Example: GitHub’s Emphasis on Remote Employees’ Use of Asynchronous Chat

Good communication is key for any team to be successful, but it is especially vital for any company to be successful. The ability to communicate effectively is paramount for improving efficiency, productivity and quality, both internally and externally.

Most proficient managers are cognizant of this reality, and they are concerned about the potential for miscommunication when hiring remote workers. How can one have an effective and meaningful dialogue with someone who is based on the other side of the planet?

Wow, did we guess what you were thinking? No, we didn’t; mind-reading isn’t one of our skills. Put simply, we are highly experienced in this field, and our role is to provide practical solutions to any worries you may have. Even better, we can help you to gain an understanding of approaches that have worked well for others when managing remote programmers.

GitHub, the innovative and pioneering company, have earned millions of pounds in their first two years of operation, even without a physical office space. This is partially attributed to their use of asynchronous communication, which we explore in more detail in our complimentary Remote Agile e-book.

Asynchronous chat is a term used in computer programming to refer to a type of communication that does not require immediate responses from participants. It is different from an email exchange, for example, where one of the parties may take their time to respond, as opposed to a phone call or meeting that requires a response straight away.

It appears that this solution is not suitable for your business requirements. Nevertheless, it is worth continuing to read on, as the eventual outcome may surprise you. Although every business and startup is unique, there may be one common factor which unites the most successful ones: they tend to favour asynchronous communication rather than synchronous communication.

Now, how did GitHub find success with this method? How did they really put it into effect?

Talk Is Supreme

If you are not a fan of Slack, that is perfectly alright; we have assessed a range of excellent alternatives. On the other hand, if you do prefer Slack, you should be aware of the fact that it revolutionised asynchronous communication. If you have to telephone or video call someone every time you require something, not only will you need to wait for them to be available, but you will also be disrupting their daily routine if they do take your call. According to psychological studies, it usually takes the average person between 20 and 45 minutes to refocus after being diverted.

Considering the implications of organising a meeting with more than two individuals, it is easy to understand why meetings can have a detrimental effect on productivity. Not only does the process of arranging a suitable time for all participants present a challenge, but it also involves taking away valuable time that could be put to better use. This has a knock-on effect on the company’s overall production, making meetings a rather unproductive use of time. It is for this reason that highly successful businesses such as GitHub and Basecamp have dubbed them to be ‘poisonous’.

We understand the frustration that can come with email communication, especially when you are unable to locate a particular message. It can be all too easy to overlook emails when they are not actively monitored, leading to wasted time spent trying to track down information. We sympathise with the feeling of helplessness that can come from this situation.

Having carefully considered the various options available, GitHub eventually concluded that chat was the most suitable solution. As Zach Holman, one of the company’s pioneering developers and a key figure in its growth, put it:

Given the asynchronous nature of the conversation, I am able to take a break over lunch and read the transcripts when I return. Asynchronous communication allows me to send a query to a colleague without fear of disrupting their working day, as they can respond when it is most suitable for them.

One of the key benefits of using modern chat platforms is that all conversations are recorded and can be searched for easily. This provides organisations with a centralised database of their communication, making it easier to locate required information quickly, rather than wasting time and effort on internal disputes. This allows for increased efficiency and a greater degree of transparency.

The GitHub Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel has become the primary digital environment in which the company operates. All conversations are recorded and archived, allowing individuals to remain focused on their tasks without requiring in-person meetings as a default. This has been described by many as enabling them to remain in a state of continual productivity, with conversations occurring in a natural manner as and when needed.

Is it practical for your business?

At Works, we reject the notion of a “one size fits all” approach. We understand that businesses operate differently, and each situation needs to be tackled using its own unique strategy. Consequently, we will be happy to share the Basecamp maxim of “meetings are poisonous” in one day and simultaneously provide an e-book on how to hold Agile meetings with remote staff.

It is widely accepted that looking to the successes of others is key to achieving success of your own, and we believe it is important for you to take the time to explore these ideas and see how they can benefit your business.

Pick a few low-stakes programming projects where all discussions will take place in real-time chitchat. And then watch the miracle unfold!

(Spoiler: in 90% of cases, everything will turn out well)

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