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How We Work Without Meetings at Levels

As an all-remote team that takes async work seriously, we’ve eliminated almost all meetings at Levels. Here’s how we do it.

The Levels team is distributed in timezones across Canada, the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Everyone on our team works whenever and wherever is most conducive for them. Designing this culture creates many benefits for our team members and partners, but requires effort to maintain.

Here is how we think about and structure our team member interactions.

TLDR:

  • We have as few synchronous meetings as possible
  • Almost never with more than three people
  • And we document or record everything

Synchronous time is expensive

Since we don’t have an office and can’t rely on everyone being in the same place at the same time, we tend to lean on asynchronous processes instead of synchronous meetings.

We keep meetings of all kinds to a minimum, both inside and outside of the company. Recurring status meetings were the first to go when we set out to build this culture, and we’ve set a very high bar for scheduling ad-hoc meetings.

We’ve been surprised at how effective work can still be without those meetings.

If someone asks for a meeting that might be better suited with asynchronous work, we usually write them back with something like, “My synchronous time for meetings is pretty limited the next couple weeks. Mind if we trade some notes by email to start?”

So, what do you do instead?

Rather than schedule meetings as our default for coordinating projects and discussing information internally, we resort to three processes that suit this workflow.

  1. Written Notion docs — We create Memos across all areas and teams, within our company.

Here’s an example: Levels Press Strategy — July 2020

The purpose of this document was to align on how we approach press at Levels in the early days of the company.

We put this together without a single meeting, and every person in the company had a chance to contribute to it. It only took a few hours of time to write, revise, and ship, and it was completed from start to finish in two days.

Related: Why Levels is Building in Public

2. Recordings — We record our screens and voices (using Loom) to walk others through documents, spreadsheets, or decisions. This is surprisingly easy and effective. The receiver (and anyone else) can watch at their convenience (including at 1.5x or 2x speed), rewind at will, and refer back later.

Here’s a Loom that was created in reply to an email requesting to meet. It didn’t require any scheduling or waiting and can be shared repeatedly.

Sam Corcos, Levels CEO and co-founder, often gets asked to meet. When mentorship opportunities come up, he loves to act on them, but only has so much time to process all the requests. As such, he recorded a Loom for some students that were requesting to meet and learn about Levels.

3. Good Email Hygiene — Yes, we still use email! And, we email a lot. Despite some of its shortfalls, we think email is still a great way to communicate asynchronously, primarily outside our company. (We have recently begun testing Threads for almost all internal communications.) We each do our best to maintain exceptional email practices that keep conversations moving and projects unblocked.

Many of us use an email program called Superhuman that is flush with efficient shortcuts, saved snippet templates, and other functionality and try to batch our emails via a program called Mailman so that we aren’t getting pinged constantly throughout the day.

We believe email is much better for searching past conversations than platforms such as Slack, where decisions and feedback often get lost. We used Slack in the past but do not anymore, as it encourages people to be immediately responsive and synchronous, and can be highly distracting, almost like someone is constantly tapping you on the shoulder during the workday. We aim for technology that does incite reward mechanisms that feel like a slot machine.

Here’s an example of a well-crafted email that we would send to our internal team. The email outlines a clear purpose, action, and timeline for next steps. It is easy to digest for anyone who reads it, and there isn’t confusion about what to do next.

Benefits of building a remote culture

Some of the benefits we’ve found:

  1. Valuing time. Most meetings require coordination of schedules, dial-ins, and audio/video fiddling. There is often a loose agenda and only a few key moments where information is transformed, or a decision is made. All the time those meetings take, multiplied by all attendees, adds up quickly.
  2. Deep work, focus, and flow. Finding flow in work to produce a quality product isn’t just for engineers. When maker schedules are interrupted, the velocity of our collective output slows down.
  3. Deep thinking. By leaning on memos instead of meetings, we distill our thoughts to better understand and share context, the challenges at hand, and the various ways we can solve them.
  4. Written words live on. Meetings are ephemeral. You “had to be there,” and the written minutes are usually not as good. Through clear documentation, we create a written record that can be referenced by anyone, at any time — even months or years later.

And if we must meet …

Some situations are better suited for synchronous meetings, particularly when there is a need to transform information instead of just transmit it.

We’ll make time for those meetings when they come up. Examples include collaborative problem solving, interviews, and other important decisions that need to be worked through together with partners or team members.

Our best practices for synchronous meetings include:

  1. Prepare in advance. Send a thoughtful email with an agenda, relevant background, and any memos or prompts needed to tee up a discussion that will lead to a decision. Expect that document will be read prior to the meeting unless specified otherwise.
  2. Invite as few people as possible. An ideal decision-making meeting — should it need to occur — should have three people.
  3. Be on time. Time is expensive. Starting and ending on time is courteous, and building the habit feels great.
  4. Take notes and follow through. With such a high bar to schedule, a meeting is important enough to invest time in to get it right. We’ll always follow through on our action items.
  5. Record & distribute. Since all interested parties will not be there, we may record the meeting (with permission) for reference across the team.

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