Since the start of Pandemic, many companies have jumped on the remote working bandwagon. Some have gone for the hybrid model (having an office for those who choose to work in office and remote for those who would choose not to) and some have gone fully remote.
Several companies are saying that the employees are now free to work anytime and anywhere.
How are companies altering their working styles to support employees with this, if at all? That is the big question no one seems to be asking. If your company has simply moved all the in-person meetings over to virtual ones, then that is not supporting remote work at all or even making it sustainable.
To explain this further, let’s do yes/no answers to these questions:
- Has the number of meetings in your company gone down with remote working?
- Are you able to do ‘deep thinking’ / ‘deep work’ during your workday?
- Do you get to connect with your colleagues casually over video (no agendas)?
The point is if your company still insists on meetings for everything or meetings indeed haven’t gone down, on the contrary, you find yourself chained to your desk from morning until evening in front of zoom calls - then your company is not doing ‘remote’ work in spirit.
At Least when you physically go to work, you get to see people, have watercooler chats, and break in the day for lunch - which might not happen if your company does a lot of sync meetings and has team members spread all over Europe. So, in fact, remote working becomes more punishing with the synchronous model of working.
Let me simply point out the difference between sync and async work:
Any real-time work is sync work. It requires everyone to be working on the same thing at the same time/place, such as video / in-person meetings. Slacking someone and having a workplace culture where an immediate response is expected is also an example of sync work, as is a collaborative Google doc.
However, a sync heavy culture of work can become quite draining and I believe while companies are moving to a hybrid/remote working model but not trying to fix the sync/async imbalance are essentially going to cause employee burnout and resignations.
How can you tell a person to work from anywhere in the world and then insist that they be in meetings from 9 to 5 pm every day or beyond for distributed teams?
This is why tipping the balance towards async work is so crucial to actually make remote working a success.
Asynchronous culture at Fonoa
Having moved to Fonoa, which practices async work, I have been urged to just jump on a call and lay the issue out in front of everybody involved. Restraining myself and putting it all in a document has improved the quality of decision making by removing on the spot decisions and allows everybody to think things through and add their inputs.
Benefits for me and my team:
- My writing skills have improved. With every candidate evaluation I write, I try to paint a picture for the interviewers in the process.
- In our team meetings we don’t discuss hiring numbers. Rather as a team, we brainstorm on the best way to get great people excited about working with us and how to stand out in the crazy post(ish) pandemic hiring market.
- Documentation/ async work is great for new-joiners and allows people to go on holiday (or good for teams when a team member leaves the company) as reliance on ‘Tribal knowledge’ is reduced.
- Also do not even get me started on the benefits of asynchronous working as a parent. Whether I need to dip in/dip out because of school holidays or sickness, it’s all possible to be able to contribute on an equal level as my other team members. Real inclusivity is achieved when we are not asking people with different commitments or even different timezones to be on call all the time!
Async dos & don'ts
- No meeting should go ahead without an agenda circulated in advance. This is really key! Get comfortable with saying “Hey, could you add an agenda doc with few points to start us off?”
- Don’t have recurring meetings - no status updates, asking team members to recount their past week - surely there is a tracker where everybody can read the data. Instead use the time to really discuss pressing issues (but not without an agenda!). I fully appreciate this is a bold move!
- Do have casual 1-1s or even team meetings - rapport building/having fun. We use the ‘Donut’ app for this, although there are many to choose from. And I am surprised how many conversations actually take place - people are more ready to form connections with someone outside their immediate team when they are now drowning in status update calls.
- Get people into the habit of writing, authoring documents, giving detailed feedback, writing evaluations. This has to come from the top and slowly nurtured, will not happen overnight, so be patient!
- Encourage use of more ‘Formal’ communication channels (emails, documents, proposal docs etc) over informal ones (such as slack etc). The formal channels encourage a thought through problem defining approach as opposed to shooting a quick message and demanding an immediate response.
- We also use Notion for documentation and Linear for issue tracking / sprints etc - this definitely needs someone to drive them and be forceful around their use but the returns are tremendous when employees become used to them - information flow is easy!
- We just did a company wide summit in Barcelona and highly encourage teams to meet up in a city if they can. It serves as such a motivator when you see each other less frequently but actually spend quality time working alongside.
Also, remember like I said, not all sync work is bad, think of it as a spectrum, asynchronous and synchronous work being two ends, for remote companies, the marker should be towards the async side which will make remote working in the end more sustainable in the longer term.