Communication Manifesto: Your Remote Work Internal Communication Policy

Published June 29, 2023
Effective remote work communication can be a dance

Remote work communication can be a dance

We’ve got all the tools to solve problems together. Zoom, Teams, Slack, Email, the list goes on and on. So why does communication break down so easily with remote work? If remote work-enabling technology is so abundant, what are some companies scrapping it altogether and retreating to the safety of an office?

Well, the answer is that communication is a challenge in any environment, but working remotely shines a light on one of the biggest obstacles we all face.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

An oft-overlooked answer to the communication question is the lack of written communication rules. Codifying the unique way your company communicates, the expectations and the norms, promotes more effective remote work communication. Getting everyone on the same page, so to speak, can take your team’s remote experience to the next level.

One of the greatest benefits of flexible remote work is that it can dramatically increase the team’s diversity. However, along with the diversity of perspectives, talents, and cultures that enrich a company comes a diversity of approaches to communicating. Creating a single source of truth that informs communication habits and reduces frustration and friction.

If you want to enable more effective remote work communication, streamlined ops tech, and alleviate frustration while aligning and protecting your talented remote colleagues, a Communication Manifesto is a right for you. 

What is a Communication Manifesto?

Simply put, a Communication Manifesto is like a Sherpa for exchanging information in a distributed and digital environment. It gives guidance on things remote workers do every day without thinking much about it. For example, an employee might be clear on the fact that Slack is the tool that’s being used for virtual office communication, but what about the finer details? Let’s look at some helpful tips that you might include in your Communication Manifesto for Slack usage. The same principles apply if you’re using Teams.

The Virtual Office

Effective Remote Work Communication
  • Statuses and status descriptions within Slack. What do they communicate to your colleagues about your availability? Be sure to define how this feature is used in your organization.
  • @ Mentions. When are they used and in what channels? This info can be very helpful to reduce noise, and ensure the right people get the message. 
  • What about direct messages vs. in-channel messaging? Does your company default to open-channel communication? If so, what is a scenario that would warrant a private message instead? 
  •  Threading responses. How are messages within a channel organized and responded to?
  • The problems with generic messaging

You’ll need to decide where you stand on all of the above. Let’s dive a little deeper into the last one in the list:

The problem with generic messaging

Messages that don’t communicate substance create noise and distractions for remote workers who are already flooded with notifications. Avoid generic messages and greetings. For example, 

  • “Hi there!”
  • “Do you have a minute?” 
  • “Can I ask you a question?”

These types of messages pull people away from their work and leave them looking for more information. 

Here are some suggested alternatives:

  • “Hey, Do you have time this week to take a look at this mockup and provide feedback? I’ve tagged you in the task. Hoping to ship it by EOD Friday.”
  • “When you have a chance, can you check this report before our meeting on Wednesday? I want to make sure everything looks alright before the call starts. Here’s the link…”

Employee wellbeing

A Communication Manifesto has strong returns on employee wellbeing. It sets parameters that protect when and how employees are accessible. Outlining this in your Communication Manifesto may even support compliance with evolving legislation designed to structure an employer’s access to remote employees, like Ontario, Canada’s “Right to Disconnect Law”. 

Here’s how some of the general communication guidance that transcends any specific tool could look. In this example, we’re addressing response time expectations:

  • For non-urgent messages via <insert tools/apps that this applies to>, ​Monday-Friday you are expected to respond to your colleagues within <# of> hours​. This could mean a quick confirmation with an ETA of more information, eg “I don’t have an answer for you at the moment, but I’ll dig in and get back to you by Friday.” There are very, very rarely truly urgent requests.
  • No one is expected to respond to any communications on Saturdays or Sundays, holidays, or while away for planned time off, or during emergency personal situations. Take care of yourself. Rest and recharge.
  • Focus time - it’s completely acceptable, and encouraged, to turn off notifications and shut down emails and messages for <X-hours> at a time while you’re working so you can get stuff done.

This meeting could’ve been an email asynchronous update

While the finer points of asynchronous communication belong to another post at another time, the principle is worth mentioning here. Meetings cost companies a tremendous amount of money, lost attention, and sacrificed productivity. While it takes more effort and empathy from the communicator, asynchronous communication can be more efficient, especially when collaborating across timezones. Your Communication Manifesto should give clear guidance on when and how meetings should happen, and when they shouldn’t. Here’s an example of how this might look for your company:

  • Asynchronous communication is possible the majority of the time, however, it is not always the most efficient path. There are times when we will need real-time collaboration and thought exchange. With that in mind:
    • Only schedule meetings when necessary with the right people. Meetings that are no longer relevant or lack a clear purpose should be dropped. Everyone will thank you 🙂 Unsure if the meeting is necessary? Here’s a great reference guide from the folks at Doist
    • Meeting organizers should come to the meetings with an agenda. This can be a simple, informal list of items that need to be covered. Ideally the agenda is shared ahead of time as an attachment to the meeting invitation giving participants time to add questions, share resources, or prepare their thoughts.
Effective Remote Work Meeting Flowchart

Speaking of Email

Email is still a thing, and it’s pretty straightforward. It is worth calling out some best practices for how your team uses their company-branded email account. Some of the things you’ll want to cover in your Communication Manifesto will include:

  • What type of communication is best for email, and where to direct everything else.
  • Expected response time for email vs. chat
  • Signature guidelines
  • Out-of-office autoresponder usage and messaging

Project Management

For a lot of companies, project management software is a primary means of communication for project or product development. Saving some real-estate in your manifesto to outline what project management tools the company uses to track internal or client projects is helpful. Uncovering what your organization’s best practices are for collaboration within a project management platform creates needed accountability and reduces the number of wild goose chases.

Reducing the Bloat

The last thing we all need is another tool, am I right? Your Communication Manifesto document should call out what the primary platforms for communication are and encourage teams to work together within those tools, rather than installing whatever new shiny app they heard about on Reddit. Your IT team will thank you, trust me.

Build your Communication Manifesto today

To empower your team with effective remote work communication strategies, streamline operational technology, and alleviate frustration, I invite you to download my free resource: a quick start guide to building your Communication Manifesto. This visual guide, paired with the information in this blog, will help you provide clear guidelines for exchanging information within a distributed and digital environment.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive and customizable template you can tailor to the specifics of your company, I offer a premium downloadable Communication Manifesto template. With this template, you can easily create a manifesto that aligns with your team's needs, tools, and culture ensuring seamless communication and increased productivity.

Take the first step toward enhancing remote work communication by downloading my free Communication Manifesto resource above. And if you're ready to unlock the full potential of your team's communication, explore the comprehensive customizable template and revolutionize your remote work communications today.

Special thanks to the remote and flexible work companies who have shared resources and shaped my thinking on this topic:

  • GitLab
  • Hubstaff
  • Oyster
  • Doist