Could Writing Be the Next Big Skill for Remote Workers? — Andy Sto
Do you recall a time when a project was delayed due to back-and-forth emails between members? Or better yet, how often does this happen to you, because surely most of us experience it at least once.
The worst part of it all? You even pulled all-nighters (for a few days in a row) to make that deadline, didn’t you? In many cases, the cause of these situations is a lack of good writing. Writing a request well can make the difference between a project being launched on time or dragging on forever. In order to effectively convey your ideas and communicate with your colleagues, every word you type (or don’t type) is critical.
Keeping that in mind, let’s talk about why good writing skills are so important and how to make them transactional while working remotely.
Working Remotely: The Impact of Writing
An effective and productive team relies on written communication
It is incredibly difficult to be productive when your team is spread out across different time zones. In the event that you are not aware of the last message a team member sent before his day ended, it will be impossible to finish the work before his next day begins.
Most likely, you wasted some of your time working on the wrong task. But if you’re not careful, a misunderstanding can seriously harm your efforts and those of your team. Because of this, good communication becomes a crucial component for the success of remote teams, so they prioritize it.
Writing is the most common method of communication among remote teams. As compared to phone or video-conferencing, this option is more efficient since written communication allows for searchability and traceability.
You can then easily remember what was said to you at a particular moment when you need a reminder. There would be no such option after a phone or video conferencing call (unless you recorded the conversation on purpose — which would be a lot of work to do every single time).
Additionally, writing helps us organize our thoughts more clearly. When people talk they present their thoughts in a linear way, whereas writing allows them to express their ideas more dynamically because of the ability to edit their thoughts as they develop.
Consider how well you can brief others in a remote setting
If someone is passing off tasks to colleagues elsewhere or is working on a project asynchronously, meaning at their convenience, comprehensive documentation is necessary.
Employees want to know about the background of a project when they begin working on it. When veterans leave their organizations, it is extremely important their knowledge is left behind. As painstaking as it may sound to write down everything, it’s also as frustrating to show up to a meeting and not remember a word that was said last time.
This should provide a pretty solid argument for why you ought to improve your writing skills.
Programmers can benefit from good writing (and we don’t mean coding!)
The value of the written word has already been recognized by software developers. According to a study by Google that analyzed the ingredients of successful technology projects, documentation quality enables teams to deliver software faster and more reliably.
The code-hosting platform Gitlab, whose staff is entirely remote, puts the question this way: “How would I address this issue, present this information, or move the project forward without anyone else in the company awake?” Gitlab’s answer is “textual communication”. There is a handbook that is publicly available. It is more than 3,000 pages long and contains descriptions of all the organization’s processes.
Let’s take a look at some other benefits that you’ll enjoy if you master this skill flawlessly.
Good Writing Doesn’t Just Improve Communication
When it comes to writing, it certainly has many benefits such as helping clear the mind, easing out tense people, letting go of certain emotions, letting all ideas out and looking at what is relevant, etc.
Writing helps you think more clearly
The only way to make what you are writing easy for people to digest is for you to clearly think about it before you write it. Communication is a two-layered process. First, there is the way in which you formulate your thoughts. Secondly, there is the way in which people understand your thoughts. Other people don’t always see your words in the same way you do.
In order to think clearly, you need clear writing. Until you express your thoughts, you can’t know what you know. There is a strong connection between the ability to write well and the ability to think clearly. When you have good analytical skills — built on good writing skills — you can succeed at anything you are doing.
Good writers are experts in their field (most of the time)
Most of the activities that remote workers undertake involve writing in some way. Each of us writes every single day, whether we are programmers, designers, marketers, or customer support representatives.
Good writers are more likely to create good code, design better, and manage customer-facing activities more effectively.
Developing excellent writing skills enhances diplomacy
Working on deadlines and discussing KPIs can create tension even in the coolest of organizations because conflicts are an inevitable part of all relationships. The act of writing well in these circumstances can prevent a breakdown and help the recovery process.
A lot of conflict arises because people misinterpret what they’re reading. When you work remotely, this tension can even have a bigger impact on you, since you take that energy into your working space and even into your personal space if you work from home (whether permanently or just temporarily as a digital nomad).
Knowing the right words to use and communicating effectively make a huge difference. By writing well, you can be understood by almost everyone and can even smooth tensions between remote colleagues.
Write well and you’ll generate more ideas
Even in the most agile of organizations, selling new ideas and projects is a constant challenge. What you propose must be the best decision for the company, which you must convince them of. Don’t forget to take into consideration your colleagues’ opinions as well.
Curiosity could make you a great writer. Essentially, good writers are skilled readers who enjoy observing, asking questions and learning as much as possible about the subject they write about. Almost every skilled writer I know shares these characteristics.
New ideas are born out of connecting existing information. It is more likely to come up with new ideas if you are aware of various sources and connect these dots together. People with the most creativity absorb lots of information and know exactly how to complete the picture. You should keep this in mind throughout your professional career and beyond.
So far, it appears that writing is destined to become the next transactional skill for remote workers who wish to succeed in this work model. Now let’s look at a few top rules that you should always follow when you are writing, even when it is a brief answer to a colleague.
WRITING: How to Make It Your Transactional Skill
In any career, good writing skills are essential. They are especially important in teams that are distributed. Startup founders who are building distributed teams should be particularly aware of this skill, and anyone who is interested in starting a remote career should make sure that they are willing to approach it with open minds.
You Should Write the Way You Speak
There is a difference between professionalism and formality. You should write work-related messages and memos carefully, but avoid technical language that can be intimidating to your colleagues. The last thing you want to do when writing for human readers is to sound like a robot because that is not an effective way to collaborate or build relationships at work.
Use the simplest word possible and use contractions in your writing so that it sounds casual.
Be Clear in Your Writing
Whenever you are writing a message, it is important to state exactly what you want to convey. Ensure your message doesn’t get lost due to bad writing habits that distract you from the point at hand.
It should come as no surprise that, as a rule of thumb, you should always follow (most of) the rules of grammar before anything else. Make sure to avoid cliches, idioms, and acronyms, and avoid jargon as much as possible in order to ensure that everyone understands your point.
Keep Your Writing Concise
Make sure that your language is precise and you don’t leave any room for ambiguity. Instead of squinting in confusion, keep your teammates nodding along with the conversation. The most important thing you should do is minimize the use of unnecessary words and be very careful about qualifying words.
Usually, qualifiers are discouraged in the workplace, but on a remote team, using phrases such as “in my opinion” or “I think” can be beneficial to instilling warmth and humility into your interactions with colleagues. Remember to use them in moderation. When used excessively, they make you sound unconfident and untrustworthy. If your goal is to provide feedback, include them while you’re analyzing something, and do not include them when you’re making an important point.
Open With Your Key Point
The attention span of people is short and they want to be captivated right away. Whenever you write a message to your colleagues, think clearly about what you’re trying to convey to them. This is a great place to start. The moment anyone attempts anything other than ripping off a band-aid when discussing bad news, it may come off as evasive. Make your main point the title of the thread or the opening sentence of the discussion thread.
Use Care When Writing
Writing is the primary way you will get to know your teammates on a remote team. Whenever writing on a screen, remember that there are a lot more chances for interpretation than when speaking in person. Make sure you use your words in a way that demonstrates kindness, positivity, and honesty, as well as being collaborative.
When deciding to take on a remote career, make sure you can manage most of your communication with only words. The majority of the people with the ability to work remotely are accustomed to interacting in writing with others via forums, IRC channels, Facebook pages, etc.
Unlike office environments, where the loudest opinions always win, remote environments have equal playing fields: excellent ideas, articulated with clarity of thought, capture the attention of their viewers. Keeping a sharp eye out for common communication blunders and enhancing your writing skills will help you achieve more as a result.
Ultimately, your ability to communicate with your colleagues through writing will determine your readiness to lead. It’s up to you how you convey ideas to the audience. That will either make them fall flat or make them spring to life.
However, be mindful that a good writer also knows the difference between when to use writing and when not to use it. Knowing what you can say with written words and what you can’t is important. You know when to switch between asynchronous and synchronous communication.
In other words, no matter what job you have to accomplish, even discussing ideas with your colleagues, remember that “The discipline of writing it down is the first step toward making it happen,” as Lee Iacocca used to say.
Originally published at https://andysto.com on March 16, 2022.