How to talk to your boss using every form of communication except face-to-face

While workplace technology has come a long way since the days of clunky fax machines and the slow and loud loading of dial-up, there’s still a long way to go in terms of getting it right. As Digital Workplace Group explains:

“Without strategy or governance, these channels can risk confusion among team members around which option to use and potentially cause dilution of messages, inefficiency in searching for information and data security breaches.”

These challenges have been made even more obvious as companies shifted to remote in 2020—and teams tried to figure out how to communicate remotely and display an appropriate etiquette as they do so.

Use this guide to improve your digital communication skills so you can be more productive and effective each day.

Email messaging

Get it right: Be more productive

Email is one of the most prolific forms of professional communication. The average employee spends 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail —responding, deleting, and sorting messages — according to McKinsey and Co.

The email black hole is real, and it sucks up all your time if you’re not careful. As such, you can regain a significant amount of time each day by restricting how often you check your email and address messages. For example, in Strategies to Improve Email Productivity, communication experts suggest:

A healthy email routine means that you should check your email about three times during the day. Check your email once during the first part of the day, again around lunchtime, and once more before checking out at the end of the day. Add it to your daily calendar and stick to the schedule.”

By designating set times to check your email, you’re less likely to get distracted from important tasks and better able to plan out your day by reviewing your messages before you start work.

Office chat conversations

Get it right: Follow chat etiquette

Office chat platforms can be used to quickly and easily reach your team members, but what you should chat about, rather than sending a message or picking up the phone, can be confusing. Here are some simple best practices for proper chat etiquette:

  • Never send anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to see; even in a private message.
  • Respond quickly if you’re in the middle of a chat with someone. Think of it as an in-person conversation; you wouldn’t walk away mid-conversation leaving the person waiting for your response.
  • Sign off with a goodbye or thank-you to let the other person know the conversation is complete.
  • Use away message features to let people know if you’re available so they’re not left waiting for a response thinking you’re at your computer.
  • Follow basic spelling and grammar guidelines so the messages are easy to read. This also helps you mitigate any potential misunderstandings.

Phone calls and voicemails

Get it right: Avoid voicemail

One of the biggest changes in digital communication in 2020 is the death of voicemail. Instead of leaving a rambling recording of information, hang up and email or text the information to your recipient.

There’s absolutely no purpose for voicemails in the modern age,” Victoria Turk, author of Kill Reply All: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, says. “They could go on for minutes, you might have to reach for a pen to jot down some information, and it’s super inefficient and inconvenient.”

If you must leave a voicemail, keep it brief. Limit it to your name, phone number, if needed, and the focus of the conversation.

Video meetings

Get it right: Prepare ahead of time

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly increased the use of video calls in the workplace. Microsoft reported a 200 percent increase in meeting minutes in March 2020, from 900 million on March 16 to 2.7 billion on March 31.

Meetings were already a productivity killer in the workplace. With the shift to remote meetings, you and your team have a chance to make meetings quicker, easier and more productive by preparing ahead of time with these tips:

  • Test your sound and lighting before the call behinds.
  • Make sure you have a reliable internet connection.
  • Create an agenda as if you were attending an in-person meeting and share it on the screen.

While on the call, don’t forget to mute yourself whenever you aren’t speaking and avoid distractions and distracting sounds, like a dog barking in the background.

Text messaging

Get it right: Keep it short and professional

The text message has also become a common form of workplace communication. This messaging is informal and often used when a manager or employee cannot communicate on a professional level. For example, a team member will text their boss when they are running late because of traffic.

“First check to see if your company has an official policy on texting,” Kathryn Vasel writes at CNN. “If there isn’t one, and your boss has given you her cell phone number, use texts only for very short and quick communications.”

Try to direct text conversations to a more professional setting, like email, or request a meeting or video call to hash out the issue in-person.

Follow best practices for better digital communication

It’s easy to let productivity and professionalism go when communicating digitally — especially when working from home. Use these best practices to boost your communication skills and connect with your team effectively and efficiently. Everyone will appreciate the effort, and by role modeling these best practices, you may find other team members following your lead.