Team Communication and the Least Common Denominator

A recent Hacker News post mentioned producing crap. I've been so focused on trying to only put good things online that I've avoided just writing anything that may be less than optimal which, as the post suggested, implied that I'd never write anything at all. As such, I've decided to write about team communication, both externally and internally.

One of the things my team is struggling is communication, especially when it comes to remote workers. My belief is that you need to "lower" the tier of communication to the level of the most disadvantaged co-worker. If everyone is available and in-person, bringing all the relevant people into the conversation face-to-face is the optimal solution. Meanwhile, if at least one person is in another city, state or country, everyone should communicate as much as possible using the most convenient medium available to those peers. Be it Skype, IRC, email or even smoke signals, unless careful attention is paid to ensuring your co-workers stay in the loop, invariably someone will be left out of an important conversation and feelings will be hurt.

Disclaimer: We have not objectively solved this problem, but my hope is we get a little better every day.

So this leaves the team with a conundrum: the mechanism of communication is likely less optimal than a closed door room full of whiteboards. In other words, your situation sucks, but imagine how the remote developers feel. Emphasis should be placed on maximizing collaboration while minimizing frustrating interaction. This usually requires effort and often money, too. Where does that leave half remote, half local teams? Ideally, you split the remote and local developers into focus groups, so that in-person communication doesn't need to be reproduced for the one or more remote peers. To put it another way, no one wants to play the secretary, and if someone does, the remote end likely receives a less than optimal description of the localized conversation.

In short, remote communication is a huge hurdle, and I don't think there are any easy answers, but the value of feeling like an equal contributor out weighs the pain of bridging the communication gaps.

Tools that we like / ameliorate the problem:


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