You’re on your way to a sales meeting when your email decides to lock you out because of a password reset issue. You call your company’s IT team, explain the problem, and they respond that they’ll look into it. Thirty minutes later, you’re back on the phone asking about the status of the issue. “Oh,” they respond, “We opened your email back up 15 minutes ago.” Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that as you frantically prepared for the meeting?
In this scenario, you’d likely be unwilling to give the team a glowing review of their prompt response. Instead, you might be annoyed or even confused by their lack of communication. Even when people don’t get the job done, you’d still prefer to know that, rather than be faced with radio silence from the other end. It’s similar to the frustration you felt when colleges you’d applied to failed to send denial letters or when your doctor doesn’t call with the test results. Their inability to close the loop overshadows the good work they did for you, or the consideration they gave to your application.
The same goes for many different aspects of your communications with remote colleagues. To pass information effectively, you need not only a good sender, but a receiver who is aware of the need to acknowledge and provide feedback. Was the information understood? Was it received? Was it enough? In a remote setting, that’s all impossible to know until it’s too late. Too often, what slipped between the cracks only becomes apparent in the midst of a big sale or a key deployment.
At base, communication is about passing information back and forth. Over-communication, which includes closing the loop on tasks and conversations, is a best practice when it comes to remote work. Acknowledging receipt and understanding of information received is a surefire way to be effective. It allows you to instill confidence that you’ve understood the communication. And, by repeating the information, it often also guarantees that you remember it.
Here are a few ways to ensure that you’re effectively closing the loop with your colleagues.
As an information receiver:
- Always acknowledge information received - whether by phone, email, fax or any other means. When there’s nothing else to say, a simple thank you email is more than enough.
- Let people know in advance when things will not be completed by deadline.
- Provide feedback when additional information is required.
- When multiple questions or tasks are posed at once, go through each one separately. Number them if you need to in order to keep track.
- Repeat the person’s instructions back to them. This is the same concept as repeating someone’s name back to them when you first meet. The trick helps you memorize the name and assures the other person that you’ve understood and are pronouncing it correctly.
As an information sender:
- Use the debate teacher method: Remember the old rule of thumb about public speaking? Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Same thing applies with your colleagues.
- Avoid sending emails that assign a task to a group. This is the equivalent of walking into the office, shouting out the task that needs to be done, and then walking back out. Highly ineffective, and it’s unlikely that anyone will jump up and acknowledge the task.
- Lay out key information – deadlines, team members, tools, etc. – clearly when you provide the information. If your listener acknowledges each of the items that you’ve laid out, you’re more likely to achieve the goal painlessly.
- Use tools like FollowUp.cc and Yesware to remind yourself to follow up on a conversation that may have fallen off the map.