There is a saying that “Communication is the key to success.” But can we achieve success without communication being effective? Effective communication is especially important in a team where creative minds are busy creating something awesome.

When I first started writing this blog, we were still able to meet in person. Face to face communication was possible and preferred. But things have changed! We will be restricted to our homes for at least a few more weeks due to COVID-19. After that, we will go back to our “normal” life and the way we used to communicate. So, it is essential to know how we can communicate and collaborate effectively.

Different ways to communicate are like the rungs of a ladder. The higher we climb, the greater our chances are to achieve effective communication and success as a team. (see Fig 1 — Communication Ladder)

Let’s start where there is no communication between team members. This often leads to various problems like — team members working in silos, lack of knowledge sharing, and disconnect on a common purpose. I am sure you will agree that it is not ideal for any team.

The most basic level of communication is the one that happens in the form of text. It covers emails, chatting on tools like WhatsApp, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. Team members can interact with each other in the form of text, but a significant limitation is the lack of understanding of the tone or expression intended by the writer. This can lead to misinterpretation, which leads to misunderstandings.

If you find yourself in a position where communication by text is the only option, consider the following tips:

  • Use tools that provide different channels for different topics, which makes it easier to keep discussions separate and focused
  • Use threads to reply to a specific topic, to keep the conversations focused
  • Be overly polite and humble
  • Use a lot of emojis and other pictorial expressions
  • Create group norms or agreements, if using groups where multiple people are interacting
  • Don’t assume understanding and if you are unsure, instead seek clarification

Has anyone said to you: “Hey, you know what. Make sure you have it in writing”? What does that mean? Do you also feel like that sentence is incomplete? Let’s try it again: “Hey, you know what. Make sure you have it in writing so that if something goes wrong, your ___ is covered”. I know that you are smiling because you have probably experienced this, just like me! Agile ways of working promote trust. In organisations where there is trust, this isn’t an issue anymore.

The next level up, and a better form of communication, is voice calls. At least you can speak to a person, make some connections, and understand their tone. This doesn’t remove the chance of misinterpretation, but does reduce it. An advantage over text is that you can connect multiple team members sitting at different locations without using massive bandwidth.

But there are challenges. There is still a chance of misinterpretation if you can’t follow a person’s lip movement and body language. Voice calls also present an opportunity for people to disconnect from the interactions mentally. How? Simple! Using the Mute button. If you are smiling again, it is because you have done it many times, just like me! Here are some tips to make voice calls better –

  • Patiently repeat yourself when the listener reports echoing or delay
  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking
  • If you ask something and don’t receive an acknowledgment, ask if you are audible
  • Share your screen when you are speaking, as it improves the engagement

Video calls are even better than texting or voice calls. They are an acceptable alternative to in-person face to face communication. These days, with high-speed internet available in most countries, we can easily interact virtually face to face with people around the world. There are few chances of misinterpretation as we can follow lip movement, as well as the expressions of the person speaking. This is a great alternative when it is impossible to meet in-person (like now while we are practicing social distancing). Video calls work well when you have an existing relationship with people you are interacting with, and there are only a handful of people in the session. Otherwise, there is a risk of interactions becoming frustrating due to the feeling of being disconnected.

Distributed and remote teams are a reality, and a lot of collaboration tools are available to enhance communication:

  • Video calls — Zoom, MS Teams, AppearIn, Skype, etc
  • Facilitation — FunRetro, Miro, IdeaBoardz, CardBoardIt, Mural, etc
  • Documentation — Confluence, Google Drive, MS Teams, MS Sharepoint, etc

Tools like Sococo even provide an online workplace where distributed teams come to work together each day, side-by-side! No matter where actual team members are situated.

In adverse situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, video interactions are a great way to communicate. Here are some cool tips to make video calls more fruitful:

  • Use plain backgrounds. Fancy backgrounds attract people’s attention and distract them from focusing
  • Use flashcards to show in different situations (E.g., You are mute, Be right back, Your signal is breaking, etc.
  • Be aware and attentive of when to mute yourself and when not to, so that background noise doesn’t detract from the conversation
  • Make sure you have proper lighting
  • Always introduce yourself where people you do not know are present
  • Have regular breaks for long sessions

If it is possible, in-person face to face communication is the oldest and still the best way to communicate. Here are the reasons why:

  • When you interact with someone without seeing their face, you might not feel the same connection as someone whose hand you shake regularly
  • Trust is not built overnight, or through emails or texts
  • Pairing is easier on any task when you can sit next to your partner
  • You will solve problems quicker and easier compared to other communication methods
  • As the number of people increases in a conversation (within reason), face to face is a better way to communicate compared to video or audio calls, or text.

My message to everyone — Keep interacting and keep learning from others.

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