53. Communication in remote and virtual teams in the future of work | Josh Little, Founder of Volley


Josh Little | Founder of Volley


This week is all about communication in remote and virtual teams. Our guest is Josh Little. 

This is the first part of our conversation with Josh, where we discuss communication currently in organisations. Talking or typing, what works and what doesn’t, and the pros and cons of each.


Josh Little web


Josh is the founder of four tech companies–MaestroBloomfireQzzer, and Volley. They have collectively been used by hundreds of millions of people and featured in TechCrunchMashable, Entrepreneur, Inc, and Forbes. Josh is currently on a mission to provide the world with a more meaningful way to communicate with his fourth creation, Volley–a video messaging app.



[00:00:00] - Josh Little
Just because we're virtual and remote, it doesn't mean we need to talk any less to move work forward. In fact, it means we need to talk more. If talking is interruptive and typing is slow and lacks all of the tone of voice and body language that communication happens. What's the alternative?

[00:00:24] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to episode 53 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, and is brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. On this podcast, we speak to industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. I'm Doug Foulkes your co-host and I'm here with Claire Haidar, the CEO of WNDYR and Pattyrn. Claire, who have we got on the podcast today?

[00:00:51] - Claire Haidar
We're talking to a very interesting person. His name is Josh Little, Doug. I was really excited when Josh and his team reached out to us and asked if they could join us on the podcast. The reason for that is they have built a really... I don't want to use a cheesy word and say "awesome" or "amazing tool", but I think it really is. It does fall into that category — he is the CEO of Volley. They're meeting companies in that space between Slack and Zoom or insert any other ones, say Teams, any one of those type of tools that companies are using right now, where the communication that is being conducted on those applications is meeting our workforce today, say to maybe 60 or 70 percent of its needs. There's a very real piece that isn't being addressed and that is where Volley comes in. This whole conversation is about communication broadly, but also very specifically about the spaces that we still need to fill and evolve into as employers, employees, team members, workers.

[00:01:59] - Doug Foulkes
As always, we've split the conversation we had up into three different sections. What are we talking about today specifically?

[00:02:06] - Claire Haidar
The first one is taking that big step back in segment one and just going back to basics. What is communication? How does it happen? What are the types of communication that happens in organizations and very importantly, in this world of virtual work that we now live, and move, and breathe in, what differentiates virtual communication from previously where communication was predominantly in-person?

[00:02:32] - Doug Foulkes
Let's have a chat to Josh.

[00:02:34] - Claire Haidar
Josh, it's so good to have you on here with us today.

[00:02:37] - Josh Little
It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:39] - Claire Haidar
I'm going to dive right in. This is pure curiosity, because I have no clue. I'm a volleyball player. Love the sport, played it for a really long time and will happily get on a volleyball court whatever I can. Is the company name in any way related to volleyball?

[00:02:56] - Josh Little
It is, because you can use volleyball — the game as a metaphor for communication, because the goal is to keep "the ball in the air", bouncing back and forth over the net, as many times as you can. That's the goal in conversation. We're going to take turns in the conversation and just keep the ball in the air, keep the conversation in the air as long as we need it to be. Then one of us will decide, that's the end, and that's why I'll go for the spike and you'll agree like, "Yep, that's probably the end of this conversation." Then we'll start another... Is that a rally? I guess that's a rally in volleyball.

[00:03:30] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, that's a rally.

[00:03:31] - Josh Little
That's the idea. Everyone understands Volley. We take turns, we're bouncing the ball back and forth, and that's what you do in Volley.

[00:03:38] - Doug Foulkes
Josh, from my side, I'd just like to say, "Hello, nice to meet you."

[00:03:43] - Josh Little
It's great to meet you, Doug.

[00:03:44] - Doug Foulkes
We obviously going to talk in some detail about Volley as the podcast goes on, but let's start with a broader description of communication in general. How did you say that communication happens in work today?

[00:03:59] - Josh Little
If you really boil it down, you have two ways to communicate with someone that you work with. The goal of communication should be to move work forward, otherwise why are we doing that? If the goal is to move work forward, you can either talk or you can type. Today we have modern versions of talking and typing. These are the same versions that we've had for the last decades or hundreds of years, but when I say "talk", I'm talking about getting in a room or on a Zoom, and when I say "type", I'm talking about tools like chat or email, or text communication. When you when you boil it down, those are really the only two ways you have to move work forward and each of them have their problems. When we choose to talk, we're doing something that is rich, because of all of the nonverbals. Even though we're not going to use the video on the podcast. That's why we're looking at each other today, because of all of the 55 percent of communication that's made up from me moving my hands right now or what my eyes look like when I'm when I'm saying that.

[00:05:00] - Josh Little
We need to talk to move work forward, but it's wildly interruptive and fraught with all of this bad behavior, which we put into this bucket of meeting behavior. Fifty one percent of the average knowledge worker's day is filled with quotes meetings. Then what do we do the rest of the time? We chat and we text, and we run things like Slack or Teams, but when we choose to do that, we're choosing to do something we're seven times slower at, then this thing called talking, but we put up with it because it's flexible. We can batch it and put it in the corners of our day and get to it when we need to. Those are really the two primary ways that we have to communicate. That's why the two most popular versions are Slack and Zoom today.

[00:05:46] - Doug Foulkes

[00:05:47] - Claire Haidar
Let's talk specifically about virtual companies. Again, we're not going to be industry specific. We're not going to be job function specific. What makes virtual communication different to in-person communication? That's the piece that you didn't split out in your previous answer.

[00:06:05] - Josh Little
That's right, because it's a whole different beast. The tools that we have today were really built for a world that had proximity in it. There was time and place bound. We went to a place or a building to do this thing called work, and we sat in meetings, therefore, while we sat in meetings, we could multitask doing something called chat in something like Slack. When proximity is taken out of the equation, a number of problems immediately crop up. How do I tap someone on the shoulder? How do we have that informal communication around the water cooler at lunch or walking out to our car that really developed into what was the basis of our relationship or trust? Virtual communication is an entirely different problem to solve that the proximity is no longer available to us. This is why when the pandemic hit, meetings immediately increased, the number of meetings, time spent in meetings and then also the feel of lack of communication or lack of connection with co-workers also increased with that. We don't have those little ad hoc interactions that we once had where I was able to just pop-in and say "Hello" to you in your office or around the water cooler, or at lunch.

[00:07:28] - Josh Little
Simon Sinek put it very well recently when he said, "We're living on borrowed time. The only reason this is working, is because we're living on existing relationships. We knew each other before the pandemic hit. We're using that capital, however we are hiring new people, our companies are growing, other people are moving on to other opportunities. We're going to have to pay up for those sorts of things." That's what makes the virtual environment unique, we don't have that tap on the shoulder. If we need to talk, we need to get on a Zoom, like we are now. To get on a zoom or get in a room, those things are synchronous, which means I have to stop what I'm doing. We have to get on a call. We have to deal with technical difficulties. We have to do the obligatory small talk, allow the meandering of the conversation, as well as the fact that meetings are just like sponges. They just soak up whatever time you give them.

[00:08:22] - Josh Little
If you give it 30 minutes or 60 minutes, magically that meeting will take 30 minutes or 60 minutes, regardless of what we had to talk to. This is Parkinson's law, work will expand to fill the time that you give it. Every meeting absolutely does those things. It's kind of a poor substitute for the physical environment to use those tools, like Slack and Zoom. In these virtual environments, we're going to get even more of the bad behavior which is going to lead to lack of connections, lack of culture if we believe that communication is culture, which we must, and more meetings. If you're okay with that, then you can just continue to use the same tools and communicate in the same way as you did when you're in the same space together.

[00:09:07] - Claire Haidar
Before we move on to the next section, Josh, I think this is a really appropriate time for me to ask you, Why Volley? Why did you develop it? I think the frustration in your last answer that you've just given to my question hints at why you developed Volley.

[00:09:25] - Josh Little
Just because we're virtual or remote doesn't mean we need to talk any less to move work forward. In fact, it means we need to talk more. But if talking is interruptive and typing is slow, and lacks all of the tone of voice and body language that communication happens. What's the alternative? So Volley is a video messaging app that allows you to share video messaging back and forth with one another. We talk just like any other conversation, except that we record our turn with video, and that gives us the best of both worlds — the richness of talking, so you can see me the tone of voice, what I'm saying, I can explain my question, expand the idea, but you don't have to view it while I'm talking. You can view it a minute later, an hour later, later that day, whatever is needed for that conversation. That gives us the richness of talking with the flexibility of texting. That's really what's needed to try to solve communication in this virtual environment, which is now put upon pretty much every company.

[00:10:31] - Josh Little
Companies are trying to figure out, how do we do this? Some companies are trying to bring employees back and they don't want to come back. Every company is trying to figure out how to solve for communication in what seems like a future that is only going to be more remote, only more virtual and flexible. That's what we're trying to solve with Volley head on, is to create a new way to communicate at work, which uses the best of both of the existing methods.

[00:10:59] - Doug Foulkes
Do you think, Josh, then that by introducing the visual element and the tone of voice that helps build the trust you talked about? If you've knew someone with history, you've already built that trust, probably in a face-to-face environment. If you're doing it purely virtual with someone that you haven't physically met before? I imagine that goes a long way to help building trust quicker.

[00:11:23] - Josh Little
Absolutely. It depends on what we attribute trust to. When you take the proximity away and communication away, these all these little ad hoc interactions that we used to have around the water cooler, the joke that I told you when I popped into your office or when I saw you at lunch, or whatever. When you take those away, you've start to suddenly realize how much those actually created. The question is, where did we actually build this trust? Did we build it sitting in meetings, talking to one another or did we build it in all of the interactions in between? One of the top two problems of remote work is loneliness or lack of connection, it seems that that trust was built from all of those other interactions in between. It's like seventh grade camp when you sat in a classroom all year with these students, but you actually didn't make friends until the end of the year when you went and slept in bunks and played around in the mud together at seventh grade camp or whatever.

[00:12:23] - Josh Little
It's kind of like that. Trust is built not sitting eyeball-to-eyeball in meetings, but in everything in between. That's that's what we're trying to enable with Volley, is all of these little ad hoc interactions. I can tell you that joke. I can pop-in and say, "Hey", I can ask a question. I can say, "Hey, this morning you're seeming a little off. Is everything all right?" I can do those things in a way that's not interruptive to your work, into the flow of work or deep work. Yes, we're hoping to bring trust back from those little interactions.

[00:12:56] - Claire Haidar
For me personally, my experience in functioning in virtual environments with teams, it's not a trust issue for me. The majority of our team that we currently have right now, I've never met them in person. We've built the company from the ground up that way, that pretty much applies to 90 percent of the company from its inception. I definitely still trust these people. I trust them to show up. I trust them to deliver. That trust is strengthened when they keep delivering good work, over and over and they delight customers. For me, it's the nuance of each individual human. If I can give an example, when in the very early days of our company, we chose as a product team to come together in our investors' offices, because we knew that in that early build of the product, when you still prototyping and there's still so many unknowns, just being able to talk in real time about ideas floating in your brain is so critical.

[00:14:00] - Claire Haidar
It's harder to do that in a virtual environment. On those days where we were all together in the office, for example, the team figured out that I really like eating sour sweets. It's because I was constantly running down stairs to go and get our sour sweets. We've pretty much figured out very quickly, because there was a Starbucks close by, like what each person's nuance of a drink is. It gives you an insight into somebody's character and those little nuances that seem so insignificant, but they actually are significant in the bigger picture. I think that's the piece that for me is the most lacking in a virtual environment, because I don't get to see the nuance of Josh. I don't get to see the nuance of the flavor of coffee that you like.

[00:14:50] - Josh Little
That's right. I think Patrick Lencioni kind of details this, that there's the predictive side of trust that I know that you're going to deliver. You're going to do what you say, you're going to do that. That's there's that part. But what are you talking about is more of the relationship side of trust that as humans, how are we connected? How how do we know each other? How do we relate? What's our inside joke and understanding about each other? those things are impossible to build in a virtual environment with? The existing tools, I'm not going to slack you the joke, because it's not going to be funny. I'm not going to schedule a Zoom to tell you a joke, so I'm just not going to tell the joke, I guess. "Okay, let's schedule virtual happy hours. Yeah, but that's forced fun." By definition, that's not going to work either. That's what we're talking about. We just have to get in a room. It's not really for the work that we're doing, it's more for what we say to each other when we're standing up, going to get a bag of chips or whatever that thing is.

[00:15:57] - Josh Little
If you view the team at Volley in a given day or any team that's heavily using our product, you'll see something that you don't see in any other team. We're constantly sinking up, checking in, unblocking constantly in the flow of work throughout the day. We don't have time or place holding the quality of our communication in any certain place. I can in 20 minutes, I can be in 10 conversations checking with my head of product, our lead of the desktop, talking to a user, forwarding a bug, all in high quality, full definition, tone of voice, body language, form of communication that is in no way interruptive. I could stop and go check-in with one of my kids at any time and see how they're doing on their homework, and then come back two minutes later, and resume. These are the luxuries that you don't have in time or place bound conversation or meetings, as you will.

[00:16:54] - Josh Little
All of those things build up to equal what we could call culture or we could call relationship, because isn't communication just the basis or the foundation of of culture? If you take all communication away, do we even have a culture? Do we even have a relationship? I don't think it's possible without communication. How you communicate is how you relate, how your culture looks. I think it's important to be deliberate about that and be thoughtful about how we're going to communicate and how we're going to show up to each other, because it matters.

[00:17:26] - Doug Foulkes
That's the first part of our conversation with Josh Little. Be sure to catch the next two parts of this interesting look into communication on Spotify, Google, or Apple Podcasts, or on WNDYR website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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