Remote work, transparency, and feedback

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on May 3, 2020
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In these very strange times, we see a lot of change; some are really sad, devastating, and depressing. While others are encouraging and celebrate humankind’s will and capacity to survive and overcome.

Others still, are just interesting to observe and learn from. These last weeks I’ve noticed two new realizations about two of my favorite topics; feedback and transparency. They too, it turns out, are affected by the changes in our ways of life due to the corona pandemic we are living under now.

This post reflects a few thoughts and ramblings that I’ve had in my head for some time. I’m not hoping to solve world problems here, but just get some reasoning down.

As in most companies, School Of Applied Technology has also moved to social distancing and remote work. And as I have written about, it works out pretty well - but I’ve noticed some issues around transparency and time for feedback.

Disclaimer; everything I write is drawn from my own experience and telling my side of the story. I’m sure you might have other views and experiences - that are equally valuable. These observations are mine, though.

Have you ever written a question to someone in chat and then got stuck waiting for the answer? Let’s take two concrete, but made-up, examples:

What do you think about the documentation update I finished yesterday?

What are the latest sales numbers?

or

How are we doing with the development of the new site?

Now imagine that you don’t get an answer. For 1 hour. 1 day. 3 days.

What I’ve noticed in this lockdown is that I start to make assumptions about the reason the answer is missing. Pretty soon I’m starting to think that the receiver has missed it but as soon as I start to write and ask again I start thinking that I’m pushy. Maybe they didn’t read it. Maybe they were offended or this question was hard to answer. Maybe I accidentally put them on the spot or the topic was one that they hoped would never surface again. Or uninterested. Or just …

Welcome out of my (social-distanced, chat-connected-only) brain. I don’t know why I’ve started to think like this. Doubting myself like this. But it’s a major change for me since we started to distance ourselves.

I made a real effort to get out of the feelings for a while and think about why this happens. Because I’ve never had this problem IRL, face to face. If someone snubbed me off I would at least know that. Or I could even see that they didn’t hear. Or they could tell me that now was not a good time.

This, as I can understand, has to do with a prolonged feedback loop and a lack of transparency. Chat is by nature asynchronous and it is quite natural that there’s a delay. But what I’ve noticed is that when this feedback is taking time another problem is showing; lack of transparency.

I cannot, luckily, see what the recipient of my message is doing. They might be cooking, in the bathroom, programming a tricky recursive call in F#, or chatting with someone else. My message is a distraction and needs no immediate attention. It’s quite easy that it falls unanswered.

But on the other side of the call, I cannot see or know this. I’m lacking insight in what is going on. And my mind starts to fill out the blanks. And seldom with the most positive interpretation (sometimes I can logically reason myself there but my gut is not positive). Never it’s the correct reason.

This is just talking about the delay in the communication itself. Why did I have to ask in the first place? If we had better transparency about our current state and context as teams, departments, or company I could have pulled much of the information I’m looking for without asking someone.

End

Yeah, as I feared. I didn’t get far with these thoughts. I couldn’t bear myself to call this section Conclusion even.

I’ve noticed that with a slower feedback loop in our communication, the lacking transparency (if present) will be apparent. I fill the missing information out with my guesses, based on the context I have. This leads to even more misconceptions and my current context is updated with these bad assumptions and starts a downward spiral of misconceptions.

The obvious solution is to not make assumptions and instead search for me real information. I know this but fail in doing this. So often.


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Published by Marcus Hammarberg on Last updated