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#376 Returning from Break

Friday Ship #376 | December 8th, 2023

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This week, I celebrated being back from an extended break, and how our async, written-first culture and self-governing teams allowed me to both take time off and catch up.

I’ve been working at Parabol for nearly four years. While we have strong policies to encourage a flexible work schedule (4-day work week experiment, inclusive holidays, unlimited PTO), in practice, I find that (at least as an American) I personally am just out of practice with taking extended breaks. That means that while I’ve taken days off regularly, I hadn’t taken off more than 4 days at a time since I started. Until this year.

Earlier this year, I had a wedding, and I wanted to take the opportunity to do a traditional honeymoon – a full month away. After working here for a while and working through a few crises, the chance to both give attention to my partnership and step away from the hustle felt welcome.

But as a leader, stepping away comes with a specific cost: other people have to do what you’d normally do, and when you come back, you have to figure out what happened. This is a familiar challenge to folks who’ve taken parental leave.

Two elements of our culture made it easier for me to step away and for the team to continue doing great work:

  • Async-first, written culture: Almost everything that happens at Parabol is written down somewhere – discussed in threads in our own tool, documented on Notion, or, at least, mentioned in Slack. That makes it easier both for folks taking on work to understand the context behind what they’re asked to do, and for folks returning to work to catch up.
  • Self-governing teams: We strongly believe that the people closest to the work should get to decide how it’s done. Across the company, teams are very used to moving things forward autonomously. While I advise and support, there’s relatively little that I need to formally approve and everyone is already used to moving decisions forward when needed.

I decided to embrace these fully in returning from leave: I declared communication bankruptcy. In practice, I cleared out chat, comment and email notifications without replying to anything.

Instead, I trusted my team to pull me into what they needed:

Everyone across the company was encouraged to add to this list and share links to relevant discussions. For a month away, I had only 20 documents (and maybe an additional ~5 videos and ~5-10 linked artifacts) to review. I did it in two days.

Reading the documents, I felt immense pride. Not only had folks started and completed lots of great work, but they’d filled gaps in their own unique ways and found connections and opportunities that I hadn’t expected. It’s a great reminder that people will rise to your level of trust – trust people to do more, and they will surprise you with their capacity.


Two things are currently happening with website traffic:

  • We continue to adjust after several Google algorithm updates – as a content-heavy and SEO-focused site, these changes have a big impact, and we’re navigating those tumultuous waters now.
  • We look at traffic on a 30-day window, and as a b2b company, holidays like US Thanksgiving and (coming soon) end of year holiday breaks mean lower traffic as folks are thinking less about work.

On the flip side, usage metrics – both signups and meetings – had a great week! We’re happy to see that even with the stormy search waters, folks continue to find us, use the tool, and 🤞have better meetings.

This week we…

…heard back from users who want to join our expert roster! We reached out to some power users to gauge interest in sharing their advice and experience, and are delighted to see the response.

held our third company-wide demo day. Earlier in the year, we got inspired by the demo day of our Hack Weeks and wanted to bring that kind of energy throughout more of our work. This week, we had 10 demos of work in progress 🤯 Everything from side projects that team members pursued due to their own interest, to new design work and features we’ve prioritized and started testing. And of course: we used our own standup tool to do it, which meant even members who couldn’t attend the meeting could still share a demo. As a remote and async team, moments like this when we choose to spend calendar time all together are rare and precious.

officially shipped our Google Calendar integration 🙌

Next week we’ll

hold our December social activity!

…kick off the last sprint of the year.

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva is a product and marketing leader with a passion for remote work and organizational design. She previously worked on WooCommerce at Automattic, one of the world’s largest fully distributed companies. Aviva lives and works in Austin, TX. 

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