Not all communication needs a definite purpose

It goes without saying that good communication is crucial to effective work. While it's always a barrier to creating high-performing teams, the impact of poor communication is usually much higher in a remote setting.

Communication is part of human nature. We do it all the time without even thinking about it: a nod as you pass someone on the street, or a quick "good morning" chat when you arrive at the office. We're social animals and therefore need to constantly communicate, both verbally and non-verbally.

But because of this, it's easy to forget that really good communication is highly intentional and requires thought and effort.

While working with remote teams, we've found it useful to think about communication in two categories:

  1. Communication with a definite purpose
  2. Communication to build relationships

Each requires a different approach.

1. Communication with a definite purpose

When we think about business communication we probably think first of communications that have some definite purpose, like sending an email or scheduling a meeting. It might be a question, where the purpose is to get the right answer. Or a workshop to solve a specific problem. Or a status update to share some important information.

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With this kind of communication, we want to optimise for effectiveness. It's effective if your question is answered, the problem is solved or the status information is easily understood.

In the office, we can often make up for less effective communication with a quick chat. But in a remote environment, this is harder – if we're working asynchronously we don't have the opportunity to clarify quickly through conversation, so it's even more important to make the initial communication as effective as possible.

Tips

  • Choose the right medium. Consider your goal and the people you're communicating – what's the most effective medium? Loom? Slack? A zoom call? Email?
  • Focus on Clarity. Commas save lives! We wrote about this recently.

2. Communication to build relationships

Not all workplace communication has a definite purpose. Think about all the little conversations that take place during a typical day at the office: a quick "good morning" chat or a longer conversation over lunch, or a hallway introduction to a new colleague.

3 Tips for Effective Communication on Remote Teams

These interactions are how we build relationships with others, and this kind of communication is fundamental to creating high-performing teams – they're how we create the genuine connections that lead to an open and trusting culture.

In the office, these types of interactions tend to happen fairly naturally, but in a remote setting, we need to deliberately engineer opportunities for this kind of serendipitous communication. This can feel uncomfortable at first, but here are some tips that might help

  • Organise plenty of video calls – either one-to-one or small teams – where there's no specific agenda and it's okay to just chat about whatever.
  • Encourage social one-to-one's between people across the organisation. It's important that these aren't work-focused, and not just within teams or departments. Tools like Donut can help with arranging these.
  • Use shared interests to build cross-team communities in Slack. You might create a #music channel and shared Spotify playlists for all your music-lovers. One team we worked with had a #mountaingoats channel where folks shared photos of their walks. If you're a leader, it's important to participate in these channels, rewarding and encourage others for doing the same.
  • Regularly remind everyone that not all conversations should be about work.

And if you're a leader or manager, remember that building genuine connections is a core part of your job. It will likely take a little more effort in a remote setting, so it's okay to spend time and energy on it.

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As many will appreciate, communication in a remote setting can often feel distorted from the normal pace of a physical office. However, when conscious efforts towards effective communication are put in place, be it definite or relationship-building oriented, it can bring a host of different advantages to the remote work environment.

Effective communication, as demonstrated above, can help avoid certain remote communication pitfalls, such as hyperresponsiveness, fragmented messaging and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Once those are addressed, via the implementation of practices that focus on employees writing objectively and clearly or dedicated team-building initiatives, you can expect employees to deepen their connection with colleagues and managers, as well as strengthening the company culture.

All in all, a remote company that has effective communication in mind, is one which can consistently operate at a high-level and have teams that don't feel wide-spread and disconnected.

Images

Danny Smith

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