WFH – Effective tips for productive communication

These are some of my thoughts on some tips to improve the productivity of your communication when working remotely.

I have some exposure to working in a remote environment. I have learned some of these techniques from generally accepted behavior in the past companies, while others from my own personal experience.

No hi/hello

It may sound pretty rude in the first instance, but let me clarify.

Avoid sending only a hi/hello message and waiting for the reply. Consider this…

You: Hi

a minute or two passes…

X: Hi

another minute or several seconds passes…

You: I wondering where can I get Foo?

possibly some more time passes…

X: Here …

You: Thanks

So you see here, there is a lot of time passed before you get the information you need.

Another thing is that the other person might be busy with something else and may choose not to respond immediately to the not-so-informative “hi” message.

Now consider this…

You: Hi, I was wondering where can I find X?

a minute or two passes…

X: Hi, here you go..

You: Thanks…

Not only you save a lot of time here, but you also give the other person a choice to respond immediately or to defer it for some time, finish the task at hand, and get back to you.

Apart from this, it could be possible that even if the person is in the middle of something and would generally not like to get into a conversation at the moment, they could decide to respond to you right away as the information you are looking for is handy.

Don’t ask a question as a response to another question

X: Hey, I was working on Foo and realized that it also impacts Bar. Can you please let me know the Fizz so that I can change Bar as well?

You: Which Bar are you talking about? Bar1? Bar2? Bar3?

Now here the thing is that the person might have already figured out everything about the Bar(s) that they want to change. Probably just giving out the required information will serve the purpose.

And remember that while working remotely, you might be in different timezones. Such a conversation could possibly delay the work by several hours or result in one person working at odd hours, just to communicate well.

Now it’s obviously better to not leave out any assumptions and get the clarifications. But my point is to get out as much information as you can given the details of the request.

X: Hey, I was working on Foo and realized that it also impacts Bar. Can you please let me know the Fizz so that I can change Bar as well?

You: Generally Fizz can be obtained from… But I was wondering which Bar are you talking about? Bar1, Bar2, or Bar3?

In this case, you did your best job to get the information out there. If at all, the details of specific Bar(s) are required to obtain Fizz, its in the other person’s court. Next time, they will give you better details before requesting it.

Always announce when you are away

Working remotely is very different from the office environment. In the office, someone can just have a look at your desk to check if you are available. Or in certain cases, ask your neighbor if they have any information.

This doesn’t work in case of remote setup. Having a policy or a general understanding to update your status message about your availability can help here.

Instead of saying “Brb in 15 mins”, say “Brb at around 6:40”. In this case, even if you are late for several minutes, the person can easily know that you could be online at any moment.

Avoid the practice of announcing it in group chats. It could be possible that someone is away for 20 mins but I don’t need to know their presence for now. It will help to avoid unnecessary messages for several people.

Prefer long messages over multiple messages

All the chat applications these days display the messages in separate chat bubbles. Use these as your natural paragraph separators or to separate two messages on a completely different topic.

You: Hey.

You: I wanted to ask you something about Foo.

You: Do you have any idea about its implications on Bar?

You: I was hoping to get this done today.

Now, this is a silly example I admit, but in many cases the explanation is real. Send a long single message. Instead of sending one sentence in one message, use one message for one paragraph. Or multiple paragraphs in one message separated by a newline.

Multiple popups/messages for a single concept might prove to be annoying for some people/situations.

Don’t call unannounced

Communication apps like Zoom and Teams are a boon when working remotely. Screen sharing and calls are the features that I personally use several times a day.

However, when calling someone, wait for at least 5-10 mins after your initial message. Or best, wait for the acknowledgment from the person before calling.

There could be someone already on a call sitting next to the person you are calling, there could be someone sleeping in the same room the other person is working, the person could be afk for a personal break. A sudden ringing sound might be a bit uncomfortable in certain situations.

Conclusion

These are some of the things that work for me and many people I have worked with. These are general guidelines and not the rules. There are and will be several exceptions on several occasions especially when communicating with people or groups you frequently communicate with.

On certain many of these policies won’t apply. But you will start to have your own thumb rules when you start thinking about what best works for you and your team.

Let me know your thoughts and what works best for you.

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