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Columbia Business Monthly

Managing Communication During Covid-19

By Dr. Carole Sox

As we continue to find our place and space in the pandemic working environment, communication shines through as a key contributor to job success. We’re consistently reminded of the necessity for formal and informal communication channels and see this play out through coaching and counseling, nonverbal communication, organization-wide communication management, and the list goes on. Pre-pandemic, many of us had the opportunity to communicate with our colleagues in person daily, but as Covid-19 kicked in, many of us lost that opportunity and currently resort to online communication.

Online communication can be very effective and can certainly be advantageous and add value to many business situations and working environments. However, managing online communication on a daily basis can be a challenge for many people. Communication is fundamental to how we live and manage our work. Changing how we communicate can be difficult and sometimes a bit lonely. Recent research sited loneliness as the biggest problem reported by home-based workers. Loneliness can lead to decreased productivity along with other possible consequences.

As managers, how can this be addressed and how can we create effective communication channels to keep our teams engaged, productive and innovative? Here are a few helpful tips gathered to assist in being a better communicator for your team.

Check-in: Remote work often allows for more flexible schedules, but it is important to communicate with your team in a meeting format a few times each month if not more. Regular check-ins are helpful and valuable to keep your team engaged and focused.

Consistent Communication: Begin sending your team regular and consistent updates about business changes and new information. Even if brief, consistency is the key and your team will appreciate being informed.

Small Talk: Encourage light conversation at the beginning of the meeting. This helps people feel connected and offers some insight into what they may be handling in their remote settings.

Communication Platform: Since communication can be key to your success, it is imperative that you use a reliable platform on which to communicate. Unreliable platforms create disorganization and sometimes more chaotic environments.

Recognize Digital Burnout: Communicate with your team about digital burnout. Are they feeling overstressed and tired from all the virtual communication? Communicate ways to limit digital interaction.

Voice to Voice: Avoid always texting and emailing as your main form of communication – a phone call and hearing a voice can help people feel more connected and promote engagement.

Meet: While applying safety measures and working within company safety guidelines, meet with colleagues when possible. While the pandemic creates a challenge for this tip, the future may include innovative ways for this to take place. In the meantime, wear your mask and social distance.

Promote Confidence: Within your communication, make sure you are providing positive messages reaffirming confidence in your team. Confirm your company’s direction and promote optimism to your team as you position your company in a futuristic light.

Listen: Take time to hear your team. This situation brings new challenges, concerns and stress. Listen to what they have to say about the changes and how they are coping. Open up communication so that they can easily reach you with questions and concerns.

Communicate Thanks: Take a moment to communicate your heartfelt thanks for the work of your team. Acknowledge them individually and as a group. A simple thank you can help boost morale and helps to create a healthy work environment.

Bonus Tip: Breathe – Keep in mind that change is hard and this new business environment is still a work in progress for most people. Have some grace as you make changes to improve your communication for the betterment of all.

A recent article reported on a large company that has decided to allow remote work to continue for employees. This may be an indication of a future trend. The pandemic has forced an unexpected experiment of how companies can succeed with a remote workforce. As the pandemic continues and as the opportunities for these situations increase, it is imperative that management be trained on effective, efficient and timely communication with their remote teams for continued productivity. This is important not only for productivity but also for the health and well-being of their employees.

While effective communication is crucial to your business’s success, it is also important to remember that encouraging engagement and staying connected does not include overtaxing your team, adding additional work, and/or creating an unnecessary demand on their time. The goal is to be proactive in keeping them engaged and ensuring that the engagement is valuable to all.

Dr. Carole Sox is assistant professor and director of the Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Program at Columbia College. She is also director of the Women's Business Center.