Why Work Loneliness Isn’t Just a Personal Problem, and What to Do About It
Where do you fall on the spectrum of working alone, together?
Work is a social thing. It’s done with people, and at the very least, for people. At the same time, you are one person with a job to do. When those personal and social gears are out of alignment, when you’re not connecting with the people you spend so many hours a day with, you get lonely.
Loneliness seems like such an intensely personal, private problem, but it’s much more than that. Loneliness and isolation is a collective issue. And at work, loneliness is yet another effect of the inadequate attention paid to the human side of getting stuff done together.
Whether it’s the inertia of interacting with the same people every day in a way that’s unique from all your other relationships, there’s a prevailing sense that work is this realm where you just deal, that it’s not something that you can improve. While we understand the prioritization of personal friends and loved ones, we often miss out on meaningful interaction with the person down the hall, focus on growing our supposed professional network more than we look next to us to grow higher quality connections.
That kind of thinking is unhealthy, unhelpful, and unproductive.
The quality of your social connections impact your physical and emotional well-being, and so impact the physical and emotional well-being of the people who run a business. Cultivating higher quality relationships with your co-workers, then, requires something of a 360-degree approach, taking responsibility for how you interact with others and how you treat yourself.
The Cheese Who Stands Alone Gets Less Done
When you start feeling isolated at work, you also get demoralized and detached, perhaps even depressed.
In the first study to empirically analyze the effect of loneliness on work performance, Sigal Barsade and Hakan Ozcelik examined the experiences of 672 employees in 143 teams. They found that indeed loneliness led to withdrawal from work, weaker productivity, motivation, and performance. Importantly, the study also showed that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that “co-workers can recognize this loneliness and see it hindering team member effectiveness.”
Loneliness is a personal emotion, but it’s not a private concern. The effect of loneliness reverberates, becoming a concern for the group, the organization, the community.
In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer write about one of the vital ingredients of what makes us fulfilled and flourish in our work — the nourishment factor of human connection. Recognition and gratitude, encouragement, emotional support, and camaraderie are all elements of the nourishment factor — aspects of work that so often are treated as mere window dressing, as spiritless exercises or tired, meaningless buzzwords, and as far as you can get from true priorities.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” French philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, and in what seems to be an ever-head-down, busily streaming life, that seems a harder truth than ever. Your wholehearted attention is how you connect to others, to the world around you, while our pragmatic attitudes about work have little room to even consider generosity.
The nourishment factor — these acts of generosity, of giving and receiving our full attention, expressing gratitude and providing support — feeds our cores, makes us more resilient and enduring, helps us to strive.
Start By Tuning Yourself
How you pay attention and act with generosity, though, starts with yourself, the way people tune their own instruments before playing a symphony.
“Your brain is tied to your heart,” explains Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, in one of the most poetic anatomy lessons ever, explaining the physical significance of connecting to the people around us. The more you tune into others, “the healthier you become, and vice versa.”
That heart-to-head connection exists thanks to your vagus nerve, which among many things, helps calm a stressed, scared, or anxious racing heart and attunes your ear to human voices. The strength of this friendly nerve is measured by vagal tone, the relationship between heart rate and breathing rate. The higher the vagal tone, the better your physical and emotional health — from your cardiovascular system and glucose levels to superior regulation of emotion, cognitive flexibility, and social connection with others.
Through her research, Fredrickson found that vagal tone can be strengthened like a muscle. Study participants practiced a form of Buddhist meditation called metta, or loving-kindness, cultivating benevolent feelings of goodwill and compassion towards themselves and to others. The result was increased vagal tone as well as increased positive emotions and social connectedness. Further research by Fredrickson and her colleagues uncovered how “people’s perceptions of their positive social connections with others accounted for the causal link between positive emotions and improved vagal tone.”
Taking the time to connect with and tune into yourself and others and boosting your perception of your social connections have resounding effects, improving a whole spectrum of health — physical, emotional, and social. And doing that, according to Fredrickson, creates a positive feedback loop, all starting from within.
5 Ways to Nourish Yourself and Your Team at Work
Learn how to tune into yourself and each other to be both particle and wave, to not feel so alone while working together. You are part of a team, and in turn, that team is greater than the sum of its parts, creating and resonating with a cohesive, buzzy energy.
Here are some ways you can build more meaningful, nourishing connections as a member of your working world as well as examples of how some companies are attaining that group resonance.
1. Start with yourself, and learn how to share.
If you’re feeling continual isolation or dissonance anywhere — whether at work, at home, and anywhere in between — your emotions are telling you to take another look at your circumstances. These poorer quality connections can be corrosive, eroding energy and ramping up stress, anxiety, and fear — feelings that we shouldn’t merely tune out and, it turns out, that the vagus nerve helps to soothe.
So be kind and attentive to yourself first. Often we put our heads down to get work done or to get through the day, and don’t allow the chance to listen to ourselves.
Also reach out and share with each other. The Buffer team does an amazing job of connecting every day through sharing not only their work accomplishments but also their self-improvement goals, from sticking with fitness regimes to learning to code. These points provide fodder for rich conversations and opportunities to show incredible support, helping to create a close, nourishing work life that permits people to be vulnerable yet supported and always aiming higher.
2. Meditate, and breathe deeply.
Implement some of the findings of Barbara Fredrickson’s research by practicing loving-kindness meditation to jumpstart your loop of positive emotions, connections, and health. Trade in fifteen minutes of scrolling through your Facebook connections for fifteen minutes of your mind’s connection. You can start out with some of these guided meditations.
Alternatively, take a few moments throughout the day to take some deep breaths. Deep diaphragmatic breathing — that’s from the belly, not your chest — can stimulate the vagus nerve and allow you to take a step back in times of feeling solitary or unsupported.
Even when a day is not markedly stressful, spending a lot of time in front of the computer, I find my breathing rather shallow and my shoulders beginning to hunch up by my ears. Moments of deep breathing are check-ins, a way I can get some air into cobwebby brainspace, relax my shoulders and back, and unfurl my attention to the people around me.
3. Show, don’t tell, your attention.
Being present, being available, and paying attention — even in a short interaction — can really only be demonstrated, not conjured up by saying that’s what you’re doing. Managers can’t say that they care about their team members, and then never be around to listen to them.
As a distributed company, the team at Zapier is particularly alert to the dangers of loneliness and extremely mindful of how its members are connecting. They make sure to constantly and visibly reach out, going on team trips, creating processes of daily feedback, and using connecting tools like Sqwiggle, which allows them to see each other over a continually refreshing image feed and chat with the click of a button.
4. Nourish your peers with recognition and gratitude.
The way many companies handle employee recognition is broken and counterproductive, dismissing and disrespecting the hard work that people do everyday. Not only do most recognition approaches treat feedback like a formal event, administered by managers from on high, they also fail to acknowledge how that hard work often involves helping someone else.
One solution that innovative teams have implemented are crowdsourcing and peer recognition, from the good folks at EverTrue, who use the employee recognition platform Youearnedit.com in conjunction with iDoneThis to give each other rewards to the human relations-oriented employees at Shopify, who use an internal system to crowdsource bonuses. Those who deserve acknowledgment for their efforts and support are bubbled up and made visible, all by people who have actual knowledge and appreciation and want to say “thanks” to boot.
5. Take time to do small things.
Even small gestures that are considerate and supportive can make a fortifying difference to cut through feelings of isolation and the emotional paper cuts we accumulate as the day goes by. It’s quality, not quantity, and small moments of true attention, support, encouragement, and fun can charge people up with a much-needed spark.
Take, for example, coworkers at SocialToaster who regularly connect with each other by making sure to eat together everyday at a “Hogwarts-style” table. Or look at the team at Wistia, who exude an attitude of openness and conviviality with each other that’s reflected in the verve and care in their work.
They have a ton of fun together, spending “extracurricular” time together outside work to play on a company softball league, change desks every few months to switch up desk neighbors, and share a bite at their own Hogwarts-style table.
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These days, the most interesting companies are hacking their culture, and culture at its heart is about people and togetherness despite being so often talked about as if it is about things. Dig deeper beneath the ping-pong games and the free food and that’s where you start to unearth what goes into building a culture of meaningful nourishment factors that battle loneliness at work.
Whether it’s as small and strong as the twelve-person team at Buffer or the thousands-strong at Zappos, whose internal connectedness has resonated from within its offices, out to the happiness of its customers, and even to the streets of downtown Vegas, the heart-to-brain and person-to-person links create a meaningful community, the kind that builds itself from the inside and radiates out.
What do you do at work to meaningfully connect? Share with us in the comments.
For better or for worse, bosses don’t spend much time thinking about your needs and worrying about to helping you with your career advancement. Bosses, like most people at work, are busy people with their own jobs, their own lives, and their own concerns.
That’s obvious. But the upshot is a harsh reality: your boss most likely has very little sense of what you’re accomplishing or even what you’re doing with your time. If you aren’t proactive about reporting your accomplishments, you’ll never get recognized for your good work.
The Power of One Simple Email
For many people, the thought of being more proactive about sharing accomplishments at work can be daunting and a real turnoff. Eric Barker at his blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, provides an elegant solution to this problem that takes minimal effort and doesn’t require you to turn into a loudmouth braggart.
Take just a few minutes on a Friday and jot down a simple description of what you accomplished that week. Your boss will be able to recognize the progress you’re making and appreciate not being left in the dark having to wonder whether you’re doing your job.
Become the Kind of Person Who Gets Promoted
To Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, making sure that your performance and accomplishments are visible to your boss is absolutely vital to becoming the kind of person who gets promoted.
As Pfeffer shares in his book, Power: Why Some People Have it and Other’s Don’t, research shows that there’s a disconnect between your performance and your job outcome, including a much smaller than expected “effect of your accomplishments on those ubiquitous performance evaluations and even on your job tenure and promotion prospects.”
Unfortunately, doing your work well isn’t enough. The missing ingredient of a job well done is that you also have to manage how that work is conveyed. In the work setting, where perception becomes reality, Pfeffer reminds us of what we miss out on when we wrongly assume that other people will know about our great work without having to tell them.
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What makes Eric’s one email suggestion so powerful is that it turns the loaded act of self-promotion into an ordinary, informative status update that perpetually builds up your credibility with your boss. While others scrabble to ramp up their lobbying for promotions during performance review-time, you’ll already be top-of-mind, without having to gather and tout your accomplishments in the strained atmosphere of a formal review.
Walter Chen is co-founder of iDoneThis, an ex-lawyer, and an amateur Starcraft player. You can follow his tweets at @smalter.
There’s probably been some time in your life when you’ve been just a touch surprised that you haven’t been hoisted upon shoulders and celebrated with cheers for your great achievement — whether you go as far back as that group English assignment making a diorama about summer reading or yesterday’s big client presentation.
Or maybe you’re more familiar with that fake almost-smile, as Joe Shmoe stood up to cheers and beers and pats on the back, leaving you amidst the ghosts of the hours of sweat and tears you put into the work.
It happens, and it stinks. But then again — we’re actually all credit hogs in our heads.
When you’re on a team, you don’t have an accurate sense of the proportion of your contribution. It’s just not that straightforward, because what happens in your very smart but usually selfish mind is that you underestimate your teammates’ contributions and overestimate yours.
Self-Inflating the Numbers
If you asked every person in your group to judge the percentage of their contribution on a project or collective task, the sum will likely add up to more than 100%.
Let’s enter some prickly relationship territory and see what would happen if you asked couples the same thing. In a famous study from 1979 by psychologists Michael Ross and Fiore Sicoly, married couples completed questionnaires on the extent of each partner’s responsibility for twenty different activities, from childcare, cooking and cleaning, planning activities, making decisions, and causing arguments.
Nearly three out of four couples overestimated their contribution, adding up to more than 100%.
Similar overallocations have been demonstrated in fundraising, academics, and in a more recent Harvard study by Eugene Caruso, Nicholas Epley, and Max Bazerman, in which MBA students estimated how much of the collective work they’d done in their study group. The sum of the students’ self-centered estimates? 139%.
I’m Always On My Mind
So what’s causing the rift between perception and reality? It’s a cognitive bias called “availability bias”, which causes you to overestimate based on what’s most striking, or available, to your mind. Personal experiences are especially salient and memorable simply because they’re yours — and this causes issues in all collaborative contexts.
Easy access to your own thoughts and knowledge about yourself, as compared to the thoughts and knowledge of others, skews your belief about the frequency and significance of everyone’s contributions. And this can have a harmful effect on how people collaborate.
While the Harvard researchers, in a related study, also saw similar overcrediting-self behavior from academic authors in shared research projects, they also found the more the authors over-credited themselves and the higher the sums went over 100%, “the less the parties wanted to collaborate in the future.”
In the initial rounds of the 1979 study, Ross and Sicoly had asked the couples to give percentage estimates of contribution, which apparently were easy to remember. Perhaps not surprisingly, this produced “a strong source of conflict between the spouses” in postquestionnaire numbers comparisons.
Unpacking the Work
The problem when it’s so much easier to remember what you’ve done than what other people have is the increased potential to provoke resentment — and ultimately disengagement if it’s a chronic suspicion — from feeling like you’ve done more than your share, or that your work isn’t being appreciated.
The Harvard researchers found that taking time to consider other people’s efforts before your own helps to align your perception closer with reality. For example, when the MBA students were asked to think about the contributions of each member in their study group as well, the sum total of their estimates was 121%. They still exhibited the cognitive bias, but it was mitigated by what the researchers call “unpacking the work.”
How to Battle the Bias with Transparency
At the heart of collaboration’s availability bias is the general difficulty in grasping what everyone on your team gets done, a natural information discrepancy that arises as a result of working with others.
Do Things, Tell People: Considering other people’s contributions is one step in the right direction. Even better is if everyone communicates about what they’ve done and showed their work for a comprehensive perspective. It’s why many teams have status meetings and standups — to not only come together to figure out how best to move forward, but in doing so, chipping away at the information discrepancies and biases that can creep into your thinking and hinder productivity.
Being transparent about what you’re getting done everyday helps prevent skepticism and suspicion among your own teammates and the skewed motivation and decreased engagement that can result from simmering feelings of isolation, resentment, and plain unawareness of what’s going on. For instance, when Michelle Sun, an engineer at Buffer — whose distributed team members share what they accomplish every day — learns what everyone has gotten done, she “understand[s] what teammates are working on, and … I feel connected with the team.”
It’s beneficial, even productive, to make your accomplishments visible, instead of hiding away keeping mental score. Understanding what everyone is doing means that you’re not worried about percentages and brownie points but focusing on getting awesome things done together as a team and aligning the points between individual and collective progress and meaning.
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis and keeps the wheels of the iDoneThis blog turning. She is not a morning person. Follow her tweets at @lethargarian.
I think a lot about lists (a side effect of an ongoing and enduring fascination with GTD) and I make quite a few of them. One of the most valuable lists I make is my top three priorities for the day.
I’ve long been an advocate of taking a moment every morning — after coffee, before email — to set my priorities down on paper or in pixels. This simple process that takes no more than ten minutes has had a consistently profound and positive effect on my productivity.
Why after coffee? Because part of my morning ritual is brewing coffee or steeping tea before I get down to the business of the day. This ritual is one of the highlights of my day, and it makes waking up at unreasonable hours that much easier.
And why before email? Because once you get into your inbox, you’ve handed over control of your schedule to other people, and priorities are about what you want on your agenda.
The Basic Art of the Priority List
It doesn’t matter whether you write these three items down on a scrap of paper or in your favourite notebook, or type them into your preferred text editor or mobile app. What’s crucial is that you refer to this very short list of priorities as you navigate the day to ensure you’re not getting distracted by the urgent at the expense of the important.
For me, three is the magic number. Anything more than three items devolves from a list of priorities into a generic to-do list. And priorities are different from tasks, requiring more reflection and usually filled with more meaning related to what you want to get done.
So my to-do list often includes mundane tasks like “do laundry” and “buy groceries”; my recent daily priority lists have featured items like “practice yoga”, “verify and close all outstanding QA tickets”, “review designs for [x feature]” and “call my mother”.
In fact, one of the priorities I set every Friday morning is “review weekly to-do list”. I take 30-45 minutes and go over what I’ve achieved (or failed to achieve) that week, which helps inform my to-do list for the following week.
In the vein of keeping my daily priorities separate from my to-do lists, I tend to default to writing these down in a notebook and having my to-do lists in Any.Do, which has excellent Gmail integration (if you use Chrome) and beautiful, simple apps for iOS and Android. My daily “dones” live in iDoneThis, of course.
Priorities Aren’t Goals
My daily priorities are also different from — and if I’m doing it right, complementary to — my goals. Some friends and I have a goal of running a half-marathon by December 31, which means one of my daily priorities really ought to be “run at least x miles”, depending on where I am in my training.
I also have “external” goals and targets, ones that I didn’t set for myself. These often arise in a professional context. Say you’re working towards “quarterly goals” or “team goals” or “company goals”. External goals like these tend to be set by your line manager or company founder, with or without your input.
You’re more likely to be motivated to achieve these externally-defined goals if you carve out something of your own within them. Perhaps you’re a sales person at a startup, and your company has set a goal of generating $x in revenue this year. You might set a personal goal of contributing $x to that number, complemented by establishing a daily priority of y sales calls before noon.
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We sometimes fail to achieve our goals because they are too ambitious or too vague. Breaking them down into smaller, more specific parts not only makes them more manageable — it gives us many small wins to celebrate over time.
As I keep telling myself, what is a half-marathon but a series of 30 second intervals, after all?
How WooThemes Makes Distributed Team Culture Succeed
The multi-million dollar company WooThemes started with a single email, as a small side project of Magnus Jepson in Stavanger, Norway, Adii Pienaar in Cape Town and Mark Forrester, then in London.
From that one email sprouted a bootstrapped company that produces a rich catalog of WordPress themes and plugins, serving 450,000 users. And this impressive success emerges from a distributed team of only thirty people, spanning seven countries.
Making Distributed Culture Work
Sustaining the company’s remote roots was a natural but conscious decision by the founders. “We wanted to make sure that the business was built around our lifestyles, rather than dictate our lifestyles,” explains co-founder Mark Forrester.
Ten employees work in the Cape Town office but there are no location requirements. Mark appreciates the advantage of going borderless: “Being able to pick the cream of the crop from anywhere in the world is hugely beneficial.”
Indeed, WooThemes’s hiring tactics tackle the accountability challenges of remote working by giving precedence to personality and fit before ability to ensure that the cream of the crop stays at the top in its environment of trust and enthusiasm. Mark reports, “The culture is to have lots of fun with what we’re doing and to employ people passionate about WordPress and content publishing. A strong attitude and desire to share in our success is more important to us than experience and aptitude.”
An integral part of that fun, passionate culture is the annual WooTrip — to destinations like the Austrian Alps and this year’s retreat to WordCamp in the Netherlands — to meet, socialize, and cement a sense of cohesion. Mark comments, “Even though we’re all over the place, we like everyone to feel like they’re a part of a small team.”
Overcoming Growing Pains
Especially after the launch of WooCommerce, an e-commerce engine, eighteen months ago, WooThemes expanded rapidly. The company faced its growing pains by wielding its approach of continual improvement and streamlining. Operating in accordance with agile and lean principles, WooThemes settled on its current toolbox of WordPress theme P2 “for the chitter-chatter” and Trello to track projects.
“We place heavy emphasis on keeping the team small and trying to have our systems running as efficiently as possible,” Mark says, “which is why we’re using applications like iDoneThis. It helps us strategically in figuring out our effectiveness as a team and whether we’re making the best use of our team members’ time without micromanaging them. It also helps us get to know our staff more personally to see their work habits and their day-to-day tasks.”
In fact, WooThemes had attempted minute-by-minute tracking but quickly felt it wasn’t true to their ethos of trust. With Skype simply not working as a team-wide communication tool at this size, WooThemes turned to iDoneThis to keep abreast of exciting developments on its multiple ongoing projects. Plus, it serves as a gentle way to check in: “If someone’s out for half the day and we can’t find them on Skype, at the end of the day, we can see that they had to run out to do some errands.”
The Transparency Advantage
A company built on trust demands transparency. While WooThemes sets clear expectations that visibility into performance keeps the company running smoothly, its team embraces those values in using iDoneThis. “It’s best if they leave that sort of cookie trail for us to see how effective they have been,” Mark explains. “Seeing it’s so easy to submit your daily reports by email, people do it every day. Even though it’s not a requirement, they realize the benefit to them.”
The street of accountability goes both ways, with the co-founders sharing what they’re doing every day as well. Encouraging open circulation of knowledge is especially essential for distributed companies. Now, according to Mark, “people are more informed of the day-to-day tasks. Previously emails had been on more of a global scale — what we’re working on as a team and not seeing what each of us is doing individually. Keeping everyone on the loop with a transparent communication tool is where we found the real benefit of iDoneThis.”
WooTheme’s commitment to transparency carries through from its inner workings to its relationship with its customers. “We’ve learned to be completely transparent with our customers. So we use our blog extensively to communicate with our users on what we’re doing, where we’re failing, and how we can improve.” Mark says. With that openness to customer feedback and conversation, WooThemes is making strides as a company that lets its customers into its process, decision-making, and product.
We’re so thrilled to help WooThemes build its passion-filled, customer-centric, distributed company!
8 Awesome Tech & Startup Newsletters You Should be Reading
While we’re launching our own exciting newsletter here at iDoneThis, we wanted to highlight some of our favorites from the tech and startup world.*
The common thread running among these eight newsletters is a sense of community and care, that these curators and creators want to share content that bestows value and connection. Subscribe to these newsletters not only to stay up-to-date but to help yourself, your teams, and your communities grow.
1. Technology & Leadership News
Kate Matsudaira and Kate Stull’s TLN is the gourmet grocery of newsletters, providing a luscious trove of links on subjects ranging from product to process to productivity, as well as skimmable commentary if you aren’t feeling click-happy.
TLN is like getting the best links in your in-the-know tech friends’ Twitter feeds all in one place. Subscribe if you want an intelligent, comprehensive newsletter, generally sent on Sundays or Mondays, to start your week off hip to the tech groove.
2. Software Lead Weekly
Oren Ellenbogen’s Software Lead Weekly leans towards practical pieces and lessons learned on topics of culture, managing yourself and people, and entrepreneurship.
SLW has some thoughtful bonuses for the busy reader, with time investment estimates and a 1-click “read later” integration with Pocket and Instapaper. Oren also provides a handy Trello board of newsletter issues, including the upcoming week’s edition-in-progress.
Subscribe if you want a mini-conference about tech and management held in your inbox every Friday, with a max of about 8 posts, to round out your workweek.
Curated by LaunchBit’s Elizabeth Yin, the 500 Startups Newsletter is a roundup of the best blog posts by founders and mentors from 500 Startups, a startup accelerator program and community.
This is a snack-sized, sometimes-themed newsletter, with a max of five links. Subscribe if you’d like a quick dose of entrepreneurial mentorship every Thursday.
After a short introduction to the topic of the week, the email dives right into links to contributors’ answers on their respective blogs. Subscribe if you’re eager to hear what founders, hackers, marketers, and other interesting people have to say in a Startup Townhall of sorts every Tuesday.
Sandi MacPherson’s Quibb is a new engaging way to share what you read for work, with a follower model, focused newsfeed, and a commenting feature. With initial membership limited to professionals in the tech and startup realm, Quibb will eventually expand to additional industries.
In short, Quibb is a “Reddit for professionals”, and its weekday digest, the Quibb Daily, provides a handy roundup of the top links from the people you follow. Right now, Quibb is invite-only, so ask around and keep an eye out for this useful content-sharing platform.
6. The Fetch
Kate Kendall’s newsletter The Fetch collects the best events, meetups, and conferences for technologists, creatives, and entrepreneurs. Now with 11 location-based editions (including San Francisco, London, and most recently, New York), the Fetch spotlights events like “Designing Habits with Nir Eyal” and “Writing/Content Strategy at Pinterest.”
The Fetch is your professional city guide, with startup job postings and a no-frills collection of link love. Subscribe to start each week discovering what exciting business, tech, and creative events are playing in your town.
Stacy-Marie Ishmael’s #awesomewomen newsletter provides a compact punch of commentary and links to thought-provoking content on subjects ranging from productivity to leaning in. Also included are helpful resources such as job announcements and invitations to events hosted or endorsed by Stacy-Marie.
Every Sunday, #awesomewomen provides food for thought regarding work and life for the rest of the week and reminds you to stretch a bit higher, with confidence and kindness. Subscribe if you’re an awesome woman or supporter of awesome women.
Inspired by the slow web movement, Brian Bailey has created an Uncommon community, a kind of “front porch for the Internet.” The Uncommon weekly dispatch features friendly, personal tidbits and thoughts from individuals rather than announcements and messaging from companies and brands.
Every edition brings you one story, a prompt to share your insights and inspiration, curated answers to last week’s prompt, and good reads on slowing down. Subscribe to take a breather from your busy life and hang out on that friendly Internet front porch every Tuesday or Wednesday to have a conversation about the little and large things that matter.
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Extra, extra!It’s here! We aim to deliver insightful and actionable pieces about how to work better, the best productivity and management tips, and a glimpse behind the iDoneThis scenes.
Then, share your newsletter favorites with us in the comments!
*Our roundup did not include newsletters published by individuals on behalf of their own personal blog or business. And if you’re looking for some startups that publish the kind of smart, helpful newsletters we admire, check out LoyalCX, Help Scout, Wistia, and Skillcrush!
Buffer stands out among startups not just for its success in building a great social media sharing tool but in fashioning a company culture focused on making work fulfilling, impactful, and enjoyable. What’s fascinating is that they do this as a completely distributed team, spread across multiple countries and time-zones.
Treat People in the Best Way
Co-founders Joel Gasciogne and Leo Widrich set the foundation for Buffer’s culture according to the tenets of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carolyn Kopprasch, Buffer’s Chief Happiness Officer translates what that means for Buffer’s modus operandi: “We want to treat people in the absolute best way we can, and that includes co-workers, vendors, and customers.”
It also includes how the Buffer employees treat themselves. With a unique self-improvement program, they share their progress on anything from time management to healthy eating with their teammates, spurring conversations about different lifehacks and routines. Michelle Sun, Buffer’s growth and analytics expert, tracks fitness routines and getting up early while Leo has been making strides with learning how to code.
Co-workers become a collective accountability partner for future plans like blogging or exercising, and more importantly, they become an incredible support system. Instead of looking askance when you’re doing work to do something to take care of yourself, you receive encouragement. “If you’re trying to work on your health or your fitness or your happiness level, that affects work a lot too,” Carolyn explains.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
It’s not surprising then, that one of the company’s mantras is to work smarter, not harder — taking time to review what’s working and how to improve operations. As a remote team, Buffer needed a better way to stay on the same page. Previously, everyone would get on a daily group Skype call in which each person would take three minutes to talk about what they did, how their co-workers could help, and their improvements. With the team growing larger and the standup process proving unwieldy over email, Buffer turned to iDoneThis.
Leo remarks, “It allows us to track performance, which easily gets lost in a chat room or an in-person standup. If new people come on board, they can look through and see what has been worked on. And of course, it’s amazing to keep in sync with everyone, working as a remote team. iDoneThis is invaluable to us and has changed our productivity for the better.”
Michelle agrees, “It’s a way to understand what teammates are working on, and every time I read people’s iDoneThis, I feel connected with the team.” Where iDoneThis shines, for Carolyn, is the ability to comment and have chronicled conversations about her teammates’ work and improvement practices. “I think that’s one of the biggest things. It’s not just reporting what we’ve done. It’s asking, ‘oh tell me more about that.’”
iDoneThis is a natural fit for Buffer’s culture, but Carolyn points out that iDoneThis has helped them to work even smarter. Holding more traditional standups over video chat meant that “if you jump in and talk about something that somebody just said, you’re basically interrupting their three minutes. So what we would actually do is not ask that many questions.” Now the team can communicate asynchronously — asking, commenting, interacting — without feeling like they’re butting in.
Transparency Fosters Tight-Knit Teams
The extreme transparency that Buffer practices in terms of sharing information from sleep habits to how much salary and equity everyone gets is not without feelings of vulnerability. But what they gain is an incredible feeling of connection. In the Buffer universe, where the personal flows right into work and vice versa, it’s their collective care, attention, and support that binds and strengthens the company.
“When somebody will say to me, ‘you didn’t really get very much deep sleep yesterday. Maybe you can try taking a bath before dinner,’ and you’re like, ‘where am I? Am I at work?’” Carolyn laughs. “It’s unique. It takes a certain type of person to really like that, but having a team that’s really interested in keeping you accountable to your own self-improvement is kind of a wild thing. It’s awesome and a little bit crazy sometimes.”