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Weekly 3: Effective remote work

Summary: Get on the same page. See performance clearly. Ignore bad advice. (~4 min read)

Idea Journal Weekly 3

May 24 · Issue #140 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Get on the same page. See performance clearly. Ignore bad advice. (~4 min read)

#1. Share responsibility for the meeting's performance
Computer programmer and entrepreneur Matt Mullenweg says in an interview that one way to have more effective remote meetings is to get everyone literally on the same page.
Imagine that you’re having a video meeting with your colleagues. 
Instead of each person typing at their computer and looking at different screens, you could have a shared Google document that’s open for everyone to see.
Then, designate someone to take notes in that shared document. 
As Mullenweg puts it: “this sounds like it might be distracting, but it’s actually an incredibly clarifying practice in a meeting.”
This way, each person can check in real-time whether the notes reflect the shared understanding of what was agreed to.
For Mullenweg: “Communication is hard in general, but in work situations, so often I see so much conflict and drama come from where people thought they were on the same page, but they were using the same words to mean different things.”
The result is that they don’t have a shared understanding of the expectations or outcomes of the meeting.
Note-taking is one of the most powerful positions in a meeting. When you make it a shared responsibility, you get much better expectations and outcomes.
This is one of the practices that Mullenweg uses in his role as CEO of Automattic, a fully distributed company with over 1,000 employees.
#2. Remote work illuminates performance
Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book Remote that one of the benefits of working remotely is that “the work itself becomes the yardstick to judge someone’s performance.”
When you’re working remotely, many of the “petty evaluation stats” disappear. 
Was she at her desk at 9am?
Did he take too many breaks today?
These questions are no longer important. 
What you’re left with is: What did this person actually do today?
As a manager, you can directly evaluate the work – the thing you’re paying this person for. And you can ignore all the stuff that doesn’t matter.
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson point out that this introduces clarity: “When it’s all about the work, it’s clear who in the company is pulling their weight and who isn’t.”
#3. A few principles for individuals working remotely
Author and entrepreneur Darius Foroux writes on his blog that there’s a lot of useless advice about how to work from home effectively, such as having a home office and using the right tools.
These tips are often impractical and overcomplicated.
We need to work with what we have, not what we want.
Foroux has successfully worked from home for over a decade, and he notes that in his experience there are three universal tips that will make it easier:
1. Adopt a “work first” mindset
Work first means that you’re committed to getting your work done no matter what. 
Think about a past deadline you had to make. Or that time when your coworker was sick and you had to step up. 
Did it matter where you were? Did it matter what you were wearing? 
Of course not. When the stakes are high, we find a way to get things done.
A work first mindset means that you plan your day around your work. Your work literally comes first. 
As Foroux puts it, this looks different for each person: “For me, it’s simple. I wake up without an alarm, have some coffee, and start writing. Only after I’ve done my writing, I move on to the practical things of life.”
2. Don’t overwork
Foroux notes that this can be a sensitive topic if you have a boss: “Some backward thinking bosses and companies think that you must work 8 hours a day because that’s what your contract says.”
And some entrepreneurs think that working harder is always the answer.
But Foroux asks: Have you ever used an activity log? Do you know how many hours you’re truly productive in a given day?
For Foroux himself, he starts fading at five hours: “After that, I start making mistakes and think foggy. The quality of my work will deteriorate if I work too much on a day.”
Each person is different.
Maybe you can be productive seven hours each day. That’s great. The key is knowing what works for you.
3. Experiment with different productivity strategies
There are many different productivity strategies. Here too, what works for other people may not work for you. 
And what worked for you a year ago may not work for you today. We need to adapt our habits and routines to what life looks like today.
For example, does it make sense to put your head down and ignore the news during a pandemic? 
Probably not.
Foroux argues that the key is finding a balance between what we control and what we don’t. 
He acknowledges that this is hard, but that it’s useful to see it as a challenge.
Other Weekly 3 issues about working effectively
Quote of the week
“The essence of a team is common commitment. Without it, groups perform as individuals; with it, they become a powerful unit of collective performance.”
- Management experts Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith in their book The Discipline of Teams
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