Hi, I'm Kris

Headshot image of Kris Carta
I'm a software manager and developer, and this is my space for exploring thoughts on *everything* to do with modern (agile) software delivery, from management to technology


Connecting with people in a virtual world

Communicating virtually is like eating Pringles forever

You start eating, don’t get satisfied, then you binge eat and are left even more unsatisfied

As a (remote) software project manager, and, thanks to COVID-19 blocking all travel for the foreseeable future, all of my workdays now revolve around digital communication. On any given day I spend somewhere between 6 to 10 hours communicating with my teams, colleagues, and customers, via any number of chat apps, emails, and virtual meeting apps1. Without travel or a shared office2, I spent most of 2020 in an electronic cocoon, interacting with many dozens of people around the world while at the same time never leaving my home “office”.

After a typical workday filled with constantly-updating online chat threads and virtual meetings, I often find myself numbed and drained, similar to the physical feeling of having downed a can of Pringles in one long sitting (one I also know all-too-embarrassingly well!). Digital communication not only fails to meet my needs, it depletes the energy I need to live my best life outside of work and navigate this insane and intense period.

I know I’m not alone here. I don’t have to sit physically with my teams and customers to know that they long for the same human-human connection that I do, and I know that communication on software projects can be challenging and stressful even in the best of circumstances (I recall a workshop with agilist Alistair Cockburn where his advice on running effective remote teams boiled down to don’t). With this the case, I’ve been wondering - given that we all have similar social needs and yet must rely on draining digital interactions to get our work done, what more could I be doing to support myself and those I work with?

All of this is why I listened with such interest to a recent podcast episode titled “‘Can You Hear Me?’ How to Connect with People in a Virtual World”, with Nick Morgan on the New Books in Sociology podcast network.

In the episode, the host, professor Dan Hill, speaks with Nick Morgan about topics related to his book and how to cope with the problems that arise in virtual communication.

The core of Morgan’s argument is that:

The kind of information about human intent - which is what we humans care about more than anything else when we communicate with another person - comes to us naturally via body language. That gets cut out instantly and completely in the virtual world.

What we are left with when we communicate virtually, is not a true human connection but something evocative of one - but never the real thing.

Hill and Morgan go on to discuss pitfalls and strategies stemming from this root issue. In following posts, I’d like to explore some of these topics, including:

  • How can we counteract the discomfort felt in conversations where feedback and intent isn’t always clear?
  • How do you increase trust in virtual conversations, and how do you gain it back when it’s been lost?
  • What approaches best cultivate intimacy and connection in virtual conversations?

These are the questions I have spent the most time with over the last couple years, both in my “normal” role as a project manager with remote teams, and especially under COVID-19 restrictions.

I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this topic - is digital communication draining for you as well? What strategies do you apply to get the most out of your virtual conversations? Have you found an effective way of navigating a digital workday without feeling numb at the end of it?

  1. Slack, Skype, Teams, Meet, Webex, Zoom… 😵 

  2. I recently opened an office, and being able to interact physically with others - though in a highly-controlled and distanced setting - feels simply amazing