Collaboration is often harder than it looks. No matter how well people get on, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable they are, working together effectively can be tricky – and the more people you have working together, the more problematic team communication can be.
Without communication guidelines, employees can quickly find themselves repeating information in several different places and spending unreasonable amounts of time explaining things. Your colleagues may already find themselves regularly hunting for specific information or being serially distracted by people by posting updates in the wrong space.
To navigate this minefield, you need to observe a few communication best practices. Here are just eight that we use here at Memory to keep collaboration smart.
Do you still need to have that recurring meeting? Would this question be better asked in a group forum, to benefit others? Will you spend more than 5 minutes writing a response to this email? Do you even need to reply to it at all? Nothing is more frustrating than sitting through a meeting you don’t need to be in, or reading through endless rounds of emails that don’t apply to you – often where nothing concrete is actually said. Questioning the importance and format of communication not only helps you cut down on unnecessary interactions, but also ensures people get the most out of it.
Team communication can require an inordinate amount of admin. There are few people who actually like note taking or organizing meetings – especially when you have to factor in multiple schedules! Automate these tasks whenever you can; these days there are countless tools and apps that do this for you. An added benefit is that many scheduling apps optimize meeting times to reduce their productive impact, protecting more time for meaningful collaboration and deep work.
Avoid confusion by laying ground rules about which tools should be used, when and how. In most workplaces it’s normal to use numerous different channels for work communication, like email, Slack, Twist, Trello, WhatsApp and Zoom. But without understanding the conventions and purpose of each, information can easily slip through the net. To avoid miscommunication, make sure everyone knows when and how to use these tools, what each channel is for, and who they need to include in group chats. Slack is a prime example – people need to know the difference between group chats, using threads, when to @ people and when to directly message people. Hiver has some good Slack guidelines for inspiration.
Most teams create schedules for important work, and let communication and admin happen as and when. But flipping this relationship can yield more productive results for everybody. By setting specific hours for reading and responding to communication, you limit its disruptive potential. Instead of working in a state where everyone is immediately entitled to your attention, you can stay in control of your schedule and are free of the irrational pressure to instantly reply to every communication. It helps to create a more thoughtful and respectful approach to group collaboration, and as an added bonus, people will think twice about pinging you with unstructured piecemeal questions. If you need help protecting yourself from distracting communications during your focused time, use an intelligent automatic assistant like Dewo.
Asynchronous communication – where you don’t immediately respond to information – has many benefits. Not only does it mean people can focus better on their work and reply to messages when it suits them, but in terms of collaboration, it also greatly enhances documentation and transparency. Async communication creates a written record of communication, which can easily be searched to recall key information after the fact – massively lowering the chances of people getting their wires crossed.
Work communication can take up an excessive amount of time, but often goes unreported. Tracking the time your team spends on communication ensures all project coordination, brainstorming and feedback is billed appropriately. But it can also help people become more efficient: once you know how much time you spend on email and Slack – and identify the communication apps that sap your productive time – you’re able to take steps to better manage them.
Cut down on the time your teams spend coordinating and reduce informational blockers by creating effective self-service data catalogues. This can be as simple as using an app like Basecamp, or as advanced as creating a company intranet. The whole idea is to make knowledge and information easily accessible, so everyone can quickly locate assets, documents and check statuses. To aid collaboration, people should be able to search for key terms, reply to questions (and ask their own), and create threads to discuss specific ideas in more detail – without cluttering up group threads or spamming people with surplus data. Just ensure your system doesn’t over-complicate or confuse issues – and if people aren’t using the system correctly, think about simplifying it.
Meetings, catch-ups, phone calls and video conferences are all part of team collaboration – but these can wreak havoc with productivity when poorly organized. If someone has several meetings throughout the day, with gaps of less than an hour between them, they won’t have the space to concentrate deeply on any of their tasks. Wherever possible, schedule communication tasks in batches, back-to-back to remove bubbles of unproductive time. For example, arrange all meetings and catch ups for after lunch, so people have the morning to crack on with their important work. Better still, outsource scheduling to smart apps which find meeting times with the smallest impact on everyone’s productive time.