Apr 21

How your communication needs to adapt for remote working

While you can find volumes of writing and numerous training on communication in the workplace, it does not automatically translate to remote working. In fact, it works more the other way round. What is imperative for good communication in remote teams can also lend itself to improved communications in the office.

The first challenge any remote team will face is communicating effectively and the tell tale signs will be the inevitable overload of emails. If you thought you spent most of your time responding to emails in the office, then just wait until you go remote. Remember those quick office chats to align on tasks and iron out minor details? You have 1 new message!

Remote working requires a different approach to communication that in turn requires a change of culture in many organisations.

The way most companies communicate is “incredibly dumb”, according to Elon Musk

Elon Musk once sent an email to all at Tesla encouraging employees to buck the traditional chain of command found in most companies, in which messages always flow through managers. This, he blamed for creating silos and impeding communication.

“Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb,” wrote Musk.

This traditional chain of command becomes even more problematic when working remotely as managers quickly get swamped with emails they can’t deal with and staff cannot pop into their office to move along a project or seek clarification, causing more blockages and likely more emails to deal with them - a vicious cycle.

In his memo, Musk directed Tesla employees to “email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company.” And this approach is imperative when it comes to remote teams. The traditional chain of command has to be stripped away as much as possible to allow remote workers to flourish.

Spread communications across all the tools available to you

Email threads are not the best way to record, track, find information or quickly get answers. At WAAT, we try to keep communications away from email as much as possible by utilising all the tools available to us, along with our agile project management.

The following example of how we spread our communications across all the tools we use should give you an idea of how you can also better utilise the tools at your disposal.

Tool Use purpose
Instant chat - Quick questions and urgent requests to relevant team members
- Group updates/announcements
Video conferencing - Standup meeting every morning to update on progress, highlight issues and identify blockages
- 1 on 1 calls to align on tasks, tackle any confusion or relay information that might be difficult to do via text
Project management software - Briefs and related documents concerning a particular task added to relevant ticket
- Open-ended questions, change requests and feedback concerning a particular task
Email - External communication
- Official announcements, calendar invites

Be clear and concise

With remote working comes a greater need to be clear and concise in your communications. The lack of face to face contact creates natural pitfalls for confusion and misunderstanding. This usually requires an update in the way you compose messages across the whole company.

A big part of this is losing information that does not add any value to the objective of your message. Particularly in emails, the chatty office style email that you are used to can cause a lot of waste in remote communications. Aim to get to the point as quickly as possible.

The way you structure messages can also help. For instance, not putting important points in flowing copy as people skim read emails, but separating them in numbered lists:

  1. This helps the reader to quickly identify the important information;
  2. And provides an easy format for them to respond to each point and question.

Here’s a quick and simple email test to find out if your team is connected enough to work remotely.

Web Architecture
and Technologies Ltd
27 Dingley Place, London EC1V 8BR, United Kingdom
VAT Number GB100609172
WAAT Switzerland GmbH
Bernoullistrasse 20, CH-4056 Basel
WAAT Poland Sp. z o.o.
Telewizyjna 48, 01-492 Warszawa
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