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Agile insights from LitheSpeed
25
Mar

The Asynchronous Team: Reconsidering the 9-5 for virtual work

SOUND FAMILIAR?

  • Schools are closed and you or your team mates are stuck at home with bored, grumpy children in the middle of the work day
  • Spouses are home too so your home internet is maxed out with 2 video conferences going at all times while the kids are trying to stream Frozen II for the 700th time
  • Every conversation that you used to have is now captured as an ongoing stream of endless reply-all emails that you can’t possibly stay on top of
  • You spend all of your time in video conference or on the phone to coordinate and plan and communicate. At then end of the day, you are exhausted but you weren’t able to accomplish much.
  • Frozen II is over now and the kids are crying and screaming and everyone on the video conference can hear all of your family drama

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

The main reason that this is happening is that although we are all trying to transition to remote-friendly, digital tools, we are holding on to a mental model that is holding us back. We are still trying to work synchronously. We are still trying to get everyone to be at the same place, at the same time, and focusing on the same stuff, all simultaneously as if we were in a physical meeting. But trying to replicate the physical world digitally leads to the zany-ness mentioned above and also misses the true potential of what is possible.

To truly enable a remote work culture and have it be sane and sustainable and productive, we need to let go of synchronous thinking.

To truly enable a remote work culture and have it be sane and sustainable and productive, we need to let go of synchronous thinking. We need to work asynchronously. How do we do that?

SOME IDEAS FROM GITLAB

Who is GitLab? GitLab is a company of about 1200 team members spread out across 67 countries. They are the makers of a complete DevOps platform that supports code planning, creation, testing, configuration management, release, etc. And the amazing thing is, they are completely remote and as such, their “operating system” is designed completely around an asynchronous culture. With 67 countries to coordinate across, their system has to be independent of time-zones. So how do you plan, coordinate, and communicate and deliver stuff when you can never get everyone on the line at the same time?

HOW GITLAB DOES IT

  1. Work is managed and captured in tools, not in email.
  2. Processes and procedures are captured in documents and are always updated so that everyone has access to the latest ways of doing work. (Compare this to talking about how you are going to improve some process in a meeting but then it never goes anywhere.)
  3. Status, discussions, opinions, ideas, and inputs are captured in documents. Everyone can contribute without having to be on a call or in a meeting. The organizer or driver of this particular topic or conversation is responsible for sorting through the input and gathering the most important and relevant info. Working this way creates complete transparency. There are no side-emails or people who are left out of the conversation. Everyone has access to the docs and they can see each other’s ideas and can contribute their own.
  4. Basically, there is a lot more writing and lot less talking. And the writing occurs in a more structured way then sending out a bunch of emails and then playing ping-pong with all of the back-and-forth responses.
  5. All of this work in tools and documents happens asynchronously. You don’t have to be on “the call”. You can do it at 10pm after the kids have gone to bed. You can do it at 6am before the rest of the house is awake. You can be in a different timezone and not feel like a 2nd class citizen.

BENEFITS & CHALLENGES

  • Disciplined use of tools is always a challenge. It is definitely more work than talking or firing off yet another email.
  • Documenting everything and having that all be out in the open will be a cultural challenge
  • Managing tool proliferation is a challenge. It is easy to end up having all of your work scattered across 7 tools. Yuck.

But, here is what the GitLab folks have to say:

  • Without all of the calls and emails, they are able to get much more done.
  • They have greater transparency into what everyone is doing and accomplishing
  • There is much less time stress
  • They are able to scale to massive levels of digital/remote work

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

If so, go ahead and start up Frozen II for the 701st time to buy yourself a couple of hours of peace. Then, go here and read this stuff!

For virtual Agile support, contact us.

Roland Cuellar is the SVP of Business Agility at LitheSpeed.