Last month, after two years of no flying, I got the opportunity to meet my coworkers in Playa Del Carmen, close to Cancun. It was exquisite – we got to hang out on the beach, eat buckets of guacamole, race jet skis, work a little, swim in the Cenotes, and most importantly – bond as a team. I got to find out how extraordinary human beings my teammates are.
Before the pandemic, all my previous teams would meet at least three times per year in an exotic location to remind ourselves that we are still human beings, and not only windows in the company chat. But, as we created our team just before the pandemic, we were yet to see each other in person.
Why Remote companies do Meetups
People need relationships, and trust to work effectively. Once you connected with a teammate, shared a meal, and even lived together (yup, we rent huge villas together when possible) – you develop an empathy for your coworkers, and can undestand them much better over the imperfect mediums such as Slack or Zoom. It becomes much easier to assume positive intent, if you went on an adventure together, or swapped stories about family struggles.
All those mythical whiteboard planning sessions, that supposedly make working in the office so much more effective and creative? They can happen during a meetup, although I have yet to see brainstorming session that beats asynchronous exchange of thoughtful ideas.
This is a perk, I’m not going to lie. The perspective of being paid to fly across the world to exotic location to ride jetski with coworkers is one of the reasons I continue to be very happy at Automattic.
The trip reminded me why I love Remote work so much and how there’s a season for everything. Five years ago, I traveled to the same spot with my wife (then-girlfriend). Since it was only the two of us, we stayed for 1.5 months roaming across Yucatan and swimming in every Cenote we could find. Every time a meetup would come up, we would both go, and extend the stay to at least a month to take advantage of the paid-for flights and transfer time.
This time, it took painstaking preparation – my wife had to drive to her parents with our baby and the dog so that she could have some help while I was having fun. Instead of extending the trip as much as possible, I allowed myself to fly one day earlier to scuba in the Cozumel Coral Reef (2nd biggest in the world, and item 112 on my Bucketlist), where I met charlie – a giant, 4-meter turtle.
Every situation allows you to do something unique, only possible in that time and place in life. So try to take advantage of that before wishing for a different arrangement. Yes, I know this is something only a privileged and lucky person would say.
Three surprising things
Unnecessary inventions is a very aptly named blog of Matty Benedetto, who “over the past two years, he has designed and fully prototyped over 280 new inventions that solve problems that don’t exist.”. My favorite is the Slice Slapper, a device to cut a triangle of Pizza right from the middle of your pie:
The Slice Slapper™️ Eliminate horrible pizza toppings in an instant! Our debut removal tool features an easy push button and tri-angled blades to rapidly chop away any potion of your pizza pie featuring ingredients you would NEVER eat. Simply locate the deplorable section and slap it away to customize your pizza to your unique one of a kind taste. Now… who TF ordered the pineapple olive mushroom pizza?!?
Czocha Castle is quite possibly the most interesting place in Poland. It doubles as Hogwarts for events, has 40+ secret passageways, is embellished with hundreds of Freemason riddles, and possibly houses art stolen before WW2. Read more here.
Tech jobs filter problem
Tech jobs are cushy, comfortable, and come with many perks. As a result, Google and others continuously sit at the top of “best places to work at” lists. However, the interview processes are famously demeaning and unrelated to the actual job at hand. A recent study found them measuring anxiety more than tech skills, but the best explanation can be found in the Hacker News comment section:
Google (& similar) have more applicants who can do the job than they have positions, so instead of checking for that and calling it a day, they filter for some combination of IQ and how bad you want it—willing to do a ton of otherwise-low-value prep work & practice, and to go through the painful interview process itself, likely several times at different companies, even for successful candidates.
At Automattic, we take quite a different route – you get hired for a (paid) trial period, and you can see if you like it before committing.
In 2021, I have become a father, bought an RV, and spent 6 months off work – the longest period away from my job since I was 15.
An advice that I quite often give is to accept reality as it is and act accordingly, instead of demanding it to improve. We took our own advice this year and it has been paying dividends.
COVID has disrupted our carefully crafted jetsetter lifestyle full of travel and exotic destinations. We interpreted it as a signal to start a family and adopt a dog. We always talked about getting an RV to travel with the whole piszek gang, so we bought one as well (Hilariously, the conversation forked from the tough task of buying a baby car seat. After all, if we’re buying a seat, we have to get one that will fit both the car and the future RV).
Two years of consecutive lockdowns and travel bans later I now recognize, how lucky we were to implement all of those plans at once without dillydallying. Instead of clinging to hopes of our past lifestyle returning, we were able to enjoy a new, quite awesome one. Many people came to the same conclusions 6 months later, only to be met with years-long wait times for the RVs.
One sliver of my glorious globetrotter past is my Star Alliance Gold status, which I managed to retain, despite two years of being grounded. We will see how long I can keep up the charade.
The first lesson my best friend gave me about parenting was:
The key is to have no expectations. The moment you start expecting anything, you have lost
I am known to dabble in self-development, so many of my friends assumed I will put my poor child through “educational” apps, experiences, and toys. So far, I have been able to treat those with utter indifference, allowing Ewa to direct her learning herself. I hope to continue that trend.
The area where I made too many assumptions was the curriculum of my parental leave. As I mentioned before, I am fortunate enough to work at a company that gives all parents 6 months of paid time off. This probably deserves it’s own post.
My wife always suspected she would leave her job after we’d start a family, and I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea. I always felt it was a little presumptuous – maybe I wanted to share the day-to-day of wrangling family life, maybe being a stay-at-home-dad was my future and should deserve an equal chance?
After experiencing it, I am now fully convinced that my strengths lie elsewhere. There are probably endless jokes about clueless men, but I really gave it my best shot and spent precious moments with my baby. Still, meaningful contributions at my work feel much more effortless whereas playing with the same toy for the nth time is just exhausting. I am deeply grateful that it’s the other way around for my wife.
If 2021’s theme is to accept the new reality and roll with it, then us scaling down the spending and me becoming a sole provider is probably the way to go, at least for some time.
Health & Fitness
Getting a better handle on my health was one of those goals of my parental leave that I failed to achieve. Despite close to 200 workouts, my weight barely moved. Maybe it staying still despite pizza, pasta, and wine is a win after all.
In the end, I think I didn’t really care enough about that goal. My mom put me to shame this year:
My new resolution for 2022 is to take it seriously. I’ll begin with a habit of eating mostly the same things – trays of baked veggies & chicken thighs
So many smiles of my baby girl. Digital photography is a blessing, and observing the changes of the little cheerfull creature living under our roof is the best thing ever.
My Wife and I managed to approach (almost) all challenges as a team, and the Baby strained our relationship like never before. We strived to play to our strenghts, and ensure everybody’s needs are met, with no bookkeeping, and grudges. I hope we manage to keep it up or even get better.
Exploring Europe with our RV – particularly small towns and mountains of Southern Tyrol, strolling through charming (and quite empty) Venice, Swimming in lake Garda (and many others), and enjoying Italian sunshine, tomatoes and wine,
Visiting friends abroad was much more fun than expected. Every time I do it, it feels a little bit of a hassle, but am very happy afterwards. I wish I reached out to my Munich friends one day sooner to enjoy Octoberfest with them,
We invited a goat to our remote meeting at work. I am really proud of it
Zooms are fine, but finally meating my team in Mexico was such a great experience – we realized how amazing of a fit we are, and I remembered how I miss flying (and turtles),
One day before our meetup, I manage do squeeze in Scuba Diving in Cozumel Coral reef – the second biggest in the world. I hope to scuba more in 2022
When I stepped back from the annoyances of day-to-day for six months, I realized that Automattic is quite an awesome company and I have been doing great, challenging, and fulfilling work. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work on projects critical to our mission a couple of times, solving complicated problems with friends.
My only concern is bureaucracy bloat that can be inevitable with the company growth, but we’ve been fending it off successfully so far.
Throughout 2021 I have managed to keep up my posting schedule, managing to publish at least one post per week. Only in the last stretch – November, and December, I have failed to keep up due to parenting responsibilities. That is why I am so determined to publish this post today, on January 1.
Two of my posts ended up on top of Hacker News, bringing quite a bit of traffic to my site:
It seems that I have developed a bit of a framework to getting featured in this community. I also re-took the Write Of Passage writing course, which I still endorse wholeheartedly. If you want to work on the inner game of blogging, developing your ideas, and the substance of your writing, this continues to be the best resource out there.
Till September of last year, I was running two blogs: Deliber.at, where I would write about self-development and making your life deliberate, and Piszek.com, where I would put all my other writing. The reason to have Deliber.at as a separate entity was my hope of turning it into something bigger and more focused – a project that could stand on its own.
This year, I decided to limit my concerns, and roll everything into Piszek.com. Now, all my writing is unapologetically a personal affair, touching on a variety of subjects. I feel freer now to pursue my curiosity, and if you want to tag along – you are more than welcome!
What kept me from pursuing a Team Lead role in the past was my tendency to micromanage. I like things done in a particular way, and I used to get annoyed where they weren’t.
Naturally, what got you here won’t get you there. Your expertise, ease of problem-solving, and familiarity with the domain field (say a codebase) become obstacles to delegation. You’re thinking to yourself
“I can solve this in a pinch and they’re messing with it for a week“.
That was my main reason to doubt if I can be a capable Team Lead. I decided to test this self-narrative and maybe improve. I hired a Virtual Assistant that would charge me money. I’d lose this money if I didn’t delegate.
Sure enough, in the beginning, I questioned that decision. It was more work to explain to my VA how I want stuff done than doing it myself. Quite often, she would do something different than I’d like. Other times – It would be too slow.
It made me work on my communication, expectations, and, most importantly – the inner game of delegation. I learned to let go and trust her, and I’m delighted now.
I still have a lot to learn about being a great Team Lead, but without these lessons, it would be even more traumatic for my team.
More about hiring a Virtual Assistant
How much does it cost?
I pay ~$15/hour, $200 monthly minimum, but that’s in Poland. I have a contract with a small VA “shop.” I have 1 point of contact, but there are other people managing my affairs.
Being a better TL was not the only reason I wanted to hire a VA. Because of my specific family situation, I have to manage particular affairs of my grandparents and my mom, which was intruding on my work time. I also value time more than I value money, and buying back some of it seemed like a good way to live a happier life.
There are certain things I hate doing and tend to put off. It’s awesome to be able to delegate that.
What sorts of tasks do you delegate?
Dealing with calling businesses, quarterly checklists of all the utilities for me and my broader family, research of the baby gear (try to hunt used ones where possible), scheduling doctors & home repairs, getting Turkish Airlines to refund me tickets, sort stock photos I bought for the blog, manage online shopping returns, repair my mom’s printer, finding me a local donate-to-a-park scheme, sort my dog’s bark sounds for the ML model, etc.
How do you find a great Virtual Assistant?
I took Ramit Sethi’s course “Delegate and Done” about hiring a VA, and not everybody is prepared to go to such lengths (Do you see now why I may have micro managerial issues? 😀).
I prepared a Google doc with a couple of questions and typical tasks, and I asked candidates to describe how they’d tackle them
I Googled VA’s, went on Facebook groups to find VA groups
I’ve read what they wrote, sent the doc to ones that sounded good
I will be phasing out the deliber .at domain from this newsletter, and the blog. Everything will be transitioning to piszek .com, and here is why:
Automatic (the company I work for and have written about) has a very generous parental leave policy. Within the first year of your child’s birth, you can take up to six months of paid leave. That’s what I’m doing since last Monday, and I am exhausted.
This is not a vacation of course. Babies tend to have their own ideas about what to do with your time and my chief concern will be keeping my newborn safe and somewhat entertained. But I cannot help but treat this as kind of a sabbatical. I hope to strengthen the bond between my child and me, but I hope to do other stuff, too.
The case for sabbaticals
When I was studying in Sweden, I learned that it’s quite common to take a gap year between high school and university. I did the opposite – took on the second master’s degree, to get ahead. And it probably did. In the game, I shouldn’t even be playing.
I started contract work when I was 15, and I haven’t had a break longer than 3 weeks since. During that time I got a total of 3 different degrees, and the constant feeling in the back of my head that I have to hurry because the cargo train of obligations is going to catch up with me.
Taking a break is scary but from what I’ve seen it’s probably one of the simplest ways to grapple with one of people’s biggest fears: that they didn’t live a life that they were capable of. Taking a break is a way to take a different perspective of your life, remember the things that mattered to you, and sometimes simply rest and be with the ones that matter to you.
So what are your plans Artur?
Take care of the Baby, of course. I am aspiring to be a lazy parent, and I hope to just go about my own life, with her by my side.
One of the hopes for my newly acquired time is to change my relationship with well, time. I promised my baby not to rush her, but first I need to learn how unrushed time looks like. I know the crying baby is not a perfect catalyst, but we’ll see.
We bought an RV and I hope we’ll roam around Europe soon! Early plans point to Southern Tyrol, Switzerland, and Northern Italy, but that depends on COVID, of course.
Focus on my fitness, particularly nutrition.
Finally, writing. In case you missed it, I was running 2 blogs: deliber.at (pronounced “deliberate”), where I would post about Remote Work and “living the deliberate life”, and piszek.com where I would just explore what strikes my fancy. After COVID, I don’t have to tell anybody about the existence of Remote Work anymore and I struggled to find the new “glorious purpose” for deliber.at. As Paul points out in “Case for Sabbaticals”, writing is a common theme amongst the curious folk on leave. That makes total sense – writing helps you think and explore ideas. I am purposefully unbinding myself from the previous shape of this blog and newsletter, and I’m taking you on that journey.
As part of writing, I want to explore my relationship with intellectualism. I am deeply disappointed by the crowds of educated theoreticians’ performance in real-world problems. COVID response has made it abundantly clear that nobody knows anything. I became so tired of “Sitting And Talking About Important World Affairs“™️ that it has interfered with my writing. I still value intellectual curiosity very highly, but mainstream intellectualism has turned into a virtue-signaling circus.
What would you do if you wouldn’t have to work for the next 5 months?
This is the 50th issue of my newsletter, so it’s as good as time as any to change the format into a little more free-flowing. In order to simplify and leave me more space to explore, I’m going to move all my web properties under piszek .com.
Interesting things from around the web
Do you know any good podcasts not about tech?
I am on the prowl for whacky stuff from outside my bubble. I started with “Overheard” by National Geographic. So far, I’ve learned all about the Beavers are moving into the Arctic as the permafrost is thawing, how a group of villagers in Kenya has built a “GiRaft” to safely transport a giraffe off an island, and listened to crazy stories of underwater photographers hanging out with Orcas. I am definitely going to stick with this show. I’m also trying out “Utopian” about failing utopias and Revisionist History.
This is a story of how I started a podcast, in 3 hours (apart from waiting for iTunes verification), with a total cost of $5/month. And that included my own domain name! I share detailed instructions on launching a brand new podcast on WordPress, and later promoting it on iTunes and Spotify.
Why would you want to start a podcast?
Podcasting has been hailed “the new blogging”. According to Edison Research, 51% of Americans have ever listened to a podcast and the medium use has grown 122% since 2014. Listening to a conversation creates a deeper connection and for some, it is more entertaining than the written word.
Together, with a group of Polish bloggers, we were dreaming about a foray into podcasting. We created Placebo Podcast in hopes of meeting interesting people and frankly – having fun.
The title reads “Your dose of absolutely nothing. Confirmed clinical efficacy”
What are the benefits of podcasting?
You can connect with your audience on a much deeper level thanks to your voice and the unscripted nature of the conversation,
It is a fantastic excuse to reach out and meet interesting people,
Interviewing people can help you practice listening skills
How does it all work?
You may have listened to a podcast on iTunes, Spotify or another app. But did you know that the content you are enjoying does not originate there?
The beating heart of every podcast is it’s RSS feed. It is a particular format of new blog content that other services – like iTunes or Spotify can consume and display in the appropriate apps, Alexa devices and various services.
To start a podcast, you need a blog. Then you submit it’s RSS feed to podcast services – like iTunes or Spotify.
What is the easiest way to start a blog? With WordPress.com you can be finished in 10 minutes. You don’t have to worry about hosting, hackers, FTP, GIT, NSA, and other scary 3-letter acronyms. The service has been around for more than 10 years and you don’t have to watch out for ground shifting under your feet. You own your domain and can take it to any competitor.
Full transparency: I work for the parent company (Automattic) on an unrelated product line. I was motivated to check out how our podcasting offering works.
These instructions will also work if you have your own installation of WordPress, on your own host. Once you set up a site, and connect a domain – the following tutorial should be similar.
What do you need to start?
Settle upon a memorable and distinctive name,
Record at least three episodes, so when you are published on iTunes, your listeners will have a better taste of your style,
Edit them with intro and outro so that your listeners can recognize your work. Also, if they listen to a standalone episode, it’s good to explain to them what your whole podcast is about and ask them to subscribe,
Make sure iTunes and Spotify present a fetching cover art so that it is easily recognizable on the list of podcasts,
Make sure your episodes have a place to live, where you can connect with your listeners, posts notes, etc – that is your site!,
You have to submit your podcast to iTunes podcasts, Spotify and Google Play. Majority of podcast listeners use one of these services, so you have to meet them where they are,
Promote, promote, promote,
The name of your podcast will help your listeners find you in their favourite podcasting app. Making it memorable was our main goal and trying to be somewhat humorous was the second. We came up with “Placebo – podcast with a confirmed clinical efficacy”.
People will consume your amazing podcast through an app. You have only a few places to stand out:
Cover art should be simple and easy to recognize. Since my podcast is named Placebo, some kind of satirical medical vibe would be best. One of my co-podcasters had a Shutterstock account, where we found a nice graphic. After a few tweaks, tada!
Cover art should have 1400×1400 px, so remember to find big enough image
Itunes limits the summary to 250 characters, so you have to distill the description of your intended content. We wanted to give listeners a taste and encourage them to give us a listen.
We also made sure to link to our site, where they can learn more.
Podcasting Settings on WordPress.com are located here.
How do you record? Do you have fancy gear?
I have some good news and some bad news for you. Good news:
You don’t need fancy gear!
You have no excuse to keep browsing podcasting gear.
You should get to work right away. Here is what we do:
My podcasting friends live in different cities, so we decided to record our podcast in a distributed fashion.
We are using zoom.us, a teleconferencing software similar to Skype. Because our meetings have 3 participants, we are limited to 40 minutes if we want to keep using the free version. We embraced this limitation – 40 minutes of listening to me can drive anybody mad.
The audio will travel through the magic portals of the Internet to the meeting hosts’ computer, where it will be recorded. After wrapping up, we have a recording to publish. If you decide to go this route, I have a few tips for you:
Buy some decent (not fancy) microphone. I am using Sennheiser SC-160. Just don’t use the earbuds you got with your phone
Jump on a quick call before you start recording to make sure the audio is ok
Turn off video if you want to save transfer for better sound. Video tends to steal from audio quality
Remember to press record! You don’t want to have the most exciting conversation in the history of conversations only to find out you never captured it. Or maybe you do – in which case podcasting may not be a good fit.
After you finish your zoom call, you will have a file `audio_only.m4a`.
Here is how you can edit using most basic tools
What is the best tool? The one you already have. My Mac came with GarageBand preinstalled, so I decided to stick with it. There is now a plethora of fancy podcast-editing setups, but this is just a fun session with friends, not money-making business recording.
Podcast editing in Garage Band
Get your audio logo. This will be the piece of music that will evoke memories of your other episodes and make sure listeners recognize you. I purchased a one for $10, but there are sites with free music you can download,
Fire off Garageband, with a new “Voice” project,
Record your intro. We decided that intro should give a taste what is in the episode and entice the listeners to give it a try,
Record your outro. After the episode, we want to convince the listeners to try other episodes or check out more on our sites. We recorded outro once and reuse it on all episodes.
Now you can overlay your audio logo with your intro and outro.
Drag audio logo file to Garageband
To create nice transitions and regulate audio levels, Select Mix->Automate and select “Volume” from the menu that just appeared under your audio track.
Now clicking on your audio track will create a graph that will help you create fade in and out
Drop your recording file, adjust the volume
Export the audio file
To make sure iTunes presents your image next to the episode as well, you have to edit what is called ID3 tags. The easiest way to do this is iTunes. Select your file, click “information”
After you edit the information in iTunes, upload your cover art and click OK, your episode will appear in iTunes Podcast library. You can find this file in your Home Directory / Music / iTunes / Podcasts
Uploading to WordPress
On WordPress.com, each episode of your podcast will be a separate WordPress post. You will have a unique link to share with your audience, a way for them to listen to your episode without the app and the place to share notes and links to the episode.
Maybe it is my scout upbringing ( “be prepared” ), but I like to double-check things. I recommend submitting your podcast feed to a service like https://podba.se/validate/ .
The online validator will do a few checks and reassure you that you are ready to submit your podcast to iTunes or Spotify.
Time to go live
You have your domain and a site for your podcast,
You recorded a few episodes, gave them intro and an outro,
Uploaded them and published on your site,
Checked your podcast feed and everything is working
Now it’s time to publish your podcast to the world!
As I mentioned, majority of people consume podcasts through an app. Be it iTunes podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, etc. Fortunately, they all work by checking your RSS feed. After you submit it to those services, your podcasting magic will work seamlessly!
After your podcast is reviewed and approved in the libraries, remember to publish those links on your site. That way you will be able to promote your beautiful WordPress.com domain and when somebody visits your site, they will be able to choose their preferred podcast consuming technology. We put these buttons right up at the top:
As you can see, publishing a podcast is not hard. That means a lot of people can do it – and indeed, they do. The number of podcasts is exploding, and that is a good thing – more and more quality content (like yours) will be created.
But it also means more competition.
You will have to promote your podcast on Social Media or meet with other podcasters to appear on their shows. I do plan on doing that myself, and I will share my findings.
Now that you have everything set up, whenever you publish a new post with the audio file, it will automatically be picked up by iTunes and Spotify.
Your listeners will marvel at your brilliance, and advertisers will fly bags of money directly into your mansion so you can fill up your Jacuzzi with $100 bills.
Or, you end up like me, with about ten people listening to you 🙂
In the olden days before the pandemic, there were conferences and meetings. People would gather together to discuss matters in person, looking at each other, not through the screen, but face-to-face.
Meetings, naturally, are most productive when you take notes. Without action items and concrete takeaways, there are just chit-chats between friends. So people whip out their laptops and tablets to „jot down something.”
Have you ever participated in a meeting where everybody is walled off behind a screen? I did, and it was entirely unproductive. I’m sure it had great notes, though.
Last year, during our company offsite in Orlando, I had a series of meetings regarding a feature I was responsible for. There were many stakeholders, and I wanted to use the time to discuss strategy. I met with the Head of Product, President of our product line, and the CEO of the company. And I noticed something quite interesting:
The more senior the person, the more minimalist their note-taking approach.
All the people I met used Pen&Paper. But it really clicked when we invited the amazing Stephen Wolfram on stage. He would carry a stack of post-it notes, just like our CEO!
I wanted to have something that the average theoretical physicist can use
Stephen Wolfram on why he created Mathematica. He could have been talking about post-its, too.
What is it about paper notes and post-its in particular?
Note-taking is something I take seriously. I type about 500 new notes per month and I am very fond of the search function of my Evernote account. But I have to admit – the paper is superior for note-taking.
Analog (pen & paper) note-taking lets you stay present. There is no wall of screens between you and the other person,
Your posture is different when you take notes on paper, making it easier for you to use body language. (With hands on the keyboard, your back is rounded, just like when your ancestors were hiding from danger. This is not the body language of successful people),
It’s clear and even encouraging that you are noting things down. The other person does not have to worry, that you are playing Animal Crossing,
Post-it notes are easy to carry and convenient to pull out when needed. You can keep them in your pocket,
You can use them while standing, which is useful during conferences,
One idea, one note is a neat, self-contained information nugget. Post-it note is big enough to note the important stuff but too small to take your bloat. Just like a tweet.
You can easily re-arrange, combine, and process them after the meeting. It’s like the are made for this.
Now, that you are in on the secret, you can carry a stack of post-it notes to your high-stakes meeting. Let them know you are a professional too.
This document was created in 1944 to help incite enemy to
“make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”
In my corporate experience, I have seen genuinely well-meaning employees act in any of these ways. The bigger the organization, the more of these behaviors become defaults. You default to committees to shift risk. You insist on proper channels to be a „Team Player.”
Open communication in a bigger organization encourages most of these behaviors and that is what I marked in red.
At Automattic, we kind of take the „Apple Opposite” approach. We are distributed in 75 countries, work without a spaceship HQ, and default to open communication whenever possible. I can snoop in on all internal projects and our VIP clients, see source code of upcoming releases and chime in on a product line strategy that has zero overlap with my responsibilities.
A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
Unfortunately, everything in life has a downside and Open communication does as well. Every positive behavior can become a subterfuge tactic if overused:
Subterfuge tactic I fall into
Async communication, by definition, can be read at any time. I don’t know what the context of the other party is, so I will make a long-winded explanation of my reasoning, so we can skip the back-and-forth
(2) Make „speeches”. Talk as frequently as possible at great length…
When I stumble upon a thread or conversation, I try to provide additional value by looping in knowledgeable people.
Connecting people who talk to each other is great for creativity.
(3) When possible, defer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration”
This one is particularly effective as subterfuge – people I loop in will reciprocate, ensuring exponential growth of a committee.
Sometimes I try to provide additional value by sharing ideas and concerns. Did you thought about X?
Maybe they didn’t, and I just saved them a discovery in the future?
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible
Also known as Bikeshedding. Extremely powerful combined with the above (3). Random people looped into a conversation will feel compelled to provide value, sharing shallow unrelated concerns.
Since Async communication does not really have the concept of the „meeting finished”, we can hit another tactic for bonus points if we „share our thoughts too late”:
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon the last meeting, in an attempt to re-open the question (…)
Hippocrates said, that everything to the excess is opposed to nature.
Excess communication can have detrimental effects. It introduces noise for everybody, but more importantly – piles on more work for people trying to solve a problem. I am not advocating for hiding the communication but cutting on self-serving comments.
Are you making that comment to:
Show that you are smart? Pass.
To prove that you have taken action, even it is contributing very little? Pass.
Because you feel concerned, that „proper channels” were not used? Pass.
Project shipped, but you feel compelled to share a concern that should be addressed earlier? Pass.
You have helpful information, that will make them achieve goals faster? Go ahead.
You are certain a major risk was overlooked? Go ahead.
You have a genuine question and answer will help you or others in future pursuits? Go ahead.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of me helping the WordPress.com users earn a living.
We are building a whole suite of products and features that would unlock the economic potential of the people starting their journeys as the publishers. Our goal has just the right keywords to suggest that we are building a „paywall.” But, Paywall is not a straightforward affair. Let me explain how I think about Paywalls:
Traditional Paywall – let’s call it „big publisher paywall.”
This is the paywall we all think about and see in leading publisher sites like New York Times, Washington Post, and similar ones. Since the business model of those sites is publishing, they produce news articles. That is what they get paid for, and that is what they are meant to guard.
They are usually monetizing through the quantity of content. There are several modes of operation here:
“Metered Paywall” is the most popular approach of “3/ month free” articles
“Nagwall” is where you get progressively worse reading experience, or they would badger you to sign up, but they will not block the content outright.
“Hard paywall”, where you have no way of accessing the content without a subscription
That technical solution is tightly coupled with: Producing a lot of content with a short shelf life.
If a site had 3 evergreen, amazing pieces that are bringing the majority of traffic and the rest would be meh content, then there would be no reason to pay! A quota of 3/month is enough to consume this great content, and there is no reason to sign up for more. Because there IS no more. So these sites are producing content that is enough to draw the traffic and give you a taste of future goodies, but not enough to fill you up. Additionally:
Since you pay for quantity, it incentivizes larger teams or news organizations
It’s best to have a uniform quality. If there is a breakaway hit, it is used to draw traffic and not be value in itself
They tend to focus on general topics (news, sports) to have the biggest possible total addressable market.
They have already a huge back-catalog of existing content when starting a paywall (hard to pay for quantity when there are only 20 pieces on a site)
The signup messages are short and minimal because it’s clear what you pay for – more of the same
Publishers using these paywalls have other, complex needs – customization, email newsletters, corporate strategy. They don’t exist in a vacuum and are usually connected to a bigger organization and budgets.
“Member features” / “Niche blogger paywall”
Now, let’s consider a case of the smaller blogger, maybe even a 3-person team running a site.
They have no hopes of competing with NYT or Washington Post on quantity and broad-spectrum journalism
They cannot put out more than one piece per day
They tend to be very niche, and their Unique Value Proposition lies in being practical and having a perspective not found anywhere else
They don’t have an institutional brand like NYT, so they have to earn trust by producing great (free) content as well
They have a tiny (or non-existent) back-catalog of existing content.
Because of these traits, bloggers overwhelmingly are separating free and premium content.
Promotional content is what made them famous. Free articles with great quality and unique perspective are bringing traffic to the site
Paid content usually has a very clear value proposition, based on the blogger’s expertise.
Some of the ways for bloggers to monetize is to offer:
Drip feed, where you get access to “private blog”, with new relevant content being consistently added
All-In membership, where you get access to the back catalog of private content
Online Community – where you pay for ongoing relationships with the blogger but also other people that paid for the same access (being connected to a blogger’s message enough to pay is a good filter for other people willing to do so, hence you can connect with similar-minded folks easily while skipping the internet randos that never pay.)
Product – (software download, excel spreadsheet for job hunting, or a physical product like a planner)
None of these business models are compatible with readers being able to “peek” pieces of content of their own choosing. Bloggers/site owners are making a clear distinction of what pieces of content are free and which ones are “premium” worth paying for. Sure, they tease what’s inside the „premium”, but they are explicitly choosing which parts can be accessible.
Additionally, the “free” section has to be pretty accessible as well. Before a customer trusts a blogger “out of nowhere”, she has to form a relationship based on time and trust. There is no brand like NYT to help with this decision. It will often take way more than 3 or even 30 free articles to convince a customer to pay.
If you are starting up, you are better off starting with:
Building up your catalog of the entirely free content that will help others discover your site
Once you have some free content, you should introduce „member only” section with something extra
Don’t concern yourself with the fancy mechanics of content blocking. You can start by sending your paid content manually via email. Don’t spend time on site features! If you are on WordPress.com, you can use the Premium Content feature we just released.
This post is a crash course on Remote Work for a smaller team that is forced into this reality by COVID-19. I am linking some all-encompassing tutorials at the end. This post is meant to get you started with the basic ideas of remote work in 15 minutes.
Switching to a remote environment will take work and won’t be ideal in the beginning. Remote work requires shifting mindsets, and people are not great at that. But you have no other choice. I am using terms “Remote Work” and “Work from Home” interchangeably in this post, because to slow the spread of the virus, your colleagues should stay at home.
Who am I? I am leading a remote team in a company that has been distributed for 10+ years. We have 1200 employees in 76 countries. These are practical tips I learned there.
What’s the deal?
COVID-19 ( / Coronavirus / SARS-CoV-2 ) is an exceptionally infectious virus that can spread „by air.” A long incubation period means that people will infect others before they even realize they are feeling unwell. The virus has already spread to the majority of the world’s countries (a primer on the virus here).
That means a couple of things:
One employee can infect the entire office by coughing into the coffee cup cabinet
In fact, everybody can be infected right now and not show any symptoms
People are stressed with the situation and will be reluctant to work effectively. Most likely, they will be sitting in your office, browsing Twitter, reading up on the virus, and freaking out.
The most effective tool we have available right now to cope with the Coronavirus fallout is to slow the spread.
We are pretty sure that hospitals won’t be able to deal with all the cases once we reach pandemic levels. 80% of cases are relatively mild, but 5% requires intensive care. Approximately 1% of people who catch the virus die.
As The Economist has put it: „Flattening the spike of the epidemic means that health systems are less overwhelmed, which saves lives.”
What can YOU do?
If you are a small business owner or a team lead, you need to get on that Remote Work bus ASAP. The most responsible choice you can make is to let your employees work remotely.
They will minimize the risk of getting infected during the commute in your office
If (god forbid) they get infected, they won’t pass that on to everybody else while sharing a donut
They will be able to take care of the loved ones if it comes to that
You will help slow down the progress of infections in society.
“To minimize risk, stay home if you can. This may mean canceling meetings, working remotely, or skipping a conference (if it hasn’t been canceled already).” – „How to work during pandemic”
How seriously should you take this?
This is a sample of companies that have closed down entire offices in light of the Coronavirus:
I am going to explain to you four pillars of remote work and recommend you another four tools to start doing it ASAP.
If your work happens in front of a computer, it can happen remotely. Yes, face-to-face interaction is the best way to transmit complex ideas, details of the tasks, hilarious jokes, and deadly viruses.
We now have fantastic technology for all of the above except viruses. These tools have been used for a while now – Remote Work was exploding even before the SARS-CoV-2.
4 Pillars of Remote Work.
Remote work is by design asynchronous. People will take tasks, post updates, have discussions, and go to focus on new tasks.
You can try to keep everybody in sync all the time, but this is exhausting, frustrating, and futile. You won’t know what they are doing at their homes or if they are checking Facebook, and you need to make peace with that.
Newsflash: They probably check Facebook at your office as well.
The biggest challenge with asynchronous work is that you may be blocked by someone else’s task. But you can plan around that – think of what you will need tomorrow and have started working on it today.
It’s challenging but worth it. When you see in the same office, it’s easy to hide inefficiency by looking busy. Remote environment strips that facade, and you are left to confront the reality of your management style.
Making sure nobody is blocked is the biggest challenge as a manager. It will take practice and yield exceptional rewards.
The takeaway is:
Instead of worrying about what your people are doing right this second, try to slice the work so that they can work on pieces independently. And let them have their lunch.
You can’t just walk in, scold people and control what they do. When you do that online, they can just run away from the computer. You don’t want that. Instead, you want your people to be challenged by the work or at least see the value of it. It’s surprisingly easy – we all want to be useful, challenged and learn new skills.
Remember to provide enough context and give them input into the details of what you need done. You are not as smart as you think, and your employees may be more capable than you imagine.
They want to do a good job. Let them do a good job.
Communicate a lot. A massive chunk of what you want to say will be lost in text, and even video calls help only to a certain extent. You will say one thing, and your team will understand something completely different. It’s easier to spot that in person.
Double-check, over-communicate, and write things down. If you feel it takes too much time, you’ll save it by having already written it down and being able to re-use previous notes.
Write stuff down in Google Docs. Discuss in Slack and Zoom.
Level playing field
If you are letting people work from home, EVERYBODY has to work remotely. If the situation is not the same for everyone, then co-located people will keep their old communication habits, and remote colleagues will be left in the dark. Companies that „failed at remote work” did a half-assed job of choosing a poor soul to be left in the dark and continued to share information face-to-face.
Either your team is in the same space, or it’s at home. This is not quantum physics, where you can be in 2 places at the same time.
Do or do not. There is no try.
4 Free Tools to set you up for remote success.
Zoom is the new Skype. It’s more reliable, more dependable, and better suited to remote work than any other video-call software. It has taken over the remote companies by storm because it has unmatched quality. There are other tools, just none worth trying.
Since you don’t see your coworkers in the office, meeting them on video helps to transmit all those non-verbal signals that are lost during voice calls or email exchanges. I recommend you do zoom calls frequently at the beginning.
My best tips for Zoom calls:
If you are switching from the office and are on the same timezone, set up a daily check-in call ( say 10 am ). Ask everybody what they worked on yesterday and what they are planning to work on today. Make notes in Google Docs. Use that call to also work on your remote setup. Put that on the Google Calendar and invite your coworkers, so everybody has a link to the call handy.
Zoom has a good enough free plan. You need to start paying if you want to have meetings for 3+ people longer than 40 minutes. You can also stop and hop on a new session every 40 minutes. That is what I do.
Buy your employees good headphones ($20-$45). Take this seriously. Lousy audio from (god forbid) earbuds they got with their iPhones will be disproportionately frustrating.
This will be your primary communication channel. Since you are no longer communicating in person, you need a central hub and email is not suited for that. Slack is for all those situations where you would come over, say something in the shared space, share a joke, or have a look at what your coworker is doing.
Slack is a shared chat, with different channels. Channels help to separate various concerns and make it easier to manage.
Do not require everybody to read everything. Chose one channel with mandatory reading (the typical pattern is „#announcements” ). Every new mandatory thing decreases the chance they will keep up.
Once you make a decision or have takeaways, move to more permanent storage. Google Docs is good.
Remember to goof off. You need to provide an upbeat environment. If it becomes stressful, your employees will just stop working. The common pattern is to have a „#watercooler” channel and post lots of memes.
The free plan will have some limitations. Mainly it has a limited history of conversations. Free is enough.
You need one place which will be the source of truth, and people will refer to when they are confused. Since they will be working asynchronously, you have to make it easier for them to find information that they need. Shared Google Drive and Docs will help you exchange documents and keep track of your decisions. You are also producing work, which most likely has the shape of documents.
My tips on working with Google Docs
Write down as much stuff as possible.
Do make a shared folder in Drive and tidy up the structure frequently
Make sure to have one place where everything is linked – it can be a Google Doc with a list of running projects and links to docs each describing the progress of the project
Update those documents!
„Where is X, what the status of Y” should require no answer – it should be apparent where the information is always.
You can work using the personal Google Accounts. You don’t need paying for GSuite.
Remote Work is awesome. It is no doubt, the future of employment and for a good reason:
It can solve environmental problems
It opens up the access to suitable jobs for the people outside of a bigger city
It’s just better for the human soul to avoid the trenches of office buildings all day, every day.
But it has downsides as well.
Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt has recently asked about Remote work problems and loneliness came up #1
It gets… lonely.
In my previous corporate life, I was working in an Open Space at Samsung Poland. The company was voted 3rd best employer five years in a row, and the office had everything that a millennial fresh-out-of-college developer could want. We had fresh fruit, great coffee, slick building with state of the art technology, beautiful view from the window…
In some ways, the modern office is a bit of an extension of college life. The scenery changes a bit, but you hop on from the student life to corporate existence without skipping a beat.
Most tasks in the corporate world are not that urgent or even necessary to perform, so we defer to our primal instincts: keeping up the relationships.
In our past, this served us exceptionally well. In case of a cheetah attack, people helped you if they liked you, so making them like you was vital.
The chance of a surprise cheetah attack in a Samsung office is very slim. There are Cheetos aplenty though. But our biology did not adapt. Keeping thriving relationships is not only the default, but it is also proven to be healthy both emotionally AND physically.
The gains people derived from face-to-face socializing endured even years later. The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
But in this brave new world of Remote work, there is no office and no colleagues to socialize with.
There is no daily chit-chat by the coffee machine, no banter on the Open Space and no scooter race in the hallway. That may be the best for productivity, but the silence is deafening at times. Sure, we have Slack and memes and calls and all sorts of social glue that lets us keep sane, but we are a human and we need other humans.
While working from home, YOU are responsible for your socializing. Your employer will not supply you with a kindergarten full of bored peers to play with.
You have to bring your own friends.
How to deal with loneliness in remote work
Me and my fiancee have developed a set of tactics to deal with the loneliness of remote work. These improved our lives considerably, but we are still on the lookout for new ones.
I have a confession to make. I have a rolling calendar reminder to organize a party for my friends every two months. There is no birthday or another occasion, just a party. I would say, I have a 50% success rate, so in reality, the said bacchanalia gets thrown every four months, but it’s still a great way to remind your acquaintances of your existence.
Committing to a cycle has several benefits:
1 – Lower emotional stakes
Have you experienced a little bit of shame before reaching out to a friend you did not talk to for a while? Do you sometimes worry they will laugh at you when you finally DO reach out? I have this nagging feeling sometimes. But guess what. They probably feel the same, and you are just two proud dummies not talking to each other.
Reach out. It’s not a big deal. Only one party out of 10s you are going to organize.
2 – More significant chance you finally get to see some people
We’re all adults. Well you are, I’m just pretending. We have lots of responsibilities, and not everyone will be able to make it to your party. By the 4th time you invite someone, they may be able to make it. Go ahead, keep asking this childhood friend. Maybe she will come.
3 – You will get comfortable with this
You will not stress about having enough chairs (people can stand for 4 hours, nothing will happen to them). Your place will not have to be squeaky clean. The situation will be normal for you. You will develop a party-prep routine. I can throw the party in 2 hours, provided there are no dead bodies to hide lying in my living room.
Here is my tried and tested, patented Artpi Party Prep Scenario ™️.
Dried tomato hummus
Sweet Potato chili-sprinkled fries with garlic sauce
Reminder ensures I will remember about everyone. I do ignore them some of the time, but I still see value in refreshing the fact of someone’s existence. It’s nice to stop and remember that I have the person X in my life.
Being a part of the community
This societal problem is widespread and touches not only remote workers. You probably don’t feel this in an Open Space, but humans have a deep longing for long-lasting connections with people around them. We evolved in tribes and later settled into villages. Everything was communal.
Getting benefits of community without going insane require some planning. Currently, we are
Now, I’m only half joking. My fiancee and I are in the process of a fabulous adventure that is organizing a wedding. And we are inviting A LOT of family members. Some of which I have never heard of before. I don’t even think it’s possible to be related to so many people, but so be it.
The surprising part is that I enjoy getting to know them, giving them invites and nurturing those relationships. I can see myself in the son of a distant relative, and it’s very fulfilling and gives me a sense of belonging. If you told me five years ago that inviting 150+ people for an ultra expensive party would be in my future, I would laugh in your face.
But here I am, you can laugh at me.
The point is that these tested rituals served some purpose in the past. Weddings, Funerals, Equinox parties, Easters and Christmases – all of them were kind of a glue that holds people together in the face of loneliness.
Remote work is changing this balance, and we need to find new rituals and again take extra care to nurture a connection to people around us. New technology can help but let’s not forget about the tried-and-tested approach.
Call your mom once in a while. Yes, ON THE PHONE LIKE A CAVEMAN (cavewomen have probably already figured that out).
You have to be deliberate about reaching out to your friends and making time for them. They are busy too and nobody will organize this for you.