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WFH: How to communicate effectively in emails and video calls

WFH: How to communicate effectively in emails and video calls
PHOTO: Pexels

With the circuit breaker in place since April 7, a lot of us have been working from home for almost a month by now. With the extension of the circuit breaker, working from home continues to be our new reality until the Covid-19 situation is under control.

Video calls are the new meetings and most people have opted to send follow-up emails rather than making follow-up calls.

However, non-verbal and online communication, when not delivered probably, can lead to misunderstandings. So how do you get your message across effectively to your bosses and colleagues during this digital WFH times?

We asked James Choles, Academic Manager of the Professional Development Centre at the British Council in Singapore, for tips.

Is it OK to switch off your video camera during video meetings?

The short answer is no. Many of our workshops at the British Council focus on the importance of visual communication, and how things like facial expressions, hand gestures and posture can tell us a lot about what a person is thinking and feeling.

As social animals we also love to see each other! The only good reason to turn off your video camera is to save bandwidth.

How do you get your messages across in emails without sounding rude/offending someone?

Most of us dash off emails forgetting that there's another human being on the other side of the computer screen. What's going on for them? How might they interpret your words? What style of writing will make it more (or less) likely that you'll get the outcome you want?

Take a moment to think about these things before writing your message.

How do you give feedback on a teammate's idea on a conference call without sound like you're attacking them?


Delivering feedback well is a difficult skill to master. If we get it wrong, the other person can end up feeling hurt and defensive and we won't get the results we want.

Here's a simple technique to give feedback in a more positive and less challenging way: Instead of responding with "Yes, but…" try "Yes, and…". For example:

  • "Yes, but don't you think the price is too high?"
  • "Yes, and maybe we could offer a lower price point to attract new customers."

How do you tactfully tell your boss their idea doesn't work in a video call?

If your boss is the kind of person that encourages straight-talking then he or she might appreciate you saying that the idea won't work and why. In most cases, though, you'll need to be more tactful. You can do this by asking your boss questions about what they're proposing.

Make sure you ask these to help you understand rather than to show your boss she's wrong!

How do you signal that you are paying attention in a video/phone meeting without making grunts that can be distracting?

There are lots of ways to show that you're paying attention in a video or phone meeting. Here are just some of them:

  • Visual signals: gestures (e.g. thumbs up), nodding, facial expressions
  • Verbal signals: reacting (e.g. "Really?"), asking questions, paraphrasing (e.g. "So what you're suggesting is…")
  • Virtual signals: virtual reactions (e.g. emojis), short messages in chat (e.g. "Nice idea!"), voting buttons.

ALSO READ: Relationship advice: How do I avoid arguments while WFH with my partner?

How do you gear everyone back to the topic when some people go off-topic during a video meeting?

Whether it's a video meeting or face to face, normal rules apply. Pre-send an agenda with timings for each item. Allow time for AOB and questions at the end.

As host be strict with your timings and don't be afraid to cut conversations short if they veer off-topic. Do it politely and firmly and people will thank you for it!

Should you have personal conversations while waiting for people to join?

Absolutely! Working remotely is hard for most of us and social isolation is a real problem. Use this time to catch up with your colleagues on a personal level.

And when people join the meeting be sure to bring them into the conversation: "Hi Joel, we were just talking about Laura's baking skills…"

This article was first published in CLEO Singapore.

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