Going against the grain
“I have someone else in mind you can interview when you come to Stuttgart,” wrote Maël from Filestage. By now, I’ve taken on a “why not, I’m there anyway” stance to collect as many stories as possible. And that’s how I connected with Tobias Günther, CEO of fournova, the company between Tower, a Gitclient tool for developers all around the world. Our first interaction on video chat was super relaxed, so relaxed that I forgot to do my usual pre-production work for the podcast.
I usually outline a high-level roadmap of how I’d take the conversations and the points I’d like to cover. I remember feeling absolutely fooled by myself when I was just about to press record. I pulled up my document and realized I sent him a blank storyline structure prior to our recording. Embarrassed, I took a sip of my green tea and winged the episode. I knew the structure of the recordings by now. I’d done over 15 at this point, and I try not to deviate from its general structure to create consistency throughout the season. I thought I was going to be taking a loss but honestly, I think this was one of my favorite episodes. Making the best out of a mistaken situation, bonus points for me.
Same journey, different methods
Tobias is the first person to talk to me about his decision to hire slow. Having been fully remote for 5 years with fournova, the team still remains around 10 people. I was intrigued, as most people tend to look at remote work as an opportunity to scale fast, not having to deal with usual overheads that come with a co-located team. This is Tobias’s reasoning.
Asynchronous communication is key for remote teams. But no one talks about how easy it is to repeatedly fall into traps of synchronous communications. Whether it may be pausing deep work to reply to a colleague right away, or expecting a reply right away just because it’s within work hours, or maybe there’s some sort of indicator, be it a green light, that wires us to think someone is on standby to answer. Instead, Tobias stopped using popular chat application Slack and switched to Twist, taking asynchronous to the next level.
- Manage expectations
- Offline is your default
- Less stressed
- Increased productivity
- Flexibility and Freedom
Tobias is also focused on improving relationships between him and his colleagues through properly structured peer one-on-ones and open channels of communication for new hires from the get-go.
In terms of the properly structured peer one-on-ones, Tobias mentions that he thinks companies with less than 10 people don’t really need that, as they’ll chit chat with each other naturally. But the team at fournova is in sync about having the opportunity for deeper conversations.
Mindset > Tools
About 30 minutes into the conversation with Tobias, we got onto the topic of the remote scene around Stuttgart.
“Well, let’s say that Stuttgart is a small community and there are not many remote-first companies here. So if anybody thinks about making that switch, I’m probably one of the few to advise. Mostly I get asked questions about toolset. Okay, so what tools are you using? How are you using those tools? And while I can give an insight into that…
I think it misses the point because for me, it’s more about the communication, the relationships, the culture. That is the difficult part. And the crucial part.”
It clarified one thing for me - yet once again, the soft skills, the proper mindset, these are considered to be one of the most important aspects.
In his free time and with the lessons learned as a leader of a distributed team, Tobias centers himself by practicing meditation.
His yoga mat is beside his desk, so he really does take that as an opportunity to meditate whenever he needs, as you can see in our Diverse Workspace photo-series.
No longer a coincidence
Hearing his thought process made more sense to me. It’s about doing what suits you, not what everyone else is doing. Even someone who’s been at it for years or decades will always learn something new. Admitting and sharing failures and successes are valuable for others to relate to, to not be embarrassed about not knowing what they don’t know.
I asked Tobias, “what does remote work mean to your team?” and he answered, “I think remote work is not a coincidence for us by now. And it’s not something that people would be willing to give up.”
We ended our collaboration day with a nice outdoor lunch at a cafe. He walked me to a tram stop, a different one from the stop I got off in the AM. “Still gets you to where you need to go,” he said as he waved goodbye. And honestly, that last sentence now seems like a perfect analogy of fournova’s perspective: it doesn’t matter what path you take on the remote work journey. One way or another, it will get you where you need to go.