After more than two years of living with the pandemic, many of us are used to working from home on a regular basis.
Many people saw the benefit of it and have adopted a hybrid working style for the foreseeable future.
It’s true that for the first time, for most of us, we get to enjoy a more flexible way of working, meaning no hideous commute every day, better use of time, and for some of us, easier childcare, and better productivity.
Being an introvert, I’m an advocate of remote working, since it helps me focus and allows me to have more personal time to reflect.
Nonetheless, after six months of returning to the office on a part-time basis, I’ve noticed certain aspects that I’ve missed out on while working from home for the past two years.
I believe we can put in place some measures to help replicate face-to-face interactions.
And even though hybrid working is becoming the new norm, these could still help make sure that office-based civil engineers could enjoy flexible working, while developing skills as they would have working in an office environment.
1. Organised ‘eavesdropping’
The office provides an open environment for conversations. Being immersed in this environment, we are exposed to more information.
Whether sitting at the desk or having coffee in the kitchen, we constantly overhear other groups’ conversations unintentionally, from a new project opportunity to a shortcut to solve an IT issue or even a good place for lunch.
Most of the time, they’re not relevant to us, so we don’t even notice these conversations.
But when a fragment of them occasionally becomes valuable to us, it’s surprising how much more we can learn from them subconsciously.
During the pandemic, project teams and offices started organising virtual coffee breaks and get-togethers.
They came in various formats, but what I found most helpful were the one-to-one conversations.
We were each randomly paired up with another colleague to have 20-minute casual conversations over coffee.
Conversations in these settings encouraged us to pause from work and get to know each other’s backgrounds and each other’s teams on a more personal level.
Although these conversations only provide limited information each time, if they’re organised regularly in the long-term, information will be passed on naturally within a team, almost like in the office environment.
2. Be clear and succinct on messenger apps
Working from home means that any communication between individuals has to be moved online.
For many of us, there are only 7.5 hours in our calendar available each day and these hours get booked up very quickly by meetings.
Since we can’t see the other person behind the screen and there are no outside-of-work, face-to-face interactions such as lunch breaks and coffee breaks, we’ve lost the opportunity to just ‘grab’ someone for a quick question.
When I’m working from home, I like to use messages as a prompt to check someone’s availability.
I always make sure to provide a headline of the issue I’m having after the greetings so that the person on the other side has a rough idea of the complexity and urgency of the issue.
This way, I receive responses faster than waiting for the person to become ‘green’ on Teams for a phone call.
However, it’s important to know that not everyone prefers this style of communication.
As civil engineers, almost every aspect of our day-to-day work involves team working.
We have to adapt our communication styles to our audience to ensure maximise effectiveness.
A blog on communication styles: Dynamic Communication for Arts Leaders: How to Use Communication Styles for Influence and Buy-In provides some insights into different types of workplace personalities and how we could adapt our communication styles to easily reach them and make the most influence.
Some have also suggested to me that when a senior person is too busy and difficult to reach when working remotely, try to find a person working closely with them in the same office but with similar seniority to me.
Ask them about their working habit (e.g. what time do they start working? which day is normally the busiest?) and adapt to them. This will help reach the person easier during their quiet hours.
3. Drop-in sessions
And if none of the above works, there is one last measure that I think has worked well for me.
Some of the line managers in my team arrange weekly optional drop-in sessions which act as ‘Focus time’, blocking out the hours from other meetings.
This is time dedicated for us to catch-up on work, projects and resources.
Therefore, I know that I am guaranteed to be able to reach them even in the middle of a hectic week.
4. Encourage interaction during presentations
Engagement has also been affected by remote working.
Presenting have become more and less difficult at the same time.
Presenting online allows me to deliver a presentation in my normal work setting, no more standing in front of the crowd, paying extra attention to my posture and hand gestures and memorizing my scripts.
When the pandemic hit, I was a fresh graduate. I initially felt a lot less nervous about presenting due to the fact that I wasn’t able to see my audience.
However, as I began to deliver more complex and improvised presentations, I realised that audience feedback is a crucial part of presentation.
It allows me to adjust my content or delivery and helps create a true conversation with the audience rather than a pre-prepared monologue.
After attending numbers of trainings and workshops organised by others, I noticed that people are more likely to react and engage with the presenter when they are using the ‘interact’ functions on Zoom or Teams.
Other online collaboration and survey tools such as Menti polls and Mirro board have been proven effective too in team meetings and workshops.
5. Be seen
And last but not least, turn on the camera!
It brings a human touch to each conversation and helps establish a more understanding and trusting relationship.