At Countfire one of our values is focused on how the team communicates in order to work together. We’ve always had a high standard of written communication and we're big fans of being concise and proofreading before sending a message, which isn’t a given in today’s fast paced world of instant messaging and free-flow social media.
Aside from this, we’ve had to rapidly adapt (like many) to working fully remotely and this meant revisiting our communication practices and ensuring they work for a virtual Countfire. Here, we wanted to share some of the ways we’ve killed bad communication at Countfire, so that everyone can do their best work, as often as possible.
Practices we use for good communication at Countfire
1. Mindful Slack use
What many don’t factor into “good communication” is that when you communicate is almost as important as how you communicate. Like many fully-remote companies in today’s world, most of our synchronous and some of our asynchronous communication happens within Slack, with project updates happening in Linear, which we use to manage tasks and cycles.
And we like Slack. In fact, it’s fundamental to how we quickly communicate with each other and get the job done. However Slack is notoriously bad at breaking people out of focus. For example, if you’re a developer just on the cusp of figuring out a complex code problem and someone pings you a Slack message, it’s akin to someone shouting your name loudly in the room. Instantly, that notification (potentially with sound and/or that little red dot which is impossible to ignore), grabs your focus and you’re distracted.
Cue our favourite focus meme taken from Reddit. Original source: monkeyuser.com.
As we know, there’s a huge cost to distraction in time and focus. Let this happen multiple times per day and you could really see productivity waver.
Of course, it’s down to each individual to be mindful of how they use Slack. However it’s important as a team that we build a culture of thoughtful communication, encouraging everyone to think before they send each message rather than just using Slack as a messaging ping-pong table for every thought that comes up.
2. Short video summaries
One communication faux pas we noticed when we first became remote was information becoming siloed. Whereas in the office you’d overhear, and jump into, many conversations throughout the day, switching to Zoom meant conversations began to happen inside a vacuum.
It made us wonder how we could ensure this information was shared, outside of having to add more Zoom meetings to everyone’s calendars. One idea we saw from our friends at another SaaS company, called ScreenCloud, was to use the recording tool within Zoom to create a very short video snippet at the end of each meeting.
To do this, at the end of the meeting we’d hit “Record” and reiterate the purpose of the meeting and the actions that had been decided. We stressed that this summary should be very concise, around 30 seconds to two minutes long. This was to prevent everyone from having to watch hours of video every day to catch up on what they’d missed.
Once finished, we’d share the short video clip in Slack, so that the entire team could keep afloat of what was happening in other business areas.
One practice we later adopted was to upload the video as an mp4, so that the team could hit “play” within Slack and watch the video instantly, rather than having to open the Zoom recording in their browser and login to get access.
This reduced the cost to entry to hopefully make it easier, and therefore more successful, for more of the team to watch the videos being sent.
3. Consistent email and inbox management
Like many companies, our use of the traditional inbox has become less over time, as we’ve adopted more “real time” tools such as Slack. For those of us who are in our inboxes, Gmail add-ons such as Boomerang for Gmail are useful aids to schedule emails to send, and to receive email reminders of messages that might have been missed.
However we realised that while traditional “inboxes” have become sparser, there is still a level of email management needed within the company. For our sales team, this means managing their Close inbox, which is our sales CRM tool. For support, this is managing the Intercom inbox. Both of which are essential to communicating with our customers in a regular and efficient way.
Our best practices for staying on top of all of these inboxes, is to do exactly that: stay on top. As soon as the inbox becomes filled with messages it’s very hard to get back on track, so frequent email management is important. A “handful of emails” is the most we’d want to see at any one time in any of the inboxes, as any more than that and it’s easy to become overwhelmed or to start falling behind. Using tools that help to remind and/or schedule within those inboxes is also a definite help in this area.
Communicating how you expect your team to manage their inboxes seems obvious and therefore may be missed but actually, it isn’t a given. Setting simple expectations as part of your values and company culture, can be the key that unlocks more efficient communication.
4. Succinct bi-weekly Town Hall meetings
When we first became fully remote we had weekly “Town Hall” meetings where the entire company would meet to discuss the numbers and important company topics. Later, we reduced these to bi-weekly, which seemed frequent enough for an all-company update.
One thing we prioritise within these Town Halls is a set agenda, preparation and keeping the Town Halls to 30 minutes on most occasions. If there are going to be any guest appearances (for example, someone in the marketing team sharing a new campaign, or the development team giving a demo of a new product), this is communicated in advance.
This simple organisation stops the meetings becoming a free-for-all. After all, the entire company is there so the benefit of the meeting has to outweigh the cost of no other work, customer calls or activities going on during that time.
5. Regular business area WIPs
Lastly, it’s important for our business areas to stay connected even when they aren’t physically together. Almost every business area has a weekly “WIP” (work in progress) meeting where they can run through the tasks and projects being worked on. These are held on Zoom and, perhaps unconventionally, are also occasionally attended by someone outside of the direct team. For example, having someone from marketing join the sales team WIP every now and again helps to keep the two business areas aligned. We leave it up to individuals how often they decide to “drop in” on these sessions, but it can be great to provide an open invite to keep teams connected and communicating regularly.
Good communication will always be something we’re fine-tuning at Countfire, particularly as the world adjusts to a new state of play. Increasing focus and reducing distraction relies on concise, thoughtful communication. While we may not get it right every time, intentionally focusing on good communication as a company value certainly takes it from a vague expectation to something clear our team can hold onto. Which when you think about it, is a basis of good communication in itself.