I’m a soft spoken person. How can I communicate effectively while working from home?
I can be a reserved and soft-spoken person. Now that we’re working from home, I’m finding it challenging to communicate effectively. I’ve realised how much non-verbal communication was strongly relied on by both parties. The nature of my work also means I’m working with new peers frequently who may not know me well. By the time I’m comfortable to speak, it’s too late and on to the next. I also like to analyse and ponder before I speak or act. Not every conversation or meeting allows space or time for this, but it is how I function and process effectively. How can I improve my communication skills to accommodate this WFH situation?
For better or worse, remote work is likely here to stay in some form. To start with a few positives: most employees would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time; remote work allows companies to reduce costs during economic uncertainty; and, perhaps most meaningfully, remote work significantly reduces waste and environmental impact. But in my experience (and it sounds like yours as well), remote work comes at a social cost. It becomes more difficult to foster community, collaboration, and effective communication among most teams. You’re not alone; even your most outspoken colleagues likely feel this way.
If you are in a management role in your company, connect with your team regularly and have a set structure for the call, i.e. consider including a daily discussion question or have team members share their priorities for the day. Find formats where everyone can take turns to participate, and celebrate cross-functional support across teams. If it was part of your practice before, keep up team lunches and happy hours virtually to celebrate new hires, birthdays, or work anniversaries. If you are not in a management role, consider proposing a few of these ideas to your team leader if you think they might be responsive to the suggestions.
As an introvert, I find small talk with new people to be rewarding, but exhausting. To reduce some of the discomfort in starting a new conversation, have a few simple conversation openers you use to meet all new colleagues. (The weather, pets, cities, sports—these can make for great early conversation topics!) The more you practice introducing yourself and quickly pinging the conversation into their court, the easier it will become. If you’re more comfortable with Slack or messaging platforms, message your new colleague to offer a friendly hello and welcome them to the team. Something as simple as letting someone know you look forward to working together can make a meaningful impact.
Most people would benefit to pause before contributing to a conversation. Let your manager know you are able to be at your best when you have time to process. Perhaps they can preview a meeting agenda with you, or follow up with you at the end of a call. Sometimes it’s helpful to write out your thoughts during a virtual meeting, so you can clarify your input and read it aloud to your colleagues. Challenge yourself not to think faster or be more decisive, but to make your presence and meaningful participation evident.
Whether you are naturally soft-spoken or assertive, effective communication is like any other skill—it takes cultivation, effort, and practice. Be open with your colleagues and managers about how you contribute best to teams. Stay kind, keep practicing, and advocate for yourself along the way.
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AmyAnn Cadwell is CEO & Co-Founder of The Good Trade and an angel investor in mission-driven companies.