This article is Part 1 in our series on working from home in which we discuss the pros and cons of communication when working remotely.
During the global pandemic, working from home or remote work became the only option for many employers and employees. Now, many employers that had the option of allowing employees to work from home are divided between choosing if they would like to continue to allow employees to work from home, or if it is more beneficial to have them work in the office. In this article we explain some pros and cons of communication when working from home.
Communication is an important aspect of all businesses, whether that be between employees and employers, co-workers, team members, or clients. Some businesses require more communication than others, and some also require in-person communication with clients and employees depending on the type of products and services being provided. The option of doing remote work, or working from home, requires that communication be done solely over the phone, in writing such as e-mail and instant messaging, or visually on a video call. These forms of interaction can result in both pros and cons:
When working from home, there is generally less communication with co-workers, employees, or any customers. When there is less communication and therefore less distractions, this can lead to increased productivity for some. There are many people that have various distractions throughout the day from co-workers or employees that need their help, have questions, or are just looking to have a quick chat. Eliminating or reducing these distractions for some people will increase their productivity and allow them to work more efficiently.
Another benefit of decreased communication is it can help to promote more efficient conversations. If there are scheduled calls with management, employees, or co-workers, people are required to prepare for the conversation. This allows employees time to think and reflect, as well as list out all the questions that may have come up, updates needed, or summaries on other conversations and meetings that need to be shared with others.
For businesses that may not have a great culture present, or employees that have disputes with each other, this decrease in communication may also be beneficial. While remote work is not recommended as a solution for a poor culture or co-workers that would rather not communicate with each other, it is still a benefit that may be present. When working from home, employees are less likely to feel the obligation of engaging in small talk around the office in order to maintain the small pleasantries.
An issue that can arise from working at home is the inability to communicate instantly. When working from home, employees generally have the flexibility to take breaks at the times they would like and may not always be at their desk or computer. When in the office, employers or co-workers are able to walk over to their workspace to ask a question or get an answer, which can’t be done when working remotely. This decrease in response time may also decrease productivity for some remote workers if they are waiting on an answer that they simply can’t move forward without. While many companies put rules into effect when allowing employees to work from home, there is still a lack of supervision, and many employees may be more likely to bend the rules.
There is also more potential for unclear communication or misinterpretations when not communicating in-person. It is detrimental to communication when you can’t see and experience the person physically in front of you. A great deal of our understanding in conversation comes from body language and non-verbal cues, which are not present or clear when communicating in an e-mail, over a phone or through a video call. Misinterpretations could be more frequent, and there could be a great deal of time spent on explaining things that would be easier to clarify and see in-person. Albert Mehrabian, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted studies on non-verbal communication and developed the 7-38-55 communication rule. He concluded that 7% of communication is verbal, 38% of communication is from tone, intonation, and volume, while 55% of communication is body language.
The limited contact between employees, co-workers and managers or leadership may also make it more challenging to develop relationships in the workplace. Interpersonal relationships are an important aspect in developing trust in teams, creating a positive culture, and having a good workplace environment. This lack of human contact, which most of us receive in the hours we are at a physical workplace, can also lead to feelings of isolation, separation, and loneliness. It is also important to consider clients when relying solely on remote communication. Client relationships may suffer from not allowing employees to interact with them in-person.
As explained above, there are both advantages and disadvantages of a company having to rely solely on remote communication due to employees working from home. While there may be less disputes between co-workers and increased productivity and efficiency in conversations due to a decrease in communication, there is also the risk of decreased productivity if waiting on communication, wasted time on misinterpretations, and a negative effect on culture or interpersonal relationships. It is important to decipher if there are solutions to some of the disadvantages that may be experienced in communication for your company if deciding to work from home, while also considering the advantages that can be capitalized on.
Check out Part 2 in this series where we discuss some pros and cons of collaboration when it comes to working from home.