That single word is the key to the establishment of every successful relationship, which of course underpins every successful workplace. If you aren’t getting along with your boss, or have even had some strained casual conversations with coworkers — anyone else bombed a joke so badly that you worried about HR being called in? asking for a friend — chances are awfully good it’s because you weren’t communicating.
I first started working from home in 1997. It was a freelance writing and editing position in the electronic entertainment field (gaming, mostly). I did this for over 20 years on a full-time basis for virtually every magazine or website in the field, as well as a tech book publisher.
My first gig was working as an editor for a UK-based site called Games Domain, probably the first pro gaming site on the net. We had writers all over the world. I had a diverse crew contributing to my section of the website from the US, the UK, Israel, and Switzerland. All were professionals in various fields. One was an investment banker (who has since gone on to become a neurosurgeon). Another was a university professor who specialized in the history of medicine. So, I’m not talking about Cheetos-scarfing dudes on mom’s basement couch.
We all were smart. We all shared common interests and even backgrounds. We all still fought like hell. As an editor, it was my job to dole out assignments, edit the articles (mostly game reviews, but also opinion pieces, previews, and corporate profiles), and get them posted online. But my main role was bringing people together. That wasn’t easy when we were all strangers in real life. Battles erupted over everything from first-person versus third-person voice to a memorable scrap about referring to (in a derogatory way!) Klaus Barbie of all people in a soccer piece.
But we got through it. We simply resolved to communicate more. To get to know one another as more than just email addresses. I started email threads that turned into longstanding conversations ranging well beyond games and work duties and into who we were as people. That led to understanding. Patience. One pointed argument that turned into one guy (not me, honest) crying tears of gratitude over how much we had come together as friends as well as coworkers. All of this led to a vastly improved work environment where we truly enjoyed each other’s virtual company and created some great editorial content for the site.
There is no magic technological solution to the communication question. We solved this problem back in 1997, when the net was so new and so dial-uppy that all we really had was email, dammit, and we made do with that when we weren’t walking to school uphill through four feet of snow in bare feet. Hell, even the glory days of ICQ were still a couple of years in the future.
Talk. Online or off or both. Same concept, same end results. Get to know and understand one another. With modern tech like Zoom and other videoconferencing options bringing the workplace right into your home office, there is no excuse for not getting to know one another, to not forging solid working relationships even if you never meet your coworkers in person.
We did it in 1997. You can do it in 2020.