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Communicating Intentionally

Common questions covered here
What are the communication problems remote teams face?
How can I communicate more intentionally with my team?

Speaking only helps who’s in the room; writing helps everyone.The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication*

The need to communicate well is not unique to remote work, but it’s one of the key areas that can make or break remote work for an organization. Distributed teams must decide on and document how they will communicate; otherwise chaos and confusion will follow. An effective communication system requires:

  • Building an architecture. In order to streamline communication, whether between ten early-stage employees or across dozens of global teams, companies need to set up guidelines in a communication architecture. These guidelines will help your team communicate requests on a sliding scale of urgency, lowering the risk of burnout and helping individuals to prioritize tasks.*

  • Aiming for asynchronous. An important part of your communication architecture is setting expectations regarding synchronous and asynchronous communication—that is, knowing what needs to be discussed live, right now, and what doesn’t need immediate response. It is wise for every company and team to develop communication policies to identify when, where, and how to engage in each type of communication, including guidelines for asynchronous or synchronous behavior, and use of related tools.

  • Actively managing time differences. Don’t leave it to chance for your team to work out how to handle time zone differences. Once communication has to span more than 2–3 time zones, lots of default practices start to break down. You will want to map out who is where, when they are available, and what your main periods of overlap are. You can then fold that into your communication architecture, so people can know when to expect more synchronous forms of communication, and can schedule needed meetings and standups during those times of overlap. (If there’s no overlap whatsoever, teams have to get even more creative. See more in Time Zone Protocols.)

Commitment to Documentation

In a remote environment, it’s essential to provide documentation of what it’s like to work at the company, including policies, processes, protocols, tools, values, and culture. In a traditional office environment, these things should also be written down, but often aren’t—it’s easier to get context on something when you can just stop someone in the hall and ask, or watch others model the expected behavior. Remote offices have no choice. These processes need to be codified such that people can work asynchronously and autonomously and still track toward the same goals and foster the same values. Documentation about company and team processes should be:

  • Asynchronously available. Ideally, your practices will make it abundantly clear to all members of the team where they can find information, regardless of the specific tooling that is selected by the company.

  • Regularly updated. This will prevent people from constantly having to ask where they can find X, or what the status of something is. The more regularly and predictably this information is updated, the less often people will have to schedule extraneous meetings or rely on other synchronous communication simply to be up to speed on what is happening or how to get something done.

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