Globally distributed teams use Skype as a primary communication platform – to conduct scrum meetings, 1-on-1 or group conversations, for screen sharing, and video conferences. During this COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are forced to work remotely, from home. We need to spend more time on Skype and similar tools than before. Here are some tips to increase productivity and efficiency (for all participants) while using Skype or similar tools.
Are you really available?
Skype allows you to set the status to indicate your availability. Make it a practice to use it to show your non-availability – during meetings, presentations, or when you are focused on a task and do not want to be disturbed. On the other hand, just because someone’s status indicates that they are Active, do not assume or expect them to respond to your IM messages immediately. Be respectful of their time schedules, work habits, and deadlines.
Some people use Skype on both laptops and mobile devices. If you use Skype on the phone, your status is always active, and you may want to log out or change status outside office hours.
You also may want to set “Read Receipts” to On, under Settings/Messaging. This will help people to know if you have got the message or not.
Decide if this conversation can be delayed to a scheduled meeting at a later time, instead of now. Maybe you can send an email instead of interrupting someone with an IM. If you expect a long conversation, you should request a voice call instead of a series of IM exchanges.
Sharpen your ax
If you are going to use Skype a lot, invest in a good headset/microphone device to reduce/eliminate ambient noises, and increase audio quality. Ensure your devices and software work well, all the time. Make sure you have a reliable connection and high bandwidth – especially if you are using the Skype app on a mobile device. You do not want to be having one of those ‘Can you hear me now?‘ conversations.
Keep it short and be direct
Keep your conversations brief, precise, and on-topic. Being short does not imply being rude – so don’t be offended of someone’s short conversation. It is not easy to change our behavior if we are on a voice call or if we are in IM exchanges – since we are using the same platform. If you are using IM, think of that as texting (SMS) someone. Don’t send an IM with just “Hello.” For example, ask directly what you need to know: “In the Acme project – credit card transaction module, what is the transaction sequence for credit card charge reversal?”
Context switching has high overheads and can kill productivity. You may already be interrupting their flow of work. Make it easy on them. They pay a high cost to your “quick” questions.
Keep your conversation professional. Sarcasm, humor, and tone do not translate well in IM. Be clear and direct in your conversation.
End your conversation explicitly, like TTYL, BFN, or something short. Do not leave the other person waiting for you to continue your conversation. If you are going to take time to respond to a message, indicate that with a BRB.
No confidential information
If something cannot be said in an email, do not say it in IM! Avoid sharing sensitive and confidential information in IM.
Always ask your contacts if it would be OK to use a video call or to share your screen before you initiate the call. It helps to get themselves set up correctly and pay attention to the shared screen, instead of just talking to you with the Skype window minimized.
Skype and similar IM platforms allow us to work efficiently and collaboratively in a multi-geographic, multi-time-zone environment. Follow these simple suggestions to save time and increase productivity. Always ask yourself if your interactions can be less interruptive and more efficient.