Interacting in a distributed fashion benefits from a bit more intentionality around facilitating. Interactions serve a number of purposes: collaboration, updates, socializing, alignment on strategy, and celebration. Pay attention to what should be spoken in a meeting, versus posted about async in chat or a doc, versus a combination. See more in our
Fully distributed meetings
If anyone on your team is distributed, everyone on the team should act distributed. Sometimes we have 4 or 5 people of a 6-person team in the same room but on laptops for a Truss meeting. We do this because the moment meatspace is prioritized is the moment you’re not able to hear your remote crew. They matter. That’s why they’re your crew. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones, a reliable conferencing system, and mute/unmute skills to mitigate being on the same call in the same room.
When you simply can’t all be online, have a person in the room dedicated to watching for signals from the online crew that they want to speak, can’t hear, have questions, etc.
Many folk still choose to clump together in conference rooms in different locations, and we’d like to hear more about how this works for them. This may become necessary at 120 people, but from 3-70, fully remote meetings work best.
See more in our
With everyone remote, it can be difficult to tell when someone wants to speak. Eye contact and body language are already difficult in video format, and as the group goes above 9 (your number may vary based on the gelling of the group) visual cues become tiny.
We pull from the activist tradition of taking “stack,” with a twist for being distributed. Participants post “reply” in the video conferencing chat to indicate they want to reply to the current point, “new” for a new topic, and “point” for point of order (keeping things on track).
Applicable for groups of 5 if new to each other; can be forgone if the group is well gelled.
As a group becomes more familiar with this practice, they will self-prompt, rather than needing a facilitator to prompt for each person. This gives a more fluid (and time effective!) conversational flow and is worth encouraging.
Side channel for banter
The chat associated with the video conferencing software can get overwhelming to the speaker and/or facilitator if it is used for banter as well as taking stack. We have a specific room in our non-video-conferencing chat for banter. Keeps everyone engaged without distracting from the main point.
Applicable when banter outweighs stack indicators, or if you have a distractible facilitator or speaker.
Collaborative, live note taking
Some folk are hard of hearing, or have spotty connections, or had to join late, or just learn better by reading. By
Applicable for groups over 30 - this is when you’ll start to hit your cap of people who usually step up to take notes getting burned out. You’ll notice the same small subset of folk continually taking this on, so encourage a broader set of folk. Pay attention to gender lines, too.
Find a way to still be visual
Many of us are visual thinkers and talkers, and this approach can be lost in a video conference and doc-based-notes setup. It doesn’t need to be. For things like whiteboarding sessions or even just scribbles, posting images of your drawings to the group helps them know what you’re thinking.
We also make use of tools like Miro and Mural to roughly diagram things out together, show a flow we’ve been thinking about for awhile, do card sorting exercises, or approximate sticky note activities.
Applicable to any group with visual thinkers.
Always use timezones
When you’re distributed, timezones become the bane of one’s existence. A 10-2p PT / 1p-5p ET four hour window becomes the time when everything needs to happen for companies constrained to the US. By always indicating timezones, you both make it possible for everyone to make the time you’re requesting and you also have to think about what time it will be for the other people you are talking to. No more “I didn’t realize this would happen at 7a” or “7p your time!”
Applicable to groups with more than 5 people outside a “standard” timezone - this is when it becomes difficult to remember who is where.
Pronouns in handles
Make pronouns apparent when communicating. The harder it is to find pronouns, the more likely it is that they have to be verbally communicated at the beginning of a conversation, when someone is misgendered, or when someone changes their pronouns. It also increases the likelihood of someone assuming pronouns. This can cause people to not use the pronouns they prefer and accept misgendering.
Applicable to groups over 15, when remembering or announcing changes becomes difficult.