1:1 best practices for remote teams

How often should you meet with each of your team members if you manage a remote team? How long should you meet? What else should you do?

My team spans geographically from the west coast of the United States to the Czech Republic and from as far north as the Netherlands and as far south as Brazil.

Here is how I have 1:1s. I am always looking for suggestions and best practices!

  1. Be available. This is not a 1:1 thing per se, but I believe one of the most important things for successful remote working is being available and communicating clearly when you are available. (Focus on communicating when you are available, not when you are not available. Nobody cares that you have a dentist appointment or a day of meetings. They do care that you’ll be free and online from 10–11 their time.)
  2. Scheduled weekly calls. I have a 1:1 on the calendar with each person on my team every week. I only cancel if one of us is not working. I think it’s important to take a minute to say hi “in person” even if there’s nothing on the agenda.
  3. Use video. Meeting in person is way better than meeting on the phone. Meeting via video is some where in between. We communicate a lot with our body language and you can get much of that through video. Meeting via video helps build a rapport and makes difficult messages and conversations easier.
  4. Keep track of agenda items and discussions. For each 1:1, we keep a joint document where we can keep track things we want to tell each other. If I think of something when I’m in another meeting, I can jot it down there to discuss in our next 1:1. We also use it to capture topics we’ve discussed and links to things we’ve shared.

These things seem more personal preference and perhaps less universal:

  1. Time length. I prefer 1:1s to be 30–60 minutes. How long depends on the person, their role, what’s going on in that role, how they like to communicate, how much time zone overlap I have with them the rest of the week, etc. If I schedule 30 minute calls, I prefer not to have a meeting right after so that the conversation can go longer if needed. I think it’s more important to meet weekly and be available in between calls than it is to have a certain amount of time.
  2. All in one day or spread out? I like to spread out my 1:1s throughout the week. Personally, I find it too much context switching and too draining to have them one right after the other all on the same day or two. Spreading them out lets me focus on them and helps me remember who said what.

What 1:1 best practices have you discovered for remote teams?

Chefs don’t believe in Four Burners

I read the Four Burner theory and I call bullshit.

Mozillians cooking.

The Four Burner theory says that your life can be represented by a stove with four burners, one each for family, friends, work and health. The theory goes that you can only do two of them well because a chef can only pay attention to two burners at once. So you can do great in your career and with your family but you’ll be in poor health. Or you can be in good health and have great friends but your career will suffer.

What kind of chef came up with that theory?

Any good chef knows you plan out your meal. You know when to start each dish so that you can do the labor intensive things in a series of moves. You might start by chopping everything for one dish, move to sautéing another set of ingredients all while water is coming to a boil. You think about all the dishes before hand, go to the grocery store once, plan when you are going to start each thing and make sure you have the appropriate pans. Execution is important but it is only possible because you planned. You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It just takes planning, practice and experience.

You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It also takes practice and experience.

The same with life. You plan your career, your family, your friends and health.

Plan

You can’t dictate how each quadrant of your life is going to go but you make a plan for how you want it to be and you figure out what you need to do to head in that direction. If you want to get in better physical shape, you can sign up for a Crossfit gym. If you want to lose weight, you read a book on nutrition. If you want a better relationship with your kids, you can schedule time to hang out with your kids in the evening. If you want to progress your career, you can sign up for a programming class.

Staggered

Just like the chef doesn’t start all the dishes at once, you don’t tackle all four areas of your life at once. Maybe you spend 3 months focusing on getting in shape. You sign up for a regular yoga class twice a week and weight lifting twice a week and you work on making it a habit. Once that’s done, you work on the next thing while making sure you can keep your fitness habits. If you fail (you burn the dish, i.e. stop going to yoga), you start over. You practice.

Learn tricks

Chefs learn techniques, they get better at what they do. You learn what works for you in life. You get better at communication at work. You learn what time of day your kids are most willing to hang with you. You learn what type of exercise you like. You learn which friends are best to go out to eat with and stick to your nutrition plan. You learn by trying. And maybe you can’t try something new on each of the four burners at once, but over time, you’ll accumulate techniques for each of the areas of your life.

Like a good chef, your plan for life can encompass more than two burners. It just takes time, some planning and lots of practice.

Originally published on Medium.

We should all be perfect now. And it’s boring.

I opened up my Medium feed this morning and I had a few entertaining posts like the top 25 memes of the web’s first 25 years or Why I am I so fat?(Which I highly recommend, it’s not just entertaining but thought provoking.) But the majority were recipes for how to succeed: 50 ways successful people live21 places to learn life skillshow to hack your brainand 3 people that hit it big later in life.

And that’s really not what I want to read.

I miss reading blog posts about things people are passionate about. I read Blog, You Idiots today and it resonated with me. What happened to all the people writing just because writing was fun and they cared about something? I don’t want to read top 10 lists. I want to read about you and what you think is interesting in the world. I want to know what gets you up in the morning, what you you are passionate about, what you found interesting in this morning’s feed, what made you angry, what you are obsessed about this week, why you are going to invest 10 hours in fixing something. And I don’t just want you to share the article in your Facebook feed. I want to know what you think about it. I want to know it’s something you care about enough to spend a few hours writing and trying to explain it to your friends. Teach me something new. Show me a new topic that I might be passionate about too!

Now I better go write something …

This was originally published on Medium.

My crazy wish list

Photo by danorbit
Photo by danorbit

Here’s my wish list:

  1. A food printer. That’s right, a printer that will create any food you want from a few basic ingredients. I don’t think it’s quite done yet. And I certainly don’t need it. Pasta on demand might just do me in. But I’d feel like I was living in a science fiction book, which would just be cool. Seriously, I can see how this would help out on long distance space travel or remote science stations.
  2. A smart thermometer. I have to be one of the pickiest people about the temperature of my surroundings. In my car, I play with the thermostat all the time and I keep a space heater in my office so I can turn it up and down at will. If the Nest thermometer could read my mind, I’d get it in a heartbeat. Maybe it just needs a sensor that I could wear …
  3. Smart clothes. Actually, what I really want is a suit of clothes that just keeps me the perfect temperature all the time. And protects me from skin cancer and frost bite and all that. Oh, and it should stay clean and be comfy – no space suit. And stylish. I’m happy to wear the same outfit every day if it can do all that.
  4. A wearable implanted computer. I want the computer totally out of the way. (They keep suggesting brain implants, but that makes me a bit queazy.) And the display should be either in my brain or in my contacts. No glasses or big eye contraption. This one comes close but still requires glasses.
  5. Better input methods. Speaking of wearable computers, typing is too slow. I’d like to be able to think my emails and communications. No more slow typing. No mistaken speech recognition.
  6. Something better than email. Speaking of email, there’s got to be a better way to communicate.
  7. A teleporter. I spend way too much time in airports, cars and planes. If I could teleport, working remotely and visting friends and colleagues would be much more enjoyable. My 6 year old thinks we should make a teleporter that could take the whole house. I told him parking might be a problem.
  8. If I can’t have a teleporter, maybe a Tesla. I’m not too into cars, and I don’t know really why I want one, but I think the Tesla is awesome. I got a chance to check out the sedan a few months ago in California and I’ve been wanting one ever since. Not quite badly enough to pay the price though. But a high performing electric car with lots of space that still gets 300 miles to the charge … wow.
  9. Or maybe a catamaran. Maybe I could find a nice warm location with awesome snorkeling, lots of sun and still decent wifi. Not this one though. The guy went down below (whether to use the head or to see is wife is still up for debate) and left it on autopilot. No more catamaran.
  10. A declutterer. Someone who makes all the stuff you accumulate disappear. Like my mom used to do. I never realized that she got rid of old clothes until a few years after I left home and I realized my closet was overflowing. Someone or something that could distinguish between my kids’ treasurers and all the random junk they accumulate and keep the first and lose the latter. Without asking them. Because everything is a potential treasure if you ask them.

What’s on your wish list?

Offsites, robots & trees

During the past week I’ve had work, play, family, friends, interesting dialogue, …

  • I attended two Mozilla offsites last week. Offsites are are in person meetings that last between a day and a week. Different teams at Mozilla have been using them differently and I still think we’re working out the perfect format but meeting in person once in a while seems to be essential. (Many open source software projects have some sort of annual meeting as well as smaller get togethers.) In my experience in person meetings are really good for team building and at a decision points in the project. And because you don’t always know when you’ll be stuck on a decision, I think holding them regularly helps. Holding them too often can hurt productivity as most of the team has to travel, so there’s some balance to be found and it depends on where the project is.
  • At the Mozilla Engagement leads offsite we went over goals, budget and hiring for 2013. My group is publishing their goals and projects on the Mozilla wiki … for example, you can discuss the MDN 2013 goals and you can see the Firefox OS work that the evangelist team is working on.  We also established that the overall Mozilla Engagement team is very globally diverse. While we have quite a few people in California, our team is spread around the world. (We now have 4 that I know of in Colorado!)
  • At the Mozilla Apps Leads offsite we had discussions about apps, Android, Firefox OS, Marketplace, developers, … more about that coming out later.
  • I then got a scare … an email that said my flight would likely be over 4 hours late and might be cancelled due to the rains in the San Francisco area. I got home alright but I wish I could have transported the rain home as well.
  • We went on our annual Christmas tree pilgrimage. We found a terrific tree – aided by the fact that we didn’t have to wade through deep snow. For the first time in 10 years, there was no snow on the ground in December in our mountains. Things are not looking good for our forests next year. Not only was it extremely dry, there was a lot of beetle kill (i.e. dead trees) and there were active fires just a few miles south. So the tree was easy to find. Hauling it out without a sled proved to be a bit more difficult … (I also thought they should have asked everyone to bring out a couple of beetle kill trees while we were there, but I’m sure making changes like that to US forest policy would take a bit.)
  • We attended a fundraiser for Colorado nonprofits held at our local brewery – our youngest was delighted to get a root beer in a bottle. We got to visit with friends that work and volunteer at CASA and ELTC. As you buy your Christmas gifts this year, don’t forget your nonprofits – whether they are your local nonprofits or your favorite open source software supporting nonprofit!
  • Kids on Computers is planning our next set of schools. We’re working on getting computers to a new school in Oaxaca as well as expanding to two new schools in India! We had a meeting last night and it looks like the India schools will get set up in the spring. The computers for the India schools will be funded in large part by a grant we got from Yahoo!
  • Several interesting discussions about Firefox OS and how and when to get developers phones to try it out. I’m very excited about Mozilla moving into mobile. There was a really interesting article by Giga about mobile developers that Havi pointed us to. Most app developers seem to be men in their 30s working for small companies. I could have guessed the men part and the 30s part wasn’t surprising. The small companies part was interesting. There’s a lot of good info in there.
  • I read a bunch about Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and Fitday. I wish the Jawbone Up worked on Android so I could put it on my Christmas list.
  • Realized that robots are hitting the news a lot. From Disney robots that can play catch to MIT robots that can rebuild themselves for the job.
  • Watched my 6 year old wrap all of his presents for Christmas by himself. The excitement is contagious!
  • Learned that it’s unlikely I’ll ever get a computer screen built into my contact lenses as your eye can’t focus on anything that close. I’ll just have to push for that brain implant. One of my favorite book scenes is in one of Peter Hamilton’s books where the protagonist goes into a computer store to pick out a computer that fits into her brain. I wanted to go shopping with her!

Help me name it: The Pass it On Dinner Club

We like having people over for dinner … and we like meeting new people … and we like it when we make serendipitous introductions.

But most dinner clubs, wine parties and happy hours seem to grow until they implode, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to structure a social situation that introduces new people to each other without growing too big. I think I have a structure (albeit a bit like a pyramid scheme), it just needs a catchy, fun, non-imposing name.

My plan? Have a dinner party for six and ask them to return the favor.

My plan is to have a dinner party for six where the plan is to introduce people that don’t know each other but you think might have something in common. And then ask them to return the favor.

So Frank and I might have two other couples (or four other individuals) over for dinner. Hopefully they’d at least have a good evening having good food and wine with us. Then, in return, at some point in the future, they’d each invite us over for dinner with a couple of other people that we don’t know. (And if they couldn’t or didn’t want to pass it on, no worries, the dinner itself should be fun.)

And if they enjoyed the people we introduced them to, they could do something with them. But that would be a side effect of the pass it on dinner club, not the next step.

So what do you think? Think it would work? What would you call such a club?

Moral dilemmas: Would you pay cash?

I have no problem with businesses that require cash payments (except for the inconvenience to me) but I recently found out that a small business I work regularly with asks for cash to avoid taxes.

Now there’s several legitimate reasons a business might require cash. One of our favorite restaurants only accepted cash. People living day to day on odd jobs or paying daily contractors might find cash more convenient. I wouldn’t normally question why they wanted cash other than random curiosity.  Would I worry that they weren’t paying their taxes? No, I’d consider that their responsibility, not mine.

But now that this business wants cash to avoid taxes? Now I pay with a check.

Is it my job to enforce US tax law? Nope. (Or at least I don’t think so.) Is it my moral obligation to not enable a crime? Yes. Am I being a too goody-goody? I feel like I might be perceived that way. Especially since in the eyes of many taxes are necessary evil and would think not paying taxes is a less evil crime than stealing from a neighbor even if they were for the same amount.  If I really want to do the right thing, I should probably stop doing business with them.

I feel it’s not fair to society that some don’t pay taxes. They use the public roads and schools and need to contribute like everyone else. (I do believe there should be exceptions for those that don’t make enough money to survive comfortably. But that should be worked out fairly across society.)

It reminds me of all the social experiments on cooperation. People are willing to take a personal hit (like pay money) in order to punish people who don’t cooperate. I don’t have a link for the studies but see the Tit for Tat strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemna experiments for an idea of what I mean.

 

Please solve the problem, not the symptoms

[This is not a pro-choice or pro-life post. I would feel exactly the same whether I was pro-life or pro-choice.]

I was reading the Economist and was astounded to see that funding for abortions was a big enough issue to be mentioned as part of an article about the Washington DC economy:

But the latest budget deal largely spared the region’s economy. The federal government will continue to chip in for the city’s rail transit system; but as part of the deal the District can no longer use its own money to pay for abortions. This will hurt the city’s poorer residents

(What the Economist doesn’t say is that the real reason people are upset is not because it will hurt poor people but because (a) it’s a case of the federal government trying to control the city’s budget and (b) it’s part of the whole abortion debate we’ve been having for years.)

But what really struck me was, “wow, how many women in DC get abortions?” I mean, if it’s big enough to impact the city budget, shouldn’t we try to help them not have unwanted pregnancies?

I wasn’t able to find an answer I trust but this obviously biased site claims that DC has 265 abortions for every 100 live births. Wow. And people are worried about whether abortion is legal or not, funded or not, … that’s not the issue. How come so many women end up pregnant that don’t want to? Is it lack of education? Lack of birth control? Relationships that are ending prematurely? Did they want to get pregnant and changed their minds? Did they get pregnant accidentally? Do many women have more than one abortion? What is going on here? Why aren’t we addressing that?

So I think the issue of how the federal government controls DC’s budget is important. But I also think it’s really important to help these women not get pregnant, if they don’t want to be.

There are still wild animals out there

The elk in Rocky Mountain National Park have gotten used to people. But they are still wild animals and these people seem to have forgotten that.

In spite of all the signs and warnings not to approach these 400+ pound animals …

Perhaps the tracking collar was confusing?

Maybe she thought all animals are domesticated like cows and horses?

This 400 pound doe kicked right before she took off. If the girl had been any closer she would have gotten kicked.

Maybe she would have respected this guy more. (Not that both aren’t equally dangerous to curious tourists!)

It did give us a chance to discuss wild animals with our 4 year old who wanted to know why he couldn’t go out there too … Unfortunately, he came to the conclusion that the only way you can pet an elk is if you shoot it. I’m not exactly sure that’s the conclusion I wanted him to come to …