Distributed Teams

A tip when working with distributed offices and workforces.

If you have a conference call, have all participants dial into the conference call from their own desk. Do not get a conference room with several people and have the distributed people dial in. There will be asymmetric information flow as short-turn around high-bandwidth face to face interactions drown out contributions from the distributed callers.


6 Responses to Distributed Teams

  1. Cris says:

    Utterly, absolutely true. I’ve observed this phenomenon multiple times.

  2. Very true. It’s worth mentioning that this issue is eliminated fairly well with video conferences where you have 6-7 people in one room and 2 or 3 “dialed in,” fwiw. The video seems to largely mitigate the issue.

  3. JZP says:

    Agreed but for a different reason. This “high bandwidth” of which you speak …you mean the distraction of gestures and facial expressions by those who cannot verbalize their thoughts, sotto voice sarcasm and the like? I often head about the ‘highbandwidth’ of face to face meetings, but have yet to see anyone assert that it is all wheat. In my experiece, when giventhe opportunity to fill the bandwidth with chaff, humans do.

    When in conflict (M&A, poker, whatever), face to face meetings have some value as those annoyances do carry info about the other folks — or at least telegraph what the others wish you to think. For a team that is supposedly working together, getting on with the business at hand is infinitely more valuable. If someone on the same team cannot express agreement or disagreement openly, you have a dysfunctional team and it needs to be fixed.

    I prefer email record as it kees people accurate and honest, at least if folks bother to refer back to them…

  4. I agree with your post completely. While living overseas, I was almost always a remote participant in meetings. The biggest issue I encountered was “collision detection”, finding the right moments to add to a conversation without interrupting, etc. If everybody is in the same room or everybody is on the phone then the conversation moves more smoothly and everybody can participate. But when the meeting is mixed with about half (or more) of the participants in a room together, then remote participants are largely left out of the discussion (unless they dominate the conversation). Putting everybody on the phone together evens-out access to the conversation, allows everybody to contribute, and is ultimately a more productive meeting.

  5. rs says:

    Not to mention, for crying out loud FORGET THAT YOUR PHONE HAS A SPEAKER FUNCTION. I’m not joking, the introduction of a speakerphone into the equation is every bit as big a reason to not bring people into a conference room as the high bandwidth non-verbal side conversation. Some people even turn on a speaker phone when they’re the only one in the room!

    Are you That Guy? High quality noise canceling headsets are inexpensive and plentiful. If you like wandering around the room while you talk or perhaps lying on a mat on the floor in some kind of meditative position, perhaps a DECT or bluetooth device may be to your liking. In the worst case, you can just use your handset and wedge it against your shoulder while you multitask downloading filthy pictures as you discuss $PROJECT.

    Oh yeah, and use the bloody mute button when you’re not speaking. Unlike the “hands free” button, it’s there for a good reason.

  6. Director of Pump says:

    I’ve been a remote employee of a distributed team for at least three years. Here are some tips:

    1: Your organization should invest in teleconf s/w that can identify the speaker on a call. While 5-7 people may not need this, larger calls this becomes useful.

    2: Following on #1, you should opt to have the ability to have the moderator mute someone on a call. Frequently people dial in from cellular phones, bad POTS lines or busted VoIP lines. This can be a huge disruption and being able to silence them is essential.

    3: Have an alternate means of communication open between all parties. IRC, Jabber or some sort of internal IM where everyone can join while speaking can be VERY useful. Particularly when you need to convey a message and are unable to “break through” the chatter on the phone. Also, it can be useful to notify others of a non-urgent message that might not be worth breaking the train of thought on a call. Another benefit is the ability to rapid fire paste URLs which would be rather cryptic to state verbally.

    4: Send out stuff before the meeting. Preferably do not send attachments, as it leads to “me too!”‘s and having to collect multiple peoples emails on the distro list, should the audience be large. Send out emails with SIMPLE URLs to people that their email client will not word wrap.

    5: Also, if you are to be sending URLs of internal documents, try to invest in some tinyurl style mechanism. Its a lot easier to read off 5-10 characters than it is to spell out a long URL with case sensitivity.

    6: Contemplate recording the call if everyone is OK with it. This can be useful for those after who missed it. Let them listen at their leisure.

    7: Be mindful of everyone’s time. Some individual may train-wreck the call by going off on tangents. Time is valuable and try to do your best to steer things back on course or request that the person take it offline. Life is too short to have to pay attention to random ramblings.

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