Matt's Mix Tape, Vol. 156
Hi, I’m Matt Tillotson, and this is Matt’s Mix Tape. My life is a new mix these days. And so is this newsletter.
Remote work ruminations
Your Twitter feed has a new battlefront: pontification and consternation about the world of remote work.
Some feel the only way to really “get back to work” is to put the genie back in the bottle, throw it in the backseat, and head out onto clogged freeways.
Speaking from personal experience we don’t have to party like it’s 2019.
Malcom Gladwell applied a fresh match to the remote work powder keg discussion, arguing we should all be back down on the cubicle farm:
“It’s not in your best interest to work at home,” he said. “I know it’s a hassle to come into the office, but if you’re just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live?”
“Don’t you want to feel part of something?”
This is astonishingly oversimplified.
You absolutely can create a sense of mission and belonging with a distributed team. I happen to work in a team spread across continents, and I’ve never felt more connected to the mission than right now.
That’s not to say remote work is perfect. It is not. We are feeling our way forward. Yes, there are times it would be nice to walk down the hall and riff on something with a co-worker. Would I trade this set up for an “open office” model?
The principles for effective and emotionally healthy remote work are emerging. Here’s my experience on what works, two months into a remote role.
A healthy hostility towards meetings
As the pandemic settled in, we heard horror stories of workers sitting in Zoom meetings for 6 or 7 straight hours, a back-to-back-to-back digital death march as the former kings and queens of the conference room tried to transfer their kingdoms to the Internet.
It doesn’t work.
Online Meetings are sometimes necessary. But only after you run the decision to schedule through a new filter: “Could this be accomplished asynchronously?”
We use Slack and Loom to communicate in less-than-real-time (“async” is the cooler name). Email is largely shunned. Loom videos are for walkthroughs. Slack is for both one-to-one notes and updating and opinion-gathering for larger audiences. Memos are for longer-form thinking.
Decisions can be made async. Peter Yang laid out his process in a Twitter thread:
Limit the quorum to the essential people only.
Set the context with pros, cons, and a recommended option.
When necessary, push for a decision. Make a choice and force people to speak up if they disagree.
You do need to get together face-to-face. This isn’t a new principle. United Airlines created an ad about the problem of moving business communication to electronic means—in 1990:
“We used to do business with a handshake, face-to-face. Now it’s a phone call, and a fax.”
Retreats are critical for remote work—but they have to be right kind.
A glitzy get-together in Vegas doesn’t cut it. You need opportunities for people to spend time together both working and having some fun.
This week, I attended my first retreat in Write of Passage. We were in a beautiful setting. We ate too much delicious food, debated issues in a bayside pool, and even took a boat ride.
But we also worked our asses off.
Here’s what I shared as part of my retrospective to the team:
It was a drizzly Friday morning, the coolest of the week. Standing on the porch, bags in hand, it felt like leaving summer camp. My brain was as crispy as the morning’s bacon–we covered a lot of ground as a team over the week. But I also felt gratitude.
The remote work debate will rage on, because there are no perfect answers. Only, as with all things in the Age of Twitter, overly-assured, under-nuanced opinions.
But I am finding remote work a far superior alternative to my decade of daily two-hour commutes. Remote work returns some sense of control over my day, gives me time to care for my health and my family, and allows me to deep-dive on longer projects.
This week’s not-Florida photos
A few shots from this week’s retreat.
Thank you for reading!
Whatever you’re working on or working through: keep showing up.
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