At the Intersection of Communication and Humanity

How to be a Considerate Communicator

By Ray Newal, Managing Director of Techstars Bangalore Accelerator

The Metaphor of the Traffic Light

On a recent bike ride, while passing through a four-way intersection, a thought occurred to me regarding the role of contracts and signaling systems in interdependent situations. Without traffic lights, speed limits, and a contract between drivers to obey the traffic laws, cars would crash into each other a lot more than they do. Bike riders like myself would never stand a chance. The combination of signaling systems and contracts allow us to bring order to chaos. In the case of traffic, these systems help us get from point A to point B in one piece.

But what happens when the signals and associated contracts are no longer relevant to our behaviors, or can’t keep pace with the magnitude of interdependencies? Technology has a way of impacting human behaviors and sometimes making them obsolete. When behaviors change, we need new ways to manage them. Prior to traffic signals, cars and carriages were sufficiently sparse and slow enough to allow the driver (or rider) to visually assess the situation at an intersection and act accordingly. As cars became cheaper and faster, and roads became more highly trafficked, the visual approach stopped working, leading to the advent of traffic signals and road signs.

While communications started out as a simple interdependency, it too has become increasingly complex.

The Telephone and the Mailbox

Here’s a previous, universally accepted communications contract: the sender would dial or write when they had something to say, and the recipient would pick up or respond when they recognized an incoming call or a letter in the mail. This contract and signalling system worked very well when communications required us to be physically proximate to the telephone or letterbox in order to receive calls or letters. It worked because the expectations of the caller or sender were defined by the chance that the receiver would be by their phone, or in the case of letters, that the mail would probably arrive—at some point. It was manageable and even fun for the recipient to get phone calls after dinner, or check the letterbox on the way home from work. On the off chance that the phone rang, or a letter was discovered in the letterbox, these communications received the full attention of the recipient—even a telemarketing call may have been received with pleasure!

Our Relentless, Wireless World

In a wireless world with devices always readily available in our pockets or purses, we find ourselves in dire need a of a better contract and signalling system. Even though our devices never leave our sides, the device in your pocket now works harder for the sender, making sure those competing calls and messages get heard as soon as they arrive. Instead of making life easier, mobile and internet communication has conspired to create a feeling of obligation on the recipient side. The result? We feel like we have to be perpetually responsive to communications, regardless of whether we are focused at work, exercising at the gym, or spending quality time with loved ones.

Wireless technology, communications software, and mobile telephony have gradually increased the volume and frequency of communications, making us ubiquitously accessible, and creating a perceived obligation of round-the-clock responsiveness because we have yet to develop any new contracts or systems to deal with this increasingly complex interdependency. Just as there are potentially fatal consequences of traffic flowing without mutual acceptance of traffic signals and rules, there are also significant consequences of communications traffic flowing without a system that respects our ability to receive those communications with mental availability, and attention.

With the traffic light stuck on green, the flow of communications never stops, and our lack of attention has become the unfortunate by-product. In work and life, events that receive our full and undivided attention are rare and infrequent. Indeed we’ve stopped being present for much outside of what happens on the device in our pocket.

A New Contract for Communication

In the absence of any better signalling system for our digital communication, we need to develop a new contract for communication that is less reliant on the recipient to manage their accessibility. Considerate communication requires us to be conscious and empathetic of the recipient’s attention by selecting how and when we communicate with them. By considering the recipient, we also optimize the receptive value of what is being communicated, meaning we get the responses we need when we need them.

Here are some of my ideas on things we can do to be Considerate Communicators. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

  1. Skip the cc

Let’s all agree to avoid copying each other on emails. I get it, copying is to ensure everyone relevant to a given subject is in the loop. Slack is a better tool for this: it’s a great repository for FYI’s, group discussions, and media pertinent to a topic. Instead of using email to keep everyone in the loop, let’s use email to send things to people who need to receive and respond to that specific subject.

  1. Set email priorities

In email, there are things I need to respond to ASAP, and there are things I need to look at within the next day or two. For anything else, we shouldn’t be using email. Let’s use the tools that come in just about every email system these days to mark priorities, so that no one misses a message that needs to be seen and responded to within the next day. Everything else will get a response within 48 hours. If it doesn’t require a response it won’t be sent as an email, it will go to Slack.

  1. Urgent contact

When something needs to be seen and acted on NOW, there are tons of tools that do a good job of grabbing someone’s attention. At Techstars, we use Voxer for truly urgent communications. You could also use messengers like Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Slack DM, etc.—whatever works for your company, as long as you set expectations around that particular platform. Let’s use these sparingly, because very rarely does anything actually need to be responded to right away. Let’s not use calls unless it’s an absolute emergency. Unscheduled calls should fall within the domain of one’s friends and family members.

  1. Complex conversations

Let’s move complex multi-angled discussions to the place that complexity is best managed: scheduled synchronous communication. This can be Skype, Hangouts, phone calls, or a good old coffee meeting. Whether these are one-on-one or involve a group, these discussions are always best handled in real-time. But even if it only requires a one-on-one conversation, let’s remember to respect each other’s time by scheduling the conversation. An IM chat can also become an easy entry point into a synchronous voice or video discussion, if both parties agree to it.

  1. Respect the time block

Let’s honor and respect each other’s time blocks. Short of having a tool to manage our mutual awareness of each other’s time blocks, let’s just agree to not send work communication outside of the workday that requires an immediate response, unless it’s an urgent/crisis situation. Every workplace has its own definition of what this means, so feel free to interpret the word ‘urgent’ in a way that suits your environment. If you’re working across time zones, respect the clever default DND in slack, or build this into your expected response times for email and other modes of communication.

  1. Informing everyone

Let’s use Slack (non-DM and general channels) as a way to inform everyone. This means we have to stop using these channels as if they were continuous Whatsapp conversations, and instead add context to discussions so that those coming in later (that day, week, or year) can make sense of what is being shared.

A World With More Intentional, Better Communications

If we start becoming more intentional about being considerate communicators within our teams and with our friends and family, we will start to see some of the principles spread externally. It won’t happen immediately, but eventually our inboxes will be lighter, our Slack channels will be richer with context and information, coming back from vacation won’t be so daunting, and quite possibly, we’ll look forward to answering our phones again.

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How do you keep your inbox lean and your startup team in sync? Share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments!








How to Embrace and Nurture the Oncoming Freelancing Economy

The marketplace has gone global. As a business, you need the ability to sell to everyone – from those in high rises in New York City to folks in towns in Missouri or the outskirts of Bangladesh.

The same goes for your workforce. The men and women on your payroll come from all walks of life, and any corner of the map.

Freelancers, once seen as as-needed employees used to buttress full-time staffers, are not only more common these days, but they make up a significant population of many business’ workers. Current estimates posit that voluntary freelancers make up 34 percent of all employees right now.

That number is going to grow. A lot.

In fact, by 2020, it’s possible that upwards of 50 percent of the world’s workforce will be comprised of freelancers.

That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Working with freelancers does present its own set of challenges, though.

“There’s a sea of uncertainty felt by a lot of managers, and business owners, because a freelancer can seem like the unknown factor on a team,” said Tony Zhao, CEO of real-time communications firm, Agora.io. “But freelance workers and remote employees are something we need to embrace, because that’s part of the next phase – the next step – as far as directing a workforce goes. It’s wildly detrimental to limit your employee pool to those who are local.”

Here’s how to navigate those waters.

  1. Focus on Productivity

As Agora’s Tony Zhao said, there are skilled workers all around the world. You can’t discount a worker who’s effective because they aren’t local. Inherent competition between companies and employees makes this doubly so – everyone is looking for stalwart workers, and workers want jobs.

That said, managing remote employees does present unique challenges. It’s not akin to anything else an office manager has dealt with. Which means your managers will need to do things a bit differently to ensure that freelancer is game.

The most critical aspect of that is communication, which itself breeds productivity.

You need to have a rapport with every member of your team. A disconnected teammate is a bored – or worse – employee. Your managers need to connect with remote workers. They need to make time for them.

Which means making time for little chats. It may seem inconsequential, but basic chatter helps remote workers feel like they’re part of the bigger picture.

It also means using video to chat. Texting is out the window. It’s not personal and it doesn’t show workers what they want: The human being to whom they’re reporting.

Skype and Google Hangouts won’t cut the mustard either – workers who are possibly too remote or on shaky networks are going to have a bad experience, which frustrates everyone involved. Focus instead on platforms such as Agora.io that deliver guaranteed quality of service.

It also means taking the time for one-on-ones. All of your workers matter, not just those in the office. A remote employee who feels like they’re part of the team – because you treat them that way – is going to do wonders for your business.

  1. Check in regularly

Have you ever felt lost and marooned, without even a basic compass, when it comes to your work day? Freelancers feel this all the time, because there’s a lack of real-time contact.

Don’t let this happen.

It might mean managers need to schedule more one-on-one sessions. It might also mean that those sessions take a considerable amount of time. That’s all right. Managers need to be dedicated to dealing with all employees, not just those in the office.

One thing is for sure, though: Never cancel on a remote employee. They’ll say it’s fine – even when it isn’t – but they miss out on a lot from the simple fact that they’re not in the office.

Don’t leave them hanging.

  1. Build trust

Freelancers need to be treated with the same caring gloves you use for in-office employees. As noted above, they inherently miss things that happen casually in the office. As well as basic conversation. But they still rely on their managers to know what’s going on.

That means you need your freelancer to trust you as much as you trust them.

The best way to deal with this is, again, showing your face and being a part of their work day, which means video contact.

As we’ve said, apps like Skype and Google Hangouts just don’t work remotely. Or, at best, they give users a disjointed experience.

  1. Balancing schedules

Remote workers work in different time zones. That’s just a fact. New York and Barcelona have employees with different hours than those in London. That might make scheduling meetings tough. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t. You have to find a compromise: one of you may have to get up a little earlier, or put in a little time in an evening.

Yes, it can be frustrating, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Creative thinking and give-and-take will help ease any time-zone conflicts.

  1. Fostering company culture

One of the most unique things a company can offer its employees is the fun, friendly culture of the company. People want to feel connected. That’s an issue when your workers are operating remotely.

To fix that, one largely just needs to follow the rules outlined above. It’s about mindfulness, as well as communication. When your freelancers feels like a part of the team, they will be part of the team, and they’ll do amazing things for you.

It sounds obvious, but these are all parts of a larger puzzle that managers might miss. Freelancers need to be considered part of the crew; part of the in-house workforce. Utilizing video and connective apps, it’s wholly possible to ensure that your contract or freelance workers feel like they’re in the building – and you want that.

Are you ready to learn, network, startup? Find a Startup Weekend event in your region today!








Don’t Go Dark

I’ve had a couple of situations lately where a portfolio company founder or CEO went dark on me. They just stopped communicating.

Sometimes it takes me a while to notice it. When I do, I usually check in with the person and just ask something like “Hey – I haven’t heard from you in a while, how’s it going?”

Sometimes the response is benign, and all is more or less ok with the company and people in question. Perhaps they’ve just forgotten to update their investors for a while, or it’s been a particularly busy time for some other reason. In those cases, my checkin serves as a gentle reminder.

Other times, as you might expect, it’s more of a doomsday scenario. They went dark because stuff wasn’t working. There was nothing good to tell their investors about, so they just said nothing. It’s been a long time. Now the company is out of money, out of options, and the person just doesn’t know what to do next. “Any ideas?” they ask.

“Not at this point” I think to myself. With no runway left they’re out of cash already and living off the founders credits cards. All the employees are gone. They forgot to update investors along the way, so there’s no way to help at this point except coach them on how to shut down gracefully.

Don’t let this happen to you! Communicate bad news early – you might be surprised at how your investors can jump in and help.

As an example, Techstars now has a large full-time team just working on corporate development and M&A. We’ve completed over 100 M&A transactions, and we probably could have helped create some kind of positive outcome if we only knew you were in trouble earlier.

At Techstars, we’ve put systems in place now to see who we’re not hearing from regularly so that we can be proactive. But most angel and seed investors don’t have systems like this.

When stuff goes badly, don’t go dark. It’s a huge mistake for so many reasons.

This was originally published on David’s blog.








Parole de coach : Olivier Murat

Le tour d’horizon des coachs continue. Pour toutes vos questions communication, votre interlocuteur sera Olivier Murat. Qui est-il ?

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Qui es-tu ?

Actuellement Social Media Manager interne/Externe pour le compte du Groupe Poult, je suis tombé comme Obélix très tôt dans la marmite du digital et du numérique. Early adopter, je teste quotidiennement beaucoup de solution et actuellement je me passionne pour le marketing prédictif.

En terme d’expertise digitale, je suis plutôt porté sur les mécanismes d’engagement communautaire et les aspects digitaux de la relation client.

Pourquoi avoir accepté d’être coach au SWTO et quel va être ton rôle ?

Tout simple parce que le SWTO est un formidable rendez-vous et l’occasion sur un week-en de rencontrer des passionnés souhaitant créer ou participer à une aventure startup.

Mon rôle va être assez simple : aider et accompagner ceux qui le souhaitent sur les questions digitales (communication, présence digital, identifier les bons relais digitaux, création de communauté, etc…).

Pour toi, c’est quoi entreprendre ?

Entreprendre c’est être capable de vivre sa passion au quotidien en sachant prendre des risques, en acceptant parfois l’échec et en sachant rebondir, garder un esprit “d’aventure” et une mentalité d’explorateur. Entreprendre c’est aussi un peu participer à la construction du monde de demain et l’occasion de devenir acteur de son propre destin.

Des conseils à donner aux participants ?

Au final des conseils assez simples : être collaboratif dans le groupe, ne pas tuer les idées d’entrée, garder un esprit d’ouverture, expérimenter rapidement, tester, se tromper, corriger, apprendre, être agile en somme.

Et surtout prendre du plaisir durant tout ce week-end.

Quelle start-up aurais-tu voulu créer ?

Beaucoup trop. Mais actuellement, si je devais choisir, je dirais “Slack”.

Une citation pour illustrer ta vision de l’entreprenariat ?

“A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire”.

As-tu un mentor ? Et qui est-il ?

Je n’ai pas vraiment de mentor. Actuellement, je dirais que j’aime beaucoup l’approche et la philosophie de Elon Musk.








Words Get in the Way: Do your Thoughts Need Subtitles? (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Lost in Translation
I had this amazing business idea for an online tool and a website.

It was so beautiful in my head – the functionality, the design, the value proposition – I could basically hear people banging on my door for access to it, and clogging up my servers to download it. Then I told people about it and my bubble burst.

Somehow my explanation didn’t do justice to the amazing product I envisioned. That’s ok, I thought, I’ll draw it!

Then I wrote about it and drew prototypes – and it just wasn’t what I had envisioned. It was close – but that grandeur wasn’t there. Finally, I started building it. 6 Months later it was NO WHERE near the vision in my head, nor what I explained to people, nor what I had drawn. Yes, it was an #entrepreneurfail.

The Morals of this Story

Firstly, entrepreneurs must have a vision, but you have to build from the ground up. You have to create simple ideas in your head and then grow them into reality to eventually become that vision. That’s why the idea of a minimally viable product (MVP) is so compelling. It forces you to remove all the bells and whistles and create a basic product to test all the consumption assumptions before wasting time.

As Tim Minchin attested in a recent graduation address:
“Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

The other moral of the story is that entrepreneurs often overlook the importance of crystal clear communication.  Each thought, word, piece of writing, sketch, bit of code, and prototype all must have cohesion, otherwise it is very confusing for potential customers.  The best way to ensure consistency is to simplify and focus your thoughts to one concept, shaving the unnecessary pieces, and then sharing that concisely.

Have you fallen into this trap? Do your words match your vision, or are you disappointed with the translation? Let us know about it in the comments below.

This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.