PALO IT on creating a remote work culture: Tools of the trade (Part 1)

Remote communication is much easier than it used to be, as most people have personal communication tools on their phones, and are used to being connected remotely with their friends and family. Even small events can be arranged remotely and asynchronously these days.

So, performing tasks remotely is not something new, but if your client has decided to work remotely, it's necessary to clarify all challenges that come with this remote work. A couple points to note:

  • Nothing will ever beat face-to-face communication.
  • Nothing will ever beat co-located teams in terms of communication effectiveness.

That being said, remote work culture can still bring immense value to the client. The following tips—and this blog series as a whole—are not an extensive and exhaustive list, but rather a strong baseline for you to expand upon. 

Remote work tools

Emails might be more comfortable for people who just started to work remotely, but they shouldn’t be the main source of communication for remote teams. In fact, in some cases they can damage information flow. Emails still have a role to play, but they must never be the go-to.

Below is a list of tools that can help you to establish different communication channels that are essential in providing a stellar remote communication culture. Be mindful that although you might already know how to use most of these tools, teams that just jumped into remote work may have not have a clue! It's your job to help them transition.

Working efficiently in a remote environment without most of these tools is nearly impossible, so it's necessary to build the setup before you start working remotely. These tools cover video, voice, text and whiteboards, and their absence will increase difficulty and affect the overall quality of communication.

  Task management tools

  • Trello, JIRA

  Video/Voice chat tools

  • Google Hangouts, Skype, Zello (voice only)

  Team chat tools

  • Slack, Microsoft Teams

 Messaging tools

  • WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram

  File sharing tools

  • Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive

  Cloud office suite tools

  • Google Docs, Slides, Drawing, Spreadsheets, Office 365

Wiki information repository tools

  • Confluence, Sharepoint

All-in-one tools

  • Basecamp, Notion

Virtual whiteboard tools

  • MIRO, Google Jamboard, Microsoft Whiteboard, Google Drawing

Interactive meeting tools

  • Mentimeter, Klaxoon

Getting in touch with teams

Communication can sometimes go awry. This scenario is even more common when you’re dealing with remote communication. When this is the case, it’s important to first consider the nature of communication.

Synchronous communication - Co-located work communication tends to be synchronous. For example, when you need to talk to someone or ask them something, you can simply go to his/her desk. Once you do it, you either get immediate feedback, get what you needed, or acknowledge that the person was too busy to talk to you at the moment. The feedback loop is short.

Asynchronous communication - Remote work communication tends to be asynchronous. In other words, you don't get immediate feedback about your question or request. The feedback loop is long. Usually, it’s an email you sent, or a voice message.

So, what's the best type of communication?

Well, the right question is rather, am I using the right type of communication?

If you need to solve something with some urgency, synchronous communication is the best choice. Making voice/video platforms readily available is the best option here.

If you need to talk to people about something that simply can't wait, just call them! If they are busy they will decline the call and call you later, and in this way you reduce your feedback loop. Synchronous communication can also happen with messengers and group chat platforms when the receiver is available, but sometimes these platforms don't properly cater to the urgency of this kind of communication.

Synchronous communication, when not used in the right manner, can lead to interruption and disturbance in people's work. So tread lightly, and be aware of others.

If you can wait for the information you need, you should use asynchronous communication. Group chat or messaging platforms are a good choice here. If you need something that can wait, just drop someone a message. The amount of information or message complexity is the defining factor here. If you are about to ask ten questions or write down a 50-paragraph message/email, you need to step back and think twice about what you’re trying to accomplish.

In this case, you can use asynchronous communication (scheduling a call) to start synchronous communication flow (using the call to discuss the problem). Conversations are usually synchronous communication, so if you see an email thread that can be solved with a chat (text/video/voice), connect the individuals to speak to each other. Helpful tools (and categories of tools) in these instances include: 

  Video/Voice chat tools

  • Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, Zello (Voice only)

 Team chat tools

  • Slack, Microsoft Teams

 Messaging tools

  • WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram

Part 2 in the series, focusing on common pitfalls, will be out shortly. Stay tuned!

Useful links

Digital Innovation PALO IT on creating a remote work culture: Avoiding common pitfalls (Part 2) PALO IT on creating a remote work culture: Let’s get visible (Part 3) PALO IT on creating a remote work culture: Routines and regimens (Part 4)