wheatpaste art on wall of girl  holding paper airplane
PHOTO: Aleyna Rentz

Over the last few months I've written a number of posts about how we should think about communicating from a content perspective during these unusual times. Recently I’ve also been thinking about the mechanisms for communication.

I’m isolating with three other adult family members. All of us are working remotely. We regularly look at each other and say how lucky we are that we have excellent bandwidth coming in and out of the house (cell service is another matter). We need that bandwidth because we are all on video conferences ALL DAY LONG.

Does Video Conferencing Need to Be the Default?

I hit Zoom fatigue long before it was officially a thing. I’m a natural introvert and nothing makes me happier than working on a project uninterrupted, but now even my more outgoing family members are getting worn down. Last week I warned my team that I was likely to lose power during our team meeting due to some neighborhood electrical work and that I would dial-in by phone if that happened. I ended up disconnecting and dialing back in halfway through the meeting. As I was chatting on the phone instead of staring at a video grid, I had an epiphany: I felt more relaxed and was finding it easier to listen and engage in the conversation — it was actually a pleasant experience.   

We all defaulted to videoconferencing instead of other forms of communication so quickly. It reminds me of the early days of email (yes, I actually remember those) where we stopped getting out of our chairs to speak to someone in the next office and instead just emailed them, starting a drawn-out email exchange when a short in-person conversation would have been so much more productive. This transition repeated itself with the introduction of messaging apps.

No communication method is ideal:

  • Email quickly becomes overwhelming.
  • Messaging is a constant interrupt.
  • Phone calls are rarely answered.
  • Videoconferencing is exhausting.

Before defaulting to one communication method over another it’s worth taking time to consider the best mechanism for communication in the same way we take the time to consider what it is we want to say. Mashable published a list of tweets related to video calls and the one I wished I’d written was: “Gonna update my CV to say 'survived 1,000 Zoom calls that should've been an email' as part of my achievements in 2020.”

We all use a mix of mediums for communicating with our team and customers. There’s no formula for the optimum mix. The key is to be conscious about the choices you make. I for one, am now scheduling phone calls instead of video calls when I don’t need to screen share.

Related Article: The Remote Working Pendulum Swings Again: 9 Lessons Learned

But Yeah, It's Also About What You Say

In our current environment, we’re all working hard to manage new work and home lives and as a result have even less patience for poor communications. We all make mistakes. We got caught out recently with a LinkedIn campaign. Messaging that worked in the past just doesn’t work in this climate — no one wants a hard sell.

The first lesson: if you're doing cold outreach find a way to offer value first, value that doesn’t require a purchase. The second lesson: now more than ever it’s about relationship selling. Automation is fine, but it needs to be structured in a way that supports the development of a relationship. We knew this but blew it with this program.

Email tends to offer the best examples of how not to handle communications. I regularly get emails from a group that thinks my name is Johanna. Not even close. The best worst email I’ve received recently was a “cold call” from a private equity group. The subject line began with FW: When I looked at who and what had been forwarded it turns out the sender had tried to send me an email at [email protected] and then realized that wasn’t our email convention. Instead of creating a new email with the right email address, they just forwarded the one with the wrong email address — a great way to show you are just going through the motions. Second, the message was clearly written in pre-pandemic times because it invited me to drop by their Los Angeles office when I was next in LA. Trust me, I am never going to engage with this group.

One more favorite and then I’ll wrap it up. Last week I received a message with the subject line: “I have not heard back from you.” It was from a person not a company, but I didn’t recognize the name. I opened the email to see a generic:

I have not heard back from you, so I'm assuming you're either:

  1. Too busy right now, reach out in future though.
  2. Don’t really work on such initiatives and have no one to work on this/haven't found someone else in my organization.
  3. Actually, available right now and would love to collaborate!

The problem is I didn’t know who this person was, and there was no information about their company. I didn’t have any way to respond without doing my own deciphering which I didn’t have the time or energy to do.

So, in a nutshell, it’s about what you say AND how you say it. Make sure your content is reflective of the times and that you are hyper-conscious of the channel you use to communicate your content and connect with your stakeholders. And of course you can always “say it with flowers” — isn't that the old advertising slogan?

Related Article: Marketing in a Crisis, One Month Later