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Blog Home Life at Appen   •   March 6, 2019

How to be an Effective Online Communicator in a Work-From-Home Job

As the demand for more flexible work policies has grown, remote work is on the rise. Today’s technology has made it easier than ever for employees in a wide range of positions to complete their daily tasks without ever coming into the office.

Workers find this appealing for obvious reasons. Working from home allows for a greater degree of work/life balance, helps employees save time and money they would otherwise spend on commuting, and, according to managers, may even yield higher productivity.

However, employees who work from home must adjust their communication styles in order to continue thriving in their roles. When you share an office with your manager, it’s easy to ask questions, collaborate, and give and receive feedback. That’s not the case with remote work. Out-of-office employees can’t simply knock on a manager’s door whenever they need to speak with them.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to work from home if it’s presented to you. You simply need to make sure you’re taking steps to improve your online communication skills. These tips will help.

Discuss Communication Methods Early

When shifting to a remote work approach, it’s important to speak with your manager about how you plan on staying in touch throughout the day and week. This discussion should include which communication tools you’ll use and how often you’ll check in.

Obviously, it’s crucial for employees to reach out to managers any time they feel they have essential updates to share or questions to ask, but it’s also necessary to discuss whether the manager and employee plan on scheduling regular weekly or biweekly sessions in which they cover general progress. Having an established communication schedule ensures everyone is on the same page.

You should also ask your manager what types of situations warrant reaching out. Flooding your manager’s inbox with emails every single time you complete a task may do more harm than good. On the other hand, if you don’t reach out to them with information that may be valuable, they may not have a clear sense of how far along you are in your work. Taking the time to make these plans before you start working remotely helps to safeguard against confusion in the future.

A person holding a cellphone while working on a laptop
Consider Email Alternatives

When discussing communication tools, the goal should be to find alternatives to email. The average employee already spends approximately two and a half hours each day reading and sending emails. managers and managers often spend even more time sorting through their inboxes each day. Productivity can suffer if email is the sole communication tool you rely on to get in touch with your manager.

Prevent this by looking into chat or collaboration software that allows work-from-home employees to stay in regular contact with managers without sending emails constantly. You should also discuss whether important reports, charts, and documents may be more easily shared via a wiki or whitepaper.

In an office setting, you might share these documents with all relevant managers and coworkers by simply printing them out and handing them copies. Out of the office, you may feel you should email these documents when they’re prepped and ready.

That’s not necessarily the best option. Uploading them to a drive that all relevant employees can access allows you to share crucial information without flooding anyone’s inboxes or taxing company resources.

Organize a Hierarchy

When companies begin to allow employees to work from home, it’s not uncommon for multiple team members to start working remotely at the same time. You probably won’t be the only one on your team or even in your department who will be working outside of the office.

Thus, you might suggest that your manager arrange a team meeting with the goal of establishing a hierarchy for communication. After all, there will be instances in which it is necessary to send emails. You want to make sure you’re not CCing people for whom those messages are not immediately relevant. Instead, you may only need to send a particular email to one or two team members who will be in a position to determine whether its contents need to be shared with others.

This hierarchy should be clear. You might even consider illustrating it in the form of a flowchart or similar visual and keeping it with you at your work desk. That way, you always know who you should email (and who you shouldn’t) when you have updates to share or questions to ask.

Be Thorough

Again, if you’re not sharing an office with your manager, you’ll have limited opportunities to get in touch with them throughout the day. That’s why it’s important to be as thorough as possible when you are communicating with each other. Carefully read over all emails you plan on sending to ensure you’ve included all necessary information. Throughout the week, take notes about issues you would like to discuss during your scheduled check-ins.

If you’re not thorough, you may find yourself reaching out to your manager and other team members excessively, as you remember important details you may have omitted from an email or previous discussion. This is a waste of your time, as well as theirs.

Don’t Rely Solely on Digital Communication

Technology certainly makes it easier for teams that don’t share an office to keep in touch. However, face-to-face communication is still important for very practical reasons.

A recent survey indicates younger employees prefer to communicate with coworkers and managers via digital tools. The problem is, older employees are often less comfortable with this method of communication. They would prefer some degree of face time. Thus, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on new communication tools to maintain contact with team members. You also need to speak with them in a real-world setting every now and then.

If you live close enough to your office, talk with your manager about scheduling monthly in-person meetings to have general discussions about your progress and future goals. It’s also smart to participate in company events whenever possible. This provides an additional opportunity to converse with team members face-to-face.

That said, if you live far away from the office, this may not be practical. Instead of assuming face time is out of the question, schedule video conferences. While they may not be as effective at facilitating natural conversation as in-person meetings, they’re still useful and necessary if you’re working remotely.

Proofread

Not everyone communicates well through written language. This may not seem like a major weakness in an office setting. When you have the opportunity to communicate with team members and managers face-to-face throughout the day, you might not feel you need to concern yourself with improving your writing skills.

When you work from home, however, you will likely be relying on email, chat, and other text-based forms of communication to a much greater degree. That means proofreading your emails carefully is essential.

Don’t merely look for typing errors and grammar mistakes. Yes, it’s important to catch these, but it’s also important to make sure your emails are clear.

In person, your words are not the only factor people notice when you speak with them. Your body language can convey meaning. If you’re discussing a particular project, you might nonverbally indicate a specific document to let someone know you’re referring to it. Even your tone of voice can play a role in helping someone understand what you’re telling them.

You can’t rely on those factors when sending emails or chat messages. Your text is the sole factor a person can look to in order to determine what you’re expressing. Thus, you want to make sure your emails are as clear as possible.

This ties back to the point about being thorough. Details you might omit or express non-verbally during a face-to-face conversation should be included in emails to ensure absolute clarity.

Man sitting on couch with a laptop
Again, if you were discussing a project with your manager in the office, you might physically point to a relevant document or a whiteboard diagram as a means of illustrating your point. You can’t do that in an email. Instead, it may be necessary to attach the document, while including a note in the text of the email itself explaining the document’s relevance to the conversation.

Your language should also be clear. Using some degree of casual language in person often doesn’t hinder communication due to the influence of the other factors listed above. In an email, your language must be more formal and technical.

Although you don’t have to completely remove all personality from your text, you should almost imagine that you’re drafting instructions for a product. A set of instructions written in casual language may confuse a reader. By writing in formal language and including all necessary details, you’re much more likely to get your point across effectively the first time around and avoid having to clarify points in multiple follow-up messages.

When proofreading emails in the early stages of remote work, you might even consider asking another coworker to read through them as well. Ask them to let you know whether or not they think your message is clear. Over time, expressing yourself clearly in written language will come more naturally to you.

Preparing Now

Maybe you think these points don’t apply to you if you don’t work from home. However, trends indicate you might someday work remotely in the future. Keeping these tips in mind will help you prepare effectively if that ever happens.

Clear communication is essential in any work setting. Following these points ensures your communication will remain effective and clear, both in and out of the office.

 

If you enjoyed reading our article from 15Five about How to be an Effective Online Communicator in a Work-From-Home Job, visit 15Five.com to learn more about maintaining a healthy company culture, and visit appen.com/careers to see our available opportunities.

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