#RemoteWork Hacks: Why (and how) you Should Practise Empathy Today

Good communication skills are essential anytime, but during COVID-19, they have proven to be  indispensable. Remote work has meant many of us have had to rapidly adapt our communication styles and learn new communication skills - if you’re anything like us, you’ve probably spent a lot more time thinking about the tone and structure of your emails than you did before!

We asked four staff from across the organisation to  share the tips and tricks that have helped ensure they’re able to communicate clearly and effectively with their teams, other key stakeholders and ultimately get their job done!

This is Part II of a two-part series on communicating effectively during the pandemic. To read part I, please click here.

Daniel Omondi - Product Innovation

Daniel Omondi, Program Innovations Manager

Daniel at work out in Bungoma, during a sukuma wiki (collard greens) trial in October 2016

Maintaining pace at a time when we must work remotely can be exhausting. As we continue to build our fluency at all-digital communication, I have found the following tips useful:

  • Keep emails short and sweet. People are sifting through tens, even hundreds, of emails every day on top of their work. Short emails get faster responses.
  • Use color and imagery when sharing updates and team digests. A picture really does speak a thousand words, especially when we can't get to the field as much.
Malawi Field Shot One Acre Fund

Did someone say field? Any excuse to reminisce the days we could get our boots muddy and interact with the farmers we serve!

  • Default to 20-30 minute meetings and only increase the allocated time if absolutely necessary. Everyone is Zoom-ing or Google Meet-ing, so keeping meetings short helps keep things moving.
  • Check your privilege. Some of our colleagues in the field don't always have computer systems or Internet speeds that work as fast as yours, or constant power supply.
  • It is okay if you need to shift a meeting or call to accommodate changes to your day. Working from home isn’t always predictable, especially for parents to young children.
  • Start every meeting with a “how are you?”, and then actually listen.
  • It's okay to not be okay; if you know this for yourself, you will know this for others too. One Acre Fund has counselors and mental health resources available to every staffer.

John Byron Ohaga - Global Communications

“First, I am very deliberate about my choice of words. I employ a friendly tone and avoid words that might sound antagonistic. For instance, I would not use phrases like “can you” because such framing sounds like a directive/demand; instead, I’ll say “could you” — the person still gets/understands my request or need without feeling externally obligated. Regarding tone, I often put myself in the recipient’s place and consider how I’d receive what I am writing or saying; how would I feel or react, even if that reaction has nothing to do with the intended tone or meaning. If I feel that I wouldn’t like it, I rephrase.

Second, I start all my communication - whether that’s a message, email, or call - by asking after someone or letting them know I hope that they're doing well. I like people to know I care about them as a person and acknowledge the reality of everyday human challenges. 

During meetings, I acknowledge the reality and challenges of COVID, including how people are coping. I always engage in small talk, particularly about the weather, given it is a safe topic for everyone. If I know someone well or frequently interact with them, I’ll ask personal questions about them or their families, work, businesses (I am especially fond of asking about side hustles!). I find that when I ask people about things they care about, they warm up to the conversation even if the topic at hand is a dry one.

Lastly, I try to make light of our new way of working. For example, I make light fun of people about their internet connectivity whenever they're having connection challenges. My favorite advice is to ask them to climb the nearest tree to get a better connection. I am conscious to only do this with people with whom I am familiar or speak frequently. In Kenya, in particular, asking people to climb trees to get (better) network coverage is a way of commiserating with them about their unstable connection and communicating that you're aware that the challenge is not of their own making.”

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