We are doing it wrong with the remote working approach

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I know that we all live in a very complicated situation that has been forced all of us to work by a different set of rules, trying to catch up to be productive and work as we used to do it but in full remote mode.

For some of us, this has been quite easy because people working in the Tech industry are, at some level, working remotely. Especially the people, like me, that works for International companies with teams from different locations, time zones and so, we were usual to some parts of the process. The tools we were using like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Team, or Google Meet were not a new thing from us.

Also, we were used to managing different time zones from our meetings to be able to find a quite valid spot for all of us to be able to share our experience and so on. So, it seemed we were going to doing it perfectly. But, that’s not the case, and it is been pretty much for everyone.

Just let me ask you one question: How is your calendar now comparing to how it was before the pandemic? How many hours do you have just entirely for internal meetings?

If you search a little bit around even here in Medium you could find so many examples about this, also if you listening to the podcast you are already aware of this situation, each of us knows about that situation or we’re just experienced ourselves.

Because it seems we were trying to switch from the usual conversations we had in the office or with customers to an online conference about 30 minutes to catch up on any other topic that we usually managed in a quick coffee in the office or just a quick 2 minutes call.

Even that most of us have been grown in the Instant Messing world and I don’t want to talk about the “new things” if we can call WhatsApp, Telegram or Slack that way, we were doing that since long long time ago, with AOL, ICQ or IRC.

We’ve been trained ourselves in asynchronous communication but it seems we didn’t learn anything from it. How many meetings could be replaced by an email thread? How many meetings could be replaced by a slack channel?

We’re used to thinking the other way that the meeting is quite more effective than a mail thread, and that’s possibly true in some cases. We finally have all the stakeholders at the same time in the same place talking about the same topic makes that the matter of time dedicated to the issue is going to be less.

But the problem is where the number of conversations and topics grows exponentially because we also need to work based on that. We just heard a colleague of mine a few days ago saying something like this:

  • Now I have all day blocked with meetings
  • For each of these meetings, I end up with action items that I need to work on.
  • But based on how full my calendar is I have less time to work on them
  • Each day I have more work to do and not able to meet my deadlines

And this loop goes over and over and makes the situation worse each day, because it is true that we’re spending a lot of times in meetings but not only that, also meetings are quite more exhausted what makes you also with less energy to work on those action point you collected.

Also, there is the calendar schedule, as you have so many meetings you are not able to block some of your most productive time to work on those items, and you’re forced to work on them only of the free slots you’ve available between all those meetings. That means that you’re not choosing what you’re going to do now, you just need to fight to be able to find some slot to be able to clear your desk a little bit of those pending tasks.

So, it seems that email and asynchronous communication is the answer to everything we’re suffering now? No. Probably not, but at least asynchronous communication is focused on several key concepts that are important to keep in mind:

When you are an organizer of a meeting and you have a list of attendees probably the importance of the topic to discuss will not be the same for each of them. Probably for you as the organizer you’re the most interested to host that meeting and get some output from it, but others probably have other important things in their minds too at those levels.

So, asynchronous communication allows everyone to handle their priorities and act on each item as they can be based on their priority list.

I’m not forced to be at 9 PM my time to be able to meet my US colleagues or my Indian colleagues are not forced to do it at the same time with me. Asynchronous communication makes anyone be able to attend the important business during the time they’re most productive and also being able to manage their own schedule and time.

For me can be better to respond to those questions during my morning hours or the other way around I prefer to focus on some tasks at the beginning of my day and use the afternoon to cover those.

The problem of the asynchronous communication as we know is that things can be slowed because based on the previous topics, questions could need more time to answer, but this can be solved using the management of those conversations. Things like deadlines, reminders, catchup 1 on 1 conversation could help to get closure to the topics. The role is the same as the meeting organizer does in the online meeting but using asynchronous tools.

Usually, we said that is easier to not get the complete meaning of the conversation in an asynchronous world because we lack a lot of resources we have in our online meeting or even better in our face to face meetings. And that’s true. Even, with emojis and so on, we don’t have the same toolbox as we have using our voice or our body to do that, but this is not something that is not solved also in the other kinds of communication. How many times do we think that what another person was telling using his voice has a different meaning compared to what he really tried to say? We try to solve that with the meeting minutes and trying to put it into writing to be able to have a common understanding. And probably this is something that we avoid in asynchronous communication because this is already been written, but this shouldn’t be avoided as it also helps us to put all together again on the same page about our common understanding.

So, I hope that we all learn about this situation to try to improve the way we communicate with each other to be more productive and more efficient and also to improve our time management purpose. And I’m aware that this probably not the situation for all of us, but this is quite usual and it’s important to keep those in mind even if we’re able to succeed during this meeting tsunami we’re facing each day.

Also, my expectations are that probably all we learn in this situation can help us to be more prepared for the next one or for our daily work when we go back to the new normal situation if this is going to happen at any point.

PSG Senior Architect at TIBCO Software with a focus on Cloud Development, Event Processing and Enterprise Integration

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