Asynchronous Work, Journalistic
Even before COVID, companies have been adopting and adapting the remote work model. In this episode, we dive deep into the world of remote work and speak with three different entrepreneurs who have had to evolve their businesses to fit the changing needs of their employees and clients. Join us as we uncover the opportunities and challenges of getting the job done remotely and embrace the future of work.
Episode 23 – Asynchronous Work, Journalistic
[00:00:30] Sanjay Parekh: This season, we've produced over 20 episodes of The Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast. Along the way, we've met entrepreneurs with unique backgrounds in varying industries, all with different goals.
In episode 11, I spoke with Rita Ernst, the founder of Ignite Your Extraordinary, who decided to become her own boss after having her first child. In episode 14, we met Jacob Burt, a freelance video editor turned business owner of BURT. And in episode 15, I spoke with Maria Romano, who, after seeing a woman officiating a wedding, decided to try it herself and now performs close to 1,000 weddings a year through her company, True Love Knots.
While all of their journeys are individual, one thing is the same: They are not working your typical nine-to-five. In fact, the beauty of working for yourself is that you are in charge of your own hours. You decide when you work and where you work. There's even a term for this. It's called asynchronous work. When employees work on their own time without the expectation of immediately responding to others, they're working asynchronously.
Over the next 30 minutes or so, you'll hear from three different entrepreneurs, Alli Smith, Brad Morrison, and Steve Swanson, who have all transitioned from a traditional nine-to-five role into an asynchronous work model for not only themselves but their employees as well. We'll take a look at each entrepreneur separately, case study style, to get an understanding of the model of asynchronous work as a whole. The challenges and perks of this style of work, what the future might hold, and tips for organizations and individuals potentially looking to adopt this model. We're excited to share their stories and hope that you take something away from them.
Let's dive in. To start off, I want to introduce you to Alli Smith, a freelance project and product manager in the medical device industry based in Atlanta. Allie was working for an IT company, but when Covid hit, she went remote. For Alli, this was a big adjustment.
[00:02:34] Alli Smith: Initially when it happened, it was a nice break to not have to be making this long commute every day. As a manager, I had the biggest staff for the company located in Atlanta, so I had the biggest staff coming into the office and having to manage people remotely was a brand-new world. That was definitely the hardest part.
[00:02:52] Sanjay Parekh: Alli was managing seven people at the time, which can be overwhelming even in person. But in remote work, Alli was struggling to adjust.
[00:03:00] Alli Smith: It was a lot easier for me to juggle in person how people were feeling, how they were doing with their jobs, things like that. It was easy to know what people were working on from home, but it was really hard to know how they were doing as a human. And so, I struggled to feel out, should I give them a break? How are they doing? And with Covid, that was just even more stressful for all of my employees.
[00:03:20] Sanjay Parekh: Although still at her company, the pandemic gave Alli the time to venture into other opportunities.
[00:03:25 Alli Smith: And then when Covid hit, there were less things to do, right? There were less places to go, less adult league sports to play. And so, I started moonlighting for a couple of friends' businesses because I was interested in the technology they were building. And then realized that's something that I could do more full time and I was really benefiting from being able to pick my own hours. As well as, there was less intentionality with the old business. There was returning to office one day a week, but not a lot of advanced notice. And I am eight and a half months pregnant, so I'm due next week. And so that pregnancy and all of the appointments and not knowing when I was going to need to be in the office and what that was going to look like, added a lot of stress to this season of life. So, being able to freelance, do that, get more clients, do that more full time, really allowed for me to take a breather or a break and kind of say, okay, I can do this, and rest in the middle of the day, and go to that doctor's appointment, or whatever else was happening.
[00:04:23] Sanjay Parekh: Deciding to transition from a nine-to-five to the freelance lifestyle is a huge decision. And to add another layer of complexity, Alli was newly pregnant. If she went out on her own, she'd be facing two major life changes at once. We asked Alli if she was ever concerned when making the jump, especially while growing her family.
[00:04:42] Alli Smith: I think that deciding to freelance is really hard and it's a privilege that you've had to have some good experiences and good background, some luck in it as well but pregnancy and the fears behind it and the struggle to get here it did definitely impact my ability or my courage to jump into this world.
[00:05:01] Sanjay Parekh: But Alli did make the jump and has been self-employed ever since. And while she's enjoying it, as we said earlier, it is a big adjustment. For Alli, the difference in hours was a big impact on her.
[00:05:14] Alli Smith: But most of the time it's just whenever I want to put in the hours. I put in the hours.
[00:05:18] Sanjay Parekh: While it's different for every freelancer or self-employed person, how many hours does Alli get as a freelancer and how does that compare to the hours she was putting in as a full-time employee at a company?
[00:05:29] Alli Smith: So, I probably freelancing, put in 25 to 30 that I'm getting paid. And then I would tell you that as a freelancer, you're also going to do some more hours around invoicing, your taxes, reaching out to clients where they're not really paying you, you're just checking in, type thing. But yeah, my actual billable hours are somewhere around 25 to 30 hours a week.
I struggle with that because I came from a company working 60 hours a week and then also freelancing on the side, probably 10 hours a week. And what I've recognized is that ‘on’ hours, so hours your brain has to be ready for work, I was probably all the time with the other company and that's why it felt a little overwhelming to me. But actual ‘output’ hours that weren't meetings, you know that they just added a bunch of people to for no reason, etc., I was probably working the exact same. Like my output now is probably the same. I just don't have to be ‘on’ as often.
[00:06:29] Sanjay Parekh: While transitions from full-time corporate employment to owning her own business has been an adjustment for Alli, she's taking it well.
[00:06:35] Alli Smith: We put positive character associations with like early morning people or people who are willing to put in seven to seven every day or however those hours work out, and they're working through their lunch and all of that kind of stuff. And I would tell you that your body is not made for that. Your brain is not necessarily made for that. And so, if you pay attention to a day, if you could just pick when you work and you could, maybe you're really great between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM. And then you struggle. And then you're great again between noon and five, and then you struggle. And then you're really great again at 8:00 PM. That could be your hormones, it could be how you eat, it could be when you want to exercise, right? All those different things. I've gotten to be able to work when I'm best prepared to work. Instead of just the typical, these are the hours that the world works.
[00:07:24] Sanjay Parekh: Alli shared some of her final thoughts and advice to employers who are deciding what they want their work model to look like.
[00:07:30] Alli Smith: I would say, one, if a company chooses to have people come back into the office, that's their choice, right? I don't think that makes a company mean or evil or bad or anything like that, but I do think you can't get mad at your employees for quitting, right? It's this even dynamic, right? If you want people back in the office, bring them back in the office, it's your company. You own it. Make that decision, but make it. And if you want to go full remote or you're scared to bring people back into the office, right? Don't waiver. My thing is, know why you're doing it and do it. And then continue to ask yourself, as the world changes, as you're trying to attract talent, you're maybe not getting it. Why is that? But no one's telling you that you're the bad guy for bringing people back into the office. There are plenty of jobs where no one got to go home. They had to continue to work from the office. And if for your company and you can continue to get the talent you want, go into the office, pay for that space. I don't think that's wrong.
And for companies that go full-time remote, don't feel like you've been bullied into it. It's a terrible place to come from, is that a bunch of companies, especially smaller companies that want high, IT talent are going full remote, but they feel like they've been bullied into it because they can't get talent or people are threatening to quit or things like that, which then they don't change their heart and culture to be a remote company. They're still an in-person company who wishes they had walls, who isn't changing how they meet, how they schedule, getting people to conferences or in person, making sure they have the right equipment at home, because they got bullied into it. And so, I would just say, decide what you want to do and do it, and then do it well.
[00:09:17] Sanjay Parekh: Finally, we asked Alli what the future looks like for her. Would she ever go back to full-time work?
[00:09:23] Alli Smith: I don't know. I'll have to see how bringing a baby into my home changes things. Because freelancing will be really nice to be able to just decide, today was a really rough week for my family, so I didn't work as many hours and then this was a great week, and so I worked more. There is stability with going back full-time, and what I appreciate is going back from being a contractor, I get to really know what my worth is.
[00:10:11] Sanjay Parekh: While Alli shared with us the challenges and freedoms that come with being self-employed, we wanted to talk to someone who oversees a team of employees. Brad Morrison is the CEO of Quickly Hire, a marketplace for freelancers to connect with ongoing work. The team at Quickly Hire transitioned from in office to fully remote and hasn't looked back.
[00:10:31] Brad Morrison: So, we were a local digital agency, and we had a physical office several years ago. And as our business transitioned to more of a business that serves a global audience, we were able to move out of that. And so, our focus was then on, we don't need to hire everyone local. So, we expanded our pool of who we were looking at. We brought in a lot of great talent from not just throughout the US but all over. And we were able to really scale our team up. I don't think we would've been able to do that as easily if we had to rely on local folks in our area. Of course, at the time we were in a mid-sized city, and so development and design talent was a little bit harder to come by. By going global and going remote we really were able to staff up very quickly.
[00:11:28] Sanjay Parekh: Quickly Hire's transition to remote work wasn't prompted by the pandemic. Instead, Brad saw a way to expand the company while aligning with its mission and capitalized on it. And it does make sense to adopt this model. A global company should have a global workforce, right? But just how global is Brad's workforce?
[00:11:48] Brad Morrison: Our first employee, our first hire outside the local area was in Indianapolis. So not too far away in the US. Right? And from that, when we established that model and said, okay this does work, we can have a lead dev that isn't physically here in the office with us. We then started expanding a little bit farther and saying, okay. There were folks in Texas and New York and different states. But then we started looking global and part of that is just for competitive, right? Looking at rates. Looking at talent. It's interesting. In the WordPress world, there's always been, in Europe for example, a very strong WordPress presence that we had not really tapped into before. So, we have folks in, I think 28 different countries now. So, we're in the Philippines, we're in the Ukraine which has been interesting this year. We are in South Africa, we're in Poland, Spain, we're in Kenya and Nigeria. We have folks all over the world.
[00:12:50] Sanjay Parekh: A workforce of that scale is certainly impressive, but having a team across the globe has us wondering, what are the challenges and perks that come with a global team who work across several time zones? We asked Brad how timing affects his company's productivity.
[00:13:05] Brad Morrison: A lot of our business is actually with WordPress support, right? So, we're a help desk. So, if you're a help desk, being 24/7, that's beautiful. And so, when we are staffing things on our side, we are looking to say, all right we need to be 24/7. So, we need to make sure that we have tier one, tier two, tier three support throughout the night, right? Throughout the night Eastern time. Being global and having staff all over the world makes that actually pretty easy. We've been doing this for almost 10 years, so we have a lot of customers, and we have a lot of issues and tickets that come up every hour of every day, and so the management of that is a little bit easier.
[00:13:48] Sanjay Parekh: The asynchronous work model ensures that Brad can staff his help desk 24/7, which is a huge benefit to going global. But what about the challenges of a global workforce like managing productivity and hours?
[00:14:00] Brad Morrison: Some of the challenges that we faced specifically with the production team that we have, where we're billing for hours is keeping, just keeping track of that, right? It's not just standing over someone's shoulder, like if you're in a physical office, standing over their shoulder to see what they're working on. That's not really what you're trying to do, but you do have to have some accountability. Not really for them, but it's for us, right? It's a way for us to show our customers what we've been working on.
[00:14:31] Sanjay Parekh: We asked Brad about the future of Quickly Hire. Would he ever consider going back to an in-office work model, given these challenges?
[00:14:38] Brad Morrison: We would never really go back to a physical office. The only reason that we were even operating that way was because our client base was local, and we were a local digital agency. And so, being a small local business, yes. If we were that, but now doing what we do and serving folks everywhere, we would never go to that. I have at times thought about the hub and spoke model where you say, all right, maybe we do, because we do have a concentration of folks in different places. Kenya, for example, South Africa. We have folks, a lot of folks, Philippines, in the same area, in the same town where we could say, okay, maybe we could do a little bit of a hybrid. Maybe it's for training, right? Maybe it's technical training of some sort that we do, but we've been able to really do anything that needs to be done online and remote. I can't see a compelling reason to require people to okay, take time away from family, home and come here for a set amount of time, and, whether it's a commute or it's staying here for a few days or weeks or whatever, to, to have that training. There's nothing compelling about it. The advantages are not significant enough to overcome that.
[00:16:04] Sanjay Parekh: Brad's advice for keeping your employees happy when using an asynchronous work model: Open communication and staying in tune with your employees.
[00:16:13] Brad Morrison: We have a really good relationship with our employees and if they're not fulfilled in some way, we tend to know about it, because we have a conversation. You have open and honest communication, and you give employees, and even our network of professionals, you give them an opportunity for personal growth. You give them an opportunity to make more money. You give them an opportunity to learn management skills if they want to do that. You reward them when they do. We start every meeting with celebrating our wins, but we also have an employee recognition system where we give rewards for great work, right? And so, being in tune with your employees and understanding that employee engagement, employee satisfaction, all of that is directly related to employee retention, which is really good for the business also. That's a mutually beneficial relationship.
[00:17:28] Sanjay Parekh: In our final section of today's episode, let's meet the director of people at Brand Apart, an Atlanta-based company specializing in marketing and branding. Steve Swanson has been with Brand Apart for five years. Brand Apart, has adopted the hybrid model — half remote and half in person.
[00:17:44] Steve Swason: I've had an interesting kind of marketing advertising journey and now I've settled into a new role, which is director of people, which is really helping grow an organization and get people aligned on what we're trying to do, both currently and in the future. I do a lot of coaching. We have a young team, so I do a lot of coaching.
[00:18:05] Sanjay Parekh: While coaching and working with his team at Brand Apart, Steve has had a unique perspective on the company's adoption of a hybrid work model. So, what does that policy look like?
[00:18:14] Steve Swason: We really don't have a policy. I think we have a philosophy. I think philosophically, it's better to be together at certain times, but not mandatory all the time. So, collaboration, creative work together, just like atoms smashing together surreptitiously helps a ton. But for sure there is no ‘we're coming in the office nine-to-five, five days a week.’ That's gone. I think the downside of that a little bit is, when should I be in? Who should I be collaborating with? It's still sort of foggy and the thing that I would like us to evolve to is to more of a meaningful engagement model. If you're going to have meaningful engagement, it's probably better done in person for a whole bunch of reasons if the work is transactional. Then you probably don't need to be meeting in person. There's a big distinction and a lot of it has to do with collaborative, creative and things like that.
Much better done in person where status and things like that, you don't need 10 people in a conference room anymore. That just seems weird to me.
[00:19:27] Sanjay Parekh: But how does a creative agency like Brand Apart handle remote work when creative work requires a consistently collaborative environment? We asked Steve.
[00:19:39] Steve Swason: I think the better question is, we're always in a custom world now. I think everything's custom. I just don't think there's a lot of off the shelf answers. So, some clients, some teams, much better collaborative in person. Some clients want to be remote. I think that's sometimes suboptimal for certain things. But I think we also as a species, have gotten much better at working remote. You remember, two years ago, the awkward, is this button on? Am I on mute? What am I doing? Where's the chat function? Is this Zoom or Google Hangouts or BlueJeans or some other? Like it was, two years ago it was crazy land. It was the Wild West. Now we've trained ourselves how to work in this environment and quite honestly, for a lot of people, it's hyper productive.
[00:20:28] Sanjay Parekh: And while so many employees in today's world have adopted the remote work model, many still find coming to the office beneficial for their productivity.
[00:20:36] Steve Swason: We still utilize it for teams that want to work or people that need a better work situation. One person in particular has three kids under four. She's like, I got to get out of the house. I got to get out of the house. Some people are like I got to get out of the house. I need, five hours of dedicated heads down time and I'm more focused in an office.
[00:21:01] Sanjay Parekh: With a new generation of graduates entering a workforce where remote work seems to be the norm, we asked Steve if he's worried about introducing young people to the idea of working in person and how Brand Apart will adapt to this change in employee mindset.
[00:21:15] Steve Swason: I'm more worried about creating an environment, a culture that people, again, are attracted to. If they're attracted to that, it will cut across to all kind of stratas, I believe. And it's funny because even the youngest, newest employees, when we talk about a future or what a future looks like, they have the most robust ideas about what that looks like. And I'm like, okay, let's model ourselves off of some of that and bring everybody else along with it. Instead of reverse engineering, how have we always done it? What does the management say? And things like that. It's irrelevant what we think. It's more relevant, what they think and how they want to work.
[00:22:06] Sanjay Parekh: Finally, we ask Steve to give our listeners some advice to employers looking to take on a hybrid model.
[00:22:12] Steve Swason: It's like anything else in society or business or things like that. Things have to evolve. The world will change. The world will evolve, and it's our job to evolve with it. And I think if you have a change, evolution, and you can embrace change. You're far better off than pining for the good old days and things, that's gone. That's an artifact to the past. And adaptability and flexibility are one of the key tenets that we all learned in the pandemic and will bode well for us going forward.
[00:22:51] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast. To learn more about Hiscox small business insurance, visit the Hiscox blog at www.hiscox.com/blog.
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