More than half a year into the pandemic and with millions of people working from home, remote communication platforms have become the glue that holds us together. But they might also tear us apart.
Whether it’s Slack, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, these platforms have become a near-permanent replacement to traditional conference-room meetings. They provide us with a means to conduct real-time communications, keep in touch, and interact with each other.
However, these strengths and benefits can also reveal the worst in us. On a personal level, think about how much easier it is to allow your emotions to take over when replying to a text. At least with email we have the opportunity to pause and think about what we’re saying. But with Slack, Google Chat, or Skype, we are prone to immediately respond with curt and ill-conceived comments that get people and organizations into trouble.
Short messages, especially in front of a virtual audience, can be easily misunderstood on multiple levels. Furthermore, these messages can be taken out of context, copied, and shared broadly amplifying the damage. If not properly managed, remote messaging platforms can create an environment for discrimination lawsuits, give away IP secrets or marginalize and embarrass employees to the point they avoid asking questions or offering ideas.
For example, let’s say a programmer, who might not be confident of her English capabilities, introduces a new piece of code in a chat forum that includes a group of marketing professionals. If those marketing types make fun of the programmer’s spelling and sentences, it’s highly unlikely that she’ll ever speak up again. Off-colored jokes or memes might also cause someone to take offense based on their gender, race, or body type. And the casual informal chat environment might allow someone to let their guard down and offer up a juicy piece of IP.
The convenience and immediacy of these communication platforms are amazing, but only if you can adequately manage them. Here are a few tips.
Create rules and an environment where ideas are not criticized
Even if it’s been awhile, you might remember conference rooms with meeting rules posted on the wall. They included points like being respectful of the presenter, remembering no idea is wrong, or not using your phone during a meeting.
The same can apply to virtual discussions. Set ground rules for messaging apps and video conferencing to help employees feel more at ease.
These rules might include
- Be polite and considerate of others. Treat them like you want to be treated.
- Avoid cursing or inappropriate humor. If you wouldn’t say it in front of a group of peers or your boss, don’t say it online.
- Remember that HR rules apply in person AND online.
- Avoid discussing or sharing company secrets unless that topic and the people in the chat have been clearly defined.
- Everything you say in this chat can be recorded, subpoenaed, and used in court.
Remind employees and managers that emails and messages are forever
As we’ve seen in the news over social media on several occasions, any form of written communication is forever. Even as chat messages might disappear on your screen, they live forever somewhere on a server. It’s a misperception about what would last forever and what doesn’t, especially from a litigation standpoint. Anything can be subpoenaed, even if it’s no longer in the chat window.
Encourage people to take risks in a judgment-free zone
It takes a lot of courage to introduce new ideas or ask questions in public forums. Even the most extroverted person fears being rejected or criticized in front of others. It’s important to encourage employees to take risks and offer ideas proactively. And to let them know their comments will be viewed constructively. Also, be prepared to intervene if someone says something harmful or inappropriate. Casual and off-the-cuff remarks can devastate employee morale and diminish future innovations, especially when they’re from senior executives.
Remind employees that their criticism of others makes them look bad
It’s also important to remind employees that their criticism of others also impacts their reputation and standing within the company. Not only is it demeaning to the people on the receiving end, but it also hurts the people who make the comments. They will only damage their standing with their peers and the company’s leadership.
We can see you
Beyond preventing people from being seen in their shorts or other compromising positions, employees must know that others can see and read their body language over video conferencing.
Working remotely can sometimes allow people to become complacent about their appearance. And not so much about their hair, what they are wearing, makeup, etc. It’s about whether or not they look engaged, bored or dismissive. It’s easy for others to read the virtual room and become uncomfortable when it’s their turn to speak – especially if management appears to be in a bad mood. Even when it’s not your turn to speak, remember to listen and give the appearance that you’re interested.
Take a proactive approach with artificial intelligence
LitLingo is working with companies across multiple industries using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) technologies to identify patterns and specific words in their documents, including remote communications platforms.
We’re able to analyze and predict behaviors. As a branch of AI, NLP makes the connection between computers and humans to understand natural languages and help prevent harmful comments before they occur. And we’re taking this one step further by expanding beyond keywords to complex concepts that include words, sentences and structures to identify conversations that might diminish an employee’s psychological safety.
We’ve advanced beyond identifying “what” someone says to “how” they say it to quickly spot troublesome comments in a Slack conversation or company email. This ability to understand the language outside of the words can help prevent harmful communications before they happen. It’s fascinating how easy it is to identify and prevent the wrong things from being said before they occur. If you’d like to see how it works, sign up for a demo.