Remote culture eats strategy for breakfast
"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" #61
This week’s toy: intentionally bad volume controls. Imagine some of these horrible controls on a kiosk or in a place where you have to change the volume frequently and you get the idea that UX matters. Design better UX, and your users will have more energy to make choices in other areas of your app instead of focusing on initial choices like volume. Edition No. 61 of this newsletter is here - it’s September 27th, 2021.
The Big Idea
Remote work is here to stay. Yet many of us haven’t figured out how to optimize working when not in an office. Note that optimizing shouldn’t mean “work more” or “work better”, it’s a way of pointing out that humans are social animals and that it helps to have patterns defining the way we gather so that we better understand and enjoy our time working and collaborating with others.
This post by Nathan Berry points out a few things that are critical to building culture in a distributed team.
Berry highlights a few things:
Writing is an essential skill and is not optional. Writing well is important because you are collaborating across time and space and building a record of how you do business. How would you respond to a job if you had to learn everything without written documentation? You’d probably struggle a bit until you learned the norms of the business.
New people need support from existing people. We all think that onboarding is something that needs to happen for a new employee. Yet getting a laptop, swag, and a hello from team members is just the start. A new employee needs guardrails and check-ins to make sure they are able to fit themselves into the larger company. Fitting in doesn’t mean doing everything everyone else does - it means taking their emotional temperature and quelling concerns that may happen at the beginning, middle, or end of their tenure.
Existing people need support from new people. You probably hired someone to work with your company because you have to fill a need. The existing people need help! Let them know you haven’t forgotten about the rest of your team as you are simultaneously building a bridge to your new team members.
Culture in remote teams, just like in other teams, is not automatic. But it does become what you make of it.
Belonging Takes Effort
Building a tribe of committed, connected remote employees takes concerted effort. Each new addition to the group is going to change things - usually for the better, but not as a guarantee - and the adoption of group rituals and sharing is one thing that helps the team and the newcomer to bond.
Maintaining culture is a choice. Some organizations choose to ignore it and focus only on the work to be done and not on the experience of working for a company. Focusing on “how we sound” when organizations talk about good things, bad things, and everything in between helps us to consider how customers, partners, and employees think of the culture as it evolves.
Culture is not static. If you want some ideas on how to quantify it into an asset that people discuss and compare, consider the culture deck. Started at Netflix, this has become one way companies present what they do and how they do it. (Some of these decks are compiled here.) A culture presentation doesn’t create company culture, but it is one way to memorialize the common standards of behavior and expectations in an easier to digest format than a dry employee manual.
What’s the takeaway? Culture is just as important in a remote, distributed company as it is when we are sharing the same office space. And it’s much harder to measure how you’re doing when you don’t see the people physically every day. So building remote culture needs new ideas based on belonging, communicating, and celebrating.
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: Why is that package or part taking longer to reach you?
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ Does that door look right? - it turns out that the animation and movement and interaction with doors is one of the harder challenges in video games to get right. Like many things in product design and software development, it’s the edge cases that are challenging. Should a character touch a door or go through it? When you think about real-life interaction with a physical object, it’s easy. But making that convincing for bits can be hard.
2/ How to remember to plan - John Cutler’s Monthly Strategy Prompt is an excellent framework for making sure that you spend some time every month planning for things that are more than 30 days ahead. It’s easy to plan only in the moment or to respond to the loudest, most annoying problems. This is a good way to take a moment to breathe and consider other paths.
3/ What are the big rocks? - Ryan Glasgow shares 8 Product Hurdles every product owner or founder must clear. This covers the obvious (what problem should I be working on) to the not-so-obvious (when you haven’t hit product-market fit yet, what’s going wrong)? This is another excellent resource for considering a product process and for building repeatable, scalable, and small ways to improve.
On the Reading/Watching List
Watching: Wendy McNaughton’s Ted Talk on drawing and connection was one of the best things I’ve watched this year. I’ve started to watch episodes of her drawing show (which is available for kids of any age) and am feeling inspired about drawing again. Great stuff!
Reading: The Philosopher’s War, by Tom Miller. This steampunk-y alternate history novel follows up on the first book in the series, about a young man in a world where women are soldiers who wield magical powers. He joins them to fight in an alternate World War I from his college dorm at Radcliffe. This is a great read and a rollicking ride.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon