Virtual-First Workplace Expert, Liam Martin Says Asynchronous Management Is the Future

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As the world of work changes, so too do the methods by which we manage our teams. One of the latest trends in management is asynchronous management, which is becoming increasingly popular in virtual-first workplaces.

Asynchronous work is becoming more popular in the business world, and for good reason. Liam Martin, a virtual-first workplace expert, says that this way of working can produce better results. In his recent article on Inc., Martin explains the many benefits of asynchronous management and how it can help your organization be more productive. 

If your company is looking to make the switch to a remote-first workplace, or you're just curious about the trend, then this blog post is for you. Continue reading to learn more from Martin himself about why asynchronous work is on the rise and what its key benefits are.

Read the Full Transcript

Atiba de Souza: Hey, my special guest today is Liam Martin of Time Doctor. He is the co-founder and they're helping you build a better workforce by the second. Now, Liam is an expert in the industry of Virtual-First workplaces and today we're going to dive into the concept of asynchronous management. And as Liam says, asynchronous management is the future. And as always guys, we are brought to you by Client Attraction Pros, your done for you solution for figuring out how to get your name out there in front of your ideal customers. Let's listen because Liam dropped some serious knowledge today.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Build Your Team show. As always, I am your host Atiba. First, I want to bring Liam in and before I turn the floor over to him, I want to just kind of this one brief thing that he and I share, we're both former athletes who were supposed to become world-class athletes that had injury ripped our opportunity away from us and brother, I know that pain and I'm sorry. 

Liam Martin: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I mean, I, you know, I look back on those times in your life and whenever you experience significant forms of adversity, I always tell people, let it sit with you for a couple of years and you'll recognize that was actually a gift. And for me, that was the gift. The ability to be able to build that form of discipline and then have what I was supposed to do ripped away. I talk a lot about this, whether you're in the military or whether you're doing competitive sports or whatever it might be, that discipline needs to find a place to actually express itself. And for me, it just ended up being entrepreneurship which I'm so happy that I ended up having that horrible experience that happened to me. Because now I'm in a place where I just can work harder, longer, faster than the vast majority of the people that you know, that compete against me.

Atiba de Souza: Now, Liam, that by itself was a statement beyond statements. Okay. Because you're absolutely right. The discipline is super, super important and we could talk about that for the next two hours, but we won't right now because that's not why we're here, but you're absolutely right and I completely agree with you about that discipline. Now, for most of my audience, they're in a place where they're either a hundred percent hybrid or a hundred percent remote. Right. And we have very few people who are listening, who are, I have tons of people on in-person and thinking about going hybrid, they're already, already hybrid because COVID kind of forced it, it's kind of the thing that happened over the last two years as you well know. And you talk a lot about a topic that I want to dive into specifically today, if we could. And that's the difference between synchronous work environments and asynchronous work environments. Because one of the things that I see a lot of people trying to do is become synchronous in a hybrid or a remote space.

Liam Martin: Right. Yeah. So, I mean, just going back a couple of years. So the running remote conference, which is the conference that I have run over the last five to six years, I had this really fantastic gift inside of that conference, which was, I had the ability to be able to talk to an interview. Probably the most billion dollar plus remote first founders on the planet. It's what I was really interested in. I know, way back in 2017 remote work wasn't what it is today. Post pandemic, endemic stage, where everyone's been able to get access to remote work, was a really a small cottage industry. And so what I discovered in interviewing all of those people is they fundamentally managed people in a different way.

Atiba de Souza: Hmm. 

Liam Martin: And when you think about it holistically, I love to kind of talk about first principles thinking, which is how do you break things down to their absolute minimum level? I don't know if you had heard the famous talk that Elon Musk did about buying intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Russians versus building Space X.

And he basically broke it down to, I can buy three rockets or whatever the number was from the Russians, or I can invest in the RMD to be able to build unlimited rockets for myself. Right. So think about it from a first principles perspective. So they all came to the same conclusion, which was managing remote workers is very different from managing people in an office and it makes perfect sense, but almost no one is paying attention to this. When it was around March of 2020, I was getting calls from G20 governments and multinational corporations asking me how the heck do I switch remote? And I still get all those questions today. I'm sure you do probably as well.

And the biggest questions that I get are what should I be using Microsoft Teams or Slack, or should I be using Zoom or Google Meet? And I respond to them saying if those are the questions you're asking you don't actually know the problem that you're trying to solve, which is when you think about working from home, you're just replacing the office for your home. Remote work, however, is where you take your work with you. It allows for a different way of thinking about how to do work. And this boils down to the concept that we talk about in the book that I've been writing over the last two years, also called Running Remote,

which is focused on asynchronous management, the ability to manage people without actually meeting them face-to-face or without interacting with them face-to-face and you have to almost kind of think about it, and I'm sure that the majority of your audience probably understand this to a degree, but for the people that don't, it is what if you built a business and you could never interact with anyone face-to-face ever, how do you build the business? That's asynchronous management. That's what these remote pioneers had really written the book on actually before the pandemic, but then no one was able to get access to that knowledge. So that's what we're trying to bring forth both in the conference, the Running Remote conference that we're running end of May and then also the book as well that I've been very, feverously working on the last two years. I'll never write another book again. People say, never say never, but I'm never gonna do it. It was one of the most painful experiences of my entire life, but it's information that I think the world needs to see.

Atiba de Souza: So my next question for you, and you've kind of touched on this just a little bit already, but could you give like, if you were to define what are some markers for being able to succeed as a business owner and I'm careful not to use the word manager because I know your feeling on middle management and how it's going away, right, in the asynchronous world, but as a business owner, managing your organization, what are some tips or some pointers in terms of how you can succeed in an asynchronous environment? And I'm not looking for tactics, right? Because you know, tactics change, but I'm actually looking for some strategic things, things that are going to stand the test of time in the asynchronous model.

Liam Martin: So the theoretical kind of underpinnings of asynchronous management and the Running Remote book, focus on another book, which is fantastic for anyone that hasn't read it yet by Cal Newport called Deep Work. And Deep Work is the philosophy to be able to solve difficult problems faster than anyone else by having every one thing available to you in order to solve that problem. So it's effectively removing blockers from your day, right? So I need to go talk to you about, you know, a TI-83 report and how to fill it out properly. So I, I ping you on Slack and I say, Hey, I'm having trouble trying to figure out how to get this TI-84 report done. 

Atiba de Souza: Right.

Liam Martin: And then you say, Hey, you know what, let me jump on to video on Zoom and we'll work it out together. Now, what I did there was I solved my problem. I sped up my ability to execute on that particular task, but I slowed down the organization, i.e. You. 

Atiba de Souza: Right. 

Liam Martin: Right? So what we could have done instead is you as my manager or the business owner, you could have built processes. You could have built a way, a video, a digital document of some type outlining how to actually fill out that TI-84 report. And then when I ping you on Slack saying, and this is the second part that you need to be able to really be disciplined about, when I ping you on Slack saying, Hey, how do I fill out the TI-84 report? Instead of you showing me, which I know is faster in the moment, but again, it slows down the organization. You instead go to your internal Wiki and you send me the link and you say, Hey, well, here's how you do it and then you send that to me. The platform is the manager, not necessarily the individual manager, the manager is supposed to focus and this is one of my argument with regards to management versus leadership. And I think the future we're still probably going to call them managers, but they're going to be doing much more leadership than management. And when I studied all of these asynchronous organizations, I found that they had a management layer on average 50% thinner than on-premise, in-office environments, which means there are more workers doing work. Then there are workers managing other workers. So your cost efficiencies go up, right? If you have more people solving difficult problems, then you will move faster as an organization, as opposed to people managing other people who solve difficult problems. So, you get me? You've really got to make sure that that's humming properly and the more people that you can effectively have on the front lines.

I know that right now we're still seeing the conflict in Ukraine and Russia, the more people you can put on the front line, the better your organization will be. Right? So, when you look at all of that encompassing kind of concept, the ability to be able to speed up the organization, not necessarily the individual, the ability for the platform to be the manager and not necessarily the individual and then the ability to be able to dictate, this is the last part of it, that information to the platform. So instead of let's say, you're my manager and I give you my metrics, I give you my numbers. Then you give those numbers to your manager, and then that manager gives the numbers to the boss.

Atiba de Souza: Right. 

Liam Martin: That makes no sense. It did make perfect sense when we were all in an office. Because you created effectively undocumented avenues of communication, but inside of remote-first organizations, everything can be documented. So when everything can be documented, it can actually be open to everyone. So the big part of it is, the third part of this that I really reinforced in the book is every single employee inside of the organization should ideally have the same informational advantage as the CEO of the company. 

Atiba de Souza: Wow.

Liam Martin: So, and I know that that's very difficult for a lot of people to be able to overcome, but I can tell you when someone joins Time Doctor, within about three months after we've made sure that you know, they're not, they're legit and they're not going to, to run away with all of our secrets. We effectively opened up everything to them. They get access to the P&L, they get access to our customers, or they get access to our churn rate who's, you know, what are those customers making for the company. And we've recognized that when everyone has as much information as we can possibly give them it, number one, allows them to be able to make decisions without us. So we have a philosophy which is that you should not ask me what to do, you should tell me what you did and then we'll deal with the implications of that. Right? So if you made the wrong decision, I'd rather have you make the wrong decision than none at all, because that freezes us in action. And it also stops people from being autonomous and autonomous individuals are actually a little bit more messy, but overall significantly more productive than someone that are waiting. Someone's waiting to be able to have a decision made. So if you combine all of these things together you have what we like to call the asynchronous mindset, which we talk about in the book, which is the fundamentals of asynchronous management. And it allows for every single team member to be able to solve problems again, without being dependent upon other individuals, but being dependent upon the platform itself to be able to solve those problems.

Atiba de Souza: And that's really important. It's so great that you're saying these things and we're bringing these things to light, cause I've had the pleasure of managing teams, both in the synchronous and asynchronous environment since 2001. My big, biggest team, 2001, it was 30 people in a synchronous environment and you know what that was like, and it was a government contract. I don't need to tell you any more than that. Right. But one of the things that I learned in that process was the importance of process and process documentation, like you're saying, right. And when you can say, Hey, here's the SOP. Here's how you do it and then allow them, as you said to, to make the decisions and then if they made the wrong decision, we can tie it back to something in the process that's wrong and then fix the process. 

Liam Martin: Yes. 

Atiba de Souza: Right? 

Liam Martin: Yeah. That's a major part that I also reinforce as well which is the organic evolution of all of these processes. So inside of our companies, processes or the laws, but we all can change the law if we want to. So do we want to change the way that a process is built? Absolutely. Go ahead and do it. If the people that are connected to that process all agree and generally, sometimes people don't agree, but you know, if the majority of those people agree, then we changed the process. Right. And then those, those rules evolve right throughout time. And it's, and it creates an environment where I've been, one of the interviews that I did was a company called Gitlab and they have the largest open source process document on the planet. It's about.gitlab.com/handbook, and it is their employee handbook that's open source to everyone. So anyone that wants to get access to it, you can go right now. And I think they have got like 8,000 entries. So anything that you want to learn about Gitlab, they show it to you. And when I was interacting with Gitlab and asking them questions about how they run an asynchronous organization. Every question that I would ask, the answer would be a process document.

And eventually, the, the guy that I was interviewing, he actually came back to me and he said, Hey, you know, you've really just got to spend two minutes on our process document, like our Wiki, our internal Wiki, just looking at these things because a lot of these questions are kind of stupid. And I just thought to myself, of course, this is exactly the way it should be because if every person inside of an organization that has processes, spend five minutes looking for it. And if you can't find it in five minutes, absolutely talk to someone about it. It's maybe showing that maybe you've already built that process, that SOP inside of the organization, but it's difficult to find, in which case you should probably solve for that. But what this creates, once you have that infrastructure in place, you have the ability to be able to hire a thousand salespeople tomorrow if you want to because the platform is the manager, the platform's infinitely scalable, as opposed to me managing those salespeople, you know, maybe I could train five at the same time at which case I'm completely pulled out of the game and I'm not selling. So it just creates an environment where you're infinitely scalable and, you know, effectively these companies just grow out of the ether, which is a very exciting concept for me to be able to take a look at because we're really seeing, I think right now, the rise of remote-first organizations, not necessarily being remote because it's better for employees, but because it's better for the bottom line.

Atiba de Souza: Right. Yes. I completely agree with you. And for those of you who are listening to this, you know, I talk a lot about this too, and how we manage SOP's, because it's very, very important. We always talk, you hire for fit first, but then you also gotta to know what they get, what this person's going to do in order to train them well. Right. And you know, that we've used Notion in the past and GetGuru to manage our SOP's. And as Liam is saying, that way the platform becomes the manager. They know where to go to get the answer to their question. You're empowering your employees, which is so very huge. I wanted to kind of shift slightly, but still stay kind of here because there's, I heard you talk about this once before, and I was talking about whether I wanted to bring this up today, but based on where we are definitely want to go there, the charismatic manager when it comes to that charismatic manager and process documentation and the platform being the manager, not any specific person. I've got my own thoughts on this that I think align with yours. I'm pretty sure they align with yours, but I'd love to hear where you are on the charismatic manager moving forward in these types of organizations.

Liam Martin: Yeah, I think. So, this might be counterintuitive. But let's say we all walk into a room, I don't know how tall you are, but I would just bet based of your build, you're, you know, you're six feet plus good-looking guy, you held, you hold yourself very charismatically. You're probably able to win over a room pretty quickly. And maybe, maybe you wouldn't necessarily admit to that, but based off of what I can see from you, you probably can do that. And that's a great skill to have, right. That's incredibly valuable. However, what it creates is bias. So your ideas probably get adopted more than other people's ideas. Then the quiet wallflower that's sitting in this meeting, that maybe has an IQ of, you know, 170, that's a super genius, but just can't communicate that information in the moment in that environment.

Right? So the, you know, the charismatic leader walks into the room and says, this is the future. This is what we're going to all do together. We're going to make this happen and everyone's aligned behind that. Not because it's the best idea, but because it's the most charismatic person delivering that information. Inside of remote teams, we don't have any of that. We don't have those types of, of meetings. A lot of our meetings are what we call silent meetings. So we have a project management system use Notion, we use Asana, where we put down an issue like, what features should we build inside of Time Doctor? Maybe we, we've got five, right. And the charismatic leader might say, well, I want to be able to build this feature A but then they don't really have any good information to be able to back it up. All of their charisma means for nothing in a comment on Asana, but fortunately the person who actually has been doing research on this for the past two years, that's when they can come up and they can write out what is really going to change the business. So effectively, I think that remote-first organizations are also bringing up the rise of the introverted leader.

Atiba de Souza: Yes.

Liam Martin: And I think when you look at companies that are incredibly successful today, Elon Musk, as an example, very introverted leader. Not a very good person at delivering information. If you've seen him in some of his speeches, he's pretty bad at it to be completely honest with you. But he has great ideas that are getting adopted at scale. And I think we're going to see more and more of those types of leaders present themselves because it's the ideas that are going to be most important moving forward. Not necessarily the packaging that they're held inside of. This also provides you a ton of advantages if you are a minority group, right. If you are, there was a podcast that I was on a couple of weeks ago, talking about how people who are trans, people who are basically switching from one sex to the other are able to rise up through remote first organizations because their bias is not being presented directly. It's simply their ideas that are being presented. And I think that that's a really, you know, that's generally going to be a really great thing for the, for the rest of society. One other point that I'll touch on, there's a great short that we did about this man, Faheem and he became a top five graphics designer on Upwork and on Fivver and went from working a dollar a day to making thousands and thousands of dollars per month out of Dhaka in Bangladesh. And no one knows that he has muscular dystrophy and the only thing that he can do is move his hand.

Atiba de Souza: Wow. 

Liam Martin: So, no one would hire this man in an office, right? You'd say, get the heck out of here, but because of remote work and because it was his work that was being presented more than anything else, he presented fantastic work and he was able to be a critical, you know, a critical part of the remote work world, which I was personally so blown away by, and there's thousands and thousands of stories like that, that are happening all the time due to remote work.

Atiba de Souza: You know, that's, that's incredible. And you're absolutely right. You know, I can tell you right now, inside of my organization, the people who are leading the way are the biggest introverts. Flat out. And it's interesting to me to watch because sadly you're also, right. I do come from an environment of being a charismatic leader of being able to walk into the room and carry a room and so on and so forth. And it was about 2007 when I realized I was the biggest problem in my organizations, my charisma was the biggest problem in my organizations. Right. Because everyone just wanted to watch the show. And what was he going to say next? And it's it, it didn't allow for people to really grow and flourish. And you're so right that in this remote environment where you don't, you don't have a clue.. You, I don't know how tall you are. You don't know how tall I am. Right. But it's really your ideas and your work product, which is the thing that should speak for you. When we talk about equality, that's the thing that should speak. It's, it's what you produce. Right. And so it really gives that opportunity. So that's absolutely wonderful. I've really enjoyed our conversation. And I know we could probably go on forever, but both you and I probably have meetings after this as well and so I want to ask you this, I know you have a conference coming up. Guys, it's called Running Remote. If you want to figure out how to thrive in the remote world, you need to figure out how to be at this conference. So can you tell us a bit about the Running Remote conference and your new book by the same title?

Liam Martin: Sure. And maybe one day you can invite me back after the book is launched and I can tell you why it has the same title. It's very interesting to kind of, this is the first time I've ever written a book before and, I've always been, I always say, never say never, but I will never write another book again. It was the most difficult experience of my entire life, but the conference is first time back in person, we are the largest conference on building and scaling remote teams. And we've been in operation for about five years, May 17th and 18th in Montreal, Canada. And if you're really interested in learning how to scale a remote organization, this is the conference for you. If you're a remote employee, this is not the conference for you. If you're a digital nomad, this is not the conference for you. This is if you're building a remote business and you don't just want it to be a lifestyle business, but you want it to be something that is you know, a billion dollar unicorn, which is what I'm really trying to do with all of the businesses that I have. And that was really why we started this conference was there was so much information on how to hire a virtual assistant or how to be a digital nomad, but there was very, very little on actually like how to build a legitimate remote-first business. So that's what it's about. And then the book, obviously, too, you know, if you're interested in checking out what you need to do to actually manage a remote team, to think about managing remote team and not just recreating the office. That's the thesis of the book. We talk about asynchronous management the entire time. There's actually for all of the, the talk that we've just had. It's hilarious. There's no book written on asynchronous management. 

Atiba de Souza: Until yours. 

Liam Martin: Yeah. It's crazy. So we looked at this, we researched it. There's no information on this and it was such a critical component of the way that remote-first teams, manage themselves. So it's like we wrote the entire playbook before the pandemic on how to actually manage remote teams. But then when pre-pandemic, 4% of the US workforce was working remotely. One month later, 45% of the US workforce was working remotely. It was a complete shift, the biggest impact towards work since the industrial revolution, but the industrial revolution took 80 years and we did it in March, but no one actually thought to themselves, maybe we should figure out how to manage these new types of workers. It didn't come across anyone's, you know, thought process. It was all about just recreating the office. So the book is really delving in how to do it differently. They need to be managed properly. And, you know, if we had, if you're at this point in the podcast and you're still listening, the book is probably going to be really interesting for you.

Atiba de Souza: Indeed, indeed. And if you're at this point in the podcast and you're still listening again, that's runningremote.com, that's number one and this is Liam Martin of timedoctor.com. You know, I've talked about Time Doctor before, go check it out. You, you've got to have a way to track what your employees are doing in this remote environment and Time Doctor is a fantastic solution for that. Liam, I want to thank you for being here. We do have more to talk about, and so I will be inviting you back, not just once the book is launched, but let's keep this going. This was absolutely wonderful. Heck, we can just do a whole time talking about sports history.

Liam Martin: That's true. Yeah. I could talk about all of the physio that I got after I broke my knee.

Atiba de Souza: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was your knee and my shoulder, so Hey!

Liam Martin: Right. Yeah. Well, thanks a lot for having me, really appreciate it. And I'm so excited that remote work is out there into the world and I'm so excited that there are podcasts, like, like what you're running right now that are really kind of professing that message. Because it's such, outside of everything that we've talked about today, remote work is the biggest thing to be able to provide more autonomy and freedom for both the workers inside of a business and more importantly for us, the business owners. So I'm so excited that this message is getting out to more people. 

Atiba de Souza: Absolutely. Well, thanks for being here, brother. And we'll see you real soon next time. 

Liam Martin: All right. Thanks. 

Atiba de Souza: Thank you.

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