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Coronavirus: Why we need to get used to overcommunication

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
When working remotely, you need to communicate more than you think you should. (Getty)

The rules are clear – by now, the majority of us should be working from home, with the exception of those who cannot, such as hospital staff or supermarket workers.

For the rest of us, the current coronavirus pandemic means our homes are now our offices and any communication we have with colleagues, bosses or clients is now virtual.

With so much technology available to stay in touch with our co-workers, it can seem a little overwhelming. When working from home, we’re firing off emails, replying on Slack, updating Trello boards and joining video conference calls on Zoom – all while trying to get on with our own work or juggling childcare.

There are some obvious downsides to overcommunication, including being distracted and feeling pressured by constant messages. But when working remotely, you need to communicate more than you think you should.

Peripheral communication happens accidentally when working in an office. We know what our colleagues are working on because we can hear their conversations, and it’s obvious when they are struggling or overworked. It’s also easy to drop by and ask how a project is coming along, or if someone needs help, advice or direction.

Read more: Five apps to help you work from home during the coronavirus pandemic

Remote working makes this kind of communication more difficult. Managers still need to know what people are working on and staff need to know their work is still being seen and recognised. People who are struggling need to know they can ask for help and support when they need it. And while some people thrive when working independently, others may need more direction or feedback to avoid feeling lost.

When you’re communicating digitally, overcommunicating is always better than making assumptions about what the other person is thinking or doing. Apps like Slack may allow us to communicate quickly with minimal effort, but you still never know what situation the other person is in. They might be having a slower day, or they might be frantically trying to email 15 people at once while on a deadline.

What you assume is an unfriendly or curt reply may actually be because the other person is overworked and stressed – and is actually nothing to do with you. Letting people know what is happening can help prevent miscommunication. If you’re busy and don’t have time for a chat, communicating this clearly is helpful.

In a time of crisis, it’s also essential for businesses to be open and communicate with their employees. Especially now, considering the economic uncertainties workers and employers currently face amid the coronavirus pandemic, transparency is crucial.

It may be a cliche, but honesty is the best policy when the future looks uncertain. If there is a likelihood of lay-offs or pay cuts, it is only fair to give people time to prepare and protect their finances, or look for other employment options.

According to a recent survey of more than 1,100 managers and employers by Paychex, a majority of employees (75%) think it’s important for employers to share bad news that affects the entire company. However, only 45% said their employer was moderately or very transparent - and three in four employees want more transparency from their employer. 

Read more: Four ways to hold a virtual meeting

“When it comes to company transparency, sharing information can lead to a stronger, more cohesive team, facilitate goal setting, and flatten company hierarchy, as well as make employees happier,” the study found.

Over-communicating doesn’t mean communicating absolutely everything, though – it means communicating the right things effectively. After all, there are few things more annoying to an employee than receiving messages every five minutes from a boss who wants to know their every move. Working from home requires a high level of trust in staff to be able to get their work done without being checked upon.

It’s also important to give people a break from all forms of communication from time-to-time and to avoid contacting them out of office hours. Bombarding an employee with phone calls, messages and emails increases the risk of stress and burnout, something all employers should avoid.

Communicating successfully means saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, and to whom it needs to be said. And with the majority of our conversations done over the phone or online at the moment, overcommunicating is something we are all going to have to get used to.