Making Remote Work Part 1: Creating Connection Remotely

Alex Wimbush

Like many others in 2022,  I work remotely.  I’m not alone in appreciating the flexibility it affords me.  This flexibility means I’m able to be more present for my kids and wife rather than commuting 2+ hours each day.  I’m able to work out more.  I’m also able to work more.  

Before joining Storied, I built a fully remote product team at a fully remote company,  serving a global customer base.  Our company was spread across at least 15 timezones, with me somewhere in the middle.  Most days were a tetris-calendar of video calls and a cascade of Slack messages.  We existed together either asynchronously in Slack or Google Docs or synchronously in Zoom.   

Research suggests other people seem more “thoughtful, intelligent, rational….when you literally hear what [they] have to say compared to reading the same content in text.” [1] It turns out the benefit was not just mine.  By deliberately making time to hear others, I was unknowingly also opening an opportunity for them to show up best.  The human voice is rich with information.  The human voice “contains paralinguistic cues—like pauses and intonation (variance in pitch)—that reveal thinking and feeling as it is occurring in the mind of another person.” [1]   This richness matters in establishing relationships, building rapport [2], developing psychological safety and establishing the many other conditions which lead to high performing teams and organizations [3]  

When all we do is experience other people as lines of text, we miss the richness. It becomes easy to dehumanize our colleagues, to think they are “less competent and interpersonally warm.” [1]  It’s tough to build a great team and a great culture. It’s even tougher the most common mode of interaction, writing,  is consistently opening the door to this profoundly negative side effect.  People experience and interact with the world differently.  We process information differently.   When we limit ourselves to any single mode of communication, we also limit how truly diverse and inclusive we can be. 

There are lots of reasons to write and to prefer text,  all of which are important in building a great team and company.  Writing is thinking; good writing requires clear thinking.  Reading something is generally faster than listening to it. I’m obviously writing this and you are reading it.  Perhaps most importantly, text–which is easily distributed, searched, and stored–drives action and fosters accountability. 

We are constantly presented with a choice:  asynchronous with text or synchronous with voice.  Being effective means knowing what to choose, when.  At the organizational level, over many individual interactions, across teams and geographies, these choices affect the productivity and performance of the organization . And what is the long term impact of trading richness of interaction for efficiency of interaction?[3] Will it be positive or negative? 

At Storied we believe this tradeoff is not one we have to make.  We love some of the recent features Slack has introduced.  We love what companies like Loom and Descript are doing.  (Disclaimer: we make use of all three of these products extensively.)  We believe there’s a massive opportunity to reimagine how we work remotely,  building better, more connected teams without piling on more meetings.  If this sounds interesting to you, let us know! 

Where is this series headed? In Part 2 we’ll explore a bit more about why the choice matters.  In Part 3, we’ll discuss what the future looks like. 

[1] Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (2021). It’s surprisingly nice to hear you: Misunderstanding the impact of communication media can lead to suboptimal choices of how to connect with others. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(3), 595–607.

[2] Morris, M., Nadler, J., Kurtzberg, T., & Thompson, L. (2002). Schmooze or lose: Social friction and lubrication in e-mail negotiations. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 6(1), 89–100.

[3] New York Times, What Google Learned From It’s Quest to Build the Perfect Team, 2/28/16 

[4] Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S. et al. The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nat Hum Behav 6, 43–54 2022).

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