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The Importance of Visual Communication for Remote & Distributed Teams


Posted by
Phil McCormick

September 16, 2020
This is a guest post from our colleagues at Gliffy

Whether you’re a few months into a full work-from-home routine or you’ve worked on a geographically distributed team for years, you’ve likely experienced a few miscommunications or “glitches” in your way of working. It might be the audio cutting out on a video call as your teammate explains an important concept. Perhaps your team preferred analog tools like a physical Kanban board or a whiteboard for sketching ideas. Maybe you’re drowning in slack notifications as your team over-compensates for the lack of facetime.

As we all try to figure out how to make work actually work, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Each one of your teammates has a unique way of communicating and, in tandem, a unique way of absorbing information. One of the best ways you can collaborate — IRL or online — is by ensuring that your team has ways to meet each of those styles. 

What Learning Style Theories Mean for Your Team

The idea that there are multiple learning styles is commonplace and shapes the way that educators design lessons for their students. Likewise, this way of thinking can ensure that your team stays in lock-step whether in the office or at home. The theory of multiple learning styles was initially published by David A. Kolb in his 1984 book, Experiential Learning, and has since blossomed into similar theories describing anywhere from 3 to 8 unique learning styles.

While these theories vary, almost all share the following concepts:

  • Visual learners prefer graphics and charts to understand concepts
  • Auditory learners absorb information best by listening to or discussing an idea
  • Reading-oriented learners best learn by writing or reading words
  • Physical learners work best by “doing” and remember their experiences

People can have multiple learning strengths and absorb information through any of these, but most have an innate preference for one or two styles of learning. To make your team and projects as effective as possible, include multiple styles in your meetings and reviews.

Mis-Matched Learning Styles

Say you’ve gathered your team in a conference room to introduce a new process. Perhaps you start the meeting by introducing a new team member or sharing new responsibilities for a specific role. Then, you get into the bulk of your plan — something like this:

“We’re switching to a new analytics tool. Emily is leading the transition, so she can be your point person for any high-level questions. That means that you don’t need to ask Tom T. for approvals in the old tool anymore. Instead, you’ll email James at the Service Desk if you need access, which will then need to be approved by either Jesse or Karen.

Aside from that, the process should be essentially the same. You’ll upload your work, request a copy edit from Carole’s team, share with Suzanne in PR, and FYI Tom B. and Leah before publishing. Carole has requested an extra day for the editors, so please try to get your requests in earlier in the process.”

Assume you want to reach all four types of learners on your team. By saying that out loud, you’ve covered off on the auditory learners. If you gesture to each person in the process as you mentioned their name, your visual learners have gotten a solid set of cues they need to remember this. Reading-oriented learners should be fine if you list this out in a follow-up email or on your team’s wiki. Your physical learners will need to get through the process once, but they’ll have it down after that.

Now imagine this conversation takes place on a conference call. Your listeners, readers, and do-ers would be relatively unaffected by that change. But for your visual learners, everything you explain might fly straight over their heads.

Strengths of Visual Learning

The often-cited statistic that 65% of people are visual learners stems from a 1998 study published by MindTools. This doesn’t mean that 65% of people are exclusively visual learners, but that it’s a preferred learning style. For the sake of simplicity, you can assume that two-thirds of the people you work with would prefer a visual cue.

Further, 3M’s research indicates that images are processed 60,000 times faster than text and that visual aids increase learning retention rates by up to 400%. (No wonder they sell so many Post-It Notes.) Even those on your team who don’t identify as a visual learner benefit from these effects.

Adding Visuals While Working From Anywhere

Have you seen the coffee mugs that say “this meeting should’ve been an email”? At Gliffy, we’re sipping from our own version: “this should’ve been a flowchart.”

We believe in the power of visuals. We know that a quick sketch on a whiteboard can be what gets everyone on board with a new idea. We’re guilty of skimming long emails and wiki pages. We have all felt the pain of trying to keep up with the jargon of Zoom call that was supposed to end 3 minutes ago. While some of these “remote communication” challenges are new, we’ve spent over 15 years working to solve the root problem: our main business and communication tools aren’t visual enough.

With Gliffy for Confluence or Jira, your team can add, edit, and embed diagrams throughout each instance or into other popular tools like Slack, Basecamp, Trello, and GSuite. With easy versioning tools, you can keep track of edits and updates as your team grows and processes change. You can make visual maps of all the information on your instance by linking diagrams to other pages or even other diagrams. Your embedded diagrams stay up-to-date, so your team never accidentally references old information.

Our drag-and-drop interface makes it extremely easy for anyone to pick up Gliffy — no training required. As the diagramming tool with the deepest integration in Confluence and Jira, it’s an immediately intuitive fit for teams already using those products.

Get started with a free trial of Gliffy today and look for these opportunities to start infusing more visuals in your team’s work:

  • Encourage employees to translate their sketches into diagrams that the rest of the team can reference.
  • Audit your Confluence instances or documentation for long explanations. Try to put a diagram up top so that users can quickly identify where to look for the info they need.
  • When you see your team struggling with a process, make sure there’s a visual or flowchart associated with that process.
  • If your team has a hard time locating certain pages or tickets, create a map that shows how things are organized and add links wherever possible.

Adding diagrams and visuals like these can help your team work more efficiently and collaborate easily. Whether Gliffy becomes your substitute for the prolific whiteboard or your team’s way of preserving those rough sketches, you’ll all be better for it. We’re excited to see what you can build together.

As an Atlassian Platinum Solution Partner, Valiantys can help you simplify your handling of Jira. Thanks to the Atlassian suite and apps like Gliffy, your teams can gain agility. We are here to accompany you from the conception of the solution to its hosting to the coaching of your team thanks to training and daily support. Learn more about Gliffy for Confluence and Jira by talking to Valiantys.