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Communication and Transparency

The best way for you to make a decision about what’s good for Obvious is to have all of the information about what’s going on at Obvious. The same is true for everyone else you work with, so it’s important that we’re all up to date about what’s happening, even with the areas of Obvious that we’re not actively involved with.

Transparency may seem like a passive process, like "don’t hide anything," but it’s actually a big challenge to keep everyone up to date and on the same page, especially on projects they’re not working on on a daily basis, even for a company the size of Obvious. These are some of the policies we use to make information more accessible, but our work is ongoing.

Communication

Pro-active check-ins

It's also a good idea to be proactive about letting teammates know what you're working on and how it's going. 18F has a great paragraph on this:

Proactively communicate. As Kate Garklavs, a content designer who lives in Portland, puts it: “Because I'm remote, I've taken to sending short, proactive progress updates to my teams ("Hey, all — wanted to let you know that I finished writing XYZ and sent it to so-and-so for approval — should hear back by Friday."), even when daily standups aren't required. By sending these short updates throughout the day, I hope to keep folks in the loop with regards to what I've been up to.”

With increased individual flexibility, since we're all working at the same time less, it's important to go above and beyond in letting people know when we are around.

Setting Slack status

There are 4 states in which a teammate can be in on Slack:

  1. Active (green): Similar to when someone is sitting at their desk in the office, they are considered available and can be expected to respond in the range of a few minutes to an hour.
  2. Do not disturb (green): This teammate is at their computer, but focusing. Expect a response when they are done with whatever they are focusing on, but don't wait for them.
  3. Do not disturb (gray): This teammate is away from their computer and off work. Expect a response the next work day.
  4. Away: This teammate is off work or temporarily away. Check the Pause calendar.

Obviously, edge cases exist. But it's important that on both ends of our communication (both asking and responding) we uphold these expectations so that everyone on our team can plan their work effectively.

Transparency

Public Slack channels

Almost all Slack conversation should happen in public Slack channels where the rest of the team can see it. You may not subscribe to or pay attention to every channel, but conversations that happen in public channels are searchable and readable by the whole team, so when someone wants to know how we decided on some course of action, Slack gives them a place to look back at the conversation.

Not every ping or question needs to happen publicly, but when in question, you should err on the side of posting publicly.

Public calendars

Work calendars should be shared to make scheduling meetings really easy and also to let the rest of the team see where we’re spending our time. Personal calendars often have sensitive information, and should be kept separate. Work calendars are documentation of how we’re budgeting our hours and are useful for the rest of the team.

Open stats

When we measure something, it should be visible to everyone on the team. Our stats will be great sometimes and disappointing others, but when we hide or silo the hard stats, fewer people can help fix them. Any data that we’re collecting should be open to everyone.

We succeed together when we trust each other

Communication and negotiation among groups of people is difficult, but the more honest we can be with each other, the easier it will be for us to trust one another and work together as a team. Openness and honesty will be critical to our success, which is why this is one of our core values, and why it’s a mantra we repeat in many conversations.

Providing feedback

Since we value openness and transparency, you are as likely to get direction or feedback from your manager as you are from one of your peers. We depend on that. If you have feedback for someone, please just give it to them. Be polite and honest. It's not a big deal, and they will appreciate it. As a general rule, if you have feedback for someone, it's your responsibility to give it to them directly. It's not OK to talk about someone else without also being willing to talk to them directly.

Always assume good intent as you think about the feedback you would like to give someone. We are all in this together. Written communication in particular can be tricky. Go out of your way in your communication to think about how someone might interpret (or misinterpret) what you are saying.

Also be sure to thank and congratulate folks when you think they are doing great work, too. The more the better. Doing it in public, like on the #daily-wins channel can be a morale-booster for everyone!

If you are uncomfortable providing feedback to someone directly, please talk to your manager about it.

Managing your workflow

Working remotely, you would need to manage your workflow on your own, and sync with your team and manager at whatever interval your team works with - daily/ alternate days/ weekly etc.

A good way to ensure you are on top of your deliverables is to make a list of MITs - Most Important Things and go through them. Always remember, support is only a Slack message away. You are remote, not alone.

In the office, our natural workflow is to finish a chunk of work, step away from your desk to go and catch up with colleagues for a short break and return refreshed. Since you can't really pull that off on Slack, applying the Pomodoro technique consciously helps you get the circulation going, refresh your mind, reduce fatigue, and gives you the freedom to do what you'd like in that break, including checking your phone for messages.

Deep work

If you need to be signal unavailability for calls or conversation, please indicate that in your calendars by blocking time off for deep work, and indicate that on your Slack as well, with that as your status for the time you want to block.

Communication to support remote work

Here are the golden rules of communicating with clarity when working remotely:

  • Make sure your immediate team knows of your time and energy availability in the immediate future, for collaborations & conversations.
  • Make your work public. Use Notion, all the other platforms your work requires, so that others are aware of where your energy is being spent.
  • There is a hierarchy of communication channels. The map broadly is:
    • Phone for any urgent communication.
    • Slack for general announcements to all/ casual conversations/ team specific updates, calls for meetings etc.
    • Email for more formal communication, such as org-wide tasks, announcements etc.
  • Block time for conversations, even if they are for 15 minutes.
  • The fortnightly scheduled 1-1s sound like they are not urgent. And they aren't, but they are important, for you to understand the others you work with. So, keep those meetings as much as possible.
  • Other folk's work is visible on Notion. If you are curious about what they are up to, head over there and look. Follow it up with questions to those people and further conversations.
  • Share milestones of your work with others. Make it public. Celebrate good work done by others too. Creating a culture of appreciation is all of our responsibility
  • Over-communicate. In general, not being in the same space would mean that we all would need more context, more reference, more time to warm up. Give yourselves and those working with you these luxuries.
    • Watch your tone, add context statements help take the doubt out of email, Slack and other typed communication. Emails do have a tone - intended or not. Read this lovely piece on the topic. The lack of emotions associated with a face-to-face or voice conversation means that emails are assumed to be stern. To avoid this, watch out for tone and add context to explain the situation (Ex. "If you don't send it in over the next hour, we will miss the deadline" vs. "The client has to make a decision by 4pm this evening. They are depending on our data as input. If we send that in the next hour, they can go through it and make their decision on time.")
    • All bad news to be communicated on call/ video calls or if possible, in person. Avoid the allure of sharing any bad news (think delays to agreed-upon timelines, change in scope of work, unplanned leave, development feedback on performance, etc.)

Protocol for calls

Assess if the call is needed at all. Assess if the time you've requested is needed or can it be made shorter. Assess if you can finish sharing all you intended in that time, while giving others adequate time to process and respond to you. Confirm with the others that this time works for them. Now, schedule the call.

Get to the call on time. In case you foresee delays, inform the others/ the meeting convener as soon as you can. Check if they have read the information.

Be mindful of closing calls on time. If your meeting is spilling over, check if the other person is okay with the delay. In case they are not, reschedule the rest for another time.

Video on call

  • When working with others

People have the right to keep their video off on call. Please be mindful to not ask someone to switch their video on or ask for reasons to support why their video is off. It is okay to be the one person with video switched off, in a call with 30 others who have videos on. Shaming people whose cameras are off is a strict no-no. If you are in a call with one other person, and they request that they want to keep their camera off, switch yours also off in solidarity.

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Note: There could be situations that require video to be on. For instance, training workshops, that mimic real-life workshops, where facial expressions are required input for the facilitator, and exercises like role-plays might be planned. If you are unable to switch the video on owing to connectivity issues, inform the facilitator as soon as you get on the call.

  • Look inward

Connections are formed best when we get a chance to mimic real in-person conversations. A video call helps with that. If you have a tendency to keep your video on at all times, or most of the time, be mindful of that. What can you do instead, to create and build on that connection with others?

Boundaries

Defining your working hours

It is easy to slide into a place where you don't have demarcations between work and life. This is not good for you or for the organisation.

To make sure that you don't let these boundaries blur, put up rituals for starting and wrapping up your day. What used to be commute can be replaced by something much nicer, for example, finishing and clearing up breakfast can be the ritual for starting your day. A closing ritual could be saying bye on Slack, closing the work browser, closing your laptop and stepping out for a stretch and a 5-minute walk.

  • Being inclusive

A new kind of inclusion is needed. We need to be mindful of different kinds of connectivity issues, Zoom backgrounds varying between well-designed spaces to cramped living quarters, movement of pets/ children/ errant partners in towels in the background and more. One of the best outcomes of the pandemic has been that the sound of a neighbour's pressure cooker whistle, incessant barks of the streetie outside, construction work are all normalised during work calls.

  • Bonus

Those of you have endured the tortures of commuting in Bangalore could also give yourself a reward for escaping that reality - maybe an extended meal or a chat with a friend in the time that you would've spent commuting.

1:1 Conversations