As the world moves toward year three of the pandemic, some companies have embraced fully remote workplace operations while others have chosen a hybrid model or a complete return to the office.
Employees who are dusting off their old desks are bringing with them new communication habits they developed while working from home. Although practices like a “business up top, party down below” dress code might not fly in person, certain remote communication norms could be advantageous for in-office work.
Virtual communication practices to keep
These three virtual communication habits could be worth preserving in a physical workplace.
Pushing back on nonessential meetings
Virtual meetings are a necessary mode of communication and collaboration within and between teams. The inability to informally sync about project status or updates in the hallways or approach a coworker at their desk led to a proliferation of virtual meetings via video-conference platforms. It also led to a rise in multitasking habits during such video-based meetings, according to a 2021 Stanford study.
Beyond multitasking, teams sought to reclaim their time during remote work by limiting needless meetings in favor of communicating when it was necessary rather than at a set time.
When collaboration isn’t involved, it can be effective to use asynchronous communication methods through email, a project dashboard, an intranet, or a messaging tool, like Slack.
Discerning essential versus superfluous meetings is a virtual communication trait to preserve when transitioning back into the office.
Taking turns in conversations
The lack of in-person meetings meant participants could no longer rely on “gaze awareness” to recognize the natural flow of taking turns in a conversation and when it was appropriate to speak in turn.
To address this, meeting participants developed the awareness and skill set of taking turns to speak during video meetings. This deliberate communication habit reduces awkward situations such as talking over others or interrupting the speaker prematurely.
Maintaining this habit in the office helps foster communication equity, allowing more participants to engage and be heard.
Maintaining virtual formats for certain meetups
Gathering in person not only takes time for the meeting or event itself, but also means losing time and productivity to travel to and from a meetup.
While the world was under lockdown, formal and informal meetings adopted a virtual format. It’s practical to hold necessary meetings in person for workers who’ve returned to an office environment. However, according to the Stanford study, reserving meetings for only essential conversations helps keep employees focused and productive.
Non-work-related events, like coaching or informational school sessions, can be held over virtual formats, like video or Zoom, for example.
“Before times” habits to restore
Similarly, there are a few pre-pandemic habits that nurture collaboration and relationships in the workplace.
Often, conversations in virtual meetings are formally structured, with participants abruptly jumping into the goal of the meeting without a “warm-up” to the conversation. Although this goal-focused approach might seem effective at being mindful of time constraints, it sacrifices what UC Santa Cruz researchers refer to as “reciprocity in conversation.”
Reciprocity in conversation refers to people’s inclination to self-correct their communication to achieve a balanced conversation. A recent study, published in Language and Speech, found that attendees who had time to chat about non-work-related topics before formally starting the meeting had a greater level of enjoyment performing collaborative tasks.
Encouraging a natural flow of pleasantries before kicking off a meeting agenda can boost team morale.
Workplace small talk
The random small talk in the office kitchenette or while walking with a coworker into a weekly meeting has a meaningful impact in the workplace. These casual conversations contribute to company culture and aid in relationship building.
For example, encouraging “watercooler talk” might be particularly impactful for a team member who might have social anxiety in formal speaking situations, like a meeting or one-on-one with a manager. Spontaneous social chit-chat with peers or leadership provides a relaxed environment for relationship building and workplace satisfaction.
Although virtual communication has its downsides—like the infamous “Zoom fatigue”—there are benefits to bringing learned remote communication habits into the physical workspace.