At Loom, operational cadence and knowledge sharing lead to more trust and efficiency
Vinay Hiremath is the co-founder and CTO of Loom.
Loom co-founders Vinay Hiremath and Joe Thomas have spent the last 6 years obsessing over asynchronous communication. They built an indispensable video messaging tool that empowers teams to communicate more effectively, wherever they are. Along the way, they built their own globally distributed team with a culture that relies heavily on knowledge sharing.
Leading with transparency is a core tenet of Loom's organizational philosophy. While defining a new category of async communication with video messaging, Loom still regards written documentation as a great way to empower their employees to function more autonomously. Writing allows for deep, clear thinking around strategy and ideation, and documentation captures the history of those decisions—giving the team a shared long-term memory that helps everyone make better, more informed decisions.
Here’s what Vinay has learned about building a thriving remote culture through written and asynchronous communication.
Many companies are sold on the importance of knowledge sharing, but it's easy to overlook the importance of first establishing an operational cadence—a rhythm for planning, executing, and communicating work. “I like to start with operational cadence. Write down your company strategy so everybody knows how their work contributes to that strategy," says Vinay.
When you're ready to propose a new idea or initiative, start with why you think it's important. This allows for producing written thoughts faster, for others to then fill in how you will execute this initiative, and eventually what you will do to fulfill this execution at the atomic level. "Plans become more ambiguous as you grow, which is fine because you empower the team to generate their own documents to define the clear, atomic what based on a string of logic that led you to those decisions," says Vinay. "This allows anyone to examine and re-examine that logic to make sure it makes sense."
Vinay understands smaller companies don’t have time to think about operational cadence initially. Survival mode for young companies means just get stuff done, no matter what. "But as you start to grow, you realize that aligning people to do the right thing, and not step on each other's toes, is really hard,” says Vinay. As the team grows and your company evolves, you need to start implementing processes like sprint planning and code reviews—other examples of operational cadence. "Ask your team to write a proposal describing how it rolls up to the company strategy when building something new,” says Vinay. Over time, writing becomes a natural part of the operational cadence.
Vinay believes that establishing operational cadence and knowledge sharing is a sign you're no longer just building products, but building an organization—which is a transformation a lot of founders go through. "Building an organization comes down to information systems. All this valuable knowledge is your intellectual property. And data wants to be free," says Vinay.
Vinay has found that a lack of trust is what leads executives to make more decisions. But the goal should be to offer more strategic autonomy to individual contributors (ICs). If ICs feel more empowered to own part of the company strategy, they'll feel more fulfilled, and there will be more trust and autonomy from leadership.
Building and maintaining a strong writing culture has helped Loom’s employees feel empowered at work. “We’ve found that you can empower people to speak up when they think what they’re doing is BS," says Vinay, "but that requires a strong, clear practice of documenting company strategy.”
Sharing the strategy is just the first step—you also have to explain why the strategic goals exist. By sharing the why, team members understand how their work contributes to those goals, and can explain their rationale when proposing their own ideas. When there’s a clear line of thought behind each deliverable, everyone knows how they’re contributing to the company’s success.
Vinay understands that meetings are important for rapid feedback like whiteboarding sessions, or for highlighting an important initiative to a group audience. But for Vinay and team, documentation often spurs meetings—not the other way around. They write pre-mortems and share pre-reads to provide context and avoid wasting meeting time where everyone is still processing the background information.
“The meetings we have now are important and serve a unique purpose,” says Vinay. For everything else, Slack and async communication are the norm. Prioritizing writing—and letting it dictate whether a meeting is necessary—has led to a healthier overall approach to meetings at Loom. "A lot of writing happens in Slack, which has its place, but clear thinking doesn't happen in Slack." With fewer meetings, Loom's team has more time for deep work.
While Loom’s writing culture is now built into the company strategy, Vinay notes that it wasn’t always this way. “Early on, our main concern was survival. For young businesses, writing is low on the list of priorities, but at a certain point, a switch flips.”
For Loom, one of those switches was becoming a remote-first company five years ago. In order to maintain a high level of productivity across time zones they needed better asynchronous communication. But it hasn't always been easy. “A lot of people view writing as something that gets in the way of doing their job. They don’t see that the benefits of writing are compounded down the line,” says Vinay. To encourage knowledge sharing, Vinay recommends starting small and iterating. “Knowledge sharing doesn’t always have to be formalized writing. It can be a Slack message, it can be a Loom. What we’re really talking about is distilling information into an async format, and letting people across time zones benefit from that.”
Loom's iterative approach started with writing down scratch notes, then documenting bulleted lists for sprint planning, which eventually evolved into more strategic doc writing. "Start small, pick things to write about for your team that serve you, build your way up, and then evaluate how this documentation is benefitting your team."
As for the future state of communication and writing culture at Loom, Vinay would like to see writing become democratized more among engineers—not just product managers and designers. “I’d love to see engineers write more proposals. They have so many good ideas," says Vinay. "Seeing more early, small, imperfect proposals would be a sign that more people feel ownership in their roles.” And when people feel ownership over their work, everyone benefits—most importantly, the customer.
“We can’t rely on our memory to tell us why we made a decision," says Vinay. "You need to know why you took certain actions in order to make even more highly-leveraged decisions in the future.”