If it doesn't persist, it doesn't exist: the importance of writing in remote work

writing things down

Imagine this scenario.

You’re working on a project on your computer, really starting to feel like you’ve hit your stride and are killing it, when suddenly, your screen goes dark. Your computer has shut down. And you have no idea if you saved what you just spent hours working on.

It’s infuriating, right? How could you possibly remember everything you just completed? The file wasn't saved 😢

P.S - this is part 2 of the remote work mental models series. You can read the first post about the secret to remote work.

A similar principle applies when you work with others remotely without documenting conversations or writing things down in a way that can be referenced afterwards.

When working remotely, if something doesn’t persist in writing, you should treat it like it doesn’t exist at all.

This applies to 1-1s, team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and more. 


Your brain can only handle so much information

The most obvious reason is that it’s easy for people to forget things. When you write down a recap of a conversation and share it with other stakeholders, not only does it create an artifact that can be referenced later (making it more difficult to forget), but it also creates a lightweight expectation in a way that an IRL conversation does not.

For example, if I take notes on the key decisions made in a meeting and share them afterwards with participants, this gives them the opportunity to review my interpretation of what transpired and potentially make edits/revisions for clarity. This is hugely important because you can literally edit expectations as a group.

Writing creates clarity

When you write things down, you can align around what is written down. It's a forcing function that creates clarity. When each person has a different mental “picture” of the conversation, you can accidentally infuse ambiguity and create the potential to be misunderstood and misinterpreted by your peers.

And if you don’t have the brain capacity to take great notes during a meeting, record a screencast and upload it for the team to reference later (see remote work tool recommendations). We prefer written notes primarily as they are easier to scan and can allow people to make edits, but if you could find any way to document things for your team, you’re in a way better position to set them up for success. 

Here’s some examples of where this really matters:

  • Detailed notes from a collaborative meeting
  • Team goals and KPIs and make sure they are visible and easily accessible
  • A high-level list of what the leadership is working on
  • The company mission statement
  • An open and shareable calendar so there’s transparency when someone is unavailable
  • An internal library of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that outline even the nitty gritty tasks (how to use Slack, for example) to more advanced weekly or as-needed processes.

Wrapping up

Important conversations, communication, and expectations should persist in writing and be easily to reference, like how a hard-drive stores your files. If you try to do this all in memory, it will lead to a cluttered mess, miscommunication, and chaos.

See what Francis Bacon says about this:

In the next post in the remote work mental models series, we will share why your communication should be a series of systematized pumps. You can read it here.