Andrew shares the thinking and practices of Parse.ly’s fully distributed team, looking at the history underlying his way of managing the firm, the role of face-to-face communication, and how to work day-to-day in a distributed environment. It’s a good case study, conveying some great ideas.
Here’s the piece about the importance / role / benefits of face-to-face communication:
The biggest thing missing from fully distributed teams is true face-to-face communication. There are a lot of subjective qualities to this kind of communication — such as body language — that cause the brain to react slightly differently than other forms, such as written or even video conference. Having a face-to-face “kick-off” meeting among team members is critical to make the distributed team work smoothly. Not only does this humanize the relationships between team members in a way that audio/video simply doesn’t (seemingly for a lack of verisimilitude), but it also encourages some friendship and bonding relationships to form that are a bit tougher to facilitate via pure digital tools.
At Parse.ly, we have held several team retreats since our founding. We cook together, drink together, play poker, and hold competitions. We also have intense brainstorming sessions and even do a little free-form programming and hacking with one another. I call it a “workcation” because though everyone is working, everyone is also very relaxed and we try to pick backdrop environments that are vacation-like.
The retreats also engender a sense of empathy among team members. For example, they learn each other’s favorite sports teams, discuss books they’ve read recently, or share favorite productivity tips. These are details that come up more rarely in our “virtual office” because of the lack of idle moments — elevator rides, walks to lunch, etc. — that tend to occupy this role in co-located teams.