Cut the chit-chat.
Do you wish you could have more meaningful conversations with remote coworkers?
Conversations forge connections. When you’re talking with a colleague or a client, you are building a lasting rapport. Asking thoughtful questions and remembering personal details help folks connect and can spur creativity. It can truly make a difference to know someone in your office cares about you, and that you have someone with whom you enjoy talking. A bit of talk by the water cooler could turn in to the next big project.
However, not everyone is blessed with the gift of gab. And, even if you are, you might still find yourself in situations where you’re not really saying anything. Add in the complications of working remotely and the intricacies of a conference call or video meeting, and you might decide to stay on mute.
So how can you make time for better conversations with remote coworkers? Here are four ideas for how to keep the office conversations flowing without adding stress.
Journalist Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter, is an expert in conversation. In fact, she has to be. As a professional interviewer, she’s charged with preparing appropriate questions and then listening closely to come up with the right follow-up questions.
As she shared in a TED Talk on the 10 ways to have a better conversation, one of the most important steps is to simply be present. That means don’t multitask.
When you’re working remotely and dialing into a call, it might be especially tempting to pull up a chat box, draft an email, or scroll through your phone while the rest of the group talks. But when you do that, you’re not fully paying attention. Instead, focus on one task. When you pay closer attention to the conversation, you may find it is more rewarding.
Transitioning to remote work can be unsettling for some people. If they have been used to going into the office, it can be a real jolt to no longer see office friends or be able to catch up on a project in person.
If you are a team manager, consider setting up a channel for more casual communications. Use Microsoft Teams or Slack to host an appropriate work chat group, so you can say good morning, ask quick questions, and share links that inspire you. This way, your staff can still feel connected but not feel pressured to be more outgoing than they wish.
Are you someone who immediately clams up the moment someone asks “How’s it going?” Don’t worry. Somehow, the simplest questions can sometimes be the most challenging to answer. And, even if you were to answer, where will the conversation go after you reply with “Fine. And you?”
It’s time to workout your conversation skills by being inventive. A question with a “yes/no” answer is a closed question. Instead, think about open-ended questions. “What’s for lunch?” “What are your weekend plans?” “What book are you reading?” Questions that go somewhere not only keep the conversation going, but also show you’re truly interested in the person.
Although it’s important to build in time for connections to be established through office conversations, you can’t forget the task at hand. You and you workers are there to work—and, at the end of the day, log off and go home.
Be respectful of everyone’s time and know when to move the conversation along. No one wants to feel like their time is being wasted. Additionally, no one wants to feel trapped in a conversation. Focus on meaningful conversation and stay on task. When you do, you’ll build connections with coworkers who similarly value your time and thoughts.