2020 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, and it’s not over yet. In the face of unimaginable tragedy and economic uncertainty, we’ve seen some landscape shifts in the way people have tackled adversity, both in their personal lives and in business. This unprecedented experience has shown humans nailing what we do best: adapting to survive.
Less commuting, more connecting
One of the most noticeable changes has been the accelerated switchover to digital. We’re (finally) using video conferencing to the full, to make real business decisions and keep our personal lives on track. Gone, for many, are the wasted hours of the daily commute purely because of presenteeism. Instead, we’re now using that time to sleep for longer, enjoy a proper breakfast, catch up with family, or do some exercise.
What about the cons?
The pros of our digital daily lives are plain to see, but there are a few kinks that we still need to iron out. With people spending more time looking at their screens than ever before, we’re always on digital-alert with the constant urge to check our notifications and stay in the loop.
The science shows that for all its usefulness, digital connectivity is shortening attention span, impacting memory, and causing anxiety—doing more harm than good in the long term.
Time for a health check
Are you conscious of how increased screen time is affecting your motivation, relationships, and mental wellbeing? In this blog series, I’ll shed some light on the state of our collective digital health, exploring findings from our recent Digital Etiquette report, which surveyed 2,800 global knowledge workers about their transition to fully remote working. Each blog will include useful techniques to keep us fighting fit in the face of the digital status quo.
First up: communication etiquette—find out how your message gets lost in digitisation and what you can do to communicate with care.
Part 1: Communication etiquette
Did you know that when we try to communicate something, only 7 percent of the process depends on the words we choose? The rest is a mix of how we say it—tone and voice (38 percent)—and our body language (55 percent). According to our survey respondents, since the COVID-19 outbreak started, video conferencing has become the primary communication tool for 55 percent of businesses (up from 41 percent pre-COVID).
Lost in digitisation
That means that if we don’t have our cameras on during video conferencing, a whopping 55 percent of our message is potentially being miscommunicated to our colleagues. When you factor in the increased use of instant messaging, where tone and voice are out of the equation too, there’s a chance that 93 percent of what you’re trying to say isn’t properly conveyed. A harmless ping asking ‘Where’s it at btw?’ could easily be taken the wrong way: ‘Huh?’, ‘Where’s what at?’, ‘How dare you ask me that! You’re not my boss!’
Conducting important communication where so much of the message isn’t getting across is a recipe for disaster. We’re all familiar with this problem in our personal lives—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t taken a text message from a friend the wrong way—but now it’s posing a big problem in the workplace too.
Whether it’s misinterpreting tone, having to apologise to a colleague, or being seriously offended by someone else, our survey showed that people are struggling to understand and be understood without in-person interaction, leading to disgruntled teams, grudges, or snappy responses. The diagram below shows how communication is negatively affected as you move further away from a quick chat in the office towards instant messaging. Take the Z-score and see how you stack up when it comes to measuring communication satisfaction.
The most important aspect of grasping communication etiquette is asking yourself ‘If I was saying this face to face, how would I say it? Now how do I convey this best digitally?’ Once you know the answer, decide which is the best platform to use to get your point across. Here are a few other useful tips to enhance your digital etiquette and be more mindful of others when communicating online.
Nice to e-meet you
If you’re connecting with someone new, whether it’s a colleague, client, or other stakeholder, try to avoid short first-time messages without context, especially via IM. Remember, they don’t know you and how you communicate, so they’re even more in the dark when it comes to your tone.
Manners maketh man
A little politeness and personal attention go a long way. Before you wade in with what you need from someone, ask them how they are just like you would in the office. And if you’re on a video call, don’t forget to smile. Yours might be the only face they see all day, so be upbeat and let them know you’re happy to be there.
It’s a two-way virtual street
While we can message instantly, we can’t always reply straight away. That’s OK. If you don’t get a response immediately, don’t take it personally. Check back in later. For more urgent issues, try a video chat or phone call instead. Likewise, if you’ve received a message and aren’t able to respond in full, don’t leave someone hanging—let them know you’re tied up and will get back to them as soon as you can.
Team-time is face-time
In team calls with no more than 12 people, try to keep your video on. This creates a sense of togetherness that’s in short supply the rest of the day. We all get video fatigue, so if you need to turn the camera off for a bit, let people know in advance so they don’t think you’re just being rude.
As we traverse this new remote-work era, it’s essential that we take care of how we communicate. A bit of empathy, kindness, and due diligence go a long way in maintaining the social and professional relationships that are so key to any business’ success.
I hope this has helped make you more aware of your digital health. Join me in Part 2, coming soon, where I discuss digital hoarding and help you declutter your desktop.
Are you struggling to know what’s right and wrong when it comes to digital etiquette? Read the Digital Etiquette report for lots more useful advice. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so feel free to get in touch.