Interactions

Interactions: proximity, privacy, and legitimacy

Encounters lead to interactions, which allow communications. How do we increase the frequency of encounters? What factors turn encounters into interactions? How do we convert interactions into communications?

Proximity

Increasing the physical distance separating people at work is likely to decrease the amount of spontaneous, informal contact among them. There need only be a small amount of distance between people before they stop interacting.

Impact on Remote Working: You need to reduce the friction required to connect to your team. Each slow response to a question is like moving your desk an extra few meters away from your team until eventually, you are in the basement office with the door closed. Using always-on Zoom channels or fast response to Slack messages can increase your teams’ proximity with minimal effort.

NB: Although we use Slack and Zoom as the default messaging and video conference tools, other tools exist that might be as good. We just haven’t found them.

Privacy

People must have confidence that private conversations are only heard by those intended and not overheard by anyone else. Interactions in the absence of such privacy — talking in a corridor, for example — risk being silenced or broken up by the appearance of others and raise concerns about what the interrupter might have heard.

Impact on Remote Working: If the only time you speak to another team member is on the daily Zoom call with 15 other people, then you will never create the necessary environment for people to have those frank and honest conversations that are required. Consider taking a video call directly, or take conversations to temporary Slack messaging so you can thrash out the details. Just remember, once you have finished, consider sharing the outcome with the rest of the team in a shared channel, so everyone has the context.

Legitimacy

The social definition of the space: What is supposed, obliged and allowed to occur there. People have got to feel comfortable that it is okay for them to be in a certain place, that is, not feel embarrassed or discredited. For an encounter to become an informal interaction, the people involved must not only feel comfortable about what others will see and hear — the issue of privacy — but also what others will think.

Impact on Remote Working: In a remote environment, having different channels for people to talk about topics ranging from specific technical subjects to a place just for some watercooler chat helps promote legitimacy between co-workers. Remember that shy people in a remote setting will be doubly shy, so ensure that the team environment invites active communications across all team members.