As a distributed team working across multiple time zones and schedules, it can be hard for us to find the best time to check in with each other. The most obvious solution is to schedule a meeting, but if you’ve worked within even a mildly bureaucratic organization before, the very idea of meetings might provoke a visceral reaction.
I’m still amazed at the days of productivity I’ve wasted in badly planned meetings. They almost always run long, but even when they end on time, it’s all too easy to take a meeting off the rails. Sometimes a participant hijacks the discussion taking place, changing the topic to something which doesn’t need your input. Your presence is rendered useless.
More often, you’re invited to a meeting just for the sake of being there. Either you’re tangentially involved in the project and people think it’s a good idea for you to be present, or the topic of the meeting seems to relate to your job title. In both scenarios, you usually have nothing meaningful to contribute. In especially toxic work environments, people schedule and attend meetings solely to keep busy and justify their continued employment, instead of improving the quality of their work.
For my first full-time design job, I was the only designer in a startup of about 15 people. Five of us sat in a horseshoe configuration in one room of the office, backs to each other, facing the windows:
Even though we were five feet from each other, we rarely swiveled our chairs around to talk. Instead, we mostly communicated through protracted Basecamp threads or private IM conversations. At this stage in my career, I had accumulated a lot of UX knowledge through books and blog posts, but I hadn’t put it into practice. Instead of turning around and having a conversation with my co-workers, I spent a lot of my time writing condescending, essay-length Basecamp posts. Most of these posts were attempts to educate my co-workers about what “good design” was, or to persuade them that even their most minute product decisions should be handled differently.
Of course, I now realize this was the worst possible approach I could have taken. Even as I invested hours of each day writing about the value of good design, I knew it was counterproductive. In fact, to avoid being on the receiving end of my rants, colleagues were shutting me out of meetings and ignoring the design phase altogether.
When Clay and I first started working together, we quickly realized that we are both total nerds when it comes to team productivity. In just a few weeks, we had built the first version of MorningCheckin, a lightweight app that lets each team member “check in” every morning and let others know what they “got done” the previous day and what they intend to “get done” today. Our team started using MorningCheckin fastidiously, but after a few months the habit just wasn’t sticking. When we arrived at our office in the morning, the first thing we wanted to do was open a new browser tab, wait for MorningCheckin to load, and craft a new checkin using its special syntax.