30 Tips for Successful Communication as a Remote Worker
As a Remote Worker I'm always looking for tips and tricks and checklists to make my, ahem, remote working life easier. I've made a cheap Wide Angle Lens so I could better see my co-workers, created a robot cart so they won't forget me, tested 4G cards so I can be online anywhere, switched to Hi-Def Video Cameras for web chat, written articles on how to Collaborate with Remote Employees and Phil Haack and I made the HanselPortal, for virtual camaraderie.
Recently I write up my "Good Better Best" webcam equipment list, so you can look amazing with a RingLight and a quality camera.
- Set up calls at mutually workable hours. Avoid blocking calendars with local meetings during shared hours. Fridays are often a poor choice.
- Start on time. Leaders should set up the bridge or Zoom/Teams/Meeting before the call starts. Attendees should always show up on time.
- If you can't make it, cancel or decline least 18 hours in advance. Changing your plans to attend a non-existent meeting is very frustrating. Think carefully if the recipient will see your cancellation in time (they may be asleep).
- Assume the best. If the other team isn't meeting your expectations, it's probably because of a lack of awareness or a misunderstanding—not incompetence. Clarify and confirm before drawing conclusions or judging.
Use the right tools
- Choose the right tool. Skype is great for 1-1s and small group meetings. Teams is usually better for large group meetings.
- Use video. Seeing faces increases the quality of the communication. It also helps create focus, preventing people from getting distracted, having side conversations, checking their email, etc.
- In a group, use a Camera with a wide angle. Mount it so the ROOM can be seen. As well as enabling video, the noise-cancelling mics it has are excellent. Make sure all your meeting rooms have one, including the satellite mics.
- On your own, use a headset. The sound quality for both parties is far superior.
- Don't use your laptop microphone. Laptop microphones are poor quality and pick up noise from your laptop's fan, disk, and keyboard. Use the mic on your webcam or, better yet, an external mic.
- Be a black-belt with the tools. Make sure you can set up and join meetings quickly so that they start on time. Learn all the available features. Set up time to sit with your local team to practice and explore.
Be Heard and Understood
- Speak clearly and slowly. The connections aren't always clear.
- Be precise and concise. Help to keep the meeting short and productive.
- Speak one at a time, otherwise no-one can be heard.
- Ask for confirmation that the callers heard everything clearly.
- Sit near the microphone, especially if your voice is soft.
- Ask for comments. It's hard to break into the conversation over the phone.
- Avoid jargon and culture-specific phrases. English is not the first language of many people on our teams, and can also vary greatly across cultures.
- Meet face to face from time to time. Meeting in person builds your knowledge of each other's mannerisms and communication style. Subsequent remote communications are much richer and misunderstandings rarer as a result.
Make meetings effective
- Pick the right forum. Use meetings rather than long email threads to discuss complex issues. For small meetings, it is often better if everyone is in their own office rather than using a meeting room—this promotes equality between local and remote team members.
- Share the context and goals. Shared context is critical to clear communication. There are often a lot of assumptions you know in a particular location based on side-conversations, etc.
- Share a deck. It
's much easier to follow the conversation if everyone is looking at the same thing. Even if you are sharing via Zoom or Teams, send the deck or a link to the deck by email well in advance (home connections can be slow) and call out each slide.
- Send minutes promptly. After every meeting, send minutes documenting all decisions and including clear actions and owners. Avoid cryptic or overly-concise notes—imagine them being read or reported out by someone who wasn't there, six months later.
- Record and share brown bags. Brown bags are often at unsociable hours. Recording and sharing helps partner teams as well as your own.
Make Email Work
- Be clear and precise. It's very easy to misinterpret email, especially across cultures and languages. Re-read your emails before sending.
- Document everything. Document all decisions - if it's not recorded in email, it didn't happen.
- Share everything. Use email to share face-to-face hallway, office, lunchtime or post-meeting conversations.
- Be inclusive. Leave time for other sites to read and reply before closing the issue (as appropriate).
- Set up inclusive DLs. Having all stakeholders on the appropriate distribution lists is the easiest way to keep from forgetting other sites. Don't hide DL membership.
- Answer all questions asked. Incomplete answers lead to frustration and wasted time.
- Avoid unnecessary questions. Ask yourself ‘is it really worth a 24-hour turn-around to answer this question? Can I answer it myself, or ask someone local?' Don't block an important thread with a trivial question.
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