Like many around the country and the world, everyone at pMD is currently practicing social distancing by staying at home for all non-essential activities. While at home, the nature of our business has given us the ability to continue to support health care providers in caring for many of their patients. Tens of thousands of patients are now relying on pMD to stay connected with their doctors via our telehealth platform. As we all continue to go through this transition in our professional lives, I have begun to reflect on the importance of company culture in the new home office.
The challenges and opportunities of distributed work are nothing new to pMD. For many years, we’ve had colleagues working from all over the country. Yet overnight, like many other companies, we’ve had to transition to a 100% distributed setup. As an engineer based out of the San Francisco office, I was one of those whose daily pMD rhythm changed significantly. Yet for the most part, it’s been a smoother transition than I expected, owing to the fact that we were already using many of the collaboration tools with our colleagues who were already remote. I simply had to use them a lot more.
There is a perennial debate, however, that digital collaboration tools can never replace in-person interactions. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been wondering how true this is in my own work, and if there are other variables that determine if a team succeeds or fails in a distributed environment.
Anyone who works remotely has faced communication challenges that aren’t present when they are face-to-face. No matter how perfect your technological tools are, there are interactions and information that cannot be captured by text, images, video etc. That’s simply the nature of compressing three-dimensional information into something smaller. This creates a gap, and in some cases a chasm, between intention and perception especially when attempting to communicate complex or subtle information. Yet from discussing this with friends in varying work situations, it still seems that this gap affects some organizations more than others. During this period I’ve become convinced that building a successful distributed team cannot be accomplished by only using more technology. A critical piece that can bridge the communication gap is as simple as it is difficult to implement.
Trust can fill in the gaps where communication fails whether that’s between two people sitting next to each other or across the country. It has the ability to self-correct for errors introduced during transmission. A misperceived gesture or tone in an electronic medium is less likely to derail the actual intention when it’s contextualized in a larger relationship. In the ideal scenario, trust reduces the demand for what information even needs to be communicated since the parties trust they are already aligned along many dimensions.
Building trust in an organization is never easy but is a core piece of the team’s culture. Companies that can find and retain people that share core values and are given a worthwhile mission to rally around will succeed when face-to-face communication is less frequent. This is why it's so important for organizations that are shifting to remote work to continue to invest in their culture and the mission of the company in order to thrive during transitions like what we are all currently experiencing. Trust has been a core part of pMD’s culture and a natural result of our focus on mentorship and has allowed us to continue delivering solutions for our customers during this period. As we all navigate this period together, remembering to continue to invest in your team’s culture can be the ultimate deciding factor in success.