How to Write for Remote Teams

Writing is the much discussed secret to building great remote teams. How do you write for a remote team?

There are three things to do to make writing the core of a remote team. Write project briefs. Take meeting notes. Broadcast widely.

Write project briefs

Project briefs are the foundation to great remote teams. They drastically improve clarity of ideas and work. They make it easy for the team to share feedback. They are an artifact for future coordination.

Project briefs need to have an opinion. It’s not a scientific paper, it should be convincing.

Project briefs should be about solving a problem. Problems are a conflict between ideas—if there is no conflict there is no problem.

How do you do write a good brief?

SCQA is by far the best format I’ve seen for structuring a project brief (and The Minto Pyramid Principle generally for good business writing). Situation, complication, questions, and answer.

Don’t start by asking what the problem is, ask what the situation is. So much error happens between the facts of what’s going on and the interpretation of them—SCQA avoids this pitfall by putting space between them.

Writing briefs has a natural advantage over other forms of communication. When you write, your own misunderstandings become obvious. It’s a natural forcing function for improving clarity.

Reviewing briefs that are structured in this way become much easier. Is the situation indisputable? Was the interpretation of the complication reasonable? Is the key question answered fully?

I’ve read a lot of bad documents. It usually comes down to 1) not answering the key question fully 2) the answer is disguised as the problem.

Once you have project briefs, there is an anchor point for coordination. You can link supplementary docs to it. You can share it with new teammates. You can reference it over and over to keep the team focused (“what are we trying to do again?”).

Take meeting notes

Any meeting with three or more participants and any meeting that others could be interested in should have notes. Those notes should be shared broadly.

Everyone can’t attend every meeting and remote teams that make it easy to asynchronously absorb context quickly is a big advantage.

As an artifact, meeting notes are surprisingly useful. Referencing it just once to remember that one thing a user said that one time is worth the price of entry.

In meetings it’s easy for everyone to think they agreed and were on the same page. Writing it meeting notes reveals when that’s not actually the case. Putting it down in writing has an air of finality that’s useful to take advantage of. It’s too easy to let things pass in conversation otherwise.

Broadcast widely

As we’ve seen, the value of writing for remote teams is clarity, coordination, but there’s one more important way writing helps: building trust.

Writing should be shared internally as broadly as possible. Transparency improves trust (there’s no secret conversations where the decisions are being made). Ambient awareness leads to serendipity.

That doesn’t mean everyone should read everything, but they should be able to. Filtering content is a much easier problem to solve than building a culture of writing. People can choose what they tune into and how to best use it in their own work.

A remote team that is in the practice of constantly sharing briefs, meeting notes, and other artifacts will find that trust is built into the system. There’s clarity, transparency, and accountability.