There is one all-too-common mistake that firms are making right now: trying to replicate their existing communication practices across their newly distributed team.
A video conferencing solution such as Zoom is brilliant for replacing in-person meetings, and instant messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be useful for hashing something out quickly or as a virtual ‘water-cooler’. However, these tools alone do not equip your firm to work remotely. If this is what your firm is relying on, it is extremely likely that you are now emailing more than ever, having more frequent emails, feeling stressed, and worrying about things slipping through the cracks. To work effectively as a distributed firm without creating more stress and work for everyone, you need fewer tools, no siloing of communication, and better team behavior.
Communication is at the core of remote work
For all the discussion about changes and the right tools for working remotely, your primary focus needs to be on how you communicate. You’ve likely already been using cloud tools for account reconciliation and email which have not changed. You are also likely already using video chat on occasion. The crucial challenge in remote work for your business is effective collaboration within your team.
Instant messaging and the illusion of communication
An instant messaging app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams makes a lot of sense at first glance. In reality, most of the time, messaging is not the best communication tool. Some of the pitfalls of messaging include:
- Constant interrupting. The constant blink of notifications can be disruptive and most simply can’t ignore a new notification and look into it immediately. This leads to decreased productivity as well as confusion when it comes to priorities.
- Out of context from the actual work. Instant chat is a whole new system, completely separate from the tools your team uses to get their work done. It is hard to discuss something when the critical details aren’t front of mind. Or to talk about the response to a difficult client email when that email isn’t right there. Or to draw on a colleague’s comment from last week that you just can’t locate right now.
- It’s exhausting. Following a group conversation with no clear direction is tiring, inefficiency, and stressful.
- Chopped?up thoughts. Just because everyone is typing a lot and multiple messages are being sent doesn’t mean that everyone is communicating or even on the same page. The nature of instant messaging isn’t conducive to sharing complete thoughts.
A better way to work together when you’re apart
Instant messaging may not be the answer, but asynchronous communication could be. Asynchronous communication is when you communicate without the expectation of an immediate response. The shift to a more asynchronous type of communication results in employees having control over when they reply back and increases chances for uninterrupted deep work.
Context is critical for collaboration
Even with all the fundamental elements to communicate, no one can function at 100% without the proper context. Using multiple tools and forms of communication must be easily organized and seen in the context of the broad plans and projects of your company.
Communicating about work on the same platform your team does the work is exactly how remote teams gain context.
Opportunity for Change
We do not know how long the current situation will last, but all indications show that this is going to be the new normal for some time. Don’t introduce tools or practices as a stopgap. The smartest firms will be treating this period as an opportunity. Use this as an impetus to make some proper change. Add the right systems that will benefit you in the long term. Introduce positive work habits. Keep your staff happy. And allow them to do their best work.