Aug 1, 2018 · 7 min read

It’s cliched to say, but communication really is key, and yet it’s one of the common issues folks seem to raise in departmental or company feedback. “Communication isn’t great”. However, this is both a top down, and a bottom up issue in my opinion (and everything in between).

Top down like to send out update emails, but the flow of communication is one way. Do I reply, reply all, face to face? Engagement here is not great.

The bottom up issue can be lack of engagement to even read emails from management. Is it too long, hard, terse, awkward? Are you too “busy” etc?

As a remote software engineer, I am more biased towards how we can communicate in an electronic manner. I am unlikely to be in the office, in the kitchen, in the canteen and be available for ad hoc, face to face communication. But these types of communication are important in order for a healthy culture within a department. And if you are missing this type of chit chat because you are remote, you are likely to feel isolated and not valued. I certainly know I can feel like this from time to time.

So, how can you get that buzz/energy you would get in a busy office?

The bottom line

I’ve heard this saying quite a lot, and it’s something I firmly believe.

If one is remote, all are remote

Just take a moment to think about that. It seems so obvious, but I wonder how many people actually understand what that means and, more importantly, act on it.

I have managed teams spread over 3 to 4 locations, and the only way it works, is if you are in an online environment. If everybody in the team is remote, you may actually have an easier task of communication. This is because there is no main “brain” of communication, it will naturally grow into a viable communication channel. If you have pockets of people in a certain location, and only a few remote, you are likely to to coalesce around the bulk of people - therefore becoming the “brain”.

As an example. If we have 6 engineers sat in the Sheffield office, 1 engineer in India, and 1 engineer in Poland, I bet there is a lot of communication in Sheffield that the Indian and Polish engineers miss out on, when discussions are face to face.

I always say to my teams - “I do not scale”. If you ask me a question in a public forum and I am busy, there is likely to be someone else in the team who could answer. We all win. How many times do you go to a meeting for an hour, come back to your machine and Slack, Email, Skype for Business are all lit up with personal messages and DM’s waiting for your input/decision. Yes, it is going to be weird and counter intuitive to write a message in chat to the person sat next to you. But this isn’t for you. It’s for the person in Poland or India. It’s for the greater good of the team.

Collaborative communication

For me, not only does the communication need to be electronic, it needs to be collaborative.

I have a personal preference for a communication tool in the workplace, and I will blog about that in the future (This post seemed to be a prerequisite). This is my criteria for picking a communication tool

When you have the tool, it comes down to buy in

Without buy in, we are back to “Communication isn’t great”. The best communication I have seem in a software development department, is when every level of management is involved. Can a junior engineer ask a question of the Head of Development? Can a product owner discuss something easily with several development teams? I am fairly sure in Silicon Valley this is a given, but this has been a struggle in the companies I have worked for. Folks love the email

So why not email? This, for me, goes back to “People do not scale”. If I email Sandra in Product Management, and she is swamped trying to deal with Change Management to ship the next release, she won’t be bothered about my email. However, if you can ask a question in a public forum, I bet someone in Product Management can answer me. But email can do this (group mailboxes etc)? Very poorly, because I suspect the person replying to the email clicks “reply”. Does everyone know the answer now? Do people know that a response has happened, and no longer need to action the request?

An online, public forum of communication is a better way to communicate to all and sundry. In my personal opinion, this gets more engagement across the department. I’ve seen it work and it’s beautiful 💜


So, as a remote engineer, some requests to you co-located folks around communication


Without decent communication, you are failing. The team, the company, yourself. I bet you most issues could have been avoided if communication was rocking the day, and we were all joined up (That’s the 2nd cliche of the day).

The world is changing, and I see folks posting on twitter about all these big companies wanting software engineers in Silicon Valley, yet there is an entire planet out there with awesome engineers just waiting to be engaged. So let’s get better at the online, collaborate communication, so we can all win.

See also