Async CommunicationFeaturedRemote Culture

This one thing missing from Slack is killing your team


“I feel so connected to my team because of my little green dot in Slack” – said No One Ever…

‘But why?’, I hear you say, ‘they are online!’. True, but as you’ve probably found out for yourself, the feeling of being connected with your colleagues requires more than a list of people and definitely more than a barrage of notifications of various channels.  What’s missing in Slack is the ability to create remote culture.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Slack (and Zoom) are great tools for COMMUNICATION – and serve an important part of managing remote teams.  We use both tools across our 5000 people across 130 countries. But they do very little to create CONNECTION within team members.

The difference between Communication & Connection

Communication is simply the process to send or receive information from each other. The higher the fidelity the better – which adds to the richness and the speed. Slack innovated on making this communication faster (replacing email latency) & Zoom did a great job on audio/video. These are awesome communication tools and are instrumental in running remote teams.

Connection, however, is deeper than communication alone. Connection is about the relationship or togetherness of a group of people. Good communication is important to this sense of connection – but insufficient by itself.

The sense of connection is what makes a set of individuals a ‘team’. The sense of connection makes individuals feel like they are part of a unit. The sense of connection makes people literally be willing to jump in front of a train to ensure the team’s goals are met.

The sense connection is also, unfortunately, is the biggest problem with remote teams today. The sense of connection is zapped by the distance between team members, not ‘seeing’ each other in casual spontaneous sessions and the lack of tools that build the connections. This is why in-person teams are still preferred by most managers, start-up CEOs and many others.

Connection between team members is vital

Just how important is that connection to your remote team’s wellbeing, and ultimately, productivity?

In local offices, connection is created organically. You can see Todd, your manager, in his office with his headset on. It makes sense that he’s in a meeting and didn’t answer your Slack message right away. You can see Sam in the hallway checking his phone, so you know that he isn’t next to his computer. You bump into Janet making coffee in the breakroom, wondering why there’s no soy milk (again).

All these visual cues add up, creating a connection between the team. You know when Sam has a birthday. That Janet is allergic to milk. Do you even know that Todd has got a new headset (and that Jabra headset looks awesome!). You may not notice these cues but when they don’t exist, it’s painfully obvious. All of this adds to the culture of the company.

Lack of visual cues prevent that feeling of connection

For remote teams, there’s no greater challenge than creating that sense of connection. Disconnect, as Slack themselves have written about, means that your workers are feeling left out. Nothing kills your team productivity faster. For mixed teams, like HubSpot, it is an even bigger challenge as remote workers feel disconnected not only from each other, but from the local workers, with their internal office life camaraderie. Not only that, but the local team members don’t feel their remote colleagues are part of the team, and managers don’t trust that remote workers are working properly.

Managers are still afraid of letting employees work virtually. This too, points to the connection problem. They can’t ‘see’ their workers, so they don’t know what they are doing. This may seem illogical, as they can still see the deliverables, and the workers meeting KPIs (or not), but without visual cues, they feel that remote workers are ‘cheating’ somehow.

So if you want your remote workers to feel part of a team, whether they all work remotely, or whether some work from the office and others don’t, you have to find a way to provide visual cues that mean that they are not alone.

So what platform provides visual cues and connects teams?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the communication tools used today just aren’t up to the challenge. Slack and other chat platforms have an online indicator, but it is functionally useless. It doesn’t tell me what the person I just messaged is doing, if they aren’t answering my messages. Zoom is great and all, but sending a link to set up a video meeting isn’t the same as glancing to the left and seeing if Sam is sitting at his desk or not.

A fundamentally better model for remote teams is a skeuomorphic representation of an office. A model where team members can actually ‘see’ where people are around the (albeit virtual) office, just like a physical office. You’d actually knock on people’s doors for a chat, hang around the watercooler, see people jump into a conference room together or perhaps put your virtual headsets on to not be disturbed. Remember, this isn’t just about ‘are they available for me’. It’s also ‘oh hey, Alan is here, I’ll pop in and say hi’. Or ‘John just arrived, I want to go over the new project with him’. That would be infinitely better for any remote worker than sending a Slack message and hoping it gets answered (at some point – this week).

Because the future of remote relies on individuals connecting and becoming great teams – we have to create tools to bridge these gaps from the physical world. It’s only through these connections that culture of teams and companies are built. And that is only feasible when people ‘feel’ like they are virtually next to each other. Connecting and solving difficult problems together.

So what would help? Is there a platform that provides remote, local, and mixed teams, no matter where they are, the visual cues that are so important in creating connections and boost team wellness?

Meet Sococo – the visual, virtual online office

As it turns out, that platform does exist. I found it – loved it – so I bought the company. The company is called Sococo. And trust me – this blog isn’t some hidden agenda sales pitch. I personally think tools that help remote teams build connectedness and culture are largely missing from most teams today. And we have to collectively fix this if we want remote work to scale.

The idea is deceptively simple. Each worker is represented by an icon or avatar – that sits in a chair at their desk. You can see your entire office, see who’s in the office vs away, knock on people’s doors to chat, hang by the watercooler, see other people meeting in conference rooms – and other elements of a ‘virtual office’. You can chat with folks, talk, video, etc. But the most important part is this incredible feeling of ‘togetherness’ it creates. Truly amazing.

Having managed teams remotely now for over 15 years – I can tell you that there is nothing like coming into the office and ‘seeing’ your remote engineering team all huddled around a table, your sales team meeting with clients in the conference room, your HR team chatting together with finance and your other team members diligently banging away at their desks. I can also now re-experience that feeling of ‘walking around to say hi’.

In my brain – I obviously know that most of these folks are separated by thousands of miles – but for some strange reason – when you see them around the office – it feels like they are all really sitting next to each other. The sense of ‘team’ has never been stronger.

I couldn’t be more passionate about that ever-so-important sense of connection that will be created through these visual cues. And the team (and company) will grow together, and yes, become more productive.

Yes, we have a break room. We need our breaks too!

We have big plans for the Sococo platform – and will be innovating on it weekly. We’ll be integrating various audio/video providers (starting with Zoom), integrating various chat engines (Slack/Teams/etc), integrating calendars, tools and so much more.

We’re also investing heavily in enabling personalization of your avatars, your office, your campus and others. We believe that remote culture is enhanced through personalization.

If you have additional ideas on how we can make this platform great – please let us know – we’d love to hear it. Because this isn’t about this one product – it’s about how we can bring remote culture building and connectedness into the mainstream of how companies build remote scalable teams.

Articles on remote teams at scale curated for you

Andy Tryba
Andy is a technology optimist and the founder & CEO of Think3, Founder & CEO of Crossover, co-founder & CEO of RideAustin and the CEO of a variety of technology companies including Engine Yard, DNN Corp, Kayako, Bizness Apps, FogBugz, School Loop, Agemni, SLI Systems, and Sococo. Andy runs each of these companies with 100% remote talent – across all functions.

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