With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic many employees suddenly found themselves working from home and with it - flexibility and autonomy, a perk that many had desired for years, becoming an overnight reality.
A recent study by Vital Smarts looking at the impact of communication between colleagues and managers during this lockdown/work-from-home period found that while work-from-home may have boosted employee satisfaction, it also negatively and significantly impacted effective communication.
“Working with people inevitably leads to some level of conflict,” said Joseph Grenny, leading researcher, in a statement.
“But the conflict itself is not what leaders should fear. Rather, the greater risk is employees’ resistance to speak up and surface concerns in ways that will lead to resolution. The health of any relationship, team, or organisation can be measured by the lag between employees seeing something and saying something. The longer they stay silent, the greater risk to your results.”
Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate culture experts, The Human Edge, says that crucial conversations are not being had.
“With us no longer being physically in one another’s proximity, crucial conversations are festering and not being addressed.”
The study found that participants were more than twice as likely to avoid speaking up about concerns with colleagues and managers virtually than when they worked together in person. This is leading to unresolved issues that will ultimately, if not already, affect employees and the organisation’s bottom-line.
The study found that the top four frustrations that remote employees are experiencing with coworkers and management are:
- Not following through with commitments
- Making changes to projects unilaterally or without warning
- Giving half-hearted commitment to their priorities
- Not giving warning when they were going to miss a deadline
“We know that these frustrations are nothing new and existed before the pandemic. But the concern is that before the pandemic 22 percent of respondents said they would let the problem drag on for a few weeks before addressing it. In the past year this figure has doubled – distance is destroying dialogue” says Vermaak.
The study also revealed the top five conversations that employees are struggling to have:
- Poor performance
- Behaviour concerns or violations
- Perceived bias and inequities
- Failure to meet deadlines, budgets, project specs, etc.
- Concerns about team strategy
The harmful outcomes, to the company and employees, of not having these crucial conversations are an increase in stress, time wasting, lower morale and lower productivity.
Vermaak says that knowing this enables us to act now and help address the lack in communication resulting from our virtual working environments. The fundamentals of communication may stay the same regardless of whether we are interacting face-to-face or virtually but there are other considerations that should be allowed for when conversing remotely. Vermaak provides six tips for remote conversations:
1. Invite dialogue by asking people and inviting comment we encourage conversation. Silence should not be taken as, consent or agreement as it is often the opposite.
2. Don’t assume – make sure that others have understood your communication.
3. Over communicate – the more you correspond the more the relationship will strengthen and if misunderstandings occur, they will be easier to resolve as a result.
4. Use your voice – an email or a WhatsApp may seem easier and does serve a purpose, but it is not enough to only communicate like this. Turn on your camera when having a virtual meeting and make phone calls.
5. Determine what you really want – before raising a concern know what the long-term goal is that you would like to achieve from the discussion, not only for yourself but also for your colleague and organisation.
6. Show you care – it is important that during virtual meetings and phone calls you engage in small talk and build personal connections. When addressing an issue explain your motives upfront, making it clear that you care about your colleague and their feelings.
“When employees are given the skills to speak their minds honestly and respectfully and encouraged to do so, whether it be to share a new perspective, raise concerns or ask questions they are more motivated, engaged and productive.”