How we talk to each other - remotely socially

A remote but heartfelt hello to everyone!

Many of us collaborate often remotely. Sometimes event mainly remotely and this enables us to be very flexible and “get together” with people from all over the world.

We have virtual meetings, chats, blogs and platform such as this very one, share documents and pinboards.

However, also quite often we feel some lack of connection or miscommunication. Some of us have the urge to go to coworking spaces to work next to people. If you work with collaborators and projects all across Europe, chances are you end up travelling a lot to check-in and connect on-site and get to know your collaborators more directly.

It is great that we live in a world where we are able to experience different places and cultures and have friends and collaborators everywhere. However, as invigorating and perspective enhancing as such travels can be, they also put a lot of stress on ourselves and on the environment.

In the last few months I talked to many people who are used to travelling a lot for their international projects and collaborations and I myself and my husband usually spend at least one week per month apart because one of use is travelling for job and project purposes. We and many of those I talked to want to travel less in the upcoming year and in a project with Climate KIC, Edgeryders works on recommendations for people how to improve remote collaborations to decrease the need for travel.

I believe that one of the reasons that online remote work is sometimes perceived as insufficient or lacking in social aspects and the need for travel arising from that is that we have not yet consciously grasp the characteristics and needs of each channel and learn social cues, conventions and strategies to use those channels best.

Certain signals are heightened or dampened in a video call or chat in comparison to a direct conversation. We need to learn new conventions and “Best Practises” for those channels.

Therefore I want to ask you here for your stories, experiences and ideas:

For example: Compensating social signals/interactions by including personal aspects in professional virtual meetings.

During our Edgeryders team calls the cats or children of teammembers sometimes walk by and are then introduced to us. I feel that this makes the atmosphere in the video call more direct and relaxed. “Professionalism” could have different boundaries and faces in this channel. If I do mainly meet my coworkers via such a channel, I actually appreciate if their pets or children come by or if they share something about private projects they are pursuing, because this makes them more human and real to me.

It is also easier to remember and connect community members that have jined in the Comunity calls or told more about their concrete histories, experiences and personalities in their introductions and their profiles gain resolution, depth and therefore reality and memorability. We want you to share your personal stories here instead of just a research report or project pitch because those personal details are what enable us to connect more deeply even when discussing and collaborating remotely asynchronous. The internet of humans has to find ways to allow for and use the developed cognitive ability of the human brain to make social connections.

  • Which methods and moments have made remote collaboration and communication richer for you?

I would also appreciate your opinion on how to deal with workload management and reporting in a remote and asynchronous collaboration architecture:

When you are responsible for contributing to multiple different aspects of different projects with collaborators that are based in different places and systems it is hard for you and them to gage your workload. We have to heavily rely on self-reporting, which in itself is a management skill one needs to learn.

  • How do you estimate and keep track of your workload?

  • How do you communicate it to your collaborators who can not see the bags under your eyes or you frantically typing away in the corner of the office?

  • How should we remind each other of the tasks we committed to?

If you would work in the same office, just seeing your colleague over there would maybe already remind you to finish that job for them you committed to. If you do not see them you might forget. If they keep reminding you via chat it can build up anxiety, especially if the messages come in constantly (even weekends).

  • What are good ways to remind each other of what needs to be done?

Please share examples of when remote collaboration/interaction worked especially well for you or what definitely not to do :slight_smile:

Let’s develop those new social conventions for remote communication and collaboration together :).


ping @johncoate, @hugi, @noemi, @natalia_skoczylas, @BlackForestBoi, @nadia, @William_COACT, @erik_lonroth

It might surprise you to know that, despite being in the business of online community and communications since the mid-80s, I am actually pretty new at working remotely, and with people who are many time zones and oceans away. I always went to an office, except for 2 years in 2004-5 when I worked for a Finnish game company. That was all remote, since I was in California, but the work was for me to be online all the time as a kind of adult supervisor for a large bunch of teens online. So the work itself was on display for anyone to see. I didn’t have to collaborate on reports, didn’t have to co-create budgets, didn’t have many meetings outside of the platform itself.

I am a big believer in those who do work remotely with each other to offer to each other various aspects of their lives so that they may get to know each other better. However, besides a short pause to mention the cat or whatever, I think video meetings can lose track of how fast an hour goes by, so in that case some discipline is called for.

But on a platform such as this one, there is plenty of real estate for someone to show a fuller version of themselves by talking about or showing something from other parts of their lives, things they like, movie and other cultural recommendations, and similar things. There is no requirement that one’s co-workers must read that other stuff if they don’t want to. And, speaking personally, I would very much like to know other people who congregate on this platform and I do not want to go off to some social media space to accomplish it.

One thing I have learned over the years is that writing clearly and succinctly is a skill that takes practice to learn. Word economy is and will always be important. Set the scene, make your point or tell the story, and stop. I thought I was pretty good at it a long time ago untilI went back and read some of the stuff I wrote in the early years…

One of the things I advise people in online community building is to “oversupply understanding” which really means to cut the other person some slack because they might not have said perfectly what they really meant to say. Not doing that can result in jumping to a conclusion that alienates or polarizes.

At the same time, I think that if co-workers are going to critique each other, which I think is pretty necessary in a team finding its rhythm, on the other side I think it important to acknowledge the good things in the other person, or the validity of what they might be saying, or the parts that you think are valid. One could call it praise; I would call it affirmation. Has nothing to do with software. In other words, if you want to improve bonding and strengthen relationships via online communication, given the lack of other cues - body english, voice nuance, facial expression - you should come up with other, less subtle ways of strengthening those bonds. I find it costs nothing to let someone know when you think they are doing something right, or you like the way they handled a situation, or made a good comment or presentation. I wouldn’t overdo it, but don’t hold back.


Thank you for starting this topic, I was thinking about starting a very similar thing and now I don’t have to :blush:

For the question about online calls, maybe let’s give a few more hints about what input would be helpful for us. For example:

  • Lisa (from Climate-KIC) shared a tip in the interview with Edgeryders that she’s sticking up a finger in video calls to show that she wants to say something but also wants to wait until the current speaker finished their contribution.

  • Similarly, one of our IoH fellows had this nice habit of signaling the “OK” gesture (:ok_hand:) to show silent approval of what somebody said in a video call, or also to answer a question approvingly without saying anything.

Just as examples – any other tips and tricks are also welcome!

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Hand gestures are especially useful when you are recording the conversation and even more so if you then transcribe the conversation.

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Okay this awesome - and I have “books” to say on this topic - but word economy is important.

So I think we’d perhaps want to eventually structure things in a couple of threads. My high level thoughts:

  1. How is “remote professionalism” different from “in-situ professionalism”?

  2. What works better remotely, what works worst? What to do about it?

  3. What are common remote, or hybrid scenarios one could optimize around?
    (E.g. working out of coffee shop, working out of permanent personal work room/corner, bringing remote participants into a live conference like event)

On number 1. I have a general link to Pamela Hinds with whom I’ve discussed some of this. It may not be mindblowing, but it’ll help bring out points one should be sensitive towards imo (you can watch this later, maybe start at 18:00)

If you noticed, the video above really does not have a good audio quality. If we recognize that this still happens to absolute experts, we can see how far we likely are away from a “good practice” being followed by the majority of us.

As second video I’d like to offer (which you absolutely show watch now!) is a horribly realistic account of how a significant portion of meetings go. If you are serious about a collab, try to avoid that like you would coming to a meeting with an open fly, a missing shoe, and a torn shirt - it just doesn’t make a good impression on people who are serious about making something work.

Of course as @johncoate says you should be cutting people a lot more slack, if they seem to make an effort. I think he is very correct! Jump to minute 10 for an analysis leading to a “generous tit-for-tat”:

We have sooo much less contextual information on people’s background so we’re likely to attribute some of their failings to them, when it really was their circumstances mostly. Think about e.g. someone getting into a car accident before getting to work - people would quickly know in-situ, in the office, but not so much remotely.
Another experience I had was a colleague in engineering who stayed home because of a sick kid (happened pretty often). This was in a German (male dominated) office environment, and she had a culturally French influenced background (where you would have been entitled to “sick-kids-days” contractually). Not so much in Germany. Nobody said anything at the time, especially as she was back in the room and offered her excuse with a straight face - but the consequences of such things can be pretty harsh, even in an in-situ situation.
That is why I think a “remote professionalism” HAS to look very different from the conventional one.
In conventional (EU/Western) professionalism you are to exclude the personal dimension, the emotional dimension, and to dress in a highly uniform(ed) way (not more than 5 pieces of “juwelery”, black this, black that, grey ok, but no tan suits). That has many advantages, particularly if you need to “focus on the matter at hand”, and all these other things are mainly detractions.
Also it allows better to force a hierarchy which may not be as easy to maintain in a more context rich environment - this is of course a factor that cuts both ways!

Now in remote work we typically see so much less of each other (smaller steradian, less time, less definition & nuance, time zone and alertness, almost no context from circumstance i.e. where you are).
So if we reinforced this effect even more by trying to “act professionally” in a conventional way - we shoot ourselves in the second foot.

Now some concrete proposals and high level analysis. Please challenge me on this as they may sound to confident and lack nuance because of word economy:

Invest in decent gear!
A good - very good used microphone, ideally several for different jobs:

  • Clip-on for noisy environment (the one on headphones can also work close to mouth)
  • Very sensitive condenser microphone (like a snowball) if you work in a quiet place.
  • Consider getting one with an omni-directional pick up pattern if you: might dial in with a group of 5-6 people, or want to peel potatoes in the kitch while in long meetings, but be able to reply fast.

Consider bluetooth headset mics if you’re on a budget.
I’ve tried a couple of bluetooth speakers with built in mics. The mics are usually crap, but the speaker can be well worth it if you do hybrid meetings where you have a couple of cash-strapped enthusiasts on the other end of the world, while you do the dog and pony show in the c-suite.
Test things well before you even step a foot into top level meetings. Have a backup for the backup and know how many seconds it takes to fire up. (Also know how to mute/kick a saboteur, if only for the confidence it gives you)

Regarding cameras:
If you’re like me and use old mobiles, it can make sense to get the “almost latest” logitech or similar. Note the view angle, and if the mics are sensitive & adjustable.
But also consider getting a wired internet adapter then, as you’ll start pumping out a lot of data. If you don’t have one, get a external usb port that has it built in - you can even hook many of them up to phones. Wifi is shitty in sooo many places, be cyberpunk and bring a cord.

The simpler solution is often to go with a decent smartphone + powerbank (ER should have a couple as give-aways to power-people) + bluetooth speaker (if the remotes should get their word heard) and a proper tripod.

Also a general note on audio based productivity: bluetooth eapieces (true wireless lalala) are effing magic when they work, especially if you’re parenting and “think time” is very rare, but can usually be had when in the park, or in “the wild”, or on the bus from the wild. ALWAYS bring them, and something to write/draw (never just 1 pencil!) comments and timestamps.

In my opinion every (non-sensitive) meeting above 4 people should be recorded, at least on audio.
If you can: record to mp3, upload it before the last meeting is over, and have people download it before they get on their return trip (qr-codes?). If you ant to be a hero, supply the times to the major discussion points (3-4 will usually be fine) - you’ll cut search time down drastically.

Above 4 people chances are high 1 didn’t make it to the meeting so they’ll need it anyway, chances are astronomical you didn’t understand everything if 2 attendants don’t have the same background.
Also, you can “speak in search terms” if you’re recording. You can dive into extreme detail very briefly.

If what you were discussing was relevant and makes it past the 4-5 people (let’s hope it does because otherwise why have a big meeting?) you’ll need to onboard others - and exact timestamps in a context rich recording are invaluable for that.

And if YOU relisten, you’ll be amazed at how much you catch that you didn’t get at first, how many more (mad) ideas you’ll have when your brain is not running 80%-90% in social mode, and how easily you can improve on your own delivery skills.
I work across timezones, and when shit gets urgent you can easily be there at 2 in the morning. Somewhere between then and when the sun comes up again one should consider informing your colleagues that while you’re happy to hang in there, your alertness as a biological organism is by now evidently shot to pieces (and amphetamines usually aren’t tax deductable as work requirement).

Another thing I’d like to see in general is what I call the “mumble channel”. The main point is to reduce selection bias, or allow for hunches with regard to outliers.
This is where you could e.g. get anonymous comments, particularly from members who “are not wired for meetings”. Sensitive, precarious outsider, introvert, busy doing shit, can’t speak (the language), you name it. It could also be a separate chat (+ voting) that is projected into the meeting in the background.
Online meeting software has a long way to go to support all this, but some things can be cobbled together to 80% already.
And again when you take asynch and hybrid meetings into account there’s a lot you can do - for example give a simple mini-recorder to e.g. a quiet domain expert who can “mumble” a running commentary on the main conversation, which can be evaluated separately at a later time.

This is the more more “technical half”, and I’ll try to write the more “communication / organization half” in a little bit.

Again, please do challenge me on the wisdom behind these points, or add to them! I tried to find a balance between concrete & concise vs general & philosophical - and I’d love for someone to shake things up!


Would you like option a, b, c…? Yes.

Hehe. If I understand your comment correctly we’ll see a lot of “all of the above, and then some” here.

It is shocking how underexplored this domain is. I think it has to do not least with the fact that for most of the leadership level all of this DIYbottomupempowerment does not make it on their radar unless they are very observant. They are more busy deciding on peoples’ travel budgets, so it is a bit of a white space in upper management quite often.

Secondly there is of course a pretty conservative undercurrent in the higher spheres. For many good and not totally good reasons. But manners, how you are to conduct yourself, etc. aren’t things that are easily revamped.
But of course what you can do is come up with alternatives that clearly outperform the conventional ones, and that is why I think @MariaEuler is absolutely on point making this a topic. Even if it feels a bit difficult to talk about, cause it is so huge.

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What tools would you recommend for that?

Some chats have polling built in. So I would generally go with those, esp if they are open and easy to install/uninstall. Currently the field is too dynamic to point at one above the others for all purposes.

Generally though I think it’ll become a task of every event manager to have one CMC (cyber master of ceremonies of sorts) that sees to it that feedback can be visulized, sentiment tracked, but also facts checked. I think it is pretty inevitable to have at least one brain dedicated to the process.

nice :), @matthias, this is related to the “Wizzard” (= @johncoate):slight_smile: you are referring to in the manual 📗 Distributed Collaboration Manual (DRAFT)

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I think he is (it is unsurprisingly and scarily big though).

This section specifically covers our core part of making calls. But of course context is king so there’s more in there that is relevant.

I’ll try to go into the more organizational part now and think out loud a good deal, so again - please feel free to shoot things down. I’ll just plug this lecture on the social mind here, that I really like - but I’ll try to write in a way that doesn’t rely on it. Also when it comes to teaming and getting things done I had a really good vibe talking to Noshir Contractor on the topic. My guess is that I am in overwhelming agreement with his positions (he put out a lot more than I could even read - so I can’t be sure).

First I want to put 3 provocations:

  1. Good outcomes don’t equal good communications / relations at all times.
    A failed team and horrible experience can be necessary for some developments. As a species we don’t necessarily perform best in circumstances we are comfortable in (and we’re obsessed with reproduction most of the time. Thanks, genes.). A lot of things go through a “if I had known it gets this bad I never would have…”. Note that this is not an excuse, it is a recipe for disaster (and some disasters can be good).
  2. Generally projects aren’t constant (neither are people).
    The communication format should likely change over time to: ideally suit the subject matter at the stage, the individual participants, the group as a whole, the need for external involvement, the need to be inclusive or exclusive, or select for certain outcomes (including travel budgets).
  3. The magic number is 5 (4.something really).
    2.1 + something really. If you look at big (esp. technical) innovators, they rarely come solo. If it was so simple one person could pull it off, it would have been done already. You generally need 2 people with different skill sets, perspectives (and maybe motivations / psychological wiring) in a close trust relationship. “Close trust relationship” is probably an understatement of what happens at a cognitive level (thinking mirror neurons, etc.). As a species we have trouble connecting to more than 1-2 persons at the same most intimate level, at the same time. Data suggests that women in particular could pull off a group of 3, but I’d say even then rounding to 2.1 is probably optimistic.
    The other 2.something? Those are 3 persons in the inner core that are the “executive organs” of the primary pair. 2 execs are not enough (because not everyone can’t always work well with one another - too few permutations), but 4 bring more cost than benefit (information transaction cost rises). You may sometimes go to 4 and beyond but you’ll more often be switching out 1 of the 3 extras. So you end up having less than 3 extras on average.
    If this is correct we fairly easily cut much of the “general” communication problem down to size: We just have to make something that works well for groups of 5. Beyond that is likely not going to work very well with humans.
    BUT we can thus already try to optimize collective intelligence to work well with groups of groups of 5. Nice problem-solution pair if you ask me. :slight_smile:

Well, yes. “Never waste a good crisis.” Crisis is what makes people daring and audacious again. But also I’d say that currently, crisis mode project management is very, very rare. People can’t do it, can’t stand it. Because professional and private life are now two separate spheres only connected by a flow of money (like this: :hourglass_flowing_sand:). And in crisis mode management, there is no private life anymore … . For a short time that can work, and be great actually, but not for years. The exception is war, but I’m not proposing that.

That’s really interesting. Just today I though that the current structure in Edgeryders is a growing hierarchy with multiple levels already, most of them still kind of informal. Management becomes a nightmare then, as information and processes get lost and degrade on their way up and down the hierarchy. Self-contained teams of five (basically like military “squads”) that tackle one part of a project on their own would fix that.

Also interesting: The 2 + 3 = 5 structure of groups sounds reminiscent of a family structure: a couple and three kids old enough to assist / help, while other kids might be also there but mostly as receivers of care. That analogy would fit well with a proposed hard-wiring of the brain for such a mode of collaboration in groups of five. There are perhaps other hard-wiring limits in the brain, each indicative of its own mode of biologically ingrained collaboration. Very preliminarily, from my observations of living with 3-14 people in Morocco in 2018:

  • 3-7: family size, as discussed above.

  • 8-14: extended family size, usually in two or more living units close together; we noticed that other modes of coordination are needed at that size

  • 15-35: band size; not sure about the lower limit, which might also be around 20

  • 36-150: tribe size, limited by Dunbar’s number; beyond that indirect governance becomes necessary, sadly


Here I’ll try to work a tad more on the tools and how they are driven by how you are organized, and this is again driven by what your near term and overarching goals are.
So on the ground this is NOT going to be a one-size-fits all. Much, much less than say the “groups of 5” thing is.

Here’s how I would approach this in general:

  1. Orient yourself.
    As @alberto likes to say: “If you know how to look, you’ll almost always find someone already working on the problem (or an adjacency - I might add) somewhere.”
    I’ll leave the “knowing how to look” part out of scope here, and will only mention that failed historic attempts can be hugely helpful here in my opinion.
    If you’ve done this you should have an idea of who are some players in the domain, and you’ll likely be able to tell pretty quickly that you want to be “more like this, less like that”, "the [well known brand / movement] of [well known issue], for [your less well known issue], “if X and Y had a child”, “X with a touch of Y”, or similar.
  2. Formulating your goals.
    I am not sure if it is always advisable to put your goals in writing. I think sometimes it is a must, and at other times it can be the first nail in the coffin. You’ll have to decide yourself, and one option is to do it just for yourself privately.
    In any case I find that a shorthand for your aims or means, like mentioned above, can work quite well if you understand where and how potential allies can latch onto you. Ambiguity is likely to work for in the early stage, but might cause problems later.
  3. Identify dominant dynamics in the field.
    What I mean here is for example that most of the players in the field of say the world wide shipping industry have their own set of motivations (incl. career paths), their views on history, and their own narratives about what future developments are plausible, probable, or likely.
    Compare this outlook to the computing hardware, or computing software industry and you’ll see that this is going to be a crucial factor.
    Again compare this with e.g. the commercial aviation industry, where safety and reputation are what most hours of most days are worked on more or less directly - with a currently pretty small competitive landscape. Your approach must fit the dominant dynamics (though you’d likely best not aim at anything dominant, but a linchpin or leverage point). The best boiled down version of this I know is: Dave Snowden’s Cynefin
    Note that political alignments also vary drastically across occupations and provide for interesting gradients and sub-groups that can be very fertile ground.
    Aside: I believe even within pretty small groups you will see the social analogue to an Helmholtz-Double Layer appear on the small scale (i.e. around a couple of hundred people). (@MariaEuler not sure if you’ve been down that wider rabbit hole yet)

Given the above you may also want to reflect on if your project should go “full steam ahead every day” (something investors like to see), or e.g. “lie dormant” until the right opportunity presents itself - and perhaps how to switch from the former to the latter best.

I haven’t truly been part of the “full steam ahead every day” projects for a good time, and even when I was it was in a generally pretty tame environment (academic research) or I was going solo - so I’ll take a pass on that.

What I have more experience with is a “steady remote job” and “advanced hobby level projects”. In my experience all of the above is predicated on the people involved and their fit with the project and each other.

So one of the most crucial factors is to get to know the people involved. An early face to face interaction in a range of somewhat edgy circumstances is perhaps the fastest and most reliable way to get a good idea on this.
In a “slow” approach you can first find the core team, and then expand it gradually through trusted contacts that get introduced one by one. This puts most “information digestion stress” on the new person, so I would strongly recommend a gradual introduction, providing them with context, background info to other people and their relationships and communication preferences. Perhaps also not “throwing them at the team” but making a few introductions first, maybe referring to some of those conversations when introduced to the wider team.
In a corporate environment I believe this is a process that should totally be flanked by HR and it is a testament to their overall uselessness that this is not the case (if only for the sake of HR gathering insights into internal dynamics). I strongly believe that something @alberto and Edgeryders are working on (a human readable scaling of conversations in scope and time) will become absolute boiler plate for any kind of ambitious onboarding program (aside: The first two weeks usually decide on your activity level and also largely how long a new employee will stick around eventually. It is ridiculous that this isn’t even treated with so much as an afterthought at this point).
Shortly after a new person is introduced and starts really working with others there is a usually LOT of info the new person had to push through the channels a) to just establish reliable communication, and b) to push the right info at the right time, which is the reason for the person to be there in the first place.
A proper OKR-system is expected to facilitate this in larger real world organizations, but I have seen fail pretty badly in several situations. My expectation is a combination of a social network analysis (who talks to whom, about what, when, through what means, and what is the typical escalation ladder + human commentary) and OKRs (actionable sub-goals) and a yet to be elaborated visual introduction round will have to be created.
I say visual mostly because that is the information highway for our species, but that is not to say that vocalization nuances should not be considered important (my endless points about decent audio). Finally I think one part that is completely off the radar at the moment, but I think might be even more crucial than shared meals (I do this a lot via remote connection - and it is pretty cool) is: Smell, i.e. the olfactory dimension (example paper) and perhaps even memory access (Proust effect).

In the short term though I think two things are easily actionable:

  1. Decent audio
  2. Use more of the screen (beside the face) to convey information.
    This can be cues like people used at occupy wall street (where gallant efforts were made to scale convos!) - maybe slightly adapted.
    Most of that info should avoid text as it is too slow. Pictograms, or even simple photos of you and your background/biography/network defining environments can communicate long stories in seconds, and give good opportunities for tangential conversations. Little anecdotes will make you more memorable, but also risk putting you in a box - so perhaps keep em a little eccentric on purpose?
    If you have what you are working on, maybe your time management / stack of “to-dos” color coded in the background - that can also convey current workload levels without much hassle, and at the same time allow people to offer to contribute. I haven’t tried it myself, but I think I should at some time.
  3. Make sure you facial expressions can be seen.
    This is perhaps more important in the beginning and for sensitive topics. If you are in a leadership role, I think it should be mandatory to show your face whenever you possibly can. At the very least have a placeholder image up, ideally one that reflects your mood or situation.
  4. In meetings with more than 3 people, have a chat channel up so people can make specific interventions without disruption. In meetings with more than 8 or so members consider having one member dedicated to servicing that chat channel.
  5. Structure meetings with a core part and a “padding part” before and after.
    Tackle adjacent questions, connection issues, small talk, bio-breakes, seat swapping, etc. in the run-up, and use it to have extra time to onboard the new people.
    Keep some time after the core meeting for the people who might have detail questions of limited relevance. And again help the new people to ease the info stress on them, and allow them to ask “dumb questions” in a more private and work-time conscious way.
    Ideally record the core part of the meeting, and make a summary (action points, owners, dates) in the EXACT last 5 (or so) minutes. That will allow peripheral people to open the file, jump directly to the summary, and on that basis decide if they should review other sections of the meeting - in minimum time.
  6. Send out abundant optional invites.
    Optionals should understand that they are more in a listen / peripheral awareness role (can lurk without video, etc.) and should not hi-jack the core agenda unless invited to. Optionals can be included for awareness / info flow / redundancy, but also for vetting purposes.
    I think a good heuristic is when you send out enough invites that 20% of the attendees are optional on average. It is often better if you have 2 in one meeting, and none in the next - so don’t worry too much about the details. Ideally an optional would listen to the previous meeting summary (perhaps during the padding time) if it was somehow related. The meeting host may decide to call an optional (invite via phone call) if he/she has not turned down the invitation.
  7. Written notes are awesome (and in many cases crucial), but should not detract focus off the matter at hand, especially if there are more than 4 people sacrificing their lifetime in a meeting.
    Dedicated note takers should be praised (and scrutinized), and helped by improving the notes after the call, particularly with external links which can currently only really live in written notes.
  8. Simple organizational shortcuts can go a long way.
    For example if ER had two default times for a) 80% general work focused calls, and b) calls for 80% socialization focus - then these could easily be used to e.g. reconnect with people you’ve met at a recent event. You just fire them one of the two zoom links and times, and ER can keep an ear on the grapevine while becoming more sticky to the general member environment - and allow serendipity into their living room. If it works too well, you just ask people to start a couple of breakout rooms. This way people can keep a far more emotional bond beyond the end of a event like e.g. the one in Valencia where I’d still have half a dozen smoking action points for example.
  9. Many “Doers don’t desktop”.
    Try using tools that will work on mobile. Also: Most business CEOs don’t desktop, but travel a lot. Audio and a concise (but expandable - i.e. linked to primary information) note format win in this situation.

I’ll try to write the next part about my thoughts on “speed focused collaboration” / hackathon style on site work. As I think the majority of work is not going to remain purely remote, one should also consider formats that effectively complement the approach mentioned above.


Yup, I think there is much alignment in what you wrote. Dunbar actually has circles below the 150 number, very close to what you list.

Yeah, with regard to the hierarchy stuff - that is a real risk. In my opinion using the “groups of 5” to functionally replace a single persons responsibilities you can get a good bit more stuff done. Usually still responsively, reliably and with a better connectedness overall.
But I am afraid once you scale into the next layer of 5s you would start getting (increasingly anonymous) hierarchy creeping in again, with all its associated failure modes.

So the current bottom line effect of my approach is still pretty limited to the smaller end of the scale. BUT when we have a computer (+ human hybrid) start tracking all the relationships, who knows who, who trusts who, etc. and perhaps even can predict the arc of the project / community needs (e.g. varying team skill sets, attrition rates, age compositions, etc.) one could make things work A LOT better. The computer could manage humans very effectively within our baked in hard limitations of the Dunbar circles, making sure that the necessary networks remain continuous and robust at the various required communication and trust levels. And if you know your percolation theory - that could very well be a game-changer.

By the way - the military teams of 5 are not an accident either (though I learned that later), again see the linked Dunbar lecture.
But I think a perhaps even more interesting analogy are the fingers of the human hand - not least because of the “opposing” thumb. It isn’t perfect though because I would count the wrist (connection to the rest of the body) as a team member in itself - with the crucial job of connecting the rest of the hand to the wider network (which in reality should be a job done by 2-3 people with a decent amount of turnover).
But in that analogy the little pinky is pretty much a dead-weight, which most of the time you keep around because sometimes he’s still useful, and cutting it off would just cause a lot of mess and bad blood. Maybe just a little to stigmatizing. :wink: So if you have other analogies with good associations, let me hear them.

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I’ll have to go through everything that @trythis said in a lot of detail to catch all the value inside there … I like bouncing ideas like that b/c it opens up whole new areas of research and experimentation …

Now to do that once more, and complete the confusion, I will ask this: “What is the effect of remote work on the work spouse relation? Will we see the emergence of long-distance work spouse relationships (LDWSR) within the next 10 years?” :smile:

Sam you are one prolific dude. I salute you. And Matt of course is no slouch on that front either.

Have good audio is THE no-brainer. And its corollary: a quiet room. The noisy restaurant and such places a real hardship on the others, not to mention oneself.

As for optimal meeting arrangements, I can’t disagree with what’s been written above. I once went to a “have better meetings” class where they broke meetings down into 3 roles: host, client and resource. And you have to have all three represented. Any attendee other than a spectator should fall into one of these 3 roles. I found it a helpful way to think about it.

The video of the conference in real life was hilarious and all too true. I think we here at ER have dome all of those items, sometimes in the same meeting seems like.

The idea of the core and the padded outlier sections - I like that. It feels natural.

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I will wear that compliment like a badge!
Regarding the core vs padding (before and after), I wonder what would make most sense timing wise:
Separate invites or a explanation in the invite itself?

Oh that makes me think of a thing I had forgotten:
(Mini-)agenda should be in all invites, and ideally a link to the main document (with comment function allowed for all with the link).

I guess it depends on how tight the time is as to how expansive one can be. Also, some people finding hanging out to be productive and some don’t. But there should be an understanding coming in of what to expect. That is a host role.

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Thank you @trythis and @johncoate, this is very helpful :slight_smile: