Somehow across the course of my career, I’ve morphed from a strictly technical guy to a publisher and teacher that also gets to do some technical work. I never expected this, though perhaps I should have. Despite my disdain for writing in formal schooling, I learned early on to always document and log what I did. In fact, a few times my notes and tracking ended up ensuring that we weren’t chastised too harshly for our actions. Perhaps if even kept some people from being fired. I’m not sure, as I think it’s hard to get fired, but having some reasoning and documentation can provide some insurance against the boss getting too upset.
In my career, I’ve had to send out status items at different times, with various purposes. As with many of you, I’ve often had to document my time and efforts for my manager. I’ve been a part of teams that adopted the stand-up practice of sharing your workload with others. I’ve had to summarize the work of my team for a director or VP above me. Some of those efforts felt valuable, but often it seemed I was going through the motions and wasting valuable time on something that was more of a cover sheet on a TPS report than anything else.
There was a post on publishing an engineering weekly newsletter that reminded me of the various status reports I’ve built. While I haven’t had a weekly engineering letter, I have been in companies where a weekly or monthly newsletter was sent out. In fact, at one of my first jobs, we got a physical copy of monthly company newsletter delivered to our mail cubbies (anyone remember those?). While people would grumble about the contents or disbelieve them, I also noticed that many of them actually read the newsletter. I think it’s natural for people to want to be informed about the company, even if they are skeptical about the data.
The idea of publishing a weekly newsletter for your staff makes sense. It’s a good way to keep people on the same page, especially as your organization grows larger than a single team. I wouldn’t expect everyone to read every part of each issue, but that’s OK. They’ll get something out of it. This is also a good way for someone to fill time during a short break, see who’s out of the office, having a birthday, or changed positions. I think it’s also a good reminder for items like on-call or project releases. Even if I don’t have time to read it right away, finding information in a central place can be a hassle, and a quick search of email would let me check the person to call this week after hours.
Including technical content is always good, and allowing someone to peruse articles or new concepts on their own time, maybe even encouraging more learning subtlely, could improve the quality and morale of your staff. Of course, if you are an open, exciting company that employees enjoy, this works well. If management is oppressive and overbearing, then publishing a newsletter isn’t going to fix your culture. You’ve got other problems to fix first.