Taming Open Communications

How technology improved interactions at Vinted

Technology can largely improve open communications — it did at Vinted, a growing startup creating a social marketplace that gives a second life to preloved clothing.

From innovation-friendly environment to bigger awareness and involvement, open communications benefit organisations in several ways. However, it can cause some chaos too, if managed inefficiently. A self-built tool helped Vinted put it back together and gain from it even more.

Vinted chose the path of open communication a couple of years ago, when the two-people startup had grown into a much bigger organisation with offices in 6 countries. It was a game-changer at the time, bringing a different perception of knowledge sharing, decision making and teamwork altogether. As the startup continued growing, these processes needed another revision, and a technical solution kicked in to shape them.

Better together

Open communications are normally built on human values like respect, honesty and trust. Self expression comes along with these values. People become comfortable sharing their plans, insights and results.

What comes next? Quite a lot of information, created by expressive people who have plenty to share.

On the path of open communication, companies try various ways to manage this information. Most of us start with emails, then — mailing groups, group channels on instant chats, check out intranets and various project management tools. We do not want to fail choosing, for the organisation would be largely affected, and then — more resistant to other ideas.

Vinted tried several communication tools as well, and often found itself adapting them to growing company’s needs. At the number of 200 people in different time-zones, Vinted decided to build its own discussion tool for asynchronous communication.

So what does it give? It lets people share their plans and results. It offers a space for thoughtful discussions and allows everyone to participate despite the time zones, work load, etc. Discussions and information sharing help colleagues synchronise and therefore gain confidence in making decisions.

There are quite a few features solving open communication challenges. But let’s talk about these challenges first.

Know your colleague

When an organisation spreads across towns and countries, one normally finds herself not knowing other colleagues. It is obviously a challenge to maintain online communication with someone you did not know existed or simply have never seen in person. However, sometimes it is challenging to know people in the same office. What does this team actually do? Has this person come for an interview or does he actually work here? Similar questions are common in fast growing organisations.

Actually, this is how the tool at Vinted came to life. A few developers thought of a fun free-time idea to build an interactive database of colleagues at Vinted. Isn’t it great to learn who at work is a part time DJ, and who teaches in a university?

Now it was possible to take a peek at another colleague’s profile, find out their responsibilities, see what they tell about themselves, discussions they start, and more.

A social database named ‘People’ was to help connect colleagues in different teams and offices. However, once development began, it grew more tangible and sophisticated, until Vinted ended up with a tool ready to satisfy various needs of the organisation.

Lost between the lines

Accessible information is one of the main pillars of open communications. It is one thing to share information and encourage others to do the same. Another challenge is to manage sharing so people are not flooded with information they do not need at the moment. And then — make it easy to find it later.

For some time Vinted communicated via GitHub, a Web-based Git repository hosting service. Vinted engineers stored the source code in GitHub for several years, before everyone else was invited to join in. Community support agents, financiers, product owners, office managers and basically — the whole company started using GitHub for asynchronous communication, writing updates in a similar manner like GitHub was used for discussing the code.

So it did help with the first challenge: sharing and documenting information company wide. People became involved in discussions they cared about, and it was a great help for knowledge sharing and learning from each other.

Another challenge was to sort the information so that important updates were separated from the irrelevant ones. However, this option seemed to be missing in communication tools Vinted used before. Incoming emails, chat messages, GitHub issues often look of similar importance until you click on them, and then get sucked into reading and commenting.

Is the topic important to me personally, or is it something the whole team should read? Is it just for my information, or does it require action? ‘People’ at Vinted separated topics with layers of importance, so these questions were no longer troubling.

Work-only related news was separated from fun, more leisurely types of announcements. In a way important discussions (like the location of the next team-building) no longer took attention from what mattered the most in the company but were still easily found.

Did anyone see this?

One more issue of communication prior to ‘People’ was the difficulty to tell the reaction to your comments unless… they received comments. Unfortunately, some of them are unnecessary, simply supportive or repeating ideas that were expressed before.

At the same time others felt discouraged by the lack of reactions. It was one of the reasons the new tool offered some participation tools, e.g. likes, voting polls and topic statistics (how many people saw it). They solved two problems at the same time — reduced the amount of comments (thus, the amount of notifications too) and helped knowing reactions to one’s ideas.

Strategic decisions, product updates, new technology, financial results or charity initiatives — using the tool, all of the information now goes to specific categories, is seen by specific people and is accessible to everyone.

Greater ideas were to come: to use it for measuring employees’ happiness and motivation, run on-boarding processes, create and share information with visually attractive dashboards, etc.

Stronger bond

People at Vinted didn’t move to the new tool immediately — at least not all of them. Those who did not use GitHub for any other job related matters were the first ones to move on to the ‘People’ tool.

Some developers appreciated the fact that having removed all of the discussions from GitHub helped them focus on coding — and check company news on a break. Others took a couple of months longer to properly join in, at first avoiding having to use two tools instead of one.

But how did it affect the access to information of the whole company?

Vinted learnt that ‘People’ improved the access to information for 71% of users in the first few months while the tool was still being developed. Some of the most pessimistic colleagues in a couple of months changed their mind and now claim it to be one of the best organisational improvements.

Other than that, it continues to encourage team bonding, knowledge sharing, transparency and involvement.