Saturday, 20 April 2019

Importance of face-to-face communication

We started to organize by-monthly UX meetups a year ago. In that time, we tried many channels of communication. I learned that keeping it remote for way too long can backfire horribly.

We started the whole project with couple of meetings in a coffee shops and tea houses. We discussed our vision, strategy, roles in the team. We prepared ourselves for the work ahead of us. Despite the challenging road that was waiting for us, we were all motivated and standing tall.

Remote channels

At the time I found a job in a different country, therefore, I eventually had to move away. To continue talking about our tasks and obstacles, we set up couple of channels. We used Slack for day to day communication about various topics. We also created Trello board with tasks and due dates. And we also had Messenger chat which we sometimes used just for fun.

Each team works differently. Hell, each person works differently. We quickly learned that some of these channels were problematic for some of us while others loved them. This required iteration and we tried to find different ways of handling communication. Trello board was all but abandoned. Slack started to wither away. Messenger was the only of our old channels that prevailed.

The one thing that we all lacked, was a personal touch. We wanted to meet face to face and talk as we talked at the beginning. But with me living elsewhere, it became a huge problem. As a last result we started to have calls. Whether it was with video or just voice, it helped to have a real-time conversation and hear each other talk. It was better. But it still had its issues.

Handling conflicts

One and the most important things I have learned during this time, is that it is not possible to handle conflicts remotely.

Conflicts are bound to happen sooner or later. Resolving them is necessary for healthy team. Yet, with channels such as Trello, Slack and Messenger it became impossible. Conflict resolution requires meeting face to face or at least have that video call where you can talk freely and with emotions clearly visible.

Written language is prone to be misleading. The emotions are understood not based on what the author is feeling but based on what the one reading is feeling. Conveying emotions via chat is a mess. Therefore, seeing the emotions on your partners face, hearing them in their voice, feeling them in the atmosphere in the room, those are a must to be able to properly understand and empathize.

I failed at this. I believed I will succeed using written language. And I failed because of it. The conflict brew into misery and disaster, eventually leading to me losing a good friend and the team losing an awesome member who was very much needed.

Conclusion

I cannot say I learned well from this mistake. I still suck at leading people. But I hope this lesson will resonate with me next time similar situation occurs and I will be able to approach it correctly – sit down with the person and talk it out over cop of tea.

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