Smiling over a distance

I spent another hour this morning coaching Milind, a developer in India who’s starting on the Drupal project I worked on a year ago. I helped him set up Eclipse, the PHP Development Toolkit, and Subclipse, and import the project into his workspace. <laugh> What do you know – a month and a half after I started my experiments with delegating to virtual assistants, I’m learning how to delegate to and coach someone at work!

I learned two interesting things from our session today:

I’m really lucky to be working with other people who are good at asking for what they need. Milind not only asked me to provide more details in my bug reports, he also explained how that helps him build confidence while learning the new system. I understood his request right away and I was happy to add step-by-step guides. (Hey, all that practice in documenting processes for my virtual assistants is paying off!). He probably has way more experience working in a globally-distributed team than I do, and I’m glad I can learn from him!

I enjoy making sure that a smile carries through in my voice. Technological challenges and timezone differences make remote collaboration tough enough, so I’m always looking for ways to make it a little bit better. For example, today’s call was scheduled a little after Milind’s typical office hours and a little before mine. We might not be at peak energy time–he might be tired, I might be sleepy–but I think it’s important to make sure that the conversation has a lot of positive energy.

Imagine if it didn’t! Imagine if we went through all of that with sleepy or impatient or frustrated or tired voices. I think that would’ve wasted a lot of time and energy, and we would’ve gotten very little done. Now imagine what an awesome remote coaching session might be like: full of time-saving tips, acknowledgement, and feedback.

There are plenty of reasons to be happy–he’s making the effort to meet after his own office hours, he’s picking up the concepts quickly, and he’s indirectly teaching me how to be a better communicator. If I can make the call a little more pleasant, a little more effective, then that’s terrific! I think the ideal kind of call that would leave him happy with his day and looking forward to the next one, and leave me happy about his work and looking forward to my own day ahead.

Then there are all the other bits of work I can do to support project progress, happiness, and growth. If I spend some time adding more details to bug reports, not only would Milind be able to work more effectively on them to solve the problems in less time, but he’ll also improve his skills, grow a little more in knowledge and confidence, and feel happier about his accomplishments. That’ll make both of us feel good, and it’ll all make the project better.

I don’t know if other people think about this, but it’s interesting to think about how these tiny human interactions affect the way we work, and I look forward to learning even more. =)

  • http://anthimeria.com Maria Pontikis

    Sacha – I couldn’t agree more on the importance of a smiling voice.

    I’m the editorial coordinator for Ontario’s Online Newsroom and in this capacity am often troubleshooting with and helping over the phone people from 27 different government ministries.

    These folks are of varying technical capacities – some novice users, some experienced – so their questions are quite varied.

    But one thing is constant: I love our conversations. My contributors are smart, and offer suggestions to make our contribution interface better. I know they’re comfortable sharing these criticisms with me because I’ve spent time to help them, without judging a “dumb question” or being terse in an off-hours phonecall in panic about a release that’s about to go live.

    We could just as easily have an adversarial or tense relationship, but we don’t because of our mutual respect and inquisitiveness.

    Smiles and a helpful demeanor go really far. :)

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    It’s such a powerful thing, being able to consciously influence the kind of relationship you want to have. =)

    Good for you!