Wrapping 2020 - Welcoming 2021
For startups, 2020 was a year of challenges. Far from isolated from the state of the world, founders had to steer companies through political stances, work from home, cost-of-living wages, to name a few.
For me, 2020 marked the third year of building Truework. We were lucky; outside challenges had little effect on the growth of the company. Employees stayed employed and happy through the hard times. The business grew tremendously; leadership matured as new challenges appeared. It doesn’t mean that it went without a hitch.
I’ll reflect on the past year and plan for the future. As 2021 begins, I feel more confident than ever in our fundamentals, strategy, and the team we’ve built.
Learnings from 2020
It would be easy to write off the entire year as an unmitigated disaster, with nothing of value learned. Truth is, the rapidly changing world forced us to reconsider the choices we’ve made.
2020: forced remote work and the need to change how we communicate.
I’ll open with the change that remains my biggest personal challenge. I enjoy office life, and face-to-face meetings are far superior to remote meetings. The change didn’t just affect me; instead, efficient remote communication became a company-wide hurdle. Our processes and culture relied on in-person interactions; we met and talked a lot, wrote little. In the first few months of remote work, it became clear that something wasn’t working. The signs were there; too many meetings, knowledge got lost, critical people were not involved in decisions. Truework needed to adapt. Transforming our culture to onboard and create connections remotely was not without its own challenges. Learning to collaborate on complex problems without people present in the room is difficult; you can’t walk to a colleague and ask for their opinions. Months later, Truework bridged the communication chasm. It’s for the better; a more significant part of the information and knowledge created each day is now on our wikis. We moved from Notion, which gradually failed the organization, to Confluence and higher quality pages. We are more conservative with meetings, striving for quality over quantity. Whether or not we are allowed back into the office in 2021, the shift towards a written culture must perdure; no, expand!
Mental health and employee resiliency are critical.
The COVID19 pandemic was a black swan event. But the truth is, hard times can fall on any of us at all times. The same way that the best time to prepare for a pandemic is years before, building resiliency for the company needs to happen before tough times. Disaster recovery, automated tests, monitoring create an anti-fragile company. However, a team is not just a list of technologies; individuals, team members - you - are critical components of a resilient organization. Taking care of your mental health proactively and reactively must be a priority. 2020 was the year I started coaching, therapy, and meditation. Not only did they make me a better person outside of work, but also a better employee and leader.
Learning to open up and to let go
In my personality assessment, I ranked high in the “Protecting” category. Learning to open up has enabled me to reach more directly to coworkers. I was able to gain new insights on what I need to change to become more effective as a leader. I am grateful to everybody that has kindly given me constructive feedback. One of the primary purposes of opening up was to focus on learning where I could safely remove myself; where my input was not positive. After I had cast aside my fears, the tactical retreat let the team blossom. It empowered me to focus on higher leverage tasks. Trust me - if you fight similar worries, there’s no better feeling than passing the baton to a person that will be more dedicated to the task.
2021 New year resolutions
I was always skeptical of new year’s resolutions, but as a CTO, I believe they foster accountability towards the team. I ask of you to please keep me honest if I don’t improve. It won’t be an exhaustive list, but key areas I want to track and improve.
Explain things better - focus on why we are doing something and not just “what” we are doing.
It has been an ongoing effort, and I’m sure it’ll remain a goal as long as the company will exist. As a leader, I want to empower all employees to make the best local decision for Engineering, Product, UX, UI without involving a third-party. It’ll allow everybody to feel that they have more impact on the team and the company.
Empower the team to self-manage.
It’s been wonderful to see the team self-organize. It allowed me to focus less on tactical management and more on strategic initiatives. I used that newfound time to work on recruiting, career development. I want to double down on high-leverage work. In turn, it requires team members to take larger ownership of tasks over time.
Make time for me.
The growth of the team has had a real impact on my work-life balance. I struggled to find time during the day to think. I let meetings take over my calendar. I didn’t take time off for months because I felt that not being present would spell doom. It was far from the truth. This year, I will continue to work hard, but I’ll spend time pruning my calendar. I aim to have fewer but more meaningful meetings.
Be more courageous - focus on doing the most important things each day.
I keep repeating to the team how critical 2021 will be for Truework. I couldn’t finish this list without a point about relentlessly focusing on impact. It’ll take courage to leave comfort zones and focus our attention on what hurts the most and needs fixing. I will also take that journey with all employees. I won’t hesitate to abandon what doesn’t work, listen more to identify, and work on what matters most.
Stay healthy, stay safe in 2021.