How we communicate

How we communicate

Introduction

People are complex and diverse… Or as Tino would simply put it: “people.” 🤷‍♂️
We love the atmosphere in our team and want it to stay that way, even as we grow and grow up. Therefore we have read and thought a lot about the following communication playbook. It’s not that things go wrong with our communication! We just want to make sure that everyone in our team has access to that mindset.

Our goals

We want to try to work together according to the following principles:

Be kind: We all have good and bad days. Always be kind. 🙂 If in doubt, be kind. If you’re not able to be kind, let others know why and maybe take a break - it’s okay to not perform all the time.

Asynchronous before synchronous communication: Asynchronous communication allows you to define the time for answers and tasks in a way that they fit better into your own work rhythm and do not interrupt you in your own work. It also complements our remote and home office friendly working methods. 🏡

Reduce interruptions of others: Each team member should be able to work in silence, when and where they want. Interruptions disturb this flow. In most cases, when an immediate response from someone else seems necessary, asynchronous communication can be used instead, or at least can be postponed without anyone having to interrupt their work.

Public instead of private communication: Communication that is accessible and comprehensible to everyone provides the opportunity for knowledge transfer within the team and also serves as reference elsewhere or at a later point in time. Therefore communication should be close to the tasks (e.g. in Asana or Jira tickets) instead of 1-to-1 talks via slack or video call. If this is not possible or other ways are more productive, the most important results should be documented afterwards. Confidential conversations or chats are of course not meant here. 😉

How to use asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication allows every team member to work without interruption and to answer/react whenever the moment is right. So please don’t expect an immediate response from your colleague. Of course there is still enough “normal”, real exchange, don’t worry!

To make this possible it is very important to follow some rules:

  • Try to be as specific as you can. ✍️
  • First, describe your problem, explain the “why” or file your request. This makes it easier to understand your problem and the (maybe) urgency of your request.
  • You already have a solution in mind? Suggest it!
  • Tell the other person until when you need an answer.
  • Only pull other colleagues into a task or conversation if you really need them to express their opinion.

Sure, sometimes a quick call makes it easier to explain/discuss things instead of writing a long text. Just suggest a call and/or schedule one together. Always ask. Don’t take for granted that the other person wants to take a call immediately. ☎️

It’s similar to making surprise visits at your teammates desks. If you still feel like doing so, because you think it is easier to speak with him/her directly instead of using one of our communication tools, always consider that it might be a bad moment and you interrupt his/her work.

Asynchronous working also means that some of us might work late at night or very early in the morning. 🦉 Your colleagues might then send you messages via our communication tools when you are already out of office or having a break. You don’t have to reply immediately and your teammates don’t get a bad conscience of contacting you late/early. It’s okay to work at different times. A good way to not be interrupted is muting notifications or setting a “Don’t disturb” mode which gives you the opportunity to communicate whenever you want to. 🙌)

Even though we highly prefer asynchronous working, we also acknowledge the individual strengths and preferences of our team members. Different people sometimes prefer to communicate in different ways. Recognizing that your teammates prefer different forms of communication, sends the message to your colleagues that you value them as individuals and the form of communication works best for them. 💖 Still, please try to use asynchronous ways as much as possible. 🤖

Here are some links to best practices of asynchronous communication:

Tools we use to communicate

We use Slack, Helpscout, Confluence, Asana, Jira and of course we sometimes, in rare cases, need to write emails. That sounds a lot, but every tool has its purpose (cf. following chapters).

Please check these tools at least three times a day:

  • in the morning
  • after lunch
  • in the afternoon.

Please allow yourself enough time to take care of it. This makes sure your colleagues get the answer they need in time. Thanks! 🤓

What channel to use for what?

Asana and Jira are our task tools. Jira covers all technical processes, Asana the rest. Here, the majority of communication should take place directly in the associated tasks. Everything discussed in other ways, but belonging to concrete tasks, should at least be summarized there again afterwards.

Slack is used for all our other communication, which does not fit to specific tasks, as well as for our joint teamwork. Here, the focus is also on asynchronous communication and avoiding interruptions to others.

Confluence forms our archive. Everything that should be kept for the future, such as meeting protocols, or is too long for an Asana or Jira ticket, ends up in here.

Meetings we try to avoid as far as possible, as they actually conflict with our communication goals mentioned above. Sometimes, however, they are unavoidable and should be productive for everyone and as short as possible.

Helpscout is our main support tool and you only come into contact with it if the support team needs to ask you about a specific support request. However, it is not used for task tracking, but refers to Asana and Jira if necessary.

What about emails? Well, these exist of course, but mostly only in communication with third parties and are therefore not so exciting at this point. 🙃

How we use Asana

  • When creating a new task always make sure a task is in a project.
  • Always assign a task/topic to the person that needs to react on it next. Never leave a task assigned to yourself or third parties when you actually need someone else to react.
  • Be clear about tasks so that everyone knows who is responsible for it because no one can be effective and can complete a task if there is an uncertainty.
  • Always add a description to make sure the task is clear to the assignee.
  • If you have a certain deadline for the task, mention it in the description and additionally set a due date.
  • … This is work in progress. Franziska and Andreas are still working on that topic and experimenting to find the best ways to use Asana. They will write a “Best Practices” paper on that topic, soon(ish) …

How we use Jira

We use Jira to organize our development process of PicDrop. Our different projects are listed and each team (frontend or backend) assigns, works on and reviews tickets here according to current sprints.

… A more specific guide on how to use Jira will be available soon …

How to use Slack

We use Slack, as our internal chat - either for a quick message or for writing a long message. However - following the asynchronous communication here - please don’t expect an immediate response from your teammates and please don’t feel like you have to read every message immediately. You can also start a new channel and collect all messages there. If you have the impression that the conversation is about to lose its focus, kindly remind your colleagues to keep to the topic (and possibly remove the funny gifs).

We have different channels with different purposes, for instance:

  • #announcements: This channel is for “announcements” aka stuff the the whole team should know
  • #awesome: Positive stuff you want your team to be happy about as well
  • #development: Everything development related
  • #emergencies: When sh*t is hitting the fan…
  • #office: Use this channel for everything office-related and to find your lunch partners.
  • #offtopic: This is the place for the funny GIFs and other non-work-related stuff we all need 😂
  • #marketing-support: Home of the support and marketing team
  • #socialmedia: This is where some (not all) of our social media mentions go

Please do not use Slack when:

  • you want ask someone to work on a specific task that is part of a current or future project. Please add your request as a task in Asana or Jira. We know, this seems hard at the beginning but ensures that calm and concentration times become possible.
  • there is a real emergency and you need an answer now to avoid things going downhill. Call the person immediately and use the slack channel #emergencies in addition. 🚒

Always ask yourself if you could use Asana or Jira for anything you want to ask another team member.

Did you know? In Slack you can:

  • mark messages as unread.
  • use the “remind me later” function for messages or recurring reminders. Both last features help a lot if a team member asks you for something you cannot take care of instantly. Please use it.
  • send messages to yourself.
  • set default “do not disturb” hours or add them manually. We encourage you to do so!

How to use Confluence

Confluence is part of our internal wiki and we use this tool to create, share and discuss our different topics arranged in different spaces.

… This also is work in progress …

How to write emails 💌

Communication via emails is essential, but it should be the last option you choose. We love what DiesDas.digital wrote about “How to write better emails”.

Communication in general

Basic rules

  • Don’t behave in a stupid, annoying, ignorant or selfish manner. It’s that simple. 😉
  • Always be kind. If in doubt, be kind. 🤗 If you’re not able to be kind, let others know why and maybe take a break - it’s okay to not perform all the time.
  • Be friendly: use expressions like Good morning, Hello, Bye, Please, Thank you etc. 👋
  • Always communicate clearly and include all the important details.
  • Value an open and honest dialogue. 💬
  • Always ask before giving constructive feedback.
  • It’s okay to ask for help!
  • When writing: Use smilies. Use them a lot to express your feelings. 🥰🙂

Basic rules extended 😉

  • Use single source communication. Don’t spread one topic over multiple communication channels. Stick to one.
  • Please always answer messages by your colleagues if they need or ask for an answer. No matter what channel they used.
  • If you don’t have time to go into the details of the request right now, say it openly and honestly instead of ignoring the request or postponing an answer till later.
  • Use the reminder/unread/date function of our tools to remind yourself of unanswered requests and messages whenever you need to postpone to later. This is not voluntary, but a must (See: How to use Slack or How to use Asana.
  • Always consider: Maybe sometimes a quick call makes it easier to explain/discuss things instead of writing a long text. Just suggest a call and/or schedule one together. Always ask. Don’t take for granted that the other person wants to call.
  • Always be clear about tasks so that everyone knows who is responsible for it because no one can be effective and can complete a task if there is an uncertainty.
  • Try to avoid technical expressions outside your team! Keep in mind that your project language is typical to your business area. So use a simple language when talking to others.
  • Use business speak (e.g. rsvp, asap) rarely.
  • Always listen actively.

Feedback and Criticism

Feedback and criticism are something very valuable to get better and to move a team forward. If you want to criticize a colleague or give feedback, the following rules apply:

  1. Always consider whether the criticism is justified or not.
  2. Never ever get personal.
  3. Always assume your teammates want the best outcome.
  4. Trust your colleagues. Respect competencies and specialist fields/departments before criticizing others. Just because you don’t like a decision etc. doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing for the team and company.
  5. Consider whether the right place and time are given for the criticism.
  6. Ask your colleague if s/he wants feedback from you right at this moment. If not, postpone this until later and ask for the right moment.
  7. Express your criticism constructively and always have a solution ready.
  8. Do not criticize your colleague in front of third parties who have nothing to do with the topic and are not explicitly part of it.
  9. Never ever send criticism or misleading messages to a colleague when s/he is in his spare time or even on vacation.
  10. Never criticize if you are in a bad mood or angry about this person. Always wait for the storm to pass, rethink and if the problem is still there, then address your colleague.

Office life

It’s already mentioned in the basic rules above, but to come to end of our communication guide, we would like to mention again that we love our great new office and want to everyone to enjoy working there. 💙 That’s why we try to keep the noise as low as possible so everyone can work without getting disturbed. Basically, like in a library. 📚For longer talks and chats, we have our conference rooms “Lefty”, “Righty”, the “Glass House”, our “Nap Room” and of course our kitchen.

We are all human, so sometimes we have a bad day, because we don’t feel or slept well or feel like getting a cold etc. 😠 This will not get lost in conversations with your colleagues. So a little “warning” is enough and makes life easier for everyone else.

By the way: don’t forget to take a break and maybe schedule your work differently or even postpone it if other things are more important in your life and you are probably not able to give your best anyway. Coffee, tea or Mate are the fuel that gets us through the day. So why not drink your favorite drink and be productive at the same time? Chat with your teammates about the weekend or discuss latest tech news or exchange project ideas. If your colleague is on remote, s/he might join as well, just start a phone call or video chat.

Thank you! 💕