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Virtual First | Communication Kit

Increase focus through stronger writing

Fewer meetings lead to more time for focused, deep work. While auditing your calendar and knowing when to meet can reduce unnecessary meetings, one other trick is to share highly contextual information through written form instead of verbal. In distributed work, low-context communication is a challenge to overcome. Write so others can loop themselves into a project, rather than relying on a meeting to bring others up to speed. Here’s how to get started. 


A person sitting at a messy desk with papers, notes and pens

Step 1: Write the expected outcome

If you’re about to hit send on a meeting request, pause. What’s the expected outcome or end result? Can you write it down? Congratulations! You’ve just tricked yourself into documenting an ask that would’ve been verbalized. Ideally, write this in a shared document that’s editable over time (think: Dropbox Paper, not email). The 3d’s—important decisions, debate, and discussion is a helpful method to determine if your expected outcome warrants a meeting or asnyc update. Keep meetings focused on important one-way door decisions, big debates, and discussions on sensitive topics or creative brainstorming. Any other topics such as status updates, feedback, or proposals can be shared async.


As a globally distributed company, almost all Dropbox employees work with peers across time zones. We’ve learned through Virtual First that clear communication and documentation are the most effective ways to support async collaboration. All of us are working in a distributed manner in some form, making how you start a communication that much more important. If you write first, you’re likely to continue that way. If you meet first, you’re less likely to document.

Step 2: Bring others up to speed

The secret to writing so that others can loop themselves into a project without pestering you is to understand what prior context matters and how to convey that simply. (Psst… here’s the Dropbox practice on brevity.) In a meeting, this would be the preamble that you’d share with someone in the first few minutes to “bring them up to speed.” 


What’s critical to know to act on your incoming ask? Put yourselves in the shoes of someone unfamiliar with the project and proactively answer — in writing — the top questions you think they may ask. Capturing this prevents you from repeating yourself as new people join the workstream. Lastly, share the information in a centralized location or project doc and track ongoing updates.

Step 3: Date-stamp new information

As new information comes in from various parties, organize it with the date and/or timestamps. This simple add works as a universally understood tool for sorting data (such as words, emotions, milestones, charts, etc.) Note that your inputs don’t have to be perfect or polished. As long as folks can loop themselves in and follow a chronology, they’ll be positioned to write specific questions if they have any. 
From Dropbox

More helpful tips for impactful writing

Check out these other practices from the Virtual First Toolkit: 

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From Others

Great resources from experts we trust

Looking for more writing tips? Recommended articles: 

Someone pulling a note out of an envelope

3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Pick one upcoming meeting and build out the 3D’s via a document instead
  • Next week: Propose to a meeting organizer (for a meeting you’re invited to) to convert the conversation to a document using this practice
  • Quarterly: Kick off a new project with an ideation document using this practice to get inspiration on paper before deciding if a sync session would be additive