How effectively are you communicating with your remote workforce?
Remote communication is more widespread than it’s ever been. Many people now have to communicate almost entirely online, using virtual tools such as email, and audio and visual communication like video calls.
But remote communication can bring new challenges. Ideas can get lost in virtual translation, or people can be indifferent to taking action. So, how can you ensure that your communication is clear, motivates your audience to act, and helps you reach your desired outcome?
Jesse Lahey is a consultant speaker and author with over 25 years of experience in leadership and workforce communication. In 2004, he co-founded Workforce Communication, a team of consultants helping organizations enhance their people’s performance and wellbeing. He also hosts the Engaging Leader podcast, which has been downloaded millions of times by leaders worldwide.
Jesse focuses on helping companies improve their business results and their people’s growth and happiness. He is a strong advocate for using communication to do good in the world.
You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…
How can people be better communicators in the remote workforce?
Good communication starts with intention. According to Jesse, all communication should be part of a strategy to accomplish a specific outcome. Simply put, you should plan your communication in a particular order to reach your desired result.
Jesse shared a quote by Fred Garcia, a communication professor at NYU, which simplifies this strategic process:
“You need to have clarity about the situation as it presents itself, the goal that you’re trying to accomplish, and the means by which you’re going to accomplish that goal.”
One of the main challenges with communication is that we often think we’re better at it than we are. Jesse says that we tend to skip the planning process and jump straight into the tactics. This often leads to confusion.
“We’re sort of like the old west gunslinger. We just want to shoot from the hip. You need to take time to aim, know what your target is, plan a little bit ahead.”
Overlooking a wider communication strategy means you’re less likely to engage your audience properly, and it can generate problems later on. Consider how many times you’ve received an email, and you’re not sure what it’s asking you to do. This “shooting from the hip” tactic can create misunderstandings, mistrust, and active resistance.
The 5M Framework for better communication
Jesse uses the 5M framework, which helps people achieve their communication objectives by following a systematic process. Each stage requires you to think about the whats and whys behind your communication before taking action, whether you’re planning a complex project or a simple task.
The 5Ms are mission, members, messages, media, and managers. Jesse broke down each stage of the framework and shared what you need to consider.
What are you trying to accomplish? When you communicate within a workforce, your mission should be directly aligned with your business outcomes.
First, you need to ensure that your workforce is aware of your organization’s overall purpose and business goals. Next, consider what your aim is and the specific business outcomes you need to achieve. This is your communication’s mission.
Who are your specific audiences or stakeholders? The more you know about them, the easier it will be to communicate with them. You should consider what you know about them as individuals and as an organization, their culture, history, current dynamics, and anything else that may relate to the issue at hand.
Then start to plan the key things that you want your audience to know, believe, or do. You may want to influence people so that they take action or believe something different from before. What messages will you need to include in order to change their behavior? And, crucially, can you change their behavior? Perhaps there’s more than one message that will help or a powerful narrative that you can use to instigate change.
Once you know your messages, consider how to deliver them. Who should present your message to your audience? You could create a character, use example customers or enlist real-life people from your company to help. Then, think about what specific mediums or media you’ll use.
Your communication can take many forms. It could be a poster, an email, a video, or you could repurpose your message into different forms for broadcasting across multiple platforms. This way, your message stands to reach as many people as possible.
Jesse notes that your audience could be in many different places online, so you should maximize your outreach. This can also help your credibility if your audience hears the same message multiple times.
Jesse says that this is the stage most people start with. Communication often fails because people jump to the how stage, rather than planning out their whys, whos, and whats first.
Your managers or other key influencers within your organization can be powerful accomplices to successfully communicating your message. Involving what Jesse calls “champion support” in the communication process helps them to help you.
Jesse believes that the 5M process doesn’t have to take a long time. Taking just a minute to think about what you want to accomplish can positively impact your communication outcomes. His advice is to write down your ideas to align your team at every stage.
“If you can write your 5Ms down, it adds a lot of clarity and simplification, and avoids confusion. Then you can share them with someone else on your team and say, ‘Hey, do we have the same goal here?’ Because it’s really surprising how often people are not on the same page.”
How to execute better communication
The 5M framework is a comprehensive planning tool for communication, but how do you execute it?
Jesse advocates a Simple Visual Stories (SVS) model for more effective remote communication. He uses this both internally and externally due to how well SVS materials connect with people and drive action. SVS can be in any form that uses visuals and an element of storytelling, so, for example, you could create videos, graphics, or written SVS materials.
Each stage of the SVS model has three elements. For the “Simple” stage, these are: short, purposeful, and crafted. Jesse believes that good communication is concise but still accomplishes its goal.
“The shorter, the better. All else being equal, a 90-second video will be viewed and remembered better than a three-minute video. And ditto for an email with three paragraphs versus 20 paragraphs. I think it was Einstein who said, ‘you want to make things as simple as possible, and no simpler.’”
Jesse also notes that purpose should drive communication. Keep your desired outcomes at the forefront of your mind when designing your materials. Leading with purpose also shapes his perspective on crafting your communication. Jesse believes that each element of your communication should be chosen carefully, because how you present your message matters.
The three aspects of the “Visual” stage of the SVS model are: metaphors, images, and characters.
Metaphors are important to visuals because they help your audience connect with something that they’re already familiar with. It bridges the gap between something you already know and the new information for a faster learning process.
You can use images and characters to draw your audience in. Perhaps you create relatable characters to invoke an emotive response or use certain images as symbols to reinforce an idea.
The last stage, “Story,” comprises connection, entertainment, and action. This stage is where you introduce a compelling narrative to your message. Your communication needs to connect with your audience’s heads and hearts.
Storytelling is a powerful tool as it’s both entertaining and engaging. But it also shows that your message has real-life implications. Storytelling will compel your audience to take action.
“It doesn’t even have to be a great story. But a story actually creates an emotional bond, so people are more likely to be willing, open, and motivated to change.”
Jesse’s final thoughts
Jesse notes that to change and influence the world, your communication skills should engage and lead others. Finally, Jesse believes we should all honor the power of communication.
“We are always communicating. The question is, are we doing it intentionally or not? […] You need to get back to, ‘what’s the mission? Am I making the most of that opportunity?’ And just be intentional with those moments of communication influence.”
If you’re ready to improve your visual communication skills, find out how the TechSmith Academy can help you. We have short courses and information on everything from better scripting and writing to expert advice about making your first video.