All posts by David Tate

Prioritizing Health and Happiness as a Remote Worker

Prioritizing Health and Happiness as a Remote Worker

A few years ago I worked for a company that took the health and well-being of its employees very seriously.

They provided a company cafeteria that cooked fresh food. In the mid-afternoon there would be lines of people holding apples and bananas, many of them coming from the company gym or miles of bike trails surrounding the main building. The health insurance offered a number of direct discounts to encourage healthy habits. Because this was such an ingrained part of the culture, it felt odd not to exercise or eat healthily.

But I couldn’t enjoy any of those perks because I worked from home. My daily situation was different—my pantry was stocked with pop tarts, Oreos, and Cheetos and my onsite gym consisted of stairs that I used to walk downstairs to my office.

Healthy employees are good for companies and workers

It’s in companies’ best interests to have healthy workers that are full of energy. The standard formula for employers is to provide incentives and in-person options to encourage proper nutrition and physical activity.

But the massive growth of remote work is disrupting this dynamic. It doesn’t help that the remote worker is usually painted as unhealthy, lazy, and unhygienic. Working from home can make it tempting to wake up late, forget to shower, and not leave the house for several days.

Companies and remote workers can still prioritize physical and mental health away from the office, but it will require a rethink of the typical incentive structure.

How to stay physically healthy when you work remote

Remote work gives employees new opportunities for physical activity because they have fewer restrictions in terms of physical presence or appearance.

To stay active, remote workers could consider going for a walk or run at lunchtime or pacing around the house while on the phone. Not only does this get the blood flowing, but it gives your brain a good break from thinking about work and lets you come back with more focus.

On the nutritional side, remote workers can leverage the fact that they have a kitchen throughout the day. Throw lunch or dinner in the crockpot or start a marinade in the morning for dinner, and make sure you have healthy, quick lunch options in your fridge. Because you aren’t limited to food that needs to be transportable, you can more easily plan what you eat and add more variety.

It’s more difficult for companies to incentivize healthy eating and activity, but remote teams can push for creative perks like Basecamp’s fitness and community supported agriculture allowances. Providing a Results Only Work Environment (R.O.W.E) can also add the needed flexibility for workers to take a two-hour lunch to cook, exercise, or meditate before returning from work.

Also, as discussed in Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team, opting for written communication can help your remote team stay productive while also allowing your employees the freedom they need to stay healthy.

Simply put, employees are more in control of physical health when they work from home. But this freedom comes with the responsibility of planning and willpower. No one but you knows if you’re exercising and eating salad or playing video games and eating cookies.

Don’t forget about mental health

A lot of fun has been poked at how unhinged an at-home worker can get after staying inside for too long. It’s true that remote workers have to work towards social interactions that come naturally to someone in an office environment. Coworker relationships, serendipitous relationships, and new friendships require maintenance that isn’t automatic when you eat lunch or work in the same space as others.

Isolation is a problem for remote workers, and it’s a frequent reason why people quit working from home. Employers might not be able to detect social isolation or mild depression, but they can encourage their employees to build rapport with their team members by using video chat tools for a closer connection. Simple techniques like the Question of the Day (QOTD) can also help build the sort of connections that naturally happen in an office.

The other side of mental health for remote workers is that they have the chance for much greater freedom and autonomy in their daily work lives. They don’t have to wear certain clothes, get to work at an exact time in an exact location, or be stuck at a desk away from sunlight.

These might seem like small things, but they can lead to powerful changes in the mentality of those who enjoy these benefits. Working in a cubicle with bad lighting an hour from your home can make you feel helpless, but getting to dance to music at your standing desk, wearing your favorite shorts during meetings, and getting outside for a walk offers the ultimate version of health: being in charge of your life.

Staying Healthy Long Term

Companies want their workers to be healthy, and workers want to be healthy. Remote work offers flexibility for this to happen as long as employees take responsibility for their personal time and prioritize healthy habits. Employers can help out by offering location and schedule flexibility to distributed team members.

Remote work lets people design their lives around priorities, and physical and mental health should always be at the top of the list.


If you’re looking for remote opportunities, look no further than Authentic Jobs.

6 Must-Haves For The Perfect Remote Job Posting

6 Must-Haves For The Perfect Remote Job Posting

Hiring might be hard, but hiring for remote work is even harder. Recruiters need someone who is skilled in their area of expertise and able to work remotely—a duo that isn’t always easy to find.

For candidates, job postings are the only way to communicate a job description, your company’s culture, and team dynamics. Writing a great job posting for remote workers takes additional information that you might not think about for traditional office positions.

Accurately Describe Your Remote Situation

Few companies are actually open to remote work, even though many advertise otherwise. Various terms used to describe remote work further confuse people, so it’s important to choose the right one for your team’s situation. Below are three common terms and the differences between them.

Remote First
A remote first company means everyone works from where they wish, usually because the founders worked this way early on and kept it up. These companies typically have strong internal enthusiasm for remote work and a culture that supports distributed teams.

Remote-first essentially means “remote-only”. There might not be any office space and people might have to get on planes to visit a coworker.

Remote Friendly
Being a remote friendly company carries inconsistent meaning and ranges from “you can work from home on Fridays” to “we have entire teams that are remote-first”.

Experienced remote workers are usually wary about this term, especially if other parts of the job description don’t clarify exactly what it means. Some remote friendly companies require everyone to be in the same city or expect people to be in an office several times per week.

Distributed
A distributed company quickly describes a team with remote and/or onsite workers. As the name suggests, people might be all over the place. Sometimes this applies on a per-team basis, so the job description should clarify if just the team or entire company works remotely.

Communicate Logistical Requirements

Once the job description uses the correct term to describe remote work expectations, it’s best to focus on the logistics of distributed work.

Remote workers value the ability to control their own schedules. Many tailor their work to accommodate family needs or personal hobbies. Save time by being clear with exact requirements regarding geography or online presence. Some examples:

  • We get together once a year in person at our headquarters for a yearly meeting.
  • We expect you to be at your desk and online using instant messaging software during traditional EST business hours, 8 – 5.
  • We only check-in with each other once a day at stand up, and you are free to do a solid day’s work at any other time.

Experienced remote workers are sensitive to these requirements, and being upfront in the job posting can save you time and future disappointment.

Explain Why A Company is Remote

Managing remote workers is in itself a manager skillset and an organizational competency.

Tell this story in the job description by explaining what made the company remote and how long it has worked that way. Were the founders of the company on two different sides of the country? Are you on your second year of this team being remote, but the rest of the company is not remote-friendly at all?

If this is too much, a simple explanation of why a company is remote can speak volumes. For example: “We value results over physical presence” or “We feel that remote workers can concentrate on hard problems, and we solve hard problems.”

Mention Your Communication and Collaboration Process

A common challenge for remote teams is staying in sync without relying on constant physical check-ins and ad-hoc discussions. Experienced remote workers know this, and adapt by writing stuff down and working asynchronously.

Candidates can get a clearer picture of a job if the posting explains what systems the company uses and how it handles coordination. There’s no need to reveal logistical secrets here, but a simple explanation can clarify communication expectations and weed out unqualified candidates.

Company Health

Remote workers want stable jobs with future opportunity. These candidates tend to stay at jobs for longer simply because they have arranged their lives around a remote job and finding another one is harder.

For this reason, they are sensitive to company health. Remote workers can’t take a chance on a company that might not be around next year.

If possible, indicate in the job posting whether you have a high-functioning team and company. Experienced workers know their team matters more than the overall company—but only as long as the company stays in business.

Red Flags

The biggest red flag for experienced remote workers is being told that they will be in the minority of the company. Remote work is a cultural, procedural, and personal change for a company and a worker. Remote companies communicate and work differently than in-office ones.

If only some teams work distributed, be honest about this. If only this team member will not be in the office, explain that but beware that this is a huge red flag. Talk about why you might be testing this arrangement and how the company will work to avoid the “two-team” effect.

Also, don’t overemphasize how great your physical office is. Remote workers don’t care as they won’t get to enjoy it, and it might turn them off as they might fear you will ask them to move there two years from now.

Creating the perfect job posting for remote workers

Job postings for remote workers need to be updated to include additional information and answers that candidates expect upfront. Ensure that your job description properly describes the company’s work style, explains logistics of remote work, and provides a glimpse into the future of the company.

Making these changes to job postings will save you time and set expectations for the role from the start—helping you find the perfect candidate even faster.


Hire talented and experienced remote talent on Authentic Jobs.
Or find your next remote (or non-remote!) job.

6 Challenges and Opportunities of Long-Term Remote Work

6 Challenges and Opportunities of Long-Term Remote Work

Some nice unexpected effects of my 9+ years of working from home.

Most articles about remote work focus on finding a remote job or making the transition to distributed work.

These are great topics, but the thinking is short-term. It’s like those initial quality tests car-makers trumpet: how well does the car run in the first year?

Making big decisions requires longer-term planning. Car buyers should consider how well the car will run a decade from purchase, just like how workers should think about what distributed work provides and prevents over the longer term.

Loss of Networking

Let’s start with the negatives, all of which involve other people.

The typical remote worker meets less people over their years of working from home than they would in an office. If you work from home for ten years, you might be working with the same literal number of people but won’t meet as many in person and therefore might not consider them part of your professional network.

This is compounded by the tendency for remote workers to “cave” and stay at home in situations in which they used to go out frequently. Once you get used to not driving every day, a party that’s 40 minutes away suddenly feels like a waterless hike through Death Valley.

Both of these issues can be remedied by putting in the effort to network outside of work. Your coworkers might not become friends, but you can certainly attend user groups, go to more parties, and introduce yourself to everyone at the coffee shop.

Slower Rapport with Teammates

Related to the previous point, remote workers tend to have very different relationships with coworkers than those in a traditional office environment. Casual small-talk, exchanged smiles, high-fives, or other typical social graces simply don’t apply to coworkers that you only talk to over Internet chat or perhaps video.

In a typical in-person job you might feel as if coworkers are something above a loose acquaintance, but in a remote job they’re just helpers or obstacles. Unless you take the time to establish rapport, there isn’t anything to see.

But this isn’t to say that you can’t build relationships with your coworkers—you just have to do it differently. There’s no law saying that you can’t send an instant message to one of your coworkers on Monday asking them how their weekend went, or if they saw the game on Sunday, or any of the other safe small-talk mechanisms you would use in person.

Loss of Promotion Opportunities

One of the primary fears of someone starting a remote job is turning off the Interstate onto a nice quiet road, full of a few miles of pleasant views that eventually become dead-ends. Fear of missing out on a promotion because you’re “out of sight, out of mind” is a legitimate long-term concern. Much of the risk here has to do with local vs. global currency.

Local currency is how valuable you are to your current company, and global currency is how valuable you are in the market. Seeking promotions at a large company where most workers are in-person and you’re remote puts a focus on local currency, or how much value and visibility you have at one company.

If you’re early in your career and expect to shift jobs a few times, loss of promotion isn’t as much of a concern. It probably won’t bother you that remote-friendly companies have lots of competition for the same promotions.

In both cases, there are ways to over-communicate or let your work speak for itself. As with in-person work, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your reputation reflects your work. Remote work does not mean that you can’t establish the sort of close relationship with those above you in the management food chain, it simply means that you might have to work at it differently.

Take the extra hours remote work provides to build local and global currency. You used to spend almost an entire other weekday (30 minutes x 2 times a day x 5 days a week) in your car, so spend some of this time getting ahead or reflecting on what you can do better.

Perhaps this could be spent building more local value by preparing extra reports for your boss, or by providing visible global value by attending or presenting at a local technical conference.

Part of Your Community

Remote work isn’t all sunny skies, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. Having more time to spend in your community provides many benefits for your personal and professional lives.

Before I began my ten-year remote work career, I had a traditional office job in a suburb of Atlanta 45 minutes from my house. I spent about 10 hours a day in this other suburb between commuting, eating lunch, and staying late at work.

Over five years of working there, I gained a lot of knowledge into the best restaurants, the ideal spots to ride my bike, and who worked in my office building.

Despite my familiarity with the suburb I worked in, I didn’t know much about the one I lived in as I only spent Saturday and parts of Sunday exploring it. My evenings there were spent indoors recovering from a long commute.

But once I shifted to working from home I became part of the community in which I lived. The people who I met at coffee shops, the post office, bank, and car wash were my neighbors. People I ran into during the day were either retired, worked close by, or worked from home. I met more people and established relationships over time.

I didn’t know anyone at the local coffee shop when I started working from home, but now I can’t walk in without saying hello to a few people. I even find myself reading my local paper and caring more about local activities such as a new library, a new amphitheater, or a local brewery.

None of this would have been possible if I worked elsewhere for 10 hours a day.

Express Your Priorities Over Time

My priorities have shifted to caring for my local area, but they have shifted even more dramatically in my family life.

Being at home during the day means my kids see me more, a powerful benefit to remote work. Extra time to eat lunch with them and take them to school has brought us closer together. I know their schoolmates and can even call out neighborhood kids by name when they aren’t behaving.

It’s also meant me being more present in their school lives—I know their librarian, P.E. coach, and principal. I’m not sure if they know me as the father of the two sweetest girls in school or simply as the man who wears shorts every day. But in either case, I’m there.

Invest Your Extra Time

If you transition to working from home from a typical commute, you can gain almost an entire additional workday of free time. My 45-minute one-way commute added up to a lot more time and less need to visit dry cleaners or gas stations.

An entire additional day is an amazing thing — no modern diet, get rich quick, or productivity hack gives you more time like remote work can. This can be a massive gift if you choose to be productive with it.

I’ve used the extra time for obvious things like precious sleep, working more, keeping up to date with my industry, and enjoying downtime. But it’s also contributed to more subtle, powerful changes including:

More proactive forward-thinking work.
Starting a side career as a writer.
Learning about some things I’ve always wanted to try: drawing, making music, meditation, hiking.
Riding my bike, a form of exercise I never used to have time to do.
Spending more time with my wife and kids.

These regained hours can add up to something truly great and would never be possible with a traditional office job.

Remote Work Is a Give and Take

Remote work over the long term comes with opportunities and obstacles. Compared to in-person roles, remote workers must grapple with a loss of networking opportunities, slower building of relationships with teammates, and different positioning for promotions.

But in exchange, they’ll be able to become part of their home community, put certain priorities first, and get back hours in the day to recharge and improve.

As with anything in life, it’s up to you to determine if the perks outweigh the challenges for your goals.


If you’re ready for a new challenge, find your next job on AuthenticJobs.com!

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat, Part 2

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat, Part 2

In Part 1 we discussed the objections to using your video camera in a remote job, and how, for some, video chat can feel like too much of a burden, come across as unprofessional, or simply offer less than its promised communication value. Let’s turn our attention to the upsides of video chat for a remote team – why should we push through these challenges and make use of this tool?

Upsides of Video

Video conferencing allows a personal feel and increases accountability. Establishing trusting relationships with your coworkers – inside jokes, empathy, understanding of who they are as people – is easier when they are more than a voice and an email address. You can’t tell if anyone has grinned at your corny joke or gotten excited about your project pitch with just audio, but video communicates these other dimensions almost as well as being in person.

Accountability

Showing your face also improves your honor at keeping your word. Telling your manager that “it will be done by Tuesday” over email is different than saying it to them while looking them in the eye. The subtle body language observed over video calls is irreplaceable as well. “Sure, he says it will be done by Tuesday, but he looks unsure, perhaps I should ask another question?”

Improved Meeting Mechanics

At this point, everyone knows that in-person meetings can be an effective way to not get anything done. The natural human tendencies are:

– When in doubt about something, “get everyone in the room” instead of figuring it out yourself.
– Use the entire period allotted for the meeting, filling up any dead space with small talk or repetition.
– Let extroverts dominate the meetings, talking over meeker employees.

Video meetings are different that in-person meetings because they reduce small talk and tendency to avoid being rude. It is very hard to have 5 minutes of small talk in a video meeting with ten other people staring at you, and on the other end of the meeting, there are many ways to warn the moderator that the time is wrapping up, or that you have to leave. In effect, a video meeting is a more barebones form of meeting in which you don’t have to jump through social hoops to start or stop.

Video meetings are also a compromise between in-person meetings – in which it is rude to multi-task – and audio-only conference calls in which nobody can tell if you put your phone on mute and just work away on other things. You might check your email, play Crossy Road, or simply keep working during a phone conference call but you won’t do any of those things if everyone can see your face. Meetings are expensive operations, so they should feel expensive to discourage people from creating them without a true need, but video meeting offers a nice social mechanism if a meeting is not a good use of your time: you post a message to the chat saying so and leave, or subtly multi-task.

Dealing with Personalities

The previous point is a small piece of a larger issue: personality is normalized somewhat over a video chat. We have all seen meetings in which the loudest and most talkative person dominates the discussion over the more shy attendees. In some cases, this dynamic can simply transfer to video chat, but in many cases, this dynamic goes down over time. Everyone is sitting in their own comfortable environment for a video chat, and their confidence is up. Some that are shy in a large conference room do not feel this sitting at home and simply seeing larger personalities as little boxes on screen. Video chat can equalize, allowing you to hear all voices on the team.

Moving Forward

Video conferencing is powerful, but experienced remote workers might object to the daily use of video because they want to be in control of their schedule and appearance. Other workers might not like replacing existing meetings with video meeting because they feel that video conferencing is casual or makes them appear unprofessional. The solution to overcoming these challenges is direct and relies on personal empathy and effort: ask people why they don’t want to turn on their camera and explain the benefits of remote video. The overall benefits of working from home greatly outweigh any downsides of the use of video.

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat

With high-quality video chat available to everyone with a mobile phone we find ourselves in a spectacular time for remote communication, one that ten years ago would seem like science fiction. Five people can chat, looking at each other’s faces, in real time from thousands of miles away – for free. Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, and even the Android built-in phone interface all provide free good-enough solutions and paid high-quality solutions for video presence.

It would seem that with the rise of remote work this technology would allow direct transfer of traditional meetings to video meetings. But it isn’t this simple. Video chat has not replaced in-person chat because it works just differently enough to cause different emotional reactions. As with all change, and all new technology, their adoption faces psychological barriers.

Friction with Video

The most common objections are simple: video cameras are hard to setup, and the quality is not always as magical as you might imagine. Because the video and audio quality rely on your Internet connection, quality can dramatically alter during a conference call, making it hard to adjust to slight delays, frozen screens, and garbled words. Because video calls are good enough we feel these errors acutely, making us uncomfortable and frustrated. Many people simply prefer talking on the phone where we are all aware of the protocols in place; the slight differences in rhythms throw us off over video.

Unprofessionalism

Another objection is that video usage is “unprofessional.” Digging a little deeper into what this means, this appears to be a cover for other complex issues.

Many workers use video calling in their personal lives or were first exposed to it in a social context. They have a strong association with casual chatting with friends or having their kids talk to their grandparents. This first impression is hard to shake – just ask Google Apps which has faced a similar problem: many people used @gmail.com addresses for personal use and therefore using it for business feels too casual.

We are just now at the point where software that allowed for video sharing appears professional. The old guard of conference calls tools, such as GoToMeeting, feel professional but have not kept up with the quality of more casual tools like Hangouts and Facetime. The third generation of tools, such as Zoom and JoinMe, offer professional features like shared whiteboards, audio recording, and proper mute functionality. These tools are easier to use as they feel like “work tools.”

Unprofessional is also a code word for something else: the appearance of professionalism. Staring at your face during an entire meeting is not fun and feels casual. There is a reason a typical office conference room doesn’t have mirrors on the walls. Besides, the default angle of an open laptop makes most people look like they are looking at a fun house mirror.

And for many distributed teams it is easier to imagine the other parties on the call in suits if you can’t see that they aren’t. We would rather have the feeling of strict professionalism than seeing that we are all working, but wearing t-shirts.

Privacy and Power

When you work from home, the power dynamic between you and your employer shifts in your direction. Instead of them making you wear certain clothes, drive to an office of their choosing, and be present based on their schedule, you now are responsible for your work and your work environment only. Because of this remote workers feel a freedom and empowerment with their working schedule that can block being open to a video chat throughout the day.

If I’m in charge of my schedule, then I can spend the early morning at Starbucks just thinking with a notebook, but if you make me dial into a video call, you are removing some of this creative freedom. Likewise, I can no longer go to the gym during lunch if an early afternoon video call won’t allow me time to get back in time and take a shower. These seem like small issues, but the requirement of *being presentable* shifts the power dynamic back to appearances and away from raw work output. Some remote workers, sensitive as we are to this relationship (after all, this is why we are working this way), don’t think it is worth the benefits.

We must also remember that people who work from home are in a different privacy landscape that those in an office. I might work best with a messy office or in an ugly sweatshirt, and maybe I don’t want to share that I’m currently in my car picking up my kids from school. Perhaps my home office is off to the side of an open floor plan, and simply having a camera in my home feels like an invasion of privacy.

Wrapping Up

If video chat has so many downsides then why are there so many companies working to improve it, and why does every modern device come with a high-quality webcam built-in? Because despite these downsides video chat is still the best way to get to know someone remotely, to feel connected to someone from afar, and to build rapport between coworkers. In the next post we will list some of the other benefits of video chat for remote work, and how to overcome some of the downsides we detailed here.

Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team

Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team

Communication is one of the first-order problems of distributed work. Everyone has heard of it and points to it at the top of the scoreboard of issues with remote work arrangements; even those who have never tried working in this way fear drifting out of touch with their team.

If we are honest, we all know that it isn’t as if communication within a traditional office is automatically wonderful and efficient. Perhaps we are just used to having constant status meetings and project managers who wander around “syncing up” with workers. A co-located team has these built-in compensation mechanisms, and a remote team doesn’t.

Without the arguably poor and crude move of “get everybody in a room,” remote teams are left to develop new methods to stay in touch and coordinate work. As a manager and individual contributor, there are methods that can make a distributed team even more effective than a large team working within smell-distance of each other. Our thinking just needs to change, and our first change is to move away from transient verbal communication and start writing it down.

Sync vs. Async Communication

Before we do that, we need to understand why it is important to write stuff down. A co-located team has synchronous time – time in which you can gather everyone, stop them from working, to all focus on the same thing – in surplus. You can easily coordinate schedules and “grab people” for quick chats. A manager can walk around spreading a message for each person to help people coordinate, and there is a general expectation that people show up for any meeting that is called. I won’t go into why meetings might be an inefficient way to coordinate work, but I’ll take one stab at it: have you ever been in a meeting in which it wasn’t a heated discussion? If so, you have been to an inefficient meeting.

A remote team does not work like this; these teams trend more towards Results Only Work Environments (R.O.W.E), and additionally might have workers from different time zones. This means that synchronous time is rarer and must be used with extreme care. Synchronous time should be used for the much rarer situations where real-time collaboration is actually needed, and the rest of work should be coordinated online asynchronously.

The ideal mix for remote work is situational, but intense collaboration followed by large blocks of time for concentrated, uninterrupted work is a worthy goal in most configurations. Writing is the simplest method to allow for archiving the decision-making, status, and issues with work for async coordination.

Write it Down or Forget It

When you work in the same building you might do some documentation for your future self, or for training other people – outside of email you probably don’t do a lot of “current events” style writing. But a single source of truth for current status information, project documentation, and work items as they progress through whatever process you have in place is required for a remote team.

To see the difference let’s imagine that we awake for our work day and half of our team has already had the majority of their work day. We can’t have a daily standup meeting where everyone gathers together during preferred work hours, so I need to read and respond to what happened on the project while I wasn’t working, and later my coworkers need to read and respond to what I’m planning on doing for the day and how it goes. I’m essentially journaling my day and making clear notes on obstacles, opinions, or solutions that I’m coming up with. The manner in which you do this might need to change based on what type of work you do, but at a minimum, it should include the following:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What do you plan to do today?
  • What obstacles are blocking you?

This information can be tracked in a tool like Basecamp or iDoneThis, and it provides great information to multiple audiences:

  • Coworkers can make sure that you aren’t planning on doing the same thing they are (or have done it already!)
  • Managers can help resolve obstacles, and notice trends in the difference between what their people plan to do versus actually do over time.

Single Source of Truth for Task Status

In addition to this, you need to ramp up your documentation of actual work status. Whatever ticketing system you use to manage work needs to be current every day, every hour, every minute. This replaces some of the status ceremonies that you see in a co-located team.

If probably have one of these systems already but update it at only a high level. It might be a work-tracking system like GitHub issues, Asana, Todoist, Workflowy, your custom support system, or your CRM or (what feels like literally) thousands of other options. A meaningful thought experiment to see if you are documenting in enough detail is simply how well your paper trail prevents people from interrupting to ask about how work is going. “It’s going well, I wrote it all down already” should be your answer.

Learn to Write

All of these methods mean that you might need to level-up your skills with the written word. Your bubbling personality will have to stay on hold for a bit (and saved for video chats discussed below) while you work on communicating clearly your ideas, feedback, and objections clearly and concisely.

The 5-minute way to improve your writing:

  • Read more clear, concise language. Trade magazines are a good start,  and newspapers also have a gift for saying much with little space.
  • Before you send something over a page, see if you can decrease its size by 20%. You will be surprised by how often this leads to clearer thinking and more impactful writing.
  • Practice: There are quality classes that you can take online, such as Gotham Writers Business Writing, but re-reading everything you write can help. From comments to emails,  see how well you get your point into others heads – is there confusion or follow-up?

Time to Sync: Video and Chat

Even if you write everything down as you work, there will always be times when you need to coordinate in real-time to make a decision or clarify an issue. Real-time coordination is typically required at the beginning of projects: “What are we going to work on?” and end: “Hey guys why isn’t it working?”

The tools for real-time collaboration have improved considerably in the last few years. Audio-only conference calls between people sitting in offices from fifteen-pound desk phones feel ancient now – we look each other in the eyes on video chat from our phones in airports and coffee shops across thousands of miles. To improve communication for conference calls, I’d recommend using video tools such as Skype, Hangouts, Slack video, or Zoom and encourage people to turn on their cameras and require single-tasking in the meeting. Although you do need to allow for some flexibility with personal space for camera usage, it is a professional requirement that people pay attention during these rare real-time sessions.

But before we ask everyone to get camera-ready we have another tool that we can use for real-time discussion: chat systems. Our options here are also powerful and growing. Slack, Hipchat, Google Chat, there are many options here. Defining what tool your organization uses is less important than how it uses it: if you use a tool like Slack to discuss work items in an agendaless manner then you are just creating a way to interrupt everyone in your company.

There are two good reasons to use real-time chat:

  1. To discuss non-work items in an opt-in way: create a room for people to discuss drones, or dogs, or dance moves. Nobody is required to participate, and it is used to build rapport among coworkers.
  2. To discuss specific items or emergency events: a support channel with a small crowd makes sense, a group dedicated to figuring out what to work on next between two options makes sense. A general channel with everyone in the company talking about the weather does not.

Playback and Rephrase

Regardless of which communicate method or tool you are using, when you communicate you must make sure the message gets to the right person. Asking “What did you hear?” is a way to do this, and when you get an assignment, play it back in advance to make sure you understand it before going off and getting started. This can be done in writing or over video, and including this acknowledgment step can drastically improve your success rate.

For collaborative meetings, rotate people around for note-taking to allow for people to practice being the listener and the person who plays items back. Conclude meetings and online discussions with simple summary statements that are acknowledged and committed to.

With these simple steps, you can influence and improve your team communication, and if you do it well, you can even be more in step than if you were working in the same building. One of the greatest ways to test the health of a remote team is to get them in the same building and see if they shift the way that they work or not; many times you find that they keep working as they did before – getting together for quick heated discussions, and then get back to work – writing it all down as they go.