MINDSENSE

How we communicate internally

in Work Smarter

communicationblogheader

Because we build email clients, many people assume that all of our internal communication is funneled through email. While we do use Mail Pilot for some of our internal communication, we currently use a variety of tools and constantly search for new applications to communicate digitally.

Communication is crucial for our small, busy team. Alex and I work full-time, normally from our office in Blacksburg, VA. Nathan, our customer support manager works remotely from Orlando, FL. We consistently have part-time independent contractors and student interns who always utilize a high percentage of remote working.

HipChat

HipChat is described as “Group chat and IM built for teams”; that’s exactly how and why we use it as our most common form of digital communication. HipChat is our method of communicating more informally and instantly. Quick questions, sharing a success story, posting a relevant news article, and short status updates most commonly flow through HipChat. We have multiple rooms set up and it’s incredibly useful to know who is in each room at any given time. Even when we’re communicating with others across the office, HipChat provides a means of communicating without disrupting someone’s train of thought.

Email

We use Mail Pilot for more formal communication like sending and discussing important documents or sharing an in-depth thought or idea. A high percentage of our emails involve simply forwarding external communication to one another with internal commentary. We make a point not to use email for anything that requires a quick or instant response as we know HipChat is a more efficient means of conducting that correspondence.

While we often use email for more formal communication, we’ve also evolved a unique way of pulling the unnecessary formalities to get to the point more quickly. Our messages to one another stylistically resemble an internal memo rather than a business letter. We also pay specific attention to utilizing concise, descriptive subject lines to further streamline our communication.

Pivotal Tracker

While our implementation of agile methodology deserves it’s own blog post, the main reason that we use it as such a small team is because it’s more than just a method of working – it’s a process of communicating. To facilitate this process digitally, we use Pivotal Tracker. This application has grown to more than a manager of our sprints; it’s become a tool we use to communicate about tasks, projects, and stories. In our use of Pivotal Tracker, we’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of distracting questions/conversations such as “What are you working on?” or “Are we going to add this feature?” because we all have access to this information in real time. This is especially helpful for customer support; Nathan can quickly and easily inform customers what features can be expected in an upcoming release or are in active development. This is the kind of openness we strive to have with our customers.

Basecamp

Collaboration is a major form of communicating. Our Basecamp “Projects” aren’t traditional projects in that they don’t have a start and end point. Rather they’re categories (such as products, themes, etc.) of collaboration. I didn’t fully realize this until writing this post, but we mainly us Basecamp as a method of record keeping. For example, we track our most frequent feature requests as To-Do items. This enables us to document, reorder, discuss, and complete them when we get to them. We also keep track of news and blog posts regarding Mail Pilot and document some of our favorite tweets in one of our projects. In all, we use Basecamp for communication that doesn’t require response or attention in the immediate future. We all know that these items exist in Basecamp and can update them when we think of it and reference them when necessary.

GitHub

Both developers and non developers at Mindsense utilize GitHub’s Wiki and Issues communication tools. While the general topic of all communication in GitHub is development, it is not limited to technical communication. For example, rather than a more traditional shared spreadsheet for all of our test email accounts, we have a Wiki for this information. Because we track confirmed bugs in Pivotal Tracker, we use GitHub Issues to document, track, and discuss problems before we determine what bug is the root cause. In addition, we track and discuss smaller level improvements via Issues. By handling the actual tracking of confirmed bugs in a separate area, it’s much less scary for anyone on the team to add and discuss a problem in GitHub without wasting time wondering if it’s worthy of creating a report.

Phone

I know what you’re thinking. It seems archaic and bizarre to think of the phone as being a main communication tool in a startup, especially one whose flagship product is a digital communication application. However, there are some instances in which a phone call is incredibly beneficial. Most notably, I communicate with Nathan about customer support several times a week via phone. Whether we’re working through a technically complex support ticket, discussing ways to address common questions, or planning a new aspect of our online support portal, I prefer to have these conversations over the phone. With customer support, I’ve learned that the context of each situation is incredibly important, and a quick instant message or email can’t provide as much context as a phone discussion.

We Believe

in Announcements, Work Smarter

Here at Team Mail Pilot, we couldn’t be more excited to be writing our own story. We have many ideas and beliefs about how innovative startups should work. We wanted to somehow put these concepts into writing. In today’s world, all companies are obligated to have a mission statement. Unfortunately, it seems like every corporate PR department shares a single template titled “Generic Mission Statement”. Mission statements have become diluted and redundant.

Thankfully, there is a growing trend among some of the best companies in the world, those who are truly in touch with their core way of life, to have a company credo. A credo is far beyond a mission statement. It becomes a true statement of belief and identity. Those within the company know it, and embrace it. Those outside of the company realize it, customers appreciate it, and fans love it. We believe that a company’s credo should be an intrinsic part of everything that company does.

From our minds, to the white board, to code and customer support, and every step in-between, we’ve grown to recognize the essence of what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. We’ve developed a personality, a methodology, an intuitive sense to how we get things done. We believe everyone should adhere strictly to their values and beliefs, and that in adhering to our values and beliefs, we grow as individuals and as a company. We believe that sharing our credo with the world will change us from a company that is faceless to one that is understood, connected with, enjoyed, and respected.

Here’s our company credo:

I. More Mission

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We believe that mission statements should mean more.

  • We believe in fancy words, but we also believe that our mission statement should be more mission and less statement.

II. Pushing Forward

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We believe that outdated and poorly thought-out solutions should be turned on their heads.

  • We believe that over-engineered solutions are all too common and that piling more and more complicated features on top of broken systems is simply lazy.

  • We believe in professionalism in the software industry and that forcing an over-relaxed work environment is a counterproductive juxtaposition.

  • We believe in challenging this current state of affairs with more natural and intuitive solutions that are designed intentionally to accomplish well-established goals.
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We believe that software should push people forward rather than hold them back.

III. Work Smarter

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We believe in creating our own dream jobs and in playing to our strengths.

  • We believe in collaborating and balancing our strengths to form a productive, aware team.
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We believe in working on solutions to our own problems, interests, and passions.

  • We believe in our ideas and in standing behind our products for the long-haul and we believe all startups should be fueled by this same passion and not dollar signs.
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We believe that innovation and ideation should start from the ground up, ignoring all preconceived notions and solutions.

  • We believe in responding to competition through innovation and not through legal exploitation.

  • We believe in our supporters and our fans—without them believing in us, we wouldn’t be here.
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We believe that working smarter does not mean working more.

IV. Organized Chaos

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We believe that email should not consume our lives.
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We believe that email is not going away and that ignorance is not bliss.
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We believe that an email application should focus on getting things done and become a productivity tool that fits naturally with current workflows.

  • We believe there can be organization in the chaos.

V. Get on with your day

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We don’t just believe in these things, we act on them.
  • With today’s software, users are often forced to do more work to get less done.
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At Mail Pilot, we do more work so you can get more done and get on with your day.

Gone are the days of two-liner mission statements that are meaningless. It takes many words to accurately depict our actions and the thought processes behind them. This credo is our playbook, and it addresses every aspect of everything we do at every stage of our business. It is designed to be fluid, yet consistent. We hope it provides insight into how and why we’re reimagining email to work better for you.

 

Jobs and Artisans

in Work Smarter

The time couldn’t be more perfect. This is a time when people are starting to think about who they are giving their money to. People want to know who made what they are using, and what their story is. Society is starting to prefer a local option over a large, corporate one. There’s also another big reason why the time couldn’t be more perfect.

“The Great Recession” they call it. Its effects are being felt globally. And even though here in the United States we are no longer in a financial recession as of 2009, you’ll still hear people talking about it. Why? Many people are finding themselves without jobs.

The word “job” showed up in the 16th century as a way to describe a piece of work. It described petty work, and is still defined as such in some dictionaries. People did not have “jobs,” they had a craft; they were artisans. They made things with their craft. They sold their crafted things to each other.

It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that jobs would be known as big companies with large numbers of people working for them. Then a funny thing happened. In 1882, the phrase “on the job” originated, meaning “hard at work.” “Job description” showed up in 1920. Thirty years later, things began to change, when “job security” originated, and in 1972, “job sharing” entered common use. The etymology of the word “job” alone shows a lot about the rapid birth, growth, and recent decline of jobs [1].

Let’s face it: jobs are on the decline. Many people are settling for jobs they dislike, or jobs that pay less than what they deserve. There’s never been a better time to once again embrace being an artisan. It’s time to find your craft. Who knows? Maybe your craft will catch like wildfire, and “jobs” will be a thing of the past to you.

Now seems a better time than any to harness the visionary inside of you; conceptualize, ideate, plan, and execute your idea. What is your craft? What is it you want to make, do, or see actualized in the world? Is it developing software, starting a children’s camp, publishing your own magazine, making your own line of clothing, writing a book, growing your photography business, or something completely different?

[1] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=job&allowed_in_frame=0

Divide and Conquer

in Work Smarter

Right now, Mail Pilot is a two and a half man team.  We’re working on a pretty zealous project on a rather ambitious timeline.  Given these parameters, it would be easy to become overwhelmed daily.  The key to our success and productivity thus far has been dividing and conquering based upon our skills and strengths.

Assigning tasks based upon skills and experience is a pretty elementary process. For example, it’s clear based upon Alex’s background and degree in Computer Science, he should be in charge of the technical side of the project.

However, the idea of strengths plays a huge role in our division of labor.  Our strengths conversations and implementation come from Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 Assessment.  Based upon decades of research, Gallup has developed 34 Themes of personal talents divided into 4 categories.  An online assessment will tell you your 5 top talents, and numerous resources give guidance into harnessing and developing these talents into strengths.

Alex and I have been exploring our strengths for a couple of years now, and they have provided us a language and method for achieving personal and team success and growth.  Knowing our own and each other’s strengths allows us to divide and conquer by playing to our strengths. For example, the Maximizer in Alex becomes easily frustrated spending too much time responding to support emails while the Achiever in me gains satisfaction from drilling through these tickets.

Using strengths as a team or company facilitates a truly rewarding and productive environment where individuals and projects thrive.

5 Ways to Be More Productive

in Work Smarter

We all know that being productive saves time, saves money and leads to success.  But more importantly than that, being productive makes you feel great.  Solving a problem that you’ve been working on for a while or making progress on a set of tasks is a truly invigorating feeling.  Call me crazy, but I love marking a “to-do” off of my list.

Over the past several years, I have learned the best and worst ways to be productive, and I want to share a few of the ones that work for me.

Get started early

This doesn’t mean waking up at 4am, running a marathon and finishing your latest novel.  But if you don’t have to be at work until 10am, wake up a few hours early, eat breakfast, check your email, pick up your dry cleaning and mentally prepare for your day.  Nothing ruins a day more than waking up late, rushing to get to class or a meeting and worrying about the rest of the things that you have to do that day when you get home.

Get rid of clutter

I like to work in a clean area, and that doesn’t just include the desk, but the area surrounding it.  I may be picky, too picky, about this at times.  But working in a clean area gets rid of distractions.  If I’m surrounded by dirty coffee mugs and candy wrappers, I start thinking about all of the cleaning that I need to do instead of the task at hand.  Throughout a work session, papers, snacks and other miscellaneous objects may start crowding the area, try to pick up after you’re done so your desk is clear when you decide to use it again.

Don’t blend work and play

A lot of people have a hard time getting on their computer and not checking their Twitter accounts or reading the news or going to their favorite blog.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking breaks, in fact I encourage it.  But its best to separate work from play, whether that be using different devices (laptop vs. iPad) or working in separate rooms (office vs. bedroom).  This distinction helps your mind and body adjust so each time you are on your computer you will spend time working, and each time you are on your iPad you will spend time playing.

Don’t add tedious tasks

I had a tendency to take my to-do list to the extreme, adding unnecessary tasks, that would only incite panic in my own mind.  It’s crazy, it’s wasteful but it used to happen to me every day.  Because of this insanely specific list of tasks, I would stress myself out over accomplishing them all, which I could never do.  Things that you do every day, like checking your email or making the bed should be routine and do not need to be added to that list.  Ask yourself what you really need to include, and focus on the most important tasks.

Enjoy what you do

If you’re not passionate about it, it isn’t worth it.  Now there are always going to be things that we have to do, like attend the occasional dull meeting or clean the apartment, but the big projects, the ones that span weeks and months and years, need to be ones that you enjoy.  Don’t waste your time, energy and skills on something that you do not enjoy.  Find something you love, and do it.  Now that will increase your productivity.