Why your communication tools are missing the mark (and how to fix it)

If you’re finding it difficult to focus, it’s no surprise.

We’re juggling with a range of apps, communication channels, domestic chores, maybe a business pivot so dizzying, it’s like sitting on a Waltzer.

There could now be fewer people taking on more tasks or a rapid global expansion, as new opportunities are seized.

One survey has shown that over 71% of employees report frequent interruptions when working, which affects their productivity.

Before lockdown, there was already a glut of software people were using for different tasks but now that they may have as much as doubled, we’ve got more bleeps, buzzes and alerts than a nuclear power station.

You’re trying to focus but it seems the day’s going up in smoke as you battle with messages and other peoples’ priorities imposing on your own.

When people pick up the phone to speak to you about a non-immediate project, that could be a 45 minutes keeping you from priorities. Given that research has shown that it takes around 23 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption, that 45 minute phone call just cost you a full one hour and 8 minutes in time.

What companies and individuals need to recognise is how to differentiate between the need for instant communication and that which offers more time.

With a discretionary use of communication channels, productivity increases due to the fact that you’re more able to focus on priorities.

So, let’s start, then, with the two main types of communication that we’re using remotely: Asynchronous and Synchronous.

Asynchronous Communication

This type of remote communication happens backwards and forwards according to your personal schedule. It’s not tied to the timetables of others and individuals can respond when it suits them.

Such channels would include an email, Slack or Dropbox message, a note left in a project management platform such as Trello.

When to use Asynchronous Communication:

  • you need a record of the conversation;
  • people are working across different time zones, meaning issues can’t always be resolved in a single day;
  • decisions need to be considered before they’re made;
  • it’s important to have space to focus on other work without interruptions;

Why you’re wrong about email….

The problem with email is that many people treat that as an instant messaging channel when it’s usually Asynchronous.

Here are 3 ways to keep it in check:

  1. set aside chunks of time during the day to respond to emails. This could be one hour on the morning and another in the afternoon.
  2. use an auto responder that tells your colleagues that you’re responding within these time frames will manage their expectations and mitigate any upset they may have if they think you’re ignoring them. For example: “Hi there, I’ll be responding to emails at 10am and 3pm. Thanks!”
  3. ensure that you provide enough information so people don’t have to keep coming back to you with follow up questions.

Synchronous communication

This happens when immediate feedback needs to be received. It cuts short the swinging of emails back and forth, especially when there’s a small window in which to make decisions.

Examples of this are: live chat, video calls and meetings, phone calls.

When to use Synchronous Communication:

  • Building relationships and onboarding;
  • Group problem solving and brainstorming;
  • Ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction;
  • Company or team updates;
  • Mediation;
  • Part of pitching (this may be an initial call, followed by a series of emails. The final stage could be a 20 minute chat or presentation);
  • Training – many issues and needs can arise spontaneously and be dealt with immediately. This also means that a flexible structure can be adopted according to the needs of the participants;

Your Action:

Decide with the Manager or, if it’s just you, have a conversation with yourself and invite a pen and paper into the meeting:

Pinpoint…

  1. the different functions of communication THEN
  2. which tools you’ll use for each function.

The outcome could look like this:

  • Watercooler conversations (Donut, which integrates with the instant messaging of Slack)
  • Creative brainstorming (Stormz which integrates with Zoom)
  • Group meetings – updates and feedback (Zoom or MS teams)

Note:

You may find that one tool, such as Microsoft Teams serves several activities.

Others may integrate easily with existing tools so you don’t need to flip from one app to another.

Ultimately you want to keep your communications streamlined, efficient and serving the ultimate purpose for you and your teams. When you think this way up front, you reduce remote communication overload and have the right tools for the (online) job.

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