Keeping Your Communication Professional As You Work From Home

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Mar 24, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

The national crisis surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has sent many employees home to work remotely. Unlike those who already work from home routinely, the career damage could be worse than any financial crisis.

Here are some tips to make sure your communication during this “shelter-in-place” period remains professional.

Be straightforward and positive

If you’re leading an organization or team, nothing builds your credibility as fast as “telling it like it is” with a positive outlook. If work conditions or technological issues create confusion and jeopardize outcomes, you may be tempted to sugarcoat the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes. But don’t. Later, when others discover that you’ve been misleading about the behind-the-scenes reality, you will lose credibility for future communications.

Trust your team to handle the truth. But take a positive view of what that future can be. Rather than painting a gloom-and-doom vision, inspire your team to ingenuity, care, and commitment to get the job done well.

Keep connected

At-home workers often suffer depression from working in isolation—especially those gregarious types who gain energy by constant interaction with coworkers. So take time to “check-in” with your team to ask how things are going and to ask if they need further guidelines or help in getting their work completed.

Use CC and BCC appropriately

Contrary to the last tip about staying connected, make sure your email is useful and welcome, not merely increasing the length of your colleagues’ workday.

In an effort to stay connected, you may be tempted to CC or BC colleagues and bosses as you’re conducting business. After all, if you and your colleagues were in the same place, everyone would probably have access to the grapevine for news. At home, they don’t.

That leads to more emails hitting your colleagues’ inboxes—and more time spent  at the end of each day to sort through the “must-reads” and the “nice-to-reads.”

Tidy up your window on the world

A few months ago, a podcaster scheduled me for an interview, instructing me to log on about 15 minutes early to check the technology and avoid any glitches. On the day of the interview, when I logged on, the podcaster was broadcasting from home. Imagine my shock when about five minutes to airtime—while I watched—he walked back to a closet behind him and changed shirts (yes, unbuttoning his trousers to tuck in his shirttail)!

During this crisis, more and more of us will be communicating via video-conferencing technology such as ZOOM. When you do, consider a virtual background that keeps your space looking professional. Or, at the least, tidy up the part of your room visible to colleagues and clients.

Use your communication time productively

Just because some of you now literally “have all day” at home doesn’t mean you should waste it. With no specific start and stop times, the upside is that you have flexibility about when and where you work. So you may catch yourself wanting to do a little shopping online at 10:00 a.m. or go bike riding with your kids at 2:00 p.m.

That’s a potentially troublesome habit to adopt if you’ll have to return to actual office hours after the crisis subsides. Of course, those who work from home routinely love such flexibility and have learned to manage their time.

But if you get into the habit of working sporadically over a 24-hour period, you may soon experience the feeling that your work has consumed your life. And it will. You may come to feel that you’re working from 7:00 a.m. to midnight with only a few “personal breaks” in between.

Check your tone and phrasing

If you’ve been yelling at your spouse all day (“Be sure to get bread!”) or refereeing your kids’ conflicts (“I don’t care who STARTED it. Just STOP it!”), it may be difficult to switch back to your professional tone, phrasing, and demeanor. When the phone rings or the email dings, stop, think, compose yourself, and then speak.

Hopefully, we’ll all be able to get back to our routines in a few weeks. In the meantime, don’t let this work-at-home interlude decrease your productivity, destroy your credibility, or stall your career.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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