My name is Lukasz Szyrmer. If you are new here, I am the author of the book Managing Remote Teams. I help teams thrive and achieve more together when working remotely.
In this episode of the Managing Remote Teams podcast, I speak with Liam Martin. Liam has been a remote work advocate for a long time, as a successful serial entrepreneur and innovator in this space. We dig into how being remote and asynchronous freed him up to respond effectively to the evolving Russia-Ukraine conflict, supporting his Ukrainian team creatively.
Liam is a serial entrepreneur who runs Time Doctor and Staff.com — one of the most popular time tracking and productivity software platforms in use by top brands today. He is also a co-organizer of the world’s largest remote work conference — Running Remote. Liam is an avid proponent of remote work and has been published in Forbes, Inc, Mashable, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, The Next Web, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat, and many other publications specifically targeting the expansion of remote work.
Liam has also co-authored a book – Running Remote – focused on remote work methodology. In this revolutionary guide, Liam and his co-founder, Rob Rawson, have unearthed the secrets and lessons discovered by remote work pioneering entrepreneurs and founders who’ve harnessed the async mindset to operate their businesses remotely in the most seamless, hassle-free, and cost-effective manner possible.
[00:00:00] Are you in Poland right now? Or are you in. Are you somewhere else? I think we are from Poland.
[00:00:08] I am from Poland. Yeah. So I’m from Poland, but I grew up in the U S and I’m back in Poland. And I lived in London for awhile.
[00:00:14] So I’ve got two of my team members from Ukraine that we ended up getting to Poland, and three of them were not able to to make it out, which was half of their fault and half our fault we should have actually just dragged them out of the country, but they refuse to go.
[00:00:35] And and it’s quite rough there. And I’m sure it’s probably really rough in Poland right now because there’s just a kind of. For refugees that are coming across the border from what I understand it.
[00:00:45] Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re up to 600,000 at the moment. And we’ve got a a housemate, my parents own that was recently empty outside the south of the city.
[00:00:56] We accepted a family of about 11 there, so they’re just, as, give them a place to just figure out what’s next possibly stay there for a while.
[00:01:07] So let me know if there’s if I can make a donation or something like that, just for, to get them, like food for the next month. We’ve been trying to figure out what we can do here. We’ve actually had I’ve been in talks yesterday with. With a space X, because we got our, we have guys in Poltava and we have guys in Kharkiv, one guy in Kharkiv, and we can’t get into Kharkiv, but we do have a courier that can get us into Poltava. We got solar arrays and a power bank system.
[00:01:39] So effectively they’re power independent at this point. And it’s not something that’s going to run their entire home, but it’s going to run basically Their computers and wifi and maybe a lighter too, or something like that. But if you can’t get any communications up and running, then, there’s no point in doing any of those things. And it’s been a bit of a difficult time trying to get in touch with them with space X. They did that finally get back to me and they said we’ll try to connect you with somebody today, but hopefully we can do it because I don’t think they have more than a week before all those supply lines.
[00:02:14] Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the managing rope teams podcast. Today. I am speaking with Lee and Martin running remote and the running of our podcast and the founder of time doctor and Liam in his Vilnius spare time is also writing a book. And whenever when, again, by the way, we’ll never write one here.
[00:03:12] So the only one. So if you want to read a book written by me, this is the only book will be available. Yeah, there we go. There we go.
[00:03:21] The remote work world was a cottage industry before the pandemic, right? There was a very small amount of people there. We ran the largest conference on remote work In 2019. And that was 700 people in Austin, which we had to cancel, which was going to happen in April of 2020 was projected to be a thousand people.
[00:03:45] So that was at work right there like that was the ecosystem a thousand people. And and in, in January of 2024, approximately 4.5% of the U S workforce was working remotely in March of 20, 20, 40 5% of the U S workforce was working remotely. This is the biggest transition since the industrial revolution, but the industrial revolution took 80 years.
[00:04:08] We did it in March. And one of the things that I recognized when that transition occurred, Was that almost everyone. And I lovingly refer to these people in the book is pandemic panickers the people that I got phone calls from G 20 countries saying, Hey, we have 400,000 workers and we want to transition to remote work tomorrow.
[00:04:34] And my answer is I’m not the person to call and their response to me was who else do I call? You’re one of those people that picked up the phone because it was such a small community. And so what I recognized was that. Everyone that’s currently transitioning to remote work and is currently working remotely is effectively recreating the office remotely.
[00:04:57] So they’re not recognizing all of the work that the remote pioneers have done over the last two decades to be able to understand that managing remote workers is not like managing on-premise in the office workers and the methodology that I believe that the vast majority of the remote work community basically built was asynchronous management.
[00:05:20] What we call the asynchronous mindset inside of the book, and the book specifically focuses on how to actually take that methodology and deploy it inside of a remote team, a hybrid team or an in-office team. It doesn’t actually matter because we’ve recognized that we think that asynchronous management is actually just a better way to run a business, whether you’re remote or.
[00:05:45] So let’s dig into that a little bit. So what exactly is different about managing your synchronicity versus just typical management?
[00:05:57] So I think that you got reached out to, by vice Shelly. If I remember correctly by Shelly was the initial person that reached out through email to you. Me and by Shelly had been working together for years. She’s managing the outreach for podcasts. And the last time that I spoke to by challis synchronously was about four months ago. So in that four month interim. We’ve worked on multiple different projects together and all of that work has been accomplished without me requiring to be in the same physical time zone as her, for a meeting.
[00:06:39] I think of it almost as the Netflix model versus the old school television model. I don’t know if you’re old enough for this, but for me, I remember trying to watch friends, the TV show that would come on at Friday night at 8:30 PM. If I wasn’t in front of the TV at 8:30 PM. I would miss friends. I would miss that episode and I would have to actually listen to a rerun six months or a year later.
[00:07:07] Netflix is an asynchronous model. I choose when to actually consume that content. And basically that’s exactly the same methodology that’s implemented inside of businesses today, the employees inside of the organization can choose when to become distracted with what pieces of information in order to actually become more focused and more productive inside of the organization.
[00:07:32] There’s a great book called deep work by my friend, Cal Newport. And I looked at all of these.
[00:07:46] I would love some pizza too.
[00:07:55] Yeah, no. And also pizza. So basically. The methodology is really trying to reinforce every single employee needs to reinforce what, as I said before, my friend Cal Newport coined, which is deep work, the ability for every single individual inside of an organization to have everything at their disposal to solve really hard problems inside of your organization.
[00:08:23] Because at the end of the day, any corporation is fundamentally just solving difficult problems. The more difficult problems that you can solve at a faster speed, the faster your organization grows. So the assumption is that you need collaboration and disruption and synchronous interactions in order to actually accomplish that goal.
[00:08:45] What the remote pioneers have discovered as that you do not need this system in place to actually achieve fantastic growth inside of your.
[00:08:54] So on the count Newport point. In his more recent book the world without email, he’s talking about the hive mind so basically this whole idea of busy-ness , being notified through slack or teams or something what do you, think of that?
[00:09:12] We use slack but I turn notifications off another really good app that you can use as twist, which is. I slack design specifically for asynchronous work, run by mirror and to do list. They’re at the tip of the spear when it comes to asynchronous communication and management.
[00:09:32] But I believe that any disruption, so inside of these organizations, the assumption is that getting an answer right now, we’ll speed things.
[00:09:45] This is exactly. And this comes off of the premise, which I was, I wanted to touch on before, which is the idea that collaboration is good. And the more collaboration you do, the better your organization will be the reason why that occurs is because everyone has a sunk cost fallacy. They all get in their cars and they drive to one single place.
[00:10:05] They spend 90 minutes of their Workday driving to this one place every single day. And then they say, okay it’s a collaboration buffet as much information as you possibly can. As much collaboration as humanly possible, it’s indirect as much as humanly possible rote first organizations where that didn’t occur, recognized we have an Alec heart method we can choose when we want to become distracted with collaboration.
[00:10:28] And they actually discovered that you need significantly less collaboration to actually achieve the same returns. And also more counter-intuitively sometimes collaboration actually has counter-intuitive effects towards everyone’s overall productivity.
[00:10:43] I always say that if there’s less than three people talking in a 10 person meeting, then those other seven people should just leave the room and get back to work.
[00:10:53] If people are actually participating in, they should be there. Whereas everyone else it’s enough to yet inform some other way. And otherwise it just ends up being too much of a thing about status.
[00:11:03] It’s a component of ego that works into this as well.
[00:11:06] And this is the other thing that I’ve been discovering while I studied some organizations that have gone back to the office as well, and figuring out why they went back to the office. And one of the underlying parts of this conversation, which no one really wants to talk about is a lot of these business owners liked the idea of having an office, where there were a thousand people in that office and the vast majority of the time he got to tell those people what to do that gave that person a power trip.
[00:11:43] I worked in a coworking space for a couple of years. And I have this woman in the book, this character in the book that I refer to as a tech startup Karen. And so she she would always yell to her other employees right in front of my desk and speak very loudly. I knew absolutely everything about her business and she never spoke to me. She didn’t even know who I was. one time I remember her having a conversation with one of her employees, it was dressing her employee down and she said, listen, we need to get more revenue from local companies like Shopify and time doctor. And then the employee who knew me and everyone else knew me in the office, except for his woman who owned half the office. Just giving you context here. He said, you mean Liam’s company. And she said, what?
[00:12:34] And then she just pointed to me and I pulled out one of my AirPods and I was like, yes, but obviously I heard everything that she was saying. I had been working in that office for two years. She didn’t even know who I was and there’s this presumption that, because I just sit at my desk and I’m quiet and I’m a relatively introverted guy and I just work away at my job that I’m not important.
[00:12:57] I think we’re sitting on a new business model, a new way to be able to extract labor from the workforce. And I think it’s just fundamentally going to be a more efficient model once you implementing synchronous work. So it’s not going to be a choice for those people.
[00:13:11] You want to keep your really nice office. That’s great. I really liked my horse, but I’m going to buy a car. It’s just a more efficient model to be able to get around.
[00:13:20] Let’s dig back into collaborations specifically. So you said that there’s some counter-intuitive things around collaboration. What did you mean there exactly?
[00:13:30] Counterintuitive assumption that I discovered was that the more collaboration that you have inside of an organization, there is almost an exponential diminishing in returns. So the first hour of me of a meeting is incredibly productive, but then the fifth hour of that meeting is actually very unproductive.
[00:13:52] And so optimizing towards the minimum viable dose towards all of the synchronous versus asynchronous interactions is actually something that people should think about. And no one actually thinks about those things. No one says to themselves how much time should we spend in meetings? Has anyone asked that at any corporate meeting ever or any organization?
[00:14:16] No, because they think meetings are always good. Meetings are always going to make us move forward. When in reality, in my analysis meetings in sometimes counter-intuitively actually keep you exactly where you are or in the worst case we’ll be back.
[00:14:34] Yeah. I liked the rule of thumb in the book by a high output management by Andy Grove, where he talks about the rule of thumb that about 25% of a manager’s time should be in meetings.
[00:14:48] There you go. And that’s like in a high-performance culture, right?
[00:14:50] In our organization and this isn’t just something that this is something we invented, but it’s been adopted through remote pioneers is the concept of the silent. So every week we use a Sonos or project management system.
[00:15:03] And I talk a lot about how technology is now, the office and the manager. And so a sauna actually works as both. So we have all of the issues that we want to discuss in our weekly standup meeting. And we discuss those things. They synchronously. So on some of these issues, we might have 40 to 50 comments, but if you’ve actually come to a conclusion, we take that conclusion. We put it to the top of the ticket and then we basically check that particular issue off. And if we have less than three issues that we can’t solve a synchronously, we don’t have a meeting. So we usually. Once or twice a month on average, where we’ll basically just have a backlog of a lot of these issues that are not, that can’t necessarily be solved.
[00:15:52] And the vast majority of the time, actually, ironically, when I’ve been looking at the tickets that can’t get solved, it’s almost entirely due to the emotional state of some of the team members inside of that meeting. It has nothing to do with the actual logistics or the hard data inside of those problems.
[00:16:13] Yeah, collaborations that interesting one. It also depends on exactly how you define productivity too. It’s going to be different in every company, every industry, that kind of thing. I What are your thoughts on the relationship between the two in a remote.
[00:16:26] If I speak to 10 companies and I asked them what productivity means, you get 10 different answers. So I completely agree with you. When I look at companies that are hyper-growth companies, right companies that grow more than 50% year over year and stringing more than two of those years together, that’s the definition of a hyper-growth organization.
[00:16:49] The best variable that I can define that equals productivity is: solving difficult problems that produce some type of innovation in the market that give them a strategic advantage in comparison to all of their competitors. So anything that you can do to be able to optimize for that is really the core piece that I see inside. Basically any company. And I think asynchronous management is one of the best methodologies that you can implement to be able to achieve those particular goals,
[00:17:23] so if you have really intelligent people inside of your organization, what should they be spending the vast majority of their time doing? Should they be managing other individuals? Absolutely not. That’s actually the worst expenditure of their time.
[00:17:40] Don’t put someone who has a PhD in artificial intelligence and have the manage other people, they should actually be executing on building, an AI model as an example. Should they be sitting in meetings? Absolutely not. They should actually just be focusing on solving those very difficult problems and anything that you can do to be able to put more of their productive Workday into that time is really the model that I think that inevitably everyone will adopt.
[00:18:11] Also, when you take a look at where people put their time the concept of the eight hour work day and the five hour work week, that’s also a really incorrect way to look at productivity. What I really look at is what’s the meaningful amount of output over, let’s say a one month period, if you want to get super nitty-gritty on it. Cause I love looking at time. One of my other companies is time doctor recognizing that probably for those types of individuals, they can really only put in four hours and it can vary. The actual number is about four hours and 16 minutes, but on average, four hours per day of time into solving difficult problems.
[00:18:51] And if someone can deploy four hours into solving those difficult problems, you’re going to be way more successful than the old model. I have a meeting at 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM. Then I get into work from 9:00 AM to 1130 and then I go to lunch and I get distracted for the next hour and a half. Then I go into a meeting after lunch, and then maybe I get another hour at the end of the day.
[00:19:12] Forget about that. We have like silent communication days. So days in which we shut down slack and all of our project management systems and our email, and we just focus entirely on getting deep work done. And those are some of the most productive days that we have all month because everyone can remove all of these distractions and just focus on getting those big, hairy, audacious goals solved.
[00:19:35] Still on the theme of some extent, collaboration. When you are collaborating with larger group around solving difficult problems, how do you make sure that people stay effective? So not so much efficient but that they’re working together in a way that remains effective when you’re doing this asynchronous management.
[00:19:57] So a lot of the times people have to get better at the written word. That’s a big part of asynchronous management and proper collaboration.
[00:20:05] The other variable that I’ll jump us over just for a second is the way that collaboration and the way that ideas were moved forward in synchronous organizations are almost entirely connected to and extroversion.
[00:20:22] So inside of asynchronous organizations, I believe that we’re going to see the rise of the introverted leader, which is a very rare type of leader. We do see it in people like Elon Musk, as an example, he’s an introverted leader, right? He’s very much, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him speak in front of large groups of people, but he’s horrible.
[00:20:43] He’s very bad at communicating his ideas. He hasn’t had any, maybe he has had training, but probably it didn’t really stick. He’s not good at solving those problems, but he is really good at having fantastic ideas that he can bring to fruition that he can execute upon.
[00:21:00] So inside of the old synchronous model, it would usually be the captain America, six foot, two football captain guy that would come in and say, I have an idea. It’s going to be called Twitter for cats. We’re going to call it katter.com. We’re going to invest a billion dollars into it. And then everyone is convinced because he’s just very charismatic at communicating that information.
[00:21:23] But then the person that’s sitting there saying this is incredibly stupid. You’re an idiot for even thinking about it because there, they don’t have that same level of charisma and they can’t convince people in the moment. They don’t actually have their ideas adopted.
[00:21:40] Inside of asynchronous organizations. You can sit and think and reflect upon all of the communication that’s happened from top to bottom and people that have that ability to be able to really craft fantastic ideas and also convince people through text form are usually the people that are going to have their ideas adopted at the end of the day.
[00:22:02] Basically better ideas will be adopted more often when we collaborate asynchronously.
[00:22:07] It’s very difficult for me to be able to communicate synchronously, but in text form, I can think about my ideas and I can communicate my ideas a lot more elegantly than I can on a podcast as an example. It hasn’t been utilized until literally the last five years effectively when asynchronous work really started to pop up as something that companies were seriously thinking about implementing inside of their companies.
[00:22:35] One thing I wanted to ask about is given the context now, , let’s say the attack on Ukraine and the pandemic, big external risks for companies. You’re your CEO. How does a company being a synchronous deal with that? So to speak.
[00:22:56] With Ukraine, this is a perfect example because I’ve never communicated more synchronously in the last few days than I’ve done in the last few days. So it’s been a lot of synchronous conversations with our team members in Ukraine and then also our team members on the borders with Ukraine as well.
[00:23:16] We did get some of our team members out. Some of our team members are still in Ukraine and that is to me, the difference between management and leadership. So whenever we meet with people and we talk to them I don’t need to know your numbers because that’s already documented inside of all of our project management systems that we already have.
[00:23:40] We don’t need to necessarily discuss what your goals are because we’ve already clearly defined what those goals are. What I talk about is how are you doing? What’s going on in Kharkiv right now? What’s the situation, how can I help you? Where can you go next? Those are the things that are really important and what your numbers were is probably the least important part of not only obviously these people’s lives, which is way more important than any type of money that we’d make inside of the business, but more importantly, in a grander context showing people that we care about them as friends of ours. And not just coworkers. And those are the ties that I think will bind companies together, way better than, zoom calls on at 5:00 PM on a Friday where everyone must do culture at gunpoint,
[00:24:39] it’s a 5:00 PM. Everyone gets together. We’ve got some beers that have been delivered to you, and we’re going to play cards against humanity, but not the fun kind, the HR friendly kind. And we’re all gonna sit on this call for the next 90 minutes. If you do that, pull your people, make it anonymous, ask them if it’s.
[00:25:00] I could guarantee you 80% of them eat it and they do. They don’t want to do it anymore.
[00:25:06] We bought a whole bunch of Oculus virtual reality headsets. We bought them for everybody. And we said, if you guys want to go play VR together, you can do it on company time, just go ahead. And what we were measuring was how many people would voluntarily get together to be able to do this type of thing. So measuring the dividend off of an investment into culture is the only real way that I actually think that you can see culture and you can see whether or not you’re building meaningful culture.
[00:25:38] All this culture at gunpoint is fundamentally not going to be useful.
[00:25:42] Yeah. Culture is a big one. Definitely. It’s like there’s the play aspect of it, but also how things are actually done, how decisions are made, how the work is done. Once you do get into a remote environment, the subjective, the emotional side of that suddenly feels a lot stronger than it would be necessarily just in your office.
[00:26:01] We talked about culture so often inside of the tech startup world. No one really knows what that is. It’s such a used term that everyone now we’re first. For everything. From sociological perspective, culture is what unique actions and activities does your group do that other groups do not? That’s the sociological definition of culture.
[00:26:26] When I looked at that and I said to myself, okay, what really defines our culture? Before the pandemic, we were a road that was a very unique thing. Not many other people did that. We also hire from anywhere on planet earth, we’re in 43 different countries all over the world. That’s a very unique variable that we have, we also have a very open liberal, democratic mindset towards ideas inside of our organization.
[00:26:50] So I’ve had a meeting with someone that was thinking about getting a a sex change operation one week. And then the very next week we had another team member that was thinking about getting a second life. Those are very unique things. And then you assemble all of those pieces together. You package that. And then you deliver that to your prospective new employee, your new team member. And instead of saying, Hey, this is who we are as a company. Don’t you want to join us? I actually have the reverse perspective. This is who we are as a company. You better know that before you get into this, because otherwise this isn’t going to work. So if this is not what you’re interested in this is not the place for you. And I actually use it more as a weeding out device, as opposed to a unifying device, which is we have a very liberal perspective towards the way that we operate our business. The ideas that we have inside of our organization. There’s a lot of different ideas, but as long as you don’t hurt anyone else, you’re welcome inside of this company.
[00:27:57] About a year ago, I believe base camp ended up having a very difficult time where about a third of their entire organization left. And it’s funny because I love those guys. Their books have been seminal to me in terms of just where we’re going in terms of not just remote work, but work in general and how to run a business, particularly a tech business. But even those guys, I think, fell into the trap of saying what is culture? Their culture kind of got away from them and they didn’t stand up for what they truly are. And they let that culture be co-opted by the people inside of their organization, because they were trying to use culture as a unifier, as opposed to a divider. And I actually think that the vast majority of the times you should use culture as this is who we are. If you don’t like. Please don’t take this job because you’re actually going to hurt more than you help. Long-term
[00:28:50] that’s interesting. Flip there. So how was writing the book itself?
[00:28:57] Horrible for someone who has a, it was, so I had a. I had a collaborator who worked with me on the book, who is actually a seasoned writer.
[00:29:13] And I remember sitting down because we’re working sync, we’re working asynchronously. We work on this big Google doc together, and I remember spending an entire day on about two paragraphs coming up with a core concept, which was actually around how platforms are the new office and trying to communicate to in-office environments.
[00:29:36] What we mean by platforms are the new office. And he saw me working on these two paragraphs all day because you can see that inside of Google docs. And so we just ping me on slack Hey dude what’d you doing? Like I’m seeing what you’re doing here. And it’s, it seems like you’re having some trouble.
[00:29:53] So we jumped on for a zoom call for five minutes. I explained what I was trying to communicate. And he wrote a version that was way better than the six hours that I had spent trying to work out those two paragraphs. And he said, listen, in the future, write down your broken thoughts, put it in the Google doc. And then let me worry about actually turning it into something that’s going to sound good.
[00:30:17] So that actually ended up accelerating the book quite a bit, but it’s just taking all of these pieces of information that outside of, maybe a thousand companies that were running remote first pre pandemic, which is insane when you think about it and these methodologies that have been built over the decades, I’m trying to basically encapsulate that and try to get that to the massive community of people.
[00:30:46] That are now saying I’m working remotely now or I’m working from home. But they missed the biggest part, which is actually how to do it.
[00:30:53] Right now? March 20, 22. So two years later what’s the biggest misconception people have about remote work?
[00:31:03] almost every single phone call that I’ve had with a pandemic panicker that’s tried to transition towards remote work is some version of, should I use slack or Microsoft teams? Should I use zoom or should I use Google meet? And if you’re asking those questions, you don’t actually know what questions to ask to solve your problem.
[00:31:33] So that’s a big part that I think that almost every single company doesn’t recognize, which is they’re simply trying to recreate the office.
[00:31:42] And if I’m on zoom calls eight hours a day I had a friend of mine who he said, oh I think I’ve set up the perfect system. Everyone just logs into zoom at the beginning of the day at 8:00 AM. And we’re all on this like big keyboard little heads. And then anyone can ask anyone else a question and can just go into a little separate room and talk about it. And I said do you think your employees. Like that, do they think it’s a productive use of their time?
[00:32:16] And he said, I think so. And so we pulled them anonymously and found out that it was like 95, like one guy, like out of the entire group, everyone else said, no, I would much rather not do this. There were other ways to be able to communicate. There are a lot more effective and that is fundamentally asynchronous work again.
[00:32:35] It’s this assumption that synchronous collaborative communication is the be all and end all. If you open up any MBA book, you’ll see a ton written about how these types of collaborative synchronous versions of communication are the way to be able to build a business when in reality, actually, even though it speeds you up in the short-term in the long-term, it creates a much slower moving organization.
[00:33:06] I use the word bureaucracy a lot, but don’t think about going to the DMV in the United States is bureaucracy think about efficient focused bureaucracy.
[00:33:16] Think about a military organization it’s incredibly efficient at achieving a particular goal because they have processes and systems if you were. Almost all of the command structures that I see in the militaries across the world. People are given a goal, but they’re not actually told how to achieve that goal.
[00:33:35] So they’re given their own individual autonomy to be able to get to the goal that has been set inside of the organization. In that case, the vast majority of our military
[00:33:46] we have the same mindset inside of companies,
[00:33:48] if you’re my man. And I am telling you what my metrics are. And then you tell your manager what my metrics are. And then that manager tells the boss what my metrics are. This is an incredibly inefficient system. We have the internet. We have the ability to be able to communicate seamlessly across planet earth, within a moment. I can see everything that everyone is currently doing, and I know the targets that everyone has, and I know whether they’re achieving them or not achieving. Do I look at them all? No. Could I look at them all? Yes.So that’s the differentiator again, inside of asynchronous organizations that synchronous organizations didn’t necessarily seem to happen.
[00:34:28] For me, I never worked in one of these companies I’ve been working remotely for almost 20 years. So it was such a shock to me to see that’s the way that business was done. Because I was built on the methodology, which is. I need to build a business in which I cannot communicate to anyone synchronously, I can not have a physical meeting or a phone call or a video call with everyone inside of the organization. If that is true, how do I build that business? That was basically how we came up with asynchronous management and not only companies like mine, but dozens of other companies that have now become incredibly successful organizations today.
[00:35:08] So why was there such a driver back then for you? What was going on that you needed to do it asynchronously specifically?
[00:35:16] So for me, it was really just my own personal perspective on freedom. I spend six months out of the year traveling when it’s not COVID, a lot of our other team members do the same thing. Some of our team members are digital nomads, so they work from their computers. Or from their laptops anywhere on planet earth. And I realized that if I didn’t have to make work a place, then I could live a life that is significantly more rewarding, at least to me then being in that cubicle or even being in the best office on the face of the planet, right?
[00:35:56] I’ve got the cash to be able to get a really nice office somewhere if I really wanted to. But is that fundamentally going to make me happy? I decided that it isn’t. I’d much rather spend my time in Mexico city or in Playa Del Carmen or in in Bali or Barcelona in Spain. These are the places that I’d rather spend my time. Travel actually is one of the best things to make you a well-rounded individual to understand different cultures.
[00:36:22] We’re talking about the the Russian Ukrainian war that’s happening right now. The key to world peace is there should be one day a year. If I was the emperor of the world this would be my international holiday, which is every single person on planet earth flies somewhere else and has dinner. A group of people and a culture that they’ve never encountered before. And if you do that, you discover that everyone on planet earth wants effectively the same thing. And that’s what travel has done for me. It’s made me a much more, I think interesting person than when I was before I discovered travel in my early twenties. And once I started getting on that train, there was no getting off for me. So I wanted to be able to build a business that really encapsulated that and allowed me to be able to have that type of freedom. And only for myself, obviously I was starting it for myself, but then everyone that works inside of the company can have that freedom as well.
[00:37:26] What about scaling up when you’re working in synchronously. How does that work when you’ve got a completely change as the company grows? How you manage things? How does it scale and what are the key takeaways you had as you’ve grown your company?
[00:37:38] That’s one of the other key advantages of asynchronous organizations. Process documentation is effectively everything that the company does, everything that every individual does inside of the company is written down and documented, processed and digitized.
[00:37:58] So by challis, who reached out to you, there’s about 40 different process documents that apply to the outreach of booking podcasts. Everything down to what kind of emails we should send, what follow-ups we should send the one-page press sheet that I have, how I schedule that meeting, what tools that we use to be able to do that the followup process. It’s all documented.
[00:38:27] So by Shelly becomes the operator of that process and not the owner of that process. And those are two very separate things.
[00:38:37] If people become the owners of that process, then they all have sacred knowledge. And if all of a sudden, there’s effectively, almost a world war that breaks out well, what happens to all of that information? It’s lost for other forever.
[00:38:54] So instead when you become the operator of that information of that knowledge of those processes, then you can number one, make sure that process continues on regardless of the individual. But more importantly, you can scale that process because the actual process is also the manager.
[00:39:12] The documentation is not meant to be easy to understand. It’s meant to be impossible to miss understand, and it’s a very small shift in people’s minds. But if you get to a point in which you say to yourself, nine out of 10 people on the street can come in and look at what’s written down and get it and figure it out. And. Then you’ve got credibly, powerful weapon that you can use to be able to have, not just one person doing outreach, but 20,
[00:39:49] you get my point, which is the ability for having process documentation inside of an organization allows for scale to happen almost instantaneously because the processes are not only very easy for other people to understand, but more importantly, they actually provide the managerial layer.
[00:40:07] Another thing that we saw and that I’ve talked about in the book is that asynchronous organizations on average had a 50% thinner layer of managers. Then on-premise synchronous organizations because of the lack of that game of telephone. No one actually communicates how to do something on a very small scale.
[00:40:28] Do they communicate how to do something in comparison to synchronous organizations or communicate those metrics up the chain, which is classically what a manager does in the vast majority of synchronous organizations that I encountered. So all of those jobs are basically redundant inside of asynchronous organizations and therefore the person is saying to themselves what do I do?
[00:40:50] The only thing that you should really do is focus on whether or not that person’s happy with their jobs and thinking structures.
[00:40:59] So going into the process documentation a little bit, you said that my salary was an operator of the process. So how was the process adjusted as requirements change or improved over time? I’ve seen that to be a difficult point for companies.
[00:41:16] The processes change with time. They’re an organic model as opposed to an inorganic model and they’re built on a Wiki system.
[00:41:23] If you go to Wikipedia is a perfect example.
[00:41:26] You can actually go to the debate tab on any Wikipedia entry and you’ll have the discussion about what the version of. Article was six months ago, 12 months ago. And what it should be tomorrow, right?
[00:41:41] So there’s active debates that are occurring inside of all of these processes. And the same thing effectively happens inside of our company and a bunch of other asynchronous organizations as well.
[00:41:50] So the process is the law of the land, but anyone inside of the company can actually change those laws. And if by Shelly says, I think I figured out a better way to be able to email people for outreach, for podcasts. And she can back that up with quantitative information and. You’ve convinced the stakeholders inside of that process. If that’s a superior process, then that’s the new version of the process that’s adopted.
[00:42:16] In some contexts, if it’s something that we need to redo quickly or something that like we just had a couple of years ago, we had a major change towards the Google algorithm. So it changed a lot of our search engine optimization processes.
[00:42:31] We paid people to be able to create more efficient processes. So every process that you could offer. And change. We would literally pay people out for it as a bounty. That’s another really fast way to build out your processes is just pay people say, Hey, every process that you build that I accept, I’ll give you 50 bucks.
[00:42:50] You will have processes coming out of your ears.
[00:42:52] Then that’s the part that you need to control, which is when you release that money, you need to make sure that those processes are something that you would actually follow.
[00:43:00] a lot of the times, if there’s a process that computer science engineer will put together, someone will read those processes. That’s in another department like customer service and we’ll say, okay, does someone on customer service understand this process enough that they could theoretically do it from a layman’s perspective? If the answer is yes, then the process is adopted. If the answer is no, then again, you have made it easy to understand, but not impossible to misunderstand.
[00:43:34] So when you start with a company, helping them become better at remote, what’s the first thing that you do in terms of that?
[00:43:41] If we’re moving towards an asynchronous model, the first thing that I would do is implement.
[00:43:46] What are the biggest time sucks of your day? What do you spend the most hot your most time doing?
[00:43:51] And more importantly, after that, what sacred knowledge that you have, which is information that you have, and no one else has, I think about, ancient Egyptian priests, right? They had the sacred knowledge, which gave them power over everyone else.
[00:44:08] You need to get all of that stuff out. And this is also sometimes very difficult inside of organizations where you have a lot of B players that are saying to themselves the moment that I give away the sacred knowledge, you’re going to fire me.
[00:44:26] And in some cases, actually that might be true. Maybe this person really does need to leave and there they have no value other than they’re the only ones who know how to process payroll. And no one else knows how to do this in the company. And if we lose this person, we can’t process payroll next week. That’s definitely something you need to actually have more than one person know inside of the organization. Ideally everyone should be able to have access to that type of information. But what
[00:44:56] I to know about payroll
[00:44:59] in terms of the actual mechanics of it.
[00:45:01] Yeah, I get it. So what I tell those people that are scared about that is what I’m trying to do is create an environment in which you no longer have to be dependent upon doing just this one thing and only you doing it. This will free you up to be able to solve much bigger problems inside of the company and be able to solve problems that are new as opposed to solving old problems, which honestly, when you ask people really, what they love to do inside of their work. It’s solving unique problems particularly the insight of technology companies, but in brick and mortar companies as well.
[00:45:43] So optimizing all of that information, getting that on a system and then empowering everyone to be able to get access to that information.
[00:45:53] The next thing that I would do is all of your goals. So we have a quantitative longitudinal measure for every single team member inside of the. So every single person has a goal that can be measured in some type of quantitative way. It’s not get more customers as an example, that is not a goal. It is you need to increase the amount of leads that are coming into the website every month by 10%.
[00:46:19] And if it’s 9%, you haven’t achieved your goal. It’s 11% you surpassed your goal. We review it every quarter and we report it every week, not bi-weekly or monthly every single week, so that you have that granularity and you have that longitudinal data. You can see those blips in the data and we make sure that’s documented automatically.
[00:46:41] So no manager should ask you for that number. That number should ideally be completely automated, meaning the employee responsible for that goal and that metric doesn’t even need to actually put it in anywhere. It just automatically happens. But in some cases that’s not going to be the case, but on Monday morning, I’d better see those numbers there because that’s a core part of your job.
[00:47:04] So that information can be communicated to everyone else. Once you have those two pieces in place, then you’re going to actually do the scariest part of a transition towards asynchronous. And if you do those first two steps, you’re actually doing better than 80 to 90% of companies that are in corporate America today, surprisingly which is crazy.
[00:47:24] But the third and scariest step is giving that information to everyone else inside of the organization. We believe that if everyone inside of the company has the same informational advantage as the CEO of the company, then they can be much more effective at their jobs. Number one, but then number two, when difficult decisions need to be made.
[00:47:49] When you have as much information as the CEO, you usually recognize why that decision needs to be made. And you agree with it. We have EMPS rating of 72 right now, which is best in class. Apple has 86, which is the best on planet earth. Most companies have EMPS ratings of about 30 and that is employee net promoter score.
[00:48:16] So net promoter score is how much would you use this product from one to 10 EMPS is how much would you prefer working at this company to one of your friends from one to 10? That’s the only question that we ask and we ask it every quarter. And the reason why we have such high EMPS is because they say I’ve never worked in a company in which I know more about the company than the CEO.
[00:48:42] That is the single most important thing that gives them value, which is they know everything that I know, they know everything that the executive team knows, and it really does empower them to be able to say, yeah, this is why we had to make this very difficult decision. This is why we had to let this person go.
[00:49:00] Or this is why we had to pivot in this particular direction because of this. And it really helps with building the trust and autonomy inside of organizations that I think as of right now, a lot of companies are currently.
[00:49:18] I was joking about the payroll, do you follow an approach to being open about salary also like buffer did in the early days?
[00:49:25] Or what’s whatever we’re actually, we did run that experiment and it ended up resulting in a significant amount of disruption to our companies.
[00:49:37] We do follow Buffer’s model when I think about it. So we have geographic locations where we’ll have a base salary and then we’ll have additions to that based off seniority. And then that information is available to everyone, but it’s bands, it’s not specific salary amounts.
[00:49:55] So you don’t know that Leah makes 106,000, but you do know Leah makes between 80 and 120,000 as an example because he’s within that band
[00:50:05] Last question in terms of chief human motivation, I think often that is tied to salary and at least some traditional corporate America, it’s very tied to the specific person. What are your thoughts on how that affects collaboration in a remote environment. On software teams even though you have these methodologies like scrum, where you retrospect as a team, when you deliver as a team and you do everything as a team, it starts to break down because everyone gets paid individually and has HR processes individually. What are the differences from asynchronous or remote?
[00:50:50] That’s something I didn’t necessarily look at in a deep way, but I see it. And just in terms of how people are paid, as it applies to asynchronous organizations, it’s an interesting point.
[00:50:59] I can tell you the way that we look at that problem. So we have two separate basically silos of pay. When we look at increases just last year, we had zero to 5% increase for everyone in the company dependent upon the growth of the organization.
[00:51:21] So what was the growth? What’s the goal for the company? We want to grow 78% year over year. Okay. if we surpass our goal, everyone will get the 5%. If we meet our goal, everyone will get two and a half percent. If we don’t meet our goal and dependent upon how many points we are below that maybe we’re going to get one to 2%, that’s zero to 5%. And this is just that these numbers change dependent upon the year that we’re currently working on it.
[00:51:49] The second silo is individual additions to that goal. So what did you do as an individual that helped move that particular core number forward and that zero to 5%. So where you absolutely critical towards the success of meeting our goals? Yes. You get the full 5%. Were you doing a generally good job? And everyone was generally happy with. You got a two and a half percent or, Hey, you know what? You actually didn’t do a very good job. The goals that we set were misunderstood and you didn’t hit the numbers that you were supposed to hit, you’re going to get a 1% or 0% increase.
[00:52:30] So if the company meets all of their goals and you were an extraordinarily successful team member, as it applies to those goals, you’ll get 5% plus 5%. You’ll get a 10% for the year. And you know that there are people that get that inside of the company. I didn’t get that. I can tell you at the end of the year. That is information that we we do give everyone the core number, right?
[00:52:58] Zero to 5% for company growth and goals, because everyone knows that individual number we do keep private reason being is because we don’t necessarily want to. Embarrassed, any particular team member that maybe wasn’t getting a piece of information that they would have had, but also take into consideration that’s something that when you think about the only information that we keep from the organization or serve from the rest of the organization are just pieces of information that might embarrass other team members outside of that our P and L is public.
[00:53:32] If you work in the company, you can have access to it. We updated every month. The we have an interactive dashboard. How many customers we have? Who are they? How are they growing? How are they compressing? What’s our churn rate, right? How, what experiments are we doing inside of the company? We have something called Thursday updates, which is every department head actually breaks down the four to five core things they did that week. And then it links to all of their core metrics for that particular department. And anyone in the company can get access to it and play around with it. And they’re not just the ones that we prepare for that update. They are the actual tactical documents that we work off of.
[00:54:11] So again, that’s pretty scary for some people I’ve pitched this to quite a few synchronous organizations and they’ve said, hell no would never do that because they think actually a lot of people are going to quit. But the other thing that I would push back to them, which is maybe it’s time for them to quit.
[00:54:29] Maybe you shouldn’t have these people working in your organization. If they’re so easily going to quit, there’s something wrong with your culture. There’s something wrong with your mission and what the goal of this organization is. That is creating this environment where people want to jump ship, at the first hint of something going wrong inside of the organization.
[00:54:55] If you just are totally honest with everybody and upfront, they will respect you a lot more and they’ll want to work at your company.
[00:55:00] Great. Is there any particular place that you want to direct people?
[00:55:05] Bobcat’s would be great. I think running remote.com is the best spot to go. We are going to run our in-person conference, May 17th and 18th in Montreal, Canada. I don’t know if I can convince you to come Luke, but I think it would be awesome if you did.
[00:55:22] It’s fantastic. And it’s going to be really nice. It’s. Time. So it’s not going to be cold. we’ve just removed a lot of the mandates. So it’s very easy to be able to get into Canada at this point with with COVID. And then outside of that, probably the YouTube channel is another really great resource.
[00:55:40] youtube.com/. That is a place where you will be able to get access to all of our talks for free. So we publish all of our talks after the fact obviously going to the conferences, the best thing to do, to be able to have in-person communication and networking with people. Even asynchronous companies have like team retreats every year.
[00:56:02] We think of running a remote as a team retreat for remote work and the remote work community, but all of those talks are up there for free. And if you have any questions, you can just pose it there and I’ll get back to you.
[00:56:13] Oh, and also the book so running remote.com/book, that’s where you can, pre-order the book. And there’s a ton of different partners that are really doing a fantastic job at helping us out with launching this thing. So we have a lot of re really great pre-order offers for people that are interested in purchasing the book right now and getting a whole bunch of extra stuff.
[00:56:37] Great. Thank you. Thank you very much.