How to work asynchronously

The term ‘asynchronous’ is confusing. And when you add in the word ‘work’ – eyes glaze over.

In many ways – ‘working async’ is jargon from the remote work world. But ironically, even when people are in the same city, it’s still best to work asynchronously.

What – why?

Asynchronous maximizes deep work

The goal of asynchronous isn’t to make ‘remote work’ better. The goal is to maximize efficiency and deep work.

Recently, a professor from Georgetown University named Cal Newport wrote a great book called Deep Work.

The key message of the book was simple but profound. To solve any cognitively difficult problem, you have to spend long stretches of uninterrupted time thinking about the problem. He outlined a ‘law of productivity’:

Law of Productivity = Time Spent x Intensity of Work 

(Where work is defined as ‘uninterrupted work’ at full concentration)

Unfortunately – many of the typical synchronous work models don’t facilitate deep work. Individuals are constantly interrupted by meetings, brainstorm sessions that are hours long but only produce 5 mins of good work, constant IMs, constant emails, etc etc.

And as a result, the typical worker is not solving cognitively difficult problems – they are simply ‘busy’.

What is asynchronous work? defines asynchronous as ‘having each operation start only after the preceding operation is complete’.

With this definition – people commonly assume that team members are on their own islands and never meet or talk to eachother. This is definitely not the case.

How async really works is collaborative and parallel. The key, however, is that the team members work independently prior to engaging others. And this engagement is often through the work deliverable instead of a live meeting or discussion.

Often times – a team member will spend dedicated time (deep work) coming up with deep insights on a problem. They then capture those insights into a sharable deliverable that is handed off to other teammates to add their insights in parallel. This sequence enables all parties to contribute to the final product.

Collaboration still occurs – but team members contribute on their own time. Then, after everyone has contributed, a normal synchronous discussion may occur to finalize or make key decisions.

It’s as simple as that.

Here are 3 quick examples:

Example 1: Defining a product feature

Product owner spends 3 hours to write the detailed product spec on a Google Doc. The product owner then sends it out to rest of global team for feedback.

Everyone comments directly on document and the product owner incorporates the feedback. Then a meeting is held to make key decisions on the product spec and final version of document is sent out to all stakeholders.

Example 2: Metrics show decrease in sales win rate of quality leads

VP of Marketing spends 2 hours analyzing all of this quarter’s lost leads and SFDC notes. The VP of Marketing writes up a Deep Dive document with analysis, root cause and proposed fix. She posts the link in Confluence.

All of the SDRs/AEs review data and comment on their lost leads and rationale. They also comment on the suggested improvements and next steps to fix. The SVP of Sales & Marketing calls a 1 hour meeting with key Sales/Marketing execs to approve key decisions/changes. The VP of Marketing sends out final document and records 3 min video with key new actions.

Example 3: Communication of monthly goals by VP of Support to team

VP of Support writes monthly goals for the org into Confluence. The VP of Support records a 3 min video and posts onto the Microsoft Teams announcement channel. Support members read and comment in Teams.

What tools should I use to work async?

There are a lot of tools claiming that their software is the key to async work. Ignore them. You don’t need anything beyond what you likely already use today.

Mastering async is less about the tools and more about how you modify your internal processes to get work done.

The biggest internal process change is getting out of the mindset of ‘let’s have a meeting to discuss.’ Never do this. These unstructured meetings lack the deep work insights needed to make good decisions. Always require deep work prior to any meeting – much like Amazon’s 6 page paper format (LINK). You’ll be surprised at how many meetings are no longer needed when you have long-form written documents that can be commented on instead.

Below are some of ways we use common productivity tools to manage our async organization.

Knowledge management & goals: Confluence

Rationale: Organizations need to continually learn & improve. To do so – institutional knowledge must be captured in 1 location and continually iterated. We’ve tried using various Google Docs, Word Docs and others – but we found these get disorganized quickly and disappear as employees leave.

Instead, we use Confluence as our ‘brain’. We have a common data structure across every team to ensure we capture and disseminate the knowledge. Teams contribute to Confluence on a daily basis.

How to use for async: Confluence is our most important tool to collaborate asynchronously. All employees have read/write access but the input is structured and consistent. It includes the following:

  1. Company Handbook – overall documentation of values, processes, horizontal trainings, etc
  2. Playbooks – Company-wide & divisional playbooks that are continually iterated as we learn
  3. Goals – Annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly goals by company/division/manager/individual. All goals are transparent and visible to all employees. Goals are reviewed by the manager/individual 2x a week via check-in-chats.
    • Note: Many companies use specific goal tracking software – but we use Confluence to ensure that data is in 1 spot. Some divisions may use their own task manager (JIRA,, Zendesk) – but the annual/quarterly/monthly/weekly goals themselves are in Confluence.
  4. Key insights & deep dives – key learnings from successes or failures – with appropriate long-form documentation on causes and fixes
  5. Org charts & hiring pipelines – 1 location for all org charts, contact info, structure of teams, key roles & hiring pipeline content/tests associated
  6. Onboarding & training – location for all onboarding & training information for both new hires & current team members
  7. Metrics – visible ‘scoreboard’ for all team members & divisions based on lead metrics

Cloud productivity apps: Microsoft 365 or GSuite

Rationale: Both Microsoft 365 and GSuite are our cloud productivity apps to get work done. We largely don’t care which provider – as long as the documents themselves can be worked on by various employees asynchronously and are the cloud versions (no local versions emailed).

How to use for async: All employees write long form documents (specs, strategy docs, deep dives, RCA, etc), develop online spreadsheets, online versions of presentations, etc. These documents are the core of ‘deep work’ and the outputs are then shared with various team members for review/comments. We use comments heavily – and expect our employees to offer deep insights and feedback.

The transition to writing long-form docs is a key behavior change that managers need to drive down the organization. But it’s a powerful management tool that demonstrates the quality of the employee’s insights.

Additionally – all meetings must have a detailed document that has been shared to attendees prior to the synchronous discussion.

Important docs are then captured into Confluence.

Business Messaging: Microsoft Teams or Slack

Rationale: Both Microsoft Teams and Slack have similar functionality. We prefer Teams over Slack due to the integrated cloud storage folder structure & integrated Teams video service. But more important than the tool selection is the usage of chat and channel posts. We are very intentional about our use of these tools – as well as shutting them down during deep work time.

We rely more heavily on Channel posts than IM chats. Posts enable async feedback that is nested under the post and persistent. Chats are often ‘noisy’ and quickly disappear due to the volume (and only relevant to those currently online). But in all scenarios – both posts and chat are our primary form of day-to-day communication (not email – more detail below).

How to use for async:

  1. Chat – usage should be minimized and used primarily in a 1:1 or 1:2 mode for quick questions. Due to the fact that chats do not maintain or spread knowledge well – these quick questions are intended to be day-to-day dialogue to run the business vs important insights. Any important insights should be transferred into Confluence. We also do not have the expectation that chats are immediate – since members of the team are working in various timezones.
  2. Channel posts – posts within channels are a bit more persistent and should be used for most team communications. Team members comment under posts and provide feedback. We structure our channels within the companies and the divisions into the following:
    1. General – this is the channel where most posts occur within the company/team
    2. Announcements – this channel is for company-wide or team-wide announcements
    3. Fun – this channel is for random fun facts, pictures or other cultural building posts
    4. Recognition – this channel is to recognize peers/subordinates/others
    5. Training – this channel is for links to training articles, key insights (that are also posted in Confluence), etc
    6. Project specific – when necessary – we create project specific channels for selected audiences

Email: Outlook or GMail

Rationale: Similar to the Teams vs Slack debate – Microsoft email vs Gmail have similar functionality. We largely don’t care which tool is used – but we are very intentional about our use of email – and try to minimize as much as possible.

Email is a very poor medium of internal communication. Going through emails is time consuming, non-persistent in their knowledge capture and poorly structured for collaboration (reply-all is terrible). Insights from emails are rarely captured into a location that can be referenced and iterated on later. As a result – we discourage ANY internal emails. Emails are only to be used for external communication (customers/partners/etc).

How to use for async:

  1. ONLY use email for external communication to customers/partners/others
  2. Forwarding any external communication to internal audience (but discussion occurs in chat/channels/docs)

Recorded video: Loom, CleanShot, Microsoft Stream

Rationale: If there is 1 tool that you may not use today – it’s a cloud video recording/sharing app. Quick 2-3 mins videos are essential tools for async management. Though long form written documents provide more insight – quick recorded videos can accelerate understanding. Using a recording app like Loom, CleanShot or Microsoft Steam is a simple way to record and send. These videos must never be longer than 3 mins and the recording person should never take more than 2 tries. Here is a LINK with more information on how to record 3 min async videos.

How to use for async:

  1. Check-in-chats for goals updates & blockers discussion
  2. Company announcements
  3. Misc project specific recordings to accelerate understanding
  4. Fun culture videos if traveling to customer, etc.


Working & managing asynchronously is a skill and must be practiced. It’s easy to revert back to synchronous – believing that is faster/better. But it’s not. Synchronous simply adds low value ‘shallow busy work’ that makes things appear as if they are faster. Deep insights come from the entire organization mastering deep asynchronous work.

For more articles on how to manage asynchronously:

How to use 3 min videos to better manage your remote team

Why managers hate remote work

Async communication blog by Doist

How to use 3 min videos to better manage your remote team

Congratulations. You’ve managed to (sorta) figure out this remote work thing. Your team is working from home, Zoom appears to be working and your company did not go down in flames.

But unfortunately – now you’re stuck in Zoom meeting hell. You’ve replaced your physical workspace for a non-stop video conference. Brutal.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is ‘asynchronous’ work?

You’ve seen the term before but largely ignored it. Why would you work differently – just because you’re not in the office?

Because of your Zoom hell – that’s why.

A key part of leveraging remote work is to enable folks to work on their own time. Their own schedules, their own locations, their own time zones. If you don’t do that – you force everyone to jump on unproductive Zooms together (and at odd times).

Instead – you need to adopt a culture where work can actually occur without you. Async.


The standard method to get to async is long-form written documents. These written documents serve as the base – then others add to it, comment, etc. This document then provides the framework that leads to a set of actions the team delivers.

Though the long-form document has its place in async – sometimes you need a richer medium. And if a picture is worth a thousand words – a video is worth a million. 

With a quick video – you can better communicate verbal (and non-verbal) cues that are lacking from written documents. If done right – they are easy and highly effective.

We use quick async videos in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are from the managers to update their team on initiatives or overall priorities for the week, or sometimes they are from individuals to their managers for quick weekly goal updates, and sometimes they are between teammates to provide quick progress updates or ask questions. 

In all scenarios – the videos are rich in content and help enhance teamwork within the organization. And unlike written docs – videos enhance the company culture by adding personalization and a ‘feeling’ of working closely together despite the miles of separation.

But to ensure you don’t swap your Zoom hell for video watching hell – here are 5 tips to do them right.

5 tips for better async video:

1. Use a simple recording app

Back in the day – recording and sharing videos was a huge pain. Often times you’d record on 1 device, transfer the file, encode it then attempt to send a huge file to someone. 

But nowadays – there are a variety of great software providers that have made this super simple. My favorites are CleanShotJumpShareLoom and Microsoft Stream for Teams users. 

All of these offer simple ways to hit 1 button, record and send. 

CleanShot X for Mac

2. Never longer than 3 minutes

If you think opening up your inbox in the morning and seeing 1000 new emails is brutal – try opening up a video and seeing that you’re being asked to watch 20 mins of a boring monologue. Literally – paint drying.

Despite the temptation to go longer – never EVER record these update videos for longer than 3 minutes. If you need more time than that – either breakup the video into multiple topics or simply provide the key points in the video and send additional written information.

Same deal with all the videos you get from your team. 3 mins max and enforce it.

3. Record once

Most people hate hearing & seeing themselves on video. So they continue to re-record the video over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

Don’t do that. 1 take only. Ship your MVP (minimally viable product).

Remember that this is an internal video and probably only watched once. So don’t waste a ton of time recording it.

Only exception to this rule is if you violate the 3 min rule. Then take a second take to shorten it.

4. Show your screen & your face

Most recording software has 3 choices – record the screen, record webcam, record both screen and webcam. Pick the ‘both’ option.

If you only record the screen – your audience misses your non-verbal cues and the video lacks personality. If you only record the webcam – your audience lacks valuable visual information. Additionally, your audience ‘fatigues’ at staring at you for the entire 3 min monologue. Since the typical 2 person live conversation averages 2 mins per person per turn, your audience expects to ‘speak’ and the video gets annoying (just like a person who talks too much in person).

When you record the screen as primary (larger) and the webcam as secondary (smaller) – this ends up as the right balance. The video has content to read while listening to you – but still shows your facial gestures and non-verbal cues.

5. Send the link – not the file

Unfortunately, after recording these 3 min videos, they end up as huge files. Sending this file over email is typically rejected by your mail server and is a poor practice.

Cloud to the rescue.

Recording software companies have solved the large file problem by automatically uploading the video to their cloud storage then creating sharable links. Simply send that link to your team. They click on it and watch from any device.

Some recording apps (like Jumpshare and Loom) are native SaaS apps – and automatically display the video in their cloud interface. These work great also. You end up creating a personal YouTube-like channel of your videos and can measure views, length of viewer watch time, etc. And if you no longer want the video available – you can simply unshare it.


Managing remote teams is hard. You have to rethink the way you manage or you end up in Zoom hell. Bringing in asynchronous work is the key – and quick videos are an important tool for you and your team to master.

For additional information on how to record great videos – see these pieces:

How a stack of books can make your video conferencing 10x better

5 steps for great video conferencing while traveling

How 10 marbles became my key remote productivity tool

10 marbles? Huh?

Let me explain.

Like many of you – I’m now sitting at home (attempting to work) next to my 2 ‘remote school’ kids, my wife with her honey-do-list and every other distraction known to man. 

And also like many of you – my workload hasn’t changed. If anything – it’s gone up due to the overall economic chaos. 

Importance of Deep Work

In Jan’16 – a professor from Georgetown University named Cal Newport wrote a great book called Deep Work. In this book – he tells a story about an aspiring author that spent $4k to take a same day flight to/from the US-Tokyo to be completely removed from distraction and finish writing a book. Wow – sounds awesome right now.

The overall lesson of Newport’s book is to solve any cognitively difficult problem – you have to spend long stretches of uninterrupted time thinking about the problem. He outlined a great new ‘law of productivity’:

Law of Productivity = Time Spent x Intensity of Work 

(Where work is defined as ‘uninterrupted work’ at full concentration)

And since a flight to/from Tokyo isn’t an option for most of us – I needed another way to keep focused – while making it fun.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the ‘80s. The technique basically uses a 25 min timer to ‘deep work’ then take short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for ‘tomato‘, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.

This technique is great – but I found that it needed a bit of updating. It needed some gamification/competition and a larger focus on goals. Also – no disrespect – but nobody really wants a tomato timer on their desk.

Marble Method

The Marble Method is my spin on the Pomodoro technique and involves 10 marbles, 2 containers, and a countdown timer.

The way that it works is super simple. 

First, you set the countdown timer to 30 minutes and start working.

During these 30 mins – you do only 1 task.

Let me repeat – only ONE TASK.

You SHUTDOWN email, IM, notification, social media, etc. You move your phone just out of reach. You don’t get up. You don’t go to the bathroom. You don’t go get a drink of water. You don’t do anything that isn’t that 1 task you’ve set to do for the 30 mins. Your only job is to get from 30 mins to 0 mins without losing focus or being disturbed. 1 task only – period.

And believe it or not – I also recommend you don’t even use the internet during these 30 mins. You want to be doing content creation – not research.

You also have the timer clearly visible for anyone passing by so they know not to disturb you (or you just point to it if they forget). They can see the countdown – and know you’ll be taking the short break after – so they’ll wait.

Simple right? Wrong…

It’s crazy hard to stay cognitively focused for the entire 30 mins. When your body comes upon a difficult moment in your task – it looks for an easy escape. It’s super tempting to glance at your inbox, glance at the stock market, or worse yet – pick up your phone (which the average American does 96 times a day).

But the countdown timer helps to visually see where you’re at and motivate you to keep going.

And when you complete that 30 minutes (congrats!) – you celebrate by moving 1 marble from one container to the other. Then take a break, check your phone, grab some water or do whatever. Then figure out when you want to schedule your next marble attempt.

And despite our human intelligence – there is still an amazing Pavlov’s dog response when you achieve a marble. The marbles really motivate you – much like points in a game. You’ll find that you may even get a bit mad if you find that you broke concentration and missed the marble. Just a bit of gamification to make concentration more interesting.

It’s funny now – if I’m a few minutes away from getting a marble – the house literally has to be burning down for me not to finish (even then – I’d probably make a judgment call on the amount of smoke vs time left). My wife and kids now know they better be bleeding if they want to disturb me.

Manager vs Maker Schedule

Now – some of you are saying ‘sure – this works if you’re an individual contributor – but not for managers’.

Not true.

I’m currently the CEO for 14 companies – and I can tell you with certainty – that deep work is critical to guide teams or companies in the right direction. The ‘manager schedule’ isn’t just a series of meetings and endless emails. Your company needs you to produce deep insights on where to take your teams, strategy, changes, etc – not shallow work. Make time for marbles.

I use Workflowy or a simple Word doc for a lot of my marble attempts – and think deeply about specific topics for that entire 30 mins. Perhaps it’s how to make my Customer Success team better, or the next generation of the product roadmap, or budgets, staffing, etc. 

When you start this method – you’ll start thinking about your calendar differently. Rather than stare at the meetings – you’ll start noticing the gaps between. You’ll start calculating how many marble attempts you have today and what tasks you want to do in those attempts.

For my ‘manager schedule’ – which unfortunately does have a lot of meetings – I find that a good day is 5-6 marbles and a poor day is 2 marbles. 

I still hope to achieve all 10 marbles at work someday – but honestly – I’ve never been able to do it during weekdays (I’ve only reached 10 on weekends – perhaps not healthy work/life balance – I know).

For most of the individual contributors or ‘makers schedules’ – I’ve seen that 10 marbles is a great day and 5 marbles is a poor day. Obviously depends on the person and the role – but I’ve found that team members feel more ‘accomplished’ after a day of achieving 10 vs 5.

Gamification within your team or family

The beauty of the Marble Method is that you can make it a competition – both at home and at work.

I’ve given several of my team members ‘kits’ (which make great gifts, btw) and we now have various team members competing against each other and various teams competing against other teams. I couldn’t be more excited about folks competing on who can be most productive. Judo anyone?  :)…

And most surprisingly – my kids have taken to the Marble Method. I find that 30 minutes is just the right amount of time for them to maintain concentration (they’re 11 and 9) on a task. If they can learn the theory of ‘deep work’ at this age – I feel like we’re winning…

Marble Method ‘Kit’

Obviously – you don’t really need to purchase any of this stuff below to do the Marble Method (and I don’t get any commission from Amazon, unfortunately). But for anyone interested – here are the links to what I use:

  • Marbles – $14:  LINK
  • Timer – $20:  LINK
  • Wood Tray – $50:  LINK 

I’ve also seen folks use coins instead of marbles, phone timer instead of a standalone timer, cups instead of a tray, etc. Anything that can create the same ‘marble accomplishment’ effect is 100% fine.


In this crazy time – where many of us are now working from home with distractions everywhere – finding little methods to maintain your concentration can go a long way. 

Hope this little Marble Method can help you and your family…

Other pieces from ‘How to’ remote work content series

5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party

Virtual holiday – what? That sounds ridiculous.

I know – that’s what is going through your head right now. And trust me – that went through my head before throwing our first one years ago. But believe it or not – it actually works – and is a great way to build culture and connection within your remote team.

And even if some team members don’t celebrate Christmas – certainly still include them. In our holiday party this year – we had team members attend from the following countries: US, Canada, Bulgaria, Romania, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Poland, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, UK, Ukraine, Austria, Armenia, Turkey and Egypt.

Here are 5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party:

Step 1: Use a virtual world and create a ‘holiday floor’

The first key to throwing a remote party is to make it ‘feel’ like an in-person event. Virtual worlds work great for this purpose – since the skeuomorphic depiction of a space tricks the brain to thinking people are in the same physical room. We use Sococo and it works great.

If you already use a virtual world – create a new floor specifically for the holiday party. To make the floor festive – name each of the rooms something fun and related to the holiday you’re celebrating. In our case – it was Christmas.

Step 2: Setup a themed scavenger hunt

To get everyone in the holiday spirit, make a themed scavenger hunt and open up the holiday floor about a week prior to your event.

To start the scavenger hunt – designate 1 room as the starting point with instructions and a clue. From there – the team members will need to decipher the clue to figure out which room to go to next.

As they jump from room to room – they discover various factoids about Christmas – as well as clues to find the next room to jump in. Factoids can be linked directly in Sococo through hyperlinks in each room. The hyperlinks can be to a website, blog, video, etc. Get creative!

You can embed various questionnaires (we used Google Forms) in the rooms and reuse the information at the actual event itself.

You can also create little puzzles for them to play (this one was obviously a bit easy) – which then becomes a clue to the next room.

And for the final room and conclusion of the scavenger hunt – embed a quick video from your CEO thanking the team for all their hard work this year – as well as encouraging them to attend the holiday party.

It was really great to see various team members work together to solve the hunt and make their way around the virtual holiday floor. It really got the team excited for the party itself.

Step 3: Throw the party

For remote teams that are scattered around the world – it’s always hard to pick a time that works perfectly for everyone. But since this is an event where you want folks to be synchronously engaged – try to pick one that can maximize the attendees. This year – we had team members from 12 different time zones across 5 continents.

And for people that can’t make it – be sure to record the party. Believe it or not – we always have folks watch the party and have fun even weeks later.

One good touch for the event is to ask people to come in holiday attire. Having folks dress up really adds to the comradery and spirit. This holiday attire can be representative of their local traditions or be part of the games you play (more on this in the next section).

Step 4: Play games over video

I wouldn’t have believed this prior to doing them – but there are a ton of fun games you can play over video! Here are some of the games that we’ve played:

Ugly sweater contest: Have folks dress in their ugliest holiday sweater and everyone votes on the winner.

Best holiday hat contest: Have people wear a themed hat and vote on the winner.

Best holiday background contest: Have people decorate their home office and everyone votes on the best setup.

Other games you can play over video:

  • Charades: Use an online charades word picker and have 1 person act out the charade on camera. Everyone participates and guesses – tons of fun remote.
  • White elephant/Secret Santa: Prior to the party – assign Secret Santa and do a gift reveal on camera. The gifts may take a while to ship to the folks – but tons of fun also.
  • Jeopardy: Setup a remote Jeopardy board (choose from any of them online) and split up into teams. Compete with either themed questions and/or questions related to your company.

Step 5: Ask team members to describe their holiday traditions

The best part of a virtual holiday party with your remote team is learning about their personal & country’s traditions. This is a great way for various team members to get to know one another on a personal basis and open up trust/communication.

In this year’s party – I learned:

  • Romania has a tradition of ‘pig roasting’ on Dec 20th where the kids ‘sit’ on the roasted pig
  • Bulgaria sets out odd number of plates and only serves vegan food for Christmas
  • Nigerian kids do ‘banga’ (fireworks) and eat a ton of meat on Christmas
  • Newfoundland kids do ‘mummering’ – where they dress up in ghost-like costumes and go house to house and perform for food/snacks – and the hosts have to guess the mummers’ identities
  • Russians go to a banya (bathhouses) where they alternate between hot saunas and ice-cold baths. They also have people ‘beat’ you with bunches of dried branches while in the sauna.


Trust me – I was a virtual holiday party skeptic too. But after experiencing them – I couldn’t recommend them more. With 1 simple hour and some creativity – you can enhance your remote team’s sense of connection, understanding and trust.

There are so many holidays and traditions around the world – take advantage of them to build your team’s culture.

I hope some of these tips helped. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. Would love to hear about your virtual holiday party! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

3 min video to show how virtual worlds will contribute to remote work

Remote work evangelists have a tendency to believe that the word ‘office’ is a four letter word. This is short-sided and ultimately harmful in making remote work mainstream.

Don’t get me wrong – remote work has a ton of advantages that I love (infinite talent, global, async deep work, etc) – but it also has a bunch of disadvantages. These current disadvantages – such as employees not feeling ‘connected’ to their team, lack of impromptu collaboration, feeling of isolation and manager’s lack of trust are items we should address head-on and find ways to fix.

Fortunately – technology is on our side and the emergence of ‘virtual worlds’ will help overcome many of these current issues.

Virtual worlds? You mean like Second Life?

Well – sorta…

These multi-player games create connection and enable folks – that are thousands of miles apart – to ‘feel’ like they are on the same team and working together.

In a work setting – we definitely want that same type of connection and collaboration (less the tanks and ammo perhaps). There is a big difference between communication and connection (as I write about in this article) – and these virtual worlds can help make these connections reality.

Now – I’m not saying you should run your company off of Fortnite – but there are a lot of great virtual office programs. We use a program called Sococo (and loved it so much we bought the company).

Here is a quick 3 minute video of how we use a virtual world to bring together our remote teams.

If anyone is also currently using remote worlds to run your company – love to hear your experiences! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

Book notes: Trillion Dollar Coach – Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

The ‘cult’ of remote work evangelists believe that the lessons of ‘classic’ Silicon Valley companies are outdated and don’t apply to us. When it comes to mentoring and coaching – we couldn’t be more wrong.

Bill Campbell was a legendary mentor to Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jonathan Rosenberg, Sundar Pichai, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg and countless other important innovators of modern tech. If his advise was good enough for them – they’re definitely good enough for us…

Now – obviously in a remote world – mentoring and coaching are delivered via a different medium – but the approach largely stays the same. Many of us have a tendency to neglect the elements that Campbell did so effortlessly – but in reality – we need to be finding ways to increase the frequency of coaching delivered to our remote teams instead.

The isolation of remote team members require even more touch than in-person to maintain morale and alignment.

There are clearly some disadvantages in coaching remote – such as the difficulty to read body language and the development of trust. But many of the ‘Campbell-isms’ can be applied equally well remote – such as his methods of coaching directly, meetings, feedback and morale.

Remote also gives us several advantages – such as the frequency you can ‘see’ (via video) your team members, ability to provide feedback faster via async communications and the ability to make changes faster.

Here are some super raw notes

  • Campbell coached Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sundar Pichai at Google, Steve Jobs at Apple, Brad Smith at Intuit, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, John Donahoe at eBay, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Dick Costolo at Twitter, and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook
  • Campbell-isms:
    • Mentor gives advice – coaches get their hands dirty
    • Best coaches make good teams great
    • Title makes you a manager – your people make you a leader. 
    • You have to become a great manager before becoming a great leader 
    • Great coaches lay awake at night thinking about how to make their people/team better
    • Bill believed that what peers think of you is more important than managers think of you. 
    • 5 min favors go a long way – be generous
    • Love the founders – CEOs come and go but there will be only 1 founder 
    • If you’ve been blessed – be a blessing
  • Hiring:
    • 4 key characteristics to look for in hires – smart, integrity, work hard, grit 
    • When interviewing candidates – asking ‘how’ they achieved X is an important question. Will tell you if the candidate is hands on, doer, team builder, etc 
    • Big turnoff was if candidate was no longer learning – not asking enough questions 
    • Coachabilty is key to all successful players – look for this key trait in interviews, on the job, etc.
    • Keep note of how long they take before giving up. Also how they celebrate others’ success when peers succeed. 
    • Pay attention to people that show up and work hard everyday. Not everyone should be quarterback. 
    • Smarts and hearts 
  • Meetings:
    • Managers – be the last person to speak. Your job is to break ties and make decisions 
    • Start staff meetings w personal discussion. Get to know people and share stories – helps bring honesty and have more candor discussions in making decisions. Small talk is important – interest in people’s lives. 
    • In meetings – see the entire field – not just the person talking. Look around the room to see who’s committed and who is not. Then talk to them outside of the discussion to get them aligned.
    • 1:1s – personal, performance on goals, peer feedback, how to measure yourself amongst best in world
  • Rule of 2:
    • Pick the best 2 people in the org that know about subject to make the decision recommendation. He was big on ‘pairing’ people up to develop relationships but also bring the right subject matter experts together.
    • Team dynamics is often overlooked as important to success. Pair people up on projects. Helps build trust. 
  • Firing:
    • Letting people go is a failure of management – not the people being let go.
    • Important to let people leave with their heads held high – treat them well and with respect 
    • Send out note with their accomplishments as they depart 
    • Be clear early in conversation and provide details. Firings shouldn’t be a surprise. 
    • Treating departing people well is important to the moral of those staying. Many of who you lay off have closer relationships to continuing team members than you. Treat them with the appropriate level of respect. But company has to move forward – so don’t apologize too long. 
    • When you fire someone – you regret it for a day – then say you should have done it a long time before. 
  • Trust: 
    • Team must have a willingness to be vulnerable 
    • Trust enables you to have more direct conversations 
    • Phycological safety is the biggest factor in best, successful teams. Trust is key to that. 
  • Feedback:
    • Be candid and aggressive with negative feedback – you can do this if safety and trust is there. Candor plus caring.
    • Deliver negative feedback in private
    • Bill never had an elephant in the room – it was always directly on the table.  Trust was there to be able to talk about anything.
  • Morale:
    • Be a person that gives energy and not takes it away
    • When things are going bad – morale in the team is bad – and you can’t fix things when morale is bad. Need to build up team first to make changes. 
    • Work to revitalize the team then get to the problem. Teams can’t solve problems if they are a problem also.

Great lessons for all leaders – remote or otherwise… Read the book.

If anyone has additional notes from the book or ideas on remote company coaching in general – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

Book Notes: What you do is who you are (Horowitz)

I have to admit that I wasn’t always a big ‘culture’ guy. The word always sounded like a fluffy HR term that didn’t really mean much. Now with a bit more grey hair and a few thousand people spread across the globe – I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Particularly in the remote team environment – developing culture is much much harder. You have all the variables that work against you – not seeing each other very often, language barriers, various countries, various cultural norms, different holidays, various religions, etc etc etc. If you’re not ABSOLUTELY intentional in defining your company culture – your outcome is literally a random number generator.

Ben Horowitz signing away…

This book by Ben Horowitz hit home for me. The book is written from a perspective of a CEO/Founder (unlike other books in this category written by HR). I could respect it – and I could hear his pains along the way as he learned what really mattered.

One line I loved was ‘Culture is the decisions your people make when you’re not there’. CEOs/Founders forget that, at scale, most of the decisions made in your company are without you there. And how you ensure those decisions are aligned is where culture comes in.

My 3 takeaways from this book

  1. Be intentional about defining your culture – but ensure you also consider how it can be weaponized (Uber example)
  2. The definition of culture is really ‘what does it take to succeed in your company’ – and don’t ask execs or managers to define it
  3. Your culture needs to be who you really are – don’t try to make some pretty descriptions of what you think a company should be. It’s all about what you wakeup and do everyday – that’s your culture and what you’re company culture will be.

Ben’s Checklist

  • Cultural design – aligns w both personality and strategy. Be sure to think how it can be weaponized. 
  • Day 1 orientation – people learn more about what it takes to succeed in org that day than any other. 
  • Shocking rules – so surprising that people ask why it’s here – will reinforce key cultural elements 
  • Outside leadership – sometimes the culture you need is best brought in from an outside pro with a culture you want 
  • Object lesson – public display of importance 
  • Make ethics explicit – don’t leave unsaid 
  • Cultural to make deep meaning – what do they really mean
  • Walk the talk – refrain from choosing what you don’t practice yourself 
  • Make decisions that emphasize priorities 

Here are some super raw notes

  • Culture is the decisions your people make when you’re not there
  • Saying in the military – If you see something below standard and you don’t say anything – then you set a new standard
  • Culture changes over time as market and company changes 
  • Andy Grove – You don’t take the ball and run w it – you deflate it, put it in your pocket, grab another ball and run into the end zone, then inflate the other ball and score 12 points. (Innovative thinking outside the box)
  • Innovative ideas fail more often to succeed. And they are controversial and hard to gain momentum. So cultures typically kill those ideas as ‘dumb’ – particularly in large companies with many layers to kill it. 
  • Virtues are what you do, values are what you believe 
  • Who are we?  ‘Who you are’ is not what you list on the wall – it’s what you do. 
  • Make ethics explicit 
  • Michael Dell famously stated (when Apple was down to 3% MSS) – that he would shut it down and give money back to shareholders. (Before Jobs came back).  Back then – every PC maker was horizontal and the belief was that innovation on supply chain was the future (like Dell)
  • Amazon – frugal culture ‘do more with less’ (door desks, etc). Also written culture – not PPT (only written docs for meetings)
  • Facebook – Move fast and break things (but replaced w Move fast w stable infrastructure)
  • Yahoo – Work hours must be in office (no working from home). 
  • Uber:
    • TK actually designed Uber’s culture carefully – and it worked exactly as designed – but had design flaws
    • Values: Celebrate cities, Meritocracy and toe stepping, Principled confrontation, Winning – champions mindset, Let builders build, Make big bold bets, Always be hustling, Customer obsession, Make magic, Be an owner not a renter, Be yourself, Optimistic leadership, Best idea wins
    • Elevated 1 mindset above all – competitiveness. Do whatever it takes to win. 
    • No evidence that Travis ordered all the unethical actions – but the culture to win at all costs took over. 
    • Culture, like code, can have bugs 
    • And if ethics are the bugs – then many bad things happen
  • Samurai culture
    • I will never fall behind others in the way of the warrior, always ready to serve my lord, honor my parents, serve compassionately in the benefit of others
    • Extent of ones courage (or cowardice) cannot be measured in ordinary times – all is revealed when something happens
    • Awareness of mortality was a big driver – and die at any moment. Ready for death and accept worst outcome. Enables you to be fully live. 
    • 8 virtues:  justice, courage, honor, loyalty, benevolence, politeness, self control, voracity/sincerity 
      • Honor:  immortal part of themselves. Individual name matters throughout time 
      • Politeness:  Most profound way to express love and respect for  others (still works this way in Japan)
    • ‘Samurai word is harder than steel’
  • Bill Campbell – you’re doing it for your team, don’t let them down
  • How to know if your culture is working – ask yourself what it takes for the employees to succeed and get ahead. Don’t ask exec team or managers – you’ll get back what you want to hear. 
  • Design the culture. And be you 
  • Disagree w Drucker quote – strategy and culture work together 
  • Growth question in interview – what’s one thing you could have done better in your current job?
  • Wartime vs Peacetime CEOs – typically people that like to work for one type doesn’t like working for the other
  • Trust – tell the truth even if people don’t want to hear it (state facts clearly, what was cause, what is meaning and end result of action)
  • Kimchi problems – the more you bury them the hotter they get
  • Be okay with bad news – embrace it publicly and encourage it to be aired 
  • People don’t leave companies – they leave managers. Take genuine interest. 

In a remote world – we have to work that much harder to develop a unified company culture. Don’t neglect defining it – and don’t neglect reinforcing it on a daily basis…

If anyone has additional notes from the book or ideas on remote company culture in general – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

How To Make a ‘Gold Standard’ Remote Work Office

Ok – so maybe the ‘gold standard’ that Andreas Klinger called my office in this tweet may be overstating it a bit. But I did get a lot of questions and requests to write-up a small post on some of the details of the office and considerations on how to build it. So this article is to address those requests.

Initial Design Considerations

Since I work with several thousand remote workers – I needed my office to be optimized for remote collaboration. But your typical 1:1 video wasn’t the only use case.

Use cases:

  1. Optimize for remote video calls 1:1 or 1:N (typical)
  2. Optimize for N:N remote video calls – including multiple people physically in my office (a bit more challenging)
  3. Optimize for the use case 1 or 2 while using the whiteboard to brainstorm (also a bit more challenging)

Other design considerations:

  • Great HD audio quality all around the room to avoid the ‘near/far’ mic sound
  • Great HD video setup with proper orientation
  • Limit wires around the office – clean setup – particularly in the middle of the room
  • Physical whiteboard (I still hate digital ones)
  • Ability for others to wireless present on the screen/TV
  • Use only PC-based video conferencing solutions – not fixed room solutions (innovation curve is faster on PC-based/software than fixed room units)


I wanted a space that I could use as a ‘normal’ office for in-person customer visits but also optimize the room for remote work/video conferencing. The first part is easy, of course. For the video conferencing piece, the layout of the TV, camera and desk were the main considerations.

To make the layout work for video conferencing – the camera and TV needed to be directly in front of the desk. This was a challenge since the space is a rectangle with windows on 2 sides.

The first thought was to hang the TV on the wall with no windows (a typical configuration). But if I would have done this – then the desk would have windows behind it. People make this mistake often – if you orient a desk with windows behind it – the video camera struggles due to the brightness. Your image ends up dark, similar to regular photography with too bright of a background.

Instead (and counterintuitively) – a TV stand in front of the window ended up being the right layout. This way – the desk would be along the far wall without windows – avoiding the lighting issue and taking advantage of the natural light in front and besides my desk.

Camera Setup

The camera is mounted just below the TV on a shelf that came with the TV stand.  I took off the glass shelf that came with it and mounted the camera directly on the arm.  I then raised the shelf so that the camera lens is exactly eye level when I’m sitting at my desk (see my other article about the importance of camera orientation).

For the camera itself – I knew I needed an HD webcam that had a 10x zoom – since the camera is 15 feet from my desk.  I also wanted the camera to have the ability to rotate and focus on various spots in the room. This way, I can take video calls from the couch, chairs or even my treadmill.  It also needed to be able to zoom out so I could have meetings with multiple people in the physical room – while visible to the others on camera.

I chose the Logitech PTZ – and it works perfectly for all these use cases.  The pre-settings on the remote are also great to automatically click to various spots/configurations. 

Note – the only issue I have with this camera is when it resumes from standby. When it resumes – rather than spin and rotate into place then turn the camera on, it first turns the camera on then spins and rotates into place. This creates a dizzying panorama effect for the folks on the other side of the video (sorry folks).  I think this is a bug – but Logitech claims it’s a ‘feature’. Classic debate of bug vs feature I guess…

For most of my meetings – someone is displaying some content.  If a person in my office wants to display on the TV to the remote group – they simply login to Zoom and share their screen (which shows up on my TV as well as to others). 

If they are just displaying locally to me – I have an Apple TV mounted on the back of the TV to AirPlay.

Audio Setup

The next challenge to solve was the microphone issue.  Though the office isn’t that big – I wanted to be able to do calls in various spots around the room and have the ability to have multiple people in the office during calls. I knew 1 central mic would not be enough.  I’d get that near/far effect and poor audio quality.

I originally thought I needed to have multiple mic pods.  There are a ton of mic pods and mic extensions you can find on the market – but most are wired together off of the primary pod base.  And they all look terrible. They would also require me to run wires to various spots in the office – something I didn’t want to do.

I also considered the type of mics that hang from your ceiling – which would have worked.  But again – they look terrible and are a pain to install.

I then came across an innovative company called Nureva.  They invented a great (but super super expensive) microphone/speaker called HDL300.  This mic gets mounted to the wall and breaks up the room into over 8,192 virtual microphone zones.  These virtual microphones basically detect where audio is coming from around the room – and amplifies only those zones.  This enables me to be anywhere around the room (or others in the room with me) – and we all sound as if we are next to a microphone.  It’s a very, very cool innovation so I splurged a bit on it.

The HDL300 has a small box that plugs in via USB into my iMac.  This is great since it’s simply a USB device – and is automatically picked up by all the video conferencing software I use.

Whiteboard Collaboration

Call me old school – but I still don’t love software whiteboard solutions.  It got a little better with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil – but nothing beats a large physical whiteboard.  And when others are in my room brainstorming – having a full size whiteboard is important.

Now – I could have purchased a full-size digital whiteboard – but they are super expensive – and they’re a bit of a pain to plugin to various video conferencing software.  So the solution I opted for instead was simply mounting my iPad on a stand and pointing the camera towards the physical whiteboard. I then login the iPad as another user in a Zoom meeting – and share the video.  It works great (though my penmanship is another story).


I use a variety of different remote collaboration software – Zoom, Slack, Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc.  Though we’ve standardized across our companies – customers and others use different platforms. So simply using the PC as your ‘hub’ works great so you can be flexible and use any of them in your office setup. The TV is connected to my iMac by HDMI and treated as an extended display.

I’ve tried various ‘fixed room’ setups in the past – but found them largely inflexible. This includes Zoom Rooms, LifeSize, Telepresence, Halo Rooms, etc. Having a PC-based model connected to a TV enables a) drag documents back/forth from the screen, b) don’t need a second PC to power the Zoom Room, c) don’t need to pay extra for a Zoom Room account and d) less complicated setup.

Though I use many – my favorite software for remote teams (by far) is a program called Sococo.  It’s the only software I’ve seen that can help build remote team culture. 

For whatever reason – virtually ‘seeing’ your team sitting around a table develops a sense of connection that can’t be matched with little green/yellow/red dots on a Slack list.  The ‘visual proximity’ also encourages watercooler talk and quick video syncs.

I loved this company so much that I bought it – and am now making it 10x better (developing ‘rich presence’, making it into a platform to plugin Zoom/Slack/calendar, adding personalization, etc).

Summary of Parts


  • Camera:  Logitech PTZ camera
  • Microphone/Speaker:  Nureva HDL300
  • TV:  60” Samsung
  • PC:  iMac
  • AppleTV


  • Video collaboration:  Zoom, Skype, Slack, GTM, others
  • Remote team culture:  Sococo


Keys to setting up any remote-first office:

  1. Output = Professionalism:  Configure your layout to optimize for professionalism.  Assume you need to close $1M deals on video – so recreate a virtual in-person experience.  All elements matter to create a professional look – where you put your desk, background, lighting, camera, microphone, etc.
  2. Audio is more important than video:   If video fails, you keep going – if audio fails, you end the call.  Splurge on good audio setup. And based on your use cases – there are various options like virtual microphones.
  3. Video orientation is more important than video quality:  Eye-level camera setup with proper distance is the key to a great video call.  HD is nice – but irrelevant if you don’t have the right orientation. Cameras that rotate and zoom can be great flexible options to achieve the perfect orientation.
  4. PC-based software setups are better than fixed room:  Innovation occurs faster on the PC-based solution. And using your PC as the main hub enables you to use a variety of collaboration software instead of 1 fixed ecosystem.
  5. Collaboration is more than just talking:  Focus on productivity and culture building.  iPads are good tools to ‘extend’ your collaboration to physical whiteboards.  Applications like Sococo are great to drive impromptu ‘watercooler’ discussions to get more out of your newly built space.

I’m not sure if this setup is truly the ‘gold standard’ – but after 15 years of trial and error, this setup works great for me.  If anyone has additional ideas on how to make my setup even better – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba