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Communication Norms

In order to communicate effectively with each other, we live by a set of communication norms. These norms are especially important for us at Aptible since most of our communication happens virtually, over Zoom, Slack, or email.

General Meeting Norms and Behaviors

  • Clarify Goals. Articulate the purpose and desired outcome of the meeting. The goal of a meeting doesn’t necessarily need to be a deliverable; it could be “brainstorm,” “get aligned,” etc. The only requirement is that every participant is clear and agreed on the goal(s). Distribute the agenda and/or deck, so participants can review in advance.

  • Identify and Rotate Roles. This might mean rotating functional roles, like “MC,” “Scribe,” “Timekeeper,” etc. It also could mean experimenting with rotating communication roles, like those described in Kantor’s Four Player Model of Communication.

  • Be Present. Core Behaviors: 1) Participate in meetings. 2) Don’t check Slack, email, etc. 3) Focus your attention on speakers and make appropriate eye-contact. 4) If a meeting isn’t valuable or structured, see below.

  • Constantly seek to improve meetings to make them more useful. Identify when scheduled/recurring meetings have outlived their purpose and cancel them.

Zoom Norms

We are aware after years of pandemic Zoom fatigue is becoming increasingly real. That said, our primary communication mechanism remains Zoom, and we are working to, wherever possible, update our norms so that they do not further Zoom fatigue among our team members.

  • Include a Zoom link in calendar invites. Please include both web link and phone dial-in information. Our built-in Zoom + Google Workspace integration should make it trivial to add a Zoom link to every calendar invitation.

  • Turn on video by default. Seeing each others’ faces is important, because it directly fosters empathy.

  • Use one camera per person. Even if you’re in the same office as some of the other participants, try to use separate computers/cameras. This ensures everyone’s face can be seen, and helps create a consistent experience for all participants, especially those who can’t be co-located.

  • Enable “Gallery View” in Zoom to show all participants’ faces at once. Gallery View helps us monitor the group’s interest level and emotions/reactions. On the other hand, Speaker View leads to implicitly giving importance to whomever is talking, which leads to situations where: 1) We tend to not monitor the group dynamics. 2) We may miss opportunities for productive conflict, expressions of doubt, etc.

  • Mute yourself in Zoom when you’re not speaking. Try to use Zoom’s Mute as opposed to any hardware-based mute your microphone may provide. This has the added benefit that your fellow participants will know when you’re trying to speak up; they’ll see you unmute yourself in the Gallery View.

  • Turn off screen sharing when not actively presenting. If you’re sharing your screen, stop sharing when someone asks a question.

  • Try not to interrupt; wait for a pause or for the speaker to elicit questions. You can always ask questions in Zoom Chat, and that’s a great way to get the speaker’s attention.

  • As a speaker, instead of just asking “Any questions?” scan faces and check in. Does anyone look uncomfortable? Is someone from whom you need buy-in not paying attention?

  • Lean on ritual questions to encourage participation. After answering a question, ask whether the question was addressed. Ask: Are there perspectives we’re missing?

  • Take notes! Note-taking is a great way to: 1) Ensure alignment on what was discussed during the meeting. Every participant can review notes after the meeting to confirm they heard and agreed on the same thing. 2) Memorialize the meeting for future team members.

  • Record important meetings. Recording a meeting is a great way to ensure that important details aren’t lost due to gaps in note-taking. Especially in the case of meetings that involve teaching or knowledge transfer, the raw content of the meeting is likely to be valuable for other current or future team members.

Slack and Email Norms

  • Send an email if something is must-read. Don’t solely DM it in Slack. We don’t expect that everyone reads all Slack messages.

  • Remember that Slack and email are low-context environments. For any kind of communication where context from tone, facial expressions, or body language is helpful (read: often), default to Zoom.

  • In particular, try not to give negative or critical feedback over Slack or email. For more core behaviors related to giving feedback, see the Feedback section below.