It's all about communication

Remote working· 5min October 31, 2022

"I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

Creating an environment where people feel safe is a difficult task that requires consideration in a number of areas. Communication is one of them.

At Form3 we think that psychological safety is also related to the way we communicate each other. The inclusion in the communication, the freedom to disagree, respecting someone else’s opinions and polite language are pillars on top of which we build our communication strategy.

We communicate with each other in many forms; language is one of the most obvious and used way; giving attention to the words and the language we use is particularly important. Modern communication tools are powerful, they reduce distances and time zones allowing async discussions, but they require an extra effort to be used properly.

In a slack message we lose the tone of the voice:

- emojis can help but they the interpretation of them can be very subjective.

I personally look at the emoji itself without paying attention at the label of it, so I ended up using the :blush: one to express joy. That face, to me, is a happy face until I realised that I was delivering the wrong message #epicfail.

To overcome these limitations, we need to be more careful in the language we use, express our opinions and ideas in the best, straightforward way to be sure that the message is not misunderstood.

Some basic ideas can help, for example being polite is never a bad choice, the old “thanks”, "please", "would you mind" and so on are just few additional keystrokes that can make an enormous difference. A Slack message is very handy, and quick to write but it is worth spending a few extra seconds to make our message easy to be understood.

We can go from an apparent rude message - "Code Review required" to a more polite one:" when somebody has some time to spare, I would appreciate a code review, thanks!"

If you have the doubt that the message has not been correctly delivered, it is a good idea to go on a quick call to clarify the points.  In Form3 quick video calls are welcome and commonplace, sometimes a few minutes on a call can massively improve the clarity of the communication. In a video call we see only a small percentage of the body language (if you keep your camera off, you see 0%). If we sit around a table in a real meeting room and somebody wants to speak, they can use body language to catch the speaker's attention.

In a video call, one of the more popular ways to get the opportunity to speak is to start to talk over each other, then it follows the awkward moment where each person apologies followed by an embarrassing silence, and finally both people start to talk again at the same time! (Clearly a better exponential back-off retry mechanism for humans has not been invented yet).

That process is not nice on an in-person meeting but accepted in a video call. Unfortunately, not all people can cope with the talk-over mechanism. In Form3 we want to be sure that every voice is heard, we encourage to use of the "raise-hands" buttons when someone wants to talk, and the facilitator of the meeting can (virtually) pass the mic.

We’ve enjoyed sharing a little of how we communicate in Engineering at Form3, but we’d also love to hear what works well for other businesses out there!

Written by

Andrea Rosa
Andrea Rosa Senior Software Engineer

Andrea Rosa is a Senior Software Engineer at Form3, based in UK.