03 November, 2020
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
”a fortunate stroke of serendipity"
I hadn't even heard of the word ‘serendipity’ before COVID and true to its nature - serendipity is events happening organically - by chance or "spontaneously".
In real life, we almost always fail to notice serendipity to put a word on it. I only came across the word when everything went remote and random interactions came to a full stop and now suddenly, something was missing.
Obviously, it was other people. But even with video calls, meetings, standups - it didn't feel right.
The truth is nothing can beat a real-life conversation with someone - not chat, audio or video. Maybe not even VR or holograms.
(Silicon Valley, S1E5)
Random interactions in a fully remote world have to be forced. That’s just how we must play it now. But trying to duplicate in-person serendipity in a remote world - as is - might not be a great way out.
For instance, take the Qt World Summit this year which happened about a week ago:
Reminds me of Club Penguin. Heh
I don’t know about you but to me, that looks extraordinarily distracting and borderline unnecessary.
Creating organic serendipity in a totally remote set up is a tough nut to crack - props to Qt for trying something new but to pretend that ‘online’ is the new ‘offline’ might not be the way to solve it.
On the same note though, multiplayer games are quite effective in the right context - simple, popular ones like 'Among Us' can work both as an icebreaker and as a way to create organic interactions between a group of people and games have always been a source of a spontaneous group activity.
The case of GitLab
GitLab is an all remote company - right from the beginning as an open-source project - GitLab, in its initial days, was developed from contributors around the world. The GitLab team is now over 1,200 employees strong and Gitlab recently held its Series E round with $268M raised - and all of this without even having a physical office.
GitLab has an excellent handbook on remote work, some key points -
To simulate serendipity within a team - engage regularly on a weekly basis - in form of text or video.
Nothing beats seeing someone in person and the closest we can get to in-person meetings are video calls. Try to have regular video calls with your team - it might require some getting used to - to discuss something other than work but once you establish a flow, video calls are super effective.
Even an always-on video conferencing room or dedicated time slots for video/audio chat can also work wonders.
Regarding work - asynchronous is preferred over synchronous communication.
Meetings are synchronous events - they require everyone at the same time. Asynchronous events are things like chat/etc that do not require an immediate response.
An all remote culture means employees from all different timezones and so - meetings are only kept for the most important things and are also most of the times, optional.
Record the meetings, have an agenda, maintain the minutes, allow people to asynchronously contribute and don’t waste time.
Role of text communication
Most of remote communication happens through text and texting can get quite difficult at times - mainly because of the lack of non-verbals (like the lack of your facial expressions and tone when you are trying to tell a joke in chat but no one gets it)
"Text communication can be easily derailed, and assumptions can lead to good-mannered communiques being viewed as a slight."
Assume the best - don’t be an asshole. From experience, when things start getting heated up on a text chat, jump immediately to a video call and straighten things up. Don’t keep it for later.
It’s really, really easy to get angry with someone’s stupid texts but when you see their face or hear their voice, that anger starts to dissipate ;)
All in all, remote is tough and we need to intentionally create situations and design systems where we can interact organically and spontaneously.