The late, great American businessman Leon Gorman said it best:

“Customer service is a day in, day out, ongoing, never-ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity.”

This year companies everywhere have realized that employee service is much the same. And like good customer service, great communication is at its center.

It’s true that Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype have enabled us all to stay in touch amidst a global shift to WFH. But it’s equally true that this fundamental change has left more questions than team chat anywhere, anytime can answer.

So how can effective communication combat burnout and loneliness in the workplace? Here are five secrets that all telecommuters should know.

Tip 1: Surveying ain’t just for real estate

Eighty-four percent of workers prefer working from home— and why wouldn’t they? From saving hundreds of hours otherwise spent commuting to enjoying more time with family, WFH has its perks.

But that leaves 16% of your team stuck at home hating it. And for these employees, it can be an all-too-easy slide into poor communication and loneliness.

The fact that most companies have been WFH for months doesn’t help things either. Those workers most affected are now less likely to come forward, believing they should have adjusted by now.

That reticence can make them difficult to engage with.

One easy, practical solution is to send an anonymous survey in an employee communication email. The questions can be as direct or indirect as you like; what matters is that they tackle the social dynamics of your workplace.

And just as marketers profile specific customer segments to best address their needs, you can use the ensuing data to do the same for your employees.

Tip 2: It’s not just Akon who’s lonely

According to new research, 20% of workers report feeling lonely at work.

For the statisticians out there, you may have noticed that that figure closely resembles the 16% of employees already loathing WFH. But whilst the cause may be a bit of a no-brainer, the solution isn’t.

Loneliness is an innately personal thing. Employees can find themselves missing anything from meaningful after-work conversation to simple small talk.

One means of addressing this wide array of needs is to set up a permanent Zoom call for the whole team to use during the workday.

Recreating the dynamic of the office can help you capture those free-flowing conversations that help employees connect.

Moreover, as hiring freezes end and new hires start, it’s exactly these kinds of conversations that help those most at risk of isolation get integrated into your team.

Tip 3: Zoom giveth and Zoom taketh away

Recreating the office, however, can come with potential drawbacks, chief among them burnout.

Sixty-nine percent of telecommuters have reported feeling burnout while WFH. Today, the average office worker spends three hours more per day at work. Work-life balance has been a much-missed staple of pre-pandemic life.

Employees have reported feeling a need to always be switched on, ready to communicate at all times of the day and night. With so many others losing their jobs, it can be hard to ignore that pressure.

So, it must fall to companies to restore traditional working hours. It sounds paradoxical. But to improve communication, there must be set times when it’s not allowed.

Simply put, when recreating the office, office hours cannot be forgotten.

The alternative is a workforce that’s tired of communication. One that’s ready to unleash a wave of negative feedback when given the slightest opportunity, which is not the kind of communication we’re looking for.

Tip 4: Divide and conquer

But what if you’re not just looking to recreate the office environment? What if you want to be the next Elon Musk of meetings, the next Zuckerberg of Zoom?

Truthfully speaking, the larger your team is, the more costly a meeting can be. A daily, hour-long video conference call with just seven employees represents a collective investment of 1,827 hours per year.

That’s 76 days worth of productivity. Productivity that could be used elsewhere.

That being said, daily meetings have their place. They keep every employee on the same page and prevent countless mishaps.

However, for smaller, more dynamic businesses, that scale of investment usually isn’t necessary. When it’s a business of just seven, those morning meetings could be pared back to weekly ones instead.

In such cases, you could try more ad-hoc, one-on-one meetings, allowing for a free-flowing discussion that covers a lot more ground. All-in-all, ad-hoc meetings represent a significantly reduced investment of time.

Tip 5: Communicate, communicate, communicate

It’s easy to intellectually understand the need for effective communication. It’s even easier to set it as a key priority for your business without any real follow-through.

In many ways, it can be the abstract nature of communication that makes it difficult to affect any real progress. It doesn’t make immediate sense to subject something like company culture and communication to the same project management that you would any other task.

Forget that way of thinking.

When you have a moment, as you would for any other job, enter your goals and input actions into your team’s project management system. If you don’t have one already, you can download and use any project management software to do so.

The important thing is to confront the problem systematically. One or two work socials over Zoom will not improve your team’s communication alone.

You don’t need me to tell you that it requires sustained effort and, dare I say it, communication on your part and that of your whole team.

It’s worth it to save you and your team from the prospect of burnout and breakdowns in communication.

The takeaway

So, there you have it: five secret tips you can use to foster effective communication. They’re easy. They’re simple. And the next time you’re on a group video chat, you can introduce one of them to your team and see if it helps the people around you to avoid employee burnout.