One of the biggest gripes I have heard about working remotely is that people have difficulty getting hold of people or knowing when they are available. This can quickly go from a minor annoyance to having people questioning if someone is actually working. As such managing availability expectations is a key skill to develop.
The first thing to remember is that 99% of the time the reason you cannot get hold of someone is because of something simple – you can’t see the person and are relying upon a status indicator. A little green icon stating “Paul is available”, which has no relation to whether or not Paul actually is there. So firstly, from your own side, make sure you are using your statuses on Slack/Skype/Hangouts etc. correctly and drop a note if you are going to disappear unexpectedly for more than 5 minutes.
I often find when I message someone and cannot get hold of them they are either grabbing a coffee, answering the phone, on another call, or visiting the bathroom. These 4 cover about 75% of the instances where someone is not responding. Were you in the office with this person, it would be really easy to see that one of these things is occurring or just that in general Paul is away from his desk. When you cannot physically see them though, that 5 mins to grab a coffee can feel like an eternity when you are waiting for a reply.
The second tip then is to remember that email/Skype/Slack/Hangouts/SMS are all asynchronous tools for communication. Don’t forget that the word “instant” in “instant messaging” merely refers to the delivery of the message, not the fact it has been read. So if you are desperate for a reply, try calling the person, otherwise take a breath and wait.
The third tip, is to organise your calendar and keep it up to date so that people can see what you are up to and if you are free. If you have an appointment of any sort – put it in there. That way if someone wants to get hold of you, they have a single simple place to keep track. I put travel everything in (remember, your can just mark yourself as private and busy if it is something private) including travel time between meetings when out and about to help people know when I am likely to be less available.
And the final tip is to use your “out of office”. If I am out visiting clients, in an all day workshop, or travelling, I ensure I put my out of office on to keep people informed that their message may not get replied to for a few hours. This is extremely important for clients who are asking questions or expecting a response, and can help to set expectations for anyone trying to contact you urgently – they can always try and phone you if you are free.
Hopefully be implementing a few of these tips yourself you can avoid an unnecessary frustration or issues when trying to contact your team members or have them contact you. Do you have any other tips? If so let me know in the comments below!
- Notice if you are being impatient whilst waiting for a response
- Are you using an asynchronous communication tool synchronously?
- What could you be doing better to keep people informed? For example could your calendar be better utilised?
- Use your out of office on common communication channels to help set expectations.