David Caulfield

Lost Communication Moments in Remote Working

Remote vs. In-person debate

As lockdowns lifted, many companies have returned to in-person working with the belief that it is overall better for collaboration and delivering immediate value. This may or may not be true, or maybe it is true in some cases and not others, or maybe collaboration and immediate value should not be the only metrics to look at. Whatever the case may be, it strikes me as obvious that there are some serious disadvantages when working remotely. But the disadvantages do not affect everyone in the same way.

I think it comes down to the question "Do you know what you have to do?" In other words, is your task well-defined enough that you can do it by yourself? In many jobs, this is the case. Developing presentations, organising people to talk to each other, updating a client - these are all well-defined tasks.

But what about writing code for a project which we don't understand? Or analyzing a bug where, almost by definition, we don't know what's causing it? Or learning the basics of a new skill that other people take years to master? How can we be expected to do this by ourselves? The answer is: We can't. And if we can't do it by ourselves, that means we need others to help and support us. We get that help by communicating with them.

Lost moments of communication

  • Overhearing an ad-hoc conversation between your two teammates.
  • Seeing your teammate red-faced and stressed at their desk.
  • Talking to someone in-person and noticing their foot shaking as if they are agitated.
  • Signalling you want to interrupt someone's monologue to correct them.
  • Turning around to your team and asking them for help (ie. Not needing to setup a meeting just to talk to a teammate).
  • Hearing other people laugh at a joke.
  • Hearing a happy story that someone encountered this morning.
  • Seeing the magic of someone else writing great code.
  • Having a conversation in a meeting while your colleagues have a separate conversation across the table.

These moments are not possible in a remote environment, and we make many trade-offs for the benefits of working remotely.

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