Improving team communication with “Check in, Check out.”

One of the most challenging aspects of working in a small team solving big problems is maintaining a high degree of transparency and communication without introducing significant overhead (in the way of meetings or status reports).

Everyone in the team is working away on their little piece of the universe, moving so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep abreast of all the accomplishments and challenges of individual team members.

As with any other team dysfunction, this is only exacerbated when working remotely.

Daily status updates via email are one way of countering this problem. As I’ve refined my thinking and processes for working with remote teams, I’ve also adjusted my opinion of email as a project management tool and what it is and is not well suited for.

An even better solution is the check in / check out (CI/CO) chat message.

To implement CI/CO, simply create a channel in your messaging platform of choice (Slack, for my projects) and request that everyone on the team post a “check in” message first thing in the morning when you start work, and a “check out” message when they finish for the day.

The check in message should contain your priorities for the day. It’s an acknowledgement that the work day has started, and that you’re online and ready to be contacted about work related matters.

The check out message should contain 3 things for each team member:

  1. Their achievements and/or work completed for the day.
  2. Any problems or blockers encountered.
  3. Their priorities for the next work day.

The check out message is an acknowledgement that the work day has finished, and that the team member should no longer be depended on to answer work related matters in a timely manner.

I’ve worked in remote teams for years and this approach provides two things:

  • Transparency around what everyone is working on. It’s easy to forget you’re working in a broader team towards a shared goal when you aren’t interacting with the other team members on a daily basis. CI/CO will at the very least provide a shared platform for communicating goals and progress to everyone throughout the week.
  • It allows us to set expectations around when people can and cannot be expected to respond quickly via messaging platforms such as Slack, Skype, etc.
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