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Updated March 23, 2023

You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Remote Work, a book by Katie Wilde, Juan Pablo Buriticá, and over 50 other contributors. It is the most comprehensive resource on building, managing, and adapting to working with distributed teams. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, 800 links and references, a library of tools for remote-friendly work, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Presence is the state of being synchronously available for collaborative activities that need to happen in real time. In co-located companies, this means being physically in an office. In distributed teams, presence usually means being available to meet with other people rather than doing individual work.

cautionOne of the most harmful behaviors that can surface in a distributed team is the constant expectation of presence. If employees are expected to always be on email or in a group chat to stay informed, it impacts their ability to do focused work, which is a required component of knowledge work and can be in direct opposition to virtual presence. If someone can’t ignore their email for two hours because their company has a culture of being always on email, their ability to do their work may suffer, which impacts the team’s collective productivity.

Since knowledge workers oscillate between highly collaborative modes and highly focused modes depending on the task at hand, balance becomes key. Distributed teams that want to be effective across time and space will seek this balance and communicate in ways that neither require constant attention, nor create frequent interruptions for employees.

As a general rule, nobody at Basecamp really knows where anyone else is at any given moment. Are they working? Dunno. Are they taking a break? Dunno. Are they at lunch? Dunno. Are they picking up their kid from school? Dunno. Don’t care. The vast majority of the time, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is letting people design their own schedule around when they can do their best work.Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO, Basecamp*


Friction is the amount of effort required to transmit or receive a message on a specific communication channel. It includes the time and thought that it takes to plan, edit, or create the message.

Friction is relative. It depends on the transmitter, the receiver, and the channel used to communicate. For some individuals, speaking can be a low-friction channel if everyone is in close proximity or on a conference call. It can also be a high-friction channel for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Too much friction in a communication medium slows us down, but low friction isn’t always desirable. If a message can be sent too quickly, it might mean that workers invest less time in processing and composing responses, which can lead them to communicate less thoughtfully or without considering the impact of their words on others.

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