Pawel was talking about the lessons learned from a startup product called Overto, which was closed some time ago. One of the things he mentioned was the value of working in the same place and the way his team started to feel the negative effects of being separated.
Since I believe in the remote proficiency of virtual teams, I had a different opinion. I think that after the preliminary discussions around the fresh idea of the product, collaborating in writing instead of ad-hoc meetings may bring great effectiveness into the product.
Written communication versus spoken brainstorming
I mentioned the following arguments for communicating over writing mediums, like email, as opposed to verbal meetings:
- On email it's more natural to keep the discussion focused on an aspect. Talking makes this a bit chaotic.
- It's easier to follow a point of view, when you have it written on the screen, maybe with additional links to external resources.
- When you need to write, you focus more on the points you'd like to add to the discussion. Talking is faster, so it might lead to loosing the focus.
- Everything that's discussed gets logged, so you avoid the post-meeting confusion over some pieces of conversation or forgotten parts.
- You're undisturbed in your own mind-mapping flow process and you don't disturb the others.
Let ideas flow, then examine the results
It's pretty common that once an idea is out, it's exposed to being examined. This leads to context switching and instead of focusing on building a list of things to discuss about, you'll find yourself analyzing ideas.
For instance, when you discuss holiday destinations with your spouse, it's probably the case that you find a place, discuss about it, then find another, comment on it and so on.
The drawbacks of this approach are presented more explicitly in the book The Myth of Multitasking. The book includes a demonstration that switching back and forth between two different tasks, makes them take more time than doing them sequentially.
The above example is a bit extreme, since it involves the spouse. Don't do it at home unsupervised. But in my opinion, the same thing applies to teams and brainstorming. It's nothing wrong with getting together for a drink/lunch and discuss about a new product or feature, but I find writing more efficient.
Use mind-mapping, build a list of things that you think are suited, and then pass it on. If the others are doing the same, undisturbed, your team ends up with a more productive flow of ideas and better yet, you have everything written down.
Experiment and stick to what works for you
I'm not trying to say that this model is supposed to work for everyone. We are a team of two people, me and Sorin. It's been like this not only for the time we've been working on Teamness, but since 2005 when we started our company. We used to work from home on different projects for some clients and we always collaborated remotely. This is basically the reason for building Teamness in the first place.
In the beginning we were talking on Skype about clients, implementation details, decisions and so on. We used to have long conversations and sometimes we didn't remember everything that was discussed. We still have conversations, but when we talk about new features or design decisions, we use Teamness. We write the proposal in a message and then comment on it. This keeps it focused. We also use email from time to time, but what I want to stress upon here is that we're trying to keep the verbal communication related to our projects to a minimum, since it didn't prove efficient for us.
Please also note that I'm not trying to express that social interaction is bad, like having lunch with your colleagues or coffee breaks discussions. But when your product has 1000 features, writing things down becomes the key ingredient for a solid collaboration.