After more than a year of pandemic-induced remote work, it’s no surprise that a significant number of employees are reporting concerns about communicating and collaborating with colleagues.
What may be surprising to some is that women are experiencing better remote-work communication than their male counterparts, despite the challenges many women have had juggling job and family responsibilities while working from home, research shows.
A recent FlexJobs survey of more than 2,100 remote workers reveals that:
- 25 percent of men said effective real-time communication was a challenge, while just 17 percent of women said the same
- 39 percent of men said their ability to collaborate in a virtual environment suffered, compared to 30 percent for women
- 21 percent of men said managing relationships with co-workers was challenging virtually, while only 16 percent of women reported the same
While the survey did not delve into the whys behind these results, telework clearly presents new challenges for both genders that organizations need to address, says Brie Weiler-Reynolds, career development manager and coach at the sister remote-jobs search sites FlexJobs and Remote.co.
“What we do know is that all individuals each have individual concerns, strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “What’s important is that leaders and managers of remote workers are consistently communicating about these issues and supporting their remote employees in all aspects of remote working.”
Communications skills vital to employee success
Consistency in how both men and women communicate is critical for building trust among managers and teammates, Weiler-Reynolds adds.
In Remote.co’ s interviews with more than 140 virtual teams and organizations, it learned that “many successful remote teams embrace set schedules for video calls, weekly meetings and regular communication over IM, email, message boards and real-time web-conferencing platforms,” she said.
In addition, since 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women in the FlexJobs survey said working remotely has hurt their chances of promotion or advancement, building better communications skills will be vital to an employee’s success, according to Weiler-Reynolds.
She also noted that being open about expectations when working in a remote environment “will help to navigate, and ultimately minimize, potential obstacles related to communication, such as professional growth, development, and promotion and advancement concerns.”
When companies suddenly pivoted to working from home amid the pandemic, remote communication practices that were not already in place created challenges for all employees, she says.
“It’s important that every company, especially those implementing permanent remote or hybrid work models, refocus their efforts on proper communication practices and invest in the necessary remote work tools moving forward,” Weiler-Reynolds said.
‘Women and men lead differently’
At the same time, managers should lead by example to ensure their teams know how and when they’ll be able to collaborate remotely, she notes, adding that businesses following hybrid models should communicate work schedules to team members.
“Companies managing remote teams should always be clear and commit to regular and open communication, which will encourage the same from their team,” Weiler-Reynolds said.
As for how women and men stack up against each other on digital communication, research published last November by HR software company Cultivate showed that male and female managers had different digital communication habits during the pandemic.
“We know from tons of research that women and men communicate differently, manage differently, and lead differently, and I just wanted to see if it played out in our data,” said Rachel Habbert, senior people scientist for Cultivate, which is based in San Francisco.
By tracking male and female managers at two Fortune 500 companies over four months, Habbert found that women leaders differed from men in how much and when they communicated by digital means.
Female managers spent more time communicating with their direct reports than male managers, which meant more hours per day conversing digitally, more days per month communicating along with more ad-hoc meetings requested both by the manager and by her direct reports, Habbert wrote in her report.
She also noted that female managers’ communication is denser than that of their male counterparts, “as evidenced by female managers sending and receiving longer messages than male managers, recognizing their direct reports more often, sharing doubts and opinions with them more often and asking for feedback more often than male managers.”
Overcommunication is a good thing
Another difference was that the extra communication women were doing occurred during the workday, which indicated that female managers were able to “to communicate more with their direct reports without sacrificing work-life balance of their team,” she wrote.
Habbert emphasizes that the data followed digital communication and didn’t represent how men or women were communicating outside of that sphere to support their colleagues.
“It’s possible that the male managers are reaching out via Zoom,” she added. “We know that women are scheduling more ad-hoc meetings, but it’s possible that that male managers are giving recognition more verbally than in writing.”
Habbert says that, in the end, everyone working remotely has gone through a traumatic time and that overcommunication, by men and women, will help.
“We can all be better about treating employees as human beings and some of that is extra communication,” she said.