We’ve heard it countless times during the pandemic: “I’m a Zoom-zombie.” These days—without a limit on conference room availability—it’s far too easy to pop into a meeting with the click of a calendar invite, squished in between other 15-minute blocks of calls. We felt this, too.
When the pandemic hit last spring, we were inundated with WFH guides, tips, and tricks for remote collaboration and communication. While most of these hacks hinged on transporting the physical office online, they skated over the opportunity to re-think working culture.
In April 2020, the average Ministry of Supply team member had 31.5 meetings per week. One year later, we cut that number almost in half to 17.6.
Our range of operations spans verticals: marketing, supply chain, photography, product development, and more. We’re a mixed bag of makers and managers—and we were obsessed with productivity and efficient collaboration long before the pandemic, constantly experimenting with and evolving our work styles to grow and innovate.
Over the past decade, we’ve been hacking our working culture and we’ve learned a few things—from concepts as high-level as understanding different types of thinkers, to hacks as brass-tacks as calendar organization.
Embrace the maker and manager working style
When my cofounder Aman and I first founded Ministry of Supplyv 10 years ago, we needed to bridge the gap between our professional backgrounds—mine in research and product development, his in management consulting. Both engineers by background, we drew inspiration from Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.
Ideally, makers work in uninterrupted, half-day long stretches where they can sink their teeth into writing, code, or a photoshoot. Meanwhile, managers thrive in short, half-hour bursts of calls and emails.
Neither is better, smarter, or more effective—just different—and it’s a spectrum, ultimately. Professional services companies will lean more manager, while technology companies may lean more maker—but for us, our global max is somewhere between. At Ministry of Supply, we need to prioritize both approaches to co-exist.
Implement Scrum: Twice the work in half the time
Commonly found in software product companies, the Scrum methodology is a framework that prioritizes work based on business impact and distributes it in an asynchronous, agile way. Organized into sprints, you work through a prioritized backlog of projects with a clearly defined completion date, a sprint kick-off, a handful of daily “standups,” a project review, and time for reflection.
While this certainly isn’t a new concept, it hasn’t really seen widespread adoption outside of the tech world, due, in part, to the lack of understanding around maker & manager schedules. We initially implemented this approach for our product development team, but we realized it could have an even bigger impact if we went all in. It’s a powerful way to distribute project ownership and reduce one-on-one tactical management, which should instead focus on coaching and mentorship.
Daily standups, in particular, helped ease the transition to remote work. Hearkening back to our days running track, we’ve always believed in starting the day as a team. In our standups, we share the single, most impactful thing that we’re going to get done that day.
Alternate weeks for both sides of the brain
We experimented with back-to-back two-week sprints, but we found it unsustainable to stay solely in maker mode or manager mode forever. Now, we alternate weeks for optimal productivity. During maker week, we’re in a “scrum sprint” and have no meetings besides the 15-minute morning standup. During manager weeks, we pack in KPI reviews, mentorship check-ins, and external meetings.
The intentionality of this approach pushes us to have fewer unnecessary internal meetings and reduces switching costs. We found that this alternation created a natural wave of energy—there’s a quiet intensity to maker weeks and a bold energy surrounding manager weeks. The oscillation creates a sense of change that fuels each side of the brain.
Use working sessions to work
Many tasks require room to breathe, and our “Getting-to-Zero Sessions” facilitate just that. The sessions are two to three hours, attended by two to three teammates. The requirement? One clear outcome for the meeting—no to-do lists or email follow-ups. The work needs to get done within the timeframe of the meeting.
In a remote world, we’ve taken these sessions to Slack by opening up temporary, dedicated channels. For brainstorming, this approach helps unlock even more ideas, with multiple threaded discussions happening at once versus a physical meeting where one person is speaking.
We’ve also experimented with asynchronous working sessions in the G-Suite, where you can see what your colleagues are working on in real-time, borrow content, build on their ideas, and create a more cohesive document or presentation. Gone are the days of “Who owns the master file?”
Set up a meeting-free day
Since 2014, we’ve had a work-from-wherever company policy on Wednesday mornings. When we started implementing the maker & manager scheduling, we extended this policy for the entire day—no recurring check-ins or standing meetings allowed.
When we do have meetings, we’re video-on for all of them and encourage off-screen note-taking to resist the urge to flip tabs. It’s a matter of respect, but it also keeps meetings much shorter.
Taking it from intention to action
Teams can work together to create an infrastructure that supports these guardrails, like company-wide calendar blocks or go-to Slack statuses that employees can use to communicate when they’re in maker mode.
That said, there needs to be a lot of buy-in from every level for this to actually work. There’s a natural inclination to let meetings creep in as well as monumental external pressure to work in a certain way. You have to commit teamwide—especially leadership, who will be the biggest culprit as their role likely defaults to meetings. My co-founder, a self-professed “90% manager, 10% maker,” is the biggest champion of protecting the maker and manager weeks—simply because the results are clear.
Our biggest learning through this was realizing we had the opportunity to rebuild our working culture. Instead of trying to replicate office culture (and the accompanying multitude of conference rooms) online, we view it as a chance to be extremely intentional about embracing a hybrid workstyle—one that will succeed not just during the pandemic, but also in the years to come.