Anti Agency Group had a 6-month head start as a remote-first organization. What started as a way to avoid Los Angeles traffic turned into the basis of our decentralized model, which fuels all facets of our internal and external operations. Despite this head start, like many people soon would discover in March 2020, working as a remote-first organization has its hurdles.
One of the challenges that we ran into after three months of remote-first work was the need to establish stronger boundaries between our work and our personal lives. For many of us, myself included, our homes were now also our offices. Even the lucky few who had a separate office space were invisibly shackled to work through their phones. It sucked—especially because I’m seriously addicted to my phone.
“Why couldn’t you just ignore emails after 6pm?” Well, Karen, it’s because I’m not built that way. And many of our team members aren’t either after spending years in traditional Corporate America where we were conditioned to be available at all hours of the day.
Disconnecting required conscious action and I knew if we did not actively set some boundaries, we would soon all burn out again — as dumb as this sounds — from accidentally overworking.
So over the last year, as our team doubled in size, we tested out a few methods to address work/life separation, and found the following three solutions to have had the most positive impact.
1. Switching from Slack to Twist — When Anti Agency Group was first formed, internal communication happened across multiple channels; conversations were happening everywhere from Slack to text messages to email and Google Docs. Conversations were not centralized and the numerous avenues in which one could be contacted at any hour of the day was starting to feel overwhelming. While trialing different productivity software, I discovered Twist, a communication app. Twist is created by the amazing Doist team behind Todoist, a task management app our team favors. Their product is modeled around an asynchronous work style, allowing people to work uninterrupted, on their own schedule. Unlike Slack, there is no status that shows if someone is active, there is no way to see if someone is typing back in real time, and most importantly, there is no scrolling back 100+ messages to see what you missed in the channel. Since we’ve shifted from Slack to Twist as an organization, we’ve observed a decrease in internal emails, increased knowledge sharing across teams, and fewer active conversations during non-business hours.
2. Outlining Communication Expectations — When you can no longer turn around to see if someone is at their desk, it’s difficult to know if they are “online”, in a meeting, or just plain busy. Over time, we noticed “micro” frustrations building amongst the team when it came to differences in communication styles, response time and availability. To mitigate some of these occurrences without completely altering people’s individual work styles, we created a document outlining base-level communication expectations to set a degree of standardization across the company — no matter what department or role. We addressed topics including: expectations around camera on/off during meetings, internal and external response times, calendar etiquette, and scheduling time-off. Since the document was shared and reviewed across the organization, we’ve experienced an increase in team members taking more time away from their keyboards without any negative impact to quality of work.
3. Daily “Office Hours” — Our strategy team meets every Monday at 11am PST. Approximately forty percent of that meeting is spent reviewing all active and upcoming client accounts, and the remaining 35 minutes is spent trading weekend stories and personal life updates. It was the highlight of everyone’s Monday. It took a few months of these status meetings before realization finally hit me — we were so concerned with maintaining boundaries between our work and personal lives that we neglected to account for those missed social moments that happened at the coffee station or on walks to meetings. Based on the team’s feedback, we established daily “office hours” in the new year: an hour long video meeting at noon where people could log on if they were available and work or eat lunch with others. While this has been one of the newer processes we’ve introduced, we’ve seen a 60% weekly attendance rate, as well as an increase in overall team connectivity and bonding.
While we have had at least three successes come out of our trials in the last two years, we’re eager to continue pushing the boundaries. Anti Agency Group pledges to continue testing out new operational strategies in pursuit of setting a high standard of working AND living for remote-first roles.