We are all facing uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to adjust our lives every day, and our professional lives are no exception. Entire business sectors have encountered an increase in remote work. Some of us are beginning to learn how to work remotely for the first time.
While various technology platforms help us stay connected, there is still one basic tool that holds great power: The written word. Effective written communication can not only provide critical information, it can also connect people within an organization and foster a sense of community during trying times.
At Grammarly, we believe strongly in pursuing our mission of improving lives by improving communication. And as a communications professional, it’s my role to ensure that as a company, we practice what we preach. During this unusual and often frightening time, I have found myself reflecting on what makes communication truly more effective than ever before.
Considering its importance right now, I want to share some tips I’ve found useful when advising leaders on communication at my current company Grammarly. I hope these ideas help support other leaders who are looking to inform, empower, and unite their teams.
Information is a guiding light
Whether you’re sending routine company updates or addressing urgent matters, a written message can reach a wide audience and keep all parties in the know of pressing issues.
Especially in times of crisis, it’s critical that leaders handle all written communication with extreme caution and sensitivity. Team members should be able to expect consistent and clear communication, which will remain available to review or process on their own time. Accurate information should be a guiding light. Errors or confusion in communication can have giant ripple effects internally.
Before sending a message, a leader should ask themselves the following.
Does this contain only the most pressing information? Stick to the “need to know” in your message, and skip the “nice to know.” In this way, you avoid confusion and allow your message to remain clear and focused.
Will this overwhelm people? In times of peak information traffic, you should be as concise as possible to keep your team from having to read more than necessary. Team members are likely already inundated with messages, both professional and personal.
Are we saying this the right way? Using the right tone is an essential piece of delivering your message well. The right tone can help you strike an important balance by relaying information while also helping to calm anxieties during a difficult time.
Communication fosters connection
Instances of communication don’t happen in a vacuum—taken together, messages are the building blocks of relationships and trust. As a business leader, consider how your communication helps create connection. Beyond fostering connections among team members, messages from leaders influence the relationship each team member has to the overall organization.
This is especially important for companies with remote offices and team members. Without in-person meetings, events, and casual interactions, remote work environments require additional attention to ensure that all team members feel connected to the organization’s mission and values. Thoughtful written communication can help. Every email, newsletter, or chat presents an opportunity to nurture the relationship. Consider the following when crafting messages for your team.
Lead with empathy and warmth. Every message you send is an opportunity to define the kind of leader you want to be. Leaving a positive and warm impression every time you communicate across your company will build trust with your team.
Build on existing relationships. Tailoring communication to your audience helps people know your writing is intended for them specifically—that you’re holding them in mind. Whether it’s congratulating a particular team on a job well done or following up with one team member about their personal news, communicating with specificity helps bring recognition to each individual in your company.
Infuse personality where appropriate. Finding moments to infuse personality into your communication, such as in company memos writing as yourself or on behalf of the company, shows others where you’re coming from as another human. As a bonus, it can empower members of your team to feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Remote work calls for clear communication from everyone
Workplace chat platforms like Slack exist to help us stay connected, though these digital platforms can bring their own challenges. When we communicate through text, we don’t have the benefit of vocal intonation or body language to give our audience context clues about our feelings. Teams communicating remotely are tasked with overcoming this lack of shared context to understand what’s behind the virtual words.
One way leaders and managers can help is by setting guidelines for how teams can communicate clearly and productively. This will help create a set of common boundaries and a shared understanding about the stakes of communication. Here are three best practices you can encourage in your team.
Remember the goal. Encourage team members to consider the goal of each text-based interaction. While these may vary widely (from sharing a joke to communicating a deadline), they are important to consider. Ask people to pose the question prior to sending, “What is the purpose of sending this message?”
Keep it short and sweet. Remind your team members to take an editor’s eye to their own writing. Front-load the most important information, then see what other information still feels necessary to include.
Match your tones. Tone matching is the practice of adjusting your tone when responding to someone in order to acknowledge their feelings and show that you’re there to help. Practice tone matching in the remote workplace, encouraging your team to use the skill when conversations lack shared context.
The tips I’ve shared here are a few I’ve honed and encourage leaders to hone as well. Business leaders can lead the way in fostering connections, while organizations overall must strive to communicate effectively, intentionally, and thoughtfully. In my experience, the more you reflect on your communication tactics and style, the more you find new ways to improve.
Right now, the ability to maintain a connection while working from a distance is more important than ever. Consider the written word as a powerful ally in connecting your workplace team and your broader community.
Senka Hadzimuratovic is the Head of Communications at Grammarly, and extremely passionate about helping people communicate effectively. Before joining Grammarly, Senka was the Executive Director of Communications and Operations at a San Diego startup. Prior to that, she worked in communications at Novartis. Senka is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.