3 Ways to Achieve Clear Communication in a Remote Workplace

Typing on a laptop

Many of us are now working remotely or have fluid work-from-home arrangements. These situations have made evident how important effective communication is and how much it impacts every interaction we have. Having worked in an office environment for so long, the easy communication that occurs face-to-face is something I sometimes took for granted.

As a Product Marketing Manager, communicating with consistency and clarity is a critical part of my job. Focusing on what a message means to different audiences, how the sending method can affect its impact, and then winnowing it down to its key aspects has helped me evolve professionally in my ability to communicate. Even more, it has profoundly aided my transition to remote work while I’m not able to visit the office and meet with teammates in-person.

“Are you talking to me?”

When preparing to send a message, the first thing to do is consider our audience. From there, we can determine how to tailor and distribute the message. In my role, I keep internal stakeholders, clients, and end-users informed of changes made to PowerChord’s product. These audiences require different versions of the message—each with different content and style—while the underlying subject stays the same. When adapting our message for our audience, consider:

  • The level of detail we’re including (for example, forest versus trees)
  • The terminology we use
  • The overall tone we would like to convey

At PowerChord, stakeholders are interested in how a change, a new feature, for example, fits into our product strategy, our remote onboarding strategy, and the impact it has on our clients, its anticipated adoption, and how to best talk with prospects and clients about it. Describing the feature from a high-level, strategic perspective while addressing these points conveys the information most critical and pertinent to this audience. Clients and users, on the other hand, want to know how the new feature works, what problems it solves, or how it helps them reach their goals. For them, it’s best to get a bit more detailed and in-the-weeds without obscuring the message by using unfamiliar or technical jargon.The way we distribute our message affects its reception as well.

“It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”

The medium we use to communicate with our audiences is just as important as the message itself. Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan took this point even further in his 1964 book Understanding Media, stating that the “medium is the message” - they’re one and the same. Even if a message uses the exact same words—whether they are in an email, in a tweet, or spoken to the person next to us—they are all different messages, and each can be interpreted differently.

When deciding how to send a message, we should consider its formality, urgency, and whether or not we need a response. Push messaging is best-suited for messages that are time-sensitive, require a response, or ones for which we expect to receive feedback from the recipient. This comes in the form of email or instant messages.

For messages that are non-urgent or informational (rather than conversational), we can consider allowing recipients to pull the message at their convenience. Using a pull communication method such as posting messages in a memo or blog or on the company intranet is a great way to communicate with larger audiences in a non-intrusive manner.

Personally, I enjoy using blog posts to communicate product milestones internally at PowerChord. It allows those who need to know to review posts in a dedicated location rather than hunting through emails or scrolling through instant messages. Those with a passing interest can choose to review or not, without having me fill their inboxes with content that’s of little consequence to them.

Sending content that is mismatched with its medium can create confusion or message blindness with an audience. A formal message sent via instant messaging may immediately be perceived as casual, and lose the impact that was intended. Think back to how many meetings you were invited to that “could have been an email” - or how many endless email threads you were copied on that you barely noticed.

Brevity is Key

I was a little dismayed when earlier this year, the New York Times told me that people weren’t reading what I wrote—how rude! Couldn’t everyone see how much effort I put into my writing? The fact is we are inundated with all sorts of communication every day. Emails, phone calls, video chats, instant messages, texts—every ding of a new notification is a death knell for our audience’s attention. Rather than compete with that and overwhelm our readers, keeping our correspondence brief and to the point will help ensure our message isn’t lost.

When publishing product updates to PowerChord’s internal blog, I focus on the 5 W’s that will be familiar to almost anyone—Who, What, When, Where, and Why—with a couple of sentences answering each. I even break the post into sections with these titles so all of the answers to the most common questions are addressed transparently and are easy to skim quickly. Gone are the days of text blocks of release notes.

In a popular experiment, Sheena Iyengar, then a doctoral student and now a professor at Columbia Business School, set out pots of jam on grocery store tables in groups of either six or 24. Roughly 30% of those who were given six choices bought some jam while only 3% of those confronted with 24 choices did.While we may not all be messaging to try and sell something, the point is universal - less is more!

The New Normal

The “New Normal” is a phrase being used a lot now. As we emerge from the crisis and things start to return to ‘normal’, it is increasingly clear that not everything will go back to the way it was before. More and more companies will accept and even encourage workers who are productive remotely to continue working that way while allowing others to return to the office

Communicating effectively will help to blur the lines between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ normals. Whomever you need to reach, tailoring your message, using an appropriate medium, and keeping it brief will help you do it with renewed clarity and impact.

written by

Patrick Ryan

Patrick Ryan is a Product Marketing Manager and a contributing columnist to the PowerChord blog.

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