I was getting a bit annoyed. I had sent an urgent task to a colleague and heard nothing back. It was funny since I had just seen this person in the hallway. So I sent an email and then a chat message. Nothing. I stopped by their desk, but it was empty. The next afternoon I found out the urgent task had been completed. It took a day and a half. But there was never an acknowledgment that my request was even received or that it was completed.
Sure, the work got done… eventually. But all the waiting and wondering did not help. All I needed was a quick reply to say, “Yep, I got it.”
This not-so-responsive colleague was at a company I worked at several years ago. Fortunately, I have not experienced this in a long time. Our team at Aha! makes it a point to be super clear and super responsive in all our communications. This is not just a courtesy for our fully distributed team — it is an absolute necessity. Why?
Because as a remote team, we cannot function without constant communication. It seems so obvious, right? Remote workers who fail to acknowledge a request in a timely manner let the team down. Is this you?
Here are six best practices for handling requests on a remote team:
When you work remotely, it can be all too easy to bury yourself in your own tasks. This is why it is so important to tune in to the “noise” — instant messages, emails, phone calls. Our team at Aha! calls this being interrupt-driven. It means listening carefully to all that noise so you can pick out the most valuable information. Like when a co-worker’s request is urgent rather than routine.
Do not just reply with a “will do!” before even digesting the request. Take a moment to ask questions and make sure you really understand what your teammate needs. “What is the goal? Who is this for? When does it need to be completed?” These questions will ensure that you are moving forward together — preventing any unnecessary back and forth or future redos.
Once you fully understand the request, give your teammate a clear reply. “I am working on this and will have it done on X date.” This kind of short and decisive response makes a big impact. Your teammate can feel confident that you are handling the request and that the work will continue to move forward.
Not all communication tools are created equal. Sometimes you need to quickly acknowledge a request via instant message and other times you need to document something more thoroughly in an email or key tool that the team uses for collaboration. (For example, I never use instant messages to document major requests since the application eventually deletes all chat history.) So consider what you are communicating and how you might need to reference it later.
Explain why not
Of course, not every request can be done right away. If you find yourself faced with an ask that is just not possible right now (or even in the future) be honest. Explain why your response is “no” or “not right now.” Your transparency can help open the door to a productive conversation — one that will hopefully end in a solution for everyone.
Finally, respond with kindness. This is important on any team — but especially for remote ones where you are not communicating in person. Keep in mind that most remote team communications are written, so your teammates often do not see your facial expressions or hear the tone of voice. It can be as simple as including a “please” or “thank you” or “I appreciate your help.”
When you get a request from a remote teammate, you need to explicitly tell them that you are working on it. And even better, when you expect it to be done. They have no other way of knowing.
A simple “I will start on that now” or “I will have it done later today” goes a long way. It keeps everyone on the team calm and moving forward.
How quickly do your colleagues respond to your requests?