Two golden rules: Over-communication and over-documentation
June 29, 2022
Over-communication and over-documentation are two major principles within distributed teams. I often speak about it as a crucial factor to scale remote or hybrid working in a company. Surprisingly, once I mention these two terms people immediately associate them with something negative. They believe that over-communication literally means chaos, too much information being shared and consequently people getting lost. They also think that over-documentation is either about producing waste such as paper documents or being too process-oriented, with the need to write everything down. Needless to say, both aren’t correct at all.
At the same time, terms such as “asynchronous” or “async” collaboration are perceived to be a golden solution to thrive in a distributed team. Well, here I definitely agree. You don’t want to be present on a video call 24/7 but you want everyone to work efficiently on their own. However, you can’t master it if you don’t over-communicate and over-document everything you do. You must know that both terms are actually the foundations of async collaboration. If you don’t practise them properly, you may need to always collaborate in real time. Well, if that’s the case – shame on you!
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about chaos, creating too many messages and making people confused. The goal is to keep everyone in the loop. Being successful in a distributed team requires a well-structured communication strategy. You don’t want anyone to miss anything important. You also don’t want to distract people by asking them to get engaged in all your messaging.
Try to think about your messages. What’s verbal or written? Have you identified your target group? Are you cascading your communication properly? Are your messages focused on an individual or rather a group? What’s their nature – informative or are you possibly requesting something? How often do you send them? Are they regular or incidental? … I could move on and on and on… So the truth is that’s you should try to assess your internal comms first to see if it serves its’ purpose. You may want to run a survey with your teams to find out if people feel well-informed or miss-informed in general. This will help you determine the starting point if you’re willing to improve, of course.
Over-documentation is your best friend
“What’s not on paper doesn’t exist” – my cubicle-colleague told me in 2015… Yeah, you hear me! Chit-chats are lovely but we tend to be forgetful. We are also spontaneous creatures which may make us talk about something randomly during a one-to-one Zoom call… without letting another remote colleague know. That poor person will not only feel left out but they may also get frustrated if such behaviour is repeated. Project updates, decisions or brainstorming sessions must be documented. If they’re not, once again – that’s a shame!
During all my webinars and workshops I always explain the role of over-documentation the following way: Imagine a situation in which you have a new team member joining you right now. Would they know where to find information about what’s going on? Would they know who to reach out to for an update? In most cases the responses are “no”. Well, there’s definitely a lot to do in this case. Moreover, you can’t possibly over-communicate efficiently if you have nothing to refer to. You can’t just talk about things that aren’t documented properly as it will be very difficult to keep everything in the right order or even track it.
I know from my experience having worked with various teams that certain communication tends to be repetitive. Let’s take a quick look at onboarding: “Welcome, I am… This is the team… We work like this… The best practices are…” and so on. If information about the ways of working, systems, processes and practices aren’t documented then you’ll have to repeat the same things over and over AND OVER again… while generating chaos and wasting everyone’s precious time. Think about it. Isn’t it dramatic?
Start small and don’t get overwhelmed
You may have read the two paragraphs above and you’re already stressed out. Come on – breathe and take it easy! The good news is that you’re working and dealing with your chaos SOMEHOW at this stage. Now, you’re just about to level up now. Focus on your biggest pain points first. You can start doing it in the following order:
What has a repetitive character? What should I document first?
These are usually processes, procedures or statements. In other words, all the things that are being repeated manually but we could automate them. Imagine what you can share with someone without having to be present to explain? You can start working on a knowledge-base so that your team becomes more independent. You’re willing to shift your company style from “ask” to “find yourself” first.
Do you have a benchmark to start documenting?
Maybe you used to send numerous e-mails about the same thing, trying to explain it. Here you go – I bet most stuff is already there. Try to combine all this into one document that’s easy to understand and navigate. This will serve as a knowledge-base for your team.
What do you communicate about in general?
For sure you have company-wide messages, team and individual communication. Is there a rule? What are you willing to send out regularly? Do people ask you questions after you send them a message? If yes, that’s your starting point. Try to be more precise. Make sure you can always respond to these questions before you’re sending your message: WHO is it for, WHAT is it about, BY WHEN does it need to be done/is it happening, HOW can this be done, WHERE to find additional information.
If you’re interested in more details about writing meaningful messages, check out my YouTube video!
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