Wes Kennedy
Wes Kennedy

Wes Kennedy

Signal vs Noise

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Signal vs Noise

Wes Kennedy's photo
Wes Kennedy
·Apr 7, 2022·

3 min read

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In the last few years I've worked for three companies, all with varying cultures regarding communication. In the first company, I found that the signal vs noise ratio was pretty well balanced, although I could go into a meeting for an hour and come out with dozens of slack messages, but I didn't have an inbox filled with distribution list non-sense.

At the second company there was no signal and no noise. There was nothing but silence on all fronts. It's no shock that without any communication, I felt on an island, left to my own devices. I was only there for a short while because of this (and a few other things).

At my current company there is so much noise in my inbox it's unbelievable. It's hard to find the signal in all the noise. So things get missed. I spend far too much time building Outlook rules to hopefully deal with all the distribution lists that attach me to things that I have no business reading.

Copying people into an email thread should rarely be done for "visibility". If there's an actionable reason someone needs to see the content, great, but if they just need to know work is being done, it's a lazy way to handle passing along information. CC'ing people just adds to wasted time and effort.

I believe firmly in writing detailed and thoughtful emails/content for work, that ensures that people find the information they need quickly without adding a bunch of back and forth. I believe that we could all benefit from slowing down and writing up our thoughts on something instead of "hopping on a call" or doing a daily standup. We've lost the art of writing memos, of providing helpful information, of writing.

Instead we find that we quickly send a Slack message, an email, or worse yet - schedule recurring time on someone's calendar, when one person taking 30 minutes to write a thorough email each week, could save dozens of hours in meetings. For instance, I have a weekly call that has over 200 people on it. Weekly. 200 People. It's an hour long. The content varies, but could absolutely be presented in a PowerPoint slide or two and shared via email. But my guess is, no one would read it, because no one would find it in all the noise in their inbox.

See the problem?

Let's assume an average salary of $150,000/yr (probably a low number for this call since it's mostly Senior level), which works out to a rough hourly rate of $75/hr. 200 People x $75/hr x 50 weeks/yr = $750,000. We spend $750,000 per year on a call that could absolutely be a well written email once per week. Not only that, the lost productivity of those 200 people while they sit on that call is very hard to calculate.

Writing and working in an asynchronous fashion respects your fellow co-worker and gives them the space they need to approach their work however they feel is necessary. This is especially important when working with neuro-diverse co-workers, as they will have methods that allow them to synthesize data that they receive that may not be conducive to a live call.

Instead of scheduling that call, I urge you, dear reader (all three of you), write. Sit down and write out your thoughts. Edit them. Let them sink in. When you're happy with how you're describing something, send it to your team. You most likely won't get much of a response at first, but keep doing it and it'll catch on. People will be happy to get a spot back on their calendar and you will have gotten your message out.

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