How to Focus on Communication While Working from Home

Working from home isn’t the same as working in an office. The main difference? An office is all about people doing their jobs. At home? You’re dealing with a kid demanding lunch, a spouse trying to get you to do the laundry, or your cat sleepily deciding to crash on your keyboard in the middle of a Zoom call.

People in most remote meetings are easily distracted. And that includes you.

In other words, it’s much easier to be distracted during communications with your team, who can feel as though they’re playing second fiddle to the domestic dramas. Of course, they in turn may have distressing distractions of their own—which could leave you a little hot under the collar (if you’re actually wearing a collar while working from home…).

The end result of this lack of focus could be everyone forgetting what’s been agreed to in conversations or who’s responsible for what. Which means what needs to get done…well, doesn’t.

Here are some ways to keep your mind where it should be when you’re working remotely.

Be Wary of the “Walking Meeting”

Before the pandemic, “walking meetings” were gaining in popularity. Colleagues would not only talk the talk, they would literally walk the walk as they stretched their legs and discussed concerns.

Telecommute-Portrait-of-consultant-on-the--47168845Some are trying to keep this concept going with remote meetings, by participating via cellphone while they’re out for a stroll. Combining exercise with business isn’t a bad idea, but just make sure there is some system in place to memorialize decisions, either by recording the call or sending out a succinct recap to all concerned when the meeting closes.

You never want a “he said, she said” moment where someone expects something from you that you didn’t agree to, but you can’t prove it.

Treat Meetings Like Contract Discussions

Unlike loosey-goosey meetings in a physical office that allow you to shine in front of the bosses, online loosey-goosey meetings without any real point don’t get anyone anywhere. If it’s just about bonding, that’s fine, just realize you are not going to accomplish anything of substance. (I want to put it out here, by the way, that I overdosed on group hugs in the '80s, so now I don’t engage in them either virtually or in-person!).

If working from home is your “new normal,” you’ll learn how to quickly switch your brain from “home mode” to “office mode.”

But let’s assume you are trying to accomplish something of substance in a meeting. During that online confab, document what the team decided, who agreed to do what by when, and what things need to monitored. And all this needs to be reiterated and agreed upon. This is where a strong agenda keeps things on track.

But even with that agenda in place, things can go sideways. Somebody might decide they want to pontificate on their favorite sports team for ten minutes. If that happens, gently steer them back to the agenda. (Or if you want to be evil, just mute them and play “Words with Friends” on your phone).

Most importantly, if you have a mix of extroverts and introverts in the meeting, invite everyone to give an opinion on decisions, so that the wallflowers speak up. Sometimes this still isn’t enough, because some people are afraid to give an opinion or have a say, even when it’s done anonymously or through voting. Unless they’re being intimidated or bullied by someone else, question whether these people even belong on the call.

Pay Attention or Pay the Price

People in most virtual meetings are easily distracted. And that includes you, dear reader. Even when everyone’s on camera, people could be doing things like looking at their phones (which they hold just out of video range), or proofing the first draft of their screenplay (which they’re pretending is paperwork for the meeting).

Train yourself to avoid those distractions (this is where a home office door comes in handy!) to improve productivity. When you’re on a call, don’t start playing with your smartphone and zone out on other participants. Otherwise, you end up rudely wasting the other people’s time and damaging your reputation if you get caught doing this too often.

If working from home is your “new normal,” you’ll find over time you’ll learn how to quickly switch your brain from “home mode” to “office mode,” and improve your powers of concentration. Now… if you can just get your napping cat off the keyboard, the world will be your oyster!

We’re helping teams adjust to remote work with best practices for project management and communication. Does your team need an assist? We can help. 


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