If you’re a knowledge worker, it’s likely your company is engaged in a debate about whether to return to the office or to continue working fully remote. Many companies have already returned to the office; security firm Kastle recently shared data that office occupancy in the US is at 38% and is rising.
Convictional has always been distributed and we always will be. Something we hear from candidates interested in working here is what our work culture is like, considering we default to async communication and don’t use instant messaging apps like Slack.
In this article, I’ll share how the platform team at Convictional operates, when we choose to communicate async vs. synchronously, and how we stay connected in a remote environment.
What a week looks like
My weeks are pretty simple and straightforward. Like many engineering teams, we have a daily standup where we share what we’re working on, what we’re thinking about, and what we’re blocked by. We make use of this time to try to unblock each other where we can.
The difference between the traditional synchronous standup format and how we do it at Convictional is that we don’t do standups in-person or on video. We hop into a shared Google Doc and type our updates during our meeting time live for team members to check out.
This is what it looks like:
Traditional standups feature team members sharing their updates one after another. We think it’s slow and inefficient; you also need to take notes during the meeting to make sure you have an accurate list of action items. In our format, everyone gets aligned with what everyone else is doing and we have our action items for the day ready to go. We’ve even tried fully asynchronous standups in the past but conversations didn’t happen which took away most of the value.
The other recurring meetings I have on a weekly basis are our weekly Platform Sync, where we share updates on metrics, OKRs, and tech debt items we’re working through, as well as a weekly 1:1 with my manager. In total, that boils down to 1-2 hours of recurring meetings a week which is fairly typical for individual contributors at Convictional.
Our default async culture means the rest of my calendar is open for deep work. Here is a screenshot of my calendar to give a sense of how open it is:
Collaboration tools the engineering team uses
Our workflow stack isn’t crazy. We use a handful of tools, but we use them heavily.
Github is where 90% of our collaboration happens. We prefer to work in public as much as possible and Github is excellent at capturing context related to a task or a project over a period of time. Since it’s searchable, context around past decisions is available to anyone on the team. Our adherence to Github has permeated outside the engineering team; even marketing and business operations use Github to collaborate on projects, although not to the same extent as we do.
Google Docs functions as a documentation companion to Github. We use it to bookend our thinking related to a project. During a project’s inception, we document our thinking as we’re exploring a project and refine it in a Google Doc. Once we’ve settled on a path to execute that project, we move project work to Github and start creating issues to break down the project among the team. After a project is complete, we use Google Docs to reflect on it and share our learnings with the rest of the team. While Github is good at capturing context over a period of time, Google Docs is good at capturing context as a snapshot of our thinking.
Other tools we use to collaborate with each other are Loom and Front, which aren’t specific to engineering — everyone at Convictional uses them.
Choosing to go async vs. sync
Asynchronous communication by email and Google Docs aligns with our values as a company. It encourages long term thinking because participants in an email thread or a document can carefully consider all the possibilities associated with a decision and communicate their thoughts accordingly. Synchronous communication over a group call or a video meeting benefits the fastest thinkers with the loudest voices, not the right ideas.
A default async culture doesn’t mean abandoning synchronous meetings or calls entirely. Asynchronous can be counterproductive when it’s leveraged at the wrong time or in the wrong context. Everyone who's been in an email thread has probably experienced a friction to an asynchronous conversation where you’re sharing a big idea and you have to wait for a couple of hours (sometimes days) for a team member to reply and get their feedback.
When we’re in the discovery phase of a project and we’re trying to figure out how to approach it, we get on a call and discuss what we’re thinking. Talking through a series of ideas quickly and eliminating the initial incorrect paths gets us moving along faster than playing tag on GitHub or email. When we’ve agreed on a path forward, we use async in the documentation phase.
What distributed work looks like
Convictional doesn’t have strictly defined working hours, which means that I can work at times that work best for me. When I started, I was focused on time management and making sure that every minute I spent at work was productive. Since then, I’ve changed my thinking to focus on energy management i.e. doing work that aligns with my energy levels throughout the day. Working from home flexibly also allows me to have more balance and sustainability every day. For example, my wife Holly and I get to have lunch together every day.
This means that on some days, especially when I’m deep in a project, I wake up and immediately want to start coding. On other days, I might be drained after four hours and decide to stop working that day. By focusing on energy management, I’m able to identify work that gives me energy and work that takes away my energy and plan my weeks accordingly to make sure that I’m balancing the right levels of work between the two.
As another example, Holly and I recently started working with a personal trainer and our workouts are at 11am. While other companies would consider this time to be the middle of the workday and probably wouldn’t allow me to work out at that time, I’m glad that I’m able to balance my physical health alongside the work I’m doing at Convictional.
One of our values is learning velocity and everything we do is in service of learning. One way we put this value into practice is with compound time. Every member of our team invests 10% of their working hours in their learning. My recent learning project has been diving into Shopify’s API documentation and finding ways to optimize our Shopify integration.
Our distributed work environment means that I’m able to work while traveling as well. I’ve done a couple of local trips in Canada where I’ve visited different provinces and worked while I was there. There’s no time zone I’m tied to since I have very few meetings I need to attend.
Opportunities to be social in a remote environment
A common misconception that candidates have when they interview at Convictional is that our no meetings and no Slack culture means that team members are isolated from each other. There are plenty of opportunities for our team to socialize. We just treat every social interaction we have with intention.
We’re encouraged to book time with other members of the time with ad hoc 1:1s. It could be to sync on a specific project, but it could also be to catch up with them and learn more about what they’re working on. We also use Coffee Roulette to pair us up with other coworkers at random — this helps us break out of our silos and speak with colleagues we would never speak to otherwise.
Every two weeks we have a company all-hands called Town Hall where functional leaders share updates on their progress. After Town Hall, team members chat with each other on Toucan. Sometimes, we play fun virtual games together like skribbl. These activities are always optional and it’s normal for not everyone to show up if they have commitments.
We also apply our async mindset to our social activities. We regularly have wellness and learning challenges where we’re grouped in teams and have fun competing with each other each month.
Working remotely doesn’t mean we don’t get to see each other in person. We meet up twice a year at our Offsites. These weeklong in-person gatherings are a great way to build deeper working relationships and get to know team members both new and old a little bit better.
Love our async culture? Come work with us!
I’ve been at Convictional for over two years and I’ve really enjoyed growing with the company.
If you like the idea of an async-friendly culture that prioritizes deep work and learning, while also maintaining a healthy social environment, come work with us! We’re hiring in all our departments, with multiple roles in the engineering team.