Best Practices for Remote Work Communication Systems
Remote organizations have a clear critical dependence on their communication systems and while the specific tools can vary over time and/or between organizations there are some best practices that will improve any company's ability to share and effectively leverage the knowledge they have. This article highlights three key practices of preemptive communication in order to promote collaboration via remote work.
1) Authorizing an open single source of truth
2) Maintaining work process artifacts
3) Empowering individual authority
These are independent practices and while each is useful on its own, but when implemented together they allow organizations to dramatically improve their capacity for asynchronous collaboration, meaning the limitation of real time interactions, by actively decoupling (or separating) individuals from the information they possess*.
*Note that an implicit assumption here is that people are significantly more than the information they hold. Therefore, while this aim to decouple people from information relaxes one dimension of reliance, it does not suggest that individuals are interchangeable.
Authorizing an Open Single Source of Truth
The idea of a single source of truth is something that has been widely discussed as a beneficial method to produce the consistent up-to-date use of shared material. While a useful habit for any organization, remote companies may find additional communication benefits as a result of leveraging this practice. One way to think about authorizing an open single source of truth is that it encourages the movement of communication from (what is often) a dyadic outcome-based projection to a series of public, regular, and frequent in-progress updates. This could look like norms shifting to a time-paced updating of information (i.e., posting an end of day status summary) and away from a project team sharing a finalized report at the completion of a milestone. Specific enactments will vary with work stage and task characteristics, but the idea is to eliminate team (or group, or individual) specific information which withholds access until work is "presentable". The documentation requirements on each individual to sustain this practice are not trivial, but the time required is balanced by the ability of others to search broadly, locate needed information, and act independently. As such the interruptions of "quick questions" will be significantly mitigated. Furthermore, authorizing an open single source of truth allows those who are interested to build a richer picture of the organization including their relative position, follow topics they may not be currently assigned to but have an interest in, or contribute in unexpected way such as identifying potential interdependencies or disconnected divergent strategies.
Ideally, there would be no technical restrictions (nonetheless normative social expectations would play a significant role) on the ability of any person in the organization to access, comment on, or even edit the current work of another individual. However, realistically speaking constraints will be established; for instance, software companies probably do not want their source code to be open for an accidental edit when a curious marketing person is clicking around (restriction here on the ability to edit, not necessarily the access). Similarly, most organizations would set constraints on access to the personnel files of individuals maintained by HR as well as private data about those going through the hiring process. That being said a core aspect of authorizing an open single source of truth is placing a high value on transparency and the default for access to information and communication records is intended to be open, with permission restrictions applied where deemed necessary. This is in contrast to a system which grants access as needed.
The practice of authorizing an open single source of truth also calls for the entire organization to leverage a unified information system. This is important so that when searching for needed information, an individual will know where to go logistically to look, then how to navigate. Often different functional roles use unique tools to produce and utilize information, which can be linked into an overarching system with a statement about what is being done, this would be sufficient for most individuals. Additionally, as is common with the general concept of a single source of truth infrastructure, each piece of information is generated (or at least shared) using version control and cloud storage which strongly discourages (if not prevents) individuals from creating divergent private versions. By authorizing an open single source of truth organizations provide access to a complete (or close) and up-to-date snapshot of the organization, this in turn provides the foundation for efficient and effective organizational communication.
Maintaining Process Artifacts
The practice of maintaining process artifacts is perhaps the most challenging (or original) for many, but if done well is able to meaningfully mitigate the misunderstandings common when communication is technology-mediated. It is essentially the explicit tracking of decisions throughout the process, requiring the regular documentation of work and discussions. One key aspect of this practice is that these process artifacts are not organized by individuals but rather by topic, or decision. A second important distinction is that it is not sufficient to simply record final outcomes/decisions. The practice of maintaining process artifacts relies on the making available the full work process (i.e., experiments, debates). As such, there should only be additive content, meaning no going back to delete prior thoughts that have now evolved. This allows for the production and preservation of a rich shared context whenever an individual access this information and independent of their prior knowledge.
The practice of maintaining process artifacts can be achieved in a variety of ways. For instance, if code is being developed in a git-based system all of the prior work will be saved in the version history, by itself this is not sufficient to claim use of the maintaining process artifacts practice. However, if context is added along with the functional code, either through embedded additive comments or attached issue-based discussions then a future individual would not only be able to understand how the code changed, but why and what else was discussed or attempted. The use of topic specific communication threads is a critical element (easily enabled by tools like Twist).
While the use of tools that temporally structure communication (think Slack) can be used; they require significant modification to their default use patterns in order to support the maintenance of process artifacts. To leverage a Slack type platform (or even Zoom) one possible sequence is to imagine that as a significant decision or contested discussion emerges it triggers a secondary documentation routine where key information is then transferred into a database, such as a handbook. However, it is likely that this second step will be perceived as cumbersome and a high level of passive monitoring would be required to develop and sustain such a norm. Furthermore, the decreasing visibility of these temporally structured forms of communication could lead to the more permanent version vulnerable to impression management edits as well as a general dissipation in effort which would act to reduce the richness of information being maintained. The documentation of conversations, through the use of items like summary documents stored in file sharing system, is possible to use in conjunction with synchronous communication, but requires the development of additional practices. Therefore, when developing the practice of maintaining process artifacts, the selection of what tools and how they are used is going to be essential for adoption.
Empowering Individual Authority
The practice of empowering individual authority is based on the self-directed discovery of information across organization. The idea that each individual is trusted and has the authority to act as they see fit to do their job. This does not mean someone can go off for months doing whatever they feel like. Instead, it supports day to day activities to continue, without the bottleneck of bureaucracy. While individuals are entrusted to make decisions, they do so knowing it will be reviewed in time. This pattern of action supports the flow of knowledge and "bottom-up" innovation. Empowering individual authority is a communication style allowing each individual to share knowledge, ask questions, gather information, and then set a plan of action. This is then articulated in a way that provides the context needed, notifies those who are impacted, and is open to feedback.
With the implementation of this practice the norms for seeking information shift to a dependency on tools rather than relying on conversations with other people. As such the pace of monitoring actions is decoupled from actual decisions made. With regularly focused communication (i.e., weekly check ins) and more frequent indirect verification (i.e., awareness of conversation in group chats) along with each individual holding an informed context any potential issues should be caught early. Importantly, this practice removes the constraints of waiting for permission prior to taking action. A necessity for empowering individual authority is that each individual has a significant cross organizational awareness including an understanding of strategic priorities and their tasks relation to them.
One example of this in action is when developers are given an outcome goal, with no direction on how to accomplish it, they write the code and then push it for review. It is possible to imagine a scenario of work where there is very little interdependence and the code is sent and relatively quickly approved to merge. However, it is also conceivable that the way (say a backend) engineer chooses to modify something has significant impacts on numerous other elements of operation. In this case, that engineer would have the authority to act as they deem most appropriate but part of that process would have been to engage with peers seeking feedback, or explore with what, how, and to what degree their potential solution interacts with other aspects. A second example is the implementation of a marketing campaign centering on the release of a new brand-based hashtag, a potentially more strategic decision. This is something where monitoring and approval is warranted. Yet, instead of a meeting, where hopefully no one was misses, and numerous opinions are being expressed in an attempt to reach a consensus, by empowering individual authority action can be taken and an information made available by the person ultimately accountable for the campaign. Additionally, each person who intersects with the campaign is also responsible for engaging with the information being shared. However, the potential for blind spots, particularly in highly interdependent situations is real, and the intent of authorizing action is not to have people move forward without consideration. One way to encourage big picture reasoning is through the structural design of organizations, which suggests potential overlap. Additionally, by examining the chain of authority (likely a traditional hierarchy), insight is available for who may be able to provide guidance if needed. This is important because while the pacing of monitoring is separated from granting authority to act, it is not eliminated, and a plan which is poorly thought out will be scrutinized.
As an organization implements this practice of empowering individual authority each individual is pushed to take responsibility for their work and how it impacts the whole. The ability to have that larger context and understand the interdependencies is enabled by authorizing an open single source of truth and maintaining process artifacts. Although these practices can be implemented individually their full strength is in them all working together. An effective communication system, such as the one created by these three practices, is essential for remote organizations. It is possible to implement these with a variety of tools (both those available commercially as well as options that are developed in house); it is how the tools are used that is most important. Applications such as Slack can be utilized as part of a communication stack which enables these practices, or it can be used in ways that are unproductive and distracting.
The benefits of removing the need for (this does not mean they can not happen by choice at times) real-time interactions include the increase in opportunities for a truly global distribution of employees. When meetings are relied upon to communicate information then time zone overlaps become mandatory. Additionally, these practices promote "deep work" allowing individuals to block off uninterrupted time. When a person (and not an information system) is the holder of information it may be difficult for them to maintain any significant amount of uninterrupted time. Furthermore, this ability to step away as needed can extend to personal needs (e.g., caregivers or those who are chronically ill). While the vast majority of remote organizations are already providing more flexibility than in-office work, there is distribution in this level of flexibility, and removing the need (again this does not mean it can not happen, just that it is not required) to communicate with individuals by establishing practices of preemptive communication allows individual flexibility to be maximized.
At the organization level if companies utilize these practices (as well as a complimentary tool stack) they will likely be able to scale the organization rapidly. Of course, there are specific structures and behaviors that have to adjust to growth, but the principles behind these practices and the type of systemized workflow that is produced is a key element of what organizations have to build when they want to expand. By employing these practices early on companies will have a solid foundation.
The design of organizational structures and practices are based on a number of tradeoffs unique to each organization. It is important to note that the blind copying of practices from other companies will likely fail. Instead it can be more useful to aim at an understanding of the principle behind why specific practices were developed and tools implemented and then to see how those concepts can be integrated into another organization.
Multiple exemplary remote companies have shared their communication tactics in blog posts, podcasts interviews, and conference presentations. One resource to actively engage with leaders on this topic is the Running Remote Conference, where those who operate remote-first organizations share what they have learned. Past examples include the keynotes by Doist CEO and founder Amir Salifefendic and Gitlab founder Dmitry Zaporozhets at Running Remote 2018, while upcoming opportunities include talks by Wade Foster the CEO and co-founder of Zapier as well as Lori McLeese the Global Head of HR at Automattic taking place at Running Remote 2020 on September 2-3 in Austin, Texas.
On April 20 they're organizing Remote Aid - a charity online event aimed at helping organisations to set up remote work management practices from scratch.
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.