How to communicate during remote work?

Today I'd like to share a great mental model on how to improve the communication during remote work.

Presumption #

This proposal presumes a high degree of Trust because it cuts many face-to-face meetings which gives people a sense of security (it might be false sense of security though), so we have to trust each other and expect and show honesty in our work.
That said, it's OK and expected that you will need help. It's fair to expect help in a timely manner.

Concepts #

Aggressive communication vs. Passive communication #

The questioner has the control over when they can get the answer (normally immediately), it happens as:

  1. In the office, you may just go to anyone's seat and start asking questions.

  2. During the remote work, you may call for a online meeting.

  3. Also, you may call your colleague using slack or other instant messengers to ask questions.

The answerer has the control when they will answer the question, it happens as:

  1. A question you asked in the slack.
  2. A code review comment in the Github.
  3. A comment to a ticket in the Jira.

Multi-layer communication channels #

We have many different tools used for communication during remote work:

If we rank it from different perspectives:

Google Meet > Slack > Jira, Github, Google doc

Google Meet > Slack > Jira, Github, Google doc

Google Meet > Slack > Jira, Github, Google doc

Implementation #

Favor passive communication over aggressive communication #

  1. Try to adopt passive communication unless neccessary.

  2. Get used to the fact that your question won't get answered soon and work on something else first.

  3. Be a good slack citizen

    • Centralize relevant discussion with threads
    • Make good use of Edit feature to add missing context and make sure it's up-to-date instead of posting low-context new messages
    • If the scope of your questions or things you'd like to discuss is too big, move the link to the Jira/Github/Google doc instead and put the link in the slack for other's reference.
  4. Aggressive communication is still crucial to the team, so we can have a sync-up meeting once a week or even once a day but keep it short.

  5. Avoid frequent group aggressive communication, which shares the same rationale as not having too many meetings in the office.

Take notes and publish the summary for EVERY meeting #

For the remote work, asynchronous working style settings, notes and documents are keys to successful communication. It's easier and more motivated to absorb information by reading those than watching recording meetings. As a result, as a good remote and asynchronous-friendly colleague, we should:

  1. Taking notes for EVERY meeting and put the summary to its corresonding place, it includes:

    • A brief conclusion of the meeting
    • A meeting note in the google doc
    • Progress update of a task in Jira
    • Discussion summary in a Github pull request
    • A roadmap or project discussion and any rough plan
    • ...
      No matter what it is, share the link to the team channel
  2. Over-communicate by treating everyone as a goldfish

    • By recapping what's being discussed in notes and publish to the channel can make sure everyone is really on the same page.
    • Adopt passive communication instead of aggressive communication when doing over-communicate.

React to EVERY message you read #

The reaction doesn't have to be an insightful suggestion.
It can be a slack reaction sticker that shows you've read this piece of information (of course, you should really read it first).

There are several benefits of doing this:

  1. The author doesn't feel like talking to a bunch of buffalos but feel respected.
  2. The author can know better the propagation of this inforamtion and easier to take the next action.
  3. A reaction means the reader is well-informed on this information; otherwise, questions should be asked.
  4. I believe it can prevent by-stander effect, because when people see a message with fair amount of reaction, they don't want to miss out what's going on.

Conclusion #

You don't have to follow all the specifics mentioned above, but as long as you and your team can hold the right mental model moving forward, you'll find communication during remote work just a cup of tea.

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