Resolving Remote Communication Issues
19 May, 2020
Previously, I worked remotely for a company as Chief Architect. Our manager was running five other teams so he asked me to assist him. As a result, I had begun taking on a lot of managerial responsibilities. Our fully remote team was quite large, 20 developers in total, spread out all around the world - Europe, Africa, South America, North, America, and the Middle East. We were a cross-functional, cross-cultural team working across many different time zones. However, we found it very difficult to communicate with one another and with our customers. As the acting leader, I decided I needed to find a solution to resolve these issues.
To tackle communication problems within the team, I created a simple Google doc where we input all of our time zone information. This allowed the whole team to have a visual representation of who was available and when. Everyone became aware of when someone else on the team may or may not be working. Furthermore, it allowed us to set up a time during the day when everyone was available to meet. This daily meeting provided the means for improved communication.
However, having a set daily meeting with 20 people across various time zones provided its own challenges. Moreso, having 20 international ICs work on a single project also came with issues. As a result, I grouped people together into smaller teams, each related to different projects. I took into consideration time zones as well as IC expertise. Then I created specified Slack channels and dashboards for each project so that we could monitor our tasks and progress.
In regards to communication with customers, there were a couple of issues that I identified. First, during meetings and negotiations everyone thought everyone else was taking notes. So two weeks down the line, after hammering out details with the customer, the results of the conversation weren’t documented and we had to, therefore, go back and ask the customer to clarify them again. This gave us the appearance of being unprofessional. So, I simply started recording all of the meetings and had a brief summary of each conversation detailed out and sent to the team.
Another customer-facing communication problem occurred with urgent issues. It was just taking too long for them to get fixed. To combat this, I created War-Room channels in Slack. We had our usual incident management process in place - the creation of a Jira ticket and then someone would start working on it. In addition, each ticket would have its own Slack channel. Everyone involved on the related project would be invited to join, the problem would be stated, and then nobody was allowed to leave the room until it was fixed. ICs solved the issue and managers could listen in and understand what the team was working on. It gave executives transparency and allowed us to fix urgent concerns fast because everyone was in one place and communicating effectively.
- Working remotely was a new experience for me and it felt a little bit weird at first. I enjoyed it because I didn’t have to go anywhere but it was also difficult not seeing any of my colleagues on a daily basis. So there were some personal problems that coincided with these communication issues that I also had to resolve.
- Having a fully distributed team comes with its challenges, especially when working across several time zones. That’s why splitting our large team up into smaller teams made managing and working remotely with teammates much easier. It improved internal communication and improved response time to customer issues.
- Communicating with a customer remotely is difficult. It’s very different from being in the same room and having the ability to negotiate requirements, explain details, and visibly see what’s on a whiteboard. This is why recording all conversations with the customer is important and critical for maintaining a professional relationship.
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