By Abigail G. Scheg, PhD, MBA
I have had the opportunity to work remotely at multiple organizations full-time for more than ten years. Across these years, my roles have had different levels of engagement and communication within and among the organizations I served. For instance, in the early days, I held part-time faculty roles where I never heard from anyone at the university. There was the organization where I clocked in and out at a set schedule and even though it was remote, it held the expectations of in-person availability.
The experiences were varied, as were the scopes of my role, but I have experienced some significant learnings about effective communication at work worth sharing. Effective communication in a dispersed organization begins long before we begin writing or speaking– it is woven into the planning and scaffolding of our teams. Let’s take a walk through some of the high-level effective communication considerations that occur well before we begin writing a message:
My experience has shown that remote workers generally do not know how or why to set boundaries on their availability. I am entirely guilty of working well beyond “work hours,” adding work to my personal cell phone, and feeling that I needed to be available 24/7.
In my years of working virtually, I have shaped my boundaries. My biggest boundary is that I no longer have work-related communications on my personal cell phone, primarily email. Though it may take a while, remote workers need to be encouraged to explore and set their own boundaries in alignment with organizational boundaries.
- Example of setting boundaries at work: I will only be available from 9am-5pm in my time zone.
While this may sound simple, accurately communicating one’s availability in a virtual work environment proves difficult for many. Once boundaries are established, we need to share out what that boundary shape looks like. This is not to allow micromanagement of time, but rather, to communicate availability or lack thereof. This information should not spark judgement; rather, communicating availability should just be considered a statement of fact.
- Example of setting availability: I am open for meetings from 10am-2pm and every day I am out of office from 2-2:30pm to pick up my children from school.
How an organization wants to share information is a key component of communication that requires thoughtful consideration. Consider the ramifications of ineffective communication avenues. This manifests in ways like: meetings that should have been emails, emails with impossible-to-navigate Reply All threads, and missed information.
- Example of establishing avenues: Meetings are for concepts that require back and forth dialogue. Emails are for important communications that require an acknowledgement. Chat is for quick check-ins and questions.
When you see a communication opportunity in your organization, consider how to address it. Where is the gap: boundaries, availabilities, avenues, or across multiple components? Consider how you can define effective organizational strategies, incorporate them into the culture, and socialize shared expectations. Starting here paves the way for team communication to become streamlined and allows the focus to be on content and accomplishing goals.
Dr. Abigail G. Scheg currently serves as the People & Culture Manager for VaVa Virtual Assistants. She has served as a people leader across multiple organizations and industries and enjoys supporting the development and maintenance of virtual communities. Dr. Scheg serves on the Program Advisory Committee for the Business Administration programs at West Coast University.
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.