As the world has become more digitized, how we document our work has changed dramatically. Paper print-outs and filing cabinets are almost non-existent, and we now live in a world where most of our documentation is cloud-based or accessible via the internet. Digitalization isn’t the only driving force in changes to our documentation, however.
With an increasing amount of people spending less time in the office and more time working from home or other locations, documentation processes are changing. With employees scattered across different locations, not everyone has access to information at the same time or a colleague when needed.
The move to hybrid-remote setups pushes the need for digital documentation even further. For this reason, we need to look at best practices and methods to ensure we can all work effectively when working outside the office.
What are the common documentation challenges?
If your company has been working remotely over the past year and a half due to the pandemic, you may think you’re already familiar with its challenges and solutions. However, a hybrid workplace provides its own set of problems to deal with. As more companies return to the office with some remote flexibility, they’re now having to deal with a situation that not many have experienced before. Common challenges include:
- Making sure everyone has access to the same documentation. Still, not everything is completed online. For example, it’s common for a brainstorming session that took place in the office to have jotted down ideas on a whiteboard. Is this information going to be easily available for people who weren’t in the office?
- Ensuring consistency in the documentation process. It may be there’s a difference between what’s going on in the office and what’s going on remotely. It may be that remote meetings end up being recorded as this is simpler than writing notes. However, is that the most effective method to use?
- Creating a documentation method allowing for collaboration between remote and office-based employees. While solutions like Google Suite or Microsoft 365 are nowadays standard, what about the documentation of ideation sessions, workshops, and other more interactive activities? (We actually have some great tips already on building Inclusive Communication and Collaboration in Digital Workplace already.)
- Documenting standard office procedures. Employees who work predominantly or completely remotely don’t always know the simple procedures that are easy to pick up in the office. This can include booking time off, getting sick leave, local holidays, etc.
- Combating siloed and multiple sources of information. It’s easy for multiple versions of documents to exist in different areas of your company. You may even have important information in a Slack thread that can be easily missed by a teammate in another timezone. A lot of time is unfortunately wasted checking the consistency of information. We’ll discuss this point further on, but it’s a common issue even for a colocated company to deal with.
Your goals aren’t documented clearly enough. This leads to a difference in expectations and outcomes that often are found out too late in the work process. After reading this article, Conducting Goals With Your Remote Team Member is a great place to start… just make sure you document the process!
How are these hybrid-remote problems different from a 100% remote workplace?
While many of these issues may have similarities with a 100% remote workplace, they differ in the solutions needed to solve them. A mixture of office-based employees and remote ones means that you must approach them differently. Even if all your employees split their time between the office and remote, everyone still will have differences in the way they work and collaborate based on their situation. For this reason, there’s no one size fits all policy as you’d have in a purely office-based or remote scenario.
What’s the importance of documentation in a hybrid workplace?
Working fully remotely, there’s a huge amount of flexibility with working hours, time zones, and collaboration. However, everyone at the end of the day is on the same page when it comes to expectations and outcomes. Everything is usually already outlined in a clear way when it comes to processes and documentation.
However, when you throw the office into the mix, everything becomes a little less flexible. It’s also an incredibly new situation that a lot of people have little experience with and are dealing with for the very first time. One purely remote team may have to work with an office-based team. One of these groups is going to have to change their collaboration a lot, or they will have to meet in the middle. This is where you need to balance the two worlds together with good documentation.
Good documentation ultimately will improve your company’s overall communication, one of the key areas for any hybrid company’s success. Read our Communication in a Hybrid Company guide for more details on the topic.
Fortunately, with one method we can help combat the vast majority of the issues we outlined above. As mentioned, your company’s situation is unique. Nevertheless, our next tip can help you on your way to making sure everyone has access to the information and documentation they need.
Creating a single source of truth
When it comes down to it, documentation is a communication problem. And while we have a huge amount of tools available, they all still try to replicate the availability we have when working in a co-located office.
A key problem still experienced with documentation and digitalization is keeping a single source of truth (SSOT). What do we mean by this exactly? With an SSOT, all the relevant information on a topic or piece of work is kept in a single place with careful version control. If you’ve ever had to deal with sending multiple versions of documents back and forth via email, you’ll likely understand the confusion that can end up happening.
By keeping an SSOT, your teams have access to reliable and accurate information that’s up to date. Using Google Suite or other collaborative software is by far the most popular way to do this. These tools also have inbuilt versioning where you can easily see changes made in previous versions but without the need for multiple files causing clutter and confusion.
However, an SSOT is more than just the documents you actively work on or spreadsheets you fill in. This also goes for business decisions, strategy, and processes. Let’s look at an example. Imagine that your hybrid-remote design team completes work for an external client after being assigned it by their manager. The work could be creating a website wireframe or a set of new logos. After this, the design team then uploads their work to your company’s website as a case study as per usual.
A few days later, you receive an angry email from the client saying they explicitly said not to publically share any of the work done. What happened here? In this case, the manager had stored the client’s request in their CRM software and not relayed the message to the team. Without having access to the CRM, the design time did not know the client’s request.
In this case, the problem is not the lack of tools available. The problem is that no SSOT has been made available to all stakeholders and working in a hybrid-remote setup has more communication more difficult. If you take a look back at the six challenges outlined above, a thorough method to create an SSOT for everyone goes a lot way to combat documentation problems.
Is print obsolete in a hybrid remote company or is it still needed?
If one thing is for sure, print has become a rarity even without the introduction of remote and hybrid remote work. After looking at the tools recommended above, you may also doubt that print is even needed. Does that mean you can make the switch fully and abandon print though? Probably not. While the vast majority of work even in colocated offices is done using collaborative software, some tasks aren’t always practical to complete digitally.
The key here is to facilitate the digitization of print when needed. To do this, you’ll need a strict process that enables your employees outside the office to get access to the latest information they need.
Some HR and business operations also rely on print. In these cases, you may be dealing with the local government, health insurance, tax authority, etc. While not everyone may not need to work with these documents, keeping digital copies is necessary if your HR and Operations teams work sometimes outside of the office.
Documentation and hybrid onboarding
One last documentation challenge to think about is your onboarding process. It’s easy to get carried away with thinking about documentation for your current employees, but what about your future ones?
Depending on your remote system, you may already or might in the future hire employees who won’t ever step foot in your office. How does your onboarding work in this case? While it’s simple to share forms for them to fill in, some things are still missing. There’s no office tour, no shaking hands with other employees, and no learning the ropes on the fly. The experience is much less fluid. For this reason, thorough documentation is incredibly important for your new hire to begin to understand the company more and fill in the gaps.
A new hybrid-remote employee needs to get to grips with your culture fast. If you haven’t done it already, look at your office onboarding experience and go through the process of documenting it. This should include where all your tools are, communications policies, and even small things like how you celebrate success. What’s most obvious in the office is like to be the least obvious for a hybrid-remote employee.Don’t forget, your onboarding experience completely shapes your new hires’ first impressions of your company. You only have one chance to get it right. Hiring hybrid-remote employees give you access to a huge amount of talent that a colocated office doesn’t have, so make sure you create as fluid an experience as possible. For more information on onboarding employees outside the office, see our Quick Guide to Onboarding Remote Employees.
What are the tools that can help documentation in a hybrid-remote company?
Hybrid-remote work relies on the right tools to keep your remote and office-based teams connected. Documentation is no different, and there are plenty of tools out there to enable your company to document efficiently.
Perhaps one of the most famous documentation tools out there, Atlassian’s Confluence is a hybrid-remote friendly workspace where your teams can document their processes and knowledge. It’s an incredibly powerful tool which a huge amount of templates that make documentation simple. All teams in your company have something to gain from using it. A favorite feature is their decision logs that create accountability and a digital paper trail of all decisions made on projects, products, and other tasks. You can use Confluence for free with up to 10 users.
A key to documentation is a single source of truth: one place to find all you need, from chats to tasks to docs. It specializes in replacing all the different apps a remote-hybrid company typically uses with ClickUp’s own offerings. It’s too easy to miss out on work spread across platforms, so for documentation purposes, ClickUp makes it difficult for anything to get lost. They offer both a free subscription and premium options, so give it a try if you feel like creating your own single source of truth.
As we mentioned, the onboarding process is one particular area where documentation can save your HR team and your employees a lot of time in the long run. Trainual is a great way of acting on the advice we’ve given and collects all the documentation that your hybrid-remote onboarders need. You can even test the knowledge of your new hires and make sure that they have taken the documentation on board.
Another area where documentation is key is customer relations. Everyone knows the pain of dealing with a company where your issues and comms haven’t been logged properly. Front tackles this head-on in a few ways suited to remote-hybrid teams. One method is having a team inbox for all comms, another is creating automated processes and rules that are displayed to all your CS team members. Best of all, you can integrate your current apps like Salesforce and Confluence and create a single source of information all in Front.
If you’ve taken the time to read this, it’s likely that you’re already in a hybrid remote environment or are thinking about making the move to one soon. The key takeaway for anyone looking to improve their documentation process is to create a playbook that everyone can access that acts as a single source of truth. Not everyone will be in the office all the time. Some people might, in fact, never be there at all.
Documenting everything methodically and in the same way of course will help everyone be most productive, but it also creates a level playing field. Too often, employees working remotely can feel like they’re missing out on opportunities. Perhaps they miss an important, spontaneous office meeting that would show off their skills. Or maybe they don’t have access to all the information they need to do as good a job as possible.
By making a thorough process for documentation and holding everyone accountable, you can help create opportunities for everyone to work their best and enjoy the work they do.