Expensive Communications Loops

This is an excerpt from a lovely Medium piece about the trouble with distributed teams. The problem identified here is “Expensive Communications Loops.”

Technology for sharing problem spaces and collaborating online remains error-prone, buggy and unwieldy. Workers are typically in different time zones, with different working hours. Soft interrupts — leaning over to the person across from you, quick whiteboarding sessions, questions lobbed across a room — become hard interrupts. Chat messages, Skype calls, scheduled meetings. Multiply these factors in situations where multiple people, multiple sources of feedback, and multiple functional teams are required to complete projects. Distributed teams can carry a much larger coordination cost than centralized teams. Planning meetings, holding meetings, struggling with shitty collaboration and conferencing technologies, creating and distributing status updates, cross-company communication, and the cost of ambient online chatter adds up fast. Suddenly tasks like getting approvals, doing design and content reviews, gut-checking an idea, introducing a new project, brainstorming and whiteboarding and other work that benefits from a tight communications loop become time-consuming and frustrating.

This is a core reason why big companies struggle at The Internet, especially when they rely on outside partners to do a bulk of their digital work for them. In those cases, it’s not just that they have a distributed team, it’s that the distributed team has parts that carry their own overhead, their own business goals, and their own motivations. And when the contract runs out, or the relationship sours, all the institutional learning that the partners have gained goes away.

Not to mention the fact that you lose proximity and speed.


See what I’m talking about.