Communication

Axelerant is a remote organization, and we must be deliberate about communicating. This guide is our attempt to normalize our communication types at Axelerant.

How to use this document?

Regularly skim this guideline to remind yourself what kind of communication we use. And, feel free to link to multiple sections of this guide when in conversation with an intent to either:

  • Define standardized behavior, OR

  • Improve this communication charter

When you think any of these sections could use improvement, go ahead and edit this page. However, be mindful that you are improving the document and not bringing in contrasting views without discussing it with the team first.

Underlying principles

As a remote organization, Axelerant prefers to err on the side of over-communication. Moreover, all public and group conversations falling under Axelerant’s scope of reach must be in English. 

When communicating, aim first for clarity and then for brevity. All these principles aim to ensure the entire Axelerant team’s inclusion in all conversations that affect them, even if in the slightest.

Spirit of the principles

Over-communication

We acknowledge that we are not perfect communicators. We can neither convey our message with a universally consistent meaning nor claim that we can understand what the other person is saying correctly. 

Therefore we should always do our best to clarify and support our message with examples that make the intent of our message obvious.

Timing

A message is most useful when it is sent at the right time. Strive for prompt communication in all matters so that the value of the message is not diminished.

English language

Axelerant is a globally distributed organization, and our customers are primarily from English-speaking territories. Therefore, all our team members must communicate effortlessly in English.

Clarity over Brevity

Make your message shorter while keeping it approachable and clear to everyone involved. Otherwise, it is preferable to elaborate your sentence, give detailed examples, and even repeat yourself to ensure the message is clear.

Work Towards Alignment

When you find yourself responding for the third time or more, give strong consideration to changing the communication type into something that will allow more clarity between stakeholders. Like shifting from email or Slack threads to a quick Zoom call to speed up alignment.

Modes of communication

Axelerant utilizes various communication tools on the spectrum of synchronous communication to asynchronous. Here is a non-exhaustive list of tools we use along this spectrum.

  • Asynchronous Tools

    • Email

    • Confluence

    • Google Docs

  • Hybrid Communication (asynchronous & synchronous)

    • Slack

    • Jira

  • Synchronous Tools

    • Zoom

    • Telephone

Idiosyncrasies of modes of communication

It is far easier to reason about tools that fall neatly in the category of asynchronous communication or synchronous than those in the middle of the spectrum. As such, this document will dwell more on the hybrid forms of communication, which, not surprisingly, form a bulk of the communications volume at Axelerant. But getting the more uncomplicated cases out of the way is easier.

Asynchronous communication

This communication style is characterized by longer messages and gaps between responses and topics.

Email

The classic example of asynchronous communication is Email which is seldom used at Axelerant.

In the case of the Engineering team, it is mainly used for customer communication in cases where we have not onboarded the customer on Slack. Other departments, such as sales, would utilize email more often.

Regardless of the frequency of usage, standard conventions apply to the email, language, and format structure. As with letter writing, structure your email into clear paragraphs not exceeding three. When your email is longer than three paragraphs, rethink whether it should be a document or some other form of a post.

Confluence

Confluence is Axelerant’s platform for broad communication with the whole of Axelerant. This is the home of our handbook, which includes guidelines and policies (such as this one) and meeting notes for various projects. Follow the spirit of knowledge sharing and use your judgment to determine how to structure your content in any Confluence Space.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a place for documents that need heavy collaboration and other temporary needs. Except in a few cases, a doc usually has at least comment access for everyone at Axelerant. Google Docs is excellent for sharing and collaboration but unsuitable for organizing information (which is where Confluence shines). This is why a typical workflow is that documents begin in Google Docs and end up in Confluence. This communication charter followed the same workflow.

Important considerations

In the case of Google Docs or Confluence, be careful how you edit other’s documents. In most cases, highlight what you want to change and make suggestions rather than direct edits. The standard exception would be when the author already understands the changes you are about to make. Don’t make the author go to “differences between versions” to understand what you changed in their document.

Synchronous communication

This communication style is characterized by being able to converse with immediate responses. Because of this nature, the choice of tools doesn’t matter as much, and we will describe our practices irrespective of the tool you use (Zoom, telephone, Google Meet, etc.)

Watch the mute button. No one likes reminding you that you “are on mute,” and you wouldn’t like repeating everything you said. We know stuff happens, but do try to keep this in mind. The flip side is also true. Keep yourself mute when you have to begin a side conversation or just a lot of background noise.

To improve remote conversations with better interpersonal connection and comprehension of body language, we encourage to keep the video mode on except when there are bandwidth issues (let the person(s) on the other side know this) or a psychological safety concern (discuss the safety concern with your Coach). The latest Zoom version has blurring virtual backgrounds.

Hybrid communication

This falls somewhere between synchronous and asynchronous communication styles. These are the challenging areas of communication because it can be confusing based on how you use these tools at any given time.

Jira

Jira is Axelerant’s issue tracker of choice. We expect frequent and regular updates on Jira on specific issues; hence, it falls in the section of hybrid communication tools. Update issues frequently with the correct assignee, description, workflow state, and other relevant details (log your chargeable time). Making sure this information is complete and appropriate is essential from both a historical and real-time perspective.

Slack

Slack is Axelerant’s primary communication platform. Almost all types of conversations are initiated on Slack and most end there. Apart from discussions, Slack is also used for #announcements, updates, and other notifications, making it asynchronous. Given the wide variety of uses and capabilities, it is not surprising that Slack is easily misused or not optimally used.

Slack Etiquette

Since Slack is our primary tool for communication, it makes sense to document guidelines at the top level of the document rather than four levels down. Besides the following, more Slack guidelines.

Lean towards asynchronous communication

Even though we could use Slack for real-time conversations, always begin your messages as if you were writing a letter (or an email). You should not send “Hi” to start a conversation and wait for a reply. Write down the entire message and give all the necessary context.

When the person replies shortly, this may become a conversation. Otherwise, the person has everything they need to handle your message.

Lean towards open communication

At Axelerant, we value openness as one of our core values and strive to begin open in many aspects of our work. For this reason, most of our channels are available to join for anyone in Axelerant (public). As such, we recommend sharing in open channels rather than private channels or direct messages. For example, our policy discussions are available, and channels begin with the word “disc-.” Use private channels for sensitive discussions only, not something that could be useful to the rest of the team. We should use direct messages only for dialogue that is strictly 1-on-1. Project communication is not a 1-on-1 discussion, even if there is only one other person on the project.

Mind the notifications

Let’s get this out of the way, as this is unimportant. Every message you send might potentially notify someone. However, we see notifications as the responsibility of the receiver. This means we choose over-communication even though it might mean there could be a lot of notifications. Slack provides various tools to manage notifications, and we expect everyone to set them based on their preferences.

Relevance

Please send your message on the channel which is most relevant to it. Sometimes, there might be two or more channels that could be relevant, in which case you can cross-post. Many channels are intended for a specific use case, and you should strive to use the channel for its intended purpose. For example, we have an #internal-support channel for seeking support (which you should whenever you’re stuck). We also have various “guild” channels for discussions and sharing links related to a specific topic. Our project channels generally begin with the word “eng-” indicating that only project-specific discussion happens in the channel (apart from any notifications). There are many other miscellaneous channels such as #humour, #cool-stuff, #happy-hours, etc., and you are encouraged to find those.

Thread your conversation

Especially in channels, reply to a message by threading it rather than in the channel. This makes it easy to find all relevant past conversations for a particular topic and feasible to have parallel conversations in a channel without cluttering it. You may or may not choose to thread in direct messages as there is little chance of similar discussions.

Use CATTE

It’s handy to remember a catchy acronym to communicate better using asynchronous modes of communication but especially hybrid. The acronym is CATTE, and this is from an Alice Ko podcast.

  • C - Context: Did you give the context?

  • A - Answer: Did you answer the question?

  • T - Timeline: Did you give the request a timeline or turnaround time?

  • T - Transparent: Were you transparent?

  • E - Emoji: Did you add an emoji for emotion? (See Poe’s law on why this is important)

Courtesy Alice Ko.

Channel Map

Use this to quickly determine which form of communication you want to use depending on the context.

Channel

Primary Use

Norm

Channel

Primary Use

Norm

Slack (all channels)

Day-to-day communication

Response within working hours in 1-2 business days.

Email

For non-urgent requests (such as non-urgent support from the people-ops team)

Response within the SLA of the requestee.

Phone

For emergencies

 

SMS

For emergencies, if not reachable by phone

Respond ASAP.

Project channels on Slack

Day-to-day project-related communication

Project channels typically begin with the prefix #eng-. Similarly, opportunity channels begin with the prefix #opp-, and account channels begin with #acct-.

Guild Channels on Slack

Conversations related to a specific topic

Guild channels typically begin with the prefix #guild-.

Service Area Channels on Slack

Announcements, async meetings, and service area updates

Avoid using these channels for conversations and prefer guilds. They typically begin with the prefix #svc-area-.

Other channels on Slack

Conversations not related to any topic but following a context

Find a relevant channel such as #internal-support, # humor, and #cool-stuff to post your thoughts. If you can’t find anything relevant, post in #general. See #we-have-a-channel-for-that for a list.

Jira

Project or initiative conversation

Use a relevant issue within your projects’ Jira to update meeting decisions, discussions from calls, and Slack conversations.

Confluence

Documentation, project notes

Use a relevant Confluence space to document meeting notes, conversations, project documentation, etc. Use Axelerant Handbook for organizational documentation.

Zoom

Audio/Video calls

Use this to quickly resolve conversations when text conversation isn’t enough (or when Slack is down; see next section on Emergency Chat).

Emergency Chat

Slack is down

Use the “Slack Down!” group chat on Zoom.

  1. In the Zoom desktop app, go to the Contacts tab

  2. Click +

  3. Click “Join a Channel”

  4. Search “Slack down!

  5. Click “Join”

Once the service is restored, go back to Slack.

Zoom is down

Use Slack calls.

  1. Navigate to the appropriate Slack channel or direct message.

  2. Use /call to trigger a call.

  3. You may need to give permission if it’s the first time you use Slack calls.

Once service is restored, go back to Zoom.

Slack and Zoom are down

Reach out via Google Chat/Email. Once service is restored, go back to Slack and Zoom.