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A No-Nonsense Guide to Remote Communication Etiquette

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

A No-Nonsense Guide to Remote Communication Etiquette
The key to communication etiquette is to be able to adapt to different scenarios. And with remote working, it's no different. Whether it's your greetings, passing on work tasks, or even informal discussions- remote team communication has its own set of rules.Understanding the right remote communication styles has become increasingly important over the last decade, with more than 53% of meetings having one attendee who joins remotely. That's an incredible statistic and will only increase in the coming months and years.While the way we conduct meetings has evolved, inadvertently, our communication etiquette while working from home has as well. Whether it's the informal water cooler chat or reliance on asynchronous channels, it's vital that the modern worker understands the nuances and subtleties of virtual communication.The aim of this post is to work as a guide and approach remote communication etiquette through as many relevant angles as possible.

id="1">1. Communication Etiquette while Working from Home

Whether its a daily stand-up or a vital client pitch, remote communication habits can change, given the different scenarios. Here are the best practices to approach the following- 

1.1. Daily Team Stand-Up

The most common and frequent meeting is often given the least thought. Daily stand-ups are generally short, to-the-point, and targeted. And rightly so! Daily stand-ups don't require constant formalities nor the in-built politeness that you would usually exercise in a client meeting. It's all about efficiency here and to ensure everyone's heading the right direction with their work.While conducting them remotely, it's essential to be aware of a few key things:
  • Conduct them at the same time each morning: Not having your team physically with you, it's easy to forget and skip these key catch-ups. Having them at the same time each day ensures you do not forget your critical time with your team.
  • Make sure your video is on: Being able to see all of your team and them being able to see you is crucial to ensure your interactions are clean and leave no room for confusion later on. It humanizes the often text and audio-only exchanges between team members while ensuring you are dressed and working in a presentable environment.
  • Team stand-ups not one-on-ones: It's easy to opt for an individual catch up over group sessions given your teams distributed nature. But having a group session can make all the difference for both team morale and know what everyone's working on making task distribution, collaboration, and communication a heck of a lot easier.

1.2. Client Initiation Meeting

Now things are starting to get a little serious. A client initiation meeting is the first and often the most critical step to building a positive and healthy relationship with your new customer. It ensures that the project starts off on a good note. You don't want to get this wrong!The majority of client kickoff meetings I've been in have been done remotely, and you want to make sure you have everything working on your side. Here was the checklist we used to follow-
  • Internet Speed- This is an obvious but CRUCIAL one. The last thing you want is to have the senior manager of a new client, not being able to hear you because of a poor internet connection. Test it out beforehand and have backups ready- even if its hot-spotting your phone.
  • Test out the call advance- I can't count how many times I've sent through a Zoom link only to find out that the client can't enter the meeting because of their own firewall security.
  • Be early- The client will always get that little bit of confidence when he/she sees the vendor in the meeting before them. I often would arrive 20 minutes before the start of the session and check my emails and catch-up on other work while waiting for the client to join. Make sure you are mute, and your camera is off, though!

2. Team Onboarding

This is a tricker one, but becoming all the more common. Onboarding is all about building trust for the new join and needs to be done more carefully when working remotely.This is all about structure and hand-holding. Your communication etiquette should reinforce warmth and clarity as much as possible. Here are a few points:
  • Video communication- This one is going to come up frequently, but I can't stress how relieving it is to see a face when communicating.
  • Structure the training and keep them in the loop- With my training program, I would often build out a 3-month plan for them, so they knew where they needed to be. This would always be accompanied by a pool of resources (i.e., training manuals, articles, brochures). While this is relevant for any new join, having a clear path set out for remote workers is all the more critical.
  • Pairing them with a mentor- Make sure to have a hand-holding buddy with them for the first few weeks. If not yourself, another member of the team to show them the ropes.

3. What Tools and Communication Channels Should You Use?

There are countless channels that can be used to communicate with your remote team. But more doesn't always mean better. It's crucial to only have a handful of communication channels that work for you and your team and that too each channel should be used for different scenarios. Here's my breakdown:

Rely more on asynchronous channels -

Asynchronous communication is a communication exchange that doesn't happen in real-time- so things like emails and voice messages. And let's be honest, a lot of meetings and phone conversations can often be simply resolved by an exchange of a few emails.For day to day task allocation and work assignments, I generally stick to this with my team. It ensures there's no miscommunication, all the points they need to focus on are written for them, and it keeps things accountable without them needing to hear my voice every few hours.

Use Skype and Zoom for only Checkpoints

I generally reserve Skype and Zoom conversations for two things.
  1. Create a checkpoint for Meeting Agendas to see how a project is moving along and moving in the right direction.
  2. To clarify any issues that aren't possible through asynchronous methods.
That's it. Anything past these two reasons is overkill and generally eats into the productive time of both the manager and the team.

Rule of three - Less is More

Three is often the magic number, and that's definitely the case with your communication channels. There is a tendency for overkill when with your remote teams to purchase and implement multiple different communication platforms. Maybe to try and make up for the lack of physical interaction? Well, in this case, less is definitely more.We've done it too- at one point, we were running with Skype, Slack, Email, Zoom, AND WhatsApp. It overwhelmed us and tracking where we had what conversation became virtually impossible.We had to make an active effort to reduce these and found that we only needed three and made sure we had clear boundaries for what type of conversation would be focused on what channel. Here's how we did it-
  1. Slack- For file sharing, project chats, and informal conversation.
  2. Skype- For clarifying conversations that aren't being resolved through Slack. Occasionally for one to one stand-ups too.
  3. Zoom- For group sessions. This includes practicing for internal presentations, weekly stand-ups, and check-ins and team collaboration sessions.
Now email communication etiquette is still followed but primarily for client interaction, but internally we only use the magic three!

4. Communication Mishaps and How to Avoid them

This is one of my favorite sections to talk about but also sometimes the most cringe. Miscommunication is part and parcel for any conversation, but it can really be blown out of proportion when communicating remotely, which means it's all the more important to minimize such mishaps - especially if it's during the middle of an important meeting. Here are some of the more common ones-

4.1. Sorry, I was on Mute

How could I not add this one? Speaking while on mute is an innocent mistake I make on the daily. While generally harmless, it can get a little annoying when you're half-way through emphatically explaining something, do you realize that no one can hear you.I make it a rule of thumb not to be on mute for as many meetings as I can, especially during daily stand-ups. It ensures I'm in a quiet place, and it means I'm giving my 100% attention to the conversation and not doing something on the side (i.e., checking emails).

4.2. Crap, I wasn't on Mute!

You definitely don't want the opposite scenario. The less common yet fatally scene is speaking while thinking you're on mute- generally saying something risky or questionable that could get you in hot water.Once again, I have been the culprit of this more often than I'm proud of. One of my more cringe moments is when I was in a Friday weekly wrap-up meeting with my team, including my ex-manager. The meeting was going on for a while, and I started chatting to a colleague I was sitting next to, telling him how I wished this meeting ended so we could grab a beer. And yes, you guessed it, I wasn't on mute! And EVERYONE heard it- resulting in me needing to apologize and stay red-faced for the rest of the call. Luckily, my team didn't make much of it, but it could have been A LOT worse.My solution to this? The same as the one above, don't be mute in the first place. It makes sure you are in a quiet environment and will force you to have your full attention to any of your calls.

4.3. Video is your Best Friend!!

This point has come up a lot throughout this post, and there's a reason why. Face to face interaction always beats anything else, hands down. There's a reason why anti-remote working crusaders prefer in-person interaction, and its because of this.While I don't believe you always need to be in person for all forms of effective communication, video allows you to bridge a lot of that gap. Seeing a trusted face talking to you will enable you to understand all the subtleties of the points that they are trying to convey. While you don't need a video for every form of communication, ensure it's there for the more essential conversations, so there's no room for communication etiquette blunders.

5. Remote Communication Tools

Collaboration ToolsCommunication etiquette is all well and good, but you want to make sure you have the right tools working on your side. Gone are the days of only email and Skype, I've had a taste of a number of different communication tools in the market, and there are some innovative solutions coming in the market. They're evolving the way we communicate and how we manage our distributed teams.

5.1. Slack, Skype, and Zoom

I think we're all familiar with these three, so I've grouped them all in one. And there's a reason they're so popular. Each of these tools has revolutionized the way a lot of remote workers and distributed teams work and have paved the way for similar platforms in the market.As mentioned earlier in this article, I use each of these in very different ways and ensure there is a fine line in what type of communication etiquette is set in the tool. And of course, also follow the rule of 3!

5.2. Samepage

Samepage is a Slack alternative. I've listed this one out for readers who have either used Slack for years and are getting tired of some of its features or for newbies who are looking for a new team collaboration solution for their new remote team.My team and I have been using Samepage over the last 1.5 years, and they are fantastic! I find their instant messaging, ease of setup, and task scheduling capabilities superior to Slack. I've made a direct comparison of the two here.

5.3. Yac - Voice Messaging

Yac is a voice messaging app that lets you record audio messages for your team. In short, it's like leaving voicemails through a Slack channel or through emails. The premise may sound simple, but it aims to simplify conversations or meetings that don't always need a Zoom or Skype call.I think Yac is perfect for this. It sits within the golden rule of three as it works within one of the communication channels (i.e., Slack or Email). You can refer to the messages whenever you like, and it often beats the long text emails or messages that most asynchronous communication etiquette relies on.Yac fits perfectly as the perfect communication channel between emails and Zoom calls and should definitely be included in your remote team software tool kit.

5.4. Mixed.io - Virtual Whiteboard

This one is pretty cool and a tool I only discovered quite recently. Mixed.io lets teams present ideas synchronously with visual storyboards and workflows. You can even turn on your mic to present to the team, stick Notes, and upload files for the rest of the team to look at.Tools like these are great for team brainstorming or remote training courses. It's often the easiest to doodle your thoughts, and Mixed.io does just that. Again, this would work great alongside Skype and Zoom as opposed to a communication channel on its own.

6. Conclusion

The way we work is evolving, and so is the communication etiquette we follow with our colleagues. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the above to ensure your remote communication etiquette is where it needs to be.The main takeaways I would like you to learn from this post are the following:
  1. Understand the different communication etiquettes for different meetings types. Write a checklist if it helps so you know what you need to be aware of for which kind of conversation.
  2. Understand and know which communication channel is useful for which type of conversation. And always follow the rule of 3 with your team so communication is trackable, and you don't overwhelm yourself with a large number of tools.
  3. While communication etiquette mishaps will happen and can sometimes be humorous, make sure you don't land yourself in hot water because remote communication can be tricky.
  4. And finally, we wouldn't have a remote workforce if it wasn't for the advancement of technology. Try and branch out a little and see what's out there outside of the usual popular tools. Make sure that it doesn't clash with your company culture!

7. FAQs

7.1. What is remote etiquette?

Remote etiquette is a the set of polite and professional behavior or practices that individuals follow while working remotely, including effective communication, respecting time zones, and utilizing proper online meeting etiquette to foster a positive virtual work environment.

7.2. Why is remote communication important?

Remote communication is vital as it helps maintain team cohesion, ensures clarity in tasks and expectations, minimizes misunderstandings, and promotes engagement among remote team members, fostering collaboration and productivity despite physical distance.
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