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Commitment to Documentation
Common questions covered here
How much should remote teams document in writing?
Why is documentation important for remote teams?
In a remote environment, it’s essential to provide documentation of what it’s like to work at the company, including policies, processes, protocols, tools, values, and culture. In a traditional office environment, these things should also be written down, but often aren’t—it’s easier to get context on something when you can just stop someone in the hall and ask, or watch others model the expected behavior. Remote offices have no choice. These processes need to be codified such that people can work asynchronously and autonomously and still track toward the same goals and foster the same values. Documentation about company and team processes should be:
Asynchronously available. Ideally, your practices will make it abundantly clear to all members of the team where they can find information, regardless of the specific tooling that is selected by the company.
Regularly updated. This will prevent people from constantly having to ask where they can find X, or what the status of something is. The more regularly and predictably this information is updated, the less often people will have to schedule extraneous meetings or rely on other synchronous communication simply to be up to speed on what is happening or how to get something done.
Open. In a healthy system, anyone at the company is able to either make changes, or easily request them; and is free to ask questions that will be answered within a short amount of time.
Without this visibility, it’s nearly impossible for people to collaborate cross-functionally and understand the bigger picture, and extremely difficult to work autonomously.
Visibility Across Teams
Remote workers can’t glance over the cubicle or overhear a conversation in the lunchroom—they can’t gather context on a particular initiative or have a feel for what’s going on company-wide by simply being there.
In remote work, especially as a company grows, people are usually included in the conversations that are most relevant to their job, but not much else. Yet having a comprehensive view of the company and initiatives happening across teams can be essential for keeping all employees on track and motivated. This kind of visibility helps people understand how their work fits in to the larger mission, and gives them a chance to get excited about their colleagues’ projects and progress.
To avoid missing out on crucial decisions and discussions, people try to always be online and in as many meetings as possible, hurting both their well-being and productivity.Amir Salihefendic, founder and CEO, Doist*
To avoid that fate, there are a number of ways to increase visibility across teams:
Company handbook. You might also hear this referred to as a “central source of truth,” “central repository” or “document cache,” and it’s the one place where anyone can go to get answers about how your company operates. Written communication can be augmented with other mediums, like an onboarding tutorial recorded in Loom, but it’s important to establish written communication as the prioritized approach because it is persistent and asynchronous, and thus enables team members to learn and operate at their own pace.
Digital water cooler. Some companies have developed digital versions of their own water cooler which allows everyone to get a sense of what else is happening across the company. Many companies use Slack or some form of Q&A forum for this purpose.
Public org chart. Another key element of ensuring transparency across teams is creating a public organization chart. The org chart can take many forms, but effective ones at the very least outline each person’s role, manager, and team, culminating in a visual representation of how they ladder up. By setting up a thoughtful naming system and a public org chart, people will be able to easily access and participate in conversations that they may not otherwise be directly privy to.
All-hands meetings. Whether you’re a six-person startup or larger company in the hundreds or thousands of employees, regular, synchronous meetings of the entire organization are critical for large-scale goal alignment and important updates.
story “At Turing, we have arranged 1:1s among randomly or intentionally chosen pairs of people. They exchange things like ’Show me on google map where you grew up, or where you live,’ or ’What project are you working on the last/next month?’ The overall setting is quite relaxing and is designed to build stronger interpersonal connections and trust, but it also creates more visibility.” —Jay Yuan, Engineering Lead, Turing
Visibility Within Teams
Stand-ups. Many teams have daily or weekly stand-ups where each person shares what they accomplished yesterday, what they’re doing today, and/or what they’re working toward for tomorrow. Stand-ups do not have to happen in live meetings. Having a team stand-up channel in Slack or a shared document where employees can add notes on what they’re working on today is a helpful form of visibility that encourages trust without the pressure to micromanage.
Team agreements. We recommend that teams develop their own agreements that designate how they work together. This may differ from the broader company communication architecture in that it can include individual communication preferences, and describe how that particular team handles time zones, if they are a factor for them but not others.
Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.Daniel Pink, bestselling author, Drive*
Successful remote teams enable individuals to be self-directed and have a certain amount of autonomy or control over what they do and how they accomplish their assigned or chosen tasks. In order to foster autonomy, teams need to be structured so that each person can work independently, while still contributing to the collective goal. Autonomy is not just a psychological structure, but should best penetrate into logistics, including employees having agency to build their own schedules—the ability to swap calendar tetris for some deep work. Companies and managers can do a number of things to help these employees thrive:
Establish your values. When values are documented in the company handbook and permeate the communication architecture, employees are empowered to make decisions on a daily basis that are aligned with these values, and can be trusted without constant managerial oversight.
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