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Scalable communication in 
a distributed organization

Scalable communication in 
a distributed organization

For a globally distributed company, remote work is not about “working from home” per se, but about working in a way that is unconstrained by geography or time zone. Scalable communication is crucial for this style of work.

Lena Morita

May 19, 2020
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  1. HIGH CONTEXT,
    LOW CONTEXT
    Scalable communication in 

    a distributed organization
    LENA MORITA

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  2. @mirka
    Software Engineer at Automattic
    Co-Director at

    Women Who Code Tokyo
    LENA MORITA

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  3. @mirka
    Uruguay
    United States
    Spain (living in UK)
    Slovakia
    Romania
    Japan
    Philippines
    MY TEAMMATES
    BY COUNTRY

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  4. SIX MONTHS AGO…

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  5. @mirka
    HIGH-CONTEXT COMMUNITY
    • Common values and ideals
    • Shared history
    • Everybody knows each other
    • Similar cultural background
    • Running jokes and jargon

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  6. @mirka
    EXTREMELY HIGH CONTEXT!
    MY PREVIOUS JOBS
    • 3-person, all-Japanese agency

    where we had a similar sense of humor and taste in music
    • 2-person agency with my significant other

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  7. MY BEGINNINGS AT

    AUTOMATTIC

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  8. @mirka
    OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE
    • Audience
    • Longevity

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  9. @mirka
    FOR AUTOMATTIC
    “WHY” REMOTE WORK?
    • Things can be built remotely (OSS).
    • When building for a diverse user base,

    it’s better for the workforce to be diverse.
    • Only way to hire from the global talent pool.

    “Talent and intelligence are equally distributed

    throughout the world. But opportunity is not.”

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  10. @mirka
    Remote work can be much more than
    “WORKING FROM HOME”

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  11. @mirka
    FOR AUTOMATTIC
    REMOTE WORK IS…
    Replicating the co-located workplace experience
    Synchronous → Asynchronous

    Verbal → Written

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  12. SCALABLE COMMUNICATION

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  13. @mirka
    ADVANTAGES
    ASYNC, WRITTEN COMMUNICATION
    • Public by default = No silos
    • Newcomers have access to historical context

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  14. @mirka
    A framework for thinking about
    SCALABLE COMMUNICATION
    is useful for any organization,

    remote or not.

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  15. @mirka
    SYNCHRONOUS
    COMMUNICATION
    can be very useful, but is expensive.

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  16. @mirka
    In an async, written context,
    COMMUNICATION =
    EMITTING INFORMATION

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  17. @mirka
    1. Lifespan
    2. Audience
    3. Mode
    EMITTING INFO
    HOW AND WHERE?

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  18. @mirka
    WILL WE NEED TO RETRIEVE THIS INFORMATION?
    LIFESPAN
    • Zero — Calls, meetings
    • Less than a few weeks — Slack, chat
    • More than a month — Blog, wiki, or any agreed-upon, searchable repository

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  19. @mirka
    WHO WOULD WANT THIS INFORMATION?
    AUDIENCE
    • Only a specific person (private)
    • Only my immediate team
    • Topic-based
    narrower
    broader

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  20. @mirka
    PUSH OR PULL?
    MODE
    FEED

    Timely information that is mainly useful now.
    WIKI

    Evergreen information that is retrieved when needed.

    Anyone can edit.

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  21. LOW-CONTEXT

    COMMUNICATION

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  22. @mirka
    LOTS OF SHARED CONTEXT
    HIGH-CONTEXT COMMUNICATION
    • Easier
    • Faster
    • More fun!
    But not scalable

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  23. @mirka
    NOT MUCH SHARED CONTEXT
    LOW-CONTEXT COMMUNICATION
    • Takes empathy
    • Takes more time
    • Affords less “personality”
    But scalable

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  24. @mirka
    1. Topic
    2. Structure
    3. Rhetoric
    CALIBRATE
    IS THERE ENOUGH CONTEXT?

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  25. @mirka
    HOW FAMILIAR IS MY AUDIENCE?
    TOPIC
    • Imagine being a newcomer, or yourself in six months
    • Hypertext is your friend

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  26. @mirka
    DOES IT SUPPORT DIFFERENT CONTEXTUAL NEEDS?
    STRUCTURE
    • Provide a TLDR
    • Clear structure with subheadings
    • If you have an “ask”, be clear about it

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  27. @mirka
    ARE MY EXPRESSIONS STRAIGHTFORWARD?
    RHETORIC
    • Be careful: Slang, acronyms, colloquial expressions
    • Restrain the impulse to be “clever”

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  28. @mirka
    Async & written
    Public by default
    Low context
    SCALABLE

    COMMUNICATION

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