The Rise of Remote Work - Prezi

This article is part of the Rise of Remote Work LinkedIn Newsletter covering stories and insights from remote work leaders, experts, and advocates around the world. Click here to learn more and download your free remote work policy checklist.

As part of my LinkedIn Newsletter series about the Rise of Remote Work, I had the pleasure of interviewing Spencer Waldron, Director of Global Communications & Head of Remote At Prezi.

Spencer Waldron

Spencer has spent most of the past 10 years helping leaders and organisations have more effective meetings through better presenting, storytelling and video communications. 

Thank you so much for your time, Spencer! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got into remote work?

I’ve been in marketing for more than 20 years. I started out in advertising agencies and then moved across to the client-side of the table both for B2C and B2B brands. I also love traveling with my backpack which has led me to work and live in the UK, Australia, Israel, and now the Netherlands.

Back in 2008, I co-founded a marketing agency that ended up becoming a presentations agency and during the tough recession of 2008-2009, I decided to get rid of a physical office and work from home. Since then I’ve pretty much always been remote either working from home or co-working spaces.

Why did you decide to make the switch from a traditional 9-to-5 office job to working remotely?

Well, in the beginning, it was a decision out of necessity being in a recession —  cutting costs and protecting cash flow were the keys to survival. But eventually, it became about my kids. Being in control of my time running the presentations agency allowed me to stop work at 3 PM every day and spend quality time with the kids. Then if I needed to I’d go back to my desk and work after the kids went to bed.

Being in control of my time running the presentations agency allowed me to stop work at 3pm every day and spend quality time with the kids.

That’s incredible! Could you share some lessons or ‘key takeaways’ that you have learned along the way?

My big lessons were to partition my days into chunks. I normally have 4 hours of solid, uninterrupted work which allows me to provide value. Then have my admin / async communication time at the beginning and end of each day. And then again a separate time for calls and meetings. 

Basically, you want to reduce anything that doesn’t earn revenue or add value down to the smallest amount of time possible. You can learn more about my thoughts on partitioning your day in this Prezi video.

Tell us a bit more about your role as Head of Remote at Prezi. How is remote work encouraged within your organization?

Prezi is a hybrid company with physical offices in San Francisco, Budapest, and Riga. We then have team members like myself who are dotted around in different places.

When COVID-19 happened a lot of people at Prezi suddenly found themselves dropped into a remote work set up very quickly. Because I’ve been remote for a long time, I was asked to help other people inside Prezi transition over to being fully remote. This was about changing work practices as well as communication. 

Could you share a few of the biggest challenges you and/or your team have experienced since working remotely? What have you done to address those challenges?

Well because we already had a hybrid set up a lot of the challenges that many faced in recent months were pretty natural for us. I think the challenges were around things like decision making.

When you are fully remote, conversations can happen in so many different places. Email, different slack channels, WhatsApp groups, the list goes on. So it’s hard to track what decisions have been made and when and by whom. So having a process for decision making and tracking is pretty critical.

It’s hard to track what decisions have been made and when and by whom […] having a process for decision making and tracking is pretty critical.

No alt text provided for this image

How do you make sure remote employees are both happy AND productive while working remotely?

Let’s tackle the productivity angle first.

The recent situation forced people into going fully remote very quickly. Because humans are awesome we made it work. We simply copy-and-pasted our office way of working and tried to do this at home. As a short term measure, it can work effectively but in the medium time, the cracks will show.

We simply copy-and-pasted our office way of working and tried to do this at home. As a short term measure, it can work effectively but in the medium time, the cracks will show.

Everyone’s home environment is different. Some people have kids at home, or a partner at home, or a very small space to live on their own. It’s almost impossible to keep the same meeting schedule and frequency of meetings in this context.

We simply copy-and-pasted our office way of working and tried to do this at home. As a short term measure, it can work effectively but in the medium time, the cracks will show.

Enter asynchronous communication. Once companies adopt this it’s a game-changer. Add to this a cultural change of how you see the job of a meeting and it becomes a much easier, more healthy way to manage work.

If a meeting is mostly one person talking or each person taking it in turns to talk then it shouldn’t be a meeting. One way broadcasts and status updates can be done as short 3min asynchronous videos that people can watch at a time that will be much more effective. Meetings should only be about discussion and decision making. Easy to say, hard to do. 

If a meeting is mostly one person talking or each person taking it in turns to talk then it shouldn’t be a meeting. Meetings should only be about discussion and decision making. 

The second thing is to partition your day which we spoke about before. But for that to work managers and creators need to understand that they use time differently.

A manager’s job is to keep things moving forward. Her calendar is full of meetings to give the green light for projects and budgets, remove obstacles, etc. An engineer for example is all about creation. She needs time to write the code. Uninterrupted time. If a manager calls a meeting at 3 pm because that’s when she has a free slot in the calendar, it can disrupt the engineers’ day because that’s when she is writing code. Distractions cost a lot. It takes 15-30 minutes to get into deep work. So a 30-minute meeting could wreck a whole afternoon.

Distractions cost a lot. It takes 15-30 minutes to get into deep work. So a 30-minute meeting could wreck a whole afternoon.

I believe if you get the above system right it will go a long way to making people feel happier. Feeling in control of both your work and personal time is critical. 

After that it’s about over-communicating with your colleagues and teams – having regular social time virtually as well as fun async channels – for example, we have slack channels for cooking, home office ideas, and pets.

That’s very insightful! Any thoughts around why companies still hesitate to adopt remote work?

Well, it’s funny. I guess before 2020 it was always about the fear that productivity will drop. But there are articles and interviews emerging now that show that most organizations actually found productivity stayed the same or improved during the COVID-19 crisis.

However, as I hinted at before, remote work is a marathon, not a sprint. I suspect that there are an awful lot of people still in survival mode at home. If this huge experiment is going to make deep and meaningful changes then it needs to come with more thought to things like async work, supporting people’s home setups, and totally re-inventing what meetings mean. 

Remote work is a marathon, not a sprint. […] If this experiment is going to make deep and meaningful changes then it needs to come with more thought to things like async work, supporting people’s home setups, and totally re-inventing what meetings mean. 

Do you have a final tip for those looking to transition into remote work post-COVID-19?

Stop every meeting for a week. Ask one simple question about each of those meetings – “What is this meeting for?” If it’s a status update or a one-way broadcast, remove it as a meeting and figure out a way to do it via an asynchronous video.

In addition to that, if a meeting has one person talking for the first 10 minutes, giving the ‘jumping off’ information so everyone is ready for discussion and decision making then that meeting can be 10-20 minutes shorter if one person records the jumping-off information as a video and sends it ahead of time.

Ask one simple question about each of those meetings – “What is this meeting for?” If it’s a status update or a one-way broadcast, remove it as a meeting and figure out a way to do it via an asynchronous video.

Thank you so much for your valuable insights, Spencer!

Feel free to connect with Spencer on LinkedIn and leave your thoughts in the comments below!

This article is part of the Rise of Remote Work LinkedIn Newsletter covering stories and insights from remote work leaders, experts, and advocates around the world. Hit ‘subscribe’ to get notified and visit our website to learn more about our services.

About Mandy Fransz

Mandy Fransz is the owner & founder of Make the Leap Digital, a boutique consulting firm helping businesses digitally transform the way they work. She manages the fast-growing Remote Workers on LinkedIn group (+50K members) and she has been featured in Thrive Global, VIVA400, & LINDA amongst others. Follow her on LinkedIn (Mandy Fransz) and Instagram (@maketheleap_).