Backchannel Discussions Might Create Serendipity

When Mark Kilby and I wrote From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams, we suggested teams add a text backchannel. Even when the backchannel is asynchronous, the information in it increases the value of all the team's communication.

The backchannel helps everyone see all the information. That helps all the team's communication.

Some of my clients have asked about organizing the backchannel. They want to make sure they have enough conversation channels. And, they don't want “too many” channels.

I suggested the team determine how many channels they need. The team can add or prune channels as necessary.

One manager was concerned. “How can they check all the channels? Isn't that a lot of extra work?”

It depends on the tool you choose. And, in my experience, the more channels people have, the more they have the missing in-person conversations.

Can We Recreate the Social Aspect of Work?

I miss the social interaction of being onsite with people. I get a little of the social interaction during the before-and-after the formal meeting ends.

And, I get much of the social interaction I want from the backchannel conversations. I learn a lot from reading the various discussions.

The backchannel doesn't offer me the same social awareness that I have in person. However, I do get some of the serendipity I used to find in person.

When we're together, in person, we don't limit the breadth of our conversations. Backchannels don't have to limit our conversations, either.

The backchannels don't have to be “neat” or “clean.” Our conversations aren't either.

The more free-ranging our channels are, the more we can mimic our in-person conversations.

For me, nothing can quite recreate the social aspects of work with people, in real-time, at the same location. However, backchannels can help. And, you, as I do, might find the backchannels create a little serendipity.

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