With everyone going remote and asynchronous, Teamflow stands out as a company with an emphasis on synchronous communication.
Teamflow creates online virtual offices for people to “hang out” together in a business setting. While the company is small, they’ve grown tremendously in the last quarter, going from 6 to 20 employees in two month. The team is spread worldwide from Ohio to Trinidad to Argentina — yet they still manage to keep an emphasis on synchronous communication.
We spoke to Flo Crivello, Founder and CEO of Teamflow, who emphasized the importance of deep relationships between coworkers, serendipity in the innovation process, and the amount of time that can be saved when synchronous and spontaneous communication are leveraged properly.
Zoom had plans in place for the development of the platform over three years, but when the pandemic hit, the number of users skyrocketed, and so did the demands for a variety of applications.
"People instinctively know that to build relationships, you need to talk synchronously, and they know that typing is slower than talking — but they don’t quite internalize it or on it. It seems fast to just shoot off a text message. But if you put a stopwatch to type an email versus using Siri or something like that, you find that it’s eight to ten times longer. That means eight hours on Slack is a one-hour meeting."
Text is useful for communications that need to be broadcast. It’s good for working with distributed teams in different time zones. But it doesn’t work as well for ambiguous projects requiring a lot of back and forth, building relationships and day-to-day work.
Using synchronous voice and video communication dramatically reduces the kind of divisiveness and harshness that have become common in online text dialogues, says Crivello. Given the devolution of communication online in social media, he argues that bringing asynchronous text conversations into the office will inevitably cause some of the same effects and reduce business efficiency due to friction among employees.
One of the benefits of working together is the spontaneity of conversation, whether it’s at lunch or just overhearing conversations. “When was the last time you overheard something?’ asks Crivello. “It never happens in a planned meeting.”
The truth is we don't know a great deal about how breakthrough ideas happen. What we do know is that they don't happen in the meeting room. When I go back on my career and I think of its most pivotal moments, none of them happened in a meeting room.
Companies are losing the value of serendipitous encounters, casual discussions of day-to-day work, and the kinds of surprising innovations and discoveries that people have when they are simply shooting the breeze. Having an online “environment” with the feel of an office, where people can “walk around” and see one another, take a break together, or knock on one another’s virtual office door enables free flow of ideas and interactions.
Teamflow uses automation to measure how much time every employee spends with customers. Employees are required to spend a minimum of one hour per week with customers — no matter what their role is. A portion of customer support requests is automatically sent round-robin to everyone on the team using Integromat, Google Sheets, Calendly, and Helpscout.
Some roles require a lot more time with customers of course, but the minimum requirement is built into the company process. This practice ensures that everyone in the company has a shared perspective on what customers are experiencing.
As a small startup, Teamflow uses standard Agile processes including daily stand-ups and weekly sprint retros. The team takes turns leading the meetings and uses a participatory process to compile the meeting agendas.
In general, we believe that, as much as possible, interactions should be informal and unscheduled. That simply disappeared with remote work, but we can bring that back and increase productivity as well as trust and communication.
A lot of people's hate for synchronous communication comes from scheduled meetings. People are always talking about Zoom fatigue. Florent believes that people don't have Zoom fatigue as much as they have scheduled meeting fatigue. Maybe he's onto something.