First of all, I should say that it doesn’t matter how trustworthy a person thinks they are, you can’t make anyone trust you. With that said, there are certain habits that make others more or less comfortable trusting us. This is especially an issue with so many of us working remotely, these days. With quite a few laboratory informatics projects starting for the Fall, I know many of us will be starting new projects and working with new teams using Office Communicator.
The Rise of Office Communicator
I’ve noticed more of the projects I work with using Office Communicator or other such tools. When fully integrated into the phone system, team members in the local system have a one-touch ability to contact other team members in a variety of ways, including chat or telephone. Team members off-site often have one-touch access to chat and the ability for one-touch internet phone dialing or, if using a land-line or cell phone, the ability to easily see other team member’s phone numbers.
So, with the usual problem that team members don’t necessarily tend to be local and the issue that many projects look for ways to keep costs down, such as reducing travel costs, it’s no wonder that these types of tools are being increasingly used.
It’s hard to see the expression on a person’s face or even to know if they’re really there. One problem is that you sometimes see a person marked as available but when you write to them to chat they don’t respond. The usual reasons are these:
- They just stepped away from their desk. Normally, people let the default time set for changing their status and, after 5 minutes, you will usually see their status change to “away” or something similar.
- They’re busy with someone or something else. Eventually, they will respond to you, if they saw your chat window and if they remember.
- They were clicking a bunch of windows and, when your chat window popped-up, it got buried and they didn’t see it. They won’t see it and won’t respond.
- They’re not looking at their screen. They might be busy with a calculator, drawing a diagram on paper, on the phone and just not looking at the screen. When they come back to their screen, they’ll see your chat, but it could be much later.
You can’t assume that the person isn’t responding because they’re too busy playing on-line Soduku or reading a trashy novel. Each person has a responsibility to make this work, so here are tips to the person trying to initiate the chat:
- Wait about 5 minutes and see if their status changes.
- Give them a little time. If they don’t respond, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask “Are you there?” or “Are you busy?”
- You can’t know this happened. As with (2), it’s perfectly acceptable to write to them to try to find out.
- You can’t know this has happened. If they show as available and continue not to respond, if you need them really quickly, call them.
The Other Party
Likewise, there are certain habits I’ve developed to try to help the other team members know where I’m at or what I’m up to.
- If I walk away from my desk to get a cup of tea or for any reason that would take me away for more than about a minute, I just change my status to “Away.”
- If I’m kind of busy, trying to talk on the phone or figure out some deep thing that takes me away from watching the screen, or if I want a little peace and quiet, I might give change my status to “Busy.” That way, people think twice before trying to get ahold of me and also realize they might have to try harder to get my attention. Going along with this, I’ll add that I don’t do this very often.
- If I have a serious deadline and absolutely have to have some time to focus on a specific task, I will mark myself as Do Not Disturb and, in that case, if people are really desperate, they’ll call. I rarely do this.
- My comment on (2) and (3) is this – our calendars get blocked with meetings and that makes some team members rarely available. If we then start blocking our calendars very often, other team members will find us so unavailable that they will then probably stop respecting our blocks. We don’t want that. So, be respectful back and do what you can to make yourself available to other team members.
- Don’t try to contact team members when they’re showing as in a meeting unless it’s really critically time-sensitive. Teams have to discuss what this means and each person on the time can have a different idea of this if you don’t.
Practice the best habits you can early in the project and, if you forget to change your status or slide into a few bad habits later in the project when you get truly busy, other team members will be a little more forgiving and trust you more regarding it. But you really do need to try as hard as you can for the early parts of the project and not to let things slide too much when things get busy.
With that said, if you’re on a truly dysfunctional project, you won’t achieve trust or respect among team members. Using tools such as Office Communicator are reflections into the souls of the project. Teams where people complain that “there’s no worse time waster than Office Communicator” tend to be those where people don’t trust or respect each other and, as such, abuse others with every tool they get.
Bottom line: Tools don’t build respect or trust – they merely reflect the trust or respect a team has for each other. Tools are merely ways to allow people to work together more easily. Fix trust and respect issues requires the hard work of getting the team together on repeated occasions to work through this. It will never be fixed by buying a new tool nor by complaining.