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How to talk, distributed

June 27, 2014 by

Solve problems faster, lower the number of emails you send and provide rainbows and puppies for all by adding planning and foresight to how you communicate.

Most of us work with distributed teams that cross timezones. They are great for the purposes of allowing your teams to sleep unhaunted by the thought of the emergency pager going off at 3 AM. On the other hand, the downside of being separated by several degrees of longitude is the need for much more asynchronous communication. To keep knowledge and answers moving between timezones requires optimizing your communication flow.

Here are some tips we use to keep things moving when we have problems where the solution may require people from around the globe.

Direct your questions to a specific person

Sending open ended questions to a distribution list without calling out a person you expect to answer is a recipe for a non-response. As a plus, this helps you learn more about your co-workers specific roles and duties.

Be specific about what you want to accomplish with your communication

Know what point you are trying to get across and then deliver the message as concisely as possible; it's easy for your point to get lost in a long email.

Follow up

If you don’t receive an answer within a day, send another message. Conversely, if you don't have the time to do what is being asked for, send a short reply right away with a timeline so the other party's expectations can be set and they can plan around it.

Anticipate questions

If you work in an environment where you send email to someone who won’t receive it until you are sleeping, think about what information they may need to answer you properly and what questions they may have. Add this information to your initial email to prevent a chain that advances back and forth once per day and takes a week to bring to resolution.

Ensure those that need to know, do know

Identify who will be affected by a change, a new requirement or a new customer that you are involved with. Take steps to make sure that the appropriate person and/or team are aware and that they understand the implications (ideally, they figure out the last part on their own). Over-communication always beats under-communication

Nate Lee Fuze

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