Communication Is Key in a Remote World

Illustration: Communication Is Key in a Remote World

“Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.” —Helen Keller

Whether you’ve only recently joined the work-from-home movement or you’ve been a remote worker for many years, there is a fundamental truth in Helen Keller’s statement: We as humans are able to accomplish more together than we can individually. Even solo entrepreneurs have to connect with others somehow to learn about new tools and to sell what they produce. And all teams — from two-person partnerships to enterprises with 10K+ employees — can really function effectively only when everyone is connected.

PSPDFKit is a remote-first company, and we place a major emphasis on regular, everyday communication. Experience has shown that our most successful projects are those where we talked the most. We also tend to be happiest (and most creative!) when we’re taking advantage of the different communication tools and outlets we have available. In this blog post, I’ll give a quick overview of how we use some of these practices to boost our communication and offer suggestions of how to implement them in your work.

Channel Your Comms

Slack is our primary method of day-to-day communication. One key strategy for encouraging better remote work communication is utilizing separate channels. We maintain plenty of business-focused channels, like #announcements, #web, and #support, but we also have a wide variety of “other” channels that see plenty of traffic as well — like #culture, #family, #longreads… and yes, even #cats. The point is to create a structure for various interests and diverse topics to flourish, which avoids everything getting tossed into a single communication channel where side conversations are overrun by daily business-related chatter.

In order for Slack or any other communication tool to be effective, we’ve learned it’s best to encourage your team to use the public channels instead of resorting to DMs. When the conversation occurs in front of the group, everyone gets a chance to both learn and participate!

Video > Text

By volume, most of our internal communication is in written form; it primarily takes place in Slack or via email. And as a geographically distributed company, asynchronous communication is the norm for us. But as often as we can, we make the intentional choice to use video chats instead of sending yet another written message. We primarily use Zoom, especially for multi-party chats.

We recommend doing the same for your work. More often than not, the amount of information you can exchange in a face-to-face video chat is exponentially higher than what you can accomplish with the text-based equivalent. Video lets you read body language and hear intonation and emotion (especially important for those of us with a sarcasm-heavy sense of humor… #obvi). Perhaps most importantly, having work conversations via video calls gives the conversation room to expand and digress. Overall, trusting your teammates is a critical element of remote work, and in our experience, nothing builds trust faster than having face-to-face conversations.

Have a Donut

We’ve been using the Donut integration for Slack for a while now, and it’s proven very popular with our team. Donut randomly matches two or three of our teammates together every few weeks. We then schedule a 30-minute video chat and meet without any formalized agenda or preset discussion topics. It’s a terrific way to get to know each other, with the added advantage of being a face-to-face conversation, and optionally involving the consumption of a pastry or two.

Providing a company-endorsed method for ongoing get-to-know-you, how’s-it-going chats goes a long way toward building a sense of team, shared values, meaningful friendships, and especially trust.

Sign on Early

One of the easiest ways to create additional communication windows is to encourage people to log on to scheduled meetings a few minutes early. This provides an excellent opportunity for truly informal communication — how was your weekend, how was vacation, how are the kids, which episode of Tiger King are you on, etc. Everyone gets a chance to say hello, and you’re guaranteed a cutoff time when the meeting starts, so there’s no room for an awkward goodbye!

Conclusion

An important part of effectively working remotely is finding ways to reduce the “remote” aspect of the “working.” Creating methods and opportunities for constant team communication — both business-specific talk and unstructured chit-chat — is a critical ingredient in a successful remote work career. If you’re feeling disconnected from your team or you’re lacking creativity and inspiration for that next big task, give one of the above suggestions a try and see if some additional conversation can help!

If you want to read more on the topic of remote work, take a look at our blog posts below:

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