I often see a hyped up pitch of remote work that asynchronous communication (text chat + video calling from time to time) is enough, you just have to adapt to it.
I don’t agree with that.
Asynchronous communication is great when a teammate has complete and clearly defined tasks. He can get himself secluded to stay focused to complete the tasks. It is better for him not to interact with fellow teammates to avoid unnecessary interruptions, stay in the state of the flow and get things done.
But how often does a team member have complete and clearly defined tasks? Not often. Usually, tasks are not complete. They often need clarifications, more brainstorming, advice from other teammates. Work is usually a boiling pot with discussions, questions, helping others and getting help from others. Staying in the state of flow is often mixed with interaction with others.
That’s when real-time synchronous communication is needed. That’s why in the long term, asynchronous communication makes a remote worker a hermit. It separates people.
Have you ever worked in a company where people sit in the same room with their headsets on, preferring to talk via text chat instead of face to face? I have. You can feel the air of isolation and separation in teams like that. You’d think a couple of times before approaching someone to talk face to face. Why? Well, because you think he is super busy, and he doesn’t want to be interrupted. At least he looks busy. And it is the norm that everyone prefers text chat and async communication in general. Separation only grows over time.
Having real-time face to face as a default mode of communication, allows teammates to interact in a more creative and diverse way. People know each other better. They can socialize and have fun. Over time the team forms some kind of a collective mind. The ability to communicate face to face by default means that the relationships within the team are staying healthy.
That is why many companies prefer open office plans because it forces teammates to have a real-time face to face communication as a default. It also prevents team members from isolating themselves and resorting to async communication as a primary mode.
What about remote workers?
The bad news is that remote work forces to communicate asynchronously. The usual configuration is text chat + video (or even only audio) calling. Remote teammates are isolated. In such a situation it is difficult to create the same real-time face to face communication environment that you have in an open office.
You can make a Skype call and leave it always-on. Somebody does that, actually. It can work but it feels unnatural.
First, working remotely usually means working from home, often “in pants.” Nobody wants to be seen the same way as you are seen in the office wearing office clothes.
Second, software like Skype allows others to look you straight in the face in full screen. They can see every little tiny wrinkle on your face without you knowing that. Isn’t it big brother-ish? It feels awkward and weird.
Third, anyone can turn the camera off unless a team manager forces everyone to remain live-streaming. Considering the awkwardness, it can be tiresome for the team members.
So, what kind of solution could be for the mentioned problems?
Live video communication with privacy
First, everyone should feel comfortable while remaining connected via live video. One solution to implement that – to be blurred by default:
You can see that the guy is there but it is not clear what he’s doing and how he’s dressed up.
Second, a remote teammate should be aware of how others can see him, to avoid cases when others can see something, that he doesn’t expect them to see.
Third, there should be no unexpected things happening. Like when it takes only a second to unblur a teammate. It’s not cool to be suddenly unblurred when you’re picking your nose.
Every change of privacy should be notified upon and should be gradual. So, the teammate could prepare himself (get a finger out of his nose).
Is there any tool that does the mentioned things? Well, now there is one – VideoWorkLink (VWL).
It’s an experimental tool that has all the features described above. VWL allows remote teammates to remain connected via live video without feeling discomfort. The one that they’d feel in an always-on Skype video call.
In this article, I want to make a point that remote work needs real time face to face communication by default in order to continue winning the minds of team managers. Having only async communication is not enough for successful collaboration over the long term.
To solve the problems mentioned in this article I’ve created the product – VideoWorkLink (VWL). I encourage you to try it out (it is in free beta) and let me know what you think! You can download it by clicking the button below.