I recently did a Spot Meeting with the awesome team at Spot to discuss my views on remote work. I also share some tips about what we do at Inside.com to maximize our fully-distributed team without being insane micro-managers.
When teams are distributed, it can be hard to juggle time zones and finding ways to stay on task with varying working hours. So how do global organizations stay connected with their teams located all over the world?. For insight on asynchronous work, Spot Walking Coach Nicole Henry spoke with Alex Medick, the CMO at Inside, about how his team focuses on the output and uses documentation to stay productive and organized.
Nicole: Hey Alex, welcome to Spot! Can you tell me more about Inside?
Alex: Inside is a digital media startup based out of San Francisco, California and we have a fully distributed team around the world. We actually just built a brand new social network – it’s meant to act as a community where you can still get your news from the web if you don’t want to subscribe to newsletters. You can ask questions, participate, and build your own community based on topics you’re interested in and connect with like-minded people. We’re still in the early stages, but it’s growing and doing nicely.
N: So you mentioned your team is globally remote. Is that how Inside originally started? Or was it a transition that was made with COVID?
A: I’ve actually never even met my team in-person – I know we used to have a small office in San Francisco that we got rid of – but since I’ve been here we’ve been fully remote, so that’s the only world I know. There are still growing pains, but now we’re actually working towards more of an asynchronous distributed platform where we’re trusting people to do their own work and relying more on written-first organization.
N: One of the things I hear the most is that for an asynchronous environment, documentation is the best thing you can do for your team.
A: What we’re trying to do right now is implement ‘beginning of day’ and ‘end of day’ reports. It’s in the early stages, but we ask teams to report on their tasks for the day and then what they actually accomplished that day. I’m also working on a new way to block off time on your calendar. So let’s say you have 3 tasks today, estimate how much time they will take and put time on your calendar to complete them. Don’t check Slack or email – just focus on the task at hand. So we focus on productivity and output and we stop being notification chasers. I think people are used to immediate responses and I think they realize output matters more than the real-time collaboration of synchronous work. So that’s something we’re actively trying to put in play today.
N: I think it’s really easy to just get trapped in the communication pipeline and always respond to that notification bell. How are you trying to change that within your team?
A: That’s actually something I’m personally working on right now, if someone asks, “Hey, can I have 5 minutes of your time?” I’m trying to be better about saying, ”Write down the question so I can read it and give you a thoughtful response.” I’d like to be a bit more thoughtful about my responses by taking that extra time.
N: Absolutely, and in remote environments we have to be aware of what we’re asking people to do with their time and it’s hard to “turn off”. How are you instilling that into your team’s culture?
A: It’s something I struggle with, too. My son is 5, so when he’s in camp or school, I have to pick him up at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. In the beginning, I felt very weird about having to leave work, bring him back home and then go back to work. But this is the cool part of asynchronous remote work – we focus on the output, not the time in the chair.
N: It’s definitely cool! Do you have a dedicated roadmap or tools you’re using to make the switch to asynchronous work?
A: It’s a work in progress right now. I’m working on a weekly 30 minute stand-up where the individual teams all get together for a quick status check to see if anyone needs help with anything. Otherwise, I rely purely on start of day/end of day reports, where I can comment with questions so we can add more details and have a whole picture of what’s going on. I’m trying to very much go with a ‘written-first’ approach. One thing I’m working very hard to do is if anyone ever asks to “jump on a quick phone call” or sends private messages, I’m like no, no – let’s keep everything public. Let’s write it out so that everyone else can be on the same page too, and you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. So I’m trying to get the team to be a little more intentional about that.