How remote communication works
If it isn’t documented it didn’t happen.
Remote reliability: Follow your own schedule
One of the perks of working remotely is creating your own schedule. This is no easy task because your work hours affect your communication with the rest of the team–or client.
Choose your favourite hours range and stick to it for a while. Tell your coworkers what’s going to be your availability beforehand, so everyone knows when they can count on you. Routine is a remote worker’s best friend.
Think about these two scenarios:
👉 Remoter A worked 10 hours on Monday, 2 hours on Tuesday, no hours on Wednesday and 12 hours on Thursday and Friday. Each day started at a different hour.
👉 Remoter B worked six and a half hours from Monday to Friday, from their local 1PM to 7:30PM.
You had hired both in the past. A and B are equally qualified for the craft. Who would you hire again? For starters, only one of them can be easily traceable. Is not that you can’t trust Remoter A, it is more about reliability: If I connect at 2PM I’m sure remote B will be there.
Manage your remote conversations and save everyone’s time
Remote communication is asynchronous. Working with people located in other time zones is part of the beauty.
Teach yourself new ways to interrupt others less.
If you have a question, try finding the answer on the Internet or company documentation. You’ll spend the same amount of time than waiting for an answer, but you won’t spend somebody else’s time. Of course, if you can’t find it, ask directly to the person in charge of that decision.
Try to imagine the entire conversation and display a closed list of options to your interlocutor.
Let’s say you need to schedule a meeting with Sarah. You both need to agree on a day, an hour, a channel. Sarah lives seven hours away and your schedules rarely overlap.
Scheduling a meeting
👎 Hello Sarah. I need to talk to you about the design system project. When will you be available?
👍 Hello, Sarah. We need to prioritize the next three months task list for the design system project. Could you talk about it on Monday or Tuesday, at my 5PM, your 10AM? I think it will take around 30 minutes.
The latter can be scheduled right away. If Sarah is equally efficient, she’d agree and add the meeting to the team calendar right away, as she already knows your availability.
Remote to-do lists: don’t stop your workflow because you don’t have an answer right away
I usually write all the questions and comments I have during the day and send them all together in a single list. When your colleagues are in answering mode they can answer everything at once. Don’t interrupt anyone unless necessary. Being focused isn’t a constant.
When planning your day, have in mind you may encounter some questions. Have a Plan B to-do list and you won’t depend on someone else’s feedback to be productive. I usually have a list of big brainy things and a list of small tasks for this kind of situations. Add documenting to your list.
Documenting is key for remote teams
Write down, register and catalog whatever you are doing and reasoning. It takes a little time at first but saves you thinking about the same thing twice. Make the information retrievable for you and everyone on the team. Make sure everyone on the team share the same cataloging method.
Sometimes you know the context and premiss of your projects because you have been working on it for a while. Don’t assume everyone else have the same amount of information. That’s one of the good things of regularly document your work. You can get back to your own thoughts and reasoning in case you need them again.
Remote irony doesn’t work
Communication shapes your persona when working remotely: chosen words, tone, regularity, etc.
Avoid using irony or double meaning sentences. Written text doesn’t have intonation. I know you are thinking “d’oh!”. It is obvious but not everyone remembers it. Tweets are constantly misinterpreted. This study about irony in Twitter shows how you can only detect irony if the user has previously tweet the opposite opinion.
Remote irony only works if the other person knows you very well.
Emojis are your remote face
Gestures and micro expressions don’t exist for others unless you tell them they happened. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
How others perceive us is directly linked to what we share with them. There is no need of sharing everything you do, but don’t forget to be a person.
One of my mottos for remote communication is: Let others know how you reacted to non-work-related issues. In other words: every cat picture needs its heart-eye emoji.
Emojis or animated GIFs are perfect to acknowledge others’ interests and display your own. They help shape your character.
Summary: Six tips for remote communication
- Choose a schedule and stick to it. Be reliable. Even when freelancing, you are not alone in the world.
- Remote communication is asynchronous.
- Interrupt others the way you’d like to be interrupted.
- Document, document, document.
- Your remote persona is shaped by your communication. Avoid being misinterpreted.
- If you are happy and you know it 👏