The Gift of Presence

Jason Fried of Basecamp writes about the decision they made to remove presence indicators from the app. Where is someone on your work team at any given time? His response:

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.

This is not nearly as hard as it sounds. But it does require a shift in mindset. Away from I have to call Jeff into a meeting now to get his take on this new feature idea” to I’ll write up my feature idea for Jeff to check-out whenever he has some free time, and then, maybe, we can have a chat about it live later, if needed”.

Basecamp has a geographically distributed team, so they have had ample opportunity to learn about working asynchronously. They’ve found that the expectation of asynchronous communication, in the absence of a presence indicator, has brought more calm.

I understand where Fried is coming from, but I also know from my own experience that it can be helpful to know, for instance, if your boss is in a meeting or not. I try to be considerate of other’s time, and that’s why I find myself waiting for a green indicator before reaching out to someone. Could I schedule a meeting every time I want to talk with someone? Sure, but sometimes it helps to have a little flexibility to converse outside of constraints of a calendar invite.

In other words, I get both sides of the debate. I think what’s most important is that people respect your presence preferences, whatever tool you use.