Push the distributed communication envelope

Canadian blogger Mark Evans has a thoughtful post about how to communicate better.

He talks about the tools – phone, email, SMS, IM, etc – and concludes that face-to-face is the be-all and end-all of communication between people.

I don’t disagree, for some of the reasons Mark mentions:

[…] The ability to read body language, facial expressions, intonation, etc. makes person-to-person communications work and work well. It can also change the tone of a relationship. Think about how a long e-mail or phone call relationship took on a new dynamic after you met someone in person for the first time.

Face-to-face isn’t always practical nor possible – and, even, not always the most effective – as Mark points out, too, citing his own workplace situation:

I work for a company, b5media, with employees scattered around the globe. We epitomize the border-less, work-anywhere corporation. We live and breath off communication tools such as Skype, e-mail, the occasional phone call, and rare (but extremely valuable) physical gatherings of the entire team. As a result, we are – for the most part – a digital communications company. […] the reality is the structure of b5media isn’t going to change. So what do you do? You adapt, you push the communications envelope by encouraging people to communicate with you in different ways, and you focus on being more effective and clear when you write e-mails, do instant-messaging and make phone calls.

It’s that last sentence (which I’ve highlighted in bold) that pinpoints the new reality of distributed people-to-people communication.

We have a similar situation in crayon with me here in the UK and my colleagues in the US on the east and west coasts. We use all the communication tools and channels Mark mentions (and let’s add Twitter and Second Life to the list) which enable each and all of us to connect and communicate no matter where we happen to be physically.

None of those methods beats face-to-face, though, so the times we all do get together are extremely valuable for reinforcing relationships. Yet, as Mark points out, that’s not feasible for much of the time, so you have to employ other means to stay connected.

I think virtual worlds like Second Life present the greatest opportunity to be connected with your remote colleagues and others with whom you develop relationships. It doesn’t require expensive investments in technology infrastructure, either.

It’s on-demand face-to-face communication that produces measurable benefits.

Just ask IBM what they think of that notion.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Paull Young

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments here Neville.

    I’m currently working from home for the first time in my life, ahead of moving to New York to start my new job in person.

    Through all the online tools I keep up a good level of connection, but for me it is largely the time differences that cause real problems.

    No matter how good your communication tools are, when you’re in Australia and your New York working hours line up exactly with the hours everyone is sleeping – things get difficult.

  2. Armin

    I think there is one other aspect to this:

    All of the communication you mention above is kind of “formal”. They all are deliberate communications, initiated with a purpose. But where does a large part of the communication really happen in an office environment? Corridor conversations, watercooler conversations, fag break discussions, call them what you want. Unplanned conversations which happen because you bump into somebody and just start to talk.

    That’s something I don’t see any technology ever achieving.

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