Learn how to let employees create internal cheatsheets that help other teammates to know exactly how they prefer to work and communicate.February 15, 2021
Each one of us is wired slightly differently. Yet most of us behave as if everyone else somehow knows exactly how we operate, and then we get upset when they don’t meet our expectations.
We assume other people should think in a similar way to us
We expect people to understand our needs without verbalizing them
We want people to remember what’s important to us, even if we only mentioned it once years ago
We become very creative when someone is behaving differently than we would expect
We make decisions based only on our assumptions
Sound familiar? No wonder it’s so easy to get off on the wrong foot or experience miscommunications—especially with colleagues.
For this reason, we introduced the concept of individual “How to work with me” manuals. It’s our internal cheatsheet for knowing how other teammates prefer to work and communicate with colleagues.
Imagine you wrote an important message to your manager on Slack four hours ago. At this very moment, you’re still waiting for a reply. What goes through your mind?
Is she too busy for my message?
Is she even working at all?
Was my idea stupid?
How can she ignore me?
Does she respect me at all?
It can go on, and on, and on. The longer you wait, the more your insecurities get the best of you. We’ve all been there!
To prevent yourself from going down a rabbit hole, it’s much easier to work with clear expectations, rather than assumptions. Especially when your team communicates remotely from all over the world and there are cultural differences and time zones to take into account as well.
I found the answer to the insecurities described above in a book titled “High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups From 10 to 10,000 People”.
The book describes how when Claire Hughes Johnson joined Stripe, she created an open document and shared it with everyone who was closely working with her. Her essay counted just over 2,000 words and was titled “How to work with me”.
A genius way to set clear expectations, right?
That’s why we added “How to work with me” manuals to our profiles in Notion, where everyone can find and read them. Anyone can write one—whether they’re new to the team, changing teams, or just want their team to know them better.
While we don’t want to limit people with strict writing guidelines, it’s important that your manual answers some common questions, including:
What tasks do I want to be involved in?
When do I want to hear from my team?
What is my preferred communication style?
How do I think?
What are my blind spots?
What frustrates me?
What do I expect from others?
Then, take some time to really think about who you are and how you think. Spend time contemplating these three areas below to get started with the writing process.
Before you start writing, it’s worth stopping and thinking about how you want to work (it’s surprising how few of us have actually done this)!
Take a minute to explore how you function in a team. Notice the things that motivate or irritate you, with specific questions like:
Do I prefer Slack messages to emails?
Do I want people to reply instantly or should they think about it first?
How often do I want to have online meetings?
Why do I need things to be like this? How does it help me?
You can be very specific. For example, COO Ilma (that’s me!) wrote: “If I forward an email, I’d like to be included in cc to see further communication.”
Our Customer Support Manager Emma uses her manual to remind people of her very English way of communicating:
“Being typically English I tend to over-apologize. I apologize for things where there is no need to apologize, and when I do, I say it too many times (sorry about that).
Please understand that it's not from a place of needing constant reassurance, as I understand that it could come across this way and be a bit irritating.
Feel free to remind me that it's unnecessary when the situation doesn't call for it, or alternatively, just completely ignore my apologies. Thanks and sorry.”
And when it comes to feedback, this is how our Technical Support Lead Andrej, likes to receive it best:
“Please provide feedback. If your feedback is negative, please include one positive comment as well :)”
See how in just a few minutes, we’ve already gathered so much valuable information about how people tick?
If they’d never written these things down, we wouldn’t have known that it mattered to them. This makes all the difference in your team!
We’re not all on the same wavelength—and that’s a good thing! Each one of us brings different strengths to the table. But it also means that we need to be crystal clear when we’re explaining our point of view.
For example, my big-picture vision for our business can make others feel stressed out or uncomfortable. That’s totally ok, it just means that we see the world differently. So for my manual, it makes sense to explain how I think and view my job:
“My job is to connect dots inside and outside The Remote Company. If you have any idea what could be improved, what is missing or what is wrong at Remote Company, please share it with me.
I thrive when I talk about the vision and see the bigger picture. I am curious to hear why and how your current tasks are connected with the wider view. I am always willing to invest in long-term solutions and ideas.
I’m systematic when I work alone, but I might get too abstract when talking/writing about different projects. Please ask for specific details, my plans on how to get there and reasons why we should do something. I probably have a document or a plan for my idea.”
Our Lead Developer Tadas, on the other hand, is much more straightforward:
“I can be confrontational at times. It's never personal.
I expect you to call me out when I'm wrong.
I expect you to be able to defend your choices and reasoning.
I expect you to take initiative and responsibility.
I expect you to take pride in your work.”
And our CEO Ignas explains in his manual how to best convince him of an idea:
“I like to see things visually. If you want to convince me about something, show visual examples from competitors or other successful companies. I value arguments that are based on research and market review (and presented visually).”
In our team, we share some common concepts. For example, we all prefer asynchronous communication and are passionate about our job. We are all happy to wear t-shirts and sweaters with #lovemyjob!
But like all large groups, we have many differences as well. These are equally important to be aware of so that we can avoid misunderstandings. It might be the tiniest details that matter to people the most.
For example, our Customer Support Manager Silvestras writes:
“I like an environment which values quality, accuracy and efficiency and I believe that a systematic analytical approach is the best way to achieve it.
During working hours, I prefer to focus on work-related things only. Chit chat is not something I enjoy at work. We have workations and informal team meetings for that.”
Karina, the head of our People & Culture team, has a different approach:
“If you get a task, take full responsibility for it. It’s not necessary to update me with every minor detail, I’m more interested in the final result. I really appreciate it when people in my team don’t come to me with questions that they can solve independently and find their own ways to complete the task. However, it does not mean that you should not contact me whenever you feel stuck!
I enjoy building a strong connection with the people in my team. I know some people do not want to mix up their personal and work life and, but for me, this company is a very big (and also important and beautiful) part of my life.
Chatting about our morning coffee or our weekends adds special energy and good vibes, which is necessary to build great things together!”
Our Lead Developer at MailerSend, Tautvydas, even suggests topics to chat with him:
“I do like joking around, chatting about sports, games, and other things of interest. It must not be 100% about work. A good GIF or an emoji will be appreciated.”
Of course, after all this thinking and writing about yourself, it’s good to share the finished manuals with the team. You can even host a meeting where everyone reads theirs out loud.
It’s great to see how people react to their newly learned information.
After people read my manual, they confessed that they loosened up. They had felt bad getting my Slack messages at random hours and had tried their best to respond as fast as possible.
But now that they know my way of working, they’ve learned that that’s not what I expect. Here’s the real reason why I write my messages at random times:
“I prefer asynchronous communication via Slack. If you got my message, you don’t have to reply instantly. Sometimes you may get my Slack message on the weekends or in the late evening. I shared it with you because I just came up with an idea and don’t want to forget it.
I don’t expect a reply on the weekend, on your vacation and when you are away. Reply when you start your workday.”
This communication method works for me because I can share what’s on my mind, without disturbing my colleagues’ downtime. Everyone is happy!
Are you ready to write your manual? Excellent!
Here are some things to keep in mind:
With communication, it’s best to not assume but to set clear expectations.
It’s worth having your team write their manuals to understand them better and improve communication.
People feel more secure when they know what to expect.
Working in a diverse and multicultural team is a huge advantage, but you need to work even harder to understand your differences and avoid misunderstandings.
Read your team's manuals, have a discussion about it and take the time to listen.
Just do it :)
Learn how to expand your online business and keep your remote culture thriving. We share our best learnings and experiences in our monthly newsletter. Subscribe with your email.