I’m learning more about products to support the evolution the way we work and collaborate. As I dig deeper into the problem space and talk to founders who are designing their own company ‘Operating System’ there are a few questions that persistently stand out for teams adopting distributed work:
- Sync vs. Async: There is a tension between fully synchronous work with teams in the same time zone vs. fully asynchronous work with teams spread across time zones and the response is typically polarizing. I think there is a plenty of white space for new products that could work just as well for both sync or async work. Slack is a good example of a communication tool that could be used for async or sync communication in the same product. “A Slack message lets content persist for a delayed loop, but also means that the loops can become so short that loops are near realtime” (Alexander from Remotion articulated this to me). The more important part is creating a culture that supports the use case – i.e. there is no expectation you’ll respond to Slack messages immediately for async dominated cultures. There are also opportunities for better tooling in rich media communication involving images, video and audio communication that seamlessly traverse both async/sync work. I’m excited to see what companies like Remotion, Claap and Rock do in this area.
- Process vs. Tools: Even over innovation in tools, defining and agreeing on a process and culture for work is important for effective collaboration, as noted above. The most successful products will be flexible tools that are able to codify process and culture within the tool and allow businesses to customize their internal ‘Operating System’. These products are inherently difficult to design as flexibility/customizability comes with complexity of learning although this is likely a solvable problem (e.g. predefined templates and workflows). I’m excited about what we are building with P2 at Automattic, and we’re just getting started.
- Human vs. Product: Many teams will be working in a distributed way for the first time, and will look for help from people with experience and expertise especially at scale. I think that consulting with experts will likely be very helpful for companies adopting new products/processes/cultures as they move to distributed work. I expect a hybrid approach (human & proprietary products) will lead to the best outcomes as more teams will be effectively onboarded into a new paradigm of work.
I’m looking forward to digging deeper into each of these areas personally as well as meeting companies who are exploring these problem spaces.