88. How to break free from a synchronous work culture | Liam Martin, Running Remote   


Liam Martin | Running Remote



Welcome to Episode 88 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

In the past 2 episodes Liam Martin, author of Running Remote, has given a really broad and deep understanding of asynchronous work and how it makes you more productive, allows deep work, and helps create a culture where everyone in the organisation thinks like an owner.

In this final episode we go through a practical 3-step plan to get you started. If you are stuck in a synchronous work culture and want the tools to break out and start working to your company's potential then this is for you.



Liam Martin BIO

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
I am not the CMO of the company. I currently inhabit the position of CMO at the company, and I have the documents in place to be able to completely delegate that responsibility.

[00:00:18] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to episode 88, of Chaos and Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. I'm Doug Foulkes, and Claire Haidar is the CEO at WNDYR. She's also my co-host. Claire, we are drawing to the end of a really interesting conversation with Liam Martin. He's authored a book called Running Remote. Just bring us up to speed if you missed the first two episodes. And how do we tie things together in this third session?

[00:00:49] - Claire Haidar
So Doug, this is a podcast all about asynchronous work, and let me be very clear that Liam is very clear in this whole podcast series that asynchronous work is the key to successful virtual work, and virtual being also remote work. And it is the key differentiating factor between in-person work and essentially virtual work that's done well. And so we've spent these two episodes talking about those concepts with him. What is asynchronous work? How do you manage in an asynchronous environment? What are the challenges that you're going to face, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:01:27] - Claire Haidar
And then in this episode very specifically, which I'm very excited about, we're actually looking at the practical application. I'm actually going to be posing the question to Liam. Okay, so there's an executive listening to this. He's been experimenting, she's been experimenting with the team through this past three-year period that we've just navigated through, knows that things aren't optimal. How do you really, truly take what has been this morphed, liminal state of remote work as the world has taken it on? And how do you really elevate it to the next level?

[00:02:01] - Claire Haidar
Liam really gets into those practical nuggets with us and actually gives us a great three year... I think it's a three or four-step plan. I can't quite remember from the conversation we had with him. But it's a very practical step plan to how a company can tackle this well.

[00:02:15] - Doug Foulkes
So, Claire, absolutely agree with you. Very interesting conversation. Let's hand over to Liam to finish it off for us.

[00:02:23] - Claire Haidar
For those managers who are stuck in these synchronous cultures, and specifically sea-level leaders, what are your three to five recommendations of things that they need to take today and start implementing? Because this is not easy change that we're talking about here.

[00:02:44] - Liam Martin
Absolutely. Well, I think I really frame this through a concept of experimentation. So the first thing that I would do, outside of buying the book, obviously, and reading it cover to cover.

[00:02:57] - Claire Haidar
Ofcourse we're going to do that.

[00:02:58] - Liam Martin
Because that actually is that's probably the most effective thing that I could give anyone right now in terms of a piece of advice. If you're interested in deploying asynchronous management, read the only book written on asynchronous management, which is fine. And after that, I would get very much into running an experiment. So the first thing that I would do, is get everyone in your department or everyone in your organization depending upon if you're a manager or if you're the CEO or the founder of the company, spend an afternoon and you're going to write one simple document.

[00:03:34] - Liam Martin
The document is called How I Do My Job. It's going to be five pages. I have about 40 examples at our website running remotebook.com that you can download automatically, and it's going to give you what are the responsibilities for me as a team member, what are the tasks that I need to accomplish, how am I measured, et cetera. It's five pages you can link out to other sources, but fundamentally, it has to remain under five pages. And then you're going to take that document and you're going to send it to someone that is not in your department, and you're going to ask them one question, do you understand this document, and could you theoretically do my job with this document?

[00:04:19] - Liam Martin
The answer will almost inevitably be no. If it's yes, then they're lying to you. Ask for three actionable pieces of information that they could give you to improve that document. You're going to go through that round probably two to three times. And after that single afternoon of about 4 hours of work, you're magically going to have a beta version of process documentation throughout the entire organization. Everyone looks at process documentation as this massive scary thing that they have to do, but it actually just starts with that singular document because then you kind of get addicted to it and you build out more and more and more.

[00:04:58] - Liam Martin
Once you have that document in place, you no longer will own a position, you will inhabit a position. This is another thing that I found in multiple asynchronous companies. I am not the CMO of the company. I currently inhabit the position of CMO at the company, and I have the documents in place to be able to completely delegate that responsibility whenever I need to spend a year and a half writing a book as an example, because it's a more important problem connected to the mission statement of the company.

[00:05:28] - Liam Martin
Once you have that document in place, then I would suggest that people try an asynchronous week. So for one week, and you're going to need two to three weeks beforehand, to really prepare for this. The book outlines how to do it, but generally it is, do I have the forms of communication that are asynchronous? Do I have something like Slack or Microsoft Teams set up? How are my emails working? That type of stuff. Do I have democratized workflows process documentation in place? Do I have metrics in place? How am I measuring success if I'm not actually meeting with someone daily or weekly synchronously, how am I communicating those metrics digitally to everyone else inside of the organization?

[00:06:10] - Liam Martin
Once you have those pieces in place, you don't have to... I would really restrict it to about two weeks of prep time. Then try your async week, and when that async week is over, do an audit. Figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. But more importantly, survey everyone that took the async week challenge, and in that survey, you should ask them, did you like it? Would you like to do more of it, or would you like to do less of it? And I have never had anyone say they hate async week and they want to do less of it. It is up until right now, and I've done it a couple dozen times, everyone has said, this is the best thing since sliced bread. I got so much more done when people weren't effectively annoying me every 15 minutes.

[00:07:01] - Liam Martin
Once you actually get to that point, you're really going to start to say, "Hey, well, maybe we'll do an async, maybe we'll do two weeks of async per month. Maybe we'll only do one sync week as an example, or maybe we'll only do sync Fridays." We've seen a lot of organizations go these different directions because they start to get addicted to it. It's really just getting the commitment to be able to run the experiment. That's the biggest challenge to overcome. Once you've accomplished that experiment, 95% of people, get it, understand it, they love it, and they want more of it.

[00:07:36] - Doug Foulkes
Liam, can I just ask you, you're talking about the async mindset, and I know you've got fundamentals. You mentioned a few of them there. Could you maybe just explain a little bit about what you mean by deliberate over communication, democratize workflow, and obviously all the detailed metrics that you're going to use?

[00:07:53] - Liam Martin
Sure. So deliberate over communication really comes down to a quote that I stole from Napoleon, which is, "Orders shouldn't be easy to understand, they should be impossible to misunderstand." And the issue that a lot of synchronous organizations have is they use asynchronous communication as a crutch to reinforce their synchronous communication. But when I'm not actually going to do a meeting with you later, Doug, I need to clearly write out the email from day one to say, here are the instructions. Here are the questions that I'm going to ask you in this podcast. Here's when you need to show up. Here's the link that you're going to have when you show up.

[00:08:32] - Liam Martin
Make it very, very clear so that you don't require synchronous communication to be able to make up that gap. It costs you a little bit of extra time in the short run, but in the long run, it creates an environment where there is no immediacy. Everyone has exactly what they need. Right before I jumped on for this call with you guys, you did a fantastic job of setting everything up for me, where five minutes beforehand I read the document. My assistant actually prepped a document for you guys.

[00:09:02] - Liam Martin
I knew who you were, looked at the website, looked at the questions, and I was ready to go. Democratize workflow? That's process documentation. So literally just writing down how things are done inside of the organization, getting that sacred knowledge that everyone has inside of them that they think that makes them critical to the operation of the business, freeing themselves from it. So writing it down on a piece of paper, giving it digitizing it, getting it out to other people, that's democratized workflows, which is scary, but once you actually do do it, then you can start to work on more interesting and difficult problems, and then the third one, which is detailed metrics.

[00:09:41] - Liam Martin
Don't be scared of having quantitative metrics and measuring those metrics, particularly if we have a philosophy of radical transparency throughout the organization. If everyone can consume the information, then it's by extension not as scary as if, oh, only the managers have access to this information, or the owner only has access to this information. It's very hard for the owner, by the way, because they have to overcome their own bias of saying. I remember the first day that we decided to show our PNL to everyone in the company, which is a step that's a little bit extreme. A lot of companies that I've spoken to that are asynchronous don't do that, but we did.

[00:10:20] - Liam Martin
We showed that to everyone and the response that we got was huge. Like, wow, we didn't know that you were going to do this, and then the questions started popping up. Why are we spending money here? Why are we doing this, why are we doing that? And having all of those smart people in the room having the same informational advantage as the CEO of the company, is actually incredibly powerful because now you just have a whole bunch of people that are hopefully smarter than you if you hired them that actually have the same information that you do.

[00:10:51] - Doug Foulkes
Liam, Fun for quick questions, who should read your book?

[00:10:55] - Liam Martin
Anyone that has tried remote work and it failed for them, and anyone who is currently remote but having difficulty with it and really wants to figure out how to get to the next level.

[00:11:06] - Doug Foulkes
Question two. Liam, what is your favorite board game?

[00:11:09] - Liam Martin
I thought about this a lot. I think it's risk, and the reason why is, I'm very strategic and I like to talk crap to my other friends. They'll usually like sit around the table six or seven hours. Actually it's very cool if you get those auto-dice, you can buy these auto-dice. It literally just click a button and get the dice result, so it speeds that process up quite a bit, but I mean, we'll do six-seven hours of risk and I've seen people throw their beer cans at the wall and all this kind of stuff. It's a lot of fun.

[00:11:48] - Doug Foulkes
Question three. What is the thing that's annoying you at the moment?

[00:11:52] - Liam Martin
That my body isn't working properly? I ended up having a very serious neck issue and I've got an emergency chiropractory meeting, but it's very difficult to not turn my head left and it hurts quite a bit. So yeah, health is the most important thing in the world, and I'm always reminded of that whenever I have a health issue.

[00:12:13] - Doug Foulkes
Lastly, Liam, how do you reset your brain? Not your body, how do you reset your brain?

[00:12:18] - Liam Martin
20 minutes of cardiovascular activity to failure is generally the way that I do it. There's a lot of science to be able to back that up. I don't know if you've ever heard of the term shower thoughts, when people just have these aha moments that they usually have in the shower. The reason why is because your subconscious mind needs to actually have a moment to reconfigure the information that you might have been working on for an extended amount of time, and that's why you'll have these. "Oh yeah, that was the answer?" in the shower. But you can recreate this automatically with cardiovascular exercise. The rowing machine is generally the best one that I use. So I just got on the rowing machine for about 20 minutes and then magically, the thing that I was stuck on, I figured out how to solve it.

[00:13:05] - Claire Haidar
Liam, I just learned something from you there. I fully agree with you because I do the same thing. It's cardiovascular resetting that I do to reset my brain, but I didn't realize that it was linked to the shower aha moment. So I love the fact that I just learned that from you. Liam, thank you so much for being on the show with us today. I have genuinely loved this conversation. You're a mine of information that the world needs right now, and I want to see your book really succeed.

[00:13:36] - Liam Martin
Well, thank you very much, Claire. I appreciate it. If anyone's interested, go to runningremotebook.com. We've got all of those processed documents, the how I do my job, all that kind of stuff there, and hopefully you'll get some value from it.

[00:13:51] - Doug Foulkes
From my side Liam also, thank you so much. It's been a very enlightening hour. Very nice to have met you.

[00:13:56] - Liam Martin
Thanks for having me.

[00:13:58] - Doug Foulkes
And that is the end of episode 88, and our comprehensive look at asynchronous work practices, and how it is the only real way to work effectively from a remote perspective. If you found this podcast of value, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Catch us on Spotify, Google, and Apple podcasts or on WNDYR's website, WNDYR.com.

[00:14:21] - Doug Foulkes
From Claire and myself. Bye for now.

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