This week we talk to Liam Martin, Chief Marketing Officer at Time Doctor and author of Running Remote, to talk about asynchronous work.
Liam Martin | Running Remote
Liam Martin, author of Running Remote is busy filling us in on the details surrounding asynchronous work practices. The lure of working how, when, and where you want is a powerful hook, but how do you achieve it?
In this episode, we play forward 10 years and see if there is still a place for creativity in the workplace after Ai has fully arrived. We also explore the claim that working asynchronously can save your company 30 cents in every dollar.
Liam Martin is Chief Marketing Officer at Time Doctor. As the mouthpiece for Time Doctor, Liam has become a remote work ambassador of sorts, featured in Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Fortune. He speaks at conferences around the world, including SXSW, SaaS Stock, Nomad City, HR of Tomorrow, and the Digital Workplace, and he’s consulted with more remote first-founders and operators than probably anyone on the planet. The result is his book Running Remote.
[00:00:00] - Liam Martin
That's actually what we want to be able to do, is create a culture in which everyone is thinking like an owner and is really trying to recognize how they can optimize the organization and question authority fundamentally.
[00:00:21] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 87 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, and as always, is brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm your host, Doug Foulkes, and my co-host is the CEO of WNDYR, Claire Haidar.
[00:00:39] - Doug Foulkes
Claire, we are busy having a very interesting conversation with Liam Martin. He's authored a book called Running Remote. What did people miss in the first session with him and what are we talking about today?
[00:00:52] - Claire Haidar
Doug, I fully agree with you. This is a very interesting conversation that's unfolding. I know both you and I have had aha moments inside this conversation. In segment 1, Liam just basically talks us through the history of his book, what happened at the point that the pandemic started. And where he had literally global governments reaching out to him saying, "How do I take 500,000 people remotely?" He then also just outlines the main concepts that he actually tackles in the book from a chapter perspective.
[00:01:24] - Claire Haidar
In this segment, we actually asking him to take what he discusses in the book and pull that forward into a 2032 lens. So if we were to look 10 years into the future, how do these concepts that we are seeing as new today—and I'm putting that in inverted commas—how does that look as normal in the year 2032? What are the new changes that asynchronous work and virtual remote work will take on in that future state? Very, very interesting conversation that's unfolding, and really looking forward to diving into this with you and Liam.
[00:02:05] - Doug Foulkes
Let's catch up with Liam, again, and continue our conversation.
[00:02:09] - Claire Haidar
Liam, I wanted to almost really just park remote work, async work as it is today, virtual work. I want us to step ahead to 2032. So really taking it into the future.
[00:02:27] - Claire Haidar
From your lens, given that you're one of the pioneers in this, but also really tapped into the network of the broader group of pioneers who are doing this, how do you think these principles of deep work, asynchronous work, the promise of being able to work anywhere at any point in time, and the method and the way that you want to do it will have evolved at the point when we get to 2032?
[00:02:59] - Liam Martin
I can't just think about that inside of a bubble because there's multiple other variables that would impact work that are outside of work. So by 2032, I believe that probably half the things that you do right now will probably be replaced by artificial intelligence to some degree. I don't know if anyone's been looking at DALL·E 2, the new image AI that's just been built.
[00:03:26] - Liam Martin
Within the next couple of years, you're probably not going to need a graphics designer. You're probably going to need a UI/UX architect. I think a lot of designers are actually going to shift themselves over to that direction.
[00:03:39] - Liam Martin
The detail, the actual thing being built will probably be replaced with artificial intelligence. However, I still think there will be an opportunity space at that point for the creativity. Meaning, how are we actually going to build a user interface? Or how are we going to actually write this blog post? What are we going to write it about? Why do we really want to write this thing? What's the what's the grand plan? Effectively the magician in the background that's pulling all the strings, those are the people that are going to have jobs, and that's basically the majority of jobs that are going to happen in the next 10 years.
[00:04:18] - Liam Martin
To go back to asynchronous, I actually think probably about half of the S&P 500 will be remote. I think the majority of those people will be using asynchronous methodologies to accomplish their work simply because not because it's better for the worker or the employee, it's because it's more cost-efficient. On average, you're going to save everything being equal, probably 30 cents on every dollar. This is the research that I've done tangentially with the companies that I've been working with.
[00:04:46] - Liam Martin
You're able to save a lot more money and be a lot more effective because, number one, you don't have to have any offices. But also, more importantly, you can hire anywhere on planet Earth. You're not stuck hiring a $750,000 developer in San Francisco when there is a $200,000 developer in Toronto. That's more effective, but because you can actually deploy asynchronous at scale and remote at scale, you're restricted by that.
[00:05:11] - Liam Martin
That would be my real look into the future, is that these organizations that are able to not only, number one, go remote because going remote is really just a different place to your point, the driving in every single day, and this was something that the CEO of GitLab told me, which I thought was a really big eye opener for me. He said, everyone drives into this one particular location every single day, and then once you are there, it's a collaboration buffet because you've all paid your sunk cost. Everyone's driven in 90 minutes to be able to get to that one particular place, and then you collaborate as much as possible because why not, you're there.
[00:05:56] - Liam Martin
Asynchronous remote teams have an a la carte method to when they choose to be able to interact synchronously because everyone has to pay that cost every single time they meet, they jump onto a Zoom call. It's not about you didn't already pay for that cost at the beginning of the day. So it creates an environment where you can be a lot more efficient and say, do we really need to actually do this meeting? Does this meeting need to be three hours? Could we have gotten everything done in 30 minutes? I mean, you can. That's easy code for everybody, is just have shorter meetings, have more efficient meetings. If meetings are inefficient, switch them to async and they'll be a lot more effective.
[00:06:37] - Liam Martin
I really see this as an inevitability to me when I see the next 10 years. I think that outside of people like Elon Musk saying, "Hey, everyone should stop pretending to work from home and come back to the office." I think that that's still a hustle porn, hustle culture type of mindset, which is just really focused on pure effort as opposed to there's working hard and working smart. I think if you work really hard, you actually will succeed, but it becomes a lot more efficient when you're working smart. Asynchronous management, it's just working smart. So to me, I see it as inevitability that it will overtake the people that are working hard.
[00:07:19] - Claire Haidar
Just very quickly, the Elon Musk comment, I think we definitely should... Anything that comes out in media, you always have to take with a pinch of salt, you know what I mean? I think one of the nuances that really need to be explored—and Liam, I think this could potentially be a second book. I think it could be a whole podcast series on its own—is how real manufacturing company is because Elon Musk didn't say that for every single company out there that he runs. You know what I mean? He didn't mandates it for Starlink. He didn't mandate it... It was Teslas specifically. I think there's a nuance there related to hard product manufacturing which needs to be uncovered, and a broader conversation should be heard about that.
[00:08:03] - Liam Martin
I would agree with you. I actually think from a pragmatic perspective, accountability inside of all organizations is really important. I think the piece that we're not getting when we just move forward with remote work, there's a really interesting statistic that McKinsey put out a couple of months ago, which was 76% of remote workers believe they're more efficient when they work from home, but 67% of managers think their employees are less efficient when they work from home.
[00:08:31] - Liam Martin
So there's a huge dialectics issue where they're saying, "Well, one group doesn't believe that the other group has..." You need some form of accountability. That's why inside of asynchronous organizations, everyone has quantifiable longitudinal metrics that they're responsible for. This is something that I found, real detailed metrics.
[00:08:54] - Liam Martin
If they can measure what they do, but they do it with a philosophy of radical transparency, meaning everyone collects that information and everyone can see it so that everyone has access to that information and saying, "Oh, yeah, okay, well, how many podcasts did you do this month, Liam?" "Well, I did 28." "Okay, Well, is that a reasonable amount? Should you be doing more? Should you be doing less?" Anyone can ask me that. That's fine, because that's actually what we want to be able to do is create a culture in which everyone is thinking like an owner and is really trying to recognize how they can optimize the organization and question authority fundamentally.
[00:09:36] - Liam Martin
So most remote companies, as they stand today, it's really quite a black box, and the way that those managers make up for it is, number one, they say, "Come back to the office so I can see you." But more importantly, if you're going to work remotely, "Let's be on Zoom calls eight hours a day so that we can actually figure out what the heck is going on," but that's just simply a distraction and doesn't actually allow them to achieve deep work.
[00:09:59] - Doug Foulkes
We chatted earlier this session about 2032, but the reality is we're still in 2022. Obviously, certain companies, they're going to get into the async work, they're going to love it, it's going to be the best thing that ever done. A lot of companies, I assume, will try it. And like you just alluded to there, maybe because the managers fear for losing their jobs, they want to try and come back in to in-person. How do you see that process of one foot in, one foot out taking place?
[00:10:27] - Liam Martin
I have a hot take on that, which is there's three real work methods that are being implemented today. There's on-premise office work, there's completely remote, and then there's hybrid. Hybrid has undoubtedly become the most popular option for the vast majority of people that were remote and are trying to go back to the office in part.
[00:10:51] - Liam Martin
Ironically, it actually, in my opinion, is probably the method that's going to have the highest chance of failure. The reason for that, in my opinion, is philosophy, that's already been well documented inside of the remote work community. We call it distance bias.
[00:11:08] - Liam Martin
If you're closer to your manager, more of your ideas will be moved forward than if you're further away. If I step into a meeting with eight people, and three of them are virtual and the other five of them are in person, the moment that those three people pop off of Zoom, there's an undocumented conversation that occurs. Inside of asynchronous organizations, there are no undocumented conversations. There are no secret conversations.
[00:11:33] - Liam Martin
Then they'll say, "Listen, Claire just popped off Zoom. You know she's an idiot, Doug. You need to be able to make sure that we don't want to do what she wants to do. You know that we're supposed to do the other thing." And then Doug's, "But we just told Claire that we were going to do that." "Yeah but, Doug, you run this company, you've got to make a decision."
[00:11:53] - Liam Martin
Then the next morning, Claire wakes up and she's like, "What the heck just happened? I thought we were doing A and we're doing B," and she's completely disconnected and disenfranchised from that experience. She either has to move into the office to be able to get more face time with you, Doug, or she literally leaves and goes somewhere else. The latter is actually happening much more often than the former.
[00:12:21] - Liam Martin
This is a problem that I see happening inside of hybrid teams. I actually think it's going to be a nuclear bomb that's going to go off in like... It's currently happening right now, but it's going to get really, really bad in about 18 months.
[00:12:33] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, I fully agree with you, Liam. That comes back to the point that you made literally just prior to Doug weighing in there around the concept of radical transparency as well as the quantifiable longitudinal matrix. But there's another nuance to this. It's not just you need the metrics, they need to be defined, they need to be transparent, and everybody needs to be able to access them at any point in time.
[00:13:01] - Claire Haidar
But there needs to be a layer of people care. I'm specifically not calling it management. Let me be practical about how we actually handle this in our company. We have what we call our Infinity program, which would most closely resemble your typical once a month check in with your manager that you would see in a traditional synchronous company.
[00:13:30] - Claire Haidar
That Infinity program, every person starts, their personality style is laid out, their work style is laid out there, they track strengths and weaknesses with their manager, but also most importantly, they track the 30, 60, 90-day plan, You know what I mean? So what are you actually doing? How do these things that you're doing tie into your matrix? So very traditional performance management, but with a very real human-centric approach.
[00:13:55] - Claire Haidar
But then there's something else that we do on top of that, and I genuinely believe that this is a critical component to what we are talking about here is we actually have one-to-one channels between myself, my co-founder, and individual key players inside the organization in Slack.
[00:14:18] - Claire Haidar
Tracey and myself are very deliberate about checking in with those individuals. For example, if I'm in a conversation with Jeff, our VP of Engineering, and I see that there is a growth opportunity that he missed because of a way that he handled something, I will immediately come into that channel and I would say, "Jeff, I just want to alert you to this. If you had handled the situation through this lens, the outcome may have been different," or, "Do you notice how because you phrased something this way, it actually led to confusion?" You know what I mean?
[00:14:53] - Claire Haidar
Or like the other purpose of these channels is literally you can see somebody is having a bad day because they're ratty in terms of how they texting people and stuff like that. You check in and you're like, "Hey, what are you navigating right now? Can we help?"
[00:15:10] - Claire Haidar
I think there's that layer of what I'm terming people care is critical to actually making happen what you've just spoken about because you can have all the metrics in the world, but if you don't fundamentally start caring for people, like genuinely caring for them, but not in a touchy-feely feel-good way, like in a real, honest, genuine, I have you back, I want you to grow, and that means I'm sometimes going to have to have tough conversations with your way, I don't believe synchronous work can truly be healthy and sustainable.
[00:15:48] - Liam Martin
I agree. One of the pieces in the book that I talk about a lot, which is in asynchronous organizations, there are no managers, there are only leaders.
[00:15:58] - Claire Haidar
[00:16:00] - Liam Martin
When I think about what you've defined, I think about leadership, which is Claire, you screwed up big time. Here are the reasons why you screwed up, and here's the solutions that I think that you have that I would propose to you to be able to fix that problem as quickly as humanly possible. That's one of the issues of leadership. We get that directly with someone else who's been very gracious to be able to add into the book, Kim Scott, who wrote a book called Radical Candor.
[00:16:29] - Liam Martin
For anyone that's interested in learning more about how to get that type of feedback and use it effectively, Radical Candor is a great book to approach a problem where someone may not be performing at their level that you would like them to perform, and how do you effectively tell them they're not doing as good of a job as quickly as humanly possible.
[00:16:49] - Liam Martin
But the other part of it actually is really doing a lot of the EQ tasks that managers were doing about 10% of the time inside of synchronous organizations because they're spending all their time actually looking at people's numbers and trying to transmit that information to the next layer of management. And instead, they're focused on, how are you? What's going on today?
[00:17:12] - Liam Martin
I had someone a month and a half ago, and when I had a one-on-one with them, which I have every week, which is actually one of the only things that we do synchronously. We reinforce synchronous one-on-ones with an asynchronous agenda. So basically, we break down an asynchronous agenda, we identify all the issues that we have, we try to address all of those issues asynchronously, but the only ones that end up staying on the agenda are the ones that are people focused.
[00:17:42] - Liam Martin
Claire doesn't like Doug because Claire believes that Doug has it out for him for this reason or that reason. We have to sit, basically, both of those people down separately and then possibly both of those people on the same Zoom call to be able to address that and basically settle those beefs as quickly as possible.
[00:18:01] - Liam Martin
Really for us, it's what's going through your head right now, "Oh, my dog just died and my kids are having a real tough time adjusting to this and it's impacting my own personal work productivity." Solution, we would get better help, which we have an open contract with, which is like a psychology platform. And we would hire a counselor to be able to work with the kids, to work them through that process. I did that about two months ago with one of my direct reports.
[00:18:29] - Liam Martin
That's a perfect example of a solution to a problem that's very pragmatic. And really, at the end of the day, what I want is the worker to be continuing to produce output for the company, but the best way to do that is to actually care about people and to let them believe that you really care about them. This isn't something that you should like... This isn't a joke. This is something that you should really commit to. If you can, people will love you.
[00:18:56] - Liam Martin
I did a lot of research as well on eNPS inside of asynchronous organizations, and the average eNPS, which is Employee Net Promoter Score, which is basically just a metric to identify how engaged and happy a worker is inside of your organization, is 36, and the average score inside of asynchronous organizations was 71.
[00:19:18] - Liam Martin
So massive, massive shift more than double. The two reasons that they give as to why they're so happy in their position is, number one, it's the autonomy to be able to do what they want and then also the transparency of these organizations because everyone can see what everyone else is doing, so they are really excited to be able to look at the P&L as an example if they want, or figure out how engineering works if they work and support those types of things.
[00:19:49] - Doug Foulkes
That is the end of part two of our conversation about asynchronous work. If you missed the first part of our conversation with Liam, check it out on Spotify, Google, or Apple Podcasts or on WNDYR's website, W-N-D-Y-R.com. We'll conclude our chat shortly. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.