#94: Twitter's Remote-Work Free Strategy Option

😷 Thoughts on the relationship between work & life

May 16th: Greetings From Las Palmas!

👋 Welcome to the 60 new subscribers this week and thanks to Will Bachman who sent 40 of you this way. It’s a bit crazy that 1900 people are now following along. As always, the best part for me is connecting with people and sharing ideas as I continue to make sense of my own. Hit reply and let me know what you think.

♟ #1 Remote Work & The Free Strategy Option

This post is about Twitter’s announcement that they are going fully remote and why I think this is an obvious strategy play that many smart companies will take in the coming months.

But first I am using it as an excuse to share Matt Mullenweg’s “five levels of remote work” which I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

His first two stages are familiar to most and if you are in either stage and trying to make remote work work right now, your company is probably struggling.

Level 1 - Emergency

Working from home is not easy, but possible. If you have to.

  • Have internet, cell phone

  • Can put things off until back in office (more productive there)

  • Mindset: "we don't know what employees are doing" 👉 therefore, monitor them

Level 2 - Copy The Office

Companies are still just trying to copy the office because they haven’t realized the potential of remote work

  • Language: outdated terms like “telecommute”

  • Requirements: Need to be able to access things from the office

  • Default mode: synchronous; Copying "office hours" 8am-5pm; factory model for knowledge work

  • Pitfalls: More tracking, screenshots of screens

  • Challenges for workers: removing some freedom & agency, may end up being even less productive

Most companies have made their way to level three, especially in the last three years with the rapid adoption of slack, teams, gsuite, zoom, and other live collaboration tools. However, most companies are still dancing between levels 2 and 3, only using the tools during set hours.

Level 3 - Virtual Tools

This is likely the state many companies are forced into right now. People have upgrade their equipment and know which apps to use, but still mostly work in similar ways as if they are in the office.

  • Technology: Share screens quickly (desktop & mobile). People start to invest in better equipment: microphones, lighting, screens, ergonomics

  • Unlocked modes: Collaborative work via video calls; live note taking for shared understanding

  • New Skills: Companies start to realize that writing is vital. They start investing and recruiting for written communication - clarity, quality & skill becomes more and more valuable

Twitter is likely an established level-three ready remote company. The engineering-oriented cultures of tech companies make them some of the earliest adopters of new approaches, hacks and technologies.

However, going fully remote is another thing entirely. As Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, has said:

“Remote first isn’t the same as remote friendly or ability to work from home. Remote first is a whole new way to organize companies.

This means new ways of decision making, communicating, developing trust, leadership, and recruiting and to do this with 4,000 people during an economic crisis carries a certain amount of risk. However, I think the alternative is more certain and caps any possibility. This is why I think going-remote will remain a “free strategy move” for the coming months.

Instead of focusing on the perfect phased reopening plan, companies can focus on building capabilities:

Level 4 - “Asynch”

This is why people are so excited about remote work. If companies are going to stay at level 3 there is not a ton of value in long-term remote working other than flexibility.

  • Realization: You can’t track when people work so you shift to judging on what they produce. This makes people assess meetings and realize that "most meetings are terrible." Eliminate many status updates meetings.

  • Requirements: Need to develop capacity for handoffs, especially between time zones. Quality of handoffs should be valued over speed.

  • Unlocked: Can start hiring & operating globally and do work at all hours

  • Challenges: Use of writing and multiple time zones makes decision making harder and longer, but often results in better decisions.

  • Space for New Types Of Workers: Introverted and non-neuroptypical types become more valuable for remote companies and they can hire great people that in-office companies don’t value. space for introverts, people that like space for thinking

Why is this a “free” move?

The best way to think about strategy is to think about it as weighing a set of probabilities. In business your goal is to increase your confidence in your predictions. Right now there is a high degree of certainty that if you are running the “return to work” playbook you will have to navigate at least six plus months of changing news and guidelines and risk to your employees.

On the other hand, if like Twitter, you decided to “go remote” you can shift out of crisis mode and building new internal capabilities that will be necessary in the next ten years anyway.

If six months down the road, it looks like it won’t work with your company? You can get back in the same boat with everyone else.

Why I’m Excited About Remote Work

Once you can work asynchronously, people can design their work around their life. This is a big shift from the office hours type cultures we are used to.

Level 5 - Nirvana

This is more of a “true north” than day-to-day reality, but Mullenwieg sees this as one of the great things about working remotely - its ability to unlock more freedom for employees

  • Employees can design day around health, wellness, well-being. Able to operate around peak creativity, daycare, parenting, health, gym etc..

  • Challenges: People often struggle with unlimited freedom and often end up overworking

  • Goals: Striving for an "idea meritocracy," where best ideas, projects and contributions are elevated throughout the company

Here is an example of this from the CEO of Gumroad:

We’ve been operating companies for the past ten years as if the internet does not exist. In the last five years the tools we have are more than good enough and there are no good excuses for using remote work to build more agile and adaptive capacity within your organization. Business leaders are often worried about their own careers and getting fired if things go wrong. Right now, that may happen anyway, and going remote in the next six months is a lot more fun from a business challenge standpoint than navigating the guaranteed uncertainty of this pandemic.

#2 Dual-Income Couples Peaked in the 1990s

I came across this chart on Twitter which shows that dual-income married couples peaked in the 1990s.


A few things are likely driving this:

  • An increase in childcare costs, raising the opportunity costs for working

  • An increase in the top quintile of knowledge workers earnings meaning they can easily support an entire family on one income

  • A decrease in the marriage rate among people with lower incomes

#3 On Bullshit

I had a conversation with a reader this week (👋 Sterling) and he introduced me to this syllabus for a course called “Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World.”

It seems more important than ever to have at least a minimum viable bullshit detector. There are a number of must-reads in this including Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit,” which starts off:

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory."

….and Ioannidis’ “Why most published scientific results are false,” which blew my mind open 10 years ago when I realized that most published papers are based on weak math and statistics.

Writing is one of the best ways I’ve found to call bullshit on myself and to get better at recognizing it in others but of course I still fall into the trap in this very newsletter too. I just hope you call me on it 😂

#4 Boundless Reads

📚 Ads Don’t Work That Way

Speaking of bullshit, Kevin Simler makes a compelling argument against the accepted logic that ads work through incepting an emotional response. Instead he argues that brands use “cultural imprinting” to influence us:

Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product.

You can read the full thing here.

📚 It’s Not Milton Friedman’s Fault

Russ Roberts argues that we we blame Milton Friedman for anything wrong with the economy and its misguided:

I am a big fan of Friedman’s work though I certainly don’t agree with him about everything. But I cannot understand the claim that his ideas have decisively shaped our economic policy or the resulting complex set of consequences that we live with today.

📚 Hoover Is Misunderstood

This essay is both hilarious and has a bunch of surprising facts about Herbert Hoover, who sounds like someone I’d never want to hang out with

You probably remember Herbert Hoover as the guy who bungled the Great Depression. Maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should remember him as a bold explorer looking for silver in the jungles of Burma. Or as the heroic defender of Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion. Or as a dashing pirate-philanthropist, gallivanting around the world, saving millions of lives wherever he went. Or as the temporary dictator of Europe. Or as a geologist, or a bank tycoon, or author of the premier 1900s textbook on metallurgy.

#5 Creator Corner

Pam Hobart’s “annual report” offers a good glimpse of the experiments and challenges you might expect in experimenting with working online and self-employment. This is her strategy which I think is more effective than she lets on:

I don’t market much - just some irregular blogging, aspirationally-weekly email newsletters to my small list, and continuous tweeting that is far from professional.

I was lucky to meet Pam in January when I was back in the states and if you are looking for a “life coach for smart people” definitely check her out!

#6 College Corner

Coronavirus: Add 'Zoom-bombing' to the stresses overwhelming ...

A bunch of state of the university news

🏫 Virtual Classrooms: Harvard students don’t want it:

Signatories to the petition — dubbed #NoVirtualFall — condemned the University’s plan to hold an open fall “no matter what.” The petition has garnered signatures from nearly 700 undergraduates, parents, and alumni as of Tuesday evening, according to organizer Sanika S. Mahajan ’21.

Harvard Medical School has already committed to going virtual for first year students where they will pay $33,410 for a semester of distance learning. Somehow this seems like a better deal because these students are likely very motivated and incentivized to really learn the material (what does this say about undergrad!?).

🏫 People want Refunds: My Alma Mater is being sued for this current semester, with parents saying it is not worth the current tuition rate.

🏫 Universities will Fail: Here is Scott Galloway:

It will be like department stores in 2018. Everyone will recognize they’re going out of business, but it will take longer than people think. There will be a lot of zombie universities. Alumni will step in to help. They’ll cut costs to figure out how to stay alive, but they’ll effectively be the walking dead. I don’t think you’re going to see massive shutdowns, but there’s going to be a strain on tier-two colleges.

Tyler Cowen thinks schools will need to shrink & adapt:

Instead of debating free college, the federal government should grant a new round of stimulus to state and local governments, as that at least will tide over many colleges and universities and give them time to adjust to the new circumstances. Those funds cannot make up for lower tuition revenue for more than a few years, but they can allow for an orderly shrinkage of many institutions.

and that some schools are at more risk than others: “The University of Vermont, with about three-quarters out-of-state students, ought to worry…”

💻 I have an open calendar for curiosity conversations every Wednesday, lets chat

🙋‍♂️Who is Paul? If you want to learn more about who I am or what I’m working on, find me here, say hi on twitter, or check out some of my longform writing.