10:43 AM mr.ed Hey guys! How you doing?
4:39 PM mr.ed Hey! Are you guys using this thing? :) #general
4:40 PM dan Just saw this, sorry. This afternoon has been crazy.
This happens every time I start with a new team. A communication tool is only useful if it gets a response from the other end. It takes some effort on the part of the main office, not only by the remote worker. And every team I’ve had the pleasure of working with have used this simple set of rules.
Act as though the person you are talking to is right in front of you. Do you like it when the person you are talking to constantly turns away to answer the phone, or get interrupted by other people? No, you don’t. So when you are talking to someone online, don’t just step away and leave the remote person hanging. Either ignore the interruption, or at least excuse yourself from the remote person. That way they know that your attention is elsewhere. If you try to do both, it becomes very obvious that you are not paying attention.
Likewise, don’t say anything you would not say to their face. Anonymity does not apply here – these are people that you work with, respect, and will remember how you act. That said, this is a rule that should really apply to any online interaction.
There are three main channels of communication available to remote workers. If everyone on the team has the same expectations of the methods, then all requests will be handled in timely manners.
The first channel you might think of is instant messaging. This is an extremely useful tool. However, it’s often overused. It is perfect for having ongoing conversations. It is also an interruption. If the servers are on fire, or someone is stuck and can’t get their job done, the an interruption is completely appropriate.
The rest of the time, email is the proper channel to start new conversations in. Email can be ignored until there is a break in your current task. There is no expectation of an immediate response. But also don’t let the email thread get twenty replies. If a conversation needs more than a single response, it makes sense to set a time for an instant message conversation to follow up with and hash everything out.
Which brings us to the third channel: phone. Nothing will replace the ability to talk out issues. It is often much faster and easier to understand nuance than instant messaging. A particularly powerful addition is using instant messenger at the same time, to post links and references to the other participants during the conversation.
Some additional notes about phones: high quality is a must. Do not use computer built in speakers and microphones, always use a headset or headphones with built in microphones. Computer speakers often create terrible distortion. Also, do not underestimate the importance of being able to interrupt another person, to provide a supportive comment. Many phone systems only allow the loudest participant to be heard, meaning no one can interrupt.
These guidelines have served me well for many years. May they also serve you well.