Banning 1:1 technical communication

I banned 1:1 communication for anything technical within Qxf2. This post outlines
a) the motivation behind the decision
b) new rules for technical communication
c) the fallout of the decision
d) adjustments we made since introducing the ban


Motivation

Qxf2 is a fully remote company that offers software testing services to startups. We have been a small company for many years. This meant most people knew what their colleagues were up to. Everyone also had a general sense of what was happening within the company and who contributed how much. But in 2019, for better or for worse, we grew larger. I realized we needed to get better at how we communicate if we wanted to continue to be a fully remote company. Specifically, we had to:

1. make work interactions visible
2. provide everyone an opportunity to participate in technical conversations … if they chose to

To achieve these changes, I decided to ban 1:1 technical communication.


New rules for technical communication

The following slides are our current rules:


Short term fallout of the decision

These were the fallout from the decision:
1. All of us found the situation felt weird in the first few weeks.
2. The first couple of weeks after the ban were a little quiet.
3. New hires adapted well but folks who had been with us for a while had problems.
4. Personal chit-chat stopped. My colleagues complained that they felt isolated.
5. People had trouble processing larger volumes of Skype messages.

In hindsight, I could have done a better job of framing and introducing the change. I think the change came across as overbearing and sudden. I should have also done a better job of making sure people were still talking to each other at a personal level.


Adjustments we made

These were the adjustments we have made along the way:
a) Perhaps the most important adjustment we have made is to enforce what we call a ‘peer checkin’. This is just a fancy name for spending some time talking to your colleague about non-technical stuff.
b) We got more disciplined with accessing messages. We don’t check Skype/Email as and when messages arrive. Instead, we check Skype and email periodically.
c) We got more used to asynchronous communication. A direct result of b) is that people no longer expected an answer as soon as their question was posted. Instead, it was understood that people will reply when they get a chance.


That was it! What seemed to be a pretty drastic change when we began ended up being a pretty tame change. This was our journey once we banned 1:1 technical communication. If you have been through a similar journey, let me know in the comments.
 


Arunkumar Muralidharan

I want to find out what conditions produce remarkable software. A few years ago, I chose to work as the first professional tester at a startup. I successfully won credibility for testers and established a world-class team. I have lead the testing for early versions of multiple products. Today, I run Qxf2 Services. Qxf2 provides software testing services for startups. If you are interested in what Qxf2 offers or simply want to talk about testing, you can contact me at: mak@qxf2.com. I like testing, math, chess and dogs.

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