The Rules of Digital Engagement

by Jonathan Follett

21 Reader Comments

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  1. I find that the appropriate frequency of contact has a few variables.  The first is the time line and phase of the project.  Projects with a longer time line tend to need less contact, especially in the middle stages, after the initial flurry of organizing the project has died down.  The contact frequency usually increases towards the end.  Increased contact is often needed around project milestones, or phases that involve a lot of integration.

    The second variable is the nature of the work of the team members.  This is often difficult to manage as team members who tend to need more contact such as graphic designers, sometimes have trouble relating to those writing long-form content, who seem to need much less.  There is a real art to structuring communication channels so they provide useful feedback for those that need it, and space for those that don’t.

    Finally there is the communication style of the individual worker, and finding a balance between their personal comfort and that of their team members.

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  2. I live and work in europe. I have spent many years working with people in the US, far-east and other parts of the world. One thing that has not been mentioned, but is critical to a team’s understanding is that people are NOT instantly available. If you’re in LA, but the time you start work on friday I have already “gone home” (metaphorically – i.e. I won’t communicate with you) for the weekend. On my monday morning I’ll pick up your “this is an emergency: I’ve got to have your input within the next hour” email or voicecomm. Similarly, if your colleague in Tel-Aviv needs to get in touch, well tough – you don’t share any common “office hours” so every communication will take a day to turn around.

    Having said that, the time differential can be leveraged. If I am working on a problem during the day, I can pass it on to someone in Calif. when I knock off. Likewise they can pass it on to someone in Islamabad after their 8 hours and I’ll get it back from pakistan when I come in. That’s 3 shifts, all following the sun.

    It takes a lot of flexibility and planning. You also have to take into account national holidays (I work on July 4 and thanksgiving, but don’t expect to hear for me on 8 other days – up to 16 if I was spanish)
    And don’t even get me started on cultural differences: siesta? Grrrrr.

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  3. I agree that communication is key in any facet of life, work, home, where ever. The majority of the conflict I’ve seen has been due to a simple mis-communication. When you don’t have conversations you can disconnect from the individual and are less likely to be receptive to an idea (in my opinion).

    “Simply saying “I hear you”? or “I understand”? can work wonders, even if that’s all you offer, in the end, to solve the problem.”

    I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, when I’m working with a project manager and have a problem I don’t want to hear “I understand” or “I hear you”. I’d like to hear “What can we do about this?”.

    While venting can do a world of good, from what I’ve found, it only puts off the conflict for a little longer as it builds; which may be fine on a short project. I would especially have a problem if the project manager was placating the whole team with things like “I hear you”, really never taking a stand for anything. Maybe because I picture it being said in the midst of work with a head down, not really paying attention… that’s probably why.

    Good article though, I like the idea of having a meeting in the middle of a long project just to see how things are going and the postmortem one afterwards

    my2cents..well, maybe 3

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  4. Thanks for the comments, Pete and Tim.

    Great point, Pete, about timezones and the benefits and difficulties of working on different continents. I think that, as virtual teams become more accepted as a way to do business, we’ll be seeing lots of people working this way. I imagine that the ins and outs of running a global virtual team could provide fodder for a complete article in itself. Thanks for your insights.

    Tim, when I was writing that recommendation about “simply saying ‘I hear you’ or ‘I understand’”, I was remembering a situation I encountered on a project where, as project manager, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Being a sympathetic ear to a team member who wanted to vent was really all I could offer. I wanted to show respect for the person, and let them know I would stand by them during a tense, and difficult situation with the client. So, I found myself saying those phrases quite a bit. Probably not the most elegant way to handle the problem, but it worked and we delivered the product. Sometimes there’s merit in just making it all the way through a project, especially with virtual teams.




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  5. @Jonathan

    Sometimes I multitask, holding an IM conversation while writing an e-mail or talking on Skype.

    You might be interested in this article, “E-mails hurt IQ more than pot”: . The statement that shocked me was:

    He found the IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points—the equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.

    If you read the actual report you’ll find that the act of reading an email message while talking on the phone reduces your IQ. If you don’t read the email, you have a higher IQ.

    I schedule when I read email to two or three times a day. This allows me to concentrate on my work and get more done. I do use IM to contact co-workers when I need information from them, but often ignore IMs from co-workers until I have a break. I find that I can’t go a week without some contact, but I think that may be different for each person.

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  6. The system has conditioned us to long wait times and music while we wait for telephone interaction.  It seems as if we almost don’t know how to handle interpersonal interactions anymore especially on the telephone

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  7. this is a very interesting read , thanks

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  8. Enjoyed the article very much because I just started a photography company with two friends of mine who are photographers and I’m the web developer. So we decided to put our professions together to start up the company and after reading your article that a lot of what is said is things that we have implemented or that we will now start implementing. I love this type of work enviornment the virtual workspace.

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  9. and designers are sometimes completely different people.  They can be odd and difficult to work with, but you have to have an understanding of the tedious things they do in order to function well with them.

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  10. I’ll thank you for writing the article! We got in business just a few weeks ago – a dozen of designers, web developer and marketing professionals as a team. Your aspects can be used in our daily work to organise the group and to meet with success. Every human has a different point of view and that’s the interesting thing to work with.

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