Within the last year a gazillion of blog posts popped up around the net on how companies deal with the remote situation that has arisen from the pandemic. So while I will elaborate on a remote scenario it is not pandemic special (even though with the context of the last year, it might seem so). I’ve been working remote before COVID-19 hit us and throughout the last years I’ve read a lot about not only working remote and building a workplace that is suited towards work not happening only on site, but I’ve also tried various things left and right, with smaller and larger adjustments. For a while, I wanted to write up a few thoughts on these. Let’s start today with a few thoughts on Jour-Fixes and Open Door Sessions.
While I belong in the camp that believes that there are generally to many meetings, I do think as an (engineering) manager it is important to have a regular exchange with your directs. Especially in a remote environment where I don’t see my directs on a day-to-day basis at the office, and am able to judge from the interaction whether the person is feeling good or not. I distinguish between Jour Fixes and One-on-Ones. The latter term I use for deep dives I take with my directs on a ~ quarterly base, while the JFs are more regular and meant to make sure that I have a gut feeling for my direct and how her situation is. I tend to have JFs weekly or bi-weekly, scheduled regular with about 30 minutes allocated. There is a shared document between the direct and me where each of us can add items to the agenda. This shared document can be a Google doc, wiki page or even — in a more tech-savvy setting — a git repo with a markdown file. Important is low-barrier for collaboration in it.
The JF is about the direct. It is her time, I’m there to listen or spark the conversation, but the JF is not about me polling status or having 100% airtime. I usually open it with asking how they feel, but then actually staying quiet to give the direct the room to answer and elaborate. When I ask how one feels I’m not looking for the general-polite answer ‘oh, yes, fine’ but for the honest answer. This is something that needs time to grow between your direct and you. It is a relationship that is being built. The Jour-Fixe is not about operational day-to-day stuff, except if questions from the direct arise. However, the Jour-Fixe is about me being able to detect whether the direct is blocked or needs further enablement by me to progress. This is why I make sure to at least ask once very directly if there is something where I can unblock. This is no replacement for listening carefully and “reading between the lines”.
One of the things, I’ve recently started as an experiment are Open Door Sessions. I allocate one or two slots in a week, sixty to ninety minutes, where I open my virtual meeting room. All my directs have a calendar invite, with them marked as optional, and are free to join. This obviously is not the place to discuss private matters. I started it to see whether this is a way of having more visibility between people as well as a way for me to slim down the amount of Jour-Fixes with the directs from a weekly to a bi-weekly or monthly scope and still have the chance to get some face-time with them. While some of my directs initially had a hard time to grasp “what this meeting is about” it quickly evolved into a place where people come by, chime into the conversation, bring their topics to the table and part from the meeting when it is not of further interest to them.
This discovery leads me to the conclusion that these Open Door Sessions add value and spark very interesting conversations — ranging from joking around, sharing here and there some non-work related private stories1, suddenly turning into discussing new product aspects to technical deep dives. My directs in this context are not part of one team, but either engineering managers, managing executives, product managers — so part of the technical organization. Which from my perspective plays into the interesting atmosphere in the Open Door Sessions, since the people joining are not working on the same team on a per-day basis.
What I did notice that it does not serve as a complete substitute to regular JFs — not that I expected that, but wanted to state nevertheless. Since the Open Door Sessions are in a regular interval, and not spontaneous, they can be planned with and the directs signal me that they’re going to join by accepting specific sessions. A while ago I tried to have spontaneous “Coffee chats”. While this worked to a certain degree these Open Door sessions offer more predicability to the directs.
While I write “non-work related private stories” - for me as a leader, manager and boss (See chapter 1 of Kim Scott’s awesome book Radical Candor on why I use all three terms here) all these items are work related, since it is of interest to me to know the people that work for me and whom I help and assist to do awesome things at work. ↩