Effective Communication for Distributed Workforces

Working remotely has become the norm. Some industry experts predict that as many as 50 percent of employees will be telecommuting by 2020. As such, it’s important for distributed teams to find ways to communicate as effectively as possible despite being in different locations.

Yet communication holds special challenges when you and/or your colleagues work outside the office. As we discussed last month, productivity tools can play a large role in improving team collaboration—but when you know how to communicate efficiently using these tools, the whole team’s performance will benefit.

Let’s explore some ways that your remote workforce can connect and communicate to best result:

Understand Your Tools

You can have the most powerful collaboration tools on the market, but if you don’t understand their full capabilities, then you’re missing out on their value. WPS Office, for example, offers collaboration tools that allow you to track your edits and insert comments right into your documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.

These are two of the application’s most powerful features and they are easy to use, but you need to follow a few simple steps to maximize your ability to communicate effectively with them:

  • Launch track changes. Remember to click on Track Changes in the menu bar after you’ve opened your document to activate this collaboration tool. Once you’ve done this, you can “talk” to your colleagues in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files by adding or deleting words. Your team members will be able to tell exactly what you’ve changed since the revisions will show up as red characters.
  • Use display modes. Part of effective written communication involves being able to visualize how the finished product will look while it’s still a work in progress. You can use the Display for Review option in the Track Changes drop-down menu to toggle between different views of your document. Click between Final Show Markup and Original Show Markup modes to see your changes incorporated into the document, and changes made by each team member, respectively.
  • Make comments count. You can boost the effectiveness of your edits by inserting comments into your files to explain specific revisions. This is a good idea if you want to add some context to back up why you have suggested changing the language in a document. As an example, suppose that using the Track Changes feature, you’ve decided to insert a source that supports some new data. In your comment, you can explain where you found the source and why you think the team should include it.



Be Present Even When You’re Absent

When you work in the same office with your colleagues, you have the benefit of their physical presence to aid face-to-face communication. Finding out what someone wants or is thinking can be as simple as walking down the hall and asking them directly.

Remote teams, however, often need to get more creative in their information exchange. Email, phone calls, Instant Message, video chats, and other collaborative apps and tools become central communication vehicles when you work outside the office, so it’s important to sharpen your skills when conveying information primarily through these types of media:

  • Choose your words carefully. Be aware that people often misinterpret tone in email and Instant Message correspondence since it can be difficult to accurately express emotion in writing. Take care to phrase your emails and IM communications as carefully and concisely as possible. When replying, address all key points requested by the sender to minimize back and forth.
  • Don’t try to read between the lines. If you’re unclear about someone’s tone in an email, pick up the phone and talk to him or her, or schedule a video chat. Often what seemed flat or negative via email was not intended that way. Don’t guess at someone’s emotion, assume the worst, or leave accurate communication to chance. When it doubt, find out.
  • Listen and learn. Listening carefully is more than half of effective communication. Just as telecommuters need to work harder to express themselves carefully long-distance, they also need to tune in and listen to others. Whether you’re reviewing a colleague’s tracked changes in a document, participating in a video chat, or having a phone conference, focus fully on the person who is speaking. Don’t interrupt others—and just as important, don’t let yourself be interrupted or distracted by your electronic devices when others are talking.
Distributed workforces can learn to communicate as efficiently as co-located teams, but it takes a little more legwork to make it happen. Take advantage of the useful features that collaborative tools offer, and make extra effort when sharing or receiving information with coworkers in a different location. If you can master the skills behind effective communication, you’ll get the best results from your remote workforce.

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