Telling a coworker “you need to submit the project brief that is due today” has a very different tone than “I would find it really helpful if the project brief was submitted today.”
This is the difference between using “you” statements and “I” statements — and it’s one of things that Grammarly uses to assess the tone in a piece of writing.
A tone detector was first added to Grammarly in 2019, but its value became clear with the rise of remote and hybrid work.
“Grammarly’s mission is to improve lives by improving communication, so navigating collaboration in a remote-first and growing environment is core to our product, team and culture,” said Director of Talent Management Brady Donaldson.
She noted that the Grammarly team has over 1,000 members spread across the globe. “For that reason, we have to be very intentional about how we work and build our team,” added Donaldson.
One of the primary objectives for the widespread Grammarly team is to respond to a zeitgeist need for truly blended virtual and in-person communication — having the nuance and conversational tone of in-person communication with the ease of digital communication. Grammarly’s remote-first hybrid team allows it to test and refine this tone, which has required clear communication and cross-functional collaboration.
The Grammarly platform has become a reflection of the collaboration and intentional communication happening internally.
“Cross-functional collaboration starts with trust,” said Donaldson. “Our shared values and passion for our product, customers and mission enable us to depend on one another even when we don’t know each other personally.”
“Cross-functional collaboration starts with trust. Our shared values and passion for our product, customers and mission enable us to depend on one another even when we don’t know each other personally.”
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” added Donaldson. “As a leader, you have to start with the culture of your team. You can’t create a long-term, innovative and high-performing team without having expectations for how you treat one another embedded in your culture.”
Navigating through misunderstandings and differences is a key part of the internal communication credence at Grammarly — and a real-life manifestation of the importance of tone in remote-first hybrid environments.
Donaldson noted that cross-functional work requires transparency and for each person to be upfront, even when it’s not perfectly aligned with other teammates or departments. “That’s OK,” she added. “As a leader, you set the tone and have a responsibility for creating stability and predictability in how your team operates. You should be able to explain to your team how you want them to raise questions or concerns, how they should push back on decisions and how you will move through conflict as a group.”
GRAMMARLY’S HORIZON SCANNING
A Grammarly blog titled “The Future of Work at Grammarly” shares how the shift to remote work has brought with it a need for better asynchronous communication. Grammarly used the shift to improve the product and steer the culture of the company toward a blend of digital communication’s power with in-person connection.
Global Head of Workplace Experience and Connection Tracy Hawkins spends a lot of her time thinking through how team members communicate with each other on a daily basis.
“When it comes to getting work done, frequent communication and clear guidelines are the key,” said Hawkins. Her team is in charge of updating the rest of the company on any changes that occur in their remote-first hybrid structure. She noted that during all-hands meetings, her team shares things like Wiki pages that provide key company information, new onboarding processes and asynchronous communication guidance.
The workplace experience and connection team also puts a lot of effort into the physical offices — where they are located and which activities are site-specific. Hawkins added that site-specific activities make collaborating on company goals and priorities much easier. She pointed to substantial research supporting that hybrid and remote work will only increase over time, so these kinds of details are crucial for the future.
“Transparency is also key,” she added. “First and foremost, establishing trust with your own team builds a more confident and effective team when collaborating with others outside of our organization.” Hawkins’ team culture centers on asking questions and making sure that every member is valued.
“Our culture of transparency and inclusivity empowers team members to contribute their insights and expertise, which drives collaboration and alignment across functions,” commented Engineering Director Andriy Derevyanko. “Our regular all-hands meetings, ask-me-anything sessions with leadership, Q&As and cross-functional workshops are integral to ensuring everyone understands the company’s ongoing objectives and longer-term vision and can move forward as one connected team.”
Donaldson agrees — maintaining Grammarly’s foundation for strong collaboration and communication is a key part of her role in talent management, as well.
“One of the best ways we can contribute to the part of our culture that revolves around strong collaboration is to teach people the skills to excel in their roles,” said Donaldson. “Some of our most popular learning workshops are about giving and receiving feedback, having difficult conversations and talking about diversity and differences on a team.”
Grammarly offers a cross-cultural awareness and communication workshop that covers these kinds of topics. The workshop is meant to help team members understand communication frameworks to uncover assumptions they may make about others on their team — and how to navigate those differences when it comes up.
“Ultimately, a diverse team sets up Grammarly to build a better product and better serve our customers,” added Donaldson. “Investing in the skills underlying communication and collaboration allows us to unlock these differences for better outcomes.”
“Ultimately, a diverse team sets up Grammarly to build a better product and better serve our customers. Investing in the skills underlying communication and collaboration allows us to unlock these differences for better outcomes.”
The Communication Tech Stack
With its hybrid and remote workforce, it’s no surprise that a well-balanced communication tech stack is an important part of collaboration for Grammarly.
“One way Grammarly maintains cross-functional collaboration and alignment is by leveraging technology,” said Derevyanko, noting that Grammarly’s engineering team uses tools like Slack, Glean and Atlassian.
“These tools help us promote cross-functional alignment and deduce the most relevant information for a team member based on their role and connections within the company,” he added. He also noted that data-driven decision-making — often made possible by using communication tools with clear data capabilities — enables the team to prioritize initiatives that align with Grammarly’s overall goals.
“It’s all about delivering the right context at the right time for my team members so they are empowered to move toward their objectives,” he said.
Grammarly’s objectives and goals are steadfast — both internally and in the product itself. The company states clearly that, with the commitment to a remote-first hybrid model, its team plans to listen, communicate with one another and adapt as needed.
“I’ve learned that although we come from very different cultures and backgrounds, there are also many attributes we share,” concluded Hawkins. “We are all passionate about the work we do at the company and we have a shared motivation to help Grammarly achieve its mission of improving lives by improving communication.”