A ping from here. A ring from there. An alert from just about anywhere. The world is more connected than ever, but the newest hurdle—and one that is tough to avoid—is how to be productive in a world not just more connected than ever, but louder than ever.
Trends like JOMO (joy of missing out) are spreading, and it’s easy to understand why. Too much information is simply exhausting. In fact, a recent study from the University of Michigan found that people learned significantly better after a nature walk than if they had taken a walk through a dense urban environment. Environments which present people with a constant barrage of information leave people inherently fatigued and less productive.
Nowhere is this conundrum more prevalent than in the preferred new format for office communication: the chat tool. Communicating at work via chat tools is a major improvement over confusing and long email threads, but that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here.
It’s common to feel like you’re “working” but realize you’ve actually just been answering messages in chat all day, and nothing actually got done.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to set your team chat up for success so everyone can be both connected and productive, and the key is basic math.
What Is The "Signal-To-Noise Ratio"?
In case you missed it in math class (no judgement here), a ratio is a comparison of how much of one thing there is compared to another thing. And it factors surprisingly strong in the communication health of your team.
To measure the level of distraction your team is probably battling in chat, let’s use something called the "signal-to noise-ratio." This is defined as the level of important signal compared to the level of distracting noise you encounter every day across your communication channels.
For example, say you get an alert in a chat tool like Stride about a service interruption on your business' website. This is a signal. While dealing with this problem, however, your teammates are messaging you about where to go for lunch. This is noise.
When the signal-to-noise ratio gets too heavy on the noise, the natural urge is to turn the entire system off. No noise, no distractions. Eliminating inputs altogether, however, is not the answer—there are plenty of signals that are crucial for your job. But there is also noise that takes you away from what's important.
So how do you balance it all?
Find Your Perfect Ratio
Everyone works differently, but having a process and understanding as a team will help each person be more productive with the clarity that comes from being on the same page (and feel less of the pang of FOMO).
Like switching gears in a car when it’s time to speed up or slow down, you and your team must know when to change gears to get the best results.
Ready, Settings, Go
Directions and settings are—yawn—boring. But they make all the difference in lessening unwanted noise while amplifying critical signals. In any tool you use, taking just a few minutes to set up notifications and settings exactly to your needs will make all the difference in the long run.
Set notifications per room
Not all chat rooms are created equal; some are simply more important than others. Set the highest level of alerts on mission critical rooms—like Updates Going Live—and remove most or all of the notifications from others—like Animal Lovers. For example, in less critical rooms, you may only want to be notified if someone mentions you specifically. This way you'll be alerted for important signals and not distracted by noise. When you're ready, come back to join the debate over best goat gifs.
Finding your signal-to-noise ratio is not just about lessening the noise. It's equally about making sure you're aware of important signals. A great way to make sure you never miss a critical notification is by downloading mobile apps for your work tools.
Many of us cringe at this thought. I don't want work to interrupt my life. But if you've set up your notification settings properly, you should only be getting mobile messages for the most critical things. Whether you’re a work worrier or someone who is striving for better work-life balance, this golden rule of “mobile when most important” will make sure you’re at least able to be informed when it’s most critical.
Get your focus on
When it's time to be heads down and really crank work out, you need ways to tell others to just shhhushhh. When it's that time, jump into Stride's Focus Mode to mute all your notifications.
Focus Mode will eliminate all distractions while also showing your teammates exactly what you’re working on so they know why you’re giving them the busy signal. We call it “responsible focusing.” 😉
Connect your tools
Integrating your work tools into your chat solution helps both lessen noise and boost signal. By getting alerts in chat when something has changed or there's an update in other places where work is happening, you'll spend less time bouncing between apps and browsers and more time getting work done.
By bringing work tools right into where you're already working, you can rest assured that you won't miss something important. For instance, connect Trello to Stride so you'll know anytime something's changed on your board.
Better yet, you'll avoid excessive context-switching. Stay right in Stride and create new Trello tickets like that.
This way, your work tools become a part of the same workflow and your team can stay concentrated on what's in front of them.
Chat Isn’t Always The Answer
The chat struggle is real. There are some conversations that are simply too complex or debates that unfold too quickly to be handled in chat. This is when teams should escalate the conversation to face-to-face—whether you can all sit together in an office or jump on a video conference.
Pictured: Trello teammates jumping on a video call through their Stride channel, "Trello Marketing"
As a rule, if a fast-moving conversation has exceeded five minutes, take it out of chat. Not only will you get to a decision or outcome faster, but you'll ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Play Catch Up Like It's Actually Fun
While jumping into Focus Mode or quieting your notifications may help you concentrate, it doesn't always eliminate the FOMO you feel. But what if you felt confident that when you return, you'd be 100% up to speed?
Using chat features that pull out must-read moments, like Actions and Decisions, makes it simple to know what is required reading. When returning to Stride, just check your highlights tabs to see all the actions and decisions that happened while you were heads down, giving you an birds-eye view of everything that's happened.
As a team, agree to mark any to-do as an action and any outcome as a decision. Having a way to easily and quickly catch up on what you missed helps lessen the pang of FOMO and encourages people to feel comfortable closing chat when needed to focus on large tasks.
Expectations—in work and life—set the stage for success or failure. Creating team norms and expectations is super important for creating a successful workflow. Instead of letting your work tools instruct your daily happenings, take control by deciding as a team how you want to work and communicate.
Each team operates differently, so these processes are not prescriptive. Here are some ideas of possible ways to set expectations:
- Don't expect a response immediately: Thanks to fast food and Netflix autoplay, we can’t help but expect immediate responses. As a team, set expectations that it is okay to let things sit for a minute, or sixty.
- Yes, go MIA: Decide as a team that it's okay to be unavailable. Use your presence indicators to either show you are unavailable or busy. Going busy or into Focus Mode, as well as turning off chat altogether, should be perfectly acceptable.
- Schedule GSD (get s**t done) time: Create specific times that your whole team takes a step back from communication— could be an hour everyday or a whole day once a week. Maker days can give your team additional structure around when chat will be busy or quiet. These “team-sanctioned” moments of respite from signal and noise give everyone the appropriate time and space to get into the zone.
Long story short? We all work differently. But paying attention to your communication ratio, with the goal of lessening the level of noise you're receiving, will make a huge impact not just on your personal productivity but also the success of your team.