In the world of COVID-19 and remote working, our methods of communication could not be more different. The option of walking across the office to ask a quick question or give orders has vanished completely.
Modern technology has made it possible to maintain communication easily between the various ‘satellite offices’, but to establish effective communication it is important we use this technology intentionally. In order to ensure that it does not become interruptive or miss out certain team members and information, it is important we set intentional rules of communication.
Here are six tips for practice team leaders to ensure that effective communication is implemented across teams.
1. Choose dedicated communications channels.
It is important to carefully plan how team members are going to be communicating. Review options that are already available to your practice against your various communications requirements. You might have to introduce new software and set up different channels for a variety of purposes. For instance, specific uses and software for video calls, phone calls, text messages, chat messages, or emails. Setting these parameters ensures that conversations aren’t scattered across multiple channels and prevents information getting lost in the ether.
2. Develop specific guidelines for communications methods.
Once you have set up your various communications channels, develop clear rules on how, when, and which communications methods should be used for what purposes. These might differ depending on the size of the practice and number of people involved and could include:
- Agreeing priorities for how to use the various communications channels and making sure that every method is well suited to its intended use. For example:
- Video calls (e.g. Zoom) for regular team or office meetings with a dedicated purpose;
- Emails for messages that are not urgent and do not require immediate attention;
- Chat groups (e.g. WhatsApp) for instant messaging within a dedicated project or interest group;
- Phone calls for urgent topics that require immediate attention.
- Creating a consistent meeting schedule for the various teams. For example:
- Daily half-hour video calls first thing in the morning to check in with a team;
- Weekly meetings for the leadership team;
- Weekly meetings for the full practice, to provide general updates and check-ins – perhaps for both work and social purposes.
3. Create a “Chief Communications Officer” role.
Create a dedicated role for your in-house communications. This person will be responsible for coordinating and overseeing all communications matters – for example, setting up the various channels (possibly with some IT support), writing simple rules for use, being the first point of contact when any questions arise, and arranging dedicated communications review meetings.
Dependent on the size of the practice, responsibility might lie with one of the senior practice team members or could be delegated to another suitable team member. It’s paramount that there is a central role in the office ensuring that the communication channels and methods are used as intended, who can help with any teething problems along the way.
4. Be intentional.
It is easy for overuse of the various communications channels to lead to the technology becoming disruptive instead of supportive. Too many meetings, too many group chats, too many meaningless emails – this can quickly lead to an overwhelm of communications and fatigue in your teams. Be intentional and prioritise:
- Cut unnecessary meetings. Get in the habit of constantly asking yourself: do you really need this meeting?
- Be intentional when setting meetings. What is the purpose? Who really needs to attend? What is the timeframe? Circulate agendas prior to each meeting, even if it’s just an email with a list of questions and topics to be addressed.
- Think twice before posting a comment or a question in a group chat. Is this the right forum? Is it urgent? Can it be addressed in an email to a specific person or wait until the next meeting?
- Set up different chat groups for different topics, for example: general office, project team, design package specific, social chat. The more specific the purpose, the more effective it will be. This becomes more important the larger the organisation.
5. Beware of context.
Agree on certain rules for email and chat communications with your team, including the following:
- Keep your writing clear and concise;
- Take time to review each message before sending it. Due to the lack of visual or verbal cues, messages might unintentionally come across as abrupt or rude;
- Be specific in email subjects or chat tags, so that communication can easily be traced;
- Acknowledge receipt of an email or message if you can’t act on the request immediately.
6. Review on a regular basis
Listen to feedback from everyone in your team with regards to whether the current communications set up and tools are useful. Adjust as required.
These guidelines will help keep communications afloat within your practice and its teams, while leaving sufficient space to concentrate on the actual work to be done. The larger your team, the more important it will be to establish clear communications channels and rules. And once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, closely adhering to these guidelines while remote working will hopefully have conditioned you to be more intentional with your communications when you return to office working.
About the Author:
Britta Siggelkow is an accredited career and leadership coach, and an experienced architect in the built environment, whose career has taken her around the world including Australia, Germany and the UK. She is also the founder of THINK:BUILD, a coaching and consulting practice created to give architects and designers the time and space to see their practice holistically. Britta’s expertise is in the areas of leadership, business vision, strategy and organisational structure.