Lessons on internal communication for remote teams from Basecamp ✍️
Written by: Hrishikesh Pardeshi, Founder at Flexiple, buildd & Remote Tools.
Last updated: Jan 19, 2023
The other day I was listening to Jason Fried speak on the 'This is Product Management' podcast and towards the end he was asked, "What skillset and personality are required to be successful in a remote work environment?". Jason replied (listen here) that apart from being good at work, they check if the person can 'write'.
At Basecamp, they use a lot of long-form writing (we will see shortly how this is super useful) and hence written communication as a skill is critical for them. A cue they look for during the interview process is whether the candidate has written a cover letter. They even ask candidates to submit a detailed write-up as a follow up to any task explaining their solution.
Now, very recently, Basecamp also published a post explaining the principles they follow for internal communication and it's amazing to see how much we stand to learn from it. I have summarised the key points from the post below.
Would love to hear what you think about these principles. DHH's twitter thread about the post also has some interesting replies - you might like reading that too!
1. Clear communication needs practise to perfect
The very first step is to realise and align that clear and concise communication is a skill that needs practising. In fact, it should be a core skill you should be testing for when screening candidates for an open remote position in your company.
2. Asynchronous communication should be your default
Meetings are a huge drain of time and effort. They should be your last resort. The ideal rule of thumb is 'real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the times'.
3. Focus on written communication
Internal communication should be based on detailed writing rather than speaking or chatting. Speaking helps only those involved in the conversation whereas writing helps everyone including your future hires. Interestingly, GitLab intentionally uses the free-tier of Slack so that the practise of documenting critical information is implicitly imposed (listen to Darren Murph speak about this here).
4. It's important when and where you share something in writing
Sharing something on a Sunday or late at night might pull your teammates back into work. There may not be a right time to share something but there's definitely a wrong time, which should be avoided. Similarly, it's important where you document critical information and what the title is. If someone needs to use search for that piece of information, it's probably in the wrong place.
5. Automatic Check-ins
Typically, people will have a lot to say but they won't volunteer. This is where automatic questions on a regular schedule help inculcate the habit of sharing, writing and communicating.
Basecamp has the following automatic check-ins. I believe it's a great ready-to-use template but you can always customize it to your own needs.
- Automatic Daily - 'What did you work on today?' every workday at 16:30. They use Basecamp, but you also have some wonderful bots for Slack do the same. Additionally, the write-ups are shared with everyone in the company so that anyone can comment on anyone else's post.
- Automatic Weekly - 'What will you be working on this week?' every Monday morning.
- Automatic occasionally - Social questions like 'What books are you reading?' or 'Anything inspire you lately?'. These questions are optional though and are primarily geared towards helping people share something they love, with everyone else.
- Heartbeats - Summary of the last 6-weeks of work written by the lead of the group.
- Kickoffs - At the same frequency as Heartbeats, Kickoffs project the team's plans.
- Company-wide announcements - Whenever relevant e.g. major change in a policy.
Clear, crisp and concise communication is super important for any team to function efficiently and it becomes ever so critical for remote teams. Having guidelines in place for when, where and how to communicate removes the guesswork out of it.
What are your thoughts around this? Does your team have such guidelines in place and what are they?
Running Remote 2020 (20-21 April, Austin, Texas)
This year's remote work conference by Running Remote is happening on April 21 and 22 in Austin, Texas. We have heard good comments about the event in general. So if you are around or open to travel to Austin, you could consider attending it.
Remote Working Chronicles - No permanent residence, I move from one country to another every 6 months
HVlad Shvets has been working remotely for 5 years now and the most interesting part about it is that he doesn't have a permanent residence! Every 6 months, Vlad shifts to an entirely new country integrating into a new culture and mentality. He's currently in the south of US and will shortly move to Brazil. However, he believes firmly in separating the workspace and your resting place after having problems in the initial months. He finds it comfortable and convenient to just work out of a co-working space nearby. Intrigued to know more about Vlad's story? Read it here.
As always, here are our top-picks of remote-first products:
✔️ Podio helps you create smart, structured workflows
✔️ Kissflow is a digital workplace platform
✔️ Smartsheet allows you to plan, capture and automate work
✔️ Redbooth is a project management tool for small tasks to large projects
✔️ Zenhub is a team collaboration solution built directly into GitHub