My top 5 books of 2019

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

As you might have noticed reading this article, I started writing this year. Mostly working on my book but also publishing a couple of articles here and there. Writing was never my strong suit, but I really liked the idea of it. I wanted to get better at it. Reading books has always been a huge learning resource for me. That’s how I found William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well.

It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write better, as we all do need writing in the age of the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

📝 Learned to write better.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

I am a huge fan of Brené Browns work, and Dare to Lead is definitely by far my favourite book of hers. My approach to life is always to be true and honest to oneself and show vulnerability. This books helped me understand a lot about those topics, through it I started to think more about my own values and in general looked more inwards. I highly recommend this book to anyone!

It is a book for everyone who is ready to choose courage over comfort, make a difference and lead. And don’t avoid difficult conversations and situations; but rather lean into the vulnerability that’s necessary to do good work.

🤗 Made me a better person this year.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Matthew Walker’s book has had some controversial recently. And I struggled with myself whether I should put it on the list. Well here were are 😉 I am not a scientist who can judge how correct or true the book and the studies are, therefore I am linking one of the articles explaining more of what is being discussed about this book: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/

Why did I decide to put it on here? Because whether or not it is 100% correct or not, it helped me to understand how important sleep is for myself. For a long time in 2019 I’ve only slept 6 hours and I noticed that I wasn’t at my fullest. After changing and experimenting with my sleep habits, I noticed that I need around 8 hours to function well. Attention I am not saying everyone needs to do the same, this is a personal preference.

After changing my sleep habit, I felt more energised, was able to remember more short term learnings and be less nervous and anxious. I leave it to you the reader to decide whether you want to read this book and choose another one, but be sure to recognise how important sleep is to us humans.

💪 Changed my mental – health.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

This book came as a little surprise to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to read it. Once I started though I went through it in two days. The Culture Code talks about how we as humans can work more successfully together with great culture and in a psychological safe way.

The author talks about where great culture comes from, how to build and sustain it in your group, or strengthen a culture that needs fixing. He focuses on some of the world’s most successful groups like the US Navy SEALS, IDEO, Zappos, or San Antonio Spurs. One of the learnings I took away from it was that culture is not something you are – it’s something you do.

The 3 step process, Daniel Coyle writes about is something I am using now whenever I will work with other people, manage my own team or push for more culture and safety in a company. First you build safety as a foundation, then you continue to be vulnerable with your group and finally establish a purpose.

I highly recommend it to leaders and managers, especially also for distributed teams, as all of this is even more important in remote work.

🤝 Helped me to understand culture and groups much better.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb’s book blew me away this year! As some of you might have noticed I am very interested in psychology, especially in our work environments. Also my wife is a psychologist, so therapy and all of those topics are almost a daily conversation topic. Going into the book I didn’t expect much, but the story and patients she talks about really touched me. I read it twice this year, that’s how good it is.

The book is full of wisdom and humor, as Lori Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we balance on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

💖 A love story to psychology and therapists.


Over to you – what are your top 5 books of 2019 or maybe even the last decade? Let me know and write me an email or connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Isolation: One of the biggest Problem in Remote Work

In the sixth post of the series “Be an effective leader in a remote team”, I wanted to talk about the effect remote work can have on you and your team.

For new readers: To get started in this series – go to the first post.

Not surprisingly, loneliness is one of the bigger problems with work, and remote work especially. In the last State of Remote Work we at Buffer did, loneliness came out as number two struggle (19 %). Very likely you or people in your team already had this feeling of being lonely or isolated. There are many reasons to try and prevent it, whether it is for your own mental health or for your general well-being at work. Feeling isolated and lonely can make you also feel less connected to your team and organization. As a leader it is important to be aware of potential risk and help others and of course yourself to not fall into isolation.

Be open about it and lead by example

The very first thing you can do is to talk about this topic. Acknowledging that it can happen. That either you or your team-members will eventually have this feeling of being lonely or isolated. Sometimes the easy things seem to be the hardest and talking about it won‘t come easy, especially if you are the one feeling lonely or isolated.

If you yourself struggle with loneliness or any other mental health related issue, don’t shy away from finding a therapist to talk to, even if you think it’s nothing serious. I know this might seem a bit over the top, but from personal experience I can tell you that it is not. Unfortunately there is still stigma out there where talking about mental health and seeing a therapist is considered “weird” – it is not. My wife is a psychologist, I’ve seen a therapist on occasion, a lot of people I know do. I really do consider that we should treat it as the same way as we treat health checkups at our family doctor. Self awareness, and working on yourself is a key skill as a leader and manager, especially in remote teams, where we don’t have our team around us physically.

If going to an actual therapist is not something you want to start with, there are even online solutions you can offer to your whole team – Buffer for example offers all of us free access to Joyable.

Use pair calls and encourage personal stories

Something we use at Buffer to help with those random connections and watercooler moments is called “Pair Calls”. We use a bot in Slack called Donut. And what it does is pretty straight forward – it connects you every week with someone else from the team, creates a private Slack DM channel for you both to chat. If time and availability allows the two of you can have a video call and are encouraged to chat about everything you want. It doesn’t have to be work, anything is possible, personal stories, video games, coffee, parenting, etc. This is a very low effort tool you can use to engage your team more and help everyone to not feel lonely at home.

I am also a big proponent of starting out meetings or 1:1s with a casual chat about personal stories or anything happening in your/their life. This really helps to create relationships with your peers and team members. I would almost go so far and say that this is a necessity in remote work. If you don’t do it proactively, you won’t get a chance to know what’s going on in the other persons life. Ask away and share your side too.

Be aware of timezone loneliness

In distributed teams it is highly likely to have team members spread across different timezones. If that is the case for your team, and you have a bigger portion of them in one region of the world, be sure to not exclude those in distand timezones.

For example if one half of your team is in the US, and the rest spread across the whole world, don’t hold all the important meetings on US time. Others might start to feel isolated and excluded if all your company meetings happen at 2am in their night. Coordinating and collaborating across time zones isn’t easy, but being inclusive is very important for your team culture. Shift meeting times around, record the videos and hold special “Timezone-Focused Get Togethers” to help fight against that isolation.

Connect with people in your city

Even us remote workers need to have some human contact once in a while. If you like hanging out with like minded people try to look out for opportunities to meet them. Meetup.com is always a great resource to find groups of people who share similar interest. This is a great way to get out of your office and meet new people. If there is nothing there that is of interest, why not create a meet-up and see if you can gather some people who might be in the same boat as you?

Vary your work days

If you notice that your days are always the same and you would love to mix it up a little bit, finding different spots to work from could be a good thing to try. Maybe you like to even be around people once in a while. Coffee shops are a very basic and cheap alternative to try out if that suits your style of working. I personally do this just once a week, normally on Fridays I work from a coffee shop. Be aware that not every coffee shop might be ideal for working. Some might not allow to work from there, others might not have wifi or electronic sockets. Research before you go, and be friendly with the staff when hanging out there.

If you are not a fan of coffee shops you can also check if your city has co-working spaces that offer day passes, if you don’t want to work from there every day of the week. Most of the co-working spaces are well equipped and you don’t have to worry about anything when going there.

Most remote companies do offer a co-working stipend supporting team members to work from there. We at Buffer even have a coffee shop stipend, allowing us to spend up to $200 a month. You can read more about that over on the Buffer Blog.

Here are a couple of more ideas:

  • If you have friends or colleagues in the same city as you propose to co-work once a week, or maybe just have lunch together.
  • Do you live near a library? Maybe try and work from there, see if that fits your work-style

It’s also good to check with yourself, whether you are more extro- or introverted. Maybe you don’t like working with a lot of different people around you. Or maybe you do and you definitely need this every other day. It is on you to understand what gives you energy and what takes energy away from your day. Experiment and find the best flow for you.

Remote work is great and a I consider it the future of how we will work, not just in tech-companies. But there are also things we have to look out for and not everything about it is shiny and fun. Please talk about the downsides to and brainstorm on how we can fix them.

Would love to hear how you or your team solve issues around isolation and loneliness. Reach out to me if you want.


Are you interested in becoming a manager or leader of a distributed team, or in general about leadership in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

Over-Communication does not exist in Remote Work

In the fifth post of the series “Be an effective leader in a remote team” everything evolves around more communication.

For new readers: To get started in this series – go to the first post.

Once in a while you find an article about leadership and it warns you about the “risk in over-communicating”. While that might have been true in the past, in today’s world communication is the most important tool we have – especially in remote work! If we wouldn’t communicate with each other, we would just be a bunch of freelancers spread across the world.

No matter the situation: whether we are at work talking to our team, or the whole company, it is always more communication that helps us solve the problem.

What is the secret behind great communication then, and how can you do this in your day to day work?


Communication is hard

We know that communication is important, that is shown also in the State Of Remote Work 2019 we did at Buffer. Communication is in the Top 3 of things we remote workers struggle with. Why is it that we do struggle with it so much?

A lot of people (myself included) often believe that we are communicating well, and that we are delivering our message in the best way possible. We do think that we are clear and direct. And that everyone will know exactly what we are talking about. They will know what actions to take and what will follow. I mean I know what I want to communicate, I know it inside and out – why shouldn’t it work? Unfortunately I have to disappoint you. Just because we know it, that doesn’t mean everyone else will hear it or understand what we mean.

One case of not working could just be that the listener may have misheard the message. Especially in today’s notification culture it becomes increasingly common that people are just “quasi-listening”: surfing on another web site, tinkering with their smart phones when they should have a laser-like focus on the person sending the message.

On top of that communication really isn’t easy. It sounds easy in theory, it is something we do day in day out. But in practice it looks slightly different. Just dissecting what is involved in just sending a normal message (written or spoken).

The most simplest form of a successful communication could be split up into four parts:

  1. I have to send the message clearly and with enough details.
  2. The person receiving my message must be actively listening, and if needed ask me any questions in case something wasn’t clearly described
  3. The circumstances of everyone involved have to suit the message – if either side isn’t actively in the conversation something will be lost
  4. The content of my message has to also resonate with the receiver, and must contain all the information they are looking for.

Phew! That is quite a lot to take in. And in our fast-paced teams, we are bound to forget something or communicate poorly. That’s where over-communication comes in. I wouldn’t call it over-communication, but you get what I mean. Communicate well, Communicate often!

Mark Horstman of manager-tools.com is sharing one of his laws for Organizational Communication – and I resonate quite a lot with it: “Say something seven times and half your folks will have heard it once.” And I think he is talking about co-located offices. I would go so far and say that in remote work this could easily be 10-12 times of repetition.

A simple example: I was planning the Hackweek for our Engineering Team. All our engineers will spend 3 days (Mon – Wed) working on some of their own cool ideas. What that means for the rest of the company – all engineers will likely not be available for a lot of other work in those days. As I was the one organising everything – I was also the one communicating everything to the engineers and the rest of the company. Here is my plan in how I communicated:

Engineers and Engineering Managers:

  • detailed information on what is happening, time, day, structure, theme and topics of the Hackweek
  • regularly updating everyone weeks before that week to create excitement but to also inform everyone about the resources and documents

Product Manager:

  • trimmed the information down to only the necessary, the PM’s need to know what’s happening as their teams are working on their own for 3 days
  • communicated with them after every bigger decision: When, What, How – repeated this until the Hackweek started

Rest of the Company:

  • only the most basic information of What and When, it is important to keep everyone in the loop – Customer Support, Marketing and other teams
  • I started to inform them early around the same time I informed the PM’s to build awareness – repeated this until the Hackweek started

As you can see, if you are an Engineers you could not have missed it, as you at least heard decisions and related communication 3 times. But it is also important to start early and inform people early enough so they can plan around it. In addition to that we also have timezones to work around. Sending your communication at different times a day can be a good practice to not exclude specific timezones and make it visible for everyone. Communicate consistently, frequently, and through multiple channels, include if possible a recorded video, writing, and more about what is about to happen.

Communication Preparation Plan

To help me in those kind of situations, I wrote down this plan in how to communicate. It is an example and can be adjusted to your needs, but it helps me in seeing what all goes into successfull communication as a leader.

The following steps should be used in all bigger communications, but of course you won’t have the time to prepare for every single one. Use this if you are about to communicate a big change or and important topic to a direct report/your team/company. Start easy and adapt as needed.

Prepare for your communication

  • be clear with yourself in what you want to deliver
  • have the goal in clear words in front of you
  • be aware of the situation and circumstances the person, who will receive your message, is in
  • know where you are going to put your message – is it just one spot or multiple?

Deliver your message

  • express yourself and a clear and concise way
  • be direct and repeat the necessary information (highlight them if written)
  • give enough, but not too much background information
  • summarise and identify all the actions that need to be taken

Listen for feedback

  • give the people who receive your message time to read/hear it and space to follow up with you
  • value the feedback and questions you get
  • practice active listening

Evaluate and Correct

  • evaluate if everyone who needed to receive the message did receive it, if you are unsure – repeat at a later time
  • if you got feedback work it in and make corrections accordingly

I hope that this will be helpful and highlight that communication is the tool we have in our distributed work world. Lean into it, and don’t be anxious whether you’ve said something enough times or not. There is never an “enough” moment in remote work communication.


Are you interested in becoming a manager or leader of a distributed team, or in general about leadership in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

Stay Curious and Keep Learning To Be The Best Remote Leader You Can

For new readers: To get started in this series – go to the first post.

In the fourth post of the series “Be an effective leader in a remote team”, I wanted to talk about curiosity and why it is important.

Remote work is still an emerging way of working and setting up a company fully distributed is still not the most common setup. The tools and processes we have right now work ok, but as remote work will evolve as will everything else with it. Adapting to every little change can be hard, but learning and improving while the world around us changes will be crucial for ourselves and the distributed teams we work in.

How can you as a leader create a culture where change and learning is second nature?


“Stay hungry, stay foolish”

Most of you probably read or watched Steve Jobs speech at Stanford in 2005. The title with which this video became known are his last words in that video: “Stay hungry and stay foolish”.  Even though this is already 14 years ago, I think it is more true than ever – especially when we are talking about a new way of working.

Curiosity or “Staying hungry” means nothing less than a hunger for new experiences and knowledge, an openness to change. There are a lot of philosophers and smart people I could quote here, but the essence of what they all say/said is: If you start to get satisfied with the status quo, that is the moment where it’ll all comes to a standstill, with everything around you still moving ahead.

Why am I putting such a focus on curiosity? Studies and experiences show that curiosity encourages us to view difficult situations with more creativity. It forces us to think around the corner and also keep our teammates in close contact. You’ll start to communicate more by asking more relevant questions. This results in creating more interest and more motivation for yourself and your team. And we know how important communication is in distributed teams. So anything you can do to communicate more is a win, in my opinion.

As a leader you function as a role model, you have a certain responsibility. Modeling curiosity could be one. Keep asking questions. I know that sometimes we rather want to stay quiet and not ask those vulnerable questions, because we feel we could be judged incompetent or indecisive. Or we don’t want to bother other people. But it is important for you to keep leaning into your curiosity to plant the seed for others and make it seem normal. There is this old stigma that as a leader you have to know everything and come up with all the solutions. I disagree with that. A leader should rather ask the right questions and therefore allow others to figure it out on their own and create a culture of growth and curiosity.

By practicing humility, we can acknowledge that we don’t know the answer to everything. Accepting that our knowledge is finite – “Staying foolish” – allows us to see that the world around us, our work and our team members are always changing and that the future will diverge from the present. This is highly relevant for how we work in remote setups. Our work is different than what it used to be, and we know that a lot will change in the next years. Let’s challenge the status quo and find what works for us right now – but remember to do this continuously.

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

  • Continue to challenge the status quo in your team/company – Improve consistently
  • Act as a role model for curiosity and ask questions
  • Practice humility and know that you don’t know the answer everything

Bias towards action

Working in a fully distributed team across multiple timezones sometimes also has its downsides. Especially when it comes to collaboration. If you want to respect normal working hours, you can’t force people to come online for a meeting at 11pm on their Wednesday.

Let’s say I am working on a proposal for a change we need to make in one of our apps, but I need feedback from the Designer (Taiwan) and and Engineer (SF) right now, as I need to send it off. What do I do? I know that this is a rather extreme example, but it can happen, and it did already in my team.

Well there is one option of waiting, which is not great if you need to keep things moving forward. Then there is option number two: cultivating a bias towards action. What I mean by that is: Make the decision to the best of your knowledge in that moment and fix it later if it needs fixing. You won’t be able to wait on your distributed teammates all the time, and then being able to actually make the decision will be a crucial skill to learn.

At Buffer we call this Entrpreneurial Spirit. Quite a long and complicated sounding word, but it embodies exactly that feeling of tending towards action. Being an “Entrepreneur” shouldn’t be limited to only the founder or the CEO, but to everyone. We can all be one. The mindset of an entrepreneur focuses on “doing” above everything else. Entrepreneurs are on a quest to help their users and to continue to make their service or product better and better. They identify problems and solve them. They make mistakes and learn from them. Remote Work and being an Entrepreneur is results orientated, and cares about what the outcome is, what will be delivered to the customer.

In this process of integrating Entrepreneurial Spirit did I step on toes? – Oh Yes of course I did! And you will too. Did I make mistakes? Yes, and you will most definitely make mistakes too. But all of that is OK – and even wished for. The Entrepreneurial spirit is about approaching problems with curiosity and seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth instead of something to be feared. And it’s about doing what needs to be done, even if that means taking risks outside of your defined role.

How can you inspire your team and yourself to live the Entrepreneurial Spirit?

  • If you notice something that needs to be done and a decision maker isn’t immediately clear, assuming that you are the person to do it.
  • Starting the video call instead of waiting for someone else to
  • you get stuck, asking “what is the simplest possible thing I can do right now to move my area forward/deliver value to our customer?”
  • Celebrating mistakes and forgiving any toe-stepping in favour of moving things forward quickly

Help your team and yourself to step into their ownership, to get comfortable stepping on toes and learn to be OK making some mistakes!

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

A culture where a growth mindset is being cultivated is a culture where all employees are seen as having the potential and are encouraged to develop, and are rewarded for improvement. With a growth mindset you belief that improvement is possible and that failures are opportunities to learn. Similar to curiosity this is something where you as a leader can help in modelling that behaviour. You can ask yourself if your current approaches actually help people see their potential and whether failures and feedback are seen as an improvement by you.

Within our distributed teams and companies, I think it is key providing an environment in which it is safe to learn. There are simple things you as a leader or your company can do to lay the groundwork for that. At Buffer we have a Growth Mindset Fund of $850/year. We can use this to attend conferences, courses, get a career or leadership coach, subscribe to relevant magazines, etc. It also states in our handbook: “Growing as individuals and within our roles makes for a stronger, better and more fulfilled company, so we provide resources toward growth, development and learning”. Check out this article by Workplaceless telling you why it is not a good idea to ignore such a Stipend.

If you as a leader or the company can at least encourage such a mindset, it will help the individual, the team and ultimately also the company in the long run. Of course be aware that it is not easy to attain a growth mindset fast. Especially in companies where failure and feedback is paired with criticism and defensiveness, our brain gets triggered with its fixed-mindset.

Another thing you can do to start a more growth mindset focused culture are Hackathons. We just recently finished our “Hackweek” at Buffer and it is always a huge fun to watch everyone be excited about different projects. Within Hackathons you and your team are collaborating across different disciplines and teams, you step outside your normal day job and exercise even your leadership skills. They are a great resource for new ideas too.

  • Create a culture where everyone is seen as having the potential to improve
  • See failures and feedback as opportunites to learn
  • Allow your team to step outside their boundaries and create different Perks like a Growth Stipend or Hackathons

Finishing today’s post with my favorite quote from Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

Whether it is life itself, my work, my career or how I approach remote work – everything is moving forward and I feel it is important to stay curious and be adaptable!


Are you interested in becoming a manager of a distributed team, or in general about management in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

The Secret to Structuring Your Thoughts – Keep a Journal

For new readers: To get started in this series – go to the first post.

In the third post of the series “Be an effective leader in a remote team”, I am writing about keeping a journal.

I would consider myself an introvert. I tend to be shy, quiet and prefer to spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. Often I end up not being able to share exactly what I think, though. I have this perfect argument or thought played out in my head, but when it’s time to express it in words I end up stuttering and stalling until I just give up. Most of the bigger meetings I was in, I kept to myself, and only shared smaller bits and pieces.

Keeping a journal has helped me to understand this on a much deeper level and showed me how I can turn it around and leverage it, in becoming a better leader.

Want to learn how a journal became my translator between my thoughts and the world? Read on and I will give some of my tips and tricks.


Analog or digital that’s the questions!

We live in the great age of technology, almost everything can be done in a digital way. That is true for taking notes and journaling and for many other things. There are tons of apps, and websites out there helping you with these two things. Journal Apps, Note-taking Apps, etc.

Now only while they exist doesn’t mean they are good or will help you. There are a lot of studies that provide enough information to almost convince anyone reading this, that writing by hand is the better way to taking notes. Just looking at this one study. It talks about how Handwriting helps you to learn and remember faster, and also it exercises your skill to use your own words. Writing at a laptop or other devices encourages verbatim, mindless transcription of what is being said. You tend to write much more on a laptop, but the content and what you’ll remember is far less.

Writing things down in your own words can be really powerful, first it helps to cultivate your own language and it also helps you with active listening. I recently wrote about this, active listening is a crucial part in becoming a leader and/or manager especially in remote teams. While listening and noting down thoughts in your own words, and also marking questions you might have, will help you to rephrase what has been said.

Paper is also just fast, easier and more flexible. You won’t have any notifications pop in and distract you, plus it is also healthier for your eyes. Don’t get me wrong I am a very technical person, and would like to use my iPhone or iPad for everything. I tried, but a notebook and a fountain pen are just not replaceable. There is another tiny factor, but this might be a personal one. Writing with a fountain pen and checking things off on paper, feels really satisfying to me. And as I recently read in a book called Atomic Habits, making something satisfying helps tremendously in building your habits 🙌

To satisfy my longing for more tech and great apps, I am using both in conjunction. My notebook is always with me and open in front of me while I work. At the same time I use a ToDo List App to collect task which are further in the future or need more detailed planning and resources around it. I can’t write down “cancel my phone contract next year in May 2020” and keep this task around in my notebook for 10 months. I might not even have the same notebook anymore. This is where I just move it into my electronic brain, to remind me when it is time.

  • go analog for taking notes – writing with a fountain pen is the best
  • Handwriting helps you to learn faster and remember things easier
  • Combine your notebook with a digital companion to take care of longer running things

Find a system that works for you

Keeping a journal and writing in it everyday sounds easy. It doesn’t involve a lot to prepare and you can almost do it everywhere.

There are a lot of different systems out there: Gratitude Journal,  5 Year JournalMorning PagesBullet Journal, etc. It all starts to get confusing pretty early on. Once you start looking into them, you’ll spend more time on finding the right system than actually journalling or taking notes. I tried some of them and almost all failed for me because of various reasons.

The first thing you need to do is build the habit. I won’t spend time here and go into habit building, that would be too much for this post, but check out some of the best books about the topic (The Power of HabitAtomic Habits).

What worked for me was:

  • Keep it always around
  • Keep it simple and personal
  • Keep it satisfying

And that is what I did. I mixed different things I learned from all the various Journal types and created my own system. That system that worked for me. And I would highly encourage you to do the same. Get inspired but don’t spend time on learning a system to take notes. Get a notebook and a pen and start, do what feels right and natural to you.

Write down what has happened, what you have to do, whatever is currently on your mind. Initially that might feel a bit overwhelming. I had this feeling of, only wanting to write great things in my notebook, like DaVinci 😂. I noticed soon enough that this wasn’t the right way to approach it. The important part is to keep up the habit, and write everything down. Don’t care about how it looks and what the content is – get it out of your head.

If you find a way to do this in a structured way for yourself – awesome – you found your system. Once you’ve build that habit you can always improve on it or make it more complex. But for the beginning – start easy!

Here is how my system looks for taking daily notes, todo’s and other general thoughts. I use a dot-grid notebook (mine has about 250 pages). I dedicate half of it to daily-journaling (let’s call it Journal) and the other half for taking notes when I read, or longer thoughts (let’s call this my Bucket). The journal is pretty straightforward as you can see in the picture. I use some of the Bullet Journal annotation to mark different items, but also added some of my own to it. I have a date headline, followed by a part that is used for tasks, and underneath I put any short notes, thoughts or questions that popped up throughout the day. Pretty basic right?

I use the journal notes section also to take notes while I am in meetings, any follow-ups I have to do, or messages I have to send. This has really helped me to be productive and not forget things. It is also a great spot to prepare for meetings and laying out my thoughts.

The Bucket Section is my favourite part. I use it to write down longer thoughts I have and don’t want to loose, or all my note when reading a book. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Never read a book without a pen in your hand”. It is having a tremendous effect on my learnings. First I write my notes in my own words, that means the thought I am writing down becomes immediately “mind”. But it also helps with remembering it far easier, than just copy and pasting it in my digital notebook.

  • don’t get lost in all the thousand Journal types out there
  • leep it simple and easy, and just start writing down thoughts each day
  • get a notebook, and start to make notes each day – no matter what they look like or say
  • use your journal to reflect on your past notes and learn from them
  • when reading always have your notebook with you and take notes

What I learned after journaling for 8 weeks

After investing so much time into my system, did it actually help me? I think it did – yes! The two biggest improvements I’ve seen until now are related to reflection and productivity.

Having the possibility to just turn back a couple of pages and check what you wrote there is really helpful. It just feels more natural than filtering an application by date or something similar. Another benefit is that reflecting on the past days/weeks allows me to structure my thinking in a better way, improve my actions and learn from my mistakes. It teaches you to become more self-aware.

Writing with my fountain pen, outside of being fun, also helps me to remember things better. Notes I took on my devices are harder to remember (I have to be aware though that I’ve just started this practice recently).

It helps me tremendously to prepare for meetings and laying out my thoughts. Something I struggled with for a long time, as I mentioned in the intro. Having a journal and being able to write notes in there before the meeting, plus having it in front of me all the time, changed my work life. Becoming more active in listening in meetings was also a nice side-effect. Trying to follow and take personal notes, while noting down eventual questions was a great little hack to become a better active listener.

I also feel less stressed when I know that I’ve noted it down. I know that I will get back to it eventually either today or tomorrow. The sense of having it written down by hand is so much different for me. Similar to this is the feeling at the end of the day, looking back at your notes from the day and knowing that you did stuff. In our ToDo Apps we often don’t see the ToDo anymore after it is checked off. When I finish working every evening, looking back in my journal gives me a good sense of “I’ve done stuff today” and at the same time I know that all the things I didn’t get done, while be still there tomorrow.

  • a journal helps to be more self-aware
  • reflection is super helpful to learn more about yourself and how you work
  • I started to remember the important learnings from books and articles more easily
  • I felt less stressed as I had a way to dump all my thoughts and todos all in my notebook

Finishing with a little quote I found in the World Wide Web: “Documenting little details of your everyday life becomes a celebration of who you are” (Carolyn V. Hamilton)

I think keeping a journal will help everyone to become a better human and a better leader at work. Start small and don’t get lost in all the different systems. Do what works for you and keep doing it. You’ll start to notice the benefits soon enough.


Are you interested in becoming a manager of a distributed team, or in general about management in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

Master Your Calendar as a Leader of a Remote Team

For new readers: To get started in this series – go to the first post.

In the second post of the series “Be an effective leader in a remote team”, I want to talk about your calendar. Yes – your calendar.

Before I worked in a remote team, I was a freelancer and never had to collaborate with a lot of different people, therefore the usage of my calendar was pretty basic. Maybe a birthday here and there, or other important events. But very rarely something work related. When I joined Buffer in 2015 that suddenly changed. The change wasn’t drastically as I started as an engineer, where you naturally don’t have too many meetings. The more I grew as an engineer and the more I leaned into leadership and ultimately transitioned over into management, the more I noticed how important, no essential my calendar was.

Let’s explore why that is, and how you can master your calendar too.


You calendar is sacred

In almost every distributed team, whether you still have a portion of your colleagues sit in an office, or you don’t have any office at all, there will be people you don’t see day in day out. At least physically. So how can you decide if someone in your team is “in the office” or whether that specific person is actually available?

Well something that has existed for a long time, will come in handy – our calendar.

The calendar will become an essential tool checking for availability. Whether you want to book a call with someone, or just check if they are „at work” that day. One requirement for that to work though is that your company follows a more transparent company culture, by making email and calendars visible to anyone in the company. For example if I want to book a call with a fellow EM at Buffer, I‘ll go to calendars.google.com and check if they are available around the time I want to book meeting.

Another example, let‘s say I have a doctor appointment next Friday at 9:30am. How would my team or the whole company know about it? Of course I could write an email or write it in our chat tool, but that will soon drown in other messages and people won‘t know about it when booking a meeting with me. If I would put it into my calendar, they will notice it, because the information is right where it needs to be. In my calendar.

While working in distributed teams you will very likely also work with different timezones, and therefor your daily schedules become a bit more flexible. My team for example is split between Europe, UK, Midwest US, Westcoast US. In order for me to chat to someone on the west coast, I have to stay on a bit longer in my afternoon. My work schedule generally looks like this:

  • 9:00am to 12:30pm Work
  • 12:30pm to 3:00pm Break
  • 3:00pm to 7:00pm Work

To make this visible to my team, and to not allow them to interrupt my break with meetings, I‘ve put a „Block” Event into my calendar on weekdays (See further down, for a screenshot of my weekly calendar). This shows to them that I am not available in this time, except for emergencies of course.

  • Before booking a meeting with someone, check if they are free
  • Add your daily routine to your calendar
  • Don’t want to show everything? Just add “Block” Events to keep that time free

Make it easy to collaborate

As I mentioned above a calendar isn’t worth a lot when you work alone. But when you start to collaborate with at least one person it starts to become immediately helpful. There are different tools and settings out there, which have helped me a lot when scheduling meetings, planning research calls, letting people know that I am out of office, etc.

The first thing that comes to mind is Calendly. It has helped me a ton in the past, scheduling meetings with either people outside of Buffer or internally. The great thing about it is, that you can define exactly when people can book a meeting with you. Maybe you’ve experienced it already yourself when someone sent you a link to a webpage and you just choose a day, a time and done – call booked.

Why is that easier? It takes all the hassle of looking when someone might be free away. That’s why it is important that your calendar hygiene is up to date, and every necessary event is booked in there. Those kind of tools then automatically only shows the available slots to the person booking the call. Highly recommend using it with people outside your company or even clients.

If you use Google Calendar, there there are a couple of more neat things you can take advantage of. I assume that other calendar apps have something similar. There are a couple of things I wanted to share, that I use quite frequently with my calendar setup:

  • Whenever you add invitees to the meeting and they have their timezone correctly set, Google Calendar figures out all the conversion
  • You can set your working hours in Google Calendar, this will give people a note that they are scheduling something outside your working hours
  • Show when you are Out of Office – helps to let people know that you will not be available, and immediately declines the calendar invite
  • When you are booked for a meeting, but need to move it, you can propose a new timestraight from Google Calendar

When looking at timezones, there is another website I use to plan meetings. Time.is allows you to check the time in different timezones, but it also allows you to compare them. Check out this link and try it for yourself. A couple of months ago someone in my team moved to Taiwan for a while. That made my team be split across 5 timezones, and didn’t allow us to have synchronous meetings – having a way to compare and check on timezones was very crucial in that time.

All of that together, makes for quite a powerful calendar and collaboration setup.

  • Use Calendly (or similar tools) when you want people to easily schedule a call with you
  • Leverage all the preferences and settings your Calendar Software gives you
  • Compare timezones when necessary

Sort your calendar

Now that you have your calendar setup and know how to use it effectively, what else can you do? One thing I did a while ago, when I read this blog post from Lara Hogan, was sorting my calendar. Lara Hogan calls it defragging. The principle is similar. Sort your events in a way that you don’t have too many context switches happening. For example you probably want to try and avoid days where you have a call every hour, and most of them are unrelated or force you to switch context all the time. One call is a 1:1, the next one is a staff meeting, the one after that is a Sprint planning meeting, etc.

Preventing a lot of context switching can help you get into the right mood for the day, and prepare much more easily. And in general I would highly recommend it. Lara proposes to color code your events in Google Calendar. I did this too, and don’t be afraid to use some great colors, it will only change it for you not for others. This will immediately give you an idea of how your week looks like.

It worked well for me, until recently. I went too far with clustering all my 1:1s in one day – Thursday. It started with a call at 11am, followed by 2 other 1:1s in the afternoon, followed by our Team Sync, plus the last 1:1 after that finishing after 7pm. To add to all of that, Thursday is also the day where most of our All Hands or Town-halls happen. You can understand that at the end of Thursday I was just exhausted. You can ask my wife, but I immediately went into “I can’t talk anymore” mode as soon as I finished. I wasn’t really able to enjoy my Thursday evenings.

That made me realize that as a manager I wasn’t giving everyone the same attention, not my team, and also not myself. By the last 1:1 my attention already has sunken quite a bit. Something had to change and the clustering had to be loosened up. I moved one 1:1 to Wednesday and the other one to Tuesday. This is giving me much more breathing time in between and allows me to put a greater focus on each person in my team.

If you consider sorting or defragging your calendar don’t go too far as I did. Spread some of it but still be aware of switching your context in between calls. Be present and motivated as as important as it is finish work and not be totally worn out.

  • Sort your calendar to make context switching easier
  • Don’t overdo it, keep breathing room in between 1:1s or other important meetings

We are one step closer to preparing you to become the best effective leader you can be. If you want to learn more just follow along, bookmark my website, subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on social.

Are you interested in becoming a manager of a distributed team, or in general about management in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

How To Setup Your Remote Working Routine for Leaders

In my first series I wanted to talk about what it means to be a leader in a distributed team. Leadership is not something only used by managers. At Buffer everyone should have a certain kind of Leadership skill. I really loved how Katie (VP of Engineering at Buffer) put it:

“I would say that, ideally, in an organization everybody is a leader. Leadership is something that you embody in the way you take ownership of your work, the way you go about your tasks, the way you engage with your peers, with people in the organization beyond your team.”

In addition to that I also think similar to Katie that leadership is a skill you can learn. I would also say that the more you grow in your role or job the more leadership skills will show up.

In this series I am going to highlight what areas I think are important to become an effective leader.


The biggest different between remote work and work in co-located offices is the place where work happens. According to the State of Remote Work we did at Buffer this year (2019), 84% of remote workers work from home! That means that most of us work and live in the same place! Which results then in the biggest struggle remote workers have: Unplugging after work. In this first post I wanted give some pointers on how to avoid overworking and disconnecting from work. It is important, as a leader in remote teams, that you act as a role model to others.

Create distance between work and free-time

If you want to become an effective remote leader, having a great workspace is key. The first reason is that you have to create a distance between your work and your home. Now that may seem a bit tricky as they are basically one and the same thing, but it is possible.

Throughout my remote work career I tried a lot of different setups. Working from the bedroom (very bad idea), working from the kitchen, working from a office niche, and working from an actual office room. The best for me, and I think most other people, is of course having a dedicated office. A spare room you can close and decorate to your liking. This is helpful for two things. Keeping distractions out while in work-mode but also to close it in the evening to shut off your work-mode.

Not everyone can of course have a separate room, due to smaller living-spaces. And that is ok. There are a lot of different ways nowadays how you can turn a corner of your room into a small office space. Ideally you would use a space that you don‘t use in your free time. That‘s also why having a desk in your bedroom is a very bad habit. The bedroom should be your place of regeneration and relax, it shouldn‘t be connected with work. Another option is also to switch work locations once in a while. There are many more reasons why you should do that at least once a week (we will talk about this in a future blog post in this series), but having a change of scenery is one of them. You are fed up with sitting at your kitchen table, and you don‘t have space for a dedicated office corner? Just go to the coffee shop around the corner, or book a daily spot in a co-working space.

There are a lot of different opportunities out there. If your city doesn’t have a co-working space, it‘ll definitely have a coffee shop. Working out of a coffee shop is probably my favorite and most of the times let’s me even feel more productive than at home.

  • Use a spare room as an office.
  • If not possible create a “office” corner, or work from a co-working space.
  • Prevent to work in areas where you normally do fun and free time stuff.
  • Change work location once a week (coffee shops, co-working spaces,…).
  • Buffer helps with co-working stipends and coffee shop vouchers

Invest in your office setup

Being a remote worker you adapt to a lot of different working situations. Having bad chairs in coffee shops, maybe working outside on a bench, etc. That doesn’t mean though that we have to not care about our workspace. Whether you work from a co-working space or from home, it is important to have a good setup. Don’t go for the cheapest options when buying or choosing a chair for example. You will sit in there for the most of your work life, so choose wisely (I am sitting on a Steelcase Gesture – highly recommend it). Choose a great desk, and make your desk look like you want it to. Being on your own, and not in an office means that you can make your space the way you want it to be – and especially the way you feel most productive.

Just a couple of months ago I decided to put some plants in my office and even one on my desk! A real game changer, having something green in your viewing field. If you are not a plant person, but prefer something else, do that. The important point is that you work from a setup that feels great to you. You might ask why this is necessary? And I will tell you that by working from home, almost 90% of the time I want to look and be in a space that feels nice and comfortable. It adds to my energy and how productive I feel. And this ultimately will have an effect on how good of a remote worker and leader you can be!

  • Choose the best chair you can afford!
  • Decorate and make your office feel like it is yours.
  • Make a Home Office stipend available to your employees!

Morning and Evening Routines

As a remote worker your commute is often only a couple of meters (or feet), from your bedroom to your office. And as I already wrote it is quite hard to either get out of the working mode or start to be in working mode. Not having a commute is mostly a very positive thing, be it for the environment and yourself. But it also is a routine, helping you to understand that shortly, you‘ll begin to work. How can we replicate that in a remote work setup?

I think the easiest option here is to set up morning and evening routines for oneself. It‘ll help you to learn when it is time to start working and when it is time to finish. Our bodies need those signal points in order to switch in the correct mode. Building habits is all about being consistent and disciplined. What helped me to build them is first I try to keep my routines simple and second I use an app called Streaks. Having simple routines won‘t allow for excuses, because it is just easier to do them and having an app helps me to have a tool which keeps me somewhat accountable.

Here is an example of how my morning an evening routines look like:

My morning routine

  • 6:30am Waking up after at least 8 hours of sleep
  • 6:40am Showering + Brushing my teeth
  • 7:00am Walking my dog for around 20 minutes, while listening to an audiobook
  • 7:30am Making coffee and having breakfast catching up on notifications
  • 8:00am – 9:00am Writing
  • 9:00am Start Work

My evening routine

  • 6:30pm I‘ll try to be done at that time, depending on my calendar (I do a long lunch pause, so my evenings get a bit longer)
  • 6:40pm Walk the dog with my wife and catching up about the day
  • 7:00pm Cooking Dinner
  • After Dinner its reading time

Kill Distractions outside of work

You‘ve finally closed the laptop, sat down on your sofa, and suddenly your phone vibrates and a Slack notification pops up. Immediately you are pulled back into work, because you feel that you just have to quickly answer this one message. Scenarios like this happen all the time, not just to remote workers. Even if you work in an office, your phone has at least your emails on it 😉

I would highly encourage everyone to setup their devices, so that distractions outside your working time won‘t happen. There are a couple of easy things you can do to help with that:

Enable Do not Disturb Mode (DnD) on your phone: I rarely see notifications on my phone after 7pm because of that. With DnD Mode you can choose a time period where no notifications will get through. Certain apps also have a separate DnD mode, like Slack for example. Make use of all of those. The less notifications you receive the better. (iOS – Android)

Delete Slack from your phone: This is a more drastic measure, and maybe not everyone wants to got that far. But I would still recommend it when you go on vacation or are on a longer off-time.

Move Work/Social Media apps : Another little hack is to move all work related apps (and sometimes even social media apps) onto a second or third screen on your phone. That will help you to not see any of it, even if you use your phone in your evenings. Of course it is not failsafe, but better than nothing!

Remember to not only set this up on your phone, but basically on all devices you use while working and on your personal time. Whether its your tablet or computer!

I hope that some of those tips will help you to set the foundation for your future as a leader in you next remote team. Of course all of this is relevant to anyone working remotely, but as I mentioned in the beginning even more so for leaders who will act as role models.


Are you interested in becoming a manager of a distributed team, or in general about management in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

Active Listening: A Guide for Leaders and Managers of Remote Teams

„The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.” – Philosopher Chuang-Tzu

Recently I have been talking to a bunch of people, especially engineers, who are getting interested in the area of Engineering Management. The question I most often get asked is „What does an EM do?”. I feel in two parts about this – on one side I am getting excited to answer this, as I am so passionate about this topic – on the other side I think „Oh ok wow, either they did not have a good manager, or none at all”. With this post, I wanted to share one of the biggest learnings for me on this journey – about Active Listening. It will also hopefully show and bring a bit more light into what a Manager nowadays actually does.

Problem? Solution!

Communication is the most important tool we have when it comes to team work – even more so in remote work, where teams are physically not in one location like my team. Communication sometimes is the only thing we have and the only thing we can build upon! But as an engineer, I focused more on code, than communication. Of course I talked to people, but my output, my work was writing code and solving problems. Communication is not just the talking part. It isn‘t a one-way channel.

When I became a manager I realized that I have to listen a lot more. And when I say a lot, I mean it. Listening sounds simple right? I thought so too – just listen to the words the other person or your team is saying and that‘s it. Well, let me tell you that it is not that plain and simple. Hearing what they are saying is one thing, but really listening – listening for what the meaning is, and how the other person is feeling. This is something I wasn‘t good at, I really sucked at it. As an engineer, whenever I heard „there is a problem” my brain shifted to „let‘s solve it” or „I know a solution”. Being effective is what makes a great engineer – and this is exactly what worked against me at the beginning.

Problem? Listen!

Conversations are a tricky thing. Especially when it comes to difficult topics, like receiving/giving feedback, talking about a very personal topic or personal issues. As a manager, this is what your work is made out of. In those moments it is really important to understand the other person. To be safe that you didn’t get it the wrong way and thus really miss the opportunity to react appropriately – it is important to check whether what you actually heard, is what your counterpart meant. Sometimes the other person isn‘t even sure about how to say it and what to say exactly. So in order to check if you understood everything correctly you should use something called „Active Listening”.

What is „Active Listening”?

When actively listening you are trying to fully concentrate, understand the emotions, respond and then remember what is being said.

Active Listening creates the foundation to have a clear exchange and a shared understanding. Normally I would tend to follow my desire to give advice, share my opinion or show my own emotions. But instead active listening evolves around having a reaction full of empathy. Empathy requires our full attention to understand the whole message. Something I try to repeat in my head in every conversation „Ask, before your give advice or comfort!”

Empathetic Understanding: Empathetic Understanding is what I would call the basic attitude of active listening. With it I am trying to empathise with the other persons feelings and thoughts, in order to follow the conversation. I am there to tell them „I‘ve not only understood what you are saying but also what you meant and how you‘ve felt”. In that way, unreasonable behaviours from my counterpart started to make sense to me. For a limited time I am trying to see the world from the other persons eyes.

Listening is not Agreeing: Listening for a while, to understand the other persons arguments, doesn’t necessarily mean that I am agreeing with them. It is indeed possible to take it all in and then carefully share your own viewpoint, even if it‘s completely different or the same.

A requirement for good active listening is an interest in the person and actually being willing to listen to them. For example if you are being distracted, while talking to someone you have to be open and honest about. Saying can we please postpone this conversation, or ask for some minutes to get the distraction out of your way. Not listening, but pretending to do so is very impolite.

And now?

There are two things that I learned and did to use the Active Listening approach more in my conversations.

The first one has to do with paraphrasing. If we understand the statement correctly, it‘ll prove that with a summary of the argument. At the same time, paraphrasing has a great side effect. We are giving the other person time to reflect and listen to their inner voice again more accurately. The best way to paraphrase is to try and repeat the argument in our own words, showing that we understand and asking at the same time if we missed anything. The questions could also focus on what the other person:

  • observed: „Are you referring to the number of days I was off in the last two weeks?”
  • feels and the needs their emotions evoke: „Do you feel hurt, because you are not getting enough recognition for your work?”
  • requests: „Would you like to hear the reasons, why I said that?”

To give you an example: Instead of saying „What did I do?” when you are in a discussion with someone, you could say: „I am frustrated, because I would like to understand what you are referring to. Would you be up for telling me what I did, and what led you to look at me this way?” And of course not always do we have to ask or say it like that, it has to be in the flow of the conversation. Sometimes the tone of the conversation already helps in understanding emotions, and it might then not be helpful to ask and ask again.

The other thing is working on your behavior to react in conversations. I noticed a couple of different phrases, which stopped me from engaging in Active Listening. Most of them came from me wanting to solve things quickly 😉

For example:

  • Giving Advice: „I think you should, …”; „Why didn‘t you …”
  • Stepping it up: „That‘s nothing, listen what happened to me.”
  • Comforting: „It wasn‘t your mistake; you tried your best.”
  • Telling stories: „That reminds me of a time …”
  • Cutting someone short: „Come on, smile. Just hang in there.”
  • Pity: „You poor …”
  • Interrogate: „When did it begin?”
  • Give Explanations: „I would have called, but …”
  • Revise: „That‘s not how it went.”

Just having that list written down here, is a big help for me. Whenever I want to go for one now, I try to stop and reflect if I can answer in a better way. I still use some of them here and there, but getting better and working on yourself is a journey.

“In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.” – Martin Buber

Three stages

The more I learned about it, and the more I started to actively listen and work on my communication, I noticed that it kind of came in phases. In my case I went through the following 3 stages:

  1. Signaling that you are listening
    • It is important to really concentrate on the conversation, and not fiddle around with other things, turn off the phone and other distractions.
    • Keeping eye contact and signaling that you follow with „Yes”, „Ah”, „Hmm” – of course all of that should happen in a natural way. Especially in remote work and video calls it is important to show that you are there, otherwise the conversation partner might ask „Are you still there?”
  2. Active Listening and Paraphrasing
    • Here all of the Active Listening we learned above is happening. Really listening and checking if you understood it correctly. Remember to not do it constantly but mostly for important arguments
  3. Put the other persons feelings into words
    • This is the hardest one, and I am still working on it. But what it means is that you are able to express the feelings of the other person in your own words – „… and you are pretty angry about that, right?”. Even if that is not 100% correct, it signals to the other person to clarify even more – „No the anger passed already, now I am just disappointed”. That all results in an even better understanding.
    • You are acting as a mirror, helping the other person to gain more clarity about their own situation.

Not everything is 💯

Of course not everything becomes suddenly super easy when actively listening. There are difficulties too, especially with all our different background, personal stories and cultures.

Time of no solution

Coming from an engineering background, I approach challenges in a very effective way: I want to solve the problem. I had to exercise and tell myself to hold back with my opinion, my ideas or arguments. I had to become comfortable with the „time of no solution” (and let me tell you it is hard!). With Active Listening it is important to first gather all the context in the conversation, and then afterwards start to form a potential solution. Leaving the context exploration out of it, I could end up with unwanted side-effects or the solution to not be effective after all. I learned that solutions are not always made within one conversation. They can take longer, especially when personal and interpersonal challenges are in the mix.

Handling your emotions

We know that as soon as personal topics come up, emotions start to play an important role. We also learned that with active listening, we are putting more focus on those emotions, which means that they‘ll show up in a more significant way. Tears or other forms of emotions are therefore a sign that a crucial topic was just brought up. It is important then to not run away in your head or to hush it off („It is not that bad, right”) or even change the topic, but to embrace the emotions and stay with them. Most of the times that‘s enough. Exactly that, to tolerate someone else’s feelings, without thinking about an immediate solution, is the hard part. Sometimes we are too embarrassed to learn how to cope with moments like this.

In my experience, letting those feelings be heard and understood doesn‘t lead to catastrophic situations but to unexpected positive outcomes.

Silence

To be silent in a conversation is often seen as an embarrassing thing. I definitely felt that a lot, and sometimes even still feel it now. After a lot of reflection and learning l realized that it can also mean that myself or the other person is just busy with their thoughts and figuring out how and what to say. This is very likely to happen with active listening, as you put more focus on what you will respond with. It is hard to push through but enduring that silence for a couple of seconds can really help and won‘t disturb the other persons thoughts.

If the silence is getting uncomfortable you can also ask „Hey what‘s on your mind?” The answer will give you a hint if you are too impatient or if the other person really doesn‘t have to say anything anymore. With that questions you are also showing them that you are interested in the inner workings and thoughts and want to have a part in it. Of course the decision to let you know is still with the other person and not you.

What about the other side?

Until now I focused on my own side, the manager, but in a conversation there are always at least two persons. The question I asked myself after learning more about Active Listening and exercising it – How do others receive it?

Better understanding

With Active Listening your conversation partner will not only feel heard but also understood. Even if you didn‘t get everything right on the first go, it is important to show that and follow up with a questions to really get into the detail of the argument or topic the other person has brought up. I have been in those moments, where I realized that the effect on the other person is huge. They suddenly open up and start to engage even more in the conversation.

Slowing down

Active Listening also had another effect I saw in my conversations. It kind of slowed everything down. Instead of sending arguments back and forth, you are really trying to get to the bottom of an issue. In that way it is more likely to understand the real issue of an argument. Of course this can all take a bit longer, but who said we have to be fast (you are not delivering code at the end of your day 😉)? The time investment will be worth it, as you start noticing that the effect will be longer lasting, instead of solving miss-understanding when solving things „fast”.

When is it helpful and when is it not?

Active listening can be especially useful in certain situations and not so in other. If your direct report is bringing up a complicated, personal or other sensitive topic, it can help you to understand the full picture. In your summary of what you heard you can always add or end with the question „Did I get that correctly?”. Or another situation might be if you are in a more heated discussion. Active Listening can help you to see and understand the other side, without ending up in a back and forth of arguments.

You can say „I would like to understand first, what brought you to this opinion, before I can respond to it”. You can also use Active Listening to help the other person understand more of their emotions and thoughts. Through my clarifying asking, it can help the other person to understand their situation in a much clearer way, and might come to a solution themselves. This is pretty powerful, because the person ultimately finds their own way to solve the issue and empowers them in a big way.

But of course there are also ways where it doesn‘t really help. It is not the one solution for everything. Especially as every person has different levels of sensibility – it is important to pair Active Listening with understanding those boundaries. If you ask someone „You seem quite down today”, and the other person responds with „Yes, a family issue is still keeping me up at night, but I don‘t want to talk about it right now” – then you have to respect that and not follow up or ask more questions around that topic.

I hope that I was able to share what it means to become a better listener, and that you at least give it a try!

If you have any thoughts, ideas, questions around that topic please don‘t hesitate to reach out to me. I am super happy to chat and learn from other experiences.


Are you interested in becoming a manager of a distributed team, or in general about management in distributed companies? Please let me know what questions you have and what you find challenging. Feel free to check out this little survey I set up. I appreciate anything you can share with me 🙌

5 Things I learned becoming a Manager of a Distributed Team

Almost two years ago, I fell into becoming a manager.

In my past career, I never thought that this would happen. Most of my life I’ve been a maker: working as an engineer, solving technical problems and building apps, products, or just circuit boards.

People management was a huge change. I learned a lot of things the hard way through trial and error, success and failure — but also by reading a lot: books about management, stories about teams and culture, and articles by others who went through the same transition from maker to manager as I did.

I thought I’d take the chance to return the favour by writing about the five things that helped me transition from maker to manager and to level up and grow into my management position.

1. Say good-bye to your work .. and say hello to your team

I know this is a really tricky one: to stop doing what you’ve been doing for the past several years, and what also ultimately got you to this point in your career. Here’s the perspective that I needed to embrace:

Becoming a manager is not a promotion, it is a career change.

Viewing it this way, change is normalized. In my case, I realized that, after a while, coding became a distraction for me. At the beginning of this shift, I was still shipping features and bug fixes while also doing 1:1s with the team on a weekly basis. I couldn’t fully concentrate on one or the other, and that resulted in me doing a bad job in both areas. Both areas are important, but you have to choose one. In my case, I chose the team, and not the code.

As a manager you need to put the company first, your team second, and your team members last.

Now this may sound harsh, but in practice, it leads to the best outcomes for everyone involved. For example, let’s say you mixed up the order of these priorities: you put team members first and the company last. You could easily find yourself with an amazing team, building something that doesn’t move the needle in any way for the company. Or worse, you could end up with a group of empowered individuals, each going off on their own way and not producing much valuable work.

It is incredibly important for you as a manager to understand the higher-level vision of your company. You need to know where the ship needs to sail. Only then can you help your team get there and help them grow into the right direction.

2. Own your education

This one is probably pretty straightforward and could be said about any role or any job. But it is still worth mentioning especially in a career shift similar to mine, going from maker to manager.

I always use this quote from Albert Einstein to highlight how important learning is for us humans (just replace “moving” with “learning”).

Life is like riding a bicycle, in order to keep your balance you must keep moving

The main thing I did in my first few weeks and months was to read, read, read. I needed to learn what management actually is. What are some effective management styles? How do I facilitate great 1:1s? How can I be a great manager without ending up micro-managing everything?

I learned how important it is to be open and honest, and to build trust in my team, and to encourage discussions.

I learned more about everyone in my team, what they like and don’t like. What is their work style? Do they flourish in chaotic situations or dread them? All these details are important to understand, to help each individual grow and perform at their best.

I learned about the different processes we had or were missing at Buffer. Your job as a manager is it to make the life of your team easier and to move obstacles out of their way. So knowing how things are done and where you can improve them is highly important.

Here are a couple of books I would encourage everyone to read, who leads a team or manages one: 

Managing Humans by Michael Loop Really insightful for first time managers, and learning what’s its all about, and foremost learn that it is all about humans.

The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier Awesome overview of the what roles an engineering team normally has and what the expectations in those job might be.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni I would call this my favorite book, when it comes to building great teams. Although it is written in a fable style, it is so insightful, and so resourceful! Really recommend this to everyone who works in a team.

3. Build your Megazord

What is a Megazord you might ask?

Maybe some of you grown up in the 90s or know the Power Rangers? Well the Megazord is the big robot they create together when they need to fight a bigger more powerful enemy. They could never fight an enemy that big alone, so they come together and form this huge, invincible machine.

We all know that the sum is always bigger than the parts. It’s true for Power Rangers. It’s true for management.

In other words, as you’re making the transition from maker to manager, it’s vital that you create a support network.

Find people who will push you out of your comfort zone and show you a new way of doing things. Surround yourself with people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. Find psychologists, design leaders, or even a kitchen chef. Understanding how others approach problems or find solutions is so key in broadening your horizon!

And there was even an easy way for me to do so. I signed up to two Slack Communities at the beginning of my transition. Just by learning how others approach those things or just learning that bigger companies or more experienced leaders still struggle with similar problems was super helpful to me.

Go ahead and sign up to them, learn from the community, return the favour and share your learnings and struggles too:

(Bonus: You can also learn a lot by reaching out on LinkedIn to those in similar roles. I gained a lot from this!)

4. Don’t do it all

This fourth point is something I just discovered recently, and it opened my mind. We all know that delegation becomes more important the more people you might lead or the more work you have on your hands.

Delegating sounds easy, right? I just tell everyone what to do!

Well I thought so too, but I discovered that it is not easy, and that it requires active work to do delegation the right way.

I thought I was doing great in my job, everything was going well, then I discovered this article by Camille Fournier: When Being “Helpful” Is Actually Hurting. (Notice the airquotes around “helpful.”)

This article opened my eyes! I wasn’t doing bad, but there were a lot of improvements I took from this article. The biggest learning, which I have written in front of me on a sticky-note at my desk, is:

I need to stop taking over work in the name of helpfulness

For instance, if you tell someone on your team that you want to look over all the proposals and be the last one to have a say in something, you limit their growth.

As soon as I understood that, I felt bad. Here I was, thinking I was helping. But essentially when I took over someone’s work or helped them out, I was blocking my team from growing!

5. Being productive in a different way

Last but not least, something almost everyone changing jobs has to cope with.

When you work as a maker/engineer, your output is easily measurable. You know what you are doing and you have something to show at the end of a day. Either something written, something working in your app or your website, or even something you can touch. You can say to yourself – “Nice I did something today, I was productive”.

Here is a quick comparison of what I used as a productivity indicator when I was an engineer:

But now as a manager all I had was this:

As you can see in the screenshot above, your calendar automatically fills up, and at the end of a day, you have meetings to show, not features, bug fixes, blog posts, etc. This was pretty hard for me, I didn’t know if I was productive in a day or not. I had nothing to measure it with, until I realized that my job now, is to make the team work, to chat to people and resolve problems and help the team to flourish. The impact of your work as a manager, is not immediately visible, it’ll play out over the long run.

Having patience and trust is key, when shifting jobs from maker to manager. Feel comfortable with what you do. If your team is doing great, you are doing a great job.


Over to you

  • Have you made the switch from maker to manager? Have you considered it?
  • Which type of path do you resonate with more strongly?

It’d be great to hear your thoughts in the comments. I am also happy to chat with people who are really interested in making this transition, or maybe don’t know how to even get to transition. If you are curious just reach out to me!

What does it mean to be a Mobile Lead?

I often feel the need to explain what my role means. It is not as clear as “I am an iOS Engineer” or “I am a Designer”. There will also be a thousand different description depending on the company people work at. For us here at Buffer being a Mobile Lead means I am doing a mix of the work of an Engineering Manager and a Product Manager. My job is to help the Mobile Team be able to build our products, whatever that might look like. Speaking up for the team, helping with cross-dependencies or personal thoughts. Let’s turn back a little bit.

How did I end up in this role?

Before having a person leading the Mobile Team long-term, it was a shared responsibility between our CTO and us, the Mobile Engineers. Our team was operating mostly on its own, in our own Mobile world. Only connected to the rest of the engineering and product teams through our CTO. We were doing 1:1s with him on a not so regular basis and were receiving news/requests and other important information through that role.

Roughly 1 1/2 year ago, our CTO decided to move on and leave Buffer. That left us in a tricky situation. At that moment I was worried that this would end up in the Mobile Team drifting further and further away from the actual product teams at Buffer. Luckily I was able to join a group of Engineering Leads at that time to form an interim group, chatting about all the things we needed to replace and work on in this transition period. What I did in those meetings, was to always raise my hand and say things like “Whats with Mobile…”, “This is a huge change for us, ….”, “The Mobile Team needs some support for …”, I became kind of an advocate for the team.

In this transition period, the first thing we did shift was, that I started doing 1:1s with the team and keep them connected to the rest of the team. Trying to help the team to feel safe and cared about, was an important aspect of having someone lead the team. I was bridging the gap between the Mobile Team and the rest of Engineering at Buffer. At the same time, I was still working as an Android Developer.

Do you want to be the Mobile Lead?

After a while, we understood that this role is key in getting the Mobile Team even closer to the rest of the company and keep iterating on where and what the Team can do in the future. Step after Step I started to tackle more and more different topics, like advocating in product meetings that we need to consider Mobile too and build features into the API.

This is what I would call the first transition. Supporting the Mobile Engineers and helping them achieve their professional goals and develop opportunities for them to grow.

While advocating for Mobile in Product Meetings, it became clear that there are still untapped areas for how Mobile can make the experience for Buffer better. That is where the second transition happened or is still happening. I am focusing almost 50% of my time now and understanding more about the Mobile Product Environment, what our users want and do on Mobile. This area of my work is still quite new to me, but it excites me as much as the other half of it!

As you can see in the diagram below, my role is the cross section of Product and Engineering Manager. In my day-to-day, I am focusing on what and who is going to build those stories. You can probably imagine that those roles are never perfect circles. So my areas of focus will never be exactly like this. Especially if you consider that almost half of my time I spend with the Engineering Leads on each platform (iOS + Android) to make this process a dialog.

Engineering Manager

The Engineering Manager part of my role is heavily focused on the people management side, and not so much on the technical side. That’s where I work together with the Tech Leads of each platform and rely on their knowledge.

Some points of what I am doing as an Engineering Manager:

  • Lead and align the engineering team with the Engineering vision
  • Prioritise tasks for the team
  • Inspire, mentor, and evaluate the engineering team
  • Cultivate our team culture
  • Collaborate with cross-functional peers to deliver projects Improve engineering quality and efficiency (e.g. improve workflow, code review, etc.)
  • Hire qualified candidates to strengthen company and team

Product Manager

As I mentioned above this is something I am still working on and am figuring out while you read this. A couple of points I’ve already worked on and plan to do:

  • Set the long-term vision and strategy for the Mobile Product
  • Communicate this strategy to all of the relevant participants and stakeholders
  • Write together User Stories and Roadmaps
  • Make Decisions based on Metrics
  • User Research to gain more insights into how the product is used and can be optimized

What does that look like on a daily or weekly basis?

This can all sound a bit generic and it is hard to understand what I actually do day in, day out.

I’ve been really enjoying the variety and differences in my days. It never gets boring. Of course, there are moments when both parts (PM, EM) require full attention. When that happens, it can become a bit struggling but with the right peers and the right support, it is always doable. And ultimately having both views, Product View and Engineering/People View it’s really helpful even in those situations.

Here is a screenshot of my calendar, where you can see how I split up my time on a weekly basis. Staying in the same mindset and not change context every hour is key to not becoming tired fast. I use colors on my calendar to differentiate those areas inspired by Lara Hogan’s article.

  • Blue — Product related Calls
  • Green — People Management/ One-to-Ones
  • Red — Engineering Lead Specific Calls

Overall everything I learned until now in this role has been super helpful in understanding more about building great teams and products. I would never have gone another way.

I hope that this helps to understand what it means to be a Mobile Lead at Buffer. If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to chat about this, learn from you or maybe even help you with challenges in your current role.