Effective Remote Communication or Why “Reply All” Needs to Go Away Forever

Originally published on LinkedIn March 25, 2020

Depending on where you live and the industry you are in, you’re a week or three into the “new normal” of working from home. How’s it going? Hopefully you’ve established a routine for yourself and family. If not, read my prior articles on how to work from home without losing your mind and tips for working from home.

Have you thought about the tools you have at your disposal for communicating remotely with your clients, managers, and peers? Not all tools are created equal and not all should be used for the same things. You need to think about things like how many people do you need to communicate with at once? Is this a quick topic or one that needs to be clearly explained? Is documentation of the conversation required? Does the channel you pick also serve a social or team building function? And more importantly, does it need to be communicated at all?

At a minimum you need the following tools to make remote work effective and productive. 

Your Phone – Number one is your phone, preferably a mobile one with text messaging. You will spend more time on your phone than you ever imagined. Any time you are about to type an email that is more than a few sentences and that has any possibility of being misunderstood, pick up the phone.  Keep it charged and updated.

Text messages – I’ve come to rely on text messages because I can easy ping (tech speak for quickly interrupting) someone that may be otherwise involved in a meeting or a call and it’s a fast way to get info. I use it with candidates to send a quick note of encouragement before an interview or for a quick check that they were able to connect with the interviewer. I use it with clients after an interview for a quick “how’d they do” message. Texting in the context of business workflow is something that is now pretty well accepted. 

Team Messaging tools – Slack and Google Hangouts are getting a workout right now. If you don’t have Slack you can get a freebie version which should be good enough for very small teams. For bigger teams the price is reasonable (apx $5/seat I think). Slack is a great place to set up channels where sub teams can communicate and share info broadly. Slack is also great as a virtual water cooler for being social online but within your team but do make sure to establish what the boundaries are so it doesn’t turn into Facebook. 

One of the cool things with Slack is that it’s easy to exchange documents and have groups collaborate. Daily check-ins can be done via Slack as well. Many teams have established a protocol where each person logs in first thing and posts the 2-3 things they are working on that day and if they need any help or resources from anyone else to finish what they are working on. The beauty of it is that it works well across time zones since anyone can scroll back at any time to see what others are working on. 

Team Collaboration tools – The Grand Daddy of team collaboration tools for the remote workforce seems to be Google Drive. It’s super easy to create documents and spreadsheets and turn them on for sharing and editing for your entire team. It’s a great place to put shared resources like metrics dashboards and documents to create a virtual whiteboard for keeping documented communications current.

Online Meeting tools – Let’s face it, the main thing that is lost in remote work is the ability to have a quick face-to-face as you walk by someone’s office and to bring teams together for a meeting to share info to everyone at the same time. Admit it, you are finally understanding which things that used to be meetings can actually be handled in email or via Slack and which things really require a meeting. When face-to-face is required thankfully, there are great online meeting tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting and even FaceTime. Learn to use them. Embrace them. You can do a lot with them from passively watching to actively presenting or screen sharing. For years I’ve had candidates do Zoom interviews with hiring managers all over the globe. I’ve taught classes via Zoom and recently I’ve embraced my growth mindset and am learning to play an online game thanks to some FaceTime tutoring from my awesome business partner. 

Email – Email will never go away, but it is not the best tool when immediacy or informality is needed. Save email for long topics that need to be detailed or documented. It’s great when you need to communicate broadly, and have it documented, but it’s overkill if you just have a quick “did you get Bob scheduled for his call?” message (use Slack or text for this one). The biggest change to email when working from home is to really think hard about how has to be on the thread and limit the use of “Reply All” to emails where all that are on it truly need to know each stage of the conversation. The days of “donuts in the kitchen” reply all’s are over (for now) and that’s probably a good thing.

About Marie Watkins

Marie Watkins is Founder and CEO of Polaris Talent Inc. She has 25 years in HR and Talent Acquisition for companies from 2 people to 200K. She is passionate about helping companies find the right talent to hire and in helping job seekers find a job they enjoy going to on Monday morning. Marie is a subject matter expert in entrepreneurship and volunteers her time helping emerging companies grow. Polaris Talent Inc is a recruiting-as-a service company (an RPO) that offers outsourced talent acquisition services to companies that need technical, sales, or leadership talent.