Etiquette is more than knowing which fork to use at a fancy dinner party. It’s a social convention that encompasses agreed upon rules and interactions between groups. Etiquette within your workplace is defined by the people who make up your culture. In an in-person work environment, some rules of etiquette may include being aware of smells or keeping your workspace tidy. In a remote or distributed workforce, arguably, the most important rules are around communication etiquette.
It is vital to establish a communication etiquette that is accessible and universally applied across your organization. The primary considerations involved in effective communication etiquette of remote teams include:
- How quickly to respond to each other
- How and when to use video
- What hours may be off limits
To help you create your own communication etiquette rules, we’ve put together the following guidelines designed to maximize your efficiency and minimize your confusion.
Set Expectations Around On/Off Hours
One major benefit of distributed teams is spanning work hours across teammates and time zones. For employers and project managers, this means your team can achieve progress around the clock. For customers and members, their needs can be attended to more regularly. However, it also presents the challenge of delaying communication and lacking personal boundaries. To minimize those challenges, employees should identify their “On” and “Off” hours and share them with their team.
- “On” hours – any time of day the employee is open to receiving communication – essentially their personal standard work hours (approved by their manager). For some, this may be a strict 9am – 5pm, but others might express their best work and availability is late at night or Sunday mornings – flexibility is a great benefit of your remote team.
- “Off” hours – any time outside of the “On” hours. Encourage employees to disable notifications during their “off” hours to help them fight the temptation to work all day. Communicate a preferred back up plan for how to reach each other during off hours (e.g. phone call or text). In short, be mindful of coworkers’ varying time zones and schedules. Aligning expectations appropriately will make for smoother communication and more engaging collaboration.
Work Status and Availability
Sharing your availability throughout the day with colleagues is an important part of communication etiquette in a remote environment. Most communication tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Outlook calendar, Google calendar, etc., allow users to share their status and availability with others. Set policies and be consistent in using these tools to help reduce the “back and forth” questioning about others’ availability to meet. Aim to strike a balance between respecting others’ work times and getting the information you need during your team’s “On” hours.
Use Video for Difficult Conversations and Needed Face-to-Face
Do not lose the personal element of crucial and sometimes difficult conversations. When having a sensitive conversation such as constructive feedback, negotiations around raises, or removal from a project or position, video is a critical element to the conversation. Use the same techniques and tones as you would in an in-person conversation. Do not take the “easy” way out by making a phone call or emailing because it might feel less awkward for you.
Additionally, use video at least once a week to connect with your teammates and those you manage. While it should not be required to use video for every call (you don’t want to give the impression of micromanaging), it is an important way to maintain a regular connection with and between your employees.
Response Time and Purpose
One of the greatest perks of remote work is the ability for employees to build their own schedules (depending on your company policy). It is important to align teammates on expectations for both internal and external response times. Set clear policies and be consistent in their use and when managers and employees are expected to respond.
To institute your organization’s communication etiquette you won’t need to send everyone to “finishing” school. Set clear priorities and expectations around communication, and your team will have the savoir-faire they need to succeed.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help your distributed teams become successful working together virtually, contact us today.