Communication: Knowing Is (More Than) Half the Battle
It’s hard to imagine someone arguing that communication is not important. And if they DID try to argue that, they’d have to use communication to do so, so joke’s on them.
With any human interaction, communication is vital. And so with professional communication (or rather, communication in a professional setting as opposed to communication that is presented in a professional manner – i.e. without swearing or smileys), we depend on the words we choose and the methods we employ to further project success.
The biggest gap that I see in professional day-to-day happenings is keeping everyone on the same page. When we’re busy working, we often want to go “heads down” and really “lean in” on a task until it’s done. But by doing so, we forget to bring everyone else along for the ride. Much like the family in 1990’s “Home Alone”, we sometimes get so focused on a deadline or a goal that we neglect ensuring everyone is in the car before we speed off to the airport. And while forgetting Kevin at home only resulted in cinematic slapstick burglar abuse, with a work task, the results can be ambiguity at best, escalated to panic in some cases.
On a Simpsons: Season 4 DVD commentary track, Conan O’Brien shares the best piece of advice he ever received. And despite it not being monorail-related, I feel it’s relevant:
“Tell the audience what you’re about to do. Then do it. And afterward, tell them that it’s done.”
-Steve Allen (Inventor of the Pog)
Keeping everyone in the loop is a soft skill that we should forever be refining.
You Can’t Overcommunicate to a Client
Speaking of clients, when one of ours sends in a request, be it by phone, email, or Basecamp thread, they’re sending out a need into the aether. Modern communication is not so dissimilar from the archaic “homing pigeon with message tied about its leg” method. A person crafts their message and releases it abroad, hoping it finds the recipient. And while we no longer have to worry about our messaging being intercepted by hungry hawks or eagle-eyed huntsmen, we do risk falling prey to spam blockers, firewalls, and all manner of mysterious technological hurdles.
That being said, when a client reaches out, it is all the more vital to keep them abreast of the status. To use the example of a client retainer request in Basecamp, here is a solid communication workflow:
- Once a To-do is created for a task, let the client know that the request has been received and when work will begin.
- Begin the work!
- Note: If a task is more than a few hours, let the client know ~midway regarding your progress.
- Once all internal and external QA has been done on staging (this back and forth is done via Basecamp messaging of course), get firm client approval to push code to the production server.
- Confirm the code push immediately after doing so.
- Note: In the case of managed WordPress hosting, like WordPress VIP, pushed code is reviewed on their end before production deployment. So, we need an extra few steps here.
- Let the client know that you pushed the code and supply the revision number (ex: rev 123456). Clients can then stare at the VIP Dashboard for their site rather than your un-updated Basecamp thread.
- Waiting (waiting) waiting
- VIP tells us the code has been deployed.
- We tell the client the code is now on production.
By keeping the client in lockstep with our own progress, we create an informed bond of shared progress. Being a true partner is more than doing the work; it’s about lessening client stress by providing concreteness to their technological world. Like I said above, while technology is ubiquitous, most people (including me) don’t know how things work. It’s just a kind of unknown magic. A blackhole that can just as likely devour a presentation the night before as show you what’s next in your Netflix queue. The unknown is scary.
By knowing the progress, we give our clients peace of mind and they simply feel better.
Like a loading icon, knowing that you’re 23% done is WAY better than not knowing at all (re: an assumed 0% done). So strive to keep everyone in the loop, because loading GIFs are where it’s at.