How to Work with Me

Some of my colleagues have children to tend to after work and many are night owls who are most productive during the wee hours while I’m drooling in my sleep. While I’m trying to figure out how to best work with them, they’re also trying to figure out how to work with me. Is it okay to send me Slack messages after 7pm? What is the best way to give me constructive feedback?

Instead of tiptoeing around with our guesses, why not document our boundaries so others can access and learn about our work preferences in order to work better with us? I first heard about the idea of How to Work with Me from my friend Jen at Dropbox. When I brought it up with Lindsay, our Head of People, it was obvious how beneficial the document would be for new Roachers and veterans alike.

How to Work With Me - Cockroach Labs Edition

Our 1.0 version of How to Work with Me is a Google doc that asks everyone at the company, including the founders, to answer the following five questions:

  1. My work hours:
  2. How should you contact me? If I don’t respond immediately, try:
  3. How do you like to give feedback?
  4. How do you like to receive feedback?
  5. Things I’m more than happy to talk about:

The questions are chosen based on our company values. Since we have flexible work hours, the first two questions set expectations for when and where one is expected to be mostly responsive. In order to give peer-to-peer feedback effectively to help each other grow, it’s also extremely useful to know how one might prefer to receive it. The last question serves as a conversation starter for 1:1 and coffee meetings to get to know each other.

To make the activity more fun, we made filling out our own How to Work with Me doc into a mini team event. At around 4pm several Thursdays ago, we sat around the main conference room table with our laptops, wine and cheese. When we were done we’re done, our works of art looked like this:

How to Work With Me

The success of How to Work with Me, according to staff engineer Raphael, is that it provides yet another way to foster and maintain team bonds. “By learning how to approach and interact with each other throughout the team, even when we don’t have a direct reason to work with someone in particular,” he said, “we provide a better ‘feel’ to everyone about the dynamics of the entire team.”

And for those who are new to the company, the document is now part of the onboarding process for new employees.

Make it Yours

Flexible hours and cultural freedom are the new norm at tech companies, and How to Work with Me is a very efficient way to bring transparency to teams and foster company culture.

“Coming from the business world, CockroachDB was the first time I had to work directly with engineers.” said product manager Diana, “Through the exercise, I learned that engineers need to have blocks of undisturbed working time. They also prefer to be communicated with in as straightforward a way as possible - the less small talk on Slack, the better!”

Interested in trying it out at your organization? Here are three tips to customize the exercise:

  1. Ask relevant questions. No two companies have the same culture. Picking a variety of the most relevant questions is going to yield the most success amongst the recipients.
  2. Start small. How to Work with Me is effective even amongst the smallest unit in the company. If it’s impossible to get 500 people to do the exercise at once, try pilot it with a smaller team, get some feedback and then spread the fire.
  3. Keep it short. We wanted to make the the exercise as burdenless as possible, so we started with 5 questions. Go wild, but be prepared for the participation rate and readership to drop consequently.

Conclusion

I’ve learned from the exercise that it’s okay to interrupt Chelsea from the Ops team when she has her headphones on, and staff engineer David reads code reviews at home with his fresh pot of coffee before coming to the office at 11am. It’s an accumulation of tiny, nuanced insights like these that make interacting with my colleagues and working in the office more dynamic and comfortable.

Download the template and get your version of How to Work with Me.

For the record, please slack or email me if my headphones are on.

Illustration by Tsjisse Talsma

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