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March 20, 2020 DHR Communications
Thoughts and tips around remote working and communications

As COVID-19 beds down in Ireland, changed working arrangements for businesses and individuals have come to the fore as a means of slowing the spread of the virus. Suddenly, a substantial portion of Ireland’s workforce, is working from home in the name of self-isolation, social distancing and mitigation. 

The shift to remote working presents a number of challenges for employee and employer, not least in the domain of communications. This is particularly the case when one appreciates that face-to-face and direct contact prevail as the most trusted form of communication (Reuters News Report 2018). Here, DHR shares some thoughts around remote working and communications. 

While face-to-face meetings permit deeper engagement, facilitating persuasion, leadership and decision making, current public health advice takes them off the table for the foreseeable future. Video-conferencing facilities, such as the user-friendly app Zoom, or group video calls via FaceTime or WhatsApp are worthy alternatives for internal and external meetings, given the circumstances.  

Video and tele-conferencing come into their own when used for a quick turnaround on urgent decisions, brainstorming and planning.  They are also a great tool for discussing between higher-level decision-making meetings. 

However, video and tele-conference participants don’t always have their eye on the camera: It’s worth noting that the majority of participants frequently engage in other activities such as web-browsing or reviewing emails while participating in a video conference (Forbes Insights Report 2009: Business Meetings – The Case for Face-to-Face). To keep everyone on point for your video or audio conference, a few suggestions:

  • Have a clear agenda and stick to it.
  • Limit the number of participants to what’s critical to enable planning and decision-making; of course, you can include some active listeners.
  • Appoint a strong chair who can moderate who speaks when, and on what topic.
  • Keep meetings short and to the point: we should suggest a 30-minute cap, otherwise participants may start browsing their social media platforms.

In lieu of face-to-face and direct contact within and beyond one’s own organisation, it’s likely that the volume of email correspondence will increase. Prior to the pandemic, email overkill was already emerging as a problem for organisations and individuals. Accordingly, emails should be focused and streamlined, covering multiple topics – clearly structured with headings and subheadings, as required. 

As far as group emails and threads of emails are concerned, consider these ground rules: 

  • What are the ground rules: who issues the email; when; what emails should be included in threads?
  • Stay on topic.
  • Avoid replies and repetition – do this by using polls and online systems of collating opinions.
  • Know when to stop.
  • Consider a social network, or a structured approach to email updates.

On that note, consider what queries and information-sharing can be taken out of email. For smaller organisations, set up a team WhatsApp group which allows for timely replies and the reassurance of end-to-end encryption. For larger organisations, segment your teams as appropriate and look into solutions such as Slack or Asana. 

Beyond that, revert to one of DHR’s own guiding principles: pick up the phone. 

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