The Importance of Context, Especially in Remote Work

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When you’re trying to work remotely, one of the best pieces advice that I like to give is to over-communicate. On the one hand, it’s about making sure to add time for informal, ad hoc chats without an agenda. During the absences and silence, doubts and fears can creep in. Our minds tend to work that way, as we wonder what the other person is thinking or doing. So, it’s just about making sure to add in “extra” time for catching up. Some might consider such calls as superfluous. Sure, it’s not about being efficient or achieving a goal. But it’s kind of like repeating to your spouse of many years, “I love you.” It’s a way to add humanity when we’re feeling isolated.

On the other side…

Another important concept is to think about the context of the receiver in your messages. This means stopping to think about when and how the person on the other side will take your call or open your message. Calls are infinitely rarer than emails these days, but the human voice is distinctly richer for sustaining relationships. When you call someone out of the blue, it’s necessarily a form of interruption. It’s unannounced. So, it’s key to make sure that the receiver is in the right space. I.e. Ask: “Do you have some time to chat?”

When writing messages — whether text, whatsapp, email or slack, etc. — there’s an entire art to making your written words more effective. Isn’t funny that the word text is actually embedded in context? The thing is that adding context takes time and consideration. Before you send off the message, lean in and think of the receiver. Based on the data you have, is the way you’re writing the best way of expressing yourself? Have you been clear? Did you acknowledge them in the intro? Is the tone appropriate?Have you added unnecessary exaggerations? If you are making references to a file, company or event, see if there aren’t any ways to make that reference explicit. Too often we forget the context of the recipient(s) which can make communications and relationships quickly go pear-shaped. In today’s pandemic-affected world, for example, it’s hard to imagine starting a message without asking — with a sincere intention of wanting to hear the answer — how the other person is feeling?

This is a great lesson for all communications…. and one that we would do well to retain as we ease out of lockdown and, possibly, entertain more remote work as an option versus working in the office. In any event, make sure to over-communicate if you’re doing remote working. And flex your empathic muscle in thinking about the recipient of your message by providing context in your messages.

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