Commas save lives when remote working!

If you have ever come across the “let’s eat grandma – let’s eat, grandma” phrase, it’s easy to appreciate both its amusing and yet very applicable “commas save lives” message. I mean, after all, who wants to eat their grandma?

Clarity is key

On second glance, the straightforward message doesn’t just address issues around punctuation but also highlights the importance of clarity when writing.

Nowhere, perhaps, is quality writing more critical than in remote working. After all, written communication is the most accessible way in which colleagues - who are oftentimes thousands of miles apart - can communicate.

Misplaced Effort and Focus

Worryingly, many admit to reserving their grammatical strengths for client emails and widely shared projects only. We don't think that should be the case.

Let us imagine a scenario in which employee A has scheduled a meeting with his group to discuss his latest progress in a major company project. Like in any remote company, some colleagues will be unable to attend due to pesky time-zones, but nonetheless need to be involved.

A minute-taker will be tasked with writing a summary of the upcoming meeting, later to be shared with the rest of the group.

Now imagine that the minute taker failed to bring to light key takeaway points from the meeting. Not only that, but the summary also was unable to be succinct and clear. At best, this has resulted in a minor delay in the project. At worst, the project has been completely misunderstood and as a result, caused significant and irreparable consequences.

Practice, practice, practice

A nightmare for any remote group that’s for sure. For this reason and many others, it is pivotal that remote companies and their employees fully appreciate the importance of practising the art of communication.

According to a survey by New Interact on effective communication, 57% of employees report not being given clear directions. In comparison, 69% of managers do not feel comfortable communicating with employees. Those numbers are based on non-remote companies, but one could easily apply them to remote companies.

Communication in remote work is not necessarily a niche topic, in fact, it is one which is constantly on the minds of many remote employees and managers. Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, the company that runs Wordpress, is an expert and pioneer in the field of remote work or as he prefers it, distributed work, admits communication is the “oxygen of a distributed company”.

A pretty big statement we know, but makes sense.

Think of the previous scenario. That is an example of asynchronous communication, where employees are spread across multiple time zones, and therefore rely heavily on written content to keep themselves and the project up to date.

Having things written clearly and objectively allows everyone to work more efficiently and engage in more productive conversations - clear writing translates into clear thinking. Not only that, but written communication provides for a more thoughtful and clear formulation of ideas since it allows people to go back and edit their thoughts.

Written communication is democratic!

This brings us to the next point, that of democracy. Written communication is democratic!

How many verbal meetings have we endured where the conversation was dominated by one or two individuals? Too many, we would say. In written dialogue, everyone can come in and contribute, it is especially inviting to introverts. This, in turn, adds more colour to an otherwise monochromatic meeting.

Writing also allows for searchable information, whereby a remote worker can quickly search through messages and find answers to their specific questions. Guerric de Ternay, remote work aficionado, owner of the designer brand GuodronBlanc and a former guest lecturer at University College London, states that “that most friction is caused by someone misunderstanding something or lacking context.”

Having something written and openly available significantly reduces the need for unnecessary calls or meetings. Furthermore, if well written, it can clarify any difficult or misconceived concepts.

Writing tips for the remote worker

Alright, hopefully now you have a broader appreciation for communication in the workspace, mainly in the form of written communication. But, what if you don’t feel comfortable writing, or what if English isn’t your first language?

Well, thankfully, there is a myriad of available material on how to write better and more efficiently. The list is truly endless. But as a starting point, we recommend the following:

  • Be concise
  • Avoid unnecessary words
  • Get to the point
  • Don’t complicate things
  • Read and reread, and reread again for good measure
  • Avoid figurative speech, English isn’t everyone’s first language
  • Read more about writing - duh!

Writing shouldn’t be seen as an arduous activity, quite the opposite, its liberating. While no one is expecting a Shakespeare-esque message every time you write (that would be incredibly boring), you should nonetheless feel comfortable enough to write freely while being conscious of quality.

Head of Marketing

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