The Difficulties Posed By Communications

Quote of the Day

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it’s taken place.

— George Bernard Shaw

Figure 1: Time Zones Around the World. (Source)

Figure 1: Time Zones Around the World. (Source)

My company currently has engineering work occurring at a number of sites that are widely separated geographically. For example, much of my time is spent communicating with China and Portugal. Relative to my time zone (Figure 1), China is 14 hours ahead and Portugal is 6 hours ahead.

Trying to coordinate these sites is definitely a challenge. However, this really is nothing new. When I was at HP, my first manager used to say that

Engineering communication reduces by 10 dB per foot.

He used this quote whenever we were trying to move team members physically close to one another to facilitate personal communication. This quote reflected the needs of a time when engineering sites were all in the US and the time zones were within a few hours of one another. It was also a time before email was readily available.

One of my current co-workers made the observation that this quote needs to be updated based on the changes due to new communication technology. He said that the statement should be revised to be

Engineering communication reduces by 10 dB per hour of time zone difference.

As I think about it, he is right. Distance does not matter anymore – time does. Working with China means phone calls late at night for someone, and I personally have seen how painful this is. It also means that emails are not answered quickly. Of course, large time zone differences mean that language differences occur, which may be the greatest challenge.

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