Communication bottlenecks are the cause of much tension within any work teams, but in a virtual setting, it is even more critical. Imagine that you are planning a conference and have a last minute substitution for one of the speakers. The printed conference brochures need to get to the printer by the end of the day so you send over the new speaker bio and head shot to the marketing person at 10 am. Crickets. By 2 pm, you are starting to think that maybe that person is on vacation and didn’t set their auto responder. Or are they just being passive aggressive because of a situation that happened last month? You can’t just get up and walk down to the marketing office to talk with someone. So you reluctantly send a “just following up” email but still nothing. Now you are starting to get angry. As the hours tick by, you start conjuring up all sorts of scenarios, none of which are good for the team. Mistrust has set in.
These sorts of bottlenecks happen all the time and are mostly avoidable. Here are some suggestions for communication rules that can help teams work better together.
Respond quickly, even if the answer is no.
It’s not unreasonable to expect team members to take the time to respond to requests within a couple of hours, even if the answer is “not today”. Maybe as a team, you decide that noon is a deadline for any morning requests and 4 pm is a deadline for response to afternoon communications. In a remote setting, each team member’s role in a project is often interdependent on the other so when one person doesn’t respond in time, it creates a bottleneck for the whole process.
Common Courtesies Matter.
Within the familiarity of the team and digital format, it is easy to slip into short responses; however, common courtesies should not be dropped simply because you are typing rather than talking. A habit of short written responses can come off as rude if not tempered with an occasional “hope all is well in your corner of the universe today” or “appreciate your help with this”. Sometimes, it’s fine to simply reply “yes” but do remember that you are communicating with a person, not a machine, even though you are indeed using machines to communicate. That being said, please don’t ramble; keep it professional.
Don’t be a pest.
When possible, collect thoughts and requests into one communication rather than inundating someone with ten different emails in a day. Repeated email notifications on your computer can be kind of like a whiny toddler who keeps repeating “mom, mom” without a real point, so don’t be that person who keeps interrupting someone else’s workflow. Your colleagues will be more likely to read and respond to your needs if they feel their time is respected.
Working together on a remote team can be an amazing experience but respectful communication is critical to creating an environment that creates momentum rather than impedes progress. Communication matters!