The Book Report is not sponsored. They are my honest take on a book and helpful notes and / or findings from them.
One promise that I made myself in both 2021 and 2022 was that I was going to read more. To be honest, in 2021, it really was more of a ‘hope’ than a goal, but in 2022 I did find a way to make that hope feel more like a goal. One of the books I read last year was “Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti. Today, I am going to offer you my book report on it.
I want to begin by saying, this was a good book overall and provided a lot of great examples and references to interviews and studies done with lots of cited sources. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how to develop the company and team culture. It is targeted for hybrid and remote companies. Razzetti starts his book off with the reality that many companies faced in early 2020, followed by the second shock of 2022. The first shock was how to work from the home during the pandemic and the second one was that not everyone wanted to rush back.
I took notes while reading and have selected five quotes to share. My intention is not to bypass your reading of this book, but to share why you should consider reading this book for yourself.
It’s about Communication
“Asynchronous communication requires more intentionality and effort. Your teams need to be obsessed about documentation which can slow down communication soon sometimes. However, when people are thinking deeply, writing down their ideas, and presenting them, better collaboration and work result — no meetings required.”“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 34
For many of us, our work lives feel spent hoping from meeting to meeting, discussing problems and solutions, what’s coming next, and timelines. From a software perspective we can sum these up as Grooming, Planning, Retrospectives, and “Go Live” meetings. If you support multiple teams, then you might feel like attending these meetings is all you do.
I have begun to rely on asynchronous communication for follow up with my team, more than scheduled calls. It has been helpful when being on a Grooming call with members of my team to ping them and ask how complicated the testing effort really is, if they’ve thought about scenario A or problem B. In that respect, it’s very helpful to poke them so that a ticket is story pointed appropriately. The bigger fish in the statement being “obsessed about documentation”.
The dreaded “D word” in my industry. I haven’t found many people in my time testing software that enjoy writing documentation. Usually the arguments are:
The user story should be all of the documentation that you need.
The code is self explanatory.
I’ll remember how I test it in the future.
All of these sounds like great reasons to avoid writing documentation. If they were true. Customers Ops has to questions to ask a customer that doesn’t remember the step they did before the app broke. Product doesn’t always understand the full technical requirements of what needs to be done. Code written 6 months ago, might as well be ancient history to both the developer and tester. And that doesn’t even cover onboarding someone to the team. So you need documentation.
Documentation improves your team’s ability to work fast and return to parts of the application that they haven’t looked at for a while. It improves the onboarding experience for new hires and cross training of existing team members. All in all, documentation is not just a good thing, it’s a necessity!
Schedule Your Work Time
“Block time for focus work and invite other to do the same. Respect your own and other’s calendars. Avoid responding to emails or Slack messages immediately —- respect the agreements. Use and respect away messages, whether it’s a ‘busy’ status on Slack or a ‘out of office’ auto-response email. Be mindful of time zone differences.”“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 281
This falls under revolutionary and common sense at the same time. I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation of, “Prepare your schedule or someone else will do it for you”, at some point in our life. And if you haven’t, you can immediately relate to it, because it’s true. When we don’t make time for our work, then someone else will make time for us to do their work.
But what does this have to do with working remotely?
A great deal actually. When we’re all in the office, it’s easy to see when someone is heads down doing deep work. They might have their headphones on, their body posture is different, you can see them. When we’re online, the visual cues are missing. And on a large enough team, the meeting schedules are different for everyone. This is where calendar blocking and status messages come into play.
Since reading this book, I’ve taken to sending a message to my team when I am going into ‘deep work’ and then set my status to “Do Not Disturb” with a status message of, “In deep work until” and add a time. This allows everyone messaging me to know that I might not respond until said time. This is another level of communication and an extremely helpful one that I encourage my team to follow. Calendar blocking is an excellent way to ensure that you have that time to go into deep work.
You will still need to be flexible and negotiate with people on timing and communications. Urgent matters still come up. So be reasonable when you go into deep focus. The plus side of scheduling is you reserve the same time regularly, people will begin to realize your schedule and respect it.
Keep it Positive
How often have you read a message or series of messages that had a ‘tone’ about them. You read them and thought, “Wow! Why are they so angry?”, or “Are they sad about something?”. Communication is one part verbal, one part sound/intonation, and one part visual. In the absence of body language or the voice of a colleague it is easy to supplement what is missing with your own feelings. This is very much an easy problem to overcome when working remotely.
Razzetti talks about the leaders at GitLabs, a remote company, they approached the problem this way.
“Employees are encouraged to assume positive intent. If people say something that might feel uncomfortable don’t make it about yourself. Understand that they want what’s best for the company.”“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 46
Remembering that we’re all on the same team, regardless of role, goes a long way towards making sure everyone acts as a team. The quickest easiest way to do that is to default towards everyone having “positive intent” to make great software.
Get A Little Global in Your Perspective
If you’ve only only worked in small, close knit teams and companies, you probably had a harder time during the pandemic than others. This is especially true if you were a manager that managed your team by who was present. You expected your team culture to come down through your personality and charm. But that doesn’t work when your team can be anywhere and working at anytime.
“Leaders of Hybrid teams will have to do what regional and global leaders have always done: work hard to create connections between on-site and remote employees.”“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 41
Your team is probably still spread out geographically and that’s a great thing! It does however, require you to change how you lead them. Like having regular one-on-ones, we need to encourage our teams to have coffee breaks with each other. Encourage your direct reports to schedule a 10 minute to get to know you with other members on their project team.
I have a team on-shore and an off-shore team of brilliant testers. We meet as a team once a month for an update on what’s working, what’s coming down the line, and my favorite part, question time. I send one “get to know you” question ahead of the call. We all take turns answering the question. This simple but powerful activity brings us all closer together. We learn something new about each other and sometimes find people with similar past, wishes, or goals. Activities like this build a team culture in an amazing and powerful way.
If You’re Looking for it, You’ll Miss it
Many people think that culture is top down and can be managed like a person. After all, people make up a culture, so it’s something you can clearly manage, right? Sadly, and thankfully, it is not.
“Your true company culture happens when no one is watching — it is the result of what gets rewarded or punished.”“Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace” by Gustavo Razzetti page 89
Your actions as a Leader have a huge impact on how your team will view what needs to get done and how it is done. When you encourage timeline over quality, you will likely get rushed, under tested code. If you encourage people to jump and get things done, you will reap that same reward. As much as I would like to say we can avoid timelines, we can’t. We all still work for a business with commitments and deadlines. How we communicate to and our expectations of our team make a huge difference! Your team will take your lead. If you want a respectful and productive team, that is for you to take the lead on.
I enjoyed this book and found myself recommending it to colleagues while reading it. There are very insightful moments as well and many common sense moments that get glossed over in real practice. I’ve definitely incorporated many of the lessons that I took away from the book. These were only 5 of index cards that I captured from my notes. This book is also loaded with exercises and additional downloads to help guide you and your team in search of an improved culture.
On the whole, this book was about company culture in the Remote / Hybrid workplace. At first glance you might think to yourself, “This isn’t relevant to me, I’m not a company leader”. If you are part of a team in a company, it is relevant to you. A company culture is made up of everyone in the company, working on a team, working to get something done. We spend a lot of time working, more since the pandemic started, on average, so the culture of your company and team is important. We all have a role to play in that.
This is the first in a series of posts that I am doing this year. “The Book Report” has a goal of introducing you to books that you might not have read yet covering Leadership, Management, Productivity, and Philosophy. I hope you enjoyed it!
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