Here’s a quick tip if you’re looking for a way to reduce unnecessary real-time chat at work:
- Set up a shared todo list called Q&A.
- When you want to ask a coworker or another team’s lead a question, create a todo with the question as text. Add any extra information as a note, and assign it to the appropriate person.
- When you get your answer, mark the todo as done. (And make sure to give thanks!)
This works great as a channel of communication between teams too. At Semaphore, we came up with this pattern while discussing how to moderate our use of real-time communication. For example, when our Marketing team has a technical question, they post it on the Q&A list on Engineering.
I’m showing Basecamp here, but you can easily apply the pattern to other apps.
A nice side effect of this approach is that knowledge gets recorded in a place that is easy to find, instead of evaporating in chat history.
If you keep a chat window open at all times, it’s very tempting to write out every question that pops up in your mind. You might as well @-mention a person, or even ping the whole channel. And this may be fine in a very small team where everyone is working on the same problem.
As we scaled work on Semaphore to many autonomous teams, we’ve found that the asynchronous approach works better. When you take the time to write down the question, you are more likely to share everything that the other person needs to give you a complete answer. There’s no back and forth. Best of all, you don’t immediately interrupt them in what they’re currently doing. It might be that you’ll also get your answer faster.