If you find yourself navigating remote work for the first time you might already learned that social distancing doesn’t translate to less communication, and as some of us can see, it can mean quite the opposite, a communication overload. Being unable to communicate face-to-face intensifies some challenges that already existed in our communications and surfaces new challenges that we’ll need to overcome in order to communicate more effectively.
Picture this: you have multiple email addresses, slack workspaces with multiple channels on each, multiple productivity / project management apps (Trello, Asana, Jira, Github, Basecamp, Notion), direct messages coming at you from every direction through email, slack, WhatsApp, text messages.
Add to the mix all the tools that we’re using to replace face-to-face communication like Zoom, Google Meet, Teams, Whereby and combine that with the overload of news, newsletters, articles, infographics and the added time on social media, and the sheer volume of notifications from every single app, and you get yourself a perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown.
Filtering through the noise
If you feel like it’s getting harder to manage the constant stream of messages you receive everyday and that having just one central place where every message flows into feels like a dream, here’s a few things you can do to improve your situation and take control over your communications.
1. Reduce the number of communication channels
Take a look at all the communication channels you’re using and gravitate towards as few channels as possible. Talk with your team to define a clear purpose for each app. For instance, is it clear when you should use email vs chat vs a project management tool vs meeting? If not, make it so. It should be easy to know where to find up-to-date information without having to ask. For decision making and moving projects along, prefer tools that have easy ways to reference information and that allow for focused discussions on a topic. For ephemeral communication or quick collaboration on an issue use chat instead.
2. Embrace asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication means that you do not expect two people to have to be at the same place at the same time in order to communicate and make decisions. Think of it as writing a letter instead of having a face-to-face conversation. Async assumes that you will not get an immediate response to your message and that’s ok. It means that instead of favouring synchronicity, where you need two or more people to be available at the same time in order to have a meeting or chat, you should operate in a way that allows someone to send a well thought out message explaining an issue, and for the receiver to attend to that message at the time that works best for them. The receiver will then ponder and get back to you. Embracing async will help you be more focused and reduce distractions. A useful tip to keep in mind is to keep your async communications super focused on a specific topic. Using a Problem/Solution framework can speed up clarity and decision making.
3. Improve your written communication
You already spend a lot of time writing at work, but now is the perfect time to get better at it. Good written communication is clear, concise and effective. Before you start writing, take a moment to consider what you want your audience to know and do with the message you’re sending. Be direct and make your point upfront, don’t bury it after 3 sentences. If necessary provide evidence, explanation and links to related material. Before hitting send, re-read what you wrote and see if it makes sense. Don’t write a novel if a telegram will do the job. Remember: clear writing means clear thinking.
4. Run more effective meetings
If you can, cut down on the amount of meetings you have. If you used to spend all day at the office in meetings and just moved them to video calls, take this opportunity to re-organise how you work and re-evaluate your productivity levels. Your work should not be done in the spare time you have when you’re not in meetings. Yes, meetings are part of your work, but they are generally not the most productive way to get your work done. If you must run a meeting, make sure to set a specific agenda, pay attention to who needs to be there (the more people the meeting has, the less productive it becomes) and make sure to leave with a decision and next steps and who’s responsible to follow through with them.
5. Improve notification settings
Play around with your notification settings and review the type of notifications you want to receive from different apps, both for your desktop and mobile. Do you really need a notification per every new message or a daily/weekly digest would suffice? Most things can wait a couple of hours without a reply. In the end, you should have very few apps that can distract you from the work you set out to accomplish for the day. It might also be useful to turn your phone on “Do not disturb” mode. With more people staying at home and having more available time, the number of interruptions and chat groups have grown exponentially and it’s important to set your own boundaries on when you are available for non urgent matters.
6. Manage your time and attention
Now more than ever you need to be strategic on how to invest your time and what priorities to work on. Plan your day ahead and define the 3 most important tasks you need to accomplish. Time-box your tasks and establish deadlines for yourself if no-one else is doing it. Work on having clarity and a plan, even if small and just for the day. It will help you have a sense of control, when so much is out of our control right now. If you’re experiencing FOMO from all the conversations people are having and feel that you need to be constantly in the loop take a step back and breathe. Take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid do turn off from all the noise.
For the next few weeks we’ll be answering questions from our friends and community on how to make the transition to the brave new world of social distancing a bit less painful. If you have a question for us reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org