“To whom it may concern,” “I formally request,” and “sincerely.” These are all standard phrases you’ll encounter when sending or receiving emails in the workplace. They are formal, polite, and professional, but are they enough in today’s increasingly remote work environment? Effective communication has always been an important skill to master for successful employees, but given how COVID-19 has impacted the way we work and interact with each other, effective communication must also be paired with conscious relationship building. It’s not enough to simply communicate our points and ideas anymore. We’ve got to go the extra mile.
Now that more people are working remotely, employees are missing the “human element” they were used to getting when in the office. Quick and simple relationship-building interactions like a chat at the coffee maker, bumping into someone at the copier, or a mutual disdain for conference room technology when attempting to make a group presentation are gone. Have we taken those experiences for granted?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees to social distance from one another, relationships could be cultivated organically through day-to-day interactions with co-workers. That’s not the case now, and we need to make a concerted effort to work at it.
The old saying goes, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.” That is truer than ever today, and we need to be particularly mindful of it in our professional interactions. Is a co-worker quick to anger? Maybe they have a very ill family member and are scared. Is a co-worker especially forgetful lately? Maybe they have children at home and are frazzled by unexpected responsibilities. Is a co-worker disengaged? Maybe they have a spouse who has lost a job due to the pandemic, and they are depressed. The point is that we don’t know what’s going on. Being kind, respectful, understanding, and helpful require no additional time and effort, but these basic acts of humanity can go a long way for someone who is down, and they can certainly improve morale for an entire team.
Team members working remotely has become a new normal in the professional world. Schedules have changed, and expectations have too. We have to adapt and grow, as this could be a way of life for the foreseeable future. When life does get back to normal, and we make our way back to the brick-and-mortar workplace, we need to come back with positive attitudes. Working on building positive relationships now will help to make that eventual transition seamless.
So, for professionalism’s sake, continue to use phrases like “to whom it may concern,” and “I formally request,” but don’t forget that on the other end of the email or the conference line, there is a real person. Ask about their week. Get to know that person on the other end. We often minimize the impact of our professional relationships in favor of meeting deadlines or hitting quotas, but now more than ever, we need to build positive relationships with co-workers to foster the type of work environment we want to be a part of now and in the future.