Buffer makes you awesome on social media by making it easy for you to schedule your social media shares. They stand out among startups not just for their success in building a great social media sharing tool but in fashioning a company culture focused on making work fulfilling, impactful, and enjoyable. What’s fascinating is that they do this as a completely distributed team, spread across multiple countries and time-zones.
Track performance to work smarter, not harder
Co-founders Joel Gasciogne and Leo Widrich set the foundation for Buffer’s culture according to the tenets of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carolyn Kopprasch, Buffer’s Chief Happiness Officer translates what that means for Buffer’s modus operandi: “We want to treat people in the absolute best way we can, and that includes co-workers, vendors, and customers.”
It also includes how the Buffer employees treat themselves. With a unique self-improvement program, they share their progress on anything from time management to healthy eating with their teammates, spurring conversations about different lifehacks and routines. Michelle Sun, Buffer’s growth and analytics expert, tracks fitness routines and getting up early while Leo has been making strides with learning how to code.
Co-workers become a collective accountability partner for future plans like blogging or exercising, and more importantly, they become an incredible support system. If you’re trying to work on your health or your fitness or your happiness level, that affects work a lot too,” Carolyn explains.
iDoneThis allows us to track performance, which easily gets lost in a chat room or an in-person standup.
It’s not surprising then, that one of the company’s mantras is to work smarter, not harder — taking time to review what’s working and how to improve operations. One unique thing that the company does toward this end is that everyone on the team, from the CEO to customer service to the software development team, shares their "improvements" for the day. Improvements are each individual's progress towards one thing they're trying to improve at work.
Improvements are absolutely vital to the team, but they didn't have a natural way to track them and share them with the team. Messages quickly get lost in a tool like Yammer, and email is a distraction. In-person standups can often go off on tangents and involve the discussion of many topics, so an individuals improvements can get lost.
They found that iDoneThis was the perfect place to track improvements because it's a high-signal, distraction-free tool. iDoneThis keeps an archive of "Improvements" on the web. When they're tagged #improvements in iDoneThis, they're even easier to recall. Just write #improvements at the end of your done. On the web, you can just click on the #improvements tag, see what everyone's working on improving, and offer support.
Keeping a remote team in sync
As a remote team, Buffer needed a better way to stay on the same page. Previously, everyone would get on a daily group Skype call in which each person would take three minutes to talk about what they did, how their co-workers could help, and their improvements.
With the team growing larger, the standup process wasn't scaling over Skype, as they began to have to deal with Skype malfunctions, different timezones, and ever-increasing meeting lengths. Holding traditional standups over video chat also meant that “if you jump in and talk about something that somebody just said, you’re basically interrupting their three minutes. So what we would actually do is not ask that many questions.”
They tried email, but it became a hassle as email threads got longer and longer, and each new message bumped the thread in everyone's inbox and created another alert. Buffer turned to iDoneThis.
It’s a way to understand what teammates are working on, and every time I read people’s iDoneThis, I feel connected with the team.
With iDoneThis, rather than having to spend an hour in a meeting, you only have to read your email. We send an email to your team every evening asking, "What'd you get done today?" Just reply. The next day, we send a single email digest to everyone on the team with the contents of what might otherwise take a lengthly and tiresome meeting.
Leo remarks, “It allows us to track performance, which easily gets lost in a chat room or an in-person standup. If new people come on board, they can look through and see what has been worked on. And of course, it’s amazing to keep in sync with everyone, working as a remote team. iDoneThis is invaluable to us and has changed our productivity for the better.”
Michelle agrees, “It’s a way to understand what teammates are working on, and every time I read people’s iDoneThis, I feel connected with the team.” Where iDoneThis shines, for Carolyn, is the ability to comment and have chronicled conversations about her teammates’ work and improvement practices. “I think that’s one of the biggest things. It’s not just reporting what we’ve done. It’s asking, ‘oh tell me more about that.’”
iDoneThis is a natural fit for Buffer’s culture, but Carolyn points out that iDoneThis has helped them to work even smarter. With iDoneThis, syncing up isn't just a recitation of status, it's a starting point for conversation and deeper interaction about what each person is working on. The team can communicate asynchronously — asking, commenting, interacting — without feeling like they’re butting in on the in-person meeting and intruding on the time of others.
Transparency Fosters Tight-Knit Teams
Buffer practices extreme transparency which means that everyone knows everything that's happening in the company, and that includes knowing how much salary and equity everyone gets. Each person even shares how much they're sleeping every night using a Jawbone UP wristband. Such transparency is not without feelings of vulnerability, but what they gain is an incredible feeling of connection. In the Buffer universe, where the personal flows right into work and vice versa, it’s their collective care, attention, and support that binds and strengthens the company.
“When somebody will say to me, ‘you didn’t really get very much deep sleep yesterday. Maybe you can try taking a bath before dinner,’ and you’re like, ‘where am I? Am I at work?’” Carolyn laughs. “It’s unique. It takes a certain type of person to really like that, but having a team that’s really interested in keeping you accountable to your own self-improvement is kind of a wild thing. It’s awesome and a little bit crazy sometimes.”
The issue is that it can be a struggle to make transparency into a daily habit. We're used to 1:1 emails, restricted, in-person meetings, and the like--not broadcasting what we've done to the whole team. There's often no place, no communication channel for sharing pertinent information with everyone on the team.
Because everyone on the Buffer team uses iDoneThis to share what they're getting done, including founders Joel and Leo, being transparent about everything that's happening in the company becomes a daily ritual. Information that's in people's heads becomes common knowledge in the company, just by replying to the iDoneThis daily email. Increased transparency results, and we've seen how that kills politicking and meetings in a company. That means there's more time to focus on your work, self-improvement, and happiness.