Does your remote team need Push-to-talk for synchronous communication? 📞
Let me begin by asking you this - Have you ever played a multiplayer game like PUBG? If yes, you would know of the 'Push-to-talk' feature that's quite popular in the gaming community. If no, I am glad that you are utilising your time doing more productive things in life 😛.
Anyway, 'Push-to-talk' is just a way of chatting with other players (over audio) where you are mute by default. If a player wants to speak, he/ she has to press a button. PUBG has this feature in-built whereas for games that don't have it as a feature, the gaming community defaults to popular tools like Mumble, Teamspeak or Ventrilo.
So, what's the advantage of using 'Push-to-talk' anyway?
The feature is particularly useful when you are in a noisy place or when you have distortions in your headphones. Simply put, it's used when you don't want to disturb other players.
Let's get to how this is related to remote work quickly, shall we?
We have spoken multiple times on having a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication in a remote setting. So let me first touch upon a few situations where you use synchronous communication and the most prominent issues you may face.
Problems with synchronous communication
Let's take a few common cases where you would like to have synchronous communication (apart from long planned meetings or discussions). Say your team is having a bug day for a feature or you want to collaborate on writing a doc or you simply want to have a 2-minute chat on an issue.
Here's a possible set of problems you may face:
- If you are collaborating, the always-on video or audio can be intruding. Moreover, it's tough to block out the irritating background sounds at your teammates' end.
- If you schedule a video call for a 2-minute discussion, you are most likely to over estimate and block a longer time. As a result, you would probably group together other topics on the call, something on the lines of "while we're at it ...".
- If you are planning an impromptu call or chat with someone, it's tough to know if the other person is involved in some other task and if you are disturbing him/ her.
- Finally, it just gets intimidating to schedule multiple calls with another person in a day.
Naturally, you may think of defaulting to asynchronous communication in any of these scenarios whenever possible or make do with the problems we discussed. But what if I tell you that it is possible to avoid most of the problems above with sync by using a 'Push-to-talk' tool or feature?
How 'Push-to-talk' can improve your synchronous communication
Let me start by quoting an example from an old HN thread, where the user explains how they use Mumble (a popular Push-to-talk platform) in their team. They have channels like "Working on XYZ", "Hrishikesh's office" etc. and people can come into these channels, speak to you and leave. For example, two devs could be working on an issue and they may not be actively talking. In such a case, you don't hear the background noise from elsewhere and you don't have to worry about disturbing someone - the other person won't speak if they are engaged on something else at the moment.
In effect, here's how 'Push-to-talk' tackles the problems with synchronous communication we discussed above:
- Everyone is mute by default. You press a button to speak. Effectively, all the unwanted background sounds are blocked by design.
- There's no need to schedule a time to discuss a 2-minute issue. You can simply push the button and if the other person is available at that time, he/ she would respond.
- As in point 2, if the other person is busy right now, he/ she would not respond to your message and you never run the risk of disturbing him/ her.
Combining other social signals and final thoughts
Our friends at Pragli (virtual office for remote teams) have implemented 'Push-to-talk' as a feature in their product and combined it with a bunch of interesting things (this is not a paid plug at all 🙌. You can suggest alternative products to me too, which I will try to incorporate in future newsletters).
For example, they have added Spotify and Calendar integrations so that you have some more information about the other person's availability even before you press that button to 'Push-to-talk'.
Now while 'Push-to-talk' might seem as an interesting aspect in remote communication, it in no way eliminates the need for longer meetings or asynchronous communication as default. In fact, as we see it, 'Push-to-talk' complements your existing setup/ mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication adding that extra bit of convenience and comfort.
What's your take on this? I would love to hear if you use 'Push-to-talk' or any aspect of it in your setting!
Remote Working Chronicles - A freelance translator and interpreter who loves traveling
Alda has been working as a freelance translator and interpreter for 11 years now. For her, traveling is fun and she's visited 8 countries & 31 cities just over the last year! However, she very rightly points out how working remotely could turn lonely at times and the uncertainty freelancing brings along. Being aware of these pitfalls, she takes conscious measures to solve for the problems. Curious to know her journey? Read here.
As always, here are our top-picks of remote-first products:✔️ Plai is a people and performance management software
✔️ Apploye helps with time tracking, scheduling and monitoring
✔️ Slido is a live audience interaction platform for meetings and events
✔️ Timemator is an automatic time tracking tool
✔️ Remote.io is a job board focusing exclusively on remote jobs