September 22, 2016

One weekend during this crazy news year, the social team at The Wall Street Journal was able to keep up with big news happening from Turkey to Louisiana from their homes thanks to Slack.

“Even though a lot of our social team was working from home because it was the weekend and we didn’t expect them to be on duty, they could jump right on and immediately publish on the homepage and talk to the folks who were writing those stories,” said Jennifer Hicks, deputy managing editor, digital.

Before, that would have required a series of tedious emails back and forth, or some other less efficient exchange, Hicks said. Now, tools like Slack help WSJ journalists get the news out faster.

She and Carla Zanoni, executive emerging media editor, audience development, are featured in day four of Poynter’s 40 Better Hours project. You can tune in here to check out their advice on collaboration. We also pulled some tips from the cutting room floor on how to make a remote team work, why it’s key to work together in real life and the importance of remembering to bring food.

1. Find ways to work together from different places:

While Slack works great for the social team, Google Hangouts have been popular across the Journal because they let staffers have more personal meetings with their colleagues around the world, Zanoni said.

“There’s just something so different about being able to see each other’s eyes,” she said, “and facial expressions, understanding sarcasm, or because you know there are also cultural differences. We’re based in New York, we’re dealing with people who work in a London office, in our Hong Kong office.”

Hicks agreed. In the past, people didn’t get that face-to-face time until they came to New York and met up, “but now we can do that virtually, which I think is incredibly valuable in building relationships.”

Zanoni doesn’t get too caught up in which tools they’re using, whether it’s Slack, Google Hangouts or Skype. It’s really about the goal of the tool — intimacy and real-time connection that allow journalists to be as nimble and quick as digital requires.

2. Find ways to work together in the same place.

Being face-to-face while on different continents is great, but sitting in the same physical space is also important, Hicks said. One way they’ve cultivated that space in real life at the Journal is through the 2006 creation of a news hub. With that hub, they brought together people who made the key decisions during real-time news.

“And bringing all of those people together into the same physical space is just incredibly valuable because you can yell over to someone, ‘are we on this?’ You can share things on social,” she said. “And having all the right people together in that space is incredibly effective.”

They’re also flexible with the news hub, changing it as the news itself warrants.

“…Obviously you need to make sure all the technical problems and barriers are out of the way and people can log into their computers easily, but I think that’s one way how people who are short on resources can think about maximizing the space they have,” Hicks said.

3. Find ways to bring in food

“Never underestimate the power of food with journalists,” Zanoni said. “Free food.”

Brown bag lunches bring people with different areas of expertise together, she said. You don’t have to spend a ton, either.

“A little bit of chocolate goes a long way.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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