This section is designed to help staff understand and choose which communication tool is best for different scenarios. Whilst staff may be working remotely, it is vital to remember that being successful usually hinges upon continued, effective communication.
Queen Mary encourages individuals to take reasonable actions, where possible, to maintain their work-life balance. Working remotely can disrupt work-life balance. Various actions can mitigate this. One suggestion is to keep work and personal communication separate. It is an individual choice to share personal contact details for day-to-day work communication and this choice must be respected.
Whilst the tools we use to communicate can make it difficult to ‘switch off’ and disengage from work, there are steps individuals can take to create a boundary between being online and offline. Staff may find it helpful to log out of Outlook when not working or lock their personal devices when not working so they do not see notifications whilst offline.
This section runs though different work scenarios where communication is needed and suggests tools which can support these interactions. Different people will prefer different tools. Ultimately each manager, in conjunction with their staff member, should use the tools that best suit their teams.
While virtually meeting with colleagues is enabling us to carry out our activities as best we can under these difficult circumstances, it is essential that virtual meetings are organised with careful consideration ensuring that we do not compromise our well-being. Please see our new Virtual Meeting Guidance [PDF 428KB] for further information.
Hosting Inclusive and Accessible Meetings
- How to Run Accessible Online Meetings for disabled people working and studying from home: a webinar with a recording and slides available
- NHS Guidance on Making Meetings Accessible
- Inclusive Conference Guide from Kings College London: a practical guide for event organisers to help create inclusive and accessible conferences
- Alexwlchan’s ideas for inclusive/accessible events: there is a short and long version of this incredibly useful guide for inclusive and accessible events
- You may want to consider using the video function in Microsoft TEAMS or a phone call.
- TEAMS also allows you to take notes.
- You can also split your screen to see two applications or documents side by side by pressing the windows key and the right arrow key on your keyboard.
- The call function in Microsoft TEAMS can be a useful tool for team meetings.
- More information on how to use Microsoft TEAMS.
- Working from home does not mean we need to stop informal conversations with our manager or colleagues. There are various tools staff can use to create these spaces, both between individuals and within the wider team setting.
- Microsoft TEAMS has various ‘channels’ for different topics. Team Owner(s) could add a specific team channel for general chat, whether that is work-related or social.
Key Tip: We encourage the use of daily team ‘check ins’ as well as weekly social check ins where work is not discussed. Instead these should aim to be general chats, akin to those we have throughout the day when we arrive to the office, at our desks, in the kitchen and so forth.
Email Conversations and Formal Exchanges
- Depending on topic and team size, email chains may still present themselves as the easiest way to communicate. It is important to be mindful of potential increased traffic in colleague’s inboxes and the associated delays this may carry.
- It is easy to over-email whilst working remotely. To ensure communication is effective, be clear on what you are asking and take an extra minute to think about the tone of the email.
Key Tip: If you have members in your team who are part time, you may want to consider signalling emails with ‘For Information’ or ‘To Action’ in the subject line, where appropriate. This may ensure staff are not overwhelmed, but still kept informed.
- Document sharing may also be impacted by working from home. Whilst you can email documents, there is the risk that people are editing or commenting on different versions.
- To rectify this, it is recommended to use either OneDrive or SharePoint where all those involved in a piece of work can review the latest edited version.
- It is advisable to take a few minutes at the beginning of every video call meeting on small talk and checking in to see how everyone is doing. This helps people get familiar with the concept of virtual communication before you start your structured meeting.
- Take a few minutes to check everyone’s equipment is working e.g. make sure that cameras, speakers and microphones are switched on if participants are comfortable doing so.
Key Tip: It is important to acknowledge that video calls can be tiring. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, we suggest booking meetings for an hour max where possible. Within this hour try to end the meeting early, so there is a ‘break’ before you may move onto your next virtual meeting, just like we would walk to a different location in a building.
- Using the camera function in video calls can be more personal and interactive so long as everyone feels comfortable with this. It can be unnerving talking to a blank screen, and it removes important non-verbal cues. There is also an option to blur backgrounds on TEAMS calls.
- You could ask people to mute their microphones when they are not speaking in order to reduce echoing and minimise any background noise. Although muting microphones means you may miss out on important verbal cues, they can unmute their microphone when they wish to speak, and try to use visual cues to show their engagement, such as nodding.
- If you are not using the camera video call function it may be tempting to eat a snack, move papers or focus on multiple tasks during the meeting. We recommend directing your full attention whilst in the meetings and be aware that your microphone will pick up on various background noises.
- When you are working from home, there may be noise or other interference in the room that you can’t control. If that is the case, keep your microphone muted when you are not speaking and tell the meeting chair at the beginning.
Key Tip: If using tele-conferencing be mindful that there are no verbal cues so please do try to get into the habit of saying your name at the start when you are speaking so everyone knows who is talking. This may become less necessary as the meeting progresses.