Well, I think the title of this post is a bit strong, but let me explain you my point.
I work for Canonical, a 100% distributed company where the majority of employees work remotely. We meet every once in a while to work together for a week, but, normally, we don’t see each other.
I joined the company a year and a half ago and, even back then, the people who had been there for more than 3 years stated “It is big now!! Do you remember when we knew the name of everybody?”. Well, Canonical is not THAT big, but it is getting harder and harder to remember people’s name and, because it is a distributed environment, people’s faces. Even harder, we rely a lot on IRC communication so you have to match a real name, with a face, and with an IRC nickname. For me this is almost impossible to achieve.
When I wrote an email I relied too much on email addresses auto-completion and this was making the problem bigger. “I think his name started with an M, and it might continue with an E, no, wait, an I. Here he is!”. I don’t do that any more. I write a good amount of emails, but not too many to not be able to spend one minute writing down the addresses it goes to.
Canonical has an internal web tool called “Directory” where you can quickly search a person (by team, name, IRC nickname, town, manager, email address, etc.) and you will soon find the record with a picture, real name, email address and IRC nickname. Then I copy and paste the email address to the “To:” field. It does the trick for me. It helps me visualizing who I am writing to and helps me matching the face with an IRC nickname, so the next time I get a ping from someone I can see the face behind.
Does your company has such a web tool? I really recommend it.