It's Monday; you commute to the office, get in and have a cup of coffee while you go through your notifications. About 20 minutes later you have a short stand-up (or sit down) meeting about the progress you made the week before and what you are planning to do this week. After the meeting, you are fired up for the week to come.
We also used to do this. I would get into the office, unpack my bag and walk to the kitchen to brew myself some coffee. When everybody was present and also had their first shot of caffeine, we would gather and have our weekly meeting.
During this meeting, we would talk about the progress everyone made and lay out the priorities for the days to come.
When we started to work more partially remote, meaning that people were starting to work from home frequently, we needed an alternative to our stand-ups. To get everyone, both remote and in the office, on the same page we would send out a Slack message first thing in the morning briefly laying out the priorities.
It wasn't ideal. One person had to write the priorities down, and sometimes we would start the day in the office and forget to post a general message since we already discussed things in the office. To prevent this from happening again we did what every team using slack would do, look for an extension that could solve our problem.
After we tried some small stand-up extension, we stuck with Geekbot for a couple of months. At the end of every day, around 5 pm, people would receive a set of questions. We noticed that over time the answers were getting shorter and shorter, and ultimately people started skipping the stand-ups for the following reasons;
- People left the office earlier than Geekbot send them a notification, so people forgot about it while thinking "I'll do this when I get home".
- People were still focused on work when Geekbot send them a notification, people forgot about it after thinking "I'll do this when I finish up work for the day".
- Some people couldn't describe their day based on those questions. On those days people would skip the questions and thus skip the stand-up.
- Some people didn't see the value in answering the same set of questions every single day. Primarily because they worked on the same part of the project and it wasn't possible to express their progress, images and videos didn't work in Geekbot.
Since it wasn't working out between Geekbot and us, we started looking for an alternative. We tried some other extensions, but all of them were just like Geekbot with slightly different features. What next!?
In the week that we decided to go full remote, we pivoted from Slack and gave Basecamp a go. Basecamp has a feature that encourages check-ins.
We had two check-in questions setup;
- What's important this week?
- What did you work on today?
Instead of asking 4 to 5 questions, we asked everyone to check-in at the start of the week and at the end of each day. As a result daily check-ins became more informative and also great fun to read.
When we switched to Basecamp for our check-ins, we also set a rule within the team that a check-in could no longer exist only out of bullet points. Instead, we encourage everyone to write a short story about their day.
What are good moments for check-ins?
When you are planning to setup check-ins for your team. Here are two check-in questions/moments to help you get started;
- What's important this week? (every Monday morning)
What are the big projects for the week? What are some other things that you have to take care of this week? It's also an excellent method to kick-off your week, by thinking about what you want to have accomplished by the end of it. It puts you in the right mindset.
- What did you work on today? (5:30 PM every day)
What did you accomplish today? We use this not only to share our progress, concerns and accomplishments but also to share fun things like what we are going to do that night or during the weekends. It's a great way to get to know each other a little better.
Besides this, it became a tool for everyone to call it a day. Especially when working remotely, notifying everyone about the daily check-in signals when it's a reasonable time to leave their chair. If you notice someone is consistently answering late in the evening, it could be a sign that the person is carrying too much work.
How to do check-ins
- Allow everyone to write the update when the time is right for them, after all, you don't want to interfere with the productivity of the team.
- Don't ask a specific set of answers, give everyone the freedom to express themselves. Instead, provide an example by writing the "ideal" check-in yourself.
- Encourage people to write a short story instead of bullet points.
- Encourage people to regularly share how they are feeling during the day.
- In your check-ins make the project names bold so people can quickly scan the parts that are relevant for them.
- If you are doing something fun that night or in the weekend, share it! Check-ins are a great place to get to know each other a little better. You don't have to write out your weekend schedule, instead, keep it simple like "Going to the new Star Wars tonight!". It will surprise you what interests you share with some of your co-worker.
- Once in a while discuss the check-ins with your team. Can they be improve?
Tools for daily check-ins
Here are some tools that can help you get started with check-ins;
- Basecamp - paid
- Create a separate group in your communication tool of choice and use an automatic reminder to give everybody a heads up to drop an answer about their day.
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