Text Should Not Feel Important

In a workplace, quick feedback is easy to come by. We just ask the person we’ve on our side, we walk by a trusted colleague, maybe we even ask a few people for a quick critique. It feels simple and lightweight.

When remote, a lot of the ways we communicate change. Remote work requires and thrives on written communication, and remote design isn’t different. It requires multiple communication channels, and remote companies in particular need asynchronous ones — for example at Automattic we use P2 — that are heavily text based.

This mental block happens because we perceive a written post as being more permanent, more formal. We’re writing something visible to the entire team or even the entire company, as such we try to make sure it’s solid, that the design is perfect, that the explanation is crisp. If the company language isn’t our first language, we get even more insecure about the spelling. And with all that attention… we lose the speed and immediacy of quick feedback. 

And we get stuck.

You can see the tension: we want people to write, even about in-progress work, even about small pieces of work, to create awareness, to get feedback. Yet there’s the subtle fear that “everyone is going to read this, so I better write it well”. The outcome? A question that might take five minutes to resolve in person to write takes an hour to write out. 

This also creates a vicious loop: a designer takes a long time (and experiences a lot of stress) to write these posts,. This makes them loathe writing them, which leads to less-frequent posting. Feedback backs up, and now instead of a few small issues, they need feedback on an entire project — which is an even more stressful post to write.

How to overcome the block

The best way to approach this is as a team.

The team lead should help the individual designer recognize this is happening, encourage them to publish smaller, more frequent posts. They can also offer to review posts, to help individual designers calm their anxieties and feel confident posting.

The team should lead by example: it’s very helpful to see how other designers write their posts. How they write short, to the point content, with clear questions, and they might even discuss just sketches. How some designs being discussed aren’t fully drafted, or have clear missing parts — because the feedback is what makes them complete. How discussions can evolve and happen. 

The individual designer experiencing this mental block can also use some techniques overcome the block. Timeboxing work for some people: set a 10 minutes timer to write, and then publish. It can also help to review how others write them, and start by mirroring the structure of their posts. It’s also important to recognize this block and be open with the team — they can’t provide support if they don’t know. In the end, practice. Practice until it becomes easier, or even effortless.

The communication channels the company uses also have a big impact. If there’s no strong asynchronous channel (like P2, Yammer, Basecamp, or even email) this issue will be less evident. If the organization is siloed and communication flows aren’t transparent, people might feel okay in writing to the few people in the group. But just because the issue is less intense doesn’t mean there’s no block. Keep an eye open for it.

Once posting frequently is a habit, you’ll see many advantages: it clear out your thoughts, communicates more transparently, and creates a record of decisions that’s easy for others to follow. There’s no silver bullet for communications issues — they take work. The whole team can contribute an environment that makes this mental block easier to overcome. 

Thanks to Andrei Dinu, Filipe Varela, and Michelle Weber for reviewing the article and enriching it with some good ideas. Another case of how the team leads by example!

By Erin 'Folletto' Casali

Designing Product Experiences · NED · Mentor · Speaker · Baker Framework Founder · ManifestoIbridi Author