Remote Collaboration and the Chain of Command

Historically, the largest barrier to setting up remote teams has been collaboration. Remote work in the United States dates back to the 1970s when an old-school landline would be the only (if any) means to this communication!

Fast forward to the present. Rapid advances in telecommunications technology have made communication via phone, email, videocall, and instant message virtually seamless. Cell phones have replaced land lines and email traditional mail. Videocalling software like Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are free to use, as are instant messaging platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat.

Distributed teams still suffer greatly from the “if I can’t see you, I can’t control you” mindset. A specifically designed chains of command have made for some progress overcoming this management qualm. The differing levels of communication differ on variables like urgency, content, and audience. Consider my preferred variant below:

  1. Use instant messaging for casual conversation, group chats, and low-level questions that can be answered quickly. Instant messaging arose out of a desire to reach individuals quicker (than email in this case).
  2. For items you want to ‘get in writing’, conversations with individuals outside of your organization, and complex questions, tasks, or business exchanges, turn to email. File-sharing is also best-achieved over email (as opposed to some instant messaging platforms).
  3. Videocalling should be used for as many remote meetings as possible. Meeting ‘face-to-face’ allows you to better-connect with your colleagues and identify more nuances missed over the phone.
  4. Good old-fashioned phone calls are great for anything urgent, but should be used judiciously. By pulling a colleague into your matter, you detract from his or her own projects.

Norms regarding availability and response times should under-gird all of these systems. The modern office worker is inundated with working stimuli. The opportunity cost of pervasive distraction is difficult to recognize in modern offices obsessed with real-time collaboration.

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