Discord as a Desk

desk with laptop

When everyone was sent home in early 2020 my team, like many other teams, struggled to keep the communication going as it had been in the office. Initially, there was a thought the stay-at-home orders were going to be a short-term thing. The missing interactions seemed to work for the time being. When days turned into weeks, the team was beginning to feel the strain of the missing communication. This strain manifested itself as:

  • Missing context for the work item
  • Duplicate effort by multiple team members
  • Loneliness when surrounded by people digitally
  • Slowing delivery
  • General frustration

We all agreed that something needed to change. We wanted to experiment on how to better communicate while all at home. We tried using some of the tools that we already had, those were better. However, they did not communicate the information that one receives while working in the office together. We were missing visibility to someone's availability. We were missing the ability to jump from discussion to discussion with ease. Most of all, we were missing the ability to have multiple screens side-by-side for comparing and contrasting.

After executing a couple of short experiments, an avid PC gamer on the team suggested [Discord][https://discord.com/] as an option. For most on the team, we had heard of the tool. But had no experience using it. This developer took the time to assist in setting up a server for the entire development team to share. We had created a shared voice channel for each development team to start. Shortly, we realized just how powerful this was going to be as a replacement for the office. Before long, each developer had their own virtual desk voice channel. As the team needed to pair or discuss group matters, we would all jump to someone's desk or our team's voice channel. As other teams or members had questions, those members could stop by other voice channels to ask around.

As a team, we discovered a whole new way of working together. Gaining many of the same in-office signals via Discord. Allowing the information to flow between members and the teams.

There was not all good to come with this change in work. One of the issues that we discussed most? Headphone fatigue! Hour after hour we would have headsets on. Always talking about clients or work. It got to the point that I didn't even want to partake in listening to music anymore. I didn't want to wear anything on my head. As this fatigue began to set in, we noticed other side effects. We were all available so much of the time, that delivering value began to slow again. The final experiment was a compromise. Without Discord, we struggled with under-communicating. With Discord full time we struggled with over-communication and headphone fatigue. We had an open discussion about what we wanted this to be and how it should work. The agreement was to be in Discord when truly available. Taking time to make progress without distraction was encouraged. But, being completely AWOL was not acceptable.

Overall, it has been a great experiment. We have done quite well with implementing these new tools to advance the team. We have come to appreciate Discord for what it is and appreciate the ideas brought to the table by all team members. We are all in this together. We fail together, we prevail together.