The king of remote communication has always been text. If you think about it, text or writing is the original remote communication. I’ve never seen anyone attempt to argue otherwise. But where people do differ and get creative is in how they combine writing with non-text remote communication tools.
The fact is, text is difficult. It takes a lot of effort to put words onto paper (so to speak), especially since clarity and brevity are usually essential in remote communication. Nobody said this better than Mark Twain:
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
In this article, I’m going to share three of my favorite non-text based remote communication tools. When I say “non-text based,” I don’t mean that you can’t use text in these tools — just that text is not the primary function.
There’s so much more to remote communication these days than just sending emails or Slack messages. The diversity of tools out there means that almost nobody has the exact same setup to communicate. Plus, new tools are being made every day.
All of these tools have their own advantages and drawbacks — some are immediately obvious, while others take time to see (you’ll see what I mean when we look at this first tool).
This is the wildcard of communication right now. Voxer is a “walkie-talkie” app for your phone. You send voice messages back and forth and listen to a message as it’s being recorded. The messages don’t have a length limit.
I find Voxer to be really good for communication with my internal team. The voice messaging allows for a conversation to happen immediately, and at times it’s very close to a phone call. You can be sending messages back and forth and hash out an idea, or make sure there’s clarity. Since your messages are recorded and can be listened to at your convenience, you get the flexibility and freedom from scheduling calls.
I use Voxer in several ways professionally. Many of my coaches work with me over Voxer. It’s a really good tool for coaches to be able to provide support without having to schedule calls. I can send updates, ask big questions and have discussion in a flexible manner.
I also use it to communicate internally with my team. It’s my main line of communication with my project manager to get updates on what’s going on and to ask or respond to questions.
It’s great to be able to send voice messages back and forth quickly, but also have the ability to get around to the voice message when you have time. This has saved me and the team many hours scheduling and running meetings or calls internally.
The way Voxer works also lends itself well to an “on the go” work style. The people I see using Voxer the most are traveling a lot and maybe not near a keyboard all the time, but still want to have a quick line of communication with their team.
You have the option to play voice messages at up to 4x speed. I find I can understand and listen faster than I can talk — anywhere from 1.5x to 3x speed on messages is comfortable to listen to while still grasping the information. This can help you get through messages quickly.
Sharing voice messages
You can record a voice message and then share it as a link elsewhere. I’ve found this useful when a team member asks for feedback on work they’re doing in Slack — I can record a message using Voxer and leave a link to it in Slack.
There may be some potential for linking to Voxer messages in content. It’s something I have not experimented with yet, but if this is something you’re doing, let me know what you think!
Voxer can make you lazy
then I write an email, I’m usually very careful with my words, and I can see them and review them before I send the message. This takes a certain amount of effort to do. Regardless of what tool you’re using to communicate, you should think about what you say before you start talking. With Voxer, it’s pretty easy to respond on a whim or not fully think about what you’re saying.
Voxer can be a crutch that’s easy to fall back on even when the situation calls for written documentation.
Emotions can bleed into your messages
Voxing while emotional is as bad as texting while drunk. I recommend only using Voxer when you have a cool head. Emotions from anywhere can sneak into a vox message and influence how you deliver it.
Too many times I’ve found myself having just sent a message, wishing I could redo it — not even to change the words, but just to fix the tone of how I said it. Or, if I would have waited five minutes, done some deep breathing and calmed myself, I may have had a completely different response or decision from it.
You’re going to say dumb things and be mildly embarrassed when you do
Voxer sends the message as you are recording it, and unless you have the paid version, you can’t delete it (or “recall,” as they say it in Voxer). This has resulted in recordings of me going through an idea, but then losing my train of thought, stumbling around with words and mild embarrassment, and finally giving up at the end of the message.
It’s a slow and painful process. Usually it starts with a little bit of tightness in my stomach, then a long pause as I try to recover my train of thought, then a moment of panic as I realize I’m mumbling and saying, “Ummmm. Uhhh….” Finally instead of ending a message clearly, it usually concludes with an exasperated “Blah, this is not working, I’ll send another message shortly.”
I think people generally understand, because it happens to everyone, and it has a humanizing effect, so don’t stress about getting lost on a message or saying something wrong every once in a while.
You’re going to say smart things, and they may get lost
The opposite of the last point is true as well. You’re going to have some awesome ideas go through you when in Voxer, and since it’s audio based, it’s harder to go back and find exactly where that good thought was.
I’ve recently found a tool that could be a solution to this. Otter recording is a really slick transcribing tool that I’ve been using on Zoom calls and in Voxer messages. This has been very useful for interviewing our clients and then reviewing the text later.
A few years ago, there was a popular tool called Skype. It was the king of video calls and conferencing. It was a dream for remote workers and allowed anyone who was traveling to communicate, record podcasts and more. Over time, for reasons I don’t understand, Skype became lame. The software didn’t work as well, connections got worse and new players started showing up in the video. While there were others who tried to snatch the crown of video conferencing, Zoom emerged the true king and sent Skype to live in exile with AOL and Myspace.
It’s kind of like this scene in Star Wars where Kylo Ren kills Snoke like a sneaky little rascal and becomes the leader of the empire. I’m sure the people at Skype had a similar shocked reaction when they were left behind.
I’d be surprised to find someone I know these days who does not have Zoom. I’ve been working with Zoom for the last few years for meetings, group coaching calls and sales calls. It’s ubiquitous for those who do any kind of remote work.
It’s had a renaissance since the world turned upside down a few weeks ago, and it’s become one of the main ways I communicate and congregate with friends and family. It was surreal the first few times I ended a work meeting on Zoom at the end of the day, then opened up a new room full of friends.
Pro Tip: Any of the JackBox Games work great with Zoom, and you can gather groups of 5-10 (or more) players.
Many of the speaking workshops I facilitate have been moved to Zoom. One of our big concerns was our ability to make sure everyone still felt they had plenty of 1-on-1 coaching in the virtual sessions.
Breakout rooms made this possible. You can create multiple breakout rooms in a zoom meeting to allow smaller groups of people to discuss. Each coach in the workshop would work with a small group of attendees in a breakout room, just like we do when we meet in person.
Breakout rooms allow for better conversations in workshops, and for the pace of work to be facilitated. When you have more than 1 person talking on Zoom at a time, it can be difficult to understand anything.
You can record meetings to the zoom cloud and keep them there for free for a few months. This is a lifesaver when recording and reviewing meetings, interviews and coaching calls. There’s a ton of sharing potential that this feature enables.
Not everyone is blessed with a photogenic office for Zoom video calls. I’ve felt some background envy from time to time. In the past, I used a cloth backdrop, which worked well for a long time.
Zoom has presented a new solution for this problem. It creates virtual backgrounds with any image you want.
This allows you to put in a simple background and block off anything happening behind you, or just hide the fact that you have not cleaned your room in a few days.
Plus, you can really express yourself if you get a good background:
The ability to share your screen is an integral part of many conferencing tools these days. I won’t go into too much detail on this one, since screen sharing is common, but I will go into a few points of how Zoom does screen sharing well.
Share computer sound
Sharing the sound from your computer is essential if you’re sharing any videos while screen sharing, and it has many other fun applications.
I’ve been working with a client on a presentation over the past few months. She’s a health expert and we wanted to end the teaching portion of her presentation on an uplifting and encouraging note, so we’re planning to have a dance party on the webinar. Having a great track and the sound sharing turned on can really bring the energy up and get people excited and reengaged at this key moment in the presentation.
My taste in music is equally as refined as my taste in virtual backgrounds, so if you need a suggestion for what music to play while on your Zoom meeting or during your own webinar dance party, I recommend this one.
Drawing + Annotations
Another great tool that Zoom has made accessible and easy to use while screen sharing is annotations.
You can draw lines just like the doodles on football replays, add symbols, text and many other things to improve your teaching or explanations. They can be removed quickly, too.
This is a great tool for reviewing and providing feedback. I’ve used it many times reviewing landing pages and ads for clients. It can also be used to enhance teaching points if you’re doing a webinar or some education.
Zoom’s basic features will be good for most people’s video conferencing needs, but there are a few useful upgrades like webinars, phone lines, extra cloud storage and more.
All of the other tools on this list are tools that allow you to send messages and respond when you can. Zoom meetings require scheduling. While there are many solutions these days that make this easy, scheduling is a challenge. These meetings can fill your calendar quickly and leave you with little bandwidth for anything else.
In the past few weeks, Zoom has gone down a bit in reliability. This is understandable, since half the country just signed up for it. It’s common for calls to drop or connections to be poor. It does not happen enough to be a huge problem yet, but it’s a minor to moderate annoyance that I’m sure Zoom is working on fixing up.
BombBomb / Loom
Both BombBomb and Loom are video email tools. Classic email restricts us to text, but words make up only a small portion of how we as humans communicate. The tone of your voice, your body language and your facial expressions do much more to drive the meaning and emotions of your message than the actual words you pick.
For the exception that proves the rule, look no further than Michael Scott, who always seems to have the best intentions when he speaks, but can’t quite pick the right words, which is what makes him so entertaining.
Using video in your emails is the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation. It gives you the power to convey that extra meaning and emotion in the messages you send, and to put a face to your name.
Here are some of the ways I like to use video email:
Outreach – An email inbox is a stale place to make a first impression. Video emails can make a big difference just by incorporating video. You can hear the tone in your voice, and see the expression on your face. A video will make you much more memorable and relatable than plain text. People are used to getting blasted with automated emails that are impersonal and “pitchy.” A personalized video that addresses them by name and puts a face to your name is more likely to get a response.
I use video email for outreach to podcasts, stages and potential JV partners. Often it’s to see if there’s a way I can help them or their audience. One of the best ways I provide value is through good teaching and storytelling, so I see this first outreach email as a micro audition as well.
Follow Up – My friend Charles from PureJV has a saying: “The fortune is in the follow up.” He’s a master of joint venture marketing and attributes most of his success to having systems that help you track and follow up with leads, partners, customers, etc…
- You just came to mind
- Pick up an old thread
- Holidays and special occasions
- Express gratitude
Proposals – Another great use of video for my team is when we create proposals. Our proposals are detailed, and we’ve found that a short video walking them through the proposal and adding extra context to it is a great way to help the customer come to a decision easier and faster.
Video email is still relatively new and not widely used. Getting a video in your inbox that is just for you can be a fun and novel experience for the recipient.
Video and/or screenshare
The flexibility of being able to share your screen or record a video for yourself allows you to use these tools in many different ways.
Do it on the go
BombBomb has a mobile app so you can record and send video emails from your phone in a snap;
There’s a chance that adding a video to your email may get you caught in a spam filter. When I send emails individually, this does not seem to happen as much, but it’s frustratingly common when sending batch emails.
Good for 1-on-1, but tough to scale
Video email really shines in 1-on-1 conversations, but adding a video to something like a newsletter blast does not have much of an impact on the clicks.
Conclusion – Remote Communication Is Like Pizza
Like I said at the beginning of this article, text and writing is the foundation of great remote communication. It’s like the crust of a pizza — you need a crust to have a pizza. The toppings of your pizza are the non-verbal communication tools. Some people like pepperoni, some people like pineapple. Maybe you like a bunch of toppings, or maybe you prefer to really savor just one. Everybody’s favorite kind of pizza is very different, and everyone’s best setup for remote communication varies.
While there’s no right or wrong answer, I hope this article has helped you make a better communication pizza.