Adam Segal is the co-founder and CEO of cove, a D.C.-based startup building a network of neighborhood workspaces. Founded in 2013, cove currently has five locations in the D.C. metro area and one location in Boston. This is the second installment of Segal and cove’s monthly column about startup life in the D.C. metro area.
As the legend goes, Alexander Graham Bell, after years of research and tinkering, placed the first phone call to his nearby assistant. ”Mr. Watson, come here!” Bell said, “I want to see you!”
That day 142 years ago, Bell started a long chain of communication innovations, leading to more and more channels being used for incredibly important initiatives. For example, Twitter is now key to one man’s quest to procure a year’s supply of Wendy’s chicken nuggets for the simple reason that he “needs his nuggs.”
In between Watson and Wendy’s Twitter account, the number of ways that we — and more specifically organizations — can communicate has increased exponentially. Email. Slack. Gchat. Text. Facebook Live. WhatsApp. Twitter. Fax. There are countless channels and tools available. With so many floating out there, companies struggle with an interesting predicament: too much communication, often leading to overload, inefficiency, distraction, and more meetings to maintain alignment and focus. (For simplicity, I am focusing on online forms of internal team communication instead of external communication, in-person meetings and informal “verbal slack” at the office, as one friend calls it.)
Not too long ago, you would see your colleagues wandering the halls of the office or at the water cooler. However, with virtual exchanges becoming the default form of interaction, our behavior has evolved. Remote and flexible work schedules are part of any company. This puts us in an odd position: instead of defining how communication tools fit into our work, they end up defining us and our behaviors.
The Communication Filter
So, what can we do to grab our day back from all these channels? From our experiences at cove, some simple processes can go a long way in providing guidance to ourselves and teammates.
I will use a coffee analogy because people really like coffee. There’s the beans, grinder, pot, and that favorite mug. Often overlooked, but essential, is the filter — the gatekeeper between the ground beans and your rich-smelling coffee.
Analogously in a team setting, there is so much information and so many requests and updates that are constantly flowing into our various inboxes. It’s on us to filter out where and what gets answered.
But before you can do that, how do you know how to identify high priority updates while still making progress on your own tasks and responding to external requests? All these incredible tools are constantly coming at us. This all results in a need to constantly check, recheck and refresh various tabs and applications.
Faced with regularly evolving tech and behavior, creating a simple “communication filter” for yourself and team will go an incredibly long way in cutting down on the confusion and complexity. For example, our communication filter at cove helps us understand what channels we use, what they are for and expectations behind each — summarized in three questions and answers:
- What channels do we collectively commit to use?
- What is the purpose behind and our response expectations for each channel?
- Why does this approach make sense for us?
By really fleshing these out, you will cut down on confusion and set team expectations. This leads to a better day for everyone, curated by you. Let’s look at one hypothetical company:
- What channels do we commit to? Slack, phone, Trello (That’s right you don’t have to use email internally!)
- Purpose and response expectations?
- Slack: quick questions and support, 20-minute response time;
- Phone calls: urgent matters that can’t wait, immediate response;
- Trello: content management for progress updates, response within 4 hours from name tagging
Why does this make sense for us? There is a need for real-time interactions (Slack) and semi-regular progress updates (Trello), but based on regular in-person and online meetings, there is no need for other distractions (like email)
Now, instead of constantly being distracted by and ignoring notifications, you have set checkpoints with clear guidelines on what to do with each. This will take the pressure off everyone on the team, both sender and receiver, and create a more productive day that your team controls — which gives you more time to all stay focused on getting free nuggets.