Vinicius Brasil

January 20, 2023

Breaking the barriers of remote communication

I've been working remotely for the past 4 years. As a software engineer, most of my work can be done without an office space. Most. Even if your job is standing behind a laptop screen, there is still one thing that needs to be thought through: communication.

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OK, I know you have Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other really good synchronous communication software. But those are just tools, that when misused don't help communication in remote work settings.

I've worked at a company where 50% of the workforce was remote. We had all the fancy communication software, but still, it felt like communication didn't flow. Good discussions usually happened at the office, and remote workers would only get spoon-fed decisions. The company did have good tools, I could reach my co-workers in no time when I needed help, and we had weekly online meetings for alignment. What was going wrong?

By going the easy path of discussing things in-person in a hybrid setting, remote workers would feel a bit "out" and programmers reduced to frustrated code monkeys. By not having a real remote setting, the company and the employees were losing out. That's not to blame, because most remote-friendly companies are not using the full potential of this amazing work setting.

The true issue was that communication was mainly synchronous. Microsoft Teams, Slack, Rocket.Chat are all synchronous communication tools by default. How the company uses these tools defines how the work setting is going to be. Remote companies - not just "remote-friendly" ones - think of work as being asynchronous, and use synchronicity for urgent and crisis situations.

If you're working remotely and you don't feel like you write a lot, you're probably working too synchronously. The remote setting comes with a price and at the same time a reward: writing and documenting everything. Asynchronous discussions should be written down in a tool that allows collaboration. This usually means things will happen at a slower pace, giving time to people in different to time zones contribute to discussions. Not just different time zones, but people can work different hours within the same time zone.

Screencasts can be a useful alternative to written communication in remote settings when the subject matter is best explained through visual demonstrations. For example, when providing internal technical support or explaining a software decision, it can be more effective to record a screencast that shows the steps being taken, rather than trying to explain them through written instructions. Additionally, screencasts can be replayed multiple times, allowing the viewer to pause and review information as needed, making it a more interactive and engaging way of communicating asynchronously.

Remote work can be effective when companies use the full potential of the setting by shifting their communication style to be more asynchronous and utilizing tools that promote collaboration and documentation. Synchronous communication tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams can be misused, leading to remote workers feeling left out and frustrated. Asynchronous communication allows for contributions from people in different time zones and encourages thorough documentation. This approach may lead to slower decision-making, but ultimately results in more inclusive and productive remote work.

About Vinicius Brasil

Building cool stuff with Elixir, OTP and Ruby. Musician and majoring in Theology. I'm based in beautiful Curitiba, and yes, that is my real last name.