Paul Dowman

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PUBLISHED ON JUNE 26, 2020

Scaling yourself: meeting or async?

Would a few more hours in your day be useful? Or less interruptions? Whether it’s maker time, big-picture thinking time, or just the ability to keep up with more things going on, you could probably use more time.

You may have read blog posts, more blog posts, guides, and books that go all-in on “asynchronous communication”, but even the introverts like myself know there are times when talking with other humans is worthwhile!

So here’s a way to optimize our meeting time to do more with less, and all of this applies equally to remote or in-person work.

Meeting types

The key is recognizing the purpose of the meeting. It’s probably one of:

  • Sharing information
  • Generating or developing ideas
  • Making a decision
  • Relationship building

Getting clear on the meeting’s purpose will help you run a better meeting, or find a better alternative.

Sharing information

Is it just an email?

This is the obvious one, but if it’s sharing information (including status updates), then consider not having that meeting! Async information sharing lets everyone get to it on their own schedule, and if it’s in written form then everyone can consume it at their own pace (probably more quickly but maybe more deeply).

Tools:

  • Status meetings or daily standups can be done with a tool like Geekbot or just an automated Slack reminder.

Generating or developing ideas

When it comes to developing ideas there’s nothing that comes close to the power of writing. It takes some time and editing, but your ideas will evolve into something much more clear before you ask other people for their time. This is huge leverage, every minute you spend clarifying the idea before sharing it saves time for everyone who reads it.

Letting people give feedback or add ideas on their own schedule at their own pace gives you a better outcome with less time overall, and then you can have a shorter decision meeting later if you need it.

Tools:

  • Share something like a Google Doc that people can comment on, and ideally even edit or suggest. They’ll get to it on their own time, going as quickly or as deeply as they like.
  • For brainstorming share a digital whiteboard app with virtual sticky notes.

Making a decision

Sometimes it really is a meeting. But does everyone need to attend? Whose input is required and who just wants to stay in the loop? Taking good notes of the key decisions and outcomes releases those who just want to know what happened.

If you want their input then say so, and if not then mark their invite as optional and let them know that you’ll share the outcome afterward anyway.

People are often invited to meetings out of courtesy, but that puts the burden on them to either ask if they’re really needed or show up just in case. Make the game easier by making it clear that you’re just keeping them in the loop.

Tools:

  • Fellow is ideal for this, it’s meeting notes or agenda that’s automatically shared with everyone who is invited
  • Google Docs works well, or just an email, whatever you like as long as you share it!
  • Recording the meeting doesn’t help with scaling people’s time. It still takes a long time to watch it (even if you speed it up). Often an hour-long meeting can have notes that take 5 minutes to read.

Relationship building

If it’s relationship building then please, carry on! Don’t try to optimize anything! Don’t do your 1:1’s by Slack! 😱 Take the time to get to know each other as humans.

And regular (optional) team social gatherings are essential. (As an aside, be inclusive. For example, you might like to drink, but does everyone on the team? And seriously, stop optimizing and do it during work hours. You may not have kids or elderly parents to care for, but do others? For remote teams spanning time zones you’ll need to compromise.)

Tools for remote teams:

  • Short “coffee break” hangouts can be valuable. But don’t expect everyone to show up. Making it short (15 min) helps.
  • For more formal remote social events you need a bit more structure than just a video chat. There are great online games of all types, from things like Scribbl.io to Jackbox Games, etc.
  • Note that for games like Jackbox over video chat then you’ll need to share sound too, and not every service supports this. Streaming the main screen with Twitch might be an option.

Other types of collaborative work

I have focused on meetings that are about the work here, but getting together to do work is always awesome. Is pair programming a meeting? No, it’s just getting shit done! Pair programming is the best way to bring new people up to speed more quickly, distribute knowledge more evenly, raise the bar of everyone’s ability, and end up with better code overall. This means keeping your development velocity high over time. And it can work just as well remotely.

Summary

So knowing the meeting type lets you turn some meetings into writing instead, and sharing meeting summaries with optional attendees lets them make the best use of their time.

Take out the scaling bottlenecks in your calendar and your company!

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2020 © Paul Dowman