The video on-demand of this session is available to logged in QCon attendees only. Please login to your QCon account to watch the session.

Session + Live Q&A

The Spectrum of Synchronousness

With 2020 being a year of unexpected distributed working, and with the future of our industry looking more remote, being able to wield the right tools for communicating efficiently has never been more important.

We need to shift to asynchronous communication for remote working. But when, why and how? We’ll go through a spectrum of communication--–from synchronous to asynchronous--–and plot our common workplace interactions on it, pre- and post- remote work. How has the world changed? How can we do better? From there, we’ll also consider how the permanence of our communication varies as we move along the spectrum and what that might mean as companies scale. We'll also think about what it means to feel happy and connected, and why that means we need to purposefully break the rules. 

You'll leave this talk with practical tips and tricks that you can take away and implement immediately with your colleagues.

Main Takeaways

1 Find out how we can use a model to better understand the complex maze of communication when working remotely

2 Learn the best ways to communicate with your team so you get the right messages to the right people at the right time

James, what is the focus of your work these days?

I'm a Director of Engineering at Shopify. My main focus is growing our Engineering team out in Europe over the next 18 months, since most of our developer presence is currently based in Canada and the US. We’ve got so many interesting problems to solve as we make commerce better for everyone, and if anyone would like to come and join what I think is the best remote-first company out there, they should get in touch!

What is the motivation for your talk?

This talk came from a whole bunch of thinking that I did about a year ago now, during the pandemic, of how everyone very quickly had to rush into remote work for obvious reasons because of lockdown. We found ourselves completely overwhelmed by all the different ways in which we could communicate with each other. In terms of digital communication, you've got emails, video calls, and chat and you've got pull requests and infinite ways to talk to each other. And it just felt like a big jumbled mess! How do you pick the right way to communicate to people at the right time for the right situation, so that it's most effective for you and your team, your target audience? And how do you communicate in such a way that's inclusive for remote workers? That was the conundrum, and it culminated in a very simple model to look at the different communications that are synchronous and asynchronous and in between that either product artifacts, or don't, and that make you feel closely connected to other humans (or don't!). By modeling the way we communicate across these different vectors, you end up with very similar traits that you can overlay on top of each other, culminating in a simple model that allows you to really think about how you interact with your team.  It should allow those that watch the talk to really think about how they communicate from day to day, and week to week, so they can make better choices for everyone.

How would you describe the persona and the level of the target audience?

I think that the level is very broad actually! And the persona is also pretty broad. I mean, for anyone who is working remotely it's a perfect fit. A lot more of our industry is going remote since the pandemic. And even if your company isn't going remote, you probably still work with people in other offices or other locations, such as people who work flexibly occasionally from home. So I think really anyone who is working in technology would benefit from the talk because it addresses how and why to use all of the new tools that we're meant to become more expert in these days. For example, I had to use broadcast editing software to put my talk together, right? I'd never thought I'd have to do that before, it's yet another part of the remote working arsenal we need to learn. It's a new world of tooling to be part of.

What do you want the attendees to walk away from your presentation with?

I'm hoping that they'll come away and identify a bunch of new models of communication in their team that they can implement immediately. Either they'll be moving particular communications to asynchronous means, or maybe they'll write more design documents. Perhaps they'll start using Architecture Decision Records in their codebase. There's a variety of concrete takeaways that are slotted through the talk, like, here's an idea, you can go and do this, and if everyone takes one improvement away, at least, then that would make a real difference to a great number of people. 


James Stanier

Director of Engineering @Shopify

Dr. James Stanier is a computer science Ph.D who made the jump from software engineer to manager and has never looked back. He is a Director of Engineering at Shopify. James has written about his experiences on his blog The Engineering Manager, and recently published "Become An Effective...

Read more
Find James Stanier at:


Monday Nov 1 / 01:10PM EDT (40 minutes)


From Remote to Hybrid Teams: Return to Office?


Remote TeamsDistributed TeamsTeam CollaborationAgileCommunicationTools

Add to Calendar

Add to calendar


From the same track

Session + Live Q&A Remote Teams

Lessons Learned from Remote-first SRE

Monday Nov 1 / 12:10PM EDT

Legend has it that there is a Netlify office. Personally, I've never seen it. While I joined during the pandemic, we've been a remote-first company for years. On the other hand, many teams throughout our industry were thrust unexpectedly into remote work during the pandemic. For all...

James McNeil

Site Reliability Engineer @Netlify

Session + Live Q&A Remote Teams

Remote Onboarding: A Houseplant's Story

Monday Nov 1 / 02:10PM EDT

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many new experiences - both professional and personal.  According to recent reports, 1 in 4 Americans have transitioned to work remotely and a surprising 1 in 3 households welcomed at least one houseplant.  Similar to welcoming a houseplant...

Kate Wardin

Engineering Manager, Studio UI Developer Productivity @Netflix

PANEL DISCUSSION + Live Q&A Remote Teams

Remote and Hybrid Teams Panel

Monday Nov 1 / 03:10PM EDT

The future of teams is increasingly looking personalized... kind of like your Netflix queue. The removal of the expectation and the obligation to be physically present in the same room is providing opportunities for teams to experiment, learn and adopt practices that confer both flexibility and...

Kate Wardin

Engineering Manager, Studio UI Developer Productivity @Netflix

James Stanier

Director of Engineering @Shopify

Miriam Goldberg

Engineering Manager @Netflix

James McNeil

Site Reliability Engineer @Netlify

View full Schedule