Crossed wires? It happens to the best of us, especially when working remotely. But when occasional miscommunication between teammates becomes a full-blown company-wide problem, then it’s probably time to reassess your processes: is miscommunication costing your business valuable time and revenue?
In Collision’s 2021 virtual conference, our CEO and co-founder Mathilde Collin and Grammarly co-founder Max Lytvyn share how they've created tools to cut down on miscommunication and how teams can be more productive while working remotely. Here are their key takeaways.
1. Don’t try to replicate in-person communication
After working with remote teams since 1997, Max has had a lot of experience with the adjustment it takes to work together remotely. His first takeaway is this: Instead of trying to make remote communication just like it would be in person, change your company mindset around it. Lean into it and take it for what it is. It’s a different way of working, and it can work well. But you need to adjust the way you work to accommodate it.
“It’s sort of like this year’s spring break vacation. Typically we go to Hawaii, but this year we had to stay in British Columbia. If we tried to replicate a Hawaii vacation in British Columbia, it would have been a failure. But we can still have a really nice vacation in British Columbia,” said Max Lytvyn.
2. Focus on asynchronous communication instead
Whether it’s an email or a collaborative document, there are plenty of ways you can move your company towards asynchronous communication. This means encouraging people to think critically about what truly warrants a video meeting, what should be an email, and what might live in chat messages. “[Asynchronous communication] is more time efficient, it’s preserved better, it’s easier to consume for people who are not in the meeting, and so on,” Max said.
Even before the remote work era, Mathilde’s team at Front used an internal document to help the team decide how to communicate internally: Front’s Guide to Productive & Effective Internal Communication. It goes over meetings, emails and chat messages, and when are appropriate moments to use each one—that way everyone is on the same page.
3. Prevent burnout that leads to poor communication
Communication overload is natural byproduct of remote work, which means burnout is a real risk too. And when you’re burnt out trying to get to the bottom of an overloaded inbox, you’re not probably being thoughtful about every email you type up. Mathilde noted that’s why it’s important for teams to be deliberate about cutting down on communication—you can nip burnout in the bud and keep the communication that does happen crisp, clean, and understandable.
“There are things that I’ve done at an individual level that have helped me. For example, I have no desktop notifications, and on my phone I have no work apps. That allows me to keep focused when I’m working,” Mathilde said. She also built an incentive program that encourages the team to minimize screen time.
Mathilde also spends a lot of time thinking about improving email given it’s core to our product here at Front. “Everything we built is to collaborate on email better so people don’t feel this email overload,” she said. “Think about what your company can do and what individuals can do, then apply it to yourself and your product.”
4. Start with empathy
If you’re hoping to cut down on miscommunication, Max says a great place to start is with empathy. “What I mean by this is trying to put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving the communication,” Max said. This cuts down on communications back and forth and the number of meetings you need to reach an understanding and move forward. “Thinking about how people will interpret what you’re saying is very helpful.”
“Only 4% of people think their communication skills and level of understanding are below average,” he said. Most people overestimate how much people actually take away from our messages.
5. Work on engagement
Mathilde suggests going beyond tips for individuals if you’re truly aiming to help your team communicate productively. Instead, she argues, look at your company on the whole and work on employee engagement. “If you work on team’s engagement, everyone will be more productive,” she said.
Here are some of her suggestions for moving the needle on employee engagement:
Create customer empathy: Allow the team to see how they’re impacting customers by giving them access to view customer communication (in Front) or activities like inviting customers to speak at All Hands.
Have transparency: Share critical information with the team—it’s not only helpful for doing a good job, but it’s also motivating to be a trusted part of the team. Mathilde shares board decks with the team, as well as company OKRs.
Build a sense of belonging: Be deliberate about making the team feel like a valued part of the business, even when you’re not face-to-face. This can be done through recognition for jobs well done, or even something as small as celebrating birthdays virtually.
When it comes to preventing miscommunication for your remote team, both Max and Mathilde agree that tips and tricks aren’t enough to solve the problem. Building a strong communication muscle on an individual level starts with company-wide processes that encourage an empathetic and productive mindset.
Written by Emily Hackeling
Originally Published: 29 April 2021