The modern world is always changing at breakneck speeds – its simply a part of modern life that everyone has learned to accept. Technology, in particular, has been one of the key drivers of this constant evolution, creating new and unique tools, systems, and processes and “ways of working” that continues to leave a steady and indelible impact on the business world.
And yet, despite these changes, the fact that humans are still the ones operating technology requires us to scrutinize how, exactly, we are going about using this technology.
This is especially important than within the realm of communication, where it has become a requirement that any successful businessperson must take the time to learn how to maintain solid communication skills, whether they are working “on-site” or half-a-world away as a “remote worker”.
How Telecommuting Has Changed in Recent Years
At its genesis, telecommuting was a restricted, burdensome option that had to be maintained via complicated technology, including telephones, modems, dedicated phone lines, fax machines (remember those?) and especially Email.
However, in recent years, the option to telecommute has grown more attractive by leaps and bounds as it has become both easier and cheaper. Within the business world, a number of extremely useful tools have appeared that have made “working remotely” (also called “Telecommuting”, “Remote Worker” or “Virtual Working”) not just easier to accomplish, but in many cases is actually the “preferable way to work”.
Applications such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype have made interactive, visual meetings from all over the globe both possible and easy with just a “click of a button”.
Online workflow platforms such as Trello or Asana have also streamlined the ability for a team to better collaborate while members are “off-site,” allowing employees to easily share insight and feedback with each, and even providing a space to upload their work into a single location where everyone can access it.
These constantly improving tools and approaches aren’t showing any signs of slowing-down, and new tools are constantly being introduced.
This “shift to telecommuting” has led to a reduction in the size and even existence of many traditional workplaces, with “physical offices” being abandoned in favor of vastly more efficient, flexible, and affordable “virtual workspaces”.
As early as 2011, over three million workers reported that they had telecommuted. Over the following years, the movement only continued to increase, and as of May of 2018 CNBC reported that 70 percent of people around the world worked remotely at least once a week.
The Need to Connect Still Remains
In spite of the popularity of telecommuting, a key element to working remotely is the increased importance of communication.
While sending an Email to a colleague in the next cubical may be a convenient way to discuss something without interrupting anyone’s workflow, in the telecommuting world, an Email can sometimes become the only method that someone has to communicate with other team members.
Therefore, it is important for telecommuters to learn excellent and effective Email communication skills. The elements that comprise a well-crafted Email include items such as writing a short and specific subject line rather than leaving it blank, or making sure to use the right Email sign-off etiquette.
When it comes to the content of your Emails themselves, there are many different factors that are worth keeping in mind as you compose messages. For example, keep your Emails as short as possible. When you need to create a longer Email, make sure to structure them to make the easy to read and understand. Also, always composing Emails when you’re not in the right frame of mind — the same way you might refrain from saying something rash during a heated conversation.
There are several things to consider for upping your email game, especially as a telecommuter who can’t be in-office to have in-person conversations. One of the most important things to remember is that, because you’re not physically in the workplace, you have to assert yourself more often, as well as get your points across clearly.
Here are some key tips to remember when composing Emails:
● Confirm Receipt: Confirm that you’ve received the Email, even if you’re unable to respond and/or answer specific questions right away.
● Take Out some Words: Brevity always wins, so cut back on the “fat” of your emails to make them easier to read and digest.
● Simplify your Signature: Unless you’re an academic, having a long signature at the end of your emails isn’t necessary, especially if you’re sending internally.
● Get to the Point: Don’t waste time with small talk. Get to the point and remove the “fluff”.
● Zap the Tech Jargon: Use simple language that won’t require more Emails to explain what you really meant to say in the first place.
● Close Quickly: Emails are meant to be read and understood quickly. So provide the key facts, ask the question, or draw the conclusion clearly and succinctly.
Remember, you want every Email you send to represent you in a clear and professional manner. You’re not talking to a personal friend or a family member. This is a business correspondence in a workplace environment, even if you may be sitting at home and working on your sofa. Always remember to communicate just as if you were in the office surrounded by your peers, managers, and customers.
The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting
While the growth of telecommuting is undeniable at this point, a question that naturally arises is whether this trend is actually helping or hurting businesses and employees that are employing its use. There are, in fact, both pros and cons that surround telecommuting.
Eliminating Barriers - Many skilled employees with disabilities have managed to find work where they may otherwise have been unable to do so.
Flexibility - Greater flexibility to work within your desired schedule or when living in remote locations.
Environmental Responsibility - Reduction in your “carbon footprint” by reducing office space and commuting pollution.
Talent Pool - Attract more talent with a greater diversity by eliminating the need for a person to have to be at a specific location to do the job.
Productivity - Many workers actually work longer hours or more productively without the distractions of an office or the added time that is needed to commute.
Cost Reduction - Businesses benefit from the lower expenses that virtual teams require compared to traditional office spaces.
Control - When a company employs remote workers, either in part or in full, it sacrifices a certain level of “control” over the members of their teams. This can create concerns over the ability for managers to have oversight of their employees and to accurately assess their performance.
Privacy/Security - There may be privacy and security concerns, in that telecommuting requires appropriate security measures to be in place, including VPN connections to ensure information is not intercepted. Appropriate virus prevention software must also be employed to avoid network infections.
Productivity - There are productivity concerns, in that employees may become “distracted” and not be working. For example, employees may be shopping, housecleaning, watching their children or just plain “slacking-off” when they should instead be working.
Connectedness - Difficulty in “staying in the loop” to changes and developments within the organization, especially when only some members of a team are remote and others are still “office-based”.
Personal Bonds - Lack of personal interaction with co-workers may not result in the strong, personal bonds that often form when people work together in a co-located space.
Overall, though, the benefits of telecommuting seem to outweigh the risks, as is borne out by the increasingly popular trend for companies to go embrace and expand telecommuting as a viable option across many sectors and jobs categories.
Keeping Your Communication Skills on Point
It may be easy to excuse communication skills as an unnecessary part of the telecommuting world, where face-to-face encounters are a rarity. But the truth is that the shift to the virtual workspace has made proper communication even more important than ever before. Core skills such as how to properly compose an Email, which remains the primary method of communication for 90 percent of all companies, is more critical to master now than ever. And time-management, prioritization, and organization skills are also critical to telecommuting success.