Written Communication Tip: Assume Positive Intent

It’s not news that 90% of communication is non-verbal, and that nuance and subtlety are lost over written messages. Be conscious of this.

With lots of our communication now written (when previously you might’ve popped over to someone’s desk) it’s good to head off the risks of such interaction with a wise interpretive principle through which to view your exchanges: Assume Positive Intent. 

The Memrise team

In a recent Zoom chat, Matt Mullenweg shared work-from-home advice with the team at Memrise. They’ve compiled Matt’s 10 top tips, including advice for teams who are likely communicating much more in written form than they’re used to. Read and listen to more best practices on the Memrise blog.

What Homeschooling Children Can Teach You About Remote Work

Automattic had a 15-year jumpstart on how to do remote work, but in just a matter of weeks, millions of people have taken those tools and insights and put them to work in their own companies and social circles. 

None has been more instructive than how children are using them, for both learning and fun. Kids always seem to be more adaptive and creative than the grown-ups, particularly in this challenging environment. (We can confirm they’re already having more fun with Zoom games than we could’ve dreamed up ourselves.) Here are a few tips from homeschooling life thus far:

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Remote Work Depends on Access to Information — and on Mutual Trust

When it comes to work, it never made much sense to give away all your secrets. The predominant culture of information hoarding and hiding exists partly because many of us live in fear for our jobs:

If I tell everyone exactly how I do my job, they can just get rid of me! 

If you don’t get along with your boss, they might fire you — so you try to make yourself as invaluable as possible. If you’re an expert, if you’re “irreplaceable,” then perhaps they’ll think twice.  

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7 Remote Work Lessons for Managers During the Coronavirus

During this time of tremendous change, here is some timeless advice from leaders who have worked with their own distributed teams. For more, check out their individual Distributed podcast interviews.

1. Make time and space to listen

“As a manager, the best thing you can do is train yourself to hold space for yourself so you are not having a million things that you need to unload onto your employee, to keep making more room, to keep letting more things bubble up that can be resolved. Keep it with open-ended questions and to let advice maybe only come in at the very end.”

Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer 

2. Trust each other

“At distributed companies, you can’t tell really if someone doesn’t show up to work. I mean, you can eventually tell, but it’s much easier to disappear. The level of trust required is much higher. And so there is a portion of the [hiring] process that is earning that trust. We really believe that people can be successful and we’re looking to make people successful. There is no ‘prove it again’ after you get hired. I think that’s really important.”

Cate Huston, Automattic

3. Know your role as a manager

“I think part of my role is to explain why things aren’t impossible. And I see increasingly with a lot of projects we have done, the first response is, ‘That’s just impossible.’ …  I am happy when people say that. When I’m not happy is when people say, ‘Oh sure, we’ll do it,’ when I plainly know there is no way they can do it, it’s too hard. And so then I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, so let’s see whether we can figure out how to do it.’”

Stephen Wolfram

4. Give yourself the structure you need

“When I got here, everyone was like, ‘It’s great because you can work in your pajamas if you want to.’ And for the first six months I did. I didn’t have a dedicated office area and I just sort of got up and started working whenever I felt like it, and finished working whenever I felt like it. And I found that that was not a good choice for me, especially in the work that I have to do. It ended up making me less resilient, more reactive, and also I had no concept of when work started and stopped.” 

Josepha Haden, Automattic  

5. Blog your experience 

“My wife will always say, ‘You’re staring off into space like you’re writing something.’ She just knows that it’s this thing where I’m collecting my thoughts….I think better and organize my thoughts better and share my ideas better when I write it, and it introduces a rigor to what I’m sharing. I love that push to accuracy and push to quality. It makes my thinking stronger.”

Anil Dash, Glitch

6. Rethink your meetings

“If you’ve taken three days to think about something and you say it in a meeting and people start just throwing stuff right back at you — in some ways you’re asking them to because you’re sitting at a table, what else are they going to do? But it seems unfair to them, in fact, for them to have to react to this thing that you have thought about for three days or three weeks or three months, for them to have 30 seconds to say something back seems unfair.”

Jason Fried, Basecamp

7. Consider what questions you’re asking

“An effective manager in a distributed work environment needs to develop the skill of asking precise and information-gathering questions to elicit this kind of information. Because even if the employee might not be able to produce this information on their own, or might know it but not necessarily know how to communicate it in a way that would be applicable and useful in a work environment.”
Lydia X. Z. Brown

For more insights, subscribe to Distributed on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen.

Photo by Alexas Fotos / Pexels

Making Sense of the New Normal

In just a few months, remote work went from an anomaly to the new normal.

But as the world navigates both a global pandemic and an economic meltdown, remote work is now widespread but also completely unlike our experiences just a year ago when this podcast debuted.

The current reality is much more complicated than simply deciding what software to use, or learning how to manage asynchronous meetings on Slack or Zoom. People aren’t just adapting to working at home (if they are able to work at all), they’re also adapting to working alongside other family members in the same house, social distancing, and trying to manage schedules while caring for sick family members or homeschooling their kids.

It’s a stressful period for everyone, but perhaps also an opportunity to question our preconceptions about work and how we keep each other safe.

The number-one thing we recommend is kindness — giving our coworkers, families, and friends space to adapt and adjust and plan. Assume positive intent.

With that in mind, here are some recent posts from our colleagues at Automattic about navigating the world of distributed work in the weeks and months to come.

U.S. Federal Employees Lose Remote Work Perk

Despite the rise of distributed work across the corporate world, the Trump administration is pulling back. In a departure from the previous president’s move toward distributed work, multiple federal agencies are ending remote work provisions and mandating co-location.

Trump’s war on telework represents a milestone in how his administration is changing the culture of the federal government as it seeks more accountability from employees — and moves to weaken their unions. Employees are chafing at their lost freedom, but the managers reining them in say that, in the long run, taxpayers benefit. Overall, data on productivity is inconclusive, workplace experts say.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

Atlassian Makes a Big Distributed Move

Atlassian, the development company behind Jira, Trello, and other software tools for work, has announced that 8% of the company’s workforce — some 300 employees — are now working remotely

The Australian company dipped its toes into distributed work after its acquisition of Trello, which was already mostly remote. They researched the model, assessed their readiness, and developed a pilot program for their Jira Service Desk product. 

The company has also instituted a number of rituals to better include these workers. For De Coninck and her colleagues, this includes the life-size cutouts of each remote worker, as well as a weekly Wednesday morning session where everyone on the team calls in to work together. The team also dials in for Friday evening social time where they can hang out, play video games or simply have a drink over a video call and bond as colleagues. 

Read the rest at CNBC.com.