It’s the new reality: Ready or not, many of us will be working from home, effective immediately, and for who knows how long.
We’ve been heading this way, of course. According to the Federal Reserve, the number of US employees working from home has tripled in the last 15 years. Many white collar workers have already toyed with the practice, thanks to laptops, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. But suddenly, huge numbers of workers are all connected by little more than Wi-fi and an ardent desire to keep business happening, even when we’re not in the same building.
In this brave new world of remote teams, people skills will be more important than ever.
The Power of People Skills
Collaborating productively, communicating effectively, and understanding behavior are all essential people skills. But it’s a little easier to do those things when we’re face to face.
We all know that people skills are important to success. No one works in a vacuum, after all. But how do we work together effectively when we’re not actually… together?
The Virtual Watercooler
Technology gives many of us the tools to do our jobs from just about anywhere. How many employees can work completely alone, though?
Collaboration is essential for most organizations — but it isn’t easy to collaborate without trust, candor, and camaraderie. Build team spirit with a virtual watercooler. As Marten Mickos writes, “you must find online expressions for your culture. Jokes, high-fives, celebrations, gossip, community, family, personal interests, attention to the humans behind the professional persona…”
When your team is laughing together, they’re less stressed and more engaged. Social distancing can actually become a great opportunity to break down some organizational silos, as colleagues are working together differently and seeing one another in a new light.
Communication Is Key
Albert Mehrabian famously wrote that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and just 7% is the words spoken.
But Mehrabian’s study was released long before smartphones and Skype. Luckily we have more options than ever for communicating with one another, and these can allow us to refocus on what our non-verbals are telling others.
Conference calls are notoriously tricky, as we talk over one another one moment, then settle into an awkward pause the next. While chat functions and text are good options for one-to-one conversations, a video conference can provide a much more effective means of holding a remote meeting for a larger team. If your team doesn’t currently use video, this is a good time to start. Video provides a means to see others’ body language, to make “eye contact,” and to demonstrate that everyone is fully engaged in the conversation.
If you’re sticking with good old reliable e-mail, it’s still important to think about your “tone of voice.” We’ve all experienced the hard-to-translate tonal disconnect that can come with e-mail. What feels professional to one e-mail writer might feel unnecessarily cold and aloof to the reader, and another writer’s overly friendly tone might be off-putting to others.
While you might need to finely calibrate a message’s formality to your audience, it’s always a good rule of thumb to strive for a Q4 tone. Balance a certain level of warmth with clear, candid messaging. And show that you’re open to others’ views by asking questions, not just providing all the answers.
You Don’t Have to Be Face to Face to Be Q4
At the end of the day, of course, the most important people skills for working remotely are the same ones you should use every day. Challenging others to perform their best, involving them in decision-making, encouraging communication and candor: Q4 skills are evergreen, and will be especially important as teams navigate these uncertain times.
Emotional intelligence shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Fostering strong, productive relationships with clients and coworkers alike will be key when you’re working from home. Your contacts might be feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and behave in unpredictable ways. EQ can help you meet them with compassion and understanding, building trust along the way.
Whether your team has 5 or 50,000, whether you’re in the same city or spread across the globe, remote work is here for the foreseeable future. Leaders displaying the right mix of Q4 people skills will be well prepared for the challenges and opportunities we face in this new normal.