I joined 7 months ago a software company. Every developer works remotely. This company is also the first one I joined as a developer.
This post is about written communication in a remote environment. In the team I’m currently working with, we have a rather clear hierarchy. We have a manager, who has the knowledge of the company’s products and a solid programming experience. We also have a lead developer for the current project we are working on. Then, there is me, the junior developer.
The problem occurs when the manager-developer express some opinions to this other experienced developer, or comments its code. Our communications are mostly written ( we use Skype, and we speak French, both of which are irrelevant to the point I think :D ), and I noticed it can be complicated to convey emotions or tone in a written sentence. If you add things like people writing abbreviated words and more than two developers arguing on something, I would argue it can become a nightmare.
In a oral conversation, there are always little things that can give away a joke, indicates that we are not serious or just make things clear about our intentions ( a smile, a laugh, the tone of the voice, probably countless other facial expressions ).
But when I type, how can I be sure that my colleague won’t take a certain word the wrong way? You won’t really have any indication of my tone. You definitely do not see my face… I could add an emoji sure, but is it always appropriate and/or enough ?
In our case, those discussions sometimes go back and forth. I think this is rather healthy, and I’ve learned that there are a lot of ways to do the same things in programming. The problem arrives when you start seeing some words IN ALL CAPS IN THE CHAT. You can feel then tension rises and in the long term, that could become a problem.
I wouldn’t consider our current environment toxic, it happens very rarely, but it raises a few questions:
- Is it really possible to maintain healthy written conversations when a team starts to get bigger? So many egos, so many opinions, so many possible clashes.
- Is oral communication the only way to ensure that the environment doesn’t become toxic ? ( Although I’m sure it can become toxic even then)
- How can I convey a strong opinion in a written conversation without appearing like I’m close-minded or selfish ?
- Do companies have certain codes or rules when it comes to written communication ?
Would love to hear your thoughts !