Today’s remote work requires special management skills and management practices. Read blogs by leading remote companies. You’ll find out that many of them developed unusual and sometimes even odd management practices to keep their teams together.
Isolation and communication based on text chat force every company to develop its own recipes for remote work. A single standard doesn’t exist. Every company has to reinvent a wheel.
Today’s state of remote work is that:
- Every company that introduces full-time remote work has to experiment. Established practices don’t exist. Every company is a remote-work lab.
- Sophisticated and often peculiar practices are needed.
- Annual semi-annual or quarterly get-togethers are needed. This is expensive. Only well funded/profitable companies can afford that.
That is why many managers unconsciously are careful about going remote. They intuitively sense that remote work is not as simple as it seems.
What is the main reason for difficulties?
Every remote employee works in isolation. He contacts fellow remote co-workers in a transactional fashion. A transaction can be text-based – a message in text chat. It can be live video transaction – a video call.
Anyway, it is a transaction, that has a beginning and an end.
In the case of text, you can wait for a response for a long time. Such communication can be slow. Moreover, tools like Slack are known to be distracting because of lots and lots of text messages and threads a user has to pay attention to.
Video calls may seem a better alternative, but they often need to be scheduled. It is hard to know if a remote employee is available and ready for a call if you want to make an unscheduled call. More often than not, every video call begins with equipment adjust with questions like “Can you hear me? Can you see me?” like on the funny video below:
Compare such communication with communication inside an open office plan or cubicle farm. Everyone is available, visible, hearable. Even inside the cubicle farm you can just stand up, look around and see who is available and ready to talk. Then you can approach a specific person or shout out to him.
Which one is faster? Of course inside the office! In which one is quicker to get into contact with another employee? You know the answer.
Inside the office, you are continuously connected together face to face. It takes almost no effort to engage the other employee. The cost (time and effort) of making a contact is very low.
The cost of engaging a remote employee is high. The response time on a text message is unknown. Video calls often need to be scheduled. Making them also takes time since the other participant may be unavailable. Moreover, video calls often start with equipment adjustments.
The higher cost of communication means the slower speed of work. Collaboration becomes more and more difficult over time.
Is there any solution?
How can remote employees continuously stay in face to face contact?
The obvious answer might seem to launch a Skype/Zoom/Hangout/Whatever, make a group video call and leave it running all workday or most of the workday.
It seems easy, but it has a lot of hidden issues.
First, these products are technically not designed to be used that way. Video calls are usually in HD. And that will eat away your bandwidth and CPU. Some of these tools have restrictions on call duration. A connection can become unstable over time.
Second, their user interfaces are not designed for that purpose too. You can make a person’s face full screen at any time without him knowing that. Would you feel good if someone could stare right into your face from a breathing distance without you knowing that? Within such circumstances, the desire to turn the camera off or point it at the wall can be overwhelming.
What king of solution we need
We need a tool that satisfies the following requirements:
- Provides a continuous live video connection between remote team members.
- Low bandwidth and CPU consumption when working 24 hours a day.
- Stable reliable connection without quality loss.
- Respects privacy by design and by default.
- Provides a quick and easy way to make close contact with another user.
- Gives clear prior notifications before privacy change when making a close contact.
- Gives a reasonable time to prepare before a close contact followed by privacy change.
- Provides the same video availability and the same video-rules for every user without regards for his status and position.
1 and 2 are self-explanatory. Let’s talk about the other points.
Continuous live video communication
Members of the remote team should be continuously connected via live video. This way it will create office-like visibility of each other (although with privacy as described below). It will provide the possibility to overhear conversations and ask the whole team quick spontaneous questions.
It will eliminate the need for extra scheduling, the need for establishing a connection before talking.
Communication will be natural and free-floating, without unnecessary technical barriers.
Privacy by design and by default
Since working remotely in most cases means working from home, privacy should be a default mode.
For example, in an experimental tool that I developed, for privacy, I decided to use partial visibility. As you can see on the image below, the guy (it’s me, actually) is visible but details are blurred. It is hard to understand what he’s doing. (hint: I am drinking coffee)
Quick way to make close contact
There should be a way to reduce privacy to enter into close contact with a teammate. The same as approaching a teammate’s table for a talk.
For example, as shown below:
As you can see, a teammate gets gradually unblurred. On his side, you get gradually unblurred too. The window that popped up can be resized in any way because a close contact means close visibility of the teammate.
Clearly visible notifications before privacy change
A user should be notified before his privacy changed. Nobody wants his visibility changed without knowing that.
In VideoWorkLink (VWL), he gets a small notification window in a tray area of desktop saying that he’ll be unblurred within a few seconds, as shown below:
A reasonable time to prepare before contact
Close contact is a delicate thing.
To not disrupt users’ calm, he should be given time to prepare for close contact. Because who knows what he is doing at the moment. If he’s picking his nose, he’d like to stop doing that before a close contact.
In VideoWorkLink (VWL) a close contact happens gradually within several seconds (3 seconds minimum). It gives time to get yourself ready for close contact, as shown below:
Same video-availability and the same video-rules for every user
The communication tool should avoid a pitfall described by the quote from George Orwell: “Some animals are equal, and some are more equal than others.”
Every user regardless of his position inside a team should be equally visible as others. Same video-rules should be applied to him and to others.
In VWL, there are several types of live video connections as shown on the following image:
As you can see, each type is pretty much self-explanatory.
Every user operates the same under the type’s rules.
For example, in Reciprocal type, a user can see others only if he has started his video. He can’t see others if he hasn’t started his video, because others can’t see him.
In Required type, a user can see and hear others only if he has started his video and vice versa.
The main reason for the difficulty of remote work is the absence of a continuous live video connection between remote team members.
Although there are video conferencing tools, they can’t solve this problem because they are not designed to do that.
We need a new solution that is designed especially for that purpose.
As an example of such a solution, I propose the experimental tool that I developed- VideoWorkLink (VWL).
Guys, I encourage you to try VideoWorkLink (VWL).
It is a tool that allows remaining connected with remote teammates via live video with privacy. Its design enables remote teammates to remain connected via live video. It saves bandwidth and CPU resources.
Let me know what you think about the product. Let’s improve remote work together!