It’s Time To Untether Remote Work From Synchronous Communications
Remote work doesn’t have to be a blur of Zoom meetings
For the past five years, while working as a freelancer, consultant, and now a (part time) remote worker, I’ve been a member of quite a few teams.
My input has sometimes ranged from the very rudimentary contributions to marketing that freelancers are sometimes called upon to make — please write this blog — to providing more elaborate consulting packages to help organizations roll out marketing communications efforts.
Over the course of this time, I’ve come to love remote working. I do my best and deepest work from the home office I’m typing this blog post in (that’s it below in all its un-cable-managed glory).
As I’ve learned more about how to get the best work out of myself — which includes finding ways to work with my ADHD — I’ve also developed a few very quirky habits that I soon learned threatened to drive colleagues and clients crazy. The problem is that these habits also enable me to be my most productive and happy.
For one, I discovered that flight mode is useful for a lot more than just complying with the dictates of cabin crew members.
Whenever I’m trying to get something that requires concentration done — case in point writing this blog post — I slip into it for however long I think I need.
Why Flight Mode Has Been My Best Productivity-Enhancing Intervention to Date
And I Think That Synchronous Communication Platforms Like WhatsApp And Slack Are Today’s Destroyers of Focus
The two philosophies I believe in — remote work and async — seem determined to pull in different directions. Different approaches. Different adherents. Competing objectives. Or so it seems.
And so, by writing this post, I join the growing number of voices who question whether this is the way it has to be.
Why Do Remote Teams (Often) Love Zoom Meetings?
To understand why your average distributed team’s meeting calendar might look like an endless series of back to back Zoom meetings stretching from one quarter to the next, it’s useful to try understand what the motivations driving that behavior are.
Those new to working remotely — and right now, that’s a good chunk of the workforce — are grappling with some fundamental uncertainties about how to ensure human productivity.
Managers now have to grapple with the question of how they can know whether their remote workers are really working and not outsourcing their jobs on Upwork while out playing golf all day. Because just as remote work opens up doors for new ways of working, it opens up a whole new can of worms in terms of potential malfeasance and privilege abuse.
Scheduling regular Zoom check-ins can seem like a good solution to that conundrum.
Another reason why there’s a lot of dots where the remote and synchronous-first circles overlay on the Venn diagram is to consider the type of organization that’s most likely to embrace remote work — and to do so with the most enthusiasm. My experience indicates that that group would be tech startups.
Tech startups are famous (notorious?) for adopting a rapid-fire approach to communications.
Responsiveness is prized above many personal qualities.
Where walls were once erected, the tech startups of today insert fresh air. Instant communication isn’t just an occasional requirement. It’s the norm.
But what if that wasn’t the best way of doing things?
The closest equivalent to corralling a bunch of employees into a meeting room for remote organizations is to do the same thing on Zoom (or Slack).
But the exact same pitfalls of meeting bloat are present whether those meetings are held remotely or in person.
Furthermore, research has borne out what many workers feel, instinctively, to be true: being too responsive and constantly distracted is bad for productivity. Simply decreasing the frequency with which you check emails, for instance, can give you more time to focus on deep work.
The flight to remote work that is currently shaping out workplaces — and which, indeed, will shape those of tomorrow — is being accompanied by our attempt to grapple with some fundamental human anxieties.
Bosses want their employees to be working.
Everybody prefers a colleague who can give input instantly rather than one who defers their response. Or a pizza store that delivers in 10 minutes rather than 4 hours.
Impatience and anxiety are part of the human condition that many workers grapple with — however they interface with their organizations.
As we move towards workplaces that are dominated by working together remotely — at least part of the time — we’re going to have to find digital solutions that support collaboration without getting in the way of deep work and productivity.
Asynchronous communication platforms are the perfect tools for that job.
My Async Stack: