Though Harvest Headquarters are located in New York City, a few members of the team are located in different parts of the world, across the U.S. and Europe. Over the years, we have learned a thing or two about communicating efficiently over time and space. These tips are likely to be appropriate for all teams using electronic communication, but their value is magnified when drop-ins and phone calls are not an option.

Use Declarative Statements Rather Than Questions

As a special New Year’s treat, I am giving you the most important tip first. When your team is dependent on asynchronous forms of communication like email or project management software, questions are deadly. Instead, state your planned course of action and finish with “please let me know if you have any concerns.”

A silent response is as good as an answer. If a colleague does have a concern with a small part of your plan, she can state it precisely and you can adjust quickly. The alternative includes lots of “What ifs” and “Do you thinks”; all questions that require the reader to load the entire problem into her head for analysis. Give her a story that shows her what is being done, and allows her to see the details and respond to only what she has questions about.

Be Concise (or bullet points are dead, long live bullet points)

Bulleted lists are death for presentations, but they turn out to be really useful for scanning action lists. List the steps you are going to take with bullets. Give a quick introduction before the list and add any details after the list.

Keep Up With the Firehose

You may be elbows deep in a difficult problem, but you still need to keep up with those upcoming projects. Keeping up with the discussion allows plans to solidify before the work needs to be done. This lets the discussion play out in the asynchronous world rather than a meeting black hole.

Chit-Chat Asynchronously

When we built Co-op, we were scratching our own itch. We needed a way to encourage team chemistry, and we often use Co-op to pass around interesting things we come across in our day, like great music, weird New Yorker articles, cool artworkYouTube links and gadget comparisons. Co-op is a light communication tool that allows us to keep up with each other, see at a glance who is working on what, and ask questions of the team – all without the incessant interruptions of chat, or the intrusion of email.

We tried hanging out in a Campfire room for about six months, but it was too immediate for us. The pings drew us back around the campfire when we should have had our heads down, making things happen. When I asked a question, I expected an answer, so if someone else turned off the machine that goes ping, it would just leave me expectant and ultimately disappointed.  While we do use Campfire for group chat situations, Co-op provides a more background mode of communication.

When All Else Fails, Go Live

Some things just need to be communicated in real time, whether through Campfire chat, instant messaging, or a simple voice chat. Even here at Harvest we occasionally talk in realtime, be it our weekly 15-minute huddle, a problem solving meeting, or rubber ducking sessions.

We would love to hear any tips you may have for successfully communicating within your distributed team.