Successful Remote Work Through Asynchronous Management

Successful Remote Work Through Asynchronous Management written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Liam Martin

Liam Martin, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing PodcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Liam Martin. He is the co-founder of Time Doctor and has been working remotely for over 20 years; working with thousands of companies looking to adopt a remote working model. Liam is incredibly passionate about understanding how organizations can unlock remote work to help achieve more autonomy for business owners and employees.

His newest book Running Remote: Master the Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Remote-Work Pioneers, is a Wall Street Journal Bestseller that teaches success secrets from original remote work pioneers on the mindset and strategies they have used and developed to build and grow successful remote organizations.

Key Takeaway:

Asynchronous management is a crucial approach for effectively managing remote workers. Remote companies that prioritize asynchronous management operate without constant real-time communication, focusing on outcomes rather than micromanagement. This approach requires a shift in mindset, empowering employees to make decisions on their own and providing them with the same information as top-level executives. It also enables efficient scaling, reduces excessive video communication, and allows employees to concentrate on execution and problem-solving.

Questions I ask Liam Martin:

  • [01:42] You introduce the term asynchronous management as a mindset in the book, can you explain it?
  • [05:08] Aren’t we still in a window where remote workers have to learn how to work remotely as well as remote managers?
  • [08:34] Are there cons to working remotely? How do you keep some feeling of being in the office alive?
  • [10:28] Is there a framework for effective internal communication that really benefits from working remotely?
  • [12:54] How do you equip people to make better decisions on their own?
  • [15:42] Do you think there’s any credence to the idea that remote work disadvantages junior employees?
  • [17:01] What does this asynchronous platform look like from a tangible aspect?
  • [18:53] How do you keep aspects of an old but cherished culture alive when a lot of the ways that people did that go away?
  • [20:33] Where do people that haven’t done remote work before, generally get it wrong?
  • [22:46] Talking about unmanagement as a new leadership style. Is this something that will need to be taught and built into leadership training?

More About Liam Martin:

  • Get your copy of Running Remote: Master the Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Remote-Work Pioneers
  • Check out the Running Remote Conference
  • Connect with Liam

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(01:03): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Liam Martin. He’s the co-founder of Time Doctor and has been working remotely for over 20 years and has worked with thousands of companies looking to adopt a remote working model. Liam is incredibly passionate about understanding how organizations can unlock remote work to help achieve more autonomy for business owners and employees. Today we’re gonna talk about his newest book Running Remote: Master the Lessons From the World’s Most Successful Remote Work Pioneers. So Liam, welcome to the show.

Liam Martin (01:40): Thanks for having me, John.

John Jantsch (01:42): So I’ll be the first to admit, when I saw the title of the book, I was like, oh yeah, a lot of companies are having to do distributed workforces and run remote today pretty clearly when we get into it, that’s, you’re not necessarily saying that’s how to go. You introduced the term asynchronous management as a mindset. So I’ll let, with that set up, I’ll let you explain what you mean by that.

Liam Martin (02:07): Sure. So when we went remote, just to kind of give you context, February of 2020 4% of the US workforce was working remotely by March of 2020. That was 45% of the US workforce. That is the biggest shift in work since the Industrial Revolution. But the Industrial Revolution took 80 years and we did that in March. So it was what I like to call emergency remote work, right? Everyone just said, well, let’s start working from home immediately and within days. And for someone who’s been doing this for 20 years, it was incredibly exciting to see the entire world shift over to my mindset. The thing that was problematic inside of that was that no one actually understood how to manage remote workers, right? And so now we’re seeing this pushback to the office because they don’t really fundamentally understand how to manage people effectively when they work remotely.

(02:59): And what I’ve been doing with Time Doctor and then also running remote, which is the largest conference on remote work that’s been running for the past six years, is I studied what successful remote companies do. And the one thing that they have in common, more than anything else, is something that I like to call asynchronous management, which is essentially, and it’s a very alien concept to a lot of people think about if you had to build a business but you couldn’t talk to anybody inside of that business, that’s essentially asynchronous management. And the book teaches you exactly how to do it.

John Jantsch (03:35): You know, it’s funny in a lot of ways, I think that people that get this, whether they even go into offices, get this mindset, it’s probably a better way to manage than most sort of top-down hierarchical . You know, organizations have always, you know, since the dawn of time managed, and I think a lot of people learn this as you mentioned, out of necessity and probably will never go back even if they start going back to the office. Would you say that’s a fair statement?

Liam Martin (04:03): Yeah, the data’s quite interesting. So we just actually had Brian Elliot from Future Forum that is the largest longitudinal data set on remote work. And one of the things that he’s seen recently is remote work hit and dependent upon the study that you look at, it can differ about 26% of the US workforce is currently working remotely, but that number is going back up. Sure. It’s not going down again. So we’ve actually gone past that Covid bump and we’re now going back up in terms of remote work. Also, 68% of new companies form today are actually stating that they want to be able to work remotely from the get-go. So I actually think that these new generation of companies are gonna be a lot more efficient. There’s a friend of mine who is the head of remote for a company called GitLab, and yet this great mindset connected to this, which was essentially asynchronous management is like the first model T rolling off the production line. And the old 20th century model are horses. You wanna be the Model T, you don’t wanna be the horse. Right, right,

John Jantsch (05:07): Right. You know, it’s funny, it’s a lot of industries like restaurants, you know, they were forced into doing things differently during Covid and they’ll never go back. Um, you know, now that they’ve learned that, and I think that it’s probably, aren’t we still in a bit of a window where actually remote workers have to learn how to work remote as well as remote managers or leadership? I mean, I think there’s a learning curve all around, isn’t there?

Liam Martin (05:30): Absolutely. So leadership executives, directors and above, they actually have adopted to remote work quite well. They actually are not going back to the office any anywhere near as much as middle managers. Middle managers are the real bulk of the problem in terms of adoption of remote work. 76% of employees want more remote work, 67% of managers, middle tier managers want less. So there’s a direct conflict between those two groups and it’s fundamentally that they just don’t understand how to manage those people the right way. And again, asynchronous management, it’s a little bit of an alien concept to be able to get your head around, but once you actually crystallize it, it becomes much easier to be able to manage people and scale. The other thing that I found really interesting when studying this book and studying a whole bunch of asynchronous organizations is that they on average had a managerial layer about 50% as much as on-premise in office counterparts. So therefore you can manage a lot more people with less managers.

John Jantsch (06:35): Sure. You, I mean, essentially Time Doctor is a tool, but you go to Great lengths to suggest that this mindset is not about the tools or at least first and foremost.

Liam Martin (06:46): Yeah, so I mean, time Doctor for us is really an asynchronous time management tool, which is the biggest thing that people are concerned about with regards to remote work is I don’t know what they’re doing. I know when they’re in the office they’re at least there and they’re doing something. Well, the reality is that they’re playing Candy Crush on their phones just under their desk just as much as they are when they work from home. It’s just that they get an extra hour and a half of sleep when they work from home . So they’re on average, more productive. There’s about 27 studies right now in the last year and a half that have come at about remote work productivity. 26 of them have stated that there’s an increase in productivity with regards to remote work. But yet we still see a massive pushback to the office. And again, when I push managers and really ask them the true reasons, it is we need to be able to make sure that those workers are accountable. We need to be able to measure their output. And there are ways of doing that time Doctor is not the only way of doing it. There’s a lot of other tools, particularly inside of asynchronous management to be able to make that happen.

John Jantsch (07:51): It’s interesting, I read a study that said, you know, when people went remote, there was a huge spike in in like tracking software and things. So, so it’s like they’re not in the office, I can’t see them. So I assume that they are not working at all unless I can like monitor them and watch them. Right. And I think that, as you said, what really proved out was people were actually far more productive. Probably, probably a percentage of them far happier in Absolutely. You know, because, hey, I got a five minute break, I’ll go throw the laundry in, you know, I’m getting something done, but you know, I’m gonna take a break at work, but now you know, I’m now I’m actually gonna do something for myself, you know, during that time. So I’m sure that we will see tons and tons of studies about mental health and happiness and whatnot related to work, but mm-hmm , is it true that there’s also a con to that? You know, not being in the office, there are people that miss inter, I hear it all the time, you know, I miss the interaction, I miss being with people, I miss having team moments. So how do you keep some of that alive?

Liam Martin (08:50): So there are ways of doing it and we outline it in the book, but there’s companies, like, as an example, they have a huge chat version of Dungeons and Dragons where all of a sudden you’ll get a push notification saying you’ve gotta go and heal your wizard, otherwise the dragon is gonna break down into the castle. You’ve got people that do offsites. So we do company retreats every single year. But the biggest thing that you have to think about is when you think about your social circle, it’s fundamentally around your work, particularly during your working years. Yeah. And one of the things that I find super confusing is we don’t have arranged marriages in North America, but we seem to have arranged friendships. It’s just these people that we happen to work with that are around us, become our social group. Well for me, I actually have a lot of neighbors that I talk to every single day. We have lunch three or four times a week just with the local people that I work with. I have a co-working space that I go down the street and those are really my like work social network. And for me that gives me much more happiness than if I’m necessarily interacting with direct coworkers.

John Jantsch (10:02): Let’s talk about communication rituals. I think that’s one of the ways that people have struggled the most with remote. I mean they had the like daily standup, you know, in the office and they had, you know, the weekly meeting and they had the 360 meeting. Is there a way that you have found a framework for, you know, how to communicate, how not to communicate? I mean the last thing we want is a whole bunch of more emails because we’re not in the office anymore, you know, from coworkers. So is there a framework for, you know, effective internal, particularly internal communication that you’ve found really benefits from remote?

Liam Martin (10:36): Yeah, well that’s a core piece of asynchronous management, which is fundamentally the platform is the manager, not necessarily the individual. So every single employee has a quantifiable and longitudinal number that they’re answerable towards. And ideally that number is actually provided by the platform, the project management system, the data points that you’re pulling in, it just is automatically presented. So the manager doesn’t necessarily have to sit down and say, Hey John, why aren’t you hitting your numbers? Well, it’s very clear that you’re not hitting your numbers. You don’t have to actually identify that. Then we can focus more on how to fix it as opposed to how to identify it.

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(12:38): So one of the things that asynchronous management probably begs people to do is make decisions on their own. Cuz I Yes. You know, I’m not gonna like go, Hey boss , you got a second? So I’m making decisions on my own. How do you equip people to make better decisions on their own?

Liam Martin (12:59): So we have a company value, which is self-guided muscle, which specifically works all of this stuff out. And fundamentally it is, don’t ask me what to do, tell me what you did. And if you have that type of mindset, you’re actually gonna work very well inside of remote companies. We have team members in 33 different countries all over the world and it’s very difficult for us to be able to communicate synchronously. Sure. I don’t know if you know this, John, but, uh, what do you think the average amount of video communication is in the average remote company that started in 2021? Cause it’s very different from 2020

John Jantsch (13:34): video communication. You mean like one-to-one loom video kinda

Liam Martin (13:38): Thing? Yes. So, so we’re talking Zoom. Oh, zoom everything. Yeah, Google Meet. We’re talking about all those types of video formats.

John Jantsch (13:45): I would say it’s probably five or six phone calls, five or six hours at this point a day. ,

Liam Martin (13:49): It’s about 56% of an employee’s workweek is spent on video communication. Yeah. Asynchronous organization’s spend at max 20%. Huh. So it’s a huge advantage where you’re kind of meeting to prepare yourself for work, but you’re not actually doing any work. Right? We’re discussing work, but we’re not actually getting work done. And the more that you can have autonomous individuals that can actually execute on what they need to execute on, the faster your organization will grow. Along with the platform being the manager. One of the other pieces which are a little bit more difficult for particularly founders to follow is we try to give everyone the same informational advantage as the CEO of the company. Hmm. And this is a very hard pill to swallow and it’s, it challenges us constantly. But if you give every single team member the same information as the CEO of the company, then magical things happen. They actually become way smarter overnight because they have the same information that you had in terms of being the founder of the CEO of the company. And they can make much better informed decisions about how to operate inside of the business.

John Jantsch (15:00): All right. The CEO knows the financials, the CEO knows what’s everybody’s paid. I mean, are we talking about that level of ?

Liam Martin (15:08): So the only thing that we hold back is how much employees are paid? Yeah. So we give our employees PNLs. We, they know who our customers are, they know what they’re making. We know everything and anything that goes on inside of the organization. And because we’re asynchronous and we document everything and everything is basically written in in the human, basically written down, the ability for us to actually jump in to all of those different virtual meetings that are asynchronous is very easy. So anyone can basically access anything anywhere.

John Jantsch (15:41): There’s been some discussion, I don’t know if it’s valid or not, but I’ve heard it, especially in larger organizations, that the, this remote work actually puts junior employees at a disadvantage. You know, they’re not interfacing with the SVPs anymore , or they don’t, you know, they’re, they can’t necessarily connect with a mentor at work that’s gonna help them kind of guide through the politics. Do you think there’s any credence to that idea?

Liam Martin (16:07): I think it’s pretty early to be able to say. So the first generation of remote work, we were able to take the creme de la creme of planet Earth and bring them into our companies. So we were really hiring the best people on planet Earth that wanted to be able to work remotely this next generation. Mm-hmm. , I agree. The data shows that it hasn’t really figured itself out yet, but I would say that there are ways of doing it. I mean, the mindset that we have is don’t focus so much on identifying where people are going, let the platform actually execute on the results. And then you deal with a lot of the EQ side of the bus of the business. How are you doing, John? What barriers are you currently having? How can I help you achieve those particular goals? That’s what you should be spending your management time on as opposed to whether or not you fill that your t i 83 report.

John Jantsch (17:00): So, so you have more than once talked about this asynchronous platform. So gimme a, like sketch that out for me. What does that look like? I get the concept and the mindset. What does it look like from a tangible aspect?

Liam Martin (17:14): Sure. So as every week I have something, which is our top executive meeting. All of our executives meet, we have it inside of Asana. We call it a SI silent meeting. So we have all of our metrics, we have our rocks that we need to achieve for that particular quarter. We have tasks that we need to achieve within the next week or two. And all of that is updated inside of Asana. And then we have issues and we write down all of our issues and we start to debate it. And sometimes these debates can go 5, 10, 20, 30 comments deep in terms of the discussion. But when we come to a conclusion, we take that conclusion, we add it to the top of the ticket and then we clear the ticket. And if we don’t have anything to say for that meeting, we don’t go to the meeting because we just saved every one 90 minutes of their lives. And we can see that the vast majority of technical issues don’t actually need to be addressed. The only ones that stay up on the agenda are the ones that really deal with people. It’s, John doesn’t like Liam for some particular reason and Liam is quite angry with John and we need to be able to settle it. That’s really the core issue that we, and the most synchronous forms of meetings are ironically HR and people meetings.

John Jantsch (18:30): Yeah. Yeah. Huh. So speaking of that one, uh, again, there’s certainly people out there are that are saying that remote work is really kind of devaluing culture inside of organizations. Obviously it’s a different culture. , how do you keep, let’s say you have a very rich culture. People loved working at this organization. Now we’ve all gone, you know, remote. How do you keep aspects of maybe an old but cherished culture alive when a lot of the ways that people did that go away?

Liam Martin (19:03): So I think that people really need to understand what is culture to them. And the way that I see culture at its nucleus is a mission. Yeah. So our mission as a company is we’re trying to empower the world’s transition towards remote work. We’ve been doing that for almost 15 years and we want to continue doing it. And if anyone doesn’t align to that culture, we move them outta the organization as quickly as possible. So it’s not so much who you work with. So a lot of people confuse who you work with, your culture. It’s not about whether you get a birthday cake on your birthday or whether there’s pizza Thursdays or there’s nap rooms in your office. This doesn’t matter. It is, do you care about what you’re doing as a company? Are you excited about actually accomplishing that mission? If you’re not, don’t work there. . And if your company doesn’t have an exciting mission, don’t even start. It’s just fundamentally something that people really miss. And for us, I mean we’ve have a, we have a 98% retention rate inside of our organization because we have a very clear mission and values that connect to that core piece, which is people are really excited about helping people work remotely. And whatever that is for you, you need to be able to reinforce that and reinforce it much more when you are working remotely.

John Jantsch (20:23): So, so you probably went a little bit down answering this question. When people, particularly people that haven’t done it before and they’re like, yeah, we’re gonna go to this. Where do they generally get it wrong?

Liam Martin (20:35): So there was a chapter that was removed from the book, which is, was very frustrating on my part. I actually wanted to publish it, but the publisher said we shouldn’t, I ran 20 K studies. So I worked with 20 companies to try to make them asynchronous. And three of them became asynchronous by my definition, which was less than 20% of their work week spent on synchronous activities. Seven reduced the amount of synchronous time that they had, but 10 increased the amount of synchronous time that they spent inside of their organizations. And it really boiled down to three key factors. Number one, you need full buy-in, not just from the founders of the CEO of the company. You need the entire executive team and more importantly the directors and managers below that particular team. If there’s a chink in that particular armor, it’s going to fall apart.

(21:30): Second is you need to be able to build out process documentation. And we have, we basically connected to platform as the manager is when someone has a question like what are the HR policies inside of the organization? Well, we redirect them towards the document that actually explains that instead of me sitting down and talking to you for 30 minutes. And then the third thing is, all of this documentation exists, but very few people can actually query it in a meaningful way. So we identified that over 95% of these process documents, once they actually got them written in, the people that failed, they never looked at them ever again. Right. . So they actually needed to use them. They had built this huge infrastructure and they never started to actually use it. So there’s a huge, there’s a huge software opportunity there actually for someone to be, I’m sure there’s gonna be a ChatGPT add-on where you can just magically get that information and put it in front of you. Course. But those are the three key issues that have a problem. Yeah,

John Jantsch (22:31): Yeah. And of course what that’s that application will do is it will also tell you in real time, here’s the things people are having the most problems with . But you know, find Absolutely. And it’s like, here, we need to like redo this or we need to, you know, make this better or more prominent. So for sure. So I want to end just on, on the thought about, you know, UN management, a whole new leadership style. Is this something that is going to need to be taught and built into, you know, leadership training? Or is this just really gonna be something where it becomes an organizational mission and everybody buys in or they don’t?

Liam Martin (23:07): I think what’s happening right now is, as I said before, at the top of our call, 68% of new companies that are in tech at least Yeah. Are starting remote, right? And they’re adopting an asynchronous management model as their core operating system. And so I do see a lot of resistance inside of corporate America to be able to adjust to this particular model. I would say in the next five to 10 years, when those companies, those little companies become big companies, they’re going to recognize we’ve been caught with our tail between our legs because we’re dealing with an organization that can scale a speed that is at this point incalculable to the average corporate America company. And so I think that’s essentially gonna figure itself out. And then it’s probably gonna work into the MBA programs, you know, 10, 15 years down the

John Jantsch (24:00): Line, be seen as a case study for, you know, competitive regions if nothing else. There’s

Liam Martin (24:06): Actually a lot of H B R articles specifically on asynchronous management and how successful it is. And yet no one actually wants to implement it at scale and most of the adoption is happening in the tech startup space. Sure, sure. But I think that will change very soon.

John Jantsch (24:22): Yeah. And I think it’s probably just sort of counterintuitive is part of the problem. Absolutely. You know, it’s like absolutely your silent meeting, I mean, that would freak a lot of people out because it just seems, you know, so counter to what you know, everybody’s been, you know, raised to believe is, especially in executive over 50, I mean it’s . I hate to, well

Liam Martin (24:39): The other piece,

John Jantsch (24:40): I can see that because I’m in that category, but ,

Liam Martin (24:44): The other part that’s really interesting is charisma bias disappears. So the vast majority of people that have existed in the 20th century management model, they’re incredibly charismatic people. You wouldn’t be running this podcast if you weren’t an incredibly charismatic individual. So you’re the person that controls the conversation. The ability for you to communicate synchronously allows for your ideas to be adopted much more often than others. But are your ideas better or are you just better at delivering them? And asynchronous management allows for everyone to have equal access, including the wallflowers that don’t necessarily want to be able to compete Yeah. With the char charismatic people, but they now can have a shot with asynchronously.

John Jantsch (25:26): Yeah. Actually, a leadership skill that I’ve had to learn is keep my mouth shut. So you’re D , you’re dead on that one. Exactly. Well Liam, thanks so much for stopping by. To take a few minutes to share some ideas with our listeners, you wanna tell people where they can connect with you and possibly pick up a copy of running remote,

Liam Martin (25:42): So @liamremote on most social media. And if you want to go pick up a copy, best place is Amazon and next best place is, which is also where we have our conference if you wanna have access to all of our previous videos and talks from the last six years.

John Jantsch (26:02): Awesome. Well again, appreciate you taking a few moments to stop by the podcast and hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there on the road.

Liam Martin (26:08): Thanks for having

John Jantsch (26:09): Me. Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it Co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketing I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

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