At Guru, we believe that the workplace will be changed forever. The pandemic forced all of us into a non-optional experiment of having to immediately do 100% of our work remotely.
While this affected everyone in different ways, one thing that became abundantly clear is the challenges teams face when 100% of their interactions shift from in-person to virtual. The way we communicate, the types of meetings we have, the tools we need to effectively work together all got a big bright spotlight, highlighting things that work well, things that don’t work at all, and things that actually can work better.
As offices reopen, it's highly unlikely that things will simply revert back to the “way they were”. Many teams will operate in some form of a “hybrid” workplace, structuring their work weeks with a mix of remote and in-office workdays. This is a very positive change in my opinion, as we will optimize our work around what is best accomplished in person, and what is best done from home or in an uninterrupted space. Not to mention the benefit to our personal lives that are made possible by a more flexible work dynamic.
At the center of much of this change is the idea that workplace communication will shift from synchronous to asynchronous. Much of the ways teams communicate will be designed with the assumption that teams are no longer together, in person, or even in the same building. Instead of defaulting team interactions to live meetings, we’ll write down our ideas, knowledge, status updates, FAQs, policies, decisions, and share them with our teams to be read, commented on, actioned on, decided on, etc.
Defining the "golden rule"
In this new dynamic, everyone on a team will play a critical role in both reading and writing. There are several examples of teams who have grown up “remote native” that talk about a Written Culture and how core this is to operate.
At Guru one of our core values is Seek and Share Knowledge.
We value being open and transparent at Guru, and feel obligated to ensure these behaviors are part of how we operate as a company. To reach this goal, we recently released our Golden Rule of Internal Communication:
We Seek and Share Knowledge. For this to work, there must be a “contract” between you and everyone you work with at Guru. This means every one of us commits to doing 2 things…
(1) You share your knowledge asynchronously, knowing that everyone else will seek to digest what you share. You recognize the audience you are sharing to and optimize for them because it is important to you that they understand.
(2) You seek to digest the knowledge that others have spent time preparing to share with you. If what is being shared is unclear or not relevant, you recognize the value in sharing that feedback to improve what is shared in the future.
We believe that both components of this rule are critical. Let's break each of them down, starting with part 1:
You share your knowledge asynchronously...
This typically refers to written or recorded knowledge. It includes a clear ask which could be to simply read, a request for comments, votes, ideas, etc., along with a due date of when you would like this to be completed. This could be a status update, a decision that needs to be made, or even product knowledge supporting an upcoming launch.
...knowing that everyone else will seek to digest what you share.
Writing/recording takes time. We assume our teammates are excited to read what we have prepared, and this motivates us to spend our time doing this work. (More on this in the second part of our rule.)
You recognize the audience you are sharing to and optimize for them...
We try to avoid blanket communications that may only be relevant to a subset of a team, keeping a high signal-to-noise ratio.
...because it is important to you that they understand.
Informed teams are more likely to be inspired, engaged, and excited by the work they do. We all play a role in contributing to this!
So this is the first “half”, and it’s a commitment to take the time to do the work to keep others informed. Now, let’s examine the second half:
You seek to digest the knowledge that others have spent time preparing to share with you.
As mentioned above, the ask here is to recognize that “both sides of the knowledge share” must be in place for this to work. We all know the feeling if someone sets up a live meeting and the other person doesn’t show up. This should feel the same way.
If what is being shared is unclear or not relevant, you recognize the value in sharing that feedback to improve what is shared in the future.
The final part of the loop here...no one is going to be perfect at writing! Providing kind and candid feedback on how a writer can improve what they communicate strengthens the future flow of communication. It also shows the writer that you care about what they wrote.
Who has the time to do all this? My day is already filled with meetings!
We know what you're thinking...but this is where the magic begins! One of the most valuable consequences of a team committing to the golden rule is speed. Live meetings require coordination. We have to look at a calendar and find a time that works for everyone who needs to be part of the conversation. The bigger the meeting, the further out it will be scheduled because the likelihood of open time slots decreases. Maybe this topic is an important decision that needs to get made, but we have to schedule the meeting a week from today because that's the first time everyone could make it work.
In this scenario, we’ve already lost a week before we even had our first conversation! Now add in different time zones and working schedules, suddenly those common open time windows shrink even further.
Now, let’s flip this around to see how it works for a team following the Golden Rule.
Imagine someone has a topic they want to connect with their team about. They write down the topic, Slack it to their teammates, and ask them for feedback in the next 2 days. They start seeing comments from their teammates, which they address in their own time. More teammates comment, more replies come in, and over a few days, this written topic has a bunch of feedback, concerns, and ideas already captured and documented.
In the synchronous approach, the first meeting hasn’t even happened yet. But in the async approach, a few days later the topic is addressed and the team has moved on. Now imagine this happening over and over across our teams. Collaboration shifts from Live Meetings: The Silent Killer of Progress to The Golden Rule: a Team Superpower and Advantage in Execution.
Ways we follow the Golden Rule at work
The Golden Rule is new for us, something we introduced this year. Here are some initial ways we have been following the Rule at Guru.
Making sure we have “purposeful communication”
This is the guide we give to all employees. It gets at the high signal-to-noise ratio I mentioned above.
We utilize a decision-making methodology
We encourage the use of decision documents to progress decisions as far as you can asynchronously, which either (1) allows you to make the decision completely async, or (2) when you do get a live meeting, everyone is very far down the path, and usually, the meeting goal is to finalize a decision. We also use the DRI concept to ensure it's clear how decisions actually get made and who makes them.
We encourage pre-reads on topics a team wants to discuss
Meeting pre-reads felt like a good next step for us. They get everyone on the same page prior to a meeting, and prevents us from wasting time presenting slides instead of actively discussing things. The next question for us is where we can avoid the live meeting altogether?
We establish Slack best practices
We encourage most conversations to take place in public channels. We encourage @mentions in public channels to direct teammates to action and help manage all of the chatter. Another example of helping with signal through the noise. We also use urgency indicators as well. For example, if we provide a document to read and comment on, we use the shorthand of 1, 3, 5 days to give the readers an understanding of when they should respond.
We use Guru to send Knowledge Alerts
Knowledge Alerts are sent to specific groups of people and provide a clear call to action to read something. Alerts are queued up and easily accessible from our web app, our extension, Slack and Teams, etc. The majority of our announcements are distributed this way. It's been the most effective example of ensuring the highest signal-to-noise means to communicate important information.
We do a weekly review of our most critical active projects
Each week our project DRIs provide updates on their projects in Asana on Thursdays. Every Friday leadership reviews and provides feedback also via Asana. This allows for rapid, open, and asynchronous communication across all of our most critical company initiatives.
We establish reading and writing calendar blocks
One way we do this is No Internal Meeting Wednesdays. It is important to make space for that reading and writing time. Most of us habitually think about scheduling a live meeting as a way to create a dedicated space to cover a topic. It is on the calendar, at a specific time, so that conversation, that “in-person knowledge exchange” is likely going to happen.
But in the Golden Rule world, it works differently.
More of our time shifts away from these live meetings, and towards dedicated reading and writing time. But this time still needs to be reflected on your calendar. We need a similar focus time carved out specifically for reading and writing. This is highly efficient time, as 1 hour of reading and writing time will often save you 10 hours of live meeting time.
Hopefully, this has been a helpful guide for you can take some of these learnings to your team! As we continue to learn more here, we will certainly continue to share. As I mentioned, in many ways the workplace has its best days ahead as companies recognize techniques like this have the combined outcome of both increased company performance as well as increased employee satisfaction.