Communication

Interviewing for remote work competencies…communication

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My previous blog focused on the #1 competency revealed in our research regarding competencies for success as a remote worker…COMMUNICATION. In it we discussed how an individual can grow and develop this competency to improve their effectiveness in the remote industry.

This blog, part b, turns our attention to the individuals hiring remote workers. Knowing the competencies for success, it stands to reason that interview questions should be posed to determine if a candidate does indeed possess the specific competencies. This line of questioning takes the form of behavioural questions, based on the premise that past behaviour is an indication of future performance. While this is not a guarantee for successful hiring, it does help the interviewer gain insight into how candidates have handled relevant situations in past work, or volunteer, experiences.

Ideally, answers will provide insight into the following:
• Situation/Problem faced
• Action (what they did, how they did it)
• *Result/outcome (what was the outcome of the action taken, and was it positive or negative)

*It is worth noting that a candidate who is honest about their mistakes demonstrates a level of teachability, self-awareness, and an openness to learn from such outcomes. Sadly, some hiring managers reject candidates whose answers reflect anything less than perfection; on the flip side, some candidates refuse to share anything that may hint at weakness or vulnerability.

The following questions can serve as a foundation to determine if a candidate for remote work can demonstrate competency in the area of communication. That is, do they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in a remote role when it comes to effective written and oral communication. As well, do they have the ability to choose appropriate channels and tools to deliver/receive the message?

Each question can serve as the foundation for deeper dives into the communication discussion, based on the particular role or context you are hiring for.

Written:
1. Tell me about a time when you were called on to explain a complex concept to someone for whom the concept was new, using only a written format. (Looking for examples of how a candidate took a complex concept and broke it down to its most simple form, without leaving out essential components, and without the benefit of verbal or non-verbal cues.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were required to document the content of a virtual meeting for distribution to those who had been on the call, and those not in attendance. (Looking for examples of how the candidate delivered concise messaging that filtered out the non-essential content, while provided essential information to both attendees and non-attendees.)
3. Tell me about a complex writing report you recently had to prepare.
(Looking for examples of how the candidate is able to clearly express ideas in writing. Look for evidence of gather, organize and presenting information in a logical, concise manner.)

Oral:
1. Tell me about a recent spoken conversation you were part of that was both effective and satisfying. What made it so? (Looking for the candidates ability to clearly articulate what thy believe to be an effective and satisfying conversation.)
2. Tell me about a time when you were called on to do a presentation on your area of expertise, with very little notice. (Looking for evidence of presentation confidence and the ability to construct an oral presentation in a manner that clearly articulated the message with minimum preparation.)
3. Describe a difficult conversation you recently had with someone who challenged your approach to a certain situation regarding something you were passionate about. What was the outcome? (Looking for an example of active listening combined with the use of oral persuasion.)

Channel & Tools:
1. Tell me about a time when you intentionally chose to communicate a particular message face to face (either virtually or in person) vs written format (i.e. email). Why did you choose this specific method of communication? (Looking for examples of the criteria used to determine the best form or channel of communication for a specific context or message.)
2. What is your favourite text based tool for virtual communication? What do you like most about it? (Looking for evidence of familiarity with virtual communication tools, and reasons for using the tool.)
3. Tell me about the communication tools used in a recent virtual meeting. How did they contribute to or distract from the success of the meeting? (Looking for examples of engagement in virtual meetings and interaction with various meeting platforms.)

Next time we will examine the second most important competency reported on by remote workers…being self-directed or self-motivated.

Growing your remote work competencies—communication

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In our research around what makes remote workers great, 8 key competencies were revealed: communication, self-directed/motivated, trustworthy, disciplined, taking initiative/curiosity, adaptable/flexible, self-efficacy, and empathy. You talked to us about how each contributes to your ability to excel and thrive (and yes, survive) in your work. Great insights were provided on so many levels by those actually working as remote workers.

Since the research has been released, the question ‘what if I’m not great at a certain competency, does that mean I can’t be a remote worker?’ The answer is an unequivocal no! The wonderful thing about competencies is that you can grow and develop when intentionality and focus is applied. The next few blogs will take on a part ‘a’ and ‘b’ format. Part ‘a’ will take a look at a specific competency and provide suggestions on how to develop it. Part ‘b’, following a few days later, will suggest possible interview questions helpful to determine the extent to which a candidate possesses the specific competency.

Let’s start with the one identified as being most critical…communication. When considering this we are talking about verbal, non-verbal, and written forms, as well as discerning the proper channel when communicating a message. The simple question is, “How do I grow my communication skills so that I can be more effective in my role as a remote worker?’ Here are some ideas to get you started:

Written communication (the most important form of communication when working remote):

  • Read more…not mind numbing books, but books that challenge your thinking, and stretch your vocabulary. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, or Stephen King.
  • Make time to learn about the art of writing. A couple of suggestions would be Elements of Style by E.B. White; Draft #4 by John McPhee
  • Journal…take time to record your thoughts, and when possible, use good old fashion ink and paper. Actually writing your thoughts causes you to slow down and think more intentionally about what you’re wanting to say without worrying about someone reading your thoughts.
  • Check that your writing style is more about clarity and exactness, than beauty and emotion. (To be sure, there is a time for beauty and emotion, but for this situation being clear and concise, rules.)

Oral communication (the spoken word):

According to one study, men speak an average of 7,000 words per day, while women speak an average of 20,000. No derogatory comments allowed! The important point here is that even though we speak, a lot, everyday, we are not necessarily getting any better at communicating. Practice only makes perfect if you are correct in what you are practicing!

  • Think about historical persons known for their oratory skills…people like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Socrates, Condoleezza Rice, Cheryl Sandberg, John F Kennedy, Mr. Rogers (yes…Mr. Rogers!). Read their biographies and autobiographies, or watch them speak via recorded videos . What do you notice about the power of their words? What observations can help you speak with more clarity and persuasion?
  • Listen more, speak less (your peers, clients, and manager’s will thank you)
    Practice brevity. According to tech republic, people have the tendency to make 3 mistakes when communicating: Over explaining, under-preparing, and completely missing the point. The article sums up their advice with:
    • Map your message first
    • Lead with a headline
    • Trim away excess detail
  • Finally, ask for feedback. We all have blindspots, ask a trusted peer, family member, or friend to tell you how you are doing with your oral communication…and act on what they say.

Communication Channel (what’s the best way to send a message?)

Without a doubt, the options for how to send a message are many, however, every channel is not appropriate for every message. The following are key considerations that I have found to be most relevant.

1. What is the nature of the message?
2. Is there a need for documentation of the conversation?
3. What supporting technology is available?
4. What is the urgency of the message?
5. Is there a level of confidentiality or secrecy that needs to be preserved?
6. Is there an element of safety that could be compromised through the content of the message?
7. What is the relationship between the sender and the receiver of the message?

Communication Tools (how are you sending a message?)

Finally, the tools you use will either foster rich communication, or hinder it. If your team tends to get lost in email threads or c.c. purgatory, consider messaging apps like Slack, Wire, or Basecamp. If you’re finding your team struggling with empathy towards each other, push for video chat vs audio-only team calls. Invest in good software!

Bottom line? We can all improve our ability to communicate well; via spoken word, written word, and in choosing the proper channel. It takes time, lots of it! But the results are worth it both for personal satisfaction and for personal reputation! Ready to grow?

 

Remote work and communication…a dynamic duo!

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I may sound like a broken record, but bare with me…the importance of communication cannot be overstated in the remote environment. Ask anyone who works with anybody and they will tell you that good communication is vital for effective work. Ask anyone who works in a virtual context and they will tell you that clear and concise communication is a life line for their work to be conducted with excellence! I would even go so far as to say your reputation as a professional could hinge on it.

Why is that? Here’s some of the input we received from remote workers regarding the importance of communication.

Remote workers support the necessity of this skill because it is critical…

• in relaying accurate information;
• in eliminating ambiguity;
• because miscommunication leads to misunderstanding;
• in preventing miscommunication due to language differences which can lead to misinformation, resulting in serious errors;
• for accuracy and clarity on all levels to ensure context is preserved;
• because the absence of non-verbal messaging calls for excellence in the written word…full thoughts, meaningful words, concise, accurate;
• in creating common understanding,
• and requires active listening, engagement, and full contribution from all parties.

In other words, the language of ‘texting’ is not going to cut it when your work context calls for a ‘paper’ trail (documentation) outlining decisions, agreements, complaints, discussions, proposals, conflict resolutions, or reports. Nor can a remote worker always rely on technology that supports face to face, virtual meetings. Besides the ability to clearly articulate verbally, virtual meetings often call for a written follow up summary to be provided to all involved to ensure agreement of what was discussed and action steps determined.

The problem is that good communication takes time, something that many of us claim to not have enough of. It also takes patience, reflection, reviewing, reworking, rephrasing, and great intentionality. I’m sure we can all think of a time when we read a text or email and ‘imposed’ an emotion that was never intended. According to Nate Sawatzky

“Good communication is crafted.” 

Think on this…you just received a text from someone you recently had a disagreement with. The text said ‘saw u at the mxr prty…nice outfit’. Now, imagine the ‘voice’ you use to read the message…was it positive? Did it represent the sender in a good light? Was it cordial? Or did the ‘voice’ lean toward sarcasm, abruptness, or downright snotty?

Now try this…the same person with whom you had a disagreement sent a text saying “I saw you at the mixer party last evening. I didn’t get a chance to talk to you, but wanted to say that you looked fantastic…that dress was amazing!” Try reading something into that…more challenging, right? There’s little room for ambiguity, misunderstanding, or offence. We also need to keep in mind that written communication may not be the best channel for communicating a message…in actuality, we may choose written rather that a face to face conversation because it’s ‘easier’.

While this example is on the superficial level, you get the idea. The responsibility for ensuring a message is received as intended

Listening with both ears.

lies with the sender…yup, can’t blame the receiver for getting it wrong. The added complexity of virtual communication is the lack of non-verbal…you can’t see how the other person receives your message and often don’t get the opportunity to bring clarity and do damage control. The solution…prevent it before it happens. Intentionality is important…think through your message, consider

what channel is best for communicating that message…be intentional in both the content, context, and channel.

The takeaway? Do whatever it takes to grow your communication skills. When using a written channel, read, reread, and reread your written communication before hitting send…that click could either be the start of an amazing contract, or the demise of the same! (By the way, reading well written books is a great way to improve your writing skills. Ask a mentor to suggest a book that greatly influenced their life, then ask to meet and discuss your takeaways; might as well develop your verbal articulation skills at the same time.)