Coronavirus has turned the world on its head. Basic protocol has changed, society has changed, and naturally, so too has business and the realm of working life.
But as flickers of light begin to appear at the end of the tunnel and the world primes itself for a gradual return to the workplace, we must ask ourselves: how do we perform such a seismic adjustment again?
Whilst the prospect of business as usual is indeed encouraging, the fact remains that this will require yet more planning, strategising and an initial teething period.
Communication is central to this. This is an area that was vigilantly tackled by leaders upon the onset of remote working, with the goal of ensuring that employers felt supported, heard and engaged despite a lack of co-location.
But with remote working soon set to come to an end for many organisations, leaders must ensure that complacency does not creep in, and that the culture of healthy, consistent communication lives on.
But as is often the case, this is easier said than done. So, to gain some clarity, we spoke to Kara Ronin, communication expert and Founder, Executive Impressions, who first outlined why such an abrupt shift is on the horizon for businesses.
“You might think that working from home would make people feel more distant from their team members, but paradoxically, I think it has brought people closer together,” she said.
“Technology has made this possible. Teams have embraced video conferencing and internal instant messaging platforms to get by during this time. As a result, many people will have become more used to communicating with other team members without being in the same location. This could naturally have made communication more consistent.”
This rings particularly true when investigating the extent to which the use of internal communications systems has accelerated during the pandemic.
For instance, a survey conducted by software company Asana found that just under two thirds (62%) of full-time workers have increased their use of collaboration tools such as Slack and Zoom since working from home.
Similarly, tech giant Microsoft has reported that, since the onset of the pandemic and worldwide lockdown, it has recorded a 500% increase in the use of its Teams software on desktops, and 200% on mobiles.
Based on this, many organisations will be able to hit the ground running with communication upon their return to the workplace if the use of such tools is maintained.
But consistency aside, Ronin goes on to suggest that in many cases, digital communication is actually more effective through digital means.
“To get your point across in a video, you have to be more clear and more succinct in the way that you express yourself,” she said.
“There is a time lag with video conferencing, so this makes general chit chat or trying to convey the point you want to make more difficult. People have had to find a way to communicate their message quickly and directly.”
Workplace coaching organisation Mindmaven produced a report exploring this subject. Most notably, the report cites research conducted in 1967 which found that human communication could be broken down into ‘words’ (7%), ‘tonality’ (38%) and ‘body language’ (55%).
This could feed into the theory that video conferencing is likely to encourage more succinct and clearer communication. If this is the case, and the use of tonality and body language becomes more efficient, then by default, communication is likely to become more effective across the board.
What’s more, an internet trends report conducted in 2018 found that the use of Zoom led to collaboration being improved by 85% and productivity being improved by 71%.
Elaborating further, Ronin said: “I think video conferencing has also pushed people to communicated more assertively. Many people in the professional world try to be indirect with their communication so as to not appear pushy or bossy.
“However, on video, there is no time for this. They need to be clear with their message, and assertive communication will give them the ability to do so.
“People are used to these methods now, so even if the digital element is removed, they are likely to continue it when they return to the office.”
From this HR leaders can opt for one of two approaches when it comes to establishing effective and consistent communication post-pandemic.
Firstly, the digital means can be maintained. Many workforces have established a healthy rhythm in using digital messaging and conferencing software. As a result, leaders may feel that it would be unproductive to break the cycle.
Alternatively, leaders can hone in on specifically what makes these methods so effective, extrapolate the techniques and behaviours, and encourage their staff to maintain them as they make the switch back to conventional communication methods.
Ronin concludes by exploring the subject of how remote working has impacted introverts, and more specifically their willingness to more actively participate in discussion.
“Video conferencing allows those who would normally hold back, to speak up more,” she said.
“I believe that remote working has forced those who are more introverted to speak up and be more present in team meetings. You’re going to start hearing opinions from people who wouldn’t normally share them.
“Maintaining such communication methods may allow you to maintain a balanced, inclusive culture of communication post-pandemic.”
Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.