In remote work, we communicate primarily through writing. We send messages. We document projects. We send meeting invites with a written description of the purpose. We’re writing all the time.
- Many organizations are working from home at the moment – Thus, writing is even more important – Here’s why
- Writing Saves Time
- Writing Makes Meetings a Last Resort
- Writing Removes Extrovert Bias
- Writing Invites Other Perspectives
- Read more for 5 tips to make your writing instantly more effective.
Writing saves time.
Take this contrived example: You have a distributed team. Most of them live in SF, but one member lives in London and another lives in Manila. Both the London and Manila teammate couldn’t make a Very Important Meeting because of time zone conflicts. No one wrote up a summary of decisions made in the Very Important Meeting, so the London teammate reaches out to the Organizer to schedule a Meeting After the Meeting to catch up them and the Manila teammate up on the Very Important Meeting.
It takes 30 minutes of back-and-forth Slacking to find a time that works for Organizer, London Teammate, and Manila Teammate. The Meeting After the Meeting is planned for 30 minutes, but ends up being an hour.
This ends up costing three hours in total. As Basecamp puts it,
“Five people in a room for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting.”
Had the Meeting Organizer took notes from the Very Important Meeting, three hours would have been saved. Writing prevents unnecessary meetings.
Writing makes meetings a last resort.
In a remote context, you can’t pull your team aside to solve a problem. Yet most teams are used to doing this.
Sending a message to update a team member or make a request doesn’t need a meeting. If you frame the problem as a Slack post or a document, your teammates can chime in on their own time. This makes it non-disruptive to everyone, while moves the discussion forward.
“But what if the problem is juicy and we can’t solve it through an asynchronous discussion?”
My response to this is to still default to an asynchronous discussion because asynchronous discussion makes it clear when it needs a meeting. Many people aren’t agreeing. The Slack thread is 148 messages deep and no one made a decision. These signals mean that the discussion needs to be a meeting.
The point: default to asynchronous communication when discussing an issue and to use meetings as a last resort. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time.
Writing removes extrovert bias.
Modern work gives extroverts a free power-up that introverts have to earn through practice. Meetings favor folks who think out loud and don’t need time to think things through. It’s unfair, yet rarely noticed.
The good news is that remote work creates the space for introverts to contribute. Written discussion gives folks time to chew on a topic and think through what they want to say. If you identify as an introvert, take advantage. Let writing be your platform.
Writing invites other perspectives.
Writing forces people to think clearly. I’m sure this question has confronted you at least once when drafting a presentation: “What is it that I actually want to say?”
While writing forces people to think clearly, writing also forces teams to think clearly. In my experience, having a clearly written thing makes it easy for folks to collaborate with me. This is because people naturally enjoy poking holes in arguments, adding points that were missed, or mentioning any risks that weren’t taken into account. I’ve found it helpful to use this human tendency to my advantage. Extra opinions and poked holes are hard to surface if you didn’t write something in the first place.
“Writing something for an audience is a way of making you consult representatives of that audience before publishing. What will marketing think? Will sales people be able to sell? Whether you consider those perspectives before or not does not change that they will react. This isn’t “buy-in” or “heads-up” but actually consulting the real stakeholders of a decision.”
If one person puts their thoughts together and shares it with a team, this helps the rest of the team put their thoughts together. Give others a thing to react to. Or else your team may not examine the full breadth of a problem.
If writing’s not your jam, now’s time to get better. Here are some tips that have helped me.
Get to the point faster.
When you send someone a long presentation, document, or message, here’s what they care about: “What’s your point?” Do your reader a solid and answer this question early in your message. They’ll thank you.
Write to someone who has no idea what you do.
Anyone who has zero context about what you’re working on and reads what you write should immediately understand what you’re trying to convey. There’s a neat trick that helps: write to someone who has no idea what you do. I choose my mom. She should be able to read an article of mine online and get the gist.
Spell out your acronyms.
Even if your client or boss uses acronyms, always spell them out. “Create, read, update, and delete” levels the playing field. “CRUD” does not.
Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em.
Whenever I write a presentation, I default to this format:
Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em
Tell ’em what you just told ‘em
Tell ’em what happens next
“I’m going to share you three options on how we could move forward. I’d love to know which option you prefer and why.” (Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em)
“Here are our three options.” (Tell ‘em)
“The three options we went over were A, B, and C.” (Tell ’em what you just told ‘em)
“Given we chose option B, here are our next steps.” (Tell ’em what happens next)
This structure works so well for presentations because it makes your message easy to follow. Try it.
Use active voice, not passive voice.
“Our developers prefer Option B.” > “Option B is preferred by our developers.”
Passive voice plagues business communication. Don’t add to the plague. Use active voice.
Fewer commas. More periods.
I love complex ideas. But complex ideas always morph into long, rambling, verbose sentences, with lots of commas (and lots of parentheses). I’m working on this.
Gary Provost, author of Make Every Word Count, put it well:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.”
Great writing makes remote work better. It saves time, reduces meetings, removes extrovert bias, and invites other perspectives.
You don’t need to write articles to be a better writer. Let every Slack message, email, and text be vehicles for you to improve.
If you work remotely, let writing be your friend.