WFH : Communication Advice from Successful Teams that Work Remotely
- April 23, 2020
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Happy Friday! Today I’m sharing an article from almost two years ago that has some new-found value in a moment when all of us are working from home more more: we don’t have a choice. When the article was written in 2018, there was a touch and go debate about the value of remote work vs. in-office work, and the impact on team performance. That debate will, no doubt, pick up again after COVID-19 with new data points and new experiences shared by many more teams and companies and individuals.
The author proposes that we benefit from bursty communications, when working remotely. Well, that choice of words didn’t help me much, but this description did:
we show that remote teams who communicate in bursts—exchanging messages quickly during periods of high activity—perform much better than remote teams whose conversations involve long lag time between responses and are spread across multiple topic threads. In other words, it might not be distance per se that limits remote teams.
They ran a randomized controlled trial across 260 software workers in 50 countries.
What did lead to better outcomes was having a “bursty” communication style, where ideas were communicated and responded to quickly. By contrast, in environments where communication and feedback were delayed or dispersed across multiple threads, teams suffered, and the quality of their work suffered.
And finally, to put a pin in it:
People often think that constant communication is most effective, but actually, we find that bursts of rapid communication, followed by longer periods of silence, are telltale signs of successful teams.
For remote teams, those periods of silence are where they get the most done. The bursty communications mean that they’re not often stuck waiting on feedback from colleagues. I suggest reading the whole article – it’s an academic view of a business topic, and it isn’t a top-ten list, but it might get you thinking about how you’re running your remote team, and how to help consolidate communications into tighter bands of time in the day, allowing more time for folks to really focus.