During one of our weekly developer lunch meetings at work, a developer opened the topic regarding workplace communications. Specifically, what to expect when you make an inquiry to someone over text communications like email and chat. It was an interesting topic to talk about. Everyone had different opinions and ways of managing it. In this article, I'll talk about how I manage mine.
For inquiries, ask me anything anytime. I always remind everyone that I'm always open to inquiries, whether I'm busy or not. However, I may not respond at the time expected for various reasons. Best case, I respond immediately. Worst case, I gain an unread messages pile which I have to respond to later. But me being busy has nothing to do with anyone's ability to ask. So go ahead, just ask.
For email, do NOT expect a response from me unless it's early morning, noon, or late afternoon. Email is this archaic technology usually used for sending formal messages. But once sent, there are no edits and no undos. Because of this, I read and respond to emails slowly and carefully. This takes a lot of time, so I started reading and responding to emails only when I come in, during lunch, and before going home.
When I'm marked as "away", do NOT expect a response from me at all. "Away" can be two things. I could literally be away, not signed-in nor near a device. I could also be lurking - signed-in, working, do not want to be disturbed, but still want to keep tabs on everything just in case something bursts into flames.
When I'm marked as "busy", do not expect a response from me for at least an hour. When I'm busy, I only switch between important applications and totally ignore chat. The busy status in most chat clients also suppress OS-level notifications. That means I am not aware of any new messages until I switch to the chat app voluntarily*.
When I'm marked as "available", do not expect a response from me immediately. If the responses are immediate, that's good. But if the responses are not immediate, I could be preoccupied with something else. OS-level notifications do show up this time, so I'm aware of the new message. Just give me a minute to switch windows. I don't stare at the chat window all day long.
But if something's on fire
If something requires urgent attention, just stop by my desk. To me, walking to someone's desk is not an easy feat, let alone talking to them in person. So if someone had to walk all the way to my desk, it must be very, very important. For remote people, I also reserve direct messages and mentions as a sign of urgency. If it weren't important, the inquiry wouldn't have been explicitly directed at me.
Communication is essential in any team, big or small. And it's best if everyone adheres to the same protocol to streamline communications and avoid unwanted drama. TV drama is already too much. It's in your best interest to NOT bring that same drama off screen.
I hope this short article has given you insight on how I manage workplace communications. As always, if you have comments or suggestions, feel free to drop a line.