How a Good Status Update Helps the Whole Team

It's been a productive day. It's been a crazy day. It's been an I've-totally-got-this day. It's been an I-have-no-idea-what-day-it-is day. We've all had these days; kicking butt, taking names, and thinking:

"What a day! My brain is mush."

And inevitably, someone will ask us - or we will even try to recount for ourselves...

"What did you do today?"

But the only answer we can come up with is...

"I literally have no idea."

I know I was productive today. I built something awesome. I took all those calls. I shot off some well-worded emails. A customer told me that I really helped them. A coworker understood my task request.

"So, how would you say those things furthered your progress? How are they helping you reach your goals?"

After I've already spent the day choosing the right words for content creation, support emails, and business ideas, I don't want to form complete thoughts for a status email. And my teammates are often working for long stretches at a time, formulating complex code structure. This is not really the best time to write up a status email or contribute to a progress document. We simply point to our WorkingOn activity, and each of those items that were tracked throughout the day can be attributed to that overall progress and those long-term goals.

A snippet from my WorkingOn activity:

Your Status Update Helps Improve Remote Team Communication.

When your team is spread across locations and time zones, work is going to be done asynchronously. This can be really liberating: you can get in your creative groove at the time that works best for you, and the chance of having someone pop by your desk to interrupt your concentration is pretty minimal.

But it can feel lonely without confirmation that your work is contributing to a common goal. "Am I the only one working on this? Did we move on from this priority and I missed a memo? Actually, am I the only one working at all this week?"

Use your WorkingOn status update to communicate the progress you're making toward the higher-level strategy. It's the easiest way for remote teams to be totally connected without stopping for a meeting or sending disruptive pings.

"My team and I all work remotely with flexible schedules. We use WorkingOn to let each other know what we are up to - when we start/end work and when we move to different tasks. It's helpful to see what each member of the team is doing and then we can chime in as needed. We also use our WorkingOn data to compile weekly reports for our Executive Director to tell her the tasks we have been working on that week."

Your updates also help team leadership to confirm that remote work really is productive. Whether you're manually updating your tasks through the Chrome plugin or your work is being automatically reported through completed tasks in the task management integrations, your teammates and leads can both see the work you're doing, without forcing you to recall it at the end of a long activity sprint.

Wow, the product team was hard at work late into the night. No wonder they're not online as I start my day. This helps me passively understand how another team works, and what kinds of things they work on.

Your Status Update Helps Cross-Company Teams Understand Your Work.

There is no need for an entire organization to get involved in status meetings. It's just too easy to tune out during a call where projects, discussions, and challenges that don't seem related to your daily work are being recited and recaptured.

But that doesn't mean it's not important for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. Without being subjected to meetings, email reports, or long shared documents with paragraphs full of status updates, how else can each team demonstrate what it is they do?

"I work in the sales department, and I noticed that customers were reporting a challenge in their onboarding process. I brought this up to my manager, but I'm not sure if this change is ever going to be made. It's not like I have the right to bother the developers to ask them about a change to the website."

It's very possible that the sales team will never really know what it is that the product team is doing all day, and vice versa. But isn't it important to achieve at least a bit of transparency in this way? Wouldn't you rather be able to hear something like:

"I submitted a suggestion about the way our emails were being sent, and it was really gratifying when I saw the marketing manager's update that showed she was reviewing the email copy. It makes me feel like my part on the team matters, even if I am not in charge of the decisionmaking process."

Your status updates can be as brief or as detailed as your team has decided will help with communication. It's important to keep in mind whether this update demonstrates that you are carrying out your specific role and accountabilities. For instance, is it helpful to the rest of the team to know you're working on "Email"? Or would it be more helpful to know that you are "Preparing feature update emails for partners"?

Let me share with you a moment in time when we might have been a little too brief with our updates:

"Planning this week's hackathon sprint" and "email outreach to enterprise teams" would have been more helpful to our teammates in this case.

Below, check out how we used a Zapier integration to report work to WorkingOn whenever Buffer was used to schedule something. This could be useful when monitoring the work of a new social staffer or intern. Zapier allows you to customize your post, so you could include as much or as little information about what you've scheduled to, for instance, Buffer:

Your Status Update Creates an Opportunity to Help or to Identify Issues.

All too often, when a project doesn't seem to be on track, it takes a few days of silent stewing before the team lead finally asks what the problem is. But when tasks and activities are being reported in real-time, leaders can quickly identify which unforeseen tasks are being performed in order to clear the path to the larger project. And, it's easier to identify repetition and redundancy before any two teammates get too far along on the same activity.

"The Slack/WorkingOn integration has been most useful in organizational transparency, and has helped us avoid project duplication. It also allows others the chance to pitch in if they have something to offer on a specific project."

Status updates can be used for more than just direct progress. What you're doing right now might be something you haven't done before or something that is giving you a challenge (even something as literal as moving coffee shops because the WiFi isn't quite connecting!)

When your WorkingOn status shows up realtime in your chat app (in this example, it's going to a Slack channel), it gives your teammates the ability to speak up and let you know that "Hey, I've done that before and here's a tip that might help you out."

"I also like to see what my team is reporting; what is important to them to report back on; and to learn about new project or task items that might not have been formally shared with the full team yet."

There is something about the way your teammates choose what's important to report. Writing an update forces a bit of concentration on what's important, so the rest of the team once again is able to benefit from passive transparency: They see what's important to you and your role, and they're able to get a better understanding of what the entire company is facing in this way.

Your Status Update Helps Nurture Team Unity and Culture.

Sharing what you're doing is beneficial in a professional way, but also in an interpersonal way. If you choose to, you can add updates that share your human side, too. Being on hold with the cable company, trying to figure out which oatmeal to order, and walking to an in-person client meeting are all parts of your day that help your coworkers get to know you.

George set up a Zapier integration for himself that posts to WorkingOn whenever he checks in somewhere using Swarm. He added the "#afk" tag to the Zap because he figured that these checkins were a way to tell the team that he was "away from keyboard". This serves a dual purpose: based on the type of checkin (at the doctor's office or at a coffee shop), the rest of the team can understand whether George will be available soon or not.

When these updates post to Slack, the rest of the team can chime in with a fun reaction (a chicken leg! Get it? George was visiting a chicken wing restaurant! #ISeeWhatYouDidThere)

But besides the levity that non-work updates can bring, good status updates help new company hires to understand what it is that everyone does. Especially in early- to mid-stage startups, roles may not be 100% defined quite yet. "Ninja", "champion", and "whisperer" are fun ways to label your team, but how do new folks know where to start plugging holes and digging in? Reading and following clearly written WorkingOn status updates is one of the fastest ways to get clarity and understanding around the work that's being done.

Like all tools, you get what you put in. Helping the team to embrace status updates throughout the day, rather than at the end of an arduous day, will create the ability to help the entire team. Do you have an example of a "good" status update and a "maybe not so helpful" one?

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