of these people were on the road? Inevitably there will be delays in the decision-making process which would hamper execution or lead to some decisions being made without full consensus. This not only harms decision-making but it leads to friction and general business slowness.
When you have remote home office work everybody is online during business hours. Travel is reduced, client meetings are done virtually, and you know you can reach all stakeholders because they are largely at home.
When I think about the future of remote work I think about two important communication trends. The first is that consensus can be reached more rapidly because you are always able to reach key people during business hours to get things done. This stands in stark contrast to how things used to be. The other thing is that you’re creating equality in the communication playing field. This is important because it adds value for how people communicate and their ease of communication. This increases comfortability in the workplace. This gives equal voice on video conferencing among different stakeholders.
I once had a boss who said that the key to accelerating impact was to do good work and tell people about it. One of the things about remote work is that the equation for how people communicate their impacts is going to change. I think this will be increasingly important. People will need to become comfortable communicating at scale. A lot of the water cooler dialogue is no longer going to happen. As a result, people are going to be forced to add more structured ways of telling people about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and why. This seems increasingly relevant in domains tied to product management, engineering, design, and sales.
Before covid-19 you could do your core work and then informally discuss things with people as they came by or when you saw them. But in the era which we all work from home, it pays to schedule time with people, and provide advance agenda items for what you want to share with them. Think deeply about communication cadence. Ask yourself: how long I should communicate? What methods should I use to communicate (text, e-mail, video call, presentation)?
One of the things that I do know is that improving communication skills will be vital for all knowledge workers working from home. It’s just simply the case that you will need to do a better job and do this more effectively going forward. On the other hand for people that do good work but can’t communicate effectively I expect the de-acceleration of one’s career path. This is because people just cannot recognize and celebrate good work if they are unaware of it.
So thinking critically about your own individual techniques and strategy. Moreover, if you are a hiring manager and want to celebrate or recognize the work of a colleague or peer or member of your team you should think of ways to do so. Organizations and businesses that moved to remote work or have portions of their staff work remotely need to think holistically about their internal recognition systems. Working from home will represent new opportunities and new challenges for businesses and individuals. Management needs to think about how to empower staff so that this staff can help clients and add new value.
Communication is tremendously important. Many top business schools dedicate lectures and classes just on this topic. But so many people don’t go to business school and yet need to find a way to communicate the value that they provide on a day-to-day basis. If nothing else I hope that this article helps you understand that you should be introspective and self-aware about your communication style and technique. This can include everything from the body language you represent on calls to how often you speak during calls to who you are speaking with and why.