Using Notion to Collaborate and Have Fewer Meetings

Barrel, a 35 person fully-remote creative agency in NYC, built an internal company wiki using Notion. It has only been in place for a few months and the organization is already seeing significant benefits from its use. The advantages include simple information sharing, the ability to find things on-demand and fast, and easier collaboration and communication with a distributed team.

Why Now?
Barrel wanted a better knowledge management solution for their company. 

The current setup for sharing information internally was broken. It consisted of a WordPress site, with plug-ins and customizations, and a scattered collection of documents in Google Drive. 

The WordPress site allowed for the easy creation of articles and the ability to search them. The Google documents were often created under individual accounts and shared, so they weren't in one central location or organized in any consistent way. 

This Frankenstein wasn't working for them, and they wanted a better solution.

Problems with Current System
Before even picking a new tool, the partners at Barrel sat down and discussed the current problems with the way that information was organized and shared and what they wanted to get out of any new solution. 

The most urgent problems they wanted to address were:

  • Everyone had their own way of taking notes. There was no standardization and this led to details falling through the cracks.
  • A variety of different tools were being used. In addition to WordPress and Google Drive, Evernote, Apple Notes and a variety of other solutions were in play.
  • Information wasn't centralized, making it hard to find things.
  • Collaboration was extremely difficult and often created duplicate work.
  • Information was getting in, but it was difficult to find things and get information out.

Many of these problems compounded since going full remote due to COVID

There were probably always communication and information sharing problems, but working remotely has surfaced, and resurfaced, many of them. 

It used to be easy (way too easy) to walk over to someone's desk and ask a question, and this method of finding information doesn't scale in the remote world of Zoom and Slack.

Enter Notion

Lucas Ballasy, Partner and Creative Director, initially turned Barrel on to using Notion. 

After hearing many good things about Notion he decided to give it a try on his own. Immediately he was impressed by the usefulness of the tool along with its simplicity and clean design. Notion enabled him to quickly build some workspaces for his own personal workflow, making him more productive and leaving him feeling more in control.

The initial building of Barrel's wiki in Notion was relatively easy.

  • The first step was to identify the requirements.
  • Once there is an understanding of the requirements, they tested a variety of Notion templates and see how they address the problems.
  • Lucas’s familiarity with the tool allowed him to bring some Notion solutions to the table for Barrel to try. With that, the Wiki started taking shape.
  • Each Notion template is an encapsulated use case, so you can mix and match to build the system to suit your own particular needs. For example, Notion provides helpful templates like Kanban boards, calendar views, task lists, and meeting agendas.
  • In addition to the company-wide materials, they are now creating dashboards for each discipline: creative, business development, etc.
  • Setting up Notion and building out the framework didn't take that much effort, the real work happened when they started to add content to the system.

Overview of Barrel's Wiki

There are two main themes on the Barrel wiki. The company page and a section for each discipline.

  • The company page is where anyone can go to get updates or find information about the company.
  • This includes an announcement scroll, that contains emails that are sent by the partners and any general announcements. This is the one-stop where you can see what the latest company announcements are. This might include information about benefit changes, employees starting or leaving, or discount codes that are offered by clients.
  • The Company Page is also the place with links to mission and vision, code behaviors, and an overview of the services that Barrel offers. This is a great way to align the team and keep everyone on the same page.
  • It also has links to all the tools and software that the company uses. Helping to make on-boarding new employees easier and making it easier to standardize tools across the organization.
  • Next up is a section for Human Resources that has links to Holiday schedules, PTO policy, procedures, and benefits information. Questions come up frequently about these policies and having the answers easily accessible helps employees get the information they need quickly.

In addition to the main company page, there is a "dashboard" for each discipline (Creative, Business Development, etc.). These serve as a home base for employees.

These vary, based on the specific needs of the discipline, but might include:

Key benefits

The benefits of using the Notion wiki are many. Some of the most visible wins include:

  • Enabling collaboration out-of-the-box on everything from designing templates to creating content.
  • Enabling the sharing of ideas and asynchronous communication.
  • The more that folks use Notion the fewer meetings are needed.

Encouraging Use

Just launching a wiki isn't the end of the story, Barrel wanted to make sure that their team was putting it to good use on a daily basis.

Through the entire process of creating the wiki, thinking about how to get folks to use it was always in the front of their minds.

Here are three things that Barrel is doing to encourage use:

  • Lead by example. Lucas is evangelizing Notion and the use of the wiki. He uses it for most of his knowledge work, including sharing meeting notes, brainstorming ideas, and team feedback. Leading by example helped show others how to start integrating Notion and the wiki into their workflows.
  • Make it specific. In addition to the company dashboard, Barrel is creating a separate dashboard page for each organization's disciplines. These discipline pages make the Notion wiki more targeted and helpful by providing quick access to the items that interest them. Having something simple like placing meeting notes on the Notion wiki encourages multiple visits per day.
  • Templates. Notion makes it easy to create pages based on existing templates. There is no better way to standardize information captured for various activities. Barrel’s use of templates includes employee onboarding checklists, meeting notes, team presentations, and proposals. If you need a place to get started with templates, many of the ones mentioned and others are available at AgencyDocs.

Knowledge Management

The best practices to employ to make a wiki as valuable as possible are the same as you would apply to any knowledge management system. Barrel encourages their team to adopt knowledge management best practices.

Information put into any knowledge system will benefit from editing and organization before creating new pages, posts, etc. Having folks clarify ideas and pay attention to the questions they are trying to answer with the system will ensure information is being effectively organized. Barrel encourages the team to think about what information others will need and even what their future selves will want to get out of any meeting note or document added to the system.

Team Reactions

So far the response from Barrel employees is very positive.

"Notion has been invaluable for sharing information that would normally get lost in Slack or be pushed to a Zoom meeting. The fact that it is centralized for later reference is also a great bonus."

- Lizzie Plaugic, Barrel Brand Strategist

Barrel management is also excited to adopt and make use of the wiki. After starting the rollout in the creative discipline, the next area to make use of it was business development. 

“I have been looking for ways to up Barrel’s knowledge management game and the Notion wiki is a great step in the right direction. For business development, it has enabled our team to increase our efficiency allowing us to create easily accessible templates and how-to guides to train team members.”

- Peter Kang, Barrel Co-founder

The users of the Notion wiki at Barrel see the power of having this information centralized, and they expect that, as use continues, it will become an even more valuable resource.

Next Up

Barrel is waiting for the dust to settle a bit before they start adding additional functionality to the Notion wiki.

The next plan will be to roll out the Notion wiki to the other discipline areas at Barrel. 

One area that Barrel is interested in investigating using Notion for, is client communication. This is a bigger lift than the internal Notion wiki and their current system, Basecamp, is working well. There are no plans to roll this out anytime soon, but they are beginning to think about the best way to move in this direction.

Advice

Lucas and other folks at Barrel would recommend other agencies take a look at Notion to build a company Wiki.

The startup costs of using Notion were low and Barrel realized benefits right out of the gate. Barrel expects benefits to compound as the team continues to make use of the Notion wiki in their day-to-day workflows.

As far as advice for getting started with a project like this, here are some tips.

  • Set targets - First determine what you are trying to achieve. It is always good to think about your biggest problems and what kind of system should be put in place to solve those problems.
  • Start small - Notion makes it easy to experiment, and you should take advantage of that. Try using Notion to manage a small project, or as a repository for your companies' holiday schedule.
  • Tweak - It's easy to change templates and pages in Notion, but you don't want to keep tweaking things as folks are starting to use the system. Get something small in good shape before you roll it out.
  • Explore Resources - In addition to loads of ready-to-use templates, Notion has its own vibrant community, as well as evangelists like Makerpad. There are newsletters, forums, and subreddits. All are very active, and there is a lot of good help and advice available.

Another idea is to get help. If you need some help getting things setup, or you want to offload the project, look into hiring a Certified Notion Consultant. There are a lot of folks execuring really creative ideas in Notion.

One of these is Ev Chapman.  EV blogs, writes and makes videos about productivity and tools, as well as being a Notion Ambassador. She offered me some great and practical advice that is much inline with many of Barrel’s takeaways.

“Notion has exploded over the past year as a new all in one collaboration tool for business and individuals. It's a blank slate with infinite possibilities to build in. But with infinite possibilities comes a daunting blank screen and it can be hard to know where to start. 

I always suggest to start with just one page - [YOUR BUSINESS] HQ. From there you can then add pages for each business function or team, you can add databases for clients or project management. But everything is connected back into that one page. 

Depending on the size of your team, it sometimes helps to bring a few people in at first to test it out before you roll it out to everyone. These people will become evangelists for your new team workspace.”

- Ev Chapman

Closing 

All in all, using Notion for an internal company wiki has been a positive experience for Barrel, and they noticed quick benefits from collaboration to improvements in asynchronous communication. 

Whether or not you end up using Notion within your organization, it’s worth a look, and who knows, you might get hooked!

Let us know if you have used or end up using Notion in your business. We are always interested in hearing about the systems that other agencies put in place to create a more effective organization.