We have nearly 50 teammates spread across 39 cities in 7 countries. Our team is 100% remote with no office. This is awesome because it means we can recruit incredible people from all over the world (and we actively do that). This is not awesome because, like any company, it comes with its unique challenges. Communication is one of them.
Keeping 50 people in sync is hard no matter where they are and how often they see one another. Keeping 50 people in sync who happen to be in a crazy number of cities and time zones adds extra flavor to the problem.
We don’t do it perfectly, but we have managed to find a decent stack of tools that allows us to communicate effectively while also allowing the team to opt-in/-out of whatever they want in order to do their jobs well.
Here’s our stack of communication tools we use to communicate within our 50-person remote team at ConvertKit:
1. Slack – The Water Cooler
Slack is where connection happens. Whether it’s a casual conversation in #random about how everyone’s weekend went, a quick question about how to get something done, or a debate over how to move forward on a specific project.
Some unique ways we use Slack that might help you:
- We encourage teammates to actively close out of Slack and focus on doing deep work. Being on Slack does not equal being at work. (This is easier said than done.)
- Each team has their own channel. Each squad within each team also has their own channel. The leadership team has a private channel. And then there are the random ones like #bachelor-chats, #got-talks, #convertpups, and #side-hustles. Whenever possible, we share a channel with partners rather than communicate by email.
- We don’t communicate internally by email unless we are documenting something official like a raise, promotion, or something similar.
- We encourage everyone to star channels that are highly relevant, mute or leave channels that aren’t relevant, and select the setting to display channels only when there is new chatter.
- We discourage tackling work-related projects in DMs. Unless it’s a personal conversation or there is a compelling reason to keep the conversation private, we work in public in alignment with out core value.
- Every Monday, we have bots that 1) ask what people got into over the weekend in #random and 2) share our company-wide OKRs in #headlines. We also have bots to share celebrations from 15Five (more below) and monitoring alerts for engineers.
2. Basecamp – Memos and Blueprints
I intentionally use the old school term of memos because this is the closest thing to what happens in Basecamp. We pitch long-form ideas, share regular updates from squads across the team, and preface our weekly team meeting conversations on important topics.
We also track project plans and to-do lists for everyone but engineering in Basecamp using their project planning tool.
Overall, if you have something important to share that’s long-form, asynchronous, and important for everyone to see, you put it in Basecamp.
3. 15Five – OKRs, 1:1s, and Feedback
We transitioned to OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as our goal-setting framework in 2018 and it’s been a fantastic move for us (that’s for another day). 15Five is a tool designed to make that process standard and public across the team. Everyone can see everyone else’s OKRs at all times.
15Five is also our canonical record of individual performance. We use it to set agendas for manager / direct report 1:1s on a weekly basis (direct reports always set the majority of the agenda). We also use is to provide weekly status updates on how we’re progressing towards our goals (direct reports take 15 minutes to submit, managers take 5 minutes to review – hence the name).
Managers have the responsibility to give ongoing, direct, meaningful feedback to their teammates. We practice radical candor and it’s important that we use it as a tool on an ongoing basis so we don’t get out of sync.
Our weekly 15Five updates, 1:1 notes, and OKR tracking roll up into a documented performance review every six months. This gives us solidified structure for communicating how each person is contributing to the team.
4. Google Docs – Writing and Analysis
Google Docs is simply the best app for collaboratively working on documents and spreadsheets. We create team meeting agendas, blog posts, budgets, financial projections, and a host of other documents that require real-time commenting and collaboration here.
5. Guru – FAQs
Guru was a game changer that our director of customer success brought to the company when he arrived.
We had this constant problem of support teammates asking questions about how the app works / is supposed to work, whether to issue refunds, how to approve new accounts, and everything in between.
Before, that would happen in Slack, the question would be answered, and then it would happen for the same questions over and over. We had internal docs in our help desk software, but they weren’t right for the job.
Enter Guru — it has a web-based platform, but its true power is in the browser extension. Open it up, type in your question, and see if someone has asked it before, what the answer is, and when the answer was last updated. Verify the answer is current with the click of a button.
If the question hasn’t been asked, add it and get it answered for everyone in the future.
The best part: it doesn’t just apply to customer support. We’ve found that it works just as well for communicating answers to HR and finance questions.
We’ve also talked about using it for communicating principles for decision making to help delegate as many decisions as possible as far down the org chart as possible. We want people to feel empowered to make decisions based on our values.
6. Zoom – Face to Face Meetings
Working remotely can be lonely on a day-to-day basis. Each week, we have a set meeting structure across the company that helps mitigate this and keeps information flowing. These meetings all happen by Zoom.
Here are the meetings we have:
- Weekly all-team-meeting where we chat about things like how we want to change our performance management system, what hiring principles we want to maintain, whether we should roll back our rename of the company in 2018, our various cultural heritages, and other meaningful conversations.
- Weekly team meetings where each team sets their own agenda, plans their work, and connects to build team culture. Our teams are leadership, operations, customer success, product, engineering, marketing, and sales.
- Daily stand up where engineering squads connect briefly to plan the work they’ll do for the day and make sure they’re shipping quality code.
- Weekly or bi-monthly 1:1s where managers and direct reports connect on the direct reports’ agenda. Everything from career coaching to tactical advice to project planning to personal stories happen here.
- Outside of this, we have ad hoc meetings when we have task forces tackling short-term projects or we have specific needs or goals that require chatting face to face.
That’s our communication stack. It’s working well for us and we don’t feel the need to add any other tools right now. That may change as we grow, but overall we’ve found a stable collection of tools that helps us do high quality work in pursuit of our mission and goals.
Have questions about how we use these tools or why we do or don’t use other tools out there? Tweet at me and ask: @barrettabrooks.
Side note: This postexcludes tools that facilitate conversations with customers and shipping product. I limited this post to just the tools we use to communicate internally.
Featured image by Antoine Barrès on Unsplash