Need a response urgently? Don’t email. And more rules for WFH communication

And these days, there are an abundance of tools to help us communicate — email, text, instant messaging, video calls and, of course, the trusty phone call. But with that profusion comes the risk of drowning in all the pings, dings, rings and beeps.

“Not only do people have 50 different channels to check, but five times the amount of messages,” said Maura Thomas, a productivity expert.

The key is to streamline communication and get everyone on the same page.

Your method of communication depends on the situation.

If it’s an emergency that needs a quick response, a phone call or text is the most immediate way to get a hold of someone, since people are likely to keep their phones nearby. Try to avoid email, which is taking some people even longer to read through these days.

If workers are trying to answer every email that hits their inbox right away, they are going to be too distracted to do anything else.

“Email is a less immediate tool,” said Thomas. “If you want a reply in five minutes, you are doing it wrong.”

A scheduled video conference or phone call can be more conducive to longer discussions that require heavy explanations or debate.

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Instant messaging tools like Slack are good for quick progress and priority updates. But lengthier conversations, or those involving lots of people, can be hard to digest in this format.

If you have the urge to send an email late at night just to get something off your plate, be very clear that your note doesn’t need attention until working hours, or schedule it to be sent during the workday.

Tell them what you want

Not everyone likes to communicate in the same way within a company, and some teams might have different needs than others.

At Modern Tribe, a fully remote digital agency and products company, teams create a communication charter that details their rules and expectations.

Charters can include rules for Slack, email, meetings and phone calls. For instance, if a Slack message goes unanswered for more than two hours, the member is advised to check the recipient’s calendar for an explanation and then follow-up without fear of being of annoying. One team also detailed that no one will use the “@channel” or “@here” without a “dang good reason.”

It also lays out things like emails not being considered urgent, with a 2- to 24-hour response time being acceptable.

Managers can set the stage and lay out best practices, said Thomas.

“When leaders don’t create any sort of guidelines, all hell breaks loose,” she said.

At Modern Tribe, some managers create documents that explain their work styles and expectations, which can include how they best communicate. The information is shared with new team members to get everyone on the same page.

One manager said in his guide: “I suck at email.” He also mentioned that he is prone to interrupt when excited and has a tendency to want to be right — both things he asks his team to call him out on.

Ask yourself: Is this really urgent?

Before sounding the alarm in a Slack or phone call, do a gut check on whether your issue is an actual urgent problem or just an inhibitor for you.

“Most of these ‘urgent” communications aren’t urgent at all,” said Thomas. “‘They are: ‘I am in the middle of this, I don’t want to lose my place and I want to keep going and please tell me now.'”

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Thorough planning can help avoid this. Evaluate your day’s schedule the day before to make sure you have everything you will need to complete all your work. If not, reach out early to avoid hitting a roadblock mid-work.

Create a signal with the boss

Sometimes you just need to go heads-down on a project — that means turning off all the dings that might distract you. Thomas suggested being open with your boss that you need to disconnect, but create a notification that will get through to you if necessary.

For instance, calling twice in a row will get your attention.

Get it all out there

Sharing information with the whole team can help keep everyone on the same page and feeling included.

At app automation company Zapier, there are more than 1,000 Slack channels that are public to all employees, to create better transparency and a good work flow.

“We don’t do a lot of private DMs,” said CEO Wade Foster. “We like to see the work in public that recreates the ambient noise in the office. When work is in a public Slack channel, it creates ambient information flow, redesigning the communication mechanism.”

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