Now that the corporate world has been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of remote work, we've all realized a few things. First, wearing pajamas to meetings is a lot less thrilling after a full week without changing out of them. Second, working on a remote team is really, really hard.
I'm not sure whether it's necessarily harder than an in-person team, but it's hard in different ways. Since we're all pretty new to this, that difficulty can take its toll. That leads to trouble: lack of productivity, disconnection, or just a serious drop in morale.
What's the deal? What makes remote work so much tougher on teams?
We don't have all the answers, but we have a humble thesis: it's because of the sudden & total reliance on written communication.
The rules of remote communication
Most of us office-workers are pretty good at verbal communication. We know how to bond with our coworkers, and how to conduct ourselves in a meeting. If we're a manager, we know how to lead those meetings in a way that gets everyone to nod their heads in understanding (or at least, pretend to).
Replacing all those meetings and off-the-cuff conversations with Slack messages and emails makes things harder. How do we ensure everyone has read and understood what we're saying? How do we brainstorm and collaborate?
Zoom meetings can help, sure. But after a four-hour Zoomfest, everyone has to admit it's not the same.
For a remote team, written communication is king. But your colleague who can lead an engaging meeting can't necessarily craft an engaging email, or carry a Slack conversation to save his life.
Here at Laskie, we've all been working remote for years. Here's what we learned about communicating well in a long-distance world: our five rules for remote communication, if you will.
Rule #1: Overcommunicate
If you post an important update in your team's group chat, you don't know if everyone's read it. You don't know if everyone understood the consequences. You don't know if they just skimmed it while playing with their dog in the backyard.
You can't communicate something once and expect the team to "get it." Overcommunication means taking those extra steps to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Communicate all important information at least three times. That might mean a public Slack post, an email, and a private Slack conversation with each key stakeholder. Make sure you get actual feedback that people know what you need them to know.
Rule #2: Be concise.
Reading lots of text sucks. On the internet, we've been trained to skim. When people skim, they miss things.
So keep it short. Cut your writing down to just the essential info.
Short, punchy, with high density of information. Not dense like a physics textbook, but dense like your grandma's recipes.
Rule #3: Use the right channel
This rule is also known as "bring back email, but do it right."
For years, chat companies have been trying to convince us email is dead. That's why our spouses and roommates have to suffer through the Slack notification sound every five minutes, right?
Well, email has its place. It's the best way to share information when no discussion is needed. It's easy to search and manage.
But (and this is key) don't forget rule #2. No long emails. Each one should be short, with a clear purpose, and clear next steps.
Some things require a Zoom conversation. Some can be a quick chat message. Others require an email. Pick the right channel for your purpose.
Rule #4: Construct your knowledge base
The fewer conversations someone needs to have to find out what they need to know, the better.
Your team should take what's in their heads and put it in a central location: Google Drive, or Notion, or Confluence, or anything. Build a knowledge base with everyone's combined wisdom.
But there's an art to this. Your employees need to get good at writing and maintaining useful pages. Which leads us to the final, more important rule...
Rule #5: Treat written communication as a skill
Written communication is HARD. It's a whole 'nother ball game, as they say. And it's very, very important, since your team can't do anything if they can't communicate. So invest time in training your team to do it right.
Which leads us to... the sales pitch. Actually, it's not a sales pitch, because we just want to give you something for free.
The take-your-team-to-the-next-level writing guide
We've written a guide on great writing that's perfect for your team.
It's structured as a way for them to become trusted authorities in their company and industry. It's a guide on writing everything, including: essays, emails, Notion pages, and emoji-filled Slack messages.
To get the guide, reply to this email with I WANT MY TEAM TO WRITE BETTER. Or send the same message to email@example.com.
If you know anyone else who might benefit from this guide, forward this email to them. Maybe put something nice at the start, like "I know YOU don't need this, since you're a stellar writer, but perhaps your coworkers do..." They'll like that.
Thanks for reading, and happy writing.