How to Avoid Miscommunication with Team Members When Working Remotely

Woman working from home - confused

Think about how easy it is to have a misunderstanding with someone who you’ve known for a long time or that you talk to face-to-face. Now, add the detachment of working remotely with people you don’t know that well, and you can understand why miscommunication among coworkers is common.

Fortunately, there are strategies that are easy to implement and will help you avoid hurt feelings and strife at work. Here are things you can do today if you’re working remotely.

  • Be more aware of subtle communication. Much of our communication as humans is nonverbal, like letting out a sigh or tightening the jaw, and these are harder or impossible to recognize when communicating virtually or through email. Body language researcher, Albert Mehrabian, discovered that 55% of our communication is nonverbal. Some argue it may be even higher than that. To avoid unnecessary troubles at work, pay attention to the look on your coworker’s face or if they are giving off clues they are frustrated. You’ll avoid misunderstandings just by noticing these things.
  • Don’t assume the worst. One of the best skills in life to obtain is not to overreact. When we make a bigger deal out of something than it needs to be, we cause ourselves unnecessary heartache. This is even truer at work where our livelihood and ability to pay our bills is on the line. It’s best to assume someone has good intentions until they prove otherwise. When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to wrongly read between the lines and assume someone is attacking you when they’re not. The inability to read body language or hear a tone of voice also fuels this, so it’s safer to assume your coworkers are not out to get you.   
  • Follow good etiquette. When communicating remotely as a team, it’s critical to show manners. Give everyone time to speak, and perhaps call on those who are quiet and ask them if they have anything to add if they are on the shy side. Also keep conversations succinct so critical details are not lost. It’s recommended to keep communication simple when sharing important information among the group, so people are less likely to miss what’s being said.
  • Avoid over-communication. Unbelievably, when working remotely and having so many avenues to use, we may be communicating too much and that will lead to misunderstandings. It might serve managers to encourage their employees to shut off their modes of communication sometimes to not be disturbed. This not only gives employees permission to take a break, but it protects them from frequent annoyances that arise from the constant back and forth dialogue. One solution to this is setting “office hours” for when you’re available by chat or any other means of communication your office has in place, such as calls and emails.
  • Keep the criticism (and praise) private. Teams that work remotely commonly use platforms like Slack to talk with each other daily. When employees use these platforms, messages can usually be seen by everyone. Giving someone critical feedback or correction on a platform like this can cause the recipient to feel embarrassed or even humiliated. But receiving praise in a public forum might make that person feel uncomfortable or cause others to wonder why they aren’t the ones being recognized. Because of this, it’s best to keep public forums matter of fact and leave the criticism and praise to a more one-on-one atmosphere.
  • Know your audience. Everyone is different and going to want to interact in a unique way. Taking out the face-to-face aspect of communication is what makes remote work a challenge. Try to get to know your coworkers so you can better anticipate the intentions behind their messages. For example, an avid social media user who is outspoken about their political views might interact with you differently than an introspective bookworm who avoids confrontation. So, consider the source of the message, and this will help you better formulate a response to their communication.
  • Simplify your message. One of the easiest ways to avoid miscommunication is making what you have to say easy to understand. Consider shortening sentences and taking out unnecessary words or adding bullet points to clarify your thoughts. When reading over what you write, think about if you can support your opinion using fewer words. This concept is definitely a defense for “less is more.”
  • Build a friendly rapport with your coworkers. Having what feels like a real relationship with others helps avoid miscommunication and working remotely makes it tougher to build a friendly rapport with coworkers. Companies can try to help overcome this by encouraging happy hours, book clubs, or some socializing at work during the day. When employees are working in different time zones, that can also make this difficult, so it’s important to try to ask coworkers about their lives and understand who they are. This helps stop miscommunications before they start.

The benefits of working remotely are many including flexibility, lack of commute, and working in your pajamas. But the challenge employees experience with communication is one downfall. Managers and employees can find it difficult to adapt to working remotely, but with the right tools and a plan, it’s easier to overcome. Consider how you can implement some of these strategies into your work life if you’ve noticed lately that communication is suffering.

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