Will working remotely change how we communicate?

Discussion
Photo: @tami.s.kelly via Twenty20
Apr 30, 2020
Dave Wendland

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

“Are you there?”

Whether you’re conducting an internal meeting with fellow remote employees or with clients in multiple locations, we have all been answering this for the past month as the shape of the workplace has continued to evolve and previously existing social and business norms have been replaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(In actuality, this question typically occurs throughout the meeting as video or audio lags or connections are abruptly lost.)

If you’re like me, you’ve also been asked: “Are you remote?”, “How are you?”, “Can you hear me?”, “Are you scared?”, “Did you just sneeze?”, “Did you hear?”, “Can you share your screen?”, “Are you wearing pajamas?” etc.

On the positive side, I have discovered that with fewer distractions, conference calls are more pointed and productive than face-to-face meetings. Sentences are shorter and more concise. Pauses seem longer but often provide a much-needed break in the discussion, and action items are summarized more effectively. Seems to me that we have adopted a Twitter-like mentality, where fewer words become more meaningful.

It is my hypothesis that conciseness has become the new standard during turbulent times such as we are facing. With so much information to impart, getting to the point quickly and simply has become paramount. Not to mention there’s a likely reality that human attention spans have decreased. A Microsoft study from 2015 found people generally lose concentration after eight seconds, behind even goldfish (nine seconds).

Sometimes, when in the midst of a storm, it is difficult to see what calm will look like. There are many predicting the aftermath of COVID-19 and what changes will remain following such an event. I believe that one long-lasting outcome and workplace change affecting everyday business will involve many more remote workers and expanded video conferencing.

More business being conducted remotely will demand concise exchanges of ideas, more purposeful and intentional conversations, and outcomes and actions determined more quickly and decisively. The comfort of interacting from afar will become second nature and feel normal over time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you find are the advantages and shortcomings of remote communications versus face-to-face? Are remote communications equally efficient or is face-to-face more important for business partners versus fellow employees?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"We are getting down to business faster but not as rushed, usually, as we might have been. Also, I predict a serious sales increase in devices designed to trim nose hair."
"Given that we develop software that allows sales and marketing professionals to work from anywhere and anytime, I guess you can say “we are eating our own dog food.”"
"This crisis is showing the world that a huge percentage of daily work can be more effectively and less expensively completed at home."

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27 Comments on "Will working remotely change how we communicate?"


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Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

RSR has been a virtual company since its inception 13 years ago. The biggest risk is over-emailing and the loss of nuance within the company. Externally, sometimes it is challenging to make real connections with clients. Beyond that, it’s very efficient.

If I were going to vote, I’d say it’s important to see both fellow workers and clients face to face a couple of times a year.

And probably it’s good not to have your office setup as near the kitchen as mine is!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

We are going to see a more balanced use of travel and remote working. People (especially those who would be my clients) are getting better about turning on their video devices. The concept of remote working or telecommuting saves a lot of time, money, and reduces the carbon footprint of doing business. Seeing people in person, albeit less often, will always be necessary, and not just at annual office parties. As the old AT&T Long Distance ad tagline said: “It’s the next best thing to being there…”

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Amen to the kitchen thing.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Sure, there will be more remote workers and more remote communication after this crisis. However don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face interactions, especially for conferences and meetings which involve idea generation. There is also the social side: we don’t all want to be imprisoned in our homes with only virtual interactions as a source of amusement.

As for changing communication styles; I am not really buying it. I have been in many remote and virtual meetings which are just as long-winded and badly structured as in-person ones! Much depends on the participants and meeting moderator!

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’ve been working remotely for years, but for most of my clients, this is a new experience. I’ve noticed they’ve gotten more comfortable with the whole idea, including an increase in the percentage who turn on their cameras. While Dave makes a good point about the conciseness, I also notice more small talk (“how is everyone doing”) and much less posturing than often happens in group meetings. So to me, we are getting down to business faster but not as rushed, usually, as we might have been. Also, I predict a serious sales increase in devices designed to trim nose hair.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Between your nose hair, pajamas, and Paula’s kitchen, I feel like I have moved in to someone else’s house!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Oh, I never said I turn on the camera!

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Ha! Or how about online training courses for how to set your camera angle? Actually, those already exist. To Dave’s point about cameras, I have found it interesting that more people seem to be leaving their cameras off now that the novelty of video conferencing has diminished. Perhaps something about “the power of the Wizard…”?

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Great input, Ben. The camera can indeed be a blessing or a curse. With that said, I find the “Brady Bunch”-esque view of each person’s face and their workspace quite amusing.

As more business adopt this as their new normal, I believe features and tools will become better understood (changing backgrounds, recording, screen sharing, whiteboarding, etc.). Most merely view the platform as a phone connection with a picture … and that’s barely scratching the surface to the power of this medium.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Hi Ben – I’ve been seeing the opposite regarding cameras – more people being comfortable with turning them on. Perhaps it’s time for a new clothing/grooming trend – ultra casual. 🙂

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Hmmm — perhaps my colleagues and clients are leaving their cameras off in the hopes that I’ll do the same?

Art Suriano
Guest

Remote communications have a completely different feeling to them than live meetings but, because of video, they are better than a phone call. Yes they tend to be more concise because there is less banter between the participants, which gets the meeting over quickly. So there’s a benefit there. However the advantage really is for the employer, who is realizing they can have many more remote employees, which is not impacting productivity and saving them huge office expenses. We don’t know if there are any long-term negatives for the employees from lack of office interaction. Many employees first working from home were like a fish out of water. But now, a considerable amount have come to like the independence and benefits of working from home. So this may be a win-win for both the employee and employer in the long run.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I have found the direct opposite of what’s in this article. My communications with clients, coworkers, and friends aren’t Twitter-like and there aren’t a lot of pauses. Maybe that’s a corporate thing; my conversations are better.

We’re talking more on the phone and via Zoom instead of via email and texts. We’re getting to know each other better, and learning how we can serve our clients better. People want to talk, and why not? Sheltering at home can be lonely, even in a house full of people.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust
We have all been working remotely for at least six weeks now and my take is that it has been quite productive. As Dave states, meetings have been more focused and to the point. We have a “Stand up Meeting ” every morning that is conducted just for everyone to quickly discuss what they will be working on and if there are any roadblocks in the way. If there is an issue that we need more time to discuss, then a separate meeting is set up on Microsoft Teams. So, so far, so good. The drawbacks are not too bad. One of our younger developers has overslept on a few occasions, but that’s life, especially for coders. Also many of us are tied into office leases, and paying crazy rents while working from home. When the dust settles, I believe we will need less space as this challenging period has proven that we do not necessarily all need to be together to work effectively. Given that we develop software that allows sales and marketing professionals… Read more »
Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

Home-based work environments and remote communications are shifting behavior to focusing much more on only what is essential. Zoom meetings enable the work to get done, though the sense of being less connected than gathering in-person, I believe, stifles the random sharing of ideas and tangential conversations that often contribute to more meaningful meeting outcomes. A degree of face-to-face communicating remains important, with business partners and fellow colleagues. Our innate nature appreciates the power of relationships nurtured in-person.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Having worked remotely for more than 10 years I find that it is often easier to focus and hammer out big projects without office noise in the background, however, it is nice to have face-to-face interaction sometimes to foster that team feeling. With current technology (such as Zoom) it beomes easier to work remotely and still feel connected.

Rob Gallo
BrainTrust

Impact 21 has been remote for a decade plus. The last few months have been very interesting to compare to 2018-19. Obviously, the use of video has increased greatly. We have clients that were entirely WFO (work from office) that were forced into WFH. I have found that most of them have now requested a Teams meeting versus the standard conference call dial-in. Video provides context and strengthens personal connections. It also allows you to better read the audience and move quicker when they understand or slower when it is clear they want to dive deeper into an issue.

While I think most are excited to make some in-person visits, I do think video conferencing will replace at least some initial meetings. I expect that to impact travel budgets slightly. On the WFH front, it will be interesting to see how companies with large work forces and owned real estate explain why everyone needs to go back to work.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

We are seeing many interesting factors develop as a result of such a big portion of the workforce working from home. We are finding apps like Zoom allowing us to meet and see one another almost as if we were in the office. But less time is being wasted by less idle conversation and better use of the alloted time. I can see this moving forward in the sales process. It is easier and certainly less expensive to “meet” by Zoom than to get on a plane and fly to another location for the same amount of time for a meeting. This can mean less business air travel, less hotel spend and less total T&E budget allocation over the course of the year. We will see this as an experiment as the year continues. If successful, T&E budgets will be drastically reduced with much of that money falling to the bottom line. That’s one person’s opinion — and this person is one who used to travel for business meetings.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There, unfortunately will be winners and losers in this pandemic. As we moved to a quarantine-like state, those organizations that were well-positioned to ride out the pandemic with a completely remote workforce are well prepared for the new normal, which will be a blend of in-person and remote meetings. Working remotely and being productive offsite is not a new phenomenon.

Some service-oriented organizations are dependent upon personal interactions and physical stores to run their businesses. Most of these are a predominant part of the essential workforce that is on the front lines of the grocery, health, and hygiene industries.

The other organizations that are unable to support a 100 percent remote workforce and are not considered an essential business have unfortunately been disrupted, with countless members of their workforce getting furloughed or laid off.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

As a person who is part of a small company and has been conducting business remotely for several years, this trend will continue as people learn to conduct business this way. There tends to be less chit-chat on remote communications resulting in more productive conversations. Advantages of remote communications are the ability to join conversation from anywhere and schedule people time more efficiently. Remote communications are equally efficient for all levels of the organization. However there are topics that would be better discussed face-to-face such as personnel issues.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

I’ve been working as a remote content creator for the past six years. Remote communications cut out unnecessary, high-pressure water cooler chatter. They also help businesses focus on the message they need to convey — “concise” is the perfect descriptive.

With that said, it’s not for everyone. Extroverts and people who have trouble with time management are struggling to work in a remote environment. Retailers can take away from this experience an awareness of the wide range of preferred and most productive work environments, and create flexible (corporate) positions that are based on productivity, not hours logged.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
I suspect many if not most of the BrainTrust have been part of a remote work environment for many years and so have plenty of experience working in this mode, whereas many of the clients we all work with might not have had that familiarity. I agree with Georgeanne that conversations and meetings (yes, we should still call them meetings even when virtual!) have become more productive. I find more and more of these discussions happen with cameras turned on and even have taken a much more relaxed approach to the conversation. It’s less formal and, frankly, the quality of work and productivity seems to be better for it. I work with a globally distributed organization where almost everyone already worked remotely. Now that we have been fully working remotely, most people feel better connected to their colleagues than before. In the end, I believe we will all see this as a positive outcome from a difficult time. I also expect many more companies will embrace the remote work concept and will not have their… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

As someone who works in a company that blazed the telecommuting trail for more than the past 30 (yes, 30!) years, nothing has changed much around here. However, this crisis is showing the world that a huge percentage of daily work can be more effectively and less expensively completed at home. Office space will dwindle as this hits home to businesses globally. Downtime from traditional commuting will become productive work time. Remote workers have proven to be available virtually 24/7 rather than 9-5 at the office. Remote work with video conferencing just makes sense.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I believe there are two levels of “efficiency.” One is that you have a topic and that has to be addressed. Remote communications work fairly well.

But, I am also a water cooler guy. In my years in business, the most creative and interesting and valuable ideas and solutions came not from scheduled meetings (either group or one-on-one) but from random conversations (at the water cooler), passing someone in the hall, sticking your head in someone’s office, in the company cafeteria, and of course, at the bar after work.

Case in point, and I have several … I started, what is today a billion dollar business, for the first company I worked for, with an idea that was sparked while walking though the Atlanta airport and getting served a hot dog.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Happily no one chose “much more” (I would have questioned the survey!). Perhaps I’m interpreting this differently and people are equating “collaborate” with (unproductive) staff meetings. To me, it means walking a few feet over and showing someone something and/or asking a question. How doing or trying to do this remotely could ever be anything other than less efficient is beyond me.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Remote workers and virtual events may have a lasting impact on the business world. Many companies may find that remote workforces work better than they expected and some may be more open to remote employees in the future – reducing the expense of office space. One thing that has changed during the pandemic is the use of video on conference calls. In the past, virtual meeting participants rarely turned on their video and now we are seeing almost everyone turn on their cameras to make the meetings more personable.

Business conferences and events have been severely impacted by the pandemic and personally I don’t think virtual conferences can truly replicate the impact of face-to-face events. I hope in-person events can return sooner than later.

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

The world has seen a shift in how it works and both business owners and employees are realizing that the old way is not always the best. As the younger generations are promoted in the workplace, we are seeing the bank hours of the typical office disappear and the flexibility of working from home slowly permeate the largest of companies.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"We are getting down to business faster but not as rushed, usually, as we might have been. Also, I predict a serious sales increase in devices designed to trim nose hair."
"Given that we develop software that allows sales and marketing professionals to work from anywhere and anytime, I guess you can say “we are eating our own dog food.”"
"This crisis is showing the world that a huge percentage of daily work can be more effectively and less expensively completed at home."

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