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Phone and Video Calls

Common questions covered here
Should remote teams use video calls?
What are the best practices for video meetings for remote teams?
Are video calls better than email?

Phone and video calls allow one or more people to have a conversation in real time, either via telephone or online video conferencing services. Calls are an exclusively synchronous communication channel, but can also be used to broadcast information when only one person speaks to a group. Example tools include Zoom, BlueJeans, Google Hangout and GoToMeeting.

Call Advantages

  • Synchronous. Calls are great for resolving questions quickly or realigning when miscommunications over written mediums like email have happened.

  • Tone and emotional content. Calls also carry more tone, helping disambiguate and understand the mindset and mood of others.

  • Banter. Calls are a more natural channel for casual conversations, helping build better and stronger relationships.

  • Facial cues. Video calls allow people to see facial expressions and other gesticulations. Like intonation, this additional information makes messages clearer, adds emotional content, and helps build connection and trust.

Call Risks and Pitfalls

  • Coordination. Calls can only happen in real time, which requires coordination overhead. This becomes harder when teams are distributed across different time zones.

  • Interpretation. Calls require that everyone involved understand the same language sufficiently, or that they include interpreters. Even among same-language speakers, phone calls (especially compared to video calls) can be hard for people with different auditory processing capabilities or if anyone has a bad connection.

  • Not documented. Calls do not immediately produce written artifacts, so if documentation is required, additional protocols or tech need to be in place to recorde or allow notes to be taken and distributed.

When to Use Calls

Despite the focus on asynchronous, written communication at remote companies, talking in real time has its time and place, including:

  • Regular meetings like one-on-ones and all-hands.

  • Team standups, if time zone overlap allows.

  • Planning and brainstorming meetings (best over video).

  • Resolving misunderstandings or dealing with escalating or emotional situations from other channels.

Tips for Calls

  • It’s important to be mindful of people’s schedules, be on time, and end the call on time to prevent cascading disruptions across organizations.

  • Calls are more effective if you take them from places with low background noise and keep in mind that wireless headphones with microphones far from your mouth can pick up more ambient noise. If you take many calls, you may wish to consider getting better-quality headphones designed for noise reduction.

  • If you’re having a sensitive call, like giving constructive feedback, discussing performance or even firing someone, consider role playing or rehearsing the conversation ahead of time, including unexpected scenarios, so you can be better prepared.

  • It’s helpful to identify someone to take notes so you can keep a record that can be distributed to other parties. If you share the notes with other call parties, you can confirm that you converged on an understanding during the call, or can correct misunderstandings quickly.

  • Before you ask for a “quick sync” or a “quick chat,” evaluate whether the information you seek or need to share can be disseminated or gathered via written mediums instead.

Further Reading About Calls

In-Person Meetings

There are plenty of benefits to meeting in person occasionally as a remote company, especially for fostering meaningful connections and building trust. But there are associated costs and potential downsides worth considering when thinking about how often people get together.

Advantages

  • Connection. Getting together fosters human connection and helps build trust.

  • You’re reading a preview of an online book. Buy it now for lifetime access to expert knowledge, including future updates.
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