How to Create Remote Culture | Crooked Media
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October 18, 2023
Work Appropriate
How to Create Remote Culture

In This Episode

From terse Slack messages to Zoom happy hours, the culture of remote workplaces can be frustrating to navigate. But it can also be an opportunity to experiment, to build friendships… and to have an annual retreat in an exotic location! Chase Warrington, head of remote for Doist, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about how to create a healthy and enjoyable work culture when there’s no water cooler to gather around.





Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, if you’ve read my newsletter, if you’ve read my book, Out of Office, you know that I am a big proponent of flexible work. Flexible looks like a lot of different things for different people. It can mean flexibility in when you show up and leave the office or what days of the week you work or working wherever makes sense to you. So many organizations and employees are still very much figuring out what this looks like, particularly what management and performance reviews and communication looks like. Because any seismic change in the way a lot of us arrange work is going to take time. But back in 2020, when I was first trying to figure out which organizations had already figured out so much of this, that’s when I started reading about Doist. Doist is a tech company, but an interesting one. They create apps that manage workflow and they’ve been fully distributed, which is business speak for they have no one office and people can live pretty much anywhere that has Internet. Long before the pandemic. And they’ve come up with innovative and effective ways to foster work culture. That amorphous phrase we use to describe how we do things and how we talk about doing things and how people behave around each other in a remote setting, which is a quandary we get a lot like, how do I feel connected to my coworkers, but also how do I communicate effectively with them when we never see each other in person? Today I got the perfect person from Doist to come on the show and answer some of your questions about how they work to get this right. 


Chase Warrington: My name is Chase Warrington. I’m the head of remote at Doist, which is a fully distributed company. About a hundred people in 35 countries around the world. And I’m from North Carolina. I’ve been living in Spain for the last six years and coming to you today from beautiful Lake Garda, Italy. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Are you there for the company’s annual retreat? Is that right? 


Chase Warrington: No, I’ve had a little bit of a Mediterranean summer, I guess [laughs] which which sounds so boujee, but it’s not my normal life. We held our company retreat in Tuscany. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Italy, a couple of months ago, and since then I have returned to Italy because I guess I just couldn’t get enough. We had such a good time. [laughter] It was time to come back. So yeah, I’m back now in the northern part of the country. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So you had your annual retreat in Tuscany. And that’s the sort of thing that when I talk to people about remote work and about fully distributed companies, they’re like, wait, this is actually a possibility that, like our company would pay for us to go someplace and, like, be together, and that maybe that place would actually be a place that I would want to go to. Can you just talk about like the philosophy behind having an annual retreat that people want to go to? Like why is it important? And as a globally distributed company, how do you arrange for everyone to to actually show up? 


Chase Warrington: Oh, I love this. So this is probably my favorite subject within the entire future of work remote work conversation is oddly about like how do we bring people back together? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And the very cool thing about that is I think it unlocks the ability to work asynchronously, predominantly and completely distributed and to get all the benefits that we all believe we get from this style of work. But just bringing each other together a couple of weeks per year in a very intentional way to, as you said, a place that people actually want to go to. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And contrast that against having to go 50 weeks a year into a place that you have no desire to go to. [laughter] So the way we look at it, as we say, you know, yeah, we’re we save a lot. People talk a lot about the office space costs that you save on with remote work. And that is true. We do save a good bit on that, but we also reinvest a large majority of that into these off sites and retreats that we plan and we try to make them spectacular. We want people to like, really enjoy them. They’re focused on connection, not really a lot of collaboration necessarily, or productivity. It’s really building that social capital and making sure that the way we work day to day, the other 50 weeks out of the year is empowered by bringing these people together a few times per year. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So you reached out to us after our episode about work friends pointing out, and this is something that, you know, I’ve thought about a lot, but because I work from home that sometimes with work friends, you can’t just grab a beer or have small talk like while waiting in the elevator. So how do you think about and this is kind of building on this question that you just answered, but the value of in-person connections to me, I think it just needs to be intentional. You have to somehow build intentional space for organic interaction between coworkers. 


Chase Warrington: I actually think this is something a lot of teams or leaders look at as a challenge with remote work. It’s it’s creating that quote unquote “watercooler talk.”


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And, serendipitous conversations and such, which admittedly is harder, I think, in a purely remote, hyper asynchronous environment. I get that. But there’s also an opportunity baked in there to intentionally curate those spaces where people connect. And so, you know, our retreats and off sites are the in-person version of that where we’re thinking very deeply and intentionally about how do we maximize this time together and make sure that it supports our business objectives and and everything. But that also extends to the virtual world where we’re connecting every day and we get to intentionally create that rather than just like leaving it to the happenstance of, Oh, I hope people brush shoulders at the watercooler or. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Chase Warrington: Meet up and go for a beer after work. That stuff’s important and it has a place. But you do get to curate that in this environment. And I think there’s something exciting about that that often gets overlooked. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So companies can’t always or shouldn’t always, depending on what kind of company they are, get everyone to Tuscany. Like if you were an American company, you wouldn’t be like, You know where we should have our offsite? Tuscany, right. [laughs] 


Chase Warrington: If I was your head of remote. I would say yes, but yeah. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: I think that there are other places that you can figure out, like where your offsite would be. But what tips do you have for making these sorts of in-person gatherings worthwhile? 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, I mean, there’s two buckets of suggestions and one of them is like very logistical, like thinking through the way that you approach your your budgeting and choosing a location that that fits not just for your budget, but also like where’s your team distributed and located and how many? Like if I bring someone, if I have a predominantly Asian based team and I’m going to bring them all the way to the U.S., I’m going to need to bake in a couple of days on either end of this retreat to make sure that they’ve got some time to show up as a decent version of themselves. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Chase Warrington: For this this gathering and get back home. And so there’s there’s all these costs associated. So thinking about the distribution, thinking about the right location, thinking about what you’re going for in terms of like, what is this gathering about? Like Priya Parker asks in the Art of Gathering, like, what—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: —what is the purpose of this gathering? And we often just, like, overlook that step. Initially we’re just like, Oh, we have to do retreats. [laughs] But there’s a there’s some intentionality there if you put some purpose behind it. And in our case, we focus a lot on connection. And so we wanted to be for example, we migrated from city major cities and metropolis big downtown hotels to more like natural settings in places where we feel like we kind of like own an intimate space. That’s great for our team. Thinking really intentionally about that is one thing. And then I think there’s this whole other bucket which gets into like agenda creation and activities and things like that. And the number one recommendation that I make when I talk to people about this is do not pack that schedule with a bunch of activities that you don’t don’t think that you need to use this four or five days together to conquer all your problems because you’re not going to. [laughter] And I see so many people do that. They’re they’re they’re optimizing for productivity when in fact, oftentimes that’s not the real best use case for this week. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And you’re also going to end up with a bunch of employees who are exhausted, right? [laughs]


Chase Warrington: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And like, maybe you have negative feelings about the retreat as a whole, which is not the feeling that you want people to leave a retreat holding with them. 


Chase Warrington: You want people to feel recharged, not exhausted. Like that battery should come back, like rejuvenated, not depleted. 


Anne Helen Petersen: You know, it reminds me, too, of how like, the worst planning for trips, at least in my perspective, is when someone like plans all of your trip like there’s it’s just go, go, go go like always activities and not even for people who are extroverts like you still need some downtime built into that schedule and some of that organic connection might happen during that downtime. Right? Like might happen. Oh, we’re just hanging out like we’re just sitting and sitting around at the breakfast table and reading and we can do that because there is this like cushion built into how our time is scheduled. Over the course of the retreat. 


Chase Warrington: I could not agree with you more. We even went so far as to like, I got real nerdy on this and decided to, like, make it a formula. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Like what the what is the percentage basis of time we want to spend on planned activities versus work versus that like downtime where serendipitous conversation can take place and real connections can take place? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And we came up with this rule, the 20, 30, 50 rule. So we’re 20% of our retreats are focused on work, 30% of planned activities and that leaves 50% for, for R and R, where people can connect, relax, recharge. I mean, I find that 50% is where the magic really happens. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: In my personal experience and from the team’s feedback, like qualitatively and quantitatively, we got a ton of data on this, that works. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Before we get into our questions, I just want to say that this is the sort of thing that I can just picture a listener’s hearing and being like, Must be nice, right? And I think sometimes we have this work perspective. We’re like, Oh, if a company is doing something that’s like actually really wonderful that we’re like that. The first response is resentment instead of like, that’s aspirational. What if that was what work was like and maybe we can try to work towards that. So that’s just like a little bit of I understand why it’s easy to be resentful. I used to like talk like that about my granddad retiring at like an early age, right, with a pension and was like, Oh yeah, actually it would be nice to retire with a pension. [laughs]


Chase Warrington: Yeah, I totally get that. I think there’s always this caveat of like you’re coming from a, a place of entitlement or a place of, you know, like, like you have to have empathy for the fact that not everyone has access to this. I think my goal in talking about this more is to is to share what remote work done well. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Can really look like and and some of the intentionality that goes into it because I’ve seen the worst forms of of this whole thing and it does it’s really bad like it it can be all the things that the stereotypes and the naysayers of remote work say that it can be, but it can also be really good if, if done well. And so like for example, in our case, reinvesting all those, a large majority, at least of the savings that we have from office space into something like this is a. Reality, and I see more and more teams doing this. I think as we go more distributed, you’ll see more teams investing in curating this really awesome space together in person and making it count. 


Anne Helen Petersen: This is a great jumping off point for us to do our first question. So this first question is from Edith and our producer Melody is going to read it. 


Edith: I work in H.R. for a large company. I’m the person who responds when someone reports discrimination, bullying, harassment and crappy things of all sorts. My teammates and I have noticed that in a remote work environment, the things people report are often more subtle than they had been in the before times. If a manager gives quick written feedback on someone’s performance, they don’t have the same in person voice and body language cues to soften criticism or indicate how severe the issue actually is. We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about what amounts to tone in written communication, which is important. Not everyone communicates best by writing though. So what does a reliance on the written word and its subtleties mean for workers in terms of equity, in hiring, psychological safety needs on the job? The much talked about atrophy of social muscles. If we’re sending today’s youth into this work world, what does that do to work? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So I love how this question starts with like very specific questions about what’s going on in their company and then goes into like, how do we prepare the youth to do this work? [laughter] So what is your first reaction to this question? 


Chase Warrington: Where do where do we begin? 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] I know. 


Chase Warrington: There’s so many things to tackle here, but I think it’s a phenomenal question or set of questions. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Because I think the atrophy of the social muscles can be real. Again, like alluding to what I said a moment ago, this is a problem. It’s a challenge, but it can also be an opportunity to curate these interactions with your teammates and to build friendships and and psychological safety and trust in all of these things. But I do think that there is a time and a place where we have to reinsert the synchronous conversation. And I think it’s instances like this where you you find the epitome of that opportunity. We can predominantly do work via the written form, but I think it’s a great time to switch to synchronous activity when you’re delivering difficult feedback, when you’re providing feedback on a coworker, things like this. So there is an opportunity here if you if you choose to take it. But the company has to find the right balance between those. I will admit we’ve struggled with that a bit at Doist. We have asynchronous feedback loops, but we’ve also added in synchronous feedback loops and I think those are that can be very helpful because you’re missing a ton of context. I mean, we deliver so much context via nonverbal cues and some of that does need to be articulated in that setting. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So how do you do that? Talk a little bit more about how you add in those synchronous feedback loops when you especially since you’re globally distributed, it’s not just like, oh, well, some people are on the East Coast, some people are on the West Coast kind of thing. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah. So on average, about 85% of Doisters, the, my teammates report having around five hours or less of meetings per week, around 50% report having two hours or less. So I mentioned that to say how pretty much how few hours per week people are invested in synchronous meetings and a large majority of those meetings are utilized for situations like this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: It’s one on one conversations with your direct reports or your lead. It’s setting aside time to have the difficult conversations about, you know, this person is difficult for me to deal with in this instance, or I’m finding that this person is slacking off or not meeting the expectations. My workload is too much. I’m not in a good place personally, whatever those things are, we have specified time for each person to have synchronous conversation with their lead about that every single month. And so knowing that they have that space and encouraging it, setting aside that time for this specific topic is very important to the way that we work. 


Anne Helen Petersen: How do you deal with the fact that people, their communication style, written or verbal? Because this is ultimately this is a management question. This is about how you figure out how your reports need to be communicated to and vice versa. Like, I know that if I was talking to someone and they began to like their their Slacks to me or whatever seemed like it was, they were bristling, they were edgy about something, I could pick that up. 


Chase Warrington: Mm hmm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But even just that word bristly, like, what is that? How do I know? What are the things? What are the specific things that communicate that to me? There’s a lot of implicit meaning that I am picking up, and some people are better or worse at that. And sometimes it has to do with the way that their brain works, right? With like neurodivergent or sometimes it’s just they don’t have a lot of experience with it. How do you think about that at Doist?


Chase Warrington: There’s something that comes to mind here that I think is really important because you touched on like the like neurodiversity, for example. We also are on a global, global distributed team. You have people from very different cultures. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Who have got very different backgrounds. They approach problems in completely different ways. One of my favorite books is the Culture Map and talking about how we approach problem solving and feedback loops and things like that from from different parts of the world. And it’s something we suggest. Doisters read to to have that in mind? We’ve got 100 people, 35 countries, every third person’s from a different place. That leaves a lot of room for error. But one baseline that we come back to, I guess citing dropping another book here is radical candor. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And we encourage this culture of radical candor. Like you have to be comfortable confronting these challenges and providing feedback in a very radical candor way. And so in order to do that, like if we’re going to do that, we have to practice what we preach. Leaders have to lead with that, provide such feedback in a public space, and accept that this is one of the challenges you have to get comfortable with if you’re going to work in this environment. That tone being truthful about that tone and being implicit about it is, is super important when we don’t have the visual cues. So I think that’s been a huge help for us. Like we intentionally adopted that several years back and it’s improved the way we communicate, even if it’s caused some harsher challenge, somewhat challenging conversations. It’s been a net positive in the end. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So I think our advice for Edith, I’m going to say what I think our advice is and then you can add to it. So I think that there needs to be a move towards doing more of that synchronous communication and then also doing more to encourage more explicit communication. I also, though sorry, this is like backtracking. She seems to feel like part of the problem is that when people do practice radical candor, when they are explicit that people feel wounded and feel like this is too harsh. And so how do we communicate to other workers that like this isn’t about you personally, right? This is just trying to be very clear about what we all expect and that sort of thing? 


Chase Warrington: Yeah. Because when we when we talk through it, if we’re sitting in the same conference room, we can cushion it with gestures. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Chase Warrington: And maybe physical contact or we can, you know, fluff it up a little bit. But that feels very fluffy when you’re writing it out to give all this pretext and context and a bunch of emojis and make it sound all flashy. Oh, and by the way, you’re kind of dropping the ball here. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. [laughs]


Chase Warrington: That is difficult to do. So I do get that, and I think the advice that you just added to, I think creating some intentional time where these conversations are supposed to take place and practicing a bit more radical candor and also just understanding like maybe saying to the team like this is one of the challenges of the way that we work and we have to get better at it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think like posing it as something that we are collaborating on communication instead of like just in the background that like, oh, this is hard and like, no one’s good at it [laughs] but instead like that, you know, that’s one of your things as a team that you’re going to try to get better at. And if everyone’s working on it or feels like everyone’s working on it, it’ll feel more like a collaborative process. 


Chase Warrington: That’s a great point. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from Esther, who’s wondering if her expected workload is reasonable. 


Esther: I work remotely at a late stage tech startup. By late stage, I mean, the company was founded ten years ago and has close to a thousand employees. I was originally really excited to join the company because it seemed like they had remote work all figured out. They had been remote friendly since before the pandemic. There is a genuinely welcoming culture where people will schedule time with you just to build rapport. And they held quarterly off sites to spend time in person with other people on the team. But those off sites have now been canceled for budget reasons. And I’ve found that the company culture is more one of constant overwork. Just today, we were told that the expectation is that we’re working an average of 50 hours a week and that that’s what we signed up for when we joined a, quote, “scaling startup.” I find this really frustrating. I don’t think there’s a strong correlation between my hours worked and my output. I actually do better work when I have time to rest and recover, but the expectation makes me feel like I’m supposed to be glued to my desk and I don’t feel like I’m reaping any of the potential benefits of remote work. Do you have any tips for pushing back on an organization with unrealistic expectations around working remotely? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Ugh, this this organization feels like it’s operating in a defensive crouch right now, and I think that’s leading to a lot of problems. But let’s take this piece by piece. So first, how do you feel about them canceling the offsites? 


Chase Warrington: Well, this might surprise you Anne and but I’m very much so against that. [laughter] And I think that I think it’s one of those budget items. You know, it’s funny, I give talk about Doist for a second. We’re like many organizations were feeling the crunch of the economy. We’re on a hiring freeze. We made some cuts in multiple departments in terms of budgetary not not people, but in terms of budget. At the same time, we increase our offsite budget by 10%. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Wow. 


Chase Warrington: So what that speaks to is our doubling down on the fact that if this is the future of work that we want to build, then. Really, well-curated time together in person has to be a core part of it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: It’s like saying we got to save money, so we’re going to stop paying for the electricity. Like you, you just can’t do that. You have to create some sort of space. Now I get the realities that cuts have to happen somewhere. And, you know, this may not work for all companies, but I would challenge the leaders of this company, not the person writing the question to to rethink that aspect and decide, was this an extra for you where you’re not getting the return on investment? If not, why? And what could you change to maybe make sure that it’s a net positive? Not not not an expense, but an asset? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. I think part of the problem is that the benefits of an offsite are not easily quantifiable. Right. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: The benefits of an offsite are improved culture. Right. Improved connection. You can’t be like, oh, because of this offsite. This is all of the things that I was able to do better at my job. Like, it’s just it’s very difficult that way. But oftentimes, I think in companies that are feeling stress, they cut those things. They see them as like fat instead of essential structure to the well-being of the company. And, you know, maybe I think it’s like so much of the discontent that Esther is voicing here. Some of it has to do with this work expectation, which we can talk about next. But like a lot of it is like she just feels shitty about the company. And that’s in part because they’re not having good connections with one another. 


Chase Warrington: Well, yeah, this is the I mean, this is the slippery slope that they’re on. They’re, they’re creating a culture of mercenaries that don’t care about working, that aren’t going to have the chance to care about working together. And they’re seeing it as an industrial revolution clock in for my 50 hours and clock out it got to the to her endpoint. She’s talking a lot about basically being present. You have to be present for 50 hours. They’ve removed the focus on output and instead are focusing on the presenteeism and the inputs, which is a recipe for disaster, especially combined when you’re removing the aspect where people were going to actually build social bonds and connections. So you’re stripping away all the power that remote work could have given you and and leaving these people with a with a pretty rough situation. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So what do you think is happening at a company, especially one like this, that seems to shift like they were remote before the pandemic? They have experience with this and they’re shifting into this presenteeism. What do you think’s happening? 


Chase Warrington: It’s a great question. I would love the opportunity to dig deeper into this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Because I’m kind of fascinated by the regression. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: There’s a lot of people feeling this pain in some way or another, and I think leaders that have been become accustomed to leading in a certain way tried to adapt to a new way of working. Things got tight, you know, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies and they start reverting to old, old ways of working. And in some cases, they may have never even really given this type of work a full look. They might not have given it a real fighting chance by implementing the right practices or tools or workflows or whatever. So, I mean, I would challenge those leaders to to refocus on the things that matter, refocus on those outputs and deliverables. And I would perhaps, you know, I don’t know what advice to give to give her exactly in this because I see the challenge she’s up against and I think it’s a big one. But I would start by documenting the challenges that she’s mentioned here and how she feels like it’s impacting her work in a negative way. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And then showcase how it could be changed. I think it’s taking one little bite out of the elephant. You know, it’s with her direct the person that she reports to directly, but may be chipping away at it that way could be could be helpful, because I have no doubt she’s she’s correct. Like, she needs that time to rest and recoup. And she probably is at her best when she’s not glued to her device, having to reply immediately and has time to go into deep work mode. So she could probably prove it and showcase how they’re actually doing themselves a disservice by adopting these older ways of working. 


Anne Helen Petersen: You know, depending on how much power or seniority she has in this organization, I kind of feel like she’s not that senior. I think that one thing she could do for herself, for advocacy, if it doesn’t feel like a conversation with her manager about why this is bullshit, isn’t necessarily going to do anything, is communicate. I’m going to do some deep work or I’m going to try to concentrate our heads down or whatever like phrase you want to use on a project. If someone really needs me the next two or 3 hours, you can text me. Otherwise this is what I’m doing. So broadcasting, I am working, but then also creating a space where she could also not work the entire time. [laughter] And I don’t mean that in a laziness way. I mean that in a. If she gets her work done in concentration in an hour and a half and then has an hour and a half, that she doesn’t need to be working. But she has telegraphed that three hours as work time that might be effective. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, absolutely. Do you get the impression that she’s in a situation where she has to reply like she’s expected to reply immediately to to prove that she’s available—


Anne Helen Petersen: This is like, yeah, like tech companies. This is the norm, right? Is that like your that’s, that’s how they know that you’re working is by your availability like your reply ability and it’s not like she has to get on and like punch a timecard or something like that. She’s a salaried employee it seems. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah. Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: But, but she’s present by responding for being the first one to respond, to react or, or show up. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Chase Warrington: And and that’s she’s getting credit just for for being there. I mean when you when you really think about this like from the leaders standpoint it actually makes like little to no sense to to judge any sort of productivity or output. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. Yes. 


Chase Warrington: On this basis. 


Anne Helen Petersen: It reminds me when I worked at BuzzFeed, there would oftentimes be these conversations about like, oh, people are spending too much time chatting in Slack like chatting about like, you know, whatever worth a shit in Slack. But also you are expected to be very present on Slack in order to evidence that you are working. So what do you what like, of course we’re getting pulled into this messaging app that we’re supposed to be like vigilant about checking. But yes, it happens that we then start chatting about these other things. And so it’s just at cross-purposes. And I think using that I’m here, here is what I’m working on. Here is how you can reach me if you really, really need me. Like, that will be a way to to show that she is working without necessarily having to have that sort of alertness to others. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah. Yeah. That’s I mean, I think that’s a great solution. And you’re providing that outlet in case something truly is urgent. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And especially if. How cool is that if you, you know, if you’re used to working in that environment where you’re getting distracted every 5 minutes with some ping. So writing an article, if you’re you know, if you’re a writer and that normally takes you five hours and but in this case, you could go into deep work mode, say, Hey, I’m checking out for four hours to work on this, but you can write it in an hour or two. And then you have that relaxing time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And again, like circling back to the to the what’s produced in that. And that is that’s what’s really important. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So that’s our advice is maybe. Fake a little bit. Just a little bit of subterfuge. [laughs]


Chase Warrington: Some time for yourself. I wonder, actually, can I add one more thing? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Real quick that just popped into my head. Coming back to like the social connections. And I gather that’s a huge pain point for her. And I wonder if there’s an opportunity to to step up and lead from behind a little bit if we’re for assuming that she’s not in a leadership position, but offer to curate a social calendar of some sort virtual activities together, just start explaining to the leadership team how you’re you’re feeling some pain in this point and you’d like to help solve it for the for the team. It could be a way to advance herself. She’s obviously passionate about this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And it could help solve her pain and also some of her and her teammates. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, that’s great. Additional advice to the subterfuge advice that I gave. [music plays] Our next question is about when work from anywhere goes a little too far. This is from Leah and our colleague Julia is going to read it. 


Leah: I am a government analyst in an agency that is still in a mostly remote work posture. A side effect of remote work is that my coworkers increasingly take meetings or perform work tasks away from their workstations. For example, my boss will take a call when on a walk. My subordinates will join a call while driving to the hardware store. Or people will take full on vacations while trying to work at the same time. I prefer that my coworkers be able to access the meeting agenda and any documents my team has prepared for discussion and to not be distracted while driving or walking or on vacation. I sense that we aren’t supposed to voice concerns about telework until the next phase of work rules are hammered out. I think I am bothered by this because it seems that in a time where we can work from anywhere, people feel like they should be working from everywhere. The agency provides generous leave time and allows flexible schedules. So I wish that people would put personal errands on their calendars and use leave time or work an extra hour in the day rather than trying to multitask. I am a mom with two kids. Believe me, I totally understand the need for flexibility. But work is work. Is there an effective way to say, please reschedule this meeting if you can’t be at your workstation or if someone calls in from the car to say, Let’s reschedule this meeting so I can have your full attention. Is there such a thing as full attention anymore? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So much going on here. I appreciate that Leah is voicing this frustration because I think this is a real thing. I think that there is sometimes where more attention is is necessary and people aren’t able to give their full attention. At the same time, I don’t always think that people need to have their full attention on a meeting if they’re calling in. But I’m so curious to hear what you think here. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, I actually agree with a lot of what she’s saying. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And I agree with you as well that I think it’s a real thing. It’s a it’s a problem. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Now, I want to do a little caveat. I’m a huge fan of a walking meeting. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Probably do one per day. I don’t care if someone shows up and their backgrounds is obviously not their office. But I do care that if we’re going to sync up for a meeting, we better damn well use that time very well. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: If you’re distracted and you’re not and you’re multitasking and there’s background noise or you’re you’re not able to focus on what we’re talking about, that’s a huge problem for me. And so my my initial thoughts on this is obviously, none of this is documented at the company. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: There’s no working agreement. There’s no guidelines that and if there are, they’re just totally being not followed. But my my first piece of advice is, is starting with that like a distributed company should have some form of working agreement, some sort of guidelines around how meetings take place. And I think she’s she’s spot on with wanting to to have that articulated to the team. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I think that some of these problems can be solved by having core hours, by having two or three hours a day where your attention should not be diluted in whatever way. And then because if it is a flexible work schedule and she seems to appreciate like flexibility is fantastic, like we need to have this ability to have people go on errands when they need and want to pick up their kids when they need and want. But we also need this time where we are actually focused on one another. And I think some of our bad habits really developed over meeting culture where everything is like, Okay, will you be on this call? Will you also be on this call? And when you get on a call and you realize, like all they want is for you to say, like, I’m here and then maybe chime in with one piece of information at like minute 40 in the meeting? Of course, you’re going to be like, Yeah, I can go to the hardware store while I take this call. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, exactly. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: So. So this behavior, and I don’t know if this is the case, but it’s she’s a government contractor. Like, I think this is probably the case. I think that this is a symptom of over meeting culture. So how do you simultaneously try to decrease the number of meetings and at the same time emphasize if we’re having a meeting, we need to be there with one another? 


Chase Warrington: You nailed it. That’s exactly right. [laughter] The problem is actually it’s sort of like inverted. We started like curing the symptom. But there’s this actual the root of the problem is that they lean way too much on meetings. People see them as just another tidbit of their day. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Chase Warrington: They’re working eight or nine hours and they’re spending a large chunk of them in meetings. So they take them for granted and they don’t feel like they have to to show up. And this is the this is the epitome of the problem with with the over meeting culture. So pushing for moving away from that would obviously be an ideal situation setting, encouraging some setting of guidelines and expectations that are obviously like accepted by the company and expected would be another one. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. You know, depending on how senior she is, either she can maybe have this conversation with her manager about how we can figure out how to do this better with the team or if she’s a manager, that’s something that she can spearhead with leadership and also with her team. But I think that simultaneous move, because I think it would sound shitty if you’re like, if we have a meeting, you need to be paying attention. Right. But if you’re like, we’re going to try to have fewer meetings and really have essential meetings and like be much more mindful about who is invited to a meeting. And then as we do that, we’re also going to try to emphasize that like we want you to be present and at your workstation when you’re having that meeting. Does that seem like it’s a good compromise? 


Chase Warrington: Seems very logical to me. [laughter] I mean, I couldn’t agree more. And I just I you know, I think people in positions of non leadership are often afraid to, like, speak up. But I think often people in positions of leadership are really excited to see someone elevate themselves and take a stand or take the initiative to make a better mousetrap. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And this is an opportunity again, like kind of with same with the previous question. Like go to your the person that you’re reporting to with a written out suggestion like, this is what I would want. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: To have shared this with a few teammates and this is what we would want and we think we’ll be better for this. Like you’re solving problems for for your leader who’s charged with getting the most out of your team. So again, there’s like another opportunity baked into this challenge. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. Our last question, this is a throwback to one that we addressed in one of our earliest episodes with Adrian Hon. So I’m wondering what tips you have for fun. Not cheesy, not gimmicky. Team bonding activities for remote staff when you’re not in person. 


Chase Warrington: Oh, virtual trust falls and Zoom happy hours all day. [laughter] I mean, is there anything better? That’s what we’re all craving. Oh, oh. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, I love. I just love a Zoom happy hour. It’s exactly what I want to do at the end of every day. 


Chase Warrington: Everybody, 5:30 on Friday. Let’s get on the Zoom happy hour. [laughter] Oh, wait, it’s 8:30 a.m. your time. Oh sorry. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Cool, cool. [laughs]


Chase Warrington: So I love this. It’s funny. Like my job as head of remote seems like it would be very focused on, like, making us very, like, much more asynchronous, much more, you know, a lot of tools and work workflows and stuff. I actually spend like probably 40% or so of my time on the social capital aspect and and talking about thinking through like how do we how do we make this thing work by connecting more as a team. And one of the things we did early on, aside from like revamping our approach to retreats and off sites, was building out a pretty robust social calendar that involves a bunch of activities that are staggered throughout the month, every month, and they cater to different types of people. I put them into three buckets. There’s there’s synchronous and in-person. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 


Chase Warrington: Which is like predominantly our retreats and off sites and some mentorship trips and stuff like that. There’s asynchronous and virtual and synchronous and virtual. And so in each of those cases, we have a handful of activities that are happening at any given time. The common denominator amongst all of those, all three of those buckets, is that everything is completely optional by default. There’s no pressure to join, there’s no expectation that you will join. And and we try to stagger time zones so that people around the world can opt in if they want to. We also ask that leadership see this as part of the work day. Not. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Extra stuff on top of the work day. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: So those are a few core principles. I don’t know if those it sounds like that jives with your viewpoint, but—


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. But give me a good example. Give me a fun one.


Chase Warrington: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So for example we have and like we have this thing we call Doist talks, which is one of my favorites. These are like TEDx talk style presentations that happen once a month. Someone from the team presents something that they’re working on. Could be a side project. It could be something they did at work, anything so somewhat work related, it appeals to the more technically minded person who’s like, I’m not going to show up to the better version of the Zoom happy hour. I don’t need that in my life. But like, I could actually learn something from this or I’m inspired by this and people build real connections around that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: Like amazing conversations take place. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: So we have a series of those kind of things. Oddly, one of the most popular and well attended is something we call casual hangouts, which is where you opt in and then you’re you. We create random groups of three people. We’ve determined three is the optimal number through a random bunch of trial and error, and we match you up with three people and then you have a one hour slot sometime that month that you all agree on. Works for you just to hop on a call and chitchat. And it’s so easy. It’s free. It costs like nothing to create. We’ve automated most of the process. And it’s like. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: And it’s. And it’s just so simple. And and then so we’ve got a series of these, like pretty much every week or at least every two weeks, you could opt in to an hour or so of of activity like that. On the asynchronous side, we’ve got a series of games that are being played at any given time from Two Truths and a Lie, where you record a video and you tell two truths and a lie and then share with the whole team and people vote on which one they think is the lie. 


Anne Helen Petersen: See. And the voting part makes it into something that feels more collective. 


Chase Warrington: Totally. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So. So yeah, that’s such a great idea. 


Chase Warrington: People, people get in, people really get into it and they share why they thought this one. Oh, I think he’s lying about this one because I know this about that person. And. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 


Chase Warrington: None of this is rocket science. It’s just about putting a little bit of intention into creating it. We’ve got all these props that pop up like an automated prompt that says, like, Hey, what did you guys do this weekend? Share some pictures and explanation or, Hey, what, what books are you reading right now? It’s kind of like a book club thing. What do you recommend? Just little things like the celebrating birthdays, celebrating victories. So creating the space is the important thing. The activities I feel like are are like secondary to that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Chase Warrington: But yeah, I could go on. Like I actually wrote an article that highlighted every single activity that we do that could go into way more detail than I can here.


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah yeah. What’s it called?


Chase Warrington: I would be happy to share that. It’s how to build connection in an async environment, I think is the title? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Amazing. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, something like that. Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: This has been fantastic. I feel like I could talk about this stuff all day. Where can people find more from you on the internet if they want to. 


Chase Warrington: Yeah, well, thank you. I am a big fan and it was awesome to be invited on, so this is a lot of fun for me too. I also feel like I could continue to nerd out on this for for quite a while. But in the meantime, if people want to connect with me, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, sharing a lot about what we’re doing building in public there. So. So finding me there is is probably most useful, our Doist blog and Todoist Inspiration Hub has a lot of my articles and articles from my colleagues who are writing about the future of work and how to make distributed teamwork work. So or are two great places to go as well. And then I’m @DCWarrington on most social media platforms. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I really, really like the blog, so I strongly recommend people who are looking for more thoughts around this entire like thinking around async, thinking about remote to check it out. They’re very digestible but substantive posts, so I highly recommend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. 


Chase Warrington: Thank you. [music plays]


Anne Helen Petersen: Before we go, a couple more notes for you. There’s a high stakes November coming up and it might not be the November you’re thinking of. The media hype has turned to 2024, but that won’t stop 2023 elections from having massive implications for abortion access, voting rights and more. From the Virginia legislative elections to the Ohio reproductive rights ballots measure. We’ve got work to do in the next few weeks. Visit to learn more and find out how you can get involved. And second, at Crooked, we love books they teach us new things expand our horizons piss off uptight conservatives who never got to stay for storytime at the library. That’s why we created our very own storefront on, where you can find books published by Crooked’s imprint, a selection of favorites from the Crooked staff and lots more. You can even shop my book Out of Office. The big problem and bigger promise of working from home. Look for it in the Crooked authors section. directly supports local booksellers, so you won’t be personally funding Jeff Bezos yacht renovations. That’s always a plus. Head to to find your next read. Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you like this episode, you should definitely check out a couple from our archives. Remote Work Done Right with Marissa Goldberg and Onboard Me with Adrian Hon. You can also follow me on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen or you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays]