Working without boundaries: How to communicate while working remotely?

If most communication is nonverbal, how do you make sure what you say and hear aren’t misinterpreted?

Most people think about speech when they think about communication. It is, however, just not the words we hear that lead us to communicate, but also other nonverbal factors. Those factors – such as body language, facial expressions, etc. – have a more significant impact than the words you use. When you work remotely, you have to constantly remind yourself that this important helping factor is lacking.

I’ve learned this time and time again as a remote worker of nearly six years, and I’m proud to say I’ve developed strong and effective working relationships with my teammates here at Pasilobus. Even without meeting most of them in person.  

Here are some essential tips  for effective remote communication:

1. Benevolent prejudice

Benevolent prejudice is a superficially positive prejudice that is expressed in terms of positive beliefs, and emotional responses. This is something that may not be practical in a typical office environment but is essential for remote work where the messaging and emails are the norm. 

The person on the other end of interaction is lacking all non-verbal factors that we are accustomed to, and the words they type may sound negative even there was no such intent to do so.

If you read a message that seems contrary in any way, give yourself a minute to respond. It’s highly likely there wasn’t any harmful intent at all. During this period, consider other explanations for the message.

In case you are not able to calm and still conceive the message as unfavorable, do not respond. If you are in the middle of a chat kindly tell that you to need to go offline and reply after at least 24 hours. You will likely approach the news from a different perspective then and provide more constructive feedback.

2. Use Emojis

Initially, emojis were created as a symbolic representation of emotions. Similar to punctuation, emojis are used to express feeling - irony or humor - and to substitute body language and tone of voice in text-based communication.

Today, Emojis are the non-verbal factors that must be part of your interactions with your peers in a remote working environment. 

Most of the emojis are clear to everyone worldwide, but still their meaning is up to those who use them. But because they often telegraph an easily identified thought or feeling, they are mostly understood in context. Emojis help us to add tone in our business dealings and clarify issues.

There is an infinite number of ways to use emojis, but in my experience, these are the most common:

  • To lighten the mood by introducing humor
  • To soften a possibly negatively perceivable message
  • To find a more comfortable way to express ourselves
  • Show and do not tell when the words fail us.

It is, however, essential to keep in mind that as much as emojis are useful to convey non-verbal factors of communication when you use the same emojis all the time, your peers may fail to understand you. They may assume you find a task easy if you use the same smiling emoji where it is not an easy job, which may lead to a disconnect. Therefore, try to use different emojis. Avoid repetition. 

3. Be flexible to jump from one tool to another

For remote workers, live chat is the simplest option for communication. However, there are many cases that chatting will not cut it. When you realize you spend too much time arguing or brainstorming an issue over chat, you need to jump to a different tool of communication, such as video chat or a project management software.

Video chat will help clarify things in most situations only when they are brief and short. If your video conversation is longer than 15 minutes, you will not get the expected results as well. Our time-spans are short when working remotely, and all parties will get distracted and lose focus after 15 minutes.

Therefore you need to be in a flexible mindset, ready to switch tools anytime for short periods. Show in the video, get back to chat, then switch to the video again. If it does not work, move the issue to your project management tool or task list. Get back to it tomorrow for another brief period. Keep your peers focused and alert for the task.

To communicate effectively, follow these principles and make them a habit for yourself. Remote work may seem fun and easy, but it requires real effort, and it is something only the most thoughtful can achieve and get used to.


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