How to set up communication guidelines

Inspiration to set up communication guidelines for digital work to reduce stress and manage expectations on when a response is expected.

This chapter gives inspiration and guidelines for setting up communication guidelines within your team.

Tip 1: Brainstorm & get alignment on the collaboration categories

Set up a brainstorming session to get alignment on what works well for collaboration in the team. 

Think about:

  • Which meetings are important and have to be synchronously? 
  • What can move to async?
  • How important is deep work for the team?

In the meeting you can discuss with categories work should fall in. Collaboration has 3 categories:

  1. Sync Collaboration
  2. Async Collaboration
  3. Async independent (Deep Work or Focus Mode)

Sync Collaboration - A two-way exchange in real time 

‘Traditional’ internal meetings (physical or digital) like tough conversations, 1-on-1s, brainstorming sessions, team decision meetings, daily standups, weekly kick-off meetings, huddles and strategic planning.

External meetings: sales calls, business development meetings with external parties, speaking to customers, doing interviews

Async Collaboration - Still two-way exchange, just not at the same time.

Examples: status updates, monthly progress reports, monthly performance reports, FYI for teams or clients, collaborating inside a Google Docs file, asking for approval or feedback, creating an iteration on work a colleague made earlier, optimising/rewriting ad copy from previous ads in  Google Ads

There is still plenty of room for discussion, asking questions and improving each other’s ideas. Working async means each team member has more time to think about it thoroughly. 

Async independent (Deep Work or Focus Mode) - No exchange, no interruptions to produce the best work

Examples: writing the first draft of a blogpost, building a Google Ads campaign, designing an email campaign.

Tip 2: Create a preferred hierarchy communication

Create a preferred communication hierarchy. When do we use email instead of chat? And when is it OK to call someone?

Here’s an example:

  1. Email - the preferred method of communication
  2. Chat - for quick and short communication. Don’t send attachments or longer / complicated messages, revert to email in that case
  3. Video voicemail - record a video to have an async meeting
  4. Meeting - A meeting has a written agenda shared over email.  If it’s easier to communicate synchronously, set up a short meeting. If it’s a complicated matter that requires a lot of back and forth, set up a meeting
  5. Call - revert to calling only for urgent matters, so everyone knows it’s important when we call.

Tip 3: Designate a specific medium for urgent requests.

To make the preferred communication hierarchy work, make sure you set up an emergency communication plan. Since team members won’t be regularly checking messages, you need a way to reach people when there is an urgent issue.

You can set up a dedicated Slack channel for urgent matters or add phone numbers of crucial contacts you can contact when the website is down, or any other problem that drives up costs.

Add the crucial phone number as favourites

If you turn Do Not Disturb mode on, phone calls are automatically rejected (unless you call 3 times). To prevent this, emergency contact persons should not use Do Not Disturb mode on their phones. If they need to contact you, add them as favourites (by giving the contact a star in the Contacts app) so the call is not rejected. Set up a list of contact persons before there is an emergency.

Set up a Gmail rule to escalate urgent emails

Set up rules for keywords “if the subject contains URGENT” or key coworkers “IT department”. Set up Gmail automations to receive a Slack message or even an SMS in these rare occasions. Replicable, the automation agency I’m involved with can help you set this up.

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Tip 4: Establish response time etiquette

When you’ve established a preferred hierarchy and an emergency channel, next up is to think what the minimum and maximum response times are for each channel.

Think about:

  • How quickly do you expect a response on Slack or other chat channels?
  • Within how many days should emails be answered?
  • When should cameras be turned on in video meetings?

Tip 5: Create best practices for each channel

Having a document with best practices is great for new people on the team. If there is no miscommunication, feel free to skip creating these.

The document with best practices should be a living document that changes over time and evolves with the organisation. An example of communication best practices can be found here

Conclusion

Communication guidelines help align a team to collaborate more effectively. Next to that, it helps to lower stress because expectations are clear. The guidelines are specific to your organisation, so iterate and see what works for you.

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About Ewoud

Ewoud Uphof

Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.

In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.

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