When you talk to someone face-to-face, you have a lot of tools to get a message across. You can use your fingers to point at a computer screen, or take out a pen and paper to quickly draw a diagram. But when you’re communicating online, it’s a whole different story.
But when it comes to the new, emerging digital economy, let’s face it: personable, human-to-human communication becomes much harder, with more questions than answers.
Should you send a smiley face through a chat box, or is that too childish? Should you share your screen with a customer to help them understand your explanation? It can be tough to make the right choices.
Today’s workforce is communicating with customers, clients, and each other via email and chat, using a computer screen in place of real life interactions. In order to effectively communicate when you’re not in the same room, you need to make the extra effort to get it right.
Here are 4 ways to improve remote communication with your coworkers, customers, and anyone else you talk to online:
1. Get the right tools
There are tons of tons on the market to help businesses improve their remote communication. Here are a few highly recommended tools:
- Slack – Slack is a group chat app that is great for internal communication. You can create different channels for departments or projects, and set notifications so that you don’t have to spend your entire day in Slack.
- Ilos – Ilos provides ridiculously simple screen recording, which can help team members share bugs and problems. Ilos also helps customer support reps effectively communicate with customers.
- Groove – Groove is a customer support ticket solution that works via email. Groove helps customer support teams stay on top of customer tickets so that everything can be resolved quickly and easily.
- Skype – Like Slack, Skype is a chat app, but it’s specialty is phone calls. Almost everyone has Skype, so it’s easy to set up a Skype call with a customer, client, or partner, as well as a coworker.
Remember that in order to be successful with these tools, you have to implement them across the company. The tools you use should be standard at your company, or at least in your department, so everyone is on the same page about which tool to use– and when to use it.
2. Choose the right medium
Most companies offer a few different ways to have a conversation. You can pick up the phone, chat with an app like Slack or Hipchat, video chat using Google Hangouts, or use a screen sharing tool.
Each of these options offers a different medium for communication, but one isn’t better than the other. It all depends on the conversation you’re having, and the person you’re talking to.
For example, talking on the phone can be difficult if you’re talking to a customer who needs technical help. You’re better off using a screen sharing tool so you can guide them through the process in an agile way.
When you’re about to schedule a remote meeting or have an online conversation with someone, ask yourself:
- Which medium will best help me get my message across?
- Which medium will make it as easy as possible for the person I’m speaking to?
- Am I choosing the medium that’s the easiest for me (i.e. chat or email) or the medium that will effectively facilitate a conversation?
3. Show your face
One of the best parts of working from a computer is that we don’t have to brush our hair or put on clothes to have a conversation. We can hide behind the screen. But is this attitude what’s best for remote communication?
Body language is extremely important when it comes to communication, so when we use chat apps or email, we lose something major. Even though we’re not aware of the nonverbal cues we’re sending, these cues can help facilitate conversations.
According to Adrian Furnham, Ph.D. and contributor to Psychology Today, politicians and CEOs are often trained to present themselves in certain ways. Though they have speech writers, they need to use body language to deliver their messages effectively.
When it comes to how you communicate at work, it’s worth considering whether you should be spending more time using video chat. Yes, you may have to brush your hair, but you’ll have a much better chance of getting your message across.
4. Beware of how you write
The internet has turned all of us into writers, whether we like it or not. Between email, chat, text, and social media sites, we’re constantly using the written word to get messages across.
But there are subtle cues we give when we write things out, and we may not be as effective as we think we are. For example, researchers at Binghamton University found that text messages that end with a period are considered less sincere than those without.
“Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on,” said Celia Klin, leader of the study, in a statement. “People obviously can’t use these mechanisms when they are texting. Thus, it makes sense that texters rely on what they have available to them — emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and, according to our data, punctuation.”
Although this study focused on texting, email and chat are also void of the standard cues that come into face-to-face conversation. Pay attention to how you write– are you making an extra effort to be friendly and approachable? When in doubt, throw in a smiley face.
Final Thoughts: Make the extra effort
Remote communication isn’t going anywhere, and it’s up to us to make sure we make the extra effort to get our messages across. Make sure to get the best tools technology has to offer, consider the medium you’re using, show your beautiful face, and consider how you write.