Working as part of a remote team is usually associated with writing communication. Most information is passed via emails and using some kind of issue tracker. They are doing a good job mostly, but sometimes they are less effective compared to speaking.
There are really good collaboration softwares. They mostly incorporate todo lists, emails and chats. For example Bootstrap provides a central place where everyone can have a clear picture what’s going on. Flowdock or Slack provide an easy-to-use chat interface. They also came with integration to third-party services, so that you instantly know when an important thing happened.
These solutions all emphasize writing. But there are some cases when speaking is far more effective. I’ve seen several never-ending thread where the participants still could not reach a conclusion. Usually these could be ended easier in a short call on Skype or Hangouts.
The problem set that is more effectively discussed orally is hard to define. My rule of thumb is that a call should be made if:
- The task at hand is vaguely defined and we need some exploratory brainstorming
- There are already several mails sent and there is little progress
- When the personal touch is also needed, e.g., for an introduction
That said, I’m a big fan of written communication. It allows me to do deep work without constant interruptions; then I can reply to all at once when I see fit.
Traditional office working does not promote the peace of mind needed for meaningful work; remote work is. But poorly chosen communication processes can ruin these benefits. Make sure that you are using the right one for the right task.