Let’s Just Over Communicate

Spoiler alert — communication and relationships are hard.

Last month I joined the Support Breakfast podcast to talk about building bridges — or how you bridge gaps between Support and the people on your team who fix the bugs in your product. (You can check out the full podcast here, and subscribe — they’re really awesome people!)

When I first picked to topic, I felt fairly confident in our team’s relationships — we communicate well, get things done, and are fairly efficiently bridging timezone, distance, knowledge and language barriers.

But…when I stopped and actually spent time thinking about it while deciding what all I wanted to talk about, I realized that it is, and always will be, a work in process. Relationships are hard. Communication is difficult. Both take constant work, rework, design, and redesign.

So, what’s the magic answer?

The magic answer is…there isn’t one. Even in our own company’s relationships, things are changing rapidly.

If I could wave a magic wand and make all relationships work smoothly and perfectly every time — I’m not sure I would. We learn to work better together, even on the hard and frustrating days. All in all, it’s a dance, with made up steps each day.

5 ways our team works on relationships

We do what works for our people, our needs, our setup

One of the hardest things to realize when working on team structure is that each setup is going to be different across your company, and when you compare your company to others outside of it.

I love reading about how other companies structure teams or build relationships — but only as an example, and to help me learn. I then take bits and pieces from each setup, adapting it and making it our own.

For us, we are spread across 6 timezones and two countries. We have folks in an office, and people working remotely. We even have people on the same team who are so opposite in timezone that they never overlap work hours. Each of these adds complexity and dynamic to how we work on communication and relationships.

We aren’t able to take someone else’s awesome communication idea and apply it without tweaks to make it our own. In the end, we find processes that work well for us, and they’re more adopted because we all worked on them together.

We aren’t afraid to scrap a process and try again

One of the scariest things to say is “this isn’t working” and try something completely different.

I am big on processes and structure, and I know I have a hard time letting go of how we’ve done things in the past, for a new way going forward.

A few weeks ago I wrote about “being not perfect” — and this is exactly what you need — go in to each process looking for a way to make it a little bit better, never being afraid of “what if I don’t reach perfect.”

When we do need to change processes, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions — as abandoning a process you have owned and lived every day is emotionally taxing. Recognize it’s a big deal, but don’t let the emotion stop you from making something better.

We realize that a small shift may highlight bigger, deeper problems

Recently our team switched help desk systems. This altered how we communicated across the board. During the switch, I made sure things were like-for-like as much as possible, and made sure to highlight the differences.

About a week in, a coworker pointed out a gap “in the new system.” I remember getting defensive at first — thinking that this is actually how it was in the old system too, and maybe they were just using the new system as an excuse.

Once I took a step back I realized that while it was how it had been in the old system, it was also broken then too. The switch to the new system had just highlighted the problem.

Changes, even small ones, are an awesome time to reevaluate your setup, and make big changes to your workflows.

These times will also be a time that (seemingly) unrelated gaps will suddenly be in the limelight. Embrace these. Learn from them. And end with a better setup than before.

We get outside eyes

Most of our day-in, day-out processes are fairly similar as we go throughout our week. When you have your head down in these every day, it becomes more difficult to see the gaps, the things that don’t make sense, and the weaknesses where the processes could easily break down.

If you knew nothing about this process, would it make sense? If you were explaining this process to a new employee, would it be easy to explain? Do the suggested changes perhaps make it easier, or more clear?

One of my favorite times to get feedback on structure, relationships and processes is when a new employee joins one of the teams. I love to explain things to them, watch their wheels turn, and see what questions they spit back.

Obviously, we don’t hire new folks every day, but there are still people who don’t know anything about your processes. Having them shadow an event, or watch with outside eyes is so valuable.

Right now we’re redesigning our help article site, and our Marketing team is helping. They aren’t regular users of the system, and it’s been eye opening to watch them ask questions or express confusion about the setup. At first I thought well, they don’t know the system — so that’s why they’re confused — but then I realized that that’s why people go to our help articles-because they don’t know the system.

Let others mess in your processes — don’t take their feedback personally — but do take it seriously.

We (try to) over communicate

My biggest piece of advice to any team working on relationships, is to over communicate. This gets a triple +1 to remote (and mixed remote/non remote) teams.

I often explain to people who are new to being remote, or new to having remote folks on their team why being transparent in your capacity, and over communication is important with this example:

If you were sitting next to me, and you saw that I was holding a screaming baby, writing an email to a customer, and had my phone propped against my shoulder while trying to talk to the bank, would you come tap me on the head repeatedly, asking me about a non-urgent question? Probably not.

But…If you are messaging me on Slack, over and over, about a non urgent issue, I can’t get frustrated with you if I am having a day like the above example, unless I communicate that that is what is happening.

It becomes easy to get frustrated when you’re already having a bad day, and your team isn’t (seeming to be) compassionate. It took me a long time to realize that they actually had no idea I was having a rough day, because I didn’t tell them.

It’s a lot harder to go off of context clue when you aren’t face to face. Body language, tone of voice, and most other means of determining someone’s mood is fully lost when you are only talking over chat.

A short choppy sentence may mean I’m mad at you, or maybe I’m super slammed with a customer issue, or perhaps I’m eating a snack (always eating) and finger pecking with one finger, and it was just faster to type.

Over communicate, especially about capacity, and give your team the benefit of the doubt. They probably don’t know you’re having a bad day unless you tell them.

Obviously, we’re far from experts here.

We’ve been doing this remote+in office stuff for about three years now — but we’re still making it up as we go along.

Relationships are hard. They take time, work, and commitment. But they are so worth it in the end.

I have the extreme pleasure to share the ups and downs of this journey with some wonderful folks over at Support Driven — an online community for Customer Support Professionals. Right now we are focusing on writing for us, and have put together a fun writing challenge. Feel free to join us — we’d love to have you!