Face-2-Face Communication May Not Be Needed

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“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” – Agile Manifesto; Beck, K. et al (2001).

Face-to-face communication is typically described as communication without using some sort of technology to facilitate that communication. It is also how most people are more comfortable communicating complex ideas, although that is changing. Face-to-face communication allows for a back and forth exchange of ideas where you can see the other people and read non-verbal cues. It can be effective, but it also isn’t needed and probably not the most effective method of conveying information any longer.

 

Flip Phones, Dial-up Internet, and Windows 98

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The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, and the world has changed substantially since that time.

In 2001, most people were still using dial-up Internet. While higher bandwidth Internet has been available since the late 90’s, it was still a common sound to hear the phone dialing and the screech of a connection every time I used my debit card in a store. Additionally, cable Internet in 2001 worked at a snail’s pace compared to what is available today.

Then there are the phones. I didn’t even have a flip phone in 2001. I had a bulky device with a pull-up antenna only slightly better than something from the 1980’s (Whip that thing out and show it off… but never talk on it, it cost too much to talk on it at 25 cents a minute). It wasn’t until 2003 that I got a flip-phone, the same year I got cable Internet. My cell phone back then was just a cell phone. I couldn’t play games on it and the first camera in a cell phone didn’t come out until 2002.

Windows XP? Nope, Windows 98, with some people using Windows 2000 or ME. XP, the operating system that ran most computers for a like 10+ years had only just been released at the end of 2001. XP, the OS that wouldn’t die was brand new and representative of cutting-edge technology at the time. That and the thick and heavy laptops or the huge computer monitors that required a whole desk to hold them.

So, why are some companies taking advice from a document written so long ago in regards to how they use technology? I have no idea, but it is time to embrace the new technological advances, it could possibly make you agiler.

 

The Changing Culture

I bet you didn’t use YouTube in 2001… because it didn’t exist. Google existed, but “google it” wasn’t synonymous with “look it up on the Internet.” Most people used Yahoo I think at the time anyway and probably hadn’t really heard of Google yet.

MySpace didn’t even exist in 2001. The page that gets made fun of for being old and/or looked at with nostalgia by some people, or whatever – I never used MySpace – it didn’t exist in 2001. We used email in 2001 to send people memes. I actually refused to give my parents my email address because they both sent me tons of garbage emails. The ones with the big long chains of people that were forwarded the email until you finally scrolled all the way to the bottom so you could see the one meme contained in the message.

While jokes about MTV and music existed in 2001, there were no jokes about people walking around running into things while staring at their cell phones. Now, MTV doesn’t need to play music we have Pandora and Spotify and I can ask Alexa to play it for me. I never understood the sitting in front of the TV to listen to music anyway.

Kids still watched Saturday morning cartoons in 2001, rather than YouTube videos. Which is about the only thing I hate in this new world – I can’t stand the YouTubers my daughter watches. I find myself trying to get her to watch cartoons if only to not ever have to hear “Hey Guys” from another YouTube video.

The changing world since 2001 has brought with it changes to the way we communicate and how that communication is utilized. Younger generations especially think nothing of keeping up to date with friends through instant messaging, social media, or some other technology-facilitated communication. Comfort with communication technology is one crucial aspect of successful telecommuting teams. Most objections to telecommuting seem to come more from a lack of comfort with the idea of teams telecommuting and the communication software than from anything else.

I have learned I like the new methods of communication because they can be more efficient. Granted, I no longer remember my own phone number most of the time or anyone else’s, the technology has made things mostly better and given us more opportunities. I suppose I can forgive it for giving us YouTube stars who do nothing but play video games while people watch them.

 

My Personal Experience

TelecommuteI have had a few managers that I have never met in person. The first time felt odd, but I adapted. I think I was able to adapt because it was an office job with partial telecommute, I had to go into an office three days a week. The quirk here, many of the projects I worked on were not based in that office. I often had no team members on my projects that sat in my office.

My job after that was a telecommute role with some travel. My travel never led me to meet my manager. In fact, for that job’s interview and during the entire time I held that role, I never meet another person working for the company. I have now had two jobs where this has happened, the second one lasting over two years before I moved to a new contract.

It can certainly be strange at first. You hear and talk to people and you build an image of what they look like in your mind. You are rarely close to what they actually look like when you do finally see a picture of them. Hair color, style, physical appearance, and race can all be wrong. You get a name and a voice, you will likely learn how powerful names can be in forming an opinion on what one looks like.

It can also help rule out some bias, despite the whole name thing. I have gained confidence in people, not by talking to them in person and seeing them, but by their work output. They didn’t become my best coworker friend who I felt obligated to defend no matter what, they earned my confidence (and hopefully I earned theirs) solely by their work output and the knowledge/experience they brought with them.

The point is, I adapted. Our teams were effective. We got things done. We didn’t need to stare at each other to do it either. I am able to meet… not in person… interesting people I would likely never meet any other way. I am able to work with talented people all over the globe. That would have been much harder to do in 2001.

Reflection

Advantages of face-to-face communication are overblown and not worth the positive benefits when compared to the other negatives of co-location and the positives of telecommuting. While I did not dive into the positives/negatives of telecommuting and the positives/negatives of co-location here, they do exist and I have written about them before (here, here, and here) and I intend to write about them again in the future.

There are good alternatives to face-to-face communication, video calling applications such as Zoom, Blue Jeans, and Skype can serve as suitable alternatives. More importantly than the video communication is the ability to communicate at any time and anywhere. We live in a world where everyone has the potential to be just a click of a button away. It can be nearly as easy to talk to someone a thousand miles away as it is to talk to someone right next to you.

A document written in 2001 should not be taken as the be-all-end-all of rules to Agile. Agile existed before this document, and this document was written at a time where face-to-face was probably the best way to do things. The world has changed. Be Agile and adapt.

 

Sources

Beck, K. et al. (2001) “Agile Manifesto: Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto” Retrieved from http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html

Images From Pixabay.com



Categories: Agile, Technology, Telecommute

Tags: , , ,

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