Reducing Meetings and Boosting Deep Work

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Jevin: [00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome back to building remote teams. I\’m here with Lucille Foroni from Doist where you might know them from Todoist, which is pretty popular todo list management, project management app Lucile welcome to the show.

Lucile: [00:00:16] Thank you.

Jevin: [00:00:18] Tell us a little bit about, first of all, tell us a little bit about Doist and then maybe, , what you do in do and, and where you are in the world now.

Lucile: [00:00:28] Yeah. Sure. So Doist is a fully remote company, of about 80 people now, and we work from all over the world. I have colleagues in Taiwan in South America and Chile in the U S. Everywhere. and we are building the future of work as we see it. The way we do this is through a couple of tools.

So we do have Todoist, which is a task management app. And then we also have Twist, which is an internal communication tool. And Twist is really based on what we\’ll be talking about today. As synchronous communication. when we deal twist, it was because of an internal need. We used Slack and it was really hard for us because Slack is for real-time communication mainly, and it was hard for colleagues in Taiwan to ask something. And then, , people would wake up in Europe, talk about something else then in the U S spelled something else, and then you\’d get up again the next day. And the topic you were talking about was lost.

These are the two tools we work on. And so at Doist I work on product management and project management. So I manage all of our planning, execution, all of our cross-functional projects across the company.

Jevin: [00:01:49] You\’re a remote company, maybe if we talked about this in 2019 or 2018, , this would have been kind of exciting thing now it\’s it seems like it\’s pretty well. Table-stakes both companies is working or working remotely because of COVID, but you do have some really interesting, , elements of your company, that I haven\’t seen in many companies.

So I think the status quo for most companies now is people are sitting in endless Zoom meetings or they\’re sitting in Slack and having all their conversations there, or just like a slave to their email all day now. Tell us a little bit about like your company culture, you guys, it sounds like, don\’t have meetings or like very, very few meetings.

Can you talk to us about, well first tell me how many meetings you actually have in a week,

Meetings at Doist

Lucile: [00:02:33] I mean, I\’m probably one person in a company who has the most meetings because I work with teams across the board. So I will have like, One meeting a day, maybe not every day, usually not on Mondays and Fridays. And then sometimes two, sometimes three, but most people on you have one weekly meeting with their team during the week.

then they will have a one-on-one with their manager. They will participate in casual hangout, but they might have, , three meetings that most regular, like during a week, if all of the meetings fall during the same week, Yeah, so we\’re trying, so we\’re trying to prioritize the asynchronous communication and doing everything offline.

And we really keep meetings for when you add value to be talking face to face. And we have very structured meeting. We prepare agenda beforehand. If there is no agenda, there\’s no meeting like it\’s canceled.

Jevin: [00:03:29] Okay. So people listening, they\’re like, okay, that\’s kind of unbelievable. You don\’t have. you don\’t have meetings so , I guess why, why do you have meetings? When would be the right times for you to have to have meetings and could you avoid having meetings? I guess, because , we\’re talking about zoom fatigue and people just like, just. Dying sitting in zoom all day long.

When meetings are useful at Doist

Lucile: [00:03:49] I think there are a couple of reasons why it\’s useful to have a meeting. It\’s when it makes most sense to discuss things face to face, and also to create connection between teammates. So we didn\’t use to have weekly meetings for teams, but we ended up having them for status updates, discussing whether you\’re blocked on something and then, just getting to chat with your team once a week. So I think that\’s very important. And then I usually have myself monthly meetings with Bren, our head of marketing, Neil who coordinates product marketing and people in other teams who we might want to check in on one thing on a couple of things, , during the month, is there something I can help you with?

Is there something we need to move forward on? So it\’s more like this monthly checkin and we can go where we can go. Very in-depth on specific topics as well.

Jevin: [00:04:43] I\’ve found meetings are helpful when you want to have like a very, very fast feedback loop, like you\’re brainstorming or like you\’re just like having to hash out ideas, where if you\’re doing it. , through, through any kind of other medium where you don\’t, it\’s not as fast feedback, like an email or slack it\’s a lot harder to do so.

Okay. It sounds like similar reasons for that. Okay. What are some are some, so most people are having meetings for everything. So where are places that. And I guess what\’s the alternative to having to having meetings in Doist if you\’re not sitting with people face to face, to talk about whatever, how are you getting the work done or the collaboration.

How Doist does asyncronous collaboration

Lucile: [00:05:22] for us, everything happens in Twist in terms of communication. So we were talking about brainstorming for instance, and yes, we will have for some of our work we\’ll have some brainstorming sessions, but what, what will we try? We will try to do. And this is for most of our work, actually we will try to do it asynchronously. Someone do it works new way, where you have threads, and you have direct messages. And so like in each channel you can open a thread if you want to brainstorm on a new topic. Then, we we\’ll just talk things out. Inside of thread directly and definitely like I\’ve experienced both.

So I know there are advantages to doing this real time and, and to be talking with people and doing this fast paced, but there\’s also like real advantages to doing it offline, which is you can take 24 hours to think through things and then you\’ll come up with ideas. You wouldn\’t have come up, you shred just, , like send a message or told people right away what you were thinking.

Slack vs Twist and the fear of missing out

Jevin: [00:06:22] I want to get into what Twist is and how it\’s different than Slack, but it sounds like what you\’re describing is like, Oh, I want to talk about something different. Let\’s create a new channel , hash hashtag channel in Slack. So what are some of the challenges first that you\’ve, you\’ve seen, that have been a challenge in Slack and, and then how is Twist different than that? Because most people are gonna be sitting in Slack, Microsoft teams today.

Lucile: [00:06:46] I mean before I joined Twist, four years ago, I was working in an office and then we were on Slack and they were days when we didn\’t really do any real work. Like fear of missing out is real. So you will have Slack open on your desktop all the time. And once you see that red dot you feel the urge to check things out. With Twist, I don\’t have to actually like put notifications on, I don\’t have notifications enabled anywhere for Twist. And I usually check it a couple of times a day and I know that whatever is being discussed, I\’m not going to miss on it. Someone will find a new thread and I will have maybe 10 threads to read. When I decide I actively choose, , to go in and participate in the discussion. But I don\’t have this fear of missing out, which I think is the main ingredient to making this work.

Jevin: [00:07:36] Now is that a cultural thing or is that part of the software, like, I guess trying to get at the fundamental differences about how twist is versus, , your CEO saying it\’s okay, you don\’t have to check Slack every day. , you can just kind of let it go. , where is that? Where is that shift?

Lucile: [00:07:51] I think it\’s a mix of both our culture came before we actually created the tool and we\’re very, we\’re very strong on independence, accountability. We want people to be able to do a lot of deep work without being distracted. So I think initially our culture, brought this element of asynchronous communication, and then Twist the tool, actually reinforced it and consolidated. Like we had a tool to make this happen.

Jevin: [00:08:21] I got it. So I\’m assuming that, that, , there\’s, there\’s Slack and Twist have the core, , similarities in that it\’s a communication tool. It\’s like these channels or threads with direct messaging, but there are some core feature differences that just kind of enable, people to check it, synchronously and asynchronously.

Asyncronous vs. Syncronous Communication Defined

Jevin: We\’ve talked a lot about the words synchronous and asynchronous. Can you just define them, , in a day to day-to-day how that kind of. Practically looks both the theater, theoretically, what it, what those words mean. And then how does that change the way you\’re actually working?

Lucile: [00:08:56] Sure. I think as synchronous to me is mostly offline. So you don\’t have to be connected at the same time as anyone else. You don\’t have to meet up at the same time as anyone else. So I get to organize. My work day in any way, I feel is most productive for me and where I will get the most out of my day.

Whereas synchronous is really real time. Whereas like you have to be connected onto a tool like Slack and have this real time communication or having to connect in a meeting and talk with people. So there\’s this element that you\’ll also have to be connected to others and be on at the same time as, as others, then you don\’t have in a synchronous communication.

Jevin: [00:09:38] got it. So how does that then play out in your day? You\’re only checking, let\’s say you\’re only checking your email a couple of times a day. You\’re only checking your twist or, or maybe your Slack a couple of times a day. like if that were happening to me, , and I\’m working in kind of a traditional company has gone remote and they have all these tools.

Like I would probably feel anxious that I\’m like not connected. And I think you used the term fear of missing out, , that like maybe, , someone needs something for me, or like, maybe there\’s a discussion where I need to like give my input and if I have it turned off and I\’m trying to do this deep work, like I\’ve got this nagging thing in the back of my mind.

have you, have you experienced that in like maybe, maybe not in Doist because it sounds like there\’s a strong cultural shift against that, how do you work through that? If I\’m sitting in a, in a company now

Lucile: [00:10:20] I think I\’ve experienced this in the past. So working in an office and I think one thing that can already be done is create, , good practices to actually communicate while you\’re working remotely and during, this pandemic, especially because I feel like it will take out some of the anxiousness and even not do this.

We do have some guidelines that are very, we don\’t have many guidelines, but we have a few, like, we want people to answer a DM or direct mentioned in 24 hours, we want people to post weekly snippets so we know what\’s going on during their week and what their work. in the week before. And I think the last one is if in your work, , you encounter any type of red flag, , flag it message the person.

You need to message talk with them. So I think outside of, , the tool or their culture, you can build these guidelines as long as it\’s not 10 pages that will create a good basis for how to communicate while working remotely.

Jevin: [00:11:20] nice. Okay. So I\’m working in a company, , maybe I\’m not, I\’m not the CEO or maybe I don\’t have the power to make. These massive decisions and making guidelines and trying to help people work asynchronously. What can I do, , at least to get myself more productive and maybe avoiding meetings, , maybe getting three hour blocks to myself of doing work.

Like, do you have some, some strategies or some ideas now that you\’ve seen both worlds on how I could do that as a, as an employee in a company?

How listeners can start working asyncronously and get more deep work time

Lucile: [00:11:49] I think one is not care as much. And when I say not care as much, it\’s not, not caring about the work, but, , Saying these are my limits, , and especially right now, like, I feel it\’s a good time to say, Hey, like I\’m working from home, this is hard. So I would like to have two hours without being disrupted I will be off from eight to 10:00 AM. I will be working, but I will not be answering any messages because this is something I need to do right now. I\’m having a hard time doing actual work and being productive, and this is stressing me out. So I think, telling, what are your limits and finding permit compromises with your managers on what\’s acceptable and what\’s not acceptable because even if you tend to just get one or two hours of uninterrupted time, it\’s going to completely change your day. You\’re actually going to be doing more and you will be less stressed during the day. You\’ll feel more productive. It\’s pretty life changing I have to say.

Jevin: [00:12:44] Wow. Yeah. So, so you feel like the people that you\’re talking to you\’re feeling like, are they saying that they can\’t even get. Like an hour or two a day, like of, of uninterrupted time really? Huh?

On Zoom Fatigue and how to recover

Lucile: [00:12:54] Yeah. And one thing that you and I talked about before is zoom fatigue. It\’s a real thing. Like if you spend five, six, eight hours on zoom every day, you\’re just like your head is going to explode. I mean, it\’s very, very tiring to be on zoom all day long.

Jevin: [00:13:12] Oh yeah. but one thing I don\’t understand yet because I\’m not, I don\’t ha I don\’t personally have many meetings. , my company is pretty asynchronous, but like, But if people were sitting in meetings before zoom that different where people are just getting more exhausted with zoom, like, I just, it seems pretty similar to that just as sitting in a room with other people

Lucile: [00:13:31] I think there are a couple of things. I think one thing is people are having more meetings because they don\’t actually have like that time. , when you\’re sitting in an open space and someone can just come and ask you a question, so they actually have to create time for this. and I don\’t know, maybe sometimes they\’ll block one hour when they would just need 10 minutes in real life, but, , they want to make sure that they have this person\’s whole attention, for as long as possible, even if they\’re not in the office.

And I think the other thing is just being on a computer is still like more tiring. I mean, when you work remotely, you do need to impose yourself like some breaks and some time to go around, go outside, just do something that\’s not on the screen because it\’s just generally pretty tiring. And when you\’re in an office, you don\’t actually spend eight hours on a screen, whereas you will likely spend eight hours working directly on the screen where you\’re remote.

Like who will during your meetings, you probably won\’t be on an actual screen when you\’re in the office.

Jevin: [00:14:30] Right. Yeah. staring at a computer screen for, , eight hours of meetings, it\’s kind of like a flashlight that\’s being shown in your face. , like LCD monitors are pretty, they\’re pretty bright, ?

Agendas in Meetings: How do they help?

Jevin: what about agendas? I like the idea of having agendas for meetings, but when someone\’s asked me to come to a meeting and I\’ve asked \“is there an agenda for this meeting?\” People look at me like I\’m a jerk somehow. Like, like, Oh, , I\’m like, I\’m like, I don\’t know. I\’m just trying to keep some structure to this thing, even though it\’s not mine, I make agendas for my meetings.

Have you found, like, have you, like, how can people first, how do agendas help, meetings? Why is that? Why is that so important to the meetings that do best? let\’s start with that.

Lucile: [00:15:07] I think they\’re important because, , we value people\’s time ultimately, I think this is what it is. Like I having an agenda is the polite thing to do at, so it shows that you\’re respecting the other person time. Like you actually have things you want to talk about and they can also prepare in advance if needed, you value their time.

And I think that\’s key. And so for us, like having agendas are key because we don\’t want, , to take people away from deep work and think that things that they\’ve been doing, and some people just don\’t enjoy meetings as well. So we don\’t want to take them out of this deep work mode, if it\’s to actually have nothing to really talk about or nothing of value, which is important.

And sometimes, , you will put an agenda together and you will realize that you can actually work through a few things offline already. And so it\’s pretty important. I think for both parties.

Jevin: [00:16:00] Well, I wonder if there\’s some fundamental, ideas have around meetings where they actually feel that meetings themselves are PR like is, are productive, is our meetings themselves are productive, actually getting work done, ? And, and I think there\’s probably some, some element of that, but I don\’t think there are productive in terms of moving a company forward as people think.

Lucile: [00:16:20] Yeah. I mean, most of our work and what actually moves our company forward happens offline. I think really our meetings are, , they\’re there when we need to talk about something that\’s low key blocking and maybe it would take too long to. Work, , to discuss offline. Or sometimes if we have a project, we might have a weekly meeting because it\’s an important thing to ask people is something blocking and they might not, , think about.

Oh, she seems like they might be like, Oh, this is nothing. And not think about sharing it offline, but then when you\’re online and you get to talk to my like, Oh wait, like this might be an issue for me. Maybe I should bring it up. So I think like this is where meetings are interesting, but we can definitely go without meetings. And I think Doist has definitely proved that over the years that we can work with less meeting and do great work regardless.

Jevin: [00:17:12] Yeah, very cool. so I\’m someone listening to the podcast, , I\’ve got, , 12 meetings happening every day. I\’m exhausted. and I\’m just wanting to get this work, some work done. I just want you to go through my emails or I just need to write this document, this plan for this X important thing.

Starting cultural change on how your company does meetings

[00:17:27]How can I start to maybe start pairing back? Some of these meetings. I know we talked about maybe, , maybe blocking off one or two hours and just telling people, , I\’m overwhelmed. I just need a bit of space to get this important thing done, which I think people can understand. , maybe that\’s a strategy for like one week, , but how can I, as an employee kind of start this cultural change and maybe having less meetings, do you have some ideas about that?

Lucile: [00:17:52] Yeah. I mean, I think if you ask for agendas, this will be a good place to start because you can ask for an agenda and also tell people, , if, if I feel like some of these items, I can actually respond offline. Well, it\’d be okay to just not have their meeting, which I think people might be surprised of to start with.

Jevin: [00:18:10] Oh, for sure. Yeah, I

Lucile: [00:18:13] it\’s you still do your work and you\’re able to share things with them, then they will understand. And they will be like, Oh wait, I tend to do the same thing actually like, as far as, and that\’s when I still, like, I there\’s no need for a meeting, I\’ll just share what is needed before the meeting actually happens and we can cancel it.

Jevin: [00:18:32] yes, I think that\’s good. I think there\’s going to be people that their identity is wrapped up in like having these meetings where you\’re like, is it okay if I just email you some of these thoughts through email or send you a little document in Slack or something, , that they\’re just going to be like, Oh, like, Like, no, I still want you there.

Like, I don\’t know, like, what is, do, do I have that feeling? This is where talking about it. do you feel like that\’s going to be something that people are going to hit, like run up against when they\’re like, can I just not show up if I just send you the information or I\’ll send you my thoughts in an email\’s instead

Lucile: [00:19:03] Yeah. I mean, honestly, I feel like right now in a pandemic and with people, , working from home, this might be the right time to it because maybe, , the person in front of you will actually be tired of meetings and we\’ll be like, Oh yeah, let\’s just not have it. So it\’s probably the right time to try it.

Otherwise. I think it\’s interesting to kickstart conversation, especially with managers are, , Colleagues around, , what makes this meeting so important? What makes you not as having to meet face-to-face and maybe the answer will be, , I really need some time to actually connect with another human being right now, which is totally fine.

But you have meeting all day long. These are already connecting with all of these humans. And I don\’t think, I don\’t think this would be a reason for an additional meeting.

Approaching your manager to build in more deep work time

Jevin: [00:19:46] Yeah, I think that\’s a great point. I think bringing it up with your supervisor to say, Hey, , I\’m just stuck in all of these meetings. , you, my supervisor understand kind of all of these things that I\’m trying to work on, or, or maybe you can present it to the supervisor and just say, I just need more time to focus on that and less time for meetings.

So like, can you give me some. W, , some political cover that if I start pushing back and try to send people this stuff, asynchronously, like, are you okay with that? And can you kind of support me? And I think, I think that could go over pretty well because your supervisor, of course they want, they understand kind of your goals as the employee, that they\’ve probably, , that they understand that\’s your mandate or whatever.

so that could be. Yeah, I think that could be a great place to just start, reach out to your manager, to make sure that they\’re there, that you\’re getting some clearance to, to make some more space to do, to focus on the more, company milestones.

Lucile: [00:20:34] Yeah. And I think ultimately this is a win-win for the company and for the manager, because , when you\’re on plate, employees get more deep work. Like they get time to actually do deeper work. They are more productive ultimately, and this is what you want as a manager.

And one thing I\’ve also seen is some managers do not actually trust their employees, , to work from home or not connect. But I mean, I think like this is a deeper problem. If you\’re not able to trust your employees, like it\’s not, your employees are in the problem. Like the problem is somewhere else, maybe in your culture, maybe it\’s just.

At least at Doist, we\’ve seen that the more responsibility you give to people, the more independence, the more you make them accountable, , you give them an,a frame so they can be accountable, but you also give them a person to be responsible, to be independent, to take charge. They will do better work.

Ultimately like people want this really?

Jevin: [00:21:32] I totally agree with you. I just think it\’s a management issue where it\’s, , to actually step back and think through, , building this framework of giving people more responsibility and making them accountable. Like it\’s a, it\’s a lot of work to set to set that all up.

, maybe I\’d much rather be having meetings with people and just seeing their faces to be sure they\’re working today. And they\’re not just playing video games at home,

Lucile: [00:21:52] It\’s a balance to strike because right now, like in the context we are in. a lot of companies as well are struggling. Like not all companies are still doing good, like things are shifting very fast. The way I would be thinking about it in this context is, \“Oh, it\’s just one more risk , what do I have to lose to actually trust people? Let them do their things like at this point\“. But I mean, it\’s hard. Like some people are already stressed enough. So taking one more risk it\’s it\’s hard. I Think for some managers.

Meetings to Keep People Feeling Connected

Jevin: [00:22:21] Let\’s shift to connection. , you have very few meetings face-to-face in your week. , some people are just seeing it all. It\’s all the time. I personally crave seeing other adults, my, my current situation. So I work remotely. I\’ve been, I\’ve been home for 10 years.

my wife\‘sat home and I\’ve got my three kids who are kind of on and off at home. And so I\’m just like happy to talk to other adults other than my wife. and so in some ways I\’m happy to have these meetings. How, how are you setting up at Doist, , so that you do kind of maintain that rapport, some informal team building, because this is something that would probably be status quo for, for Doist, for years.

This is not a new problem. That\’s come around just with, with COVID.

Lucile: [00:23:01] Yeah, definitely. I mean, so I\’ve talked about like Teams having weekly meetings, not every team do this, but I think if you don\’t do this with all of your teammates mates, you might be doing it, , with at least one person in your team. Otherwise there are monthly meetings. We also organize casual Hangouts where we are just paired with.

People in other parts of the organization and we just get to chat, , for an hour during the month. I think during COVID, at some point we maybe had it twice during a month to, , get some time to connect. And usually when it\’s not COVID then coworking spaces are open. it\’s actually an option, , for Doisters to go and work out from a coworking space, which is usually the option I prefer.

Jevin: [00:23:45] Let\’s talk a little bit more about like what you do in these kinds of team Hangouts and how, , probably most company, I would think if they\’re already in zoom fatigue, land, where they\’re having, , a dozen meetings a day or even a dozen meetings a week, maybe that\’s a lot for them. they may not be in the mood for having just one more meeting, but what do you, what do you, what does your team do during, during these kind of hangout rapport building times?

Lucile: [00:24:12] Our people have smile manager, Andrew organizes this, so he usually have some kind of small agenda, which will contain topics. , that might be important. Like maybe things that could start us off, but we just talk about our lives. Like last month I had a meeting with a couple of people from the company and we talked about, one of them was in Canada, the other in Russia. So we talked about cultural differences and we had questions for each other and it was a lot of fun. It\’s just, , about getting to know each other more and connect more on a human level. So we don\’t actually talk. About work at all.

Jevin: [00:24:47] Even in your informal hangout meetings, you all have an agenda. Wow.

Lucile: [00:24:52] I mean, it\’s not, it\’s not an actual agenda. It\’s more like topics to get you started. Like if you\’re with three people that you don\’t actually work with and haven\’t talked for two for like six months, then like at the beginning you might be like, it\’s more like icebreaker is like, what am I going to talk about?

But you\’re, if you want to follow and use these topics, if you don\’t, you\’re going to talk about something completely different. So it\’s informal, but if you want there\’s something to get, you started.

Jevin: [00:25:19] It\’s it\’s kind of setting the tone for the meeting. It\’s not just talking about some very lightweight thing, but it\’s intentional. You\’re trying to learn about their culture and trying to, , get into, , probably one level below just superficial I\’m assuming just to, , get to know them in a, in a bit of a deeper way. I would imagine based on what you\’re just, you\’re describing about being a very intentional company.

Any other things that you think would be important to talk about, or if you want to encourage other people to kind of go down this path of changing how they perceive meetings and, and managing their work.

What managers should focus on for this coming year

Lucile: [00:25:48] Yeah. I mean, I think with the year we\’ve had, it\’s like, people didn\’t really get a choice. It\’s not like in Doist, we\’ve always believed in remote work. but. I don\’t think we thought that shift was going to be so brutal far. Most of the world, we knew a lot of people were going to go remote. We just didn\’t think it was happening.

It was going to happen this way. I don\’t think anyone did. So I think the priority this year and. It can be stressful. If you\’re a company that\’s not doing well, financially, if you have people sink around you. But I think the priority for managers and for companies generally is to ensure, , that your teammates are healthy both physically and mentally and having less meetings and doing more deeper work is definitely part of this, , like giving more freedom to people to go on a break and not suffer from trauma and just go on a break when they feel like they need 10 minutes. And so I think trying to reduce meeting is critical right now. And maybe when you do have meetings, turn them more towards connection.

and I didn\’t value on a human level than, , talking about work things that you could just be sending an email to talk about.

Jevin: [00:26:59] love it. Lucille from Doist. Thank you so much for coming on this show and trying to kill some, kill some meetings with me. This is great.

Lucile: [00:27:08] thank you for having me.

Jevin: [00:27:10] All right, everyone from Lucille Foroni and I from building remote teams. Thank you so much for listening and tuning in and we will catch you later. Bye for now.