Acme Co is a company much like any other. Its business revolves around software— specifically designing and developing a suite of digital tools for its busy customers. Like many organizations, it relies on the drive and smarts of many human beings and as such is prone to ups and downs. While a newer company, Acme has been profitable for a few years now and continues to grow year over year.
Acme has been seeing steady growth and an increasingly happy clientele over the past year, thanks in part to a well-oiled, hard-working product division. This year, things are a little different; like many other businesses across the globe, Acme has had to pivot to become a distributed team. Being unacquainted with the intricacies of having a team that works exclusively from home, the business struggled at first, but after several months, people finally seem to be finding their working rhythm.
While keeping pace with the workload seems to be more or less figured out, some of the managers worry about the team’s morale. In the Software team, Software/Product Manager and HR Lead organize a remote, off-hours, company-wide social event in an effort to keep everyone socializing and engaged. But when the time comes for the virtual happy hour, most of the team is absent – and the few team members who show up seem distracted or disinterested. Surprised and disappointed by the turnout, HR Lead and Product Manager vow not to waste their time planning any more social events in the future.
The question on their mind is: why is everyone so distant or absent?
The leadership at Acme Co turn to their employee experience friends Pencil & Paper to investigate. The P&P team begins to turn over some stones, sitting down with the team and asking about their workdays and workflows. These are some of the clues they picked up on:
"I supposed I shouldn’t be so surprised no one showed up. Over the past month, it’s been harder and harder to get timely responses to my messages in the team chat or by email. It’s like no one is ever at their computer."
"It’s like the minute we became a remote team, people started getting impatient - whenever someone thinks of something they’ll post it or shoot it over and expect a response right away instead of waiting until we have a proper chat or call or even just bunching their questions together. If you’re really focused on something and you’re not checking all the time, you inevitably end up missing a bunch of stuff."
"Oh the social thing? The timing didn’t really work for me or the rest of my team - end of day is usually when we’re knee deep in reviewing and updating tasks for the next day. I thought we mentioned that when they polled everyone to schedule it last week."
"Some of us missed a big “townhall” email a few weeks ago...We used to do it as an in-person meeting and that was easier to attend because it was in my calendar, but I don’t always start the day reading my emails because I like to get into work right away - so I didn’t see it for a couple of hours."
"In the past few weeks I’ve been getting pulled into virtual meetings back-to-back, even when I don’t really need to be there for the discussion. Sure, I need to know what’s going on, but constantly jumping from one call to the next means I struggle to get other things done, like emails or project stuff. I know some of the other team leads also have the same problem…"
At the end of their research and discovery period, Pencil & Paper sit down with the Acme leaders and tell them, “We think we pieced together how it all unfolded! Let’s look back on a timeline of the events”:
HR Lead & Product Manager are disappointed in lonely social hour.
There was a poll to schedule the event. The final date clashed with some teams workflows.
Hmm, seems a little last minute to coordinate across so many people?
Several Team Leads keep getting scheduled into back to back meetings.
Are meetings part of the work, or an interruption of the work?
There has been a gradual decline in response to chat and emails.
What are Product Manager’s expectations for responses based on?
Some employees missed Townhall email announcement due to workflow differences.
How do workflows influence the decision of when and where to communicate?
The flow of single instance messages increases.
That sounds like a big shift in the way people communicate.
3 months ago
Acme goes distributed.
When Pencil & Paper spoke to the CEO and showed their gathered insights, the CEO sighed. There were several cracks and misses that had popped up in the last few months:
- Last minute scheduling didn’t leave time for people to coordinate an event that worked for everyone
- Poorly timed meetings prevent people from doing other tasks
- There was a general impatience with responses across channels
THE REAL PROBLEM
All of these were cracks in the veneer of Acme teams’ productivity, but the biggest issue was Acme’s lack of realization that rules for communication shift when working from home. Being remote means less visibility on everyone’s presence, absence or way of working – so teams being in sync is even less of a guarantee than when working together in a single location. This led to employees at every level being burnt out by all of the instantaneous demands for their attention that compete with their workload.
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Acme follows up with Pencil & Paper to help their employees find solutions to the mismatch in remote work and communication. Over several days of creative workshops, some of the solutions they come up with include (among other things): getting everyone on board with chat and email statuses that reflect whether they’re working or free to dialogue; identifying optional meeting invitations and sending summaries for stakeholders that opted out, blocking off time in everyone’s calendars for important company communications that need to be in sync and relying more on smaller single-team social events that are easier to schedule.