The American Declaration of Independence’s most famous passage begins with an assumption: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” The Declaration’s framers then proceeded to list several noble principles that were deemed absolute.
Perhaps due to the importance of self-evident beliefs in history, many of us take our assumptions too far in our personal and professional lives, especially in the absence of evidence. In some cases, we are afraid to test our assumptions against reality.
When we started Acceleration Partners (AP) in 2007, we decided to make our workforce 100 percent remote to preemptively solve a pain point. We were a specialized agency in an industry called affiliate marketing, which was growing considerably, but at the time had small and diffuse pockets of talent. We were winning large accounts and needed experienced account managers from the industry—talent that was scattered all over the country.
In 2011, with a team of seven employees and great early results, we decided to fully commit to our remote strategy. We set ourselves on the path toward intentionally building a top-performing company, one known for being a great place to work and an industry leader, while also offering the flexibility and independence enabled by remote work. Being fully remote was a distinguishing factor of AP, as we excelled in a virtual environment and learned to discover employees who thrive in that type of organization.
But, despite our growth and success with the model, for years our remote culture felt like an aspect of our business we had to downplay. I had numerous discussions with other business leaders who told me virtual work could never work for their companies, based on a long list of unproven assumptions. I stated my case, but wasn’t looking to convert the doubters. I was happy with our little secret.
Then COVID-19 hit in early 2020, and the largest remote work experiment in history suddenly arrived on a global scale. Millions of workers were abruptly forced to work remotely, and despite doing so under circumstances that were far from ideal, many of them really liked working from home. Commute times dropped to zero, productivity didn’t fall off a cliff, salespeople closed deals, and people realized just how distracting the modern office environment can be.
Many companies and leaders who previously believed remote work would not work for their company are suddenly rethinking their assumptions. Many have taken the opportunity to shed costly leases and are planning for a hybrid, or fully remote, future. Not every company will or should switch to this model, but many will do so, far sooner than ever expected.
It’s worth noting, however, that many concerns leaders have about remote work have little to do with actually working virtually. Often, the root cause is that they simply don’t trust employees who are out of their sight. This says less about the efficacy of remote work and more about the lack of trust between leadership at these organizations and the employees they have hired. That type of culture will create a poor outcome in any working environment.
One of the great lessons to come out of COVID-19 is the shattering of many of our long-held assumptions about how people prefer to work, shop, exercise and entertain themselves. We have been reminded that we must question and challenge our own assumptions and the preferences of others, and to make sure we don’t operate in an echo chamber. None of us with kids participating in remote schooling would have guessed we could last more than a single day under these circumstances. While the situation is far from ideal, it is yet another area where initial assumptions would have been incorrect.
I recently broke one of my own assumptions: that I could not write and publish a book in 90 days. After seeing the interest in resources surrounding remote work, I went to my publisher and turned a popular presentation on how we built our culture and remote work processes into a new book, How To Make Virtual Teams Work. It launched exclusively in E-Book format this week in North America and should be coming soon to the rest of the world.
What is an assumption in your own life you need to rethink?
Quote of The Week
“Start with the assumption that the best way to do something is not the way it’s being done right now.”
– Aaron Levie