Casual communication at work happens continually, and is often responsible for generating innovative ideas and initiating smart solutions. In a traditional office environment, where everybody works in the same physical area, such interaction can be anything from a chat in a break room or a couple of minutes before a meeting starts, to mapping out a task with colleagues in the kitchen area and pulling two or three people together for an impromptu meeting.
But what happens in remote team environments, where team members are not in the same building, the same town, or even the same country? The casual communication that contributes to getting things done, as well as job satisfaction, is just as important. It underpins agility and gives cohesion to the team. The answer is to recreate the mechanisms like those of the physical office, but inside the virtual workplace, while keeping the qualities that make them so effective. Here are ten tips we’ve developed here at Sococo for making casual communication work well at a distance.
Make it as quick and easy as possibly to communicate. A quick P to P chat to grab someone’s attention, or knocking on an office door to exchange a few words is fast and spontaneous. On the other hand, dialing a number to make a connection is not.
One of the great things about an office door is that people know immediately how to use it – walk in if it’s open, knock first if it’s shut. Casual communication for remote teams can use similar artifacts, making it easy to pop into someone’s virtual office to ask a question, instead of sending an email.
Face to face communication adds more to a conversation than mere voice communication. People’s faces show you whether they are happy, tense, convinced, doubtful or in any other emotional state, helping you better understand how to interact with them. Remote face to face interactions should be as easy to initiate over a laptop or mobile screen, as they are in a physical office environment.
Is now a good time to interrupt? Casual communication is not an excuse for busting in at the wrong moment. To help respect deep thought processes and ferocious concentration on tasks, a handy equivalent of the “Do Not Disturb” notice, such as setting a busy signal in your status box, must be available remotely too.
This is an area where remote casual communication, done properly, can score over the traditional office environment. Instead of running from cubicle to cubicle, you can see immediately where people are, find precisely the people you need to make progress on a particular issue, and see if you can grab them for a quick huddle, all in seconds!
Some team members may accept casual conversation, but only if they feel it helps them to get things done and doesn’t consume too much time. Remote casual communication that lets you spend two minutes together before a meeting starts or dive quickly into an impromptu brainstorming session afterwards will appeal to their preference for efficiency.
In a physical office, you can easily pass documents around the table. In a remote environment, make sure you can easily share them too. Use Google Docs as a great way to collaborate on the same document, then get together to share screens and brainstorm.
Happy workers make for high performance, and socializing is often a significant factor. While there’s a time for work and a time for play, make socializing easy remotely with virtual break rooms, water coolers, or lounge areas.
Use casual communication to build trust. Questions can be answered without worrying about looking dumb, and misunderstandings can be quickly resolved (“Oh, now I see what you meant by…”) Trust in turn fosters casual communication, making a virtuous circle.
A sense of belonging
One of the toughest things to do, yet also one of the most important, is to get everybody on a remote team to feel that he or she belongs. Casual communication helps build engagement, leading to more productive collaboration, and better performance. Whatever the projected life span of a remote or virtual team, a sense of belonging can make a huge difference. Like trust and socializing above, belonging isn’t just a feel-good factor, but a real need. Casual communication in a remote team environment must be facilitated accordingly.
With the right approach, you can make casual communication work for you remotely as well as it works locally. In fact, in some instances, like finding where people are and grabbing them for an impromptu meeting, the remote version can work even better. It also lets you capitalize on the advantages of building remote teams, like being able to hire on ability instead of location. More than just a “nice to have”, good casual communication in your remote team environment can be a key factor in enhancing overall performance and achievement.