Communicating from a distance: How to ensure remote working works best for your organisation

16 March 2020
4 minute

The past decade has seen a rapid increase in the adoption of remote working practices around the world. These new ways of working range from the increased number of people going freelance, to those engaging with aspects of the gig-economy or adopting flexible working patterns through their current employers.

For example, The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) predicted in 2019 that 50% of the UK workforce will have adopted remote working in some capacity by 2020 [1], with Forbes predicting the same trend for the US [2].This trend was being driven primarily by the interplay of factors including the shift in attitudes around remote working and the increased adoption (and quality) of networking software.

As the world responds to the challenge of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s clear to all that this will be the biggest driver of accelerating this remote working trend over coming months. It’s widely expected that most businesses across the world will be rolling out new policies for supporting employees working from home where possible. As a result, businesses will have to adapt their practices, policies and people engagement approaches at a faster pace than originally anticipated to make this work for them.

The pros and cons of remote working

Remote working has of course been viewed as a way to keep the costs of expensive office space down, whilst also ensuring access to a wider pool of talent than that limited to a specific geographic region in which an office is sited. In addition, we know that when individuals are given the flexibility to adopt remote working practices, they often proved to be more productive, more innovative and experience greater well-being [3].

However, while many of your workforce will consider a period of remote working to be positive, or even a benefit, it is something that will also be viewed with some degree of trepidation by others. There are those that enjoy the social side of being in an office – the interaction, the banter, being able to exchange ideas and collaborate face to face [4].

Determining your people's remote working communication styles

Understanding your people’s communication styles will be critical to maximise the benefits presented by increased remote working practices. Get it right and you will engage your workforce and broaden your talent pool. Get it wrong and you could isolate your people and disconnect your best talent from critical projects.

It’s also important to view the potential challenges that employees could face if they struggle to switch off – just as some staff may find it hard to be engaged with work when sited remotely, others will be unable to define and stick to boundaries between work and home life. Understanding communication styles doesn’t just help you keep these employees engaged, it can also help to prevent burnout and work-related stress for those unable to switch off.

Use the Thomas PPA to make a success of remote working

So, how can you quickly and easily determine someone’s communication style and how it will define their remote working success?

If you want to take a scientific approach, assessments like the Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) provide an insight into a person’s prevailing communication style. Taking as little as 5 minutes to complete, you can rapidly increase your understanding of how best to communicate with a member of your team, a colleague, or even turn the mirror on yourself and explore your own personal communication preferences.

The PPA measures a person’s preferences around four, core behavioural and communication styles:

  • Dominance: prefer brief, direct communication and can be quite assertive
  • Influence: prefer fast-paced, verbal communication and like to verbalise their ideas
  • Steadiness: prefer to actively listen and communicate when they’ve reflected
  • Compliance: prefer communication that focuses on facts and detail

When you’ve identified a person’s preferred style, you can explore how their manager could modify their own communication style to have the best impact:

Your organisation can apply this newfound knowledge of communication styles to the challenges presented by increased remote working. When not face to face, what is the best approach for managers of teams to take when communicating with individuals who may be a great distance away from them?

Remote working and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

While it’s full impact is still unclear, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is likely to be the defining challenge to businesses around the world in 2020. At the very minimum, organisations will have to adapt to remote working at a faster pace than first anticipated.

A greater understanding of how you, your managers, colleagues and teams prefer to communicate can help with the transition to a greater degree of remote working than your business may currently be comfortable supporting.

You may have people around you who will adapt to remote working more easily than others but communicating using methods they prefer will help with the transition and will help to maintain engagement during these challenging times.



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