Thursday, January 29, 2015

Distributed Work Teams - They Work, If There's Trust

In a recently published article, Paul Petrone argues that employees who engage in process-driven jobs should work from home and those who are engaged in innovative type of work where collaboration and communications are needed should best work in an office environment.  

Here are some of the quotes utilized as justification for folks not working in a distributed fashion:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
I don't completely agree.

Marissa Mayer Yahoo's CEO

The surprising question we get is: ‘how many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’ … There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the [office] ‘What do you think of this?’ These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.

Patrick Pinchette, Googles CFO 

As much as I would love to treat Petrone's points in an article I felt Petrone's and these well known folks seemed to have missed what I would consider one of the most important piece for folks to work successfully regardless of how they work together. That piece is trust  

Trust is what allows individuals to work with each other to bring success to a company.  Trust is what allows personal growth through meaningful interactions. Trust is the precondition for great communities to be created.  It is what enables people to listen with attentive care to what the other person has to say and consider it as valuable and worthy.  Once, there is trust it does not matter how folks communicate, in person, by phone, video chat, e-mail, etc.  All these tend to be less important than knowing the source of the message.  The source is what makes us perk up, listen, and try to understand.

I guess the point to be made is that to build anything trust is required.  To build something great even more trust is required.

Our success at Coral Fire will continue to be and is defined by trust.  There is a constant deference to each other's expertise and contributions to the firm(community). Does that mean that in-person communication, as suggested above, is not beneficial if there is trust?  No!  By no means we should get rid of vis–à–vis communications.  There are some benefits to working in the same room like:
  • Speed of dialogue - It's certainly faster.
  • Gauging the other person's demeanor (facial expressions and body language) - Again it's easier to see them.  For this one, though, video conferencing can be a good substitute if the video conference quality is good.
  • Engaging in "breaking-bread" or drinks - Eating a meal or having drinks at times can reduce the level of formality and increase the level of personal human touch.

However, all this face to face must be undergirded with the intent to connect at a personal and caring way so that trust is built rather than eroded.  The more trust there is between the team members the less relevant the form of communications becomes.  It does not matter if they are present in a room or at the other end of phone lines trust is what makes it work.

So then, how then do you build trust?

To build trust we must first understand the trust equation:

Trust = summation of positive or negative actions

there are some incredible ingredients that we must trust understanding, genuineness and care are needed.  
  • Care
  • Genuineness
  • Understanding
  • Giving 
  • Putting others first and me last

What are your thoughts on this?  I would love to hear them.