WFH. The newest, rather popular three letter acronym in the WhatsApp lexicon over the last few days in Malaysia.
The Restriction of Movement Order 2020 has gotten Malaysia working from home. Having started on 18th March, this is the new norm and it is likely to last as far as 31st March at the least.
New experiences dare us to adapt. However, as we have seen before, humans are very adaptable animals and we may just settle into new situations comfortably enough; maybe even to the point of not wanting to want to go back to the way things were.
Remote communication presents an opportunity for those ready, and conversely upsets the apple cart for others not quick, interested or adventurous enough to explore its virtues and sometimes, its tests.
Read on and see if any of these scenarios feel uncomfortably familiar. Fret not, there are lessons to be learnt and skills to be built from these not-so-great moments!
- Sign In? Sign Out!
The digital era has ushered in a revolution as significant as the one in the distant past, that saw the advent of the printing press. Times are a-changing and if our eye is not on the ball, it could hit us where it hurts – in this case, our professionalism.
After a successful cross-border business conference call on Zoom, the two parties, Amy and Sam on either side of the conversation fail to sign out from their meetings on their respective lap tops. The result is Amy hearing an uncensored rant by Sam on the other side, who in blissful ignorance, has immediately after the conference call, answered a very private phone call while continuing to work.
The two parties finish their conversation and consciously sign out to avert all kinds of misunderstandings that could arise from not having ‘left the meeting’.
2. Pace, Punctuate, Proofread
Communicating remotely can certainly distort a message that is otherwise quite easily conveyed in two face-to-face sentences. While we may be used to communicating on devices, the rules of written and audiovisual interaction for remote communication hinge on a variety of variables; place and time, team size, skill level, values, trust and even levels of interdependency between roles and individuals. Also, do consider the challenges of remote communications that do not offer audiovisual interactions, against the ones that do!
After hurriedly messaging top management, Din feels doubtful if the content was too abruptly worded. He cannot recall his email as it has just been opened by the receiving parties. He feels a bead of perspiration condensing on his forehead as his cellphone registers a few consequent WhatsApp pings.
Do not amalgamate the message into a small meaningless mesh – or mess, which is what it is likely to create. It is tempting to truncate for brevity but it leaves recipients interpreting and deciphering messages, ultimately causing more confusion than efficiency. Spend time to convey messages with the intention to be utterly clear, regardless of what the medium may be. It is better to err on the side of caution and be consciously clear than to be much too vague.
3. No Digital Dominance!
Fresh circumstances call for new behaviours. If a team had worked in a physical office space in the past, working in a remote team means that members (including team leads!), now have to acquire new behaviours. However, undesirable behaviours can also creep up on you unawares! One sneaky one that no one needs is digital dominance. It is an unsettling form of harassment – imagine sending a barrage of messages on different mediums to a team member in the quest to follow up on work activities. This is simply micro-management at a whole new level. It can cause undue stress and can demotivate an otherwise effective team.
It is 9.30pm. Raj, HR Director, receives a text from a colleague who asks what the protocol is, if one receives work-texts long after work hours. Raj recalls having received this query before, from another member of the same team.
Consciously chart out an effective process for remote working. Target your digital communications elegantly and effectively; say ‘no’ to digital dominance. In fact on the flip side, try and create virtual rituals for celebration and interaction. It can strengthen relationships and encourage collaboration. A simple idea would be to create a team thank you poster; one that can be personalized to encourage helpful employees on the team at opportune moments.
It appears that globally, 48% of execs in the Regus Global Economic survey said they had been working remotely for at least half their working week; in Malaysia it’s 53%, says DNA. The survey also says that 65% of the respondents used video communication between managers and employees. So, just maybe, it looks like remote working and remote communications are here to stay!
Pssst… If you’re keen on getting into the gig economy yourself and perhaps find that WFH job you’ve long been seeking, MDEC’s Global Online Workforce (GLOW) programme can help you find your feet.
Article by Shobha Janardanan