The Remote Show

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Tyler Sellhorn (00:02):
Hello, everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:23):
Today we welcome Adam Nathan, CEO of Almanac. Adam is a product guy, business nerd and passionate about elevating how people work and making that knowledge a low cost resource for everyone to use to succeed. Almanac is an operating system for distributed work, which cuts Slack, email and meetings by 80% through asynchronous workflows and version control built into your document editor. Also, he loves airplanes.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:47):
Welcome to The Remote Show, Adam. Tell us what problems are you trying to solve with Almanac?
Adam Nathan (00:52):
Yeah, good to be here. Tyler. Well, I started Almanac, really, because I realized I was spending a lot of my time at work doing things that didn't feel like work. I was constantly in meetings, always checking Slack and email for the latest notifications and even still wondering if I was on the same page about my colleagues around basic stuff. And we think that's because the tools that people use for work, like Microsoft Office and Google Suite, were really designed for an era in which basic collaboration happened at the same time in the same location, often in an office in a meeting room. And as work has moved online and become digitalized and now increasingly is distributed, those doc editors haven't changed at all.
Adam Nathan (01:33):
And so we now have a bunch of other tools like Slack and email and Zoom and Asana that help us get stuff done. But any value that those tools create on their own as individual products is obviated when you're trying to get stuff done across them. And so most people end up with a scattered, opaque mess of information and knowledge across five or six different applications. And so very basic things like assigning tasks or trying to get feedback or approvals, or updating documentation, or trying to spread information throughout your organization ends up taking way, way longer than it should. And that decreases the time that people like you and me can spend on the things that we love, the things that we were hired to do, the things that we get up in the morning to work on.
Adam Nathan (02:11):
And so we built Almanac to solve that problem. We call Almanac an asynchronous operating system for distributed work. And it's really designed for teams and organizations that are working across time zones and geographies: remote teams, distributed teams, hybrid teams. And Almanac at its core is a real-time doc editor just like Google docs, but we built version control and workflows around that doc editor so that you can go from start to finish on basic repetitive types of collaboration, like getting feedback or updating documentation, without ever leaving our product. And what we hear from our customers is that reduces the amount of time they spend on overhead work, like responding to notifications or attending needless meetings, by 80%.
Tyler Sellhorn (02:50):
Really cool. I know that in my day job, we are customers of you all, and I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to work in that asynchronous kind of mindset. And I'd like to go deeper on that idea. When you think about building an asynchronous document editor, what are the things that that means? What are the things that layer on top of that fundamental idea?
Adam Nathan (03:15):
So just to define what asynchronous means for the audience, asynchronous is the opposite of synchronous. And when we say synchronous styles of work or synchronous forums, that is essentially things like meetings or even Slack or email, where your colleagues are responding in real time instantly to anything that you put out there. And so a meeting is synchronous in that we're having a conversation, you're responding, just as in this podcast, right after I say something. And so it's in real time in the same place. And so asynchronous is the opposite of that, which means that you can still collaborate and communicate, not in real time and not in the same location. And so asynchronous is really essential for anyone who's working on a remote team, on a distributed team, or even in a hybrid work environment where you might have people who are collaborating across time zones and geographies and certainly not in the office at the same time.
Adam Nathan (04:07):
We have a really good model for how asynchronous collaboration should work in that engineers have been working asynchronously for 20 years. And there's two technologies that really enabled engineers to work asynchronously. The first was Git. Git is a programming language that helps to compare changes in code. And before Git, engineers who were working in their homes or offices would have to physically co-locate next to each other when they wanted to combine their code and put their monitors next to each other and scan line by line to understand what the differences were between what one person wrote and what another person wrote. And as you can imagine, super inefficient, very prone to errors. And then when Git came along, Git allowed for engineers to sync their code and have the program tell them what was added and what was deleted. And so it allowed for people that were working in different places and at different times to compare their work and then transact on top of it, merge it together, branch it apart, make copies of it.
Adam Nathan (05:01):
And so version control is critical to asynchronous infrastructure in that it allows people who are not working at the same time or place to be able to see what has changed since the last moment they were there, how their work compares to other people's work. I think about version control as kind of street view for your work, where you can see what's to the left, what's to the right, what's ahead or what's behind the stuff that you're immediately doing. And that's in contrast to what we see people doing today in documents, which is creating all of these unlinked files that have crazy names like The Final, Use This One, or Adam's Notes on This Meeting V8 with a timestamp after it. No one can tell what's the right version. No one can tell what they should be working off of, what was approved, what was not approved. And so Git and version control helped to do that for engineers, and version control is also a big part of Almanac and everything critical to any asynchronous collaboration.
Adam Nathan (05:53):
The second thing that makes asynchronous collaboration, it worked for engineers, was GitHub. And GitHub was basically a collaboration interface on top of Git with the language. And GitHub had these workflows that let engineers ask other engineers for feedback on their code, for approval to merge it in. It had super transparent logs of who did what, where and when. And GitHub on top of Git basically allowed engineers to do critical types of collaboration without needing a meeting and all of the context for the collaboration, all the communication, all the task management was included in the tool next to the work itself.
Adam Nathan (06:28):
And so Git and GitHub enabled engineers, all of a sudden, to work from anywhere at any time with anyone, without needing constant meetings or messages. And so you can contrast that with how the rest of us still work today for the most part, which is a wall to wall schedule of meetings every day, constant notifications and messages on Slack and email. And so what we're building with Almanac is a platform that enables asynchronous collaboration in documents. And we think the critical parts of that are building version control into the tool so that you can see all the work that's closely related to the work that you're doing. And then these workflows around the basic types of collaboration you do with your colleagues, so that you don't need five or six different tools to do basic stuff, and so that can enable you to really focus on the work that matters.
Tyler Sellhorn (07:12):
Really cool. So if I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying that the rest of us, meaning non-engineers, need to embrace some of the tools that are going to enable us to work in that asynchronous, location independent way. I know that I've experienced that for myself, trying out Almanac. And I think that these sorts of themes are going to be running through remote work and remote working best practices going forward. I've noticed your advocacy for your product online, but I'm also seeing some of those broader themes that you've been discussing of thinking about remote working being a gateway to asynchronous working. Tell us the journey that you've been on to kind of create that statement for you and your organization. When you think about remote working being a gateway towards asynchronous work, what are the things that are the milestones on that journey for you?
Adam Nathan (08:10):
Almanac is at its core a productivity tool, but we describe it as a cultural choice because what we see in our customers is that remote work and the transition to asynchronous work is not just really about switching the tool that you use, but it's really a transition about how you manage your company, how you manage your work, how you operate in a team, how you're a leader or a contributor. This transition that we are all going through from what we call office culture, where things happened at the same place in the same time, to cloud culture, where you can be remote. Work is distributed. Everyone's operating async first. Information is all located in the same place, which is all up in the cloud. That's a huge transition. And it requires, I think, organizations and individuals to rethink much of how they operate.
Adam Nathan (08:55):
And there are some organizations out there that, even though they're being pulled into the cloud, will refuse to change and that's okay. I think there's going to be winners and losers in this new era that we're now in. And the winners will embrace the fact that work has changed. Work is now remote. Work is distributed. Work is cloud-centric. Work is async first. And that means we have to operate differently. And that means the tooling that we use, the infrastructure that we use to communicate and collaborate and compose, needs to change too. Microsoft Word is a great document editor, but it's terrible at doc management. And that's because it was designed for a time in which management happened in a meeting, in an office. And so we think companies that are going to win in this new era will change the tooling that they use to manage and operate, and that's what we're building Almanac for.
Tyler Sellhorn (09:43):
Really cool. I know for myself, my journey from a co-located environment as a secondary school teacher to a fully distributed organization at Hubstaff, that shift, that journey was one that you're describing. Right? Moving away from, "We are working on the same document together. I'm showing you on the board the document that I'm working on." Right? And now I am working on that document with people that I do not even share working times with. Right? And so that story that you're describing is the one that is happening over and over again, as people join or grow into a remote working experience.
Adam Nathan (10:28):
And what I'll add to that is that while there are organizations out there that understand that things are changing and want to make remote and distributed work a competitive advantage at their organization, there's even more people who realize that the status quo is unsustainable. And if you look at what happened during COVID, where everybody was forced to become remote, often in very unideal situations where they couldn't travel at all, burnout increased in organizations by 64%, according to nd.com. People were working two hours more on average outside of normal working hours. People started to realize that trying to superimpose the old way of working, which meant more meetings, more messages, on our new environment of remote and distributed collaboration doesn't work. And so if you want to make work sustainable for yourself or for your team, you need to change the way that you're working, and that means you need to change your tooling.
Adam Nathan (11:21):
And so we see far more customers come to Almanac because they realize that what they're doing is not working, is unsustainable for their team, is going to eventually cause their failure and that they need to change. And that's not just true of small organizations and startups, but of very large companies, Fortune 5,000 companies, hospital chains, banks, airlines, manufacturing companies. We think every job that can be distributed will become distributed because in general, it's great for equity. The company can operate more continuously. You can hire people wherever they live, based on their skills, rather than their resumes. It's often good for the bottom line if you're not just hiring people in New York and San Francisco but across the United States and the world. But that means companies of all types and sizes will need to change how they operate. And you just can't add more and more meetings to people's schedules because you have a team in 10 different time zones, you need to embrace async. You need to embrace distributed collaboration. And that's the trend that we're trying to serve.
Tyler Sellhorn (12:22):
Well, I know that that's become a theme of our podcast is, how do we approach this new era in an intentional way? What you're talking about is saying, "Okay, well, we are now going to be working in these distributed ways. What does that mean for the things that we're doing and what we're using to do it?" Okay. So you're a new startup. Right? You're doing some hiring remotely. Right? And you're wanting to kind of communicate to the world and to candidates that you all have the very thing that we've described, a remote, asynchronous working culture. What are the things that you're saying in your about page or in a job description to communicate to people, "Yeah, we really mean it. We really mean this remote working thing." What are the things that you're saying in those spaces to communicate that to candidates?
Adam Nathan (13:12):
Well, the first thing that we've done is open source every part of the way that we operate at Almanac. And so we have an internal team handbook that includes not just things like our vision and our virtues, but everything around our processes, our policies, around our employee value proposition, how we build and release and market and sell our products. And that is all totally open for anybody to see on the internet. And we send that to candidates really early in our process, so they get a sense of how we work. We think, especially in a remote context where you're not sitting next to your colleagues all the time, transparency creates trust and confidence. And so we try to communicate that really early in the process to prospective employees of Almanac, so they get a sense of who we are, how we operate and whether there might be a fit there.
Adam Nathan (14:00):
The second thing that we do that's really important, I think, in our process is share a lot of details around how we think about compensation and the value proposition we can deliver to our team members. Many companies don't do this at all. It ends up being a competitive advantage for us because we're really clear and open about how we make decisions around people's salaries, how we think about equity, how we think about employee benefits, and giving people information about that really early in the process helps to build a much deeper and more trusting relationship even before we make an offer or folks join Almanac. And so we think openness, transparency creates clarity and confidence and a positive dynamic from the start.
Adam Nathan (14:40):
We've also spent a lot of time thinking about employee benefits. Any remote company can't offer things like free lunch or a ping pong table that you might find at a in-person startup in the olden days, like the early two 2000s, in places like San Francisco. And so we spent a lot of time thinking about what we can do to offer a really great experience for our 100% remote team. Right now I'm talking to you from our US employee retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona. We meet up as a team every three to four months. We've had retreats in places like Paris, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Mexico City. We think async first doesn't mean async only, and it's really critical for the team to come together and bond and be able to work together in these retreats every quarter or so.
Adam Nathan (15:23):
And so that's a huge benefit that we really invest in. We provide a remote working stipend so that people can outfit their space in their house with a great monitor or a comfy chair. We provide a wellness benefit so that if folks are working from the ski mountains during the winter, they can buy a season pass, or if they're located close to the beach, they can buy a bike or a surfboard. And so we want people to not just have fun at work, but really live a full life outside of work. Work is only a part of what our employees experience every day, and we think it's our responsibility to help make life great for the people that work at Almanac in and out of work.
Tyler Sellhorn (15:57):
That's awesome. I specifically want to just highlight the thing that you said where remote first doesn't mean remote only, and that coming together is a part of remote work, as well as getting away. That we are going to be working from anywhere, including in co-located environments where we get to be together, but then also to go away. Right? What are the things that we're doing when we're together? Well, the same things that you might've done when you had an after work social event, right? Well, okay, remote teams, because of the arbitrage of being able to employ people in less expensive places, we can then provide different types of benefits that feed the lives of individuals rather than feeding the coffers of a major metro commercial real estate person. Those are things that is part of the disruption of remote work, but it's exciting to hear Almanac living out those values and living them out in a way that feeds the bottom lines of its individual contributors, as well as the business itself.
Adam Nathan (16:58):
Yeah, that's right. Some ideas that we've floated around as we start to really scale our team are offering subsidies where we actually pay for people to co-locate for periods of time, which is obviously really fun for our employees and their partners and families to get away for a bit, but also helps with periods of intense collaboration that we sometimes need around important features or priorities. I think over time, even at Almanac, we're a hundred percent distributed right now, we will have coworking hubs in various cities where we have concentrations of employees so that people can meet up if they want to some days during the week.
Adam Nathan (17:32):
I think what you said is totally right, which is people spend most of their time at Almanac actually focusing on work that matters, and having those long periods to get into a flow state actually makes work a lot more fun for our team, I think, versus being at a company where you're just going from meeting to meeting. But that doesn't mean that you spend a hundred percent of your time in flow state. Sometimes you do need to meet and work together. And there's a ton of benefits, obviously, from being really intentional around the times that you do meet. And so when we do have teams that are working together synchronously, we want to also make sure that's a great experience, and the best way to do it is to bring people together in an amazing location so that they can get stuff done and have a lot of fun at the same time.
Tyler Sellhorn (18:11):
I'm so glad to hear our experiences rhyming with one another, right? Some of those best practices that are out there. You mentioned being very open about your handbook, that being something that Git Lab has been at the forefront of doing. And even just the open source kind of leading the way. We've had Matt Mullenweg on the podcast, right? And we've talked to other async first organizations, and those are the types of things that are really, really kind of leading the way in terms of what we ought to be doing.
Tyler Sellhorn (18:42):
I want to transition and kind of speak to those remote job seekers that are listening today. And they're wondering, how do I communicate my readiness to work in this new way of working? Maybe I'm somebody who's considering leaving an office first culture and I'd like to join the remote work movement and be a part of an organization like Almanac. What are the things that I can do to communicate my readiness to do this thing? I've tried working from home during the pandemic, but now it's time for me to decide, am I going to go on and seek a position at a remote first company?
Adam Nathan (19:21):
I think my overall advice is encapsulated in three words, show, don't tell. I think the future of recruiting and job searches is not LinkedIn, it's work samples that candidates publish online, that actually show employers what they can do. At Almanac, we don't hire people based on their resumes. Often we don't even look at people's resumes. We ban LinkedIn from our hiring process. What we really like to see is what people can do and what they've done in the past. And so if you're applying for a job in product management, take a public product like the iPhone and write up a product spec on what you would improve about it. If you're applying for a job in marketing or contents, write an article or publish a Substack or a newsletter around your industry, make a podcast. If you're an engineer, you already have tools like Stack Overflow and GitHub where you can publish open source samples of your code that other people can use.
Adam Nathan (20:13):
And in Almanac, we built a community layer called the Almanac Core, which allows anybody to publish and share work samples essentially, or documents for things like contracts, interview questions, marketing copy, essentially canonical versions of documents, templates that people use over and over. And what we've seen with the Almanac Core is it's not just super helpful to our users in that they can copy and customize really great templates that are highly specific to their use cases, but the contributors who are publishing those open source docs are contacted by recruiters. We've had hundreds of people switch jobs, get better jobs, thanks to the work that they published on Almanac.
Adam Nathan (20:51):
And we think it's platforms like Almanac that will replace things like LinkedIn as work fully transitions to a remote context, because whether or not you went to Harvard or worked at Google has absolutely no application about if you're a good fit for a company. What really matters is, can you do the work? How good are you at the fundamentals? Are you a great cultural fit for what that company is doing? And all of that is really about showing your skills and your values rather than anything that's on a piece of paper.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:21):
Well, going back to something you had said much earlier in our conversation, you were describing Almanac in a way as GitHub for business documentation or some version of that. The workplace operating system was the phrase that we're going with here. We just got to stick with the marketing here. Sorry, Adam. But if we're going to have GitHub profiles be informing the recruiting engineering talent, why wouldn't the Almanac profile or the Almanac kind of activity background kind of giving a sense of like, "Okay, this is the type of person, which flavor of engineer are you seeking? What projects have they worked on?" Okay, well, which types of documents are they engaging with on Almanac? These are things that when you say show, don't tell, Almanac is an example of a place that you can do the very thing. In the same way that we're following the example of engineering in this asynchronous workflow, well, we can also follow the example of engineering in this asynchronous recruiting hiring process.
Adam Nathan (22:23):
I think that's exactly right. The reason to follow engineers as an example is because they built the internet. They're pioneers in this remote distributed async context. And if you look at how engineers operate today, even though many of them work in private internal teams, and of course there's some proprietary work that goes on in organizations, the internet itself is one big grand collaborative project that many people have contributed to over time. There's also other big grand projects that engineers and technical teams work on like crypto infrastructure or FinTech. And what you see on those projects is that people are not just contributing within their organizations, they're sharing samples of code and innovations and ideas across organizations. So people aren't starting from scratch when they're trying to solve the same problem, but are instead building on each other's work. And if you contrast that to how business professionals are working in documents or spreadsheets today, there's very little cross organization collaboration on areas where people are really trying to solve the same things.
Adam Nathan (23:20):
And so our real vision with Almanac is that if you're working on an important systemic problem, like climate change or racial justice, or improving our democracy, or building new infrastructure, or putting people on Mars, that you can easily share documents, insights, knowledge across your organization, through something like the Almanac Core, so that people who are working on the same project as you, the same grand vision, can build off of your work and can critique your work, so that we live in a world where one plus one really does equal three.
Adam Nathan (23:51):
There is too little cross organization collaboration today, and so people are wasting time solving problems that have already been solved rather than working together to advance our society. And we think something like the Almanac Core can really help to advance knowledge and improve collaboration across industries and sectors. And work in the cloud is inherently social. You're not just working alone. And we think just like Facebook and Twitter have helped, on the consumer side of things, build connections across people who don't know each other, we think the same type of a dynamic will take hold on enterprise productivity, where you can work with people and understand who they are and even hire them wherever they live in the world, whoever they're working for, if you align with their work and their values.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:35):
Really cool. Adam, I want to just say thank you so much for bringing your knowledge and experience here to The Remote Show today. We'll be including links to Almanac and to Adam, where you can find and follow all of his content and follow along with this journey from remote work to async first. Any closing words for us here, Adam?
Adam Nathan (24:54):
Thanks for having me, Tyler.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:56):
You're welcome. Blessings.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:59):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show, and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. And if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest, easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next time.

Try Almanac free for two months using the promo code “WeWorkRemotely” at checkout. Offer limited to the first 50 signups.

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