Working online has made many people’s lives more flexible, giving the freedom of being located anywhere they please. It has also amplified the challenges which occur naturally when people work together. Miscommunication is one of them, and since most of online freelance work relies on communication, it deserves its own blog post.
So, how is miscommunication amplified by working online? To answer this question, it might be useful to zoom in and see what factors contribute to potential miscommunication in general. For instance, different cultures will have different sets of expectations in what is considered polite or offensive behavior. If we zoom in even deeper, we will see that miscommunication can also be found within one culture, generated by either stratal or interpersonal differences, such as clashing values, personal preferences, or simply if one of the parties is having a bad day. What these factors have in common is an excellent way to combat miscommunication (or mend its consequences): vocal intonations and body language. However strange and even exotic people’s learned behaviors might sometimes seem to others, the chances are big the parties in question will still have a shared understanding of non-verbal communication, picking up on which will clarify one’s intentions. This is a skill essential to all creatures that rely on patterns recognition to interpret and process reality.
Working together with people online allows for cultural and interpersonal differences to come into play un-combatted by non-verbal communication, so it could help to have a conscious method to refute the potential misunderstandings, that is, being aware of them. The client will misunderstand the expert and vice versa; the client or the expert will misunderstand the Peerwith procedures, which might lead to requests being closed without a connection made. To prevent this, it is advisable to always ask the client questions in case of doubt, such as “What do you mean by that?” or “I don’t mean to be rude, but why are you writing in all capitals?”. Sometimes, however, the expert will decide that communicating effectively with one particular client is more work than providing them a service itself. In that case, I recommend being honest about it, as many experts already do, and to suggest that the client finds a different expert who could better address the client’s needs. It is crucial to do so before the client has made a payment though.
If a misunderstanding occurs after the payment has been made, and the expert cannot solve it with the client, the Peerwith team will intervene. However, we can only help if we see all the communication within the Peerwith platform. Therefore, it is advisable to not use any external means of communication while working on a client’s project.
Misunderstandings can also affect the experts once they flag the request as Delivered, as not all clients seem to be aware that the experts can only be paid out once the client changes the request status to Accepted. The experienced experts anticipate this in advance: once they deliver their work, they follow up with a message, in which they ask the client to flag the request as Accepted. Along with that, the client will also receive a system-generated email from Peerwith asking them to flag the request as Accepted. Usually, we give clients at least a week to respond. If they don’t, we send them a reminder asking to change the status of their request, for which they are given another week. If they don’t react at all, we flag the requests as Accepted ourselves, and the expert still gets paid. This means that if the client does not understand that they should flag the status as Accepted, it will take at least two weeks for the expert to get paid for that request, as opposed to the usual couple of days. Thus, it is recommended to take after the experienced experts, and send the client an explanation message right after you change the status to Delivered. If the client does not respond within a week, the experts can contact us either by sending an email to email@example.com, directly to the Operational Manager to firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a support ticket, so we can monitor the request ourselves.
This post is intended to give new experts some ideas on what they can expect from working with clients online, and how to minimize potential damage caused by miscommunication.