Digital communication is commonplace in the modern world and has become even more important due to the need for social distancing. The ability to effectively communicate our thoughts, feelings, and concerns over digital mediums is important as we learn to navigate working from home. Even if we enjoy the freedom that working from home brings, it can be confusing to effectively navigate discussion and collaboration with our colleagues that we are used to speaking with in person.
First, when using faceless communications such as emails or messages, it is important to remember you are still communicating with another human being. It can be easy to write in a blunt, straightforward manner due to the impersonal nature of staring at a screen. However, to maintain good relationships with colleagues, a little netiquette (internet etiquette) can go a long way. It is a good idea to start messages with greetings and ensure the content of your message respects their privacy and time. Remember to leave some room open for them to respond, do not make assumptions about their availability unless you have agreed upon such details beforehand. To avoid miscommunication, it is best to use clear and concise language. You should also avoid sarcasm or humour that can be misinterpreted. For longer messages, using subheadings can make replying to one another much easier.
Second, video calling tools such as a Zoom also have their downfalls. Although a brilliant and useful alternative, video calls are still not the same as communicating in person. It is important we remain mindful of this for ourselves and for others. For a multitude of reasons, video calls have been reported to cause fatigue. It is unnatural to be focused on a screen for a long period of time. Moreover, trying to focus on maintaining our composure, seeing multiple people at once, and processing communication that does not occur in real time is tiring. Likewise, silence that would be comfortable in a normal conversation might seem awkward, causing others to think there might be a tech issue. For these reasons, it is a good idea to avoid video calls too frequently.
However, sometimes it is necessary and very useful. If this is the case, it is worth remembering that there is a lack of synchrony between yourself and others when on calls. Yours or other responses might unintentionally come off as rude or unfocused, simply because of a timing error. Therefore, be mindful of this and ensure your colleagues are too, to avoid miscommunication.
It can be tempting to constantly check our own appearance, knowing others are watching but it is better to give eye contact to the camera. This is even more important when speaking as it can make others feel more connected to you, and avoid you being hyper focused on yourself.
If someone else is speaking, keep your mic off and nod along until you need to speak. If you are nervous about speaking, it can be a good idea to switch to a screen where you can only see one colleague to make it feel less performative. It is also worth checking if the meeting host is comfortable with you taking camera breaks, as it is unnatural to be constantly focused and can be pressurising to maintain a consistent composure.
Finding Your Favourite Medium
Finally, each of us have our own strengths. Some of us might be better at communicating through writing, finding it easier to outline and explain our concerns or issues. However, another person might find it easier to express themselves verbally. It is a good idea to reflect on which medium you feel is best for you. This can be useful if you need to communicate complex ideas, or concerns.
For example, you may email a colleague who might prefer to address your concerns over the phone. It is important to meet each other in the middle and suggest alternative ways to communicate. It is always worth being open too. If you would like updates on the progress of something, communicate this and ask whether they would prefer to email or send a quick message. Group chats are another good way to keep each other up to date but do not be afraid of reaching out one to one. It can be easy to become disconnected and lose the personal touch of interacting in person but as long as you try to remain mindful that another person like you is receiving this at the other end of a screen, it will make responses more natural and polite.
· Remember you are communicating with another person.
· Be polite, clear, and concise when contacting others.
· Leave room for others to respond and do not make assumptions.
· Remain mindful of technical issues that can cause misunderstandings.
· Focus on giving eye contact, rather than focusing on yourself.
· Use the tools that enable you to communicate effectively.
Written by Amirah Khan
Amirah is a Psychology graduate with a keen interest in researching, and writing about topics that promote psychological well-being. She is an empathetic idealist, passionate about improving perceptions of mental health issues. She volunteers as a tutor for disadvantaged pupils and content developer for a peer support service.