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Using Documentation to Increase Efficiency in the Remote Workplace

Remote
Meetings
Collaboration
Productivity
Feedback
Onboarding

7 January, 2022

Kiran Bondalapati
Kiran Bondalapati

VP Engineering at Snorkel AI

Kiran Bondalapati, VP Engineering at Snorkel A, describes his transition into the remote working environment at his previous startup and the challenges he overcame.

Losing Efficiency Working in a Remote Workplace

Before COVID, the startup I worked at was heavily office-oriented. It revolved around conference room meetings, whiteboard discussions, and face-to-face interaction. During the transition, our company struggled with the lack of face-to-face communication and the total increase of remote employees. As my company began working on a new project and product, we needed to work more efficiently remotely.

The biggest challenge was the lack of time when it came to remote work. Everyone in my team had full calendars, as each meeting was 15-30 minutes. I strived to minimize these meetings to improve productivity and efficiency within the organization. The simple day-to-day interactions didn’t exist, and finding time for entire team meetings was progressively difficult.

How to Increase Efficiency and Productivity

Write Things Down:

The largest step I took to increase the efficiency of remote work was to increase the documentation of things. Instead of relaying information through verbal meetings or messages, we aimed to write every detail down, ensuring there would be no lack of understanding. Documentation was all-encompassing, including design, engineering ideas, architecture, proposals, and marketing.

The first phase in the documentation was to collect ideas, not analyze or determine their validity. Moving forward, we evaluated the value, feasibility, and benefits of each idea. By splitting this process, we increased the ideas generated from our brainstorming process. In an office, individuals could speak to one another about ideas whenever they found time. In the remote setting, team members would have to schedule a meeting or send a message, often causing them to overthink their ideas.

Once the ideas were validated and accounted for, I finally scheduled a meeting with my team regarding the innovation of these ideas. Since we had already taken the time to create and ratify these ideas, it was more efficient to discuss these potential projects. The brainstorming and documentation made a huge difference in my remote work, we were receiving more ideas, and the asynchronous method decreased the attention deficit.

Onboarding for Projects:

Again, I strived to decrease the number of onboarding meetings and, in turn, increase efficiency. To do so, we used documentation to onboard new members to a new project. I often discovered that new team members, or individuals who were new to the project, would ask to schedule a short meeting to discuss the details of the task. Instead of disrupting the team with multiple meetings, I asked the new team member to read the documents first and point out any shortcomings. The documents shared all the knowledge about my team’s project.

I shared this documentation with everyone in the organization, being clear that if anyone wanted to learn about this project, this was the place to do so. If individuals could not find the information they needed, I asked that they would provide me with feedback. We used to improve the document with any feedback I received, so other members wouldn’t have the same difficulty in understanding.

Informal Communication:

We scheduled zoom meetings for ‘social hour,’ a time when team members can come together and enjoy themselves with non-work-related tasks. Rather than simple conversations, however, my company invested in team-building activities. These activities involved prioritization and other skill-building fun tasks for the team.

We randomly grouped members, and they had to use each other’s knowledge to finish these activities. At the end of these meetings, individuals would find themselves developing relationships with new team members.

Succeeding Remotely

  • In the remote environment, there are many difficult challenges that team members will face. Identity, morale, execution, and face-to-face connection are all things that will challenge individuals. By understanding the common challenges, it is possible to mitigate them before they arise. I recommend using engagement surveys to understand where problems may be found and better help that department.
  • Leading by example is the best way to display new methods for remote working. I volunteer to be the notetaker as often as possible and ask other leaders to do the same. By exhibiting these behaviors, team members will be more motivated to perform these new actions.

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