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11th January 2021

Tips for communicating with your dispersed team: Have different channels of communication for different purposes

There are a multitude of different communication channels that most businesses and organizations have these days.  The problem is if people don’t associate certain challenges with certain types of communication, it becomes much easier for them to ignore.  For example, I am aware that for me, if somebody wants to get a quick response, sending me an instant message or WhatsApp message will probably get me to react faster.  Email, however, is further down my priority list simply because it isn’t right there and as obviously available as messaging is, so it might take me longer to reply.

You need to have clear channels for different things.  This could mean that an email from the team leader is always going to be an important announcement and any instant messages are going to be more discussion based points.  Have different spaces for different functions so that people know what to look at and what to expect when they go into certain channels – in the same way as how if you meet somebody in an office when getting some water, your conversation will be different than if you see them in a meeting.

I think chat systems like Slack, Microsoft teams, etc. are brilliant, but I would suggest having different channels within them for different projects or if only certain people need to be involved in a conversation. Having a separate chat for socialising is also nice, and even another separate one for sport fans, as otherwise if you’ve got a number of sports fans, sports chat can take over a socialising chat channel very quickly. I’d also maybe have a channel called something like ‘boast’ or ‘celebrate’, as a place where people can go in and boast a bit, celebrate their successes.  Personal or professional, it’s a nice way to bring people together in a supportive environment.  A channel for helping people, whether its zoom call issues, struggling with a spreadsheet, or a broken bike, can also be a great way to build trust and support.  You’re also fostering a culture of asking for help if people are struggling, which is really important and actually quite difficult to do otherwise in a dispersed team.

When using email, I would also recommend using it judiciously.  It goes without saying that no one needs more emails in their inbox.  I would use emails for announcements, for disseminating news.  But if you want to have a discussion, I would go onto a different platform, probably a messaging app or chat channel. If you ever find yourself emailing more than, say, three people at a time, I would ask yourself if this is the best way to communicate this information – would a zoom call be more effective?  Sometimes if people start receiving emails with lots of people CCed or BCCed, they will realise it’s not addressed to them and that its just general and therefore less important.

Furthermore, I think keep your emails short, keep them to the point rather than big blocks of text. And if you need people to respond to certain points, spell that out at the top. ‘Here are the details of this project. What I need is your response to points a, B, and C by six o’clock tonight so that I can review them overnight and we can then put the report together tomorrow morning’, for example. Have a really specific call to action.


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