We take pride in our unique asynchronous culture and we wanted to shed light on how it works from some of our longest-tenured team members.
In this roundtable, you'll learn what we mean by async, the tools we use to stay aligned, how communication and knowledge management facilitate an async environment, and who is best suited to our async culture.
Watch the video below, or read on for highlights from the conversation.
Async =/= Remote
“Async” means happening asynchronously, aka not at the same time. A company can be fully remote, but not async. A remote, synchronous environment means that you are still working the same hours and expected to be present and available during that time - albeit at home.
Enter async: Convictional wants employees to work when they’re at their best, even if this falls outside typical work hours. This is supported by team norms like core hours and email response time expectations. By extension, this means that there is no pressure to constantly check emails, or immediately respond to messages.
Meetings are the exception, not the norm
Convictional operates email-first, and written communication is the assumed default. If a meeting is booked, it is because it is an absolute necessity. It is not rude in Convictional to question why a booked meeting is needed. We previously wrote about our perspective on this topic here.
Thoughtful async communication
Our main means of async communication is written. This comes in the form of long emails and documentation, and not quick messages on Slack (in fact, we don’t have any instant messaging tools we use regularly). In other instances, a recorded Loom video may be more suitable. In any case, both forms of communication can be shared async and do not require real-time participation.
When async communication is the default, ideas tend to be shared at later stages of maturity. This ends up filtering to only the highest quality ideas, because you will have had time to think it through with intention. They are not half-baked ideas thought up in five minutes and fired off over Slack.
As a happy byproduct of defaulting to written communication, idea adoption also becomes more meritocratic: the loudest and most forceful voices aren’t the only ones that get heard.
When everything is written down, knowledge is freed from people’s heads. By asking someone a question that could have otherwise been found on your own, you are taking away time and headspace from an expert who is otherwise laser focused on solving business problems.
Only when the information cannot be found is an expert asked. In turn, the expert will make sure to document the response so that the situation can be avoided next time. Compared to answering questions on Slack where responses disappear into a void and the same question inevitably gets asked again, our documentation culture ensures we are as efficient with our time and knowledge as possible when it comes to imparting it.
Due to the wealth of knowledge available, an important skill set to have at Convictional is to be able to not only find information, but quickly read and synthesize what is needed.
Convictional has norms that make async work
To make async work at Convictional, we have expectations and norms - some of which may be less common in other companies. Some of these have been covered already, but to summarize:
- Core hours: While work schedules can vary greatly from person to person, some hours naturally overlap across most calendars, which is when we try to book all our events and meetings.
- Email response times: While everyone is expected to respond to messages within a reasonable time frame (generally within 24 hours), there is no expectation to respond immediately - or even within the next few hours.
- Questioning meetings: At Convictional, we default to written communication and avoid meetings as much as we can. So, feel free to ask if a meeting is really necessary, and if it can just be replaced with an email. No one will take any offense at Convictional.
- Document, document, document: Our documentation-first culture liberalizes what we know and allows self-help to knowledge. If someone asks you a question about something you already wrote about, just shoot them the link. No further communication required.
- Calendars are up-to-date: When everyone works different hours, it’s crucial that calendars have working hours set, are up-to-date, and accessible to everyone, should someone actually need to book time with you.
Who is async suited for?
- Low Ego / High Confidence: You are able to admit that you don’t have all the answers, but you are also confident that they can find them on your own.
- Self-Regulators: You know how you work best and can manage your own tasks and schedule. You thrive on a high degree of trust and independence.
- Makers: You need time to think things through without interruption in order to do your best work. You want an environment where you are not thrust into meeting after meeting and constantly switching between tasks (i.e., maker’s schedule).
- Readers and Writers: You absorb information well by reading, and prefer (or don’t mind) documentation over live demos or videos. You are also a great writer, and take care to document your thoughts clearly with mind to sharing with your colleagues.
- Extroverts, Introverts, and Ambiverts: Async isn’t just for introverts! Many extroverts appreciate the space to focus and do deep work. And while we default to written communication for all things work related, no one will stop you from booking coffee chats with your colleagues :)
Sam Beale (00:02):
Cool. All right. Welcome to our Async Culture Roundtable. My name is Sam Beale and I work on our people team at Convictional. If you're watching this, my guess is you're already familiar with the fact that Convictional has an Async working culture, but a lot of people wonder what an Async company is really like to work for. I got three of our wonderful employees together to talk about Convictional's Async culture and what it's like for them. Why don't we go around and introduce ourselves?
I can start. I'm Becca. I'm on the product team at Convictional.
All right. I will follow too. I'm Kyle and I'm also on the product team at Convictional.
Hey, my name's Bill, on the marketing side of the business. So happy to join.
Sam Beale (00:50):
Awesome. Well thank you all for being here. Before we dive into what Async has been like for y'all, I'll talk about what we mean by Async. Our internal definition of Async is happening asynchronously, aka not at the exact same time. At its core, what we mean by that is that we don't require employees to work on a specific schedule. There's a few norms that make that function like core hours and email response time expectations. But in general, we really want people to work when they're at their best, even if that falls outside of typical working hours. One thing I want to point out about our internal definition of Async is that it doesn't include the word remote, even though we are a distributed team. Has anyone worked in a role that was remote but not Async before?
I can take that. I have in my career. I've had a number of roles in my career including roles supporting sales teams, and I think a lot of software sales teams tend to be remote. The teams tend to work within their territories, and even if the business is a normal headquarters coming into the office, the sales team might be one of the arms of the business that tends to work remote. I've absolutely worked in remote roles that were not asynchronous in nature. There is sort of a nuance difference that we can kind of get into. But yeah.
Sam Beale (02:18):
Yeah. What would you say the biggest difference was when you started working Async?
Well, I think the difference here at Convictional is a couple things. There's a consistent team understanding of what it means and there's an unwritten and in some cases written contract around how we communicate. But one of the biggest things that was a difference for me was the real focus here on writing as a form of communication. To be honest about it, you have to be committed to being an excellent and improving writer to communicate to influence, frankly, get work done and be productive at a company like Convictional. And that's not always the case at a remote company where you can jump on a Zoom meeting or whatever. And by writing, I really do mean more longer form writing. So thoughtful emails, thoughtful documentation, a lot less the quick texting style of writing where you see on tools like Messenger and Slack. But that was the biggest thing for me and frankly, took a commitment when starting here to improve there and continue to work that way.
Yeah. I think that the thoughtfulness Bill is speaking to involves sharing ideas when they aren't necessarily half baked. They're not just a top of mind thought. It's much more... It's long form writing to Bill's point. And that happens like in GitHub for the product and edge teams a lot of the time. It can happen in Google Docs and Guru, but in an person context, you go and tap someone's shoulder, maybe entice them with a free coffee and share something that you thought of five minutes ago. Whereas, in Convictional and Bill's a great example of this is much more take the idea, work it through to some greater stage of maturity. Maybe it's a really succinct single page doc of the idea and then share it with the right person in that form.
Sam Beale (04:41):
Do you find that the volume of ideas goes down at all because of that?
That's a good question. I think this is really just for me, to the extent you can become more comfortable writing or even not writing, getting down your ideas. We have a tool here called Loom, which is a way to record either your screen or you can actually do half of a meeting just you and record an idea and share it in an asynchronous manner without writing. The more comfortable you get at doing that, I think that you can get your ideas down. That being said, a lot of ideas happen with the free interchange of ideas in asynchronous manner. That's not to say that there are great opportunities for synchronous type work. I know Kyle, you could probably... And Becca, you can speak to the design team and how some of their workshops work better in terms of divergent thinking in a group versus more formalized conversion thinking.
Yeah, I think in the design context it is. Well, it's always like the right tool for the job. And so there's a time and place for an all hands on deck workshop, but I know that worked with our design team. It's great to even have the ability to go take a couple of hours and really just noodle on the problem, produce a bunch of artifacts and Figma. And then, from there go and get eyes on it rather than trying to articulate a new UI design simply with oral communication like just spoken word.
I think to add onto that, the intentionality behind it means that you bring forth your ideas that you're like, "Okay, this is something I actually care about sharing with other people." And so I think that provides really high quality ideas across the board, but also on top of that, it gives equal playing field to anyone across the company. At any point, anyone could be like, "Hey, I spun up this doc because I had this idea why..." And then you can just tag people on and be like, "Hey, throw me your ideas." This actually happens fairly often where a random person from a different department will have an idea, spin up a doc, and then another department can take it and run with it because it was an idea that perhaps they couldn't have shared in a different kind of format.
To riff on that idea, Becca, I've worked in company environments where they were in person in the office and you could see that people who had forceful personalities and in person tended to accrue a lot of influence outside of just the merits of their ideas. I think in Convictional, not to say that there's not a value of personality and diversity of personality, but I think in a way we are more meritocrats. We can write down our ideas and have those ideas valued or scrutinized pretty even across the board, across, up and down the company.
Sam Beale (07:59):
Yeah. And one thing that I think can surprise a lot of people when they're moving into an Async environment is that if you're not Async you tend to default to Slack for all communication that goes into the long form versus short form. But one thing that I wonder about is what do you do here when you have a question, especially if it needs to be answered quickly.
Yeah, this is a good question. I always think back to when we were a teeny tiny company and it was just like me and I don't know, six engineers. And I would ask questions and the engineers would just link me a Google doc and be like, "Go find the answer." And I kind of trained in my brain, "Okay, I need to become self-sufficient and find answers first." Because if I'm taking time from let's say an engineer or even somebody else, if I'm asking my own manager or the CEO or whoever a question, I need to do my due diligence first to make sure, "Okay, have I found the answer? Have I looked for it myself?" And oftentimes when I go and search for the answer, I actually find a lot more context than just a one line answer that somebody could give me. I could be like, "Oh, hey, how do we view X?"
And then when I go find the document, I could be like, "Oh, actually this is a lot more of a robust thing than I was even thinking to begin with." I think it comes with a level of self-sufficiency that you have to be willing to be searching out the answers on your own before defaulting to ask questions. I think in slacky type cultures, its like, "Oh, I'll just ask them. They know the answer. They know the answer," and people become knowledge experts in that way where it's a little bit more equally distributed here.
And it also creates a great system whereby, Becca, I know you've done this, where if the answer is not in documentation, you'll probably add to it so that the next person who has that question will have it right there for them, versus in a Slack, it's just ethereal that goes away, that person's probably answering the same question 10 times. It actually is more efficient I think, over the long term, even though there's probably a cost of maybe not that in the moment kind of answer that your mind is telling you, "You need to answer immediately." One of the things I really appreciate about here is that this is more of the norms that I think we all subscribe to is really question if something is urgent or not because if you think about it through that lens, not a lot of things you really need to know right now. And maybe even writing up a nice question by the end of the day, the cost of taking someone out of... An engineer out of flow state is pretty high in a business that's building technology like we are.
Yeah, and all the questions go to most often will really deeply skilled people. People that you want working heads down on the hardest problems of the business also get blasted with those slacky type of questions, the one offs and yes, big disruption there. But that idea of basically unblocking yourself and if you can't find a documentation you seek, go and build it, I think is pretty core to the ethos.
One of the things that's another kind of really cool side effect that I've noticed compared to other remote work scenarios, and I actually... I was at a couple companies that were acquired in my career that were in a remote. And as a new person, you want to be really responsible, you are responsive, you want be the person who is the fastest at reducing your little red icons in terms of your notification bubbles. And because we have this norm at Convictional, there's not this sort of unspoken assumption of value add in terms of quick response times. And it's actually incredibly freeing for someone who is new or is working to not need to worry about this idea of proving your value by being the fastest to respond something. It's really a quality of ideas, way ideas are kind of measured.
Sam Beale (12:21):
Yeah. And I think that sometimes this can be difficult for people when the way that they learn something is by getting an immediate answer and picking the brains of the smartest and most experienced people in the business, which it's not like you don't have access to those types of people here. You have plenty of access to highly skilled and highly knowledgeable people, however, it's not an immediate thing. How would you say that Async changes the learning process here?
Well, I would say, I hope that you're a fast reader or commit to becoming one. We have... And this is kind of what Becca was mentioning earlier, when you're trying to get context on an outcome or a decision, there's going to actually be not just a written history of the decision made, but all of the context and inputs that led to that decision. You're actually getting the full summary of multiple people's thinking at that moment in time.
But as a learner, you have to be really confident waiting into the abyss of all the knowledge that's in a tool like Guru and being able to basically say, "My goal right now is purely to figure out this decision or understand this part of the business," and keep yourself on track, otherwise there's a lot to churn through. And I think also being aware of the needs that you'll have not just tomorrow or the end of the week, but a couple of months out and start to plan to either get exposure to new parts of the business, new problems being worked on, or simply just know that when two months from now you even want to have a conversation with a specific person, you know where to find their user manual, you can understand what their function's working on. Basically, just being proactive and having a plan for what you're trying to synthesize.
I think, it's difficult for that type of learner stand that you're describing to sit in the chair for a half an hour and basically say, "I'm not going to get the immediate two line answer that I'm looking for, but I might actually find two or three pages of written documentation that contains the answer and I have to wait through it myself." That's definitely one, just large learning style difference that folks at Convictional are a little more comfortable with. But if that's something that you're able to self direct into, then I think there are far more answers in certain cases for certain types of questions than the temporary info that's in a tool like Slack or something, that's a little bit more text messagely.
Sam Beale (15:00):
Yeah. And for those who are listening who haven't used Guru, Guru is sort of our internal wiki. It's where we put all of our documentation pretty much. There's an article you can find on our blog about onboarding at Convictional, and you'll find that our onboarding is a lot of links to Guru cards. And so your point that you made earlier about reading is extremely important. There's plenty of Looms as well, and Looms are videos that explain what you're reading, but you do need to be able to independently search for information and learn that way.
Yeah, I mean, in a product or an engineering context, I think folks are familiar with aid eye documentation. You go in and start figuring out what the product of service you're looking at, actually can do. I think though, in go to market context, I feel like the people who... If they're reading Game of Thrones or whatever the show was based on those books, if you're reading the map, if you're looking at Lord of the Rings and looking at where everything is located, building that mental model of a certain domain or context in your brain off of that written documentation, that's a very similar idea where no one's going to necessarily walk you through a 3D world of what Tolkien's created or any other author. But if you can take that written down or visualize map and build your own synthesis off of that, that's very much the essence of what we're talking about right now.
Sam Beale (16:35):
Yeah. Anything else on learning?
Yeah, I mean, I guess similar to my point before. In a way, this collective knowledge that we've built up within the company is a big differentiator for our business over time. We're all kind of users of this knowledge product. When we find deficiencies, it's kind of each Convictional employees' responsibility to contribute to that in the same way like an open source project or anything. Even as a learner here or a new onboarded employee, there's an opportunity to just make it better, link things, concepts together, ask questions, or improve the documentation. It's an evolving thing. And I think really special and unique to our business in the way that it's an asset that we have that grows in value over time that other companies probably don't have in terms of a whole Slack backlog. It's a lot tougher to make meaning of that.
Sam Beale (17:46):
Yeah. What assumptions do you think our team shares that make Async work happen? I think, this goes into Becca a little bit, what you were saying earlier where people would just send you a document and it's not considered rude. What norms do we share that make this work?
Yeah, I think there's a lot. I think it's... There's some norms that are like, if somebody asks you a question, you'll answer the question in some way or another. We have regular social norms like that too, but I think there's also norms on top of that where it's like, somebody books a meeting with you. It's okay if you push back and you're like, "Why are we having this meeting? Can you tell me what the agenda is?" And if it doesn't actually warrant a meeting and you can just do it Async over email or in a document, you can actually say, "No, I'm not going to go to this meeting. Let's just handle this Async." In fact, that actually happens quite often where someone will book something on my calendar and I'll be like, "Hey, what do you want to talk about?" And then I'll just deal with it over email or in a doc.
I think that's one example of a way that it gives you flexibility to manage your own time and your own flow state. If you say... If I have meetings back to back, I'm not going to be an effective person. You can push back and be like, "No, I'm not going to do it this way." But to add onto that, I think it's a lot about self-regulation and understanding. I think one of the norms we have is that you're going to self-regulate and stand up for yourself and say, "This is what I need to be my most effective and best worker." And so that will enable you to have the power to find the norms that make sense for yourself.
Sam Beale (19:28):
Don't optimize for activity. For all activity is not the goal. I feel... Not necessarily even flow states are the goal, always impact and output are the goal, but the norm there, just normalizing that going heads down for a few hours to churn through this really difficult problem or produce a bunch of designs or spec out a new product. That's totally normal by this commonplace. And I think just seeing two, three hour calendar blocks on our teammate's calendars reinforces that too. Recognizing, "Oh, Bill's trying to figure out where to take the company in a specific direction over the next quarter or two." I probably don't have a question that's more urgent than that for the next two or three hours, so I can send an email and then Bill can get back to me when the timing is right.
Glad you mentioned it, Kyle. I think... I don't know how common this is outside of our company, but people keep their calendars up to date. Everyone shares what they're doing, that's sort of a inherent communication flow. Hey, what's Kyle up to today? If I email him right now, is he going to be able to read it? Or that kind of thing.
So yeah, I think those are all sort of unwritten norms that I think I really appreciate the fact that the company writes out what these are. So there's a shared understanding in terms of how people work together.
Sam Beale (21:05):
Yeah, and one thing that's pretty unique here is that people block out time for independent work where you'll go on someone's calendar and they'll have meetings, meetings that are really just them where they don't want to be interrupted. And that's something that we try to respect as much as possible.
I have just one last question before we wrap up. Who do you think Async work makes sense for?
I mean, I would probably say someone who's comfortable with ambiguity. I'll say, the answers most likely exist. You just have to find them rather than them being found for you. And so in that sense, someone who's comfortable saying that they don't know, I think that's having a lower ego or smaller ego and basically saying, "Yeah, even regardless of tenure, there are questions. I've been here for a few years and I still don't know where some things are and I have to go and find them." And so I think it's sort of low ego with this high amount of confidence that you'll find the answer and be able to connect the dots or discover what you need. And basically, just being able to self direct. I think that would be my personal take.
I think sometimes when you think about Async or remote work, people naturally think about introversion versus extroversion. And I don't really think it's as simple as that. I'm an extremely extroverted person, but the Async culture works for me. I still have lots of times where I chat with my coworkers and we have lots of ability to converse and share ideas, which is what gets my extroversion juices flowing. And so I think a lot of it is, to Kyle's point, it's about your own sense of self regulation. Are you a person who values sitting and thinking for hours? Because if that is you, this is a great place to come work. And I think it's more that type of thing than an easy answer of this or that.
I'm sure people are familiar with the term, the maker's schedule. These are... It kind of relates to flow state. And I think for an engineer or a designer whose quality of work really truly requires that focus, I think isn't actually true across every part of the business. Because in a way, we're all makers of Convictional. Whether it's the knowledge, whether it's a process, whether it's a sales deck, if you hold the frame of yourself as a maker, and that feels good, and I think then the Async schedule and the norms that we're talking about really fit very well for people in sales and marketing and product and design engineering. All the different roles in the company are truly building Convictional. That's what we're all ultimately making.
Sam Beale (24:07):
Yeah. Yeah. So really in summary, there's not one type of person, and we're not just trying to build a company for introverts. Extroverts can thrive here too, but there are sets of norms and sets of ways of working that I think does make sense for. If that sounds like you, it probably does make sense to opt in.
But thank you so much, Becca, Bill, and Kyle for being here and sharing your thoughts. And if you watch this, I hope you have a fuller picture of what Async culture really looks like, and thanks for taking the time to watch this Roundtable.