TL;DR - A communications readme is a great and easy way to share your preferred ways of working with your colleagues. It removes ambiguities and helps to improve relationships. 🤝
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I was first introduced to the concept of a Communications Readme by this blog post last week from Simon Prior. In essence, in the same way as we create readme files for our software projects, explaining how they work and any idiosyncrasies that you need to know, what if we each had a readme that explains how we function, for the benefit of our colleagues?
As I prepare to start my new role with Postman, I was already looking for something like this; at the very least, joining an organisation with office locations which are all a number of timezones removed from me, I was planning to put together something which explained my available working hours (and I'm sure the team probably already has a way of doing this, probably through Slack profile pages or similar).
But a communications readme is so much more. Remote communication can make it very easy for misunderstandings to occur, and a lack of understanding can sometimes be perceived as a microaggression, which can be difficult to correct if you're not aware that it's happened. And as our teams change and grow, it can be difficult to hold everyone's preferred ways of working in our heads, or even to broach the conversation in the first place.
You might only want to include a handful of points in your readme. Or you might want to codify your way of working more formally, such as in Oren Ellenbogen's excellent resource Manager Readme. Whatever your preference, having this written-down and accessible can only be a benefit!
I've included my readme below for inspiration. It's a living document, as I may discover new things that I want to highlight (or learn about things which are so ingrained in company culture that they don't require calling-out). I'd be delighted if you bookmarked it, or if you took inspiration and created your own.
Communications readme: Neil Studd
Last update: 12 July 2021
Why do I have a Readme?
Everyone is different, everyone has different things which make them tick, different things that annoy them and different preferences for communication. I’d like to give anyone who needs to know, an insight into how I work best and how to get the best out of me when you need me to do something.
How best to communicate with me?
No surprises. I don't like to receive incoming calls without knowing what they're about. Please DM me beforehand with brief details of what it's regarding; I may request to get back to you later in the day, if I'm deeply focused.
Tell me if it's urgent. If you need me urgently, the same applies above: please DM, and say it's urgent! I'm more than willing to drop everything if you tell me that it's necessary.
Trust my status. I actively manage my status indicator. Green = open to chat. Red = busy/focused. Away = away/BRB. Offline = offline! So you don't need to message me to ask "are you there" / "are you busy"; you should already be able to tell 😊
I prefer camera on, but I'll follow your lead. I like to use my webcam, but I appreciate that everybody is different. So I'll usually follow this logic:
In large meetings: I will follow whatever the majority is doing.
If I start a private call: I'll put my camera on. Don't feel pressured to do the same, it's your choice.
If I join your private call: I am happy to match whatever camera setting you are using.
How do you book a meeting with me?
Typical working hours: 07:30-16:30 BST. After this time, I have some childcare responsibilities (dinner, bath and bedtime!) but I am usually willing to work an extra hour sometime between 19:30-22:30 BST if it helps to unblock you. If you DM me in the evening, please keep your expectations low.
I can make time available. If needed, I can usually jump on a Slack/Zoom call the same day. As above, please provide an approximate topic/length/urgency.
I prefer to block-out calendar time. I would prefer to receive a simple calendar appointment. It doesn't need a lot of detail, as long as there's enough that I know what it's referring to. Diarised appointments help me to ensure that others are not trying to contact me at the same time.
Films. I am a bit of a movie buff - I have seen over 3,000 movies and I review/rate them online. On average, I aim to watch a film a day. So if you'd like to talk about a film, or send/receive recommendations, I'm always willing to chat!
Kids. I have a son, Gus, who is almost 18 months old. He has brought delightful chaos to our lives. I'm always happy to share our best/worst recent experiences, or hear about yours!
Weather. I'm British, so always happy to talk about the weather, especially with those in vastly different climates.
What makes me tick?
Challenges. I like problems, as they allow me to harness creativity to solve them.
Autonomy. I like the freedom to find my own solution to a problem, and to learn from mistakes. (That said, I also like to learn from the experiences of others, so don't be afraid to offer your own steering suggestions; but I reserve the right to follow my own path.)
Family. My family are the most important thing in the world to me. I am passionate about work, but the purpose of my work is to create opportunities to do more interesting things with them in my free time.
What quirks do I have which you should be aware of?
I tend to let others lead the conversation. My concerns for the feelings of others mean that I'm sometimes reluctant to start certain conversational threads. For instance, I tend not to start conversations about children, as this can be upsetting to those who are struggling to conceive. But if you start a conversation with me, you'll find that I'm happy to talk!
I'm OCD about to-do lists. I'm very driven by task lists, and the completion of objectives. I may become anxious or overwhelmed if these lists grow too long. Please bear this in mind if giving me new tasks when I am already openly juggling several other tasks.
If you're desperate for a reply, don't sit in silence. I practice Inbox Zero, and check my mail/DMs every day (unless my Out Of Office says otherwise). If you haven't received a reply from me within 24 hours, this means I don't believe a follow-up is required. If you are expecting a response, please @ me in a reply (especially if it's a long thread with many recipients - see the "frustrations" section below).
I actively try to avoid over-working. I have a history of over-working which has sometimes spilled over into burnout. Because of this, I am now strict with myself in ensuring I take time back if I work many extra hours in the preceding day. Please be supportive and understanding with this.
I have a full house on Mondays/Tuesdays. My wife and son are both at home on Mondays and Tuesdays. Although I have an isolated office in the garden, there may still be occasional mini-emergencies which drag me away suddenly for a few minutes.
Things that frustrate me
Long-running email chains with dozens of recipients. I would rather sit through a 30-minute meeting to resolve an issue, if the alternative is dozens of micro-interruptions from new emails.
Be direct with your DMs. Private message notifications break my flow, so if you need me, please try to summarise in your opening message. If you send a message saying "Hi", and then another saying "How are you", that's nice but you've interrupted my flow twice and I still don't know what you want 😁