The Right Kind of Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

In November 2020 I wrote about how important social interaction is to innovation.

Ten months later, it was interesting to read a Nature article that reported on a study of the impact of remote working on employees at Microsoft. The article noted that many organisations were (in 2021) deciding to adopt remote working based only on short term data and predicted that organisations that followed that path might put themselves at a disadvantage. Specifically, it noted that remote work caused the organisation to become more siloed with connections between silos reduced and that instead of replacing face-to-face communication with audio or video calls people often resorted to asynchronous communication such as email. It concluded that this could make it more difficult for employees to acquire and share information, and significantly more difficult to collaborate and discuss complex information – which I believe is necessary for innovation.

There is now a growing body of evidence that remote working makes organisations apparently more productive (which is great for the short term) but less innovative (a problem if you would like to be around in the long term). 

As organisations and as society, we need to think very carefully, and see much more data, before we embrace remote working as a long-term solution.

Reference

Yang, L., Holtz, D., Jaffe, S., Suri, S., Sinha, S., Weston, J., Joyce, C., Shah, N., Sherman, K., Hecht, B., & Teevan, J. (2021, September 9). The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration Among Information Workers. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01196-4.pdf

© 2021 J M Clegg Ltd.

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3 thoughts on “The Right Kind of Communication”

  1. A great and speedy insight. It was great to catch up last night at the chltnham_meetup.

    On richness of communications… Effective transmission, receiving it as intended, and correct processing of communication to arrive at a shared understanding is challenging enough, in general. Add to that the application of both left and right brain thinking and then effective communication of innovative thoughts combined with a robust review which prizes substance over style within any team, applying a process of fail fast, learn and iterate is highly ‘complex’, rather than ‘complicated’.
    It takes human skills and dynamics to effectively communicate in such circumstances. Providing a remote worker technical solution supported by methodology will not be enough to arrive at the creativity required.
    This is so much easier to achieve in person, because the dynamic is much more natural. Will we ever find a medium which facilitates a highly effective remote dynamic for the richness of communication required for innovation? It’s hard to imagine it, however never say never. I’ve seen and participated in some decent instances already, for example I’ve been on Hackathons, with complete strangers located all over the world, there are hopeful signs!

    1. Thanks for the comment J-P. For sure there are hopeful signs for a hybrid approach. But as you say the in-person dynamic is much more natural and it’s often those serendipitous exchanges that in-person contact makes so much more likely that lead to real breakthroughs. This is something to pay a lot of attention to in the coming years as getting it right could be a relatively low-cost source of serious competitive advantage.

  2. This is a great and timely topic. I work with teams spread all over the globe so being in the office or at home makes little difference for these interactions as long as I have good connectivity, which I do.

    I also teach a number of technical subjects and have converted many classes from in-person to virtual meetings for 2020 and 2021. The positive of virtual meetings is: 1) we went from 30 students/class to 300+, 2) reduced travel cost and time, 3) allowed students to attend key lectures that they needed without committing a week to attend an entire course. The downsides: 1) I use a lot of table top demonstration ‘toys’ to make concepts more understandable, videos of these are not as engaging as having the students handle the hardware, 2) I do ask students to turn their video on to help me judge their engagement, but it is not nearly as rich as in person feedback, 3) the larger class size limits the amount of discussions, 4) the students do not get to meet each other and form their own networks.

    I appreciate the value of virtual meetings and am thinking of forming a virtual network on drilling dynamics to see how close we can come to a F-T-F network. Even if not a 100% replacement meet for face to face meetings it should be a way to keep discussions alive between meets.

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