Caleb Schoepp

Four Remote Communication Anti-patterns to Avoid

Published June 18, 2024

Communication is hard. It’s even harder when you’re working remotely. Not only do you lose out on the benefits of talking to someone face-to-face, but you also have to deal with the challenges of asynchronous communication.

You need every advantage possible when communicating remotely so here are four remote communication anti-patterns you should avoid.

Overusing DMs

Most messages don’t actually need to be private. If the message is directed at one person it is still better in a public channel — you can just tag them. Obviously certain sensitive or entirely irrelevant topics should be kept to DMs, but default to public.

Sending a message in a public channel rather than in a DM greatly expands the pool of people who can: answer your questions; learn from the answers; or provide other feedback. An added bonus is that the conversation becomes publicly indexed and searchable.

People are often scared to ask questions publicly because they don’t want to look dumb. First, who cares what others think. Second, do you really want to work at a place where people would think that? Regardless, in my experience, people often have the same question and are grateful when someone asks it.

People often also object to the amount of noise this creates in public channels. That is easily mitigated by liberally using threads.

❌ DMing Jenna to ask what the plan for the new frobulator project is.

❌ DMing Jenna and a few relevant colleagues in a group chat to ask what the plan for the new frobulator project is.

✅ Asking in #engineering what the plan for the new frobulator project is and tagging Jenna.

Saying Hi First

This is a well documented anti-pattern. The idea is that saying hi introduces an unnecessary cycle to a conversation slowing it down. Instead of getting right down to business the responder is forced to say hi back and everyone’s time is wasted. It’s nice to be polite, but save everybody the time.

❌ “Hey 👋”

❌ “Hi Jenna, do you have a minute to chat?”

❌ “Can I ask you a question about frobulator?”

✅ “Hey, did you get the tests passing on frobulator?”

Sending Curt Messages

When you’re talking to someone face-to-face it’s often best to make your point simply and clarify afterwards with any necessary context. This is because in-person you can immediately tell if someone is confused and quickly clarify. In an asynchronous remote environment, however, you can’t easily tell when someone is confused and the unavoidable time delay of asynchronous communication makes it slow to clarify.

Sending a curt message is just asking to be misunderstood. Similar to saying hi first it adds more unnecessary cycles to a conversation.

Instead, prefer to send messages that are clear and carry the necessary context up front. It feels like a lot of work typing it all out, but in the end it saves everybody time.

❌ “No”

❌ “The tests are failing”

✅ “Not yet. I wrote another two tests for frobulator, but they’re all still failing. I think they’re failing because the reticulator isn’t properly calibrated. Maybe @cassandra can help?”

Tiptoeing Around Timezones

In a remote settings people can be in drastically different timezones. 10am for you might be the middle of the night for someone else. Some people avoid sending messages to or tagging someone when it is not their working hours. This is done in an effort to protect other people’s work life balance. While this is well intentioned it is ultimately harmful.

It is not your responsibility to protect someone else’s work life balance. You should communicate as you need and others can manage their own time. Tools like muting notifications and do not disturb exist for a reason. Think of it like the opposite of Postel’s law: be liberal in how you communicate, be conservative in what you accept from others."

❌ Waiting until tomorrow morning to provide your manager with feedback on the frobulator project so that he doesn’t get a message in the middle of the night.

❌ Using a scheduled message to send your feedback on the frobulator project at 8am their time.

✅ Immediately messaging your manager with your feedback on the frobulator project so that you can move on to other tasks.

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