Remote work enemy No. 1

What’s the primary inhibitor of remote work? After 3 years there’s no question for me: it’s communication. Communication is already at the top of challenges in office environments, but it’s further emphasized when working remotely.

To clarify: When I talk about “remote”, for me that goes together with an async first work style. Working the same style remotely as in office is neither attainable, nor beneficial.

But async first means that most communication is written.

In day-to-day situations I noticed that written work exchanges meant to be to the point tends to unwillingly come across as passive-aggressive, or - when humor is involved - sarcastic. That’s because the context usually conveyed through facial expression and tone of voice is missing.

Emoji are a 💩 replacement.

Humans are trained to automatically include and interpret “metadata” contained in facial expression and tone of voice when talking to someone face-to-face. When writing, it takes extra-effort to imagine how a reader might interpret a written sentence. There’s a wider variance in contexts in which the communication is perceived - a message might be read hours later by someone at the other end of the world whose thoughts come from an entirely different context. When communicating, I certainly ended up in more misinterpretations or even misunderstandings. On bad days it’s easy to forget to put in the extra-energy to write in a way that considers the team’s emotional perception of the intended message. Similar to being a team lead, one needs to constantly remind oneself that communication needs to be clear, and “over-communicated”. Anything less is not good enough.

On the other, receiving end of a message, when perceiving it in a negative way, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s probably the (poor usage of the) transmission medium which compressed and distorted the author’s intended meaning. Team trust is extra-important to be able to not take a message at its first face value.

Besides this higher potential to be misunderstood it’s also harder to notice when others are in the mood for loose “water-cooler-conversations” whose primary purpose is emotional connection.

Taken together, I think remote work tends towards less bonding / human interconnectedness, and more towards an efficient, transactional work-style. Depending on personality and daily mood this can be a good or a bad thing.