It’s Time to Kill the Daily Stand-Up Meeting

In the era of remote work, daily stand-ups may be doing more harm than good. Try asynchronous meetings instead. 

Written by Chase Warrington
Published on May. 03, 2023
It’s Time to Kill the Daily Stand-Up Meeting
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Each morning, Nancy rushes into my coworking space and spends the first 20 minutes of her day sitting quietly in a Zoom meeting with 15 other people on her virtual team. At some point, she recites her to-done list from yesterday and what she has planned for today.

4 Steps to Replace the Daily Stand-Up

  1. Survey the team. Determine if your team finds the stand-up useful or if they’d prefer an alternative method.
  2. Create other opportunities to bond. Consider optional virtual coffees or another form of virtual activity.
  3. Add tools to improve your meetings. Consider adopting a digital whiteboard, screen recorders and cloud-based project management tools. 
  4. Make attendance optional. Adopt an asynchronous, written version of the meeting where employees can add updates and review notes.

This is, of course, her daily stand-up meeting,  a ritual millions of workers participate in every day. When I asked Nancy if she gets any value from this activity, she laughed and replied “absolutely zero.” Why do it then? “It’s just what we’ve always done.” For her, the stand-up has become the literal opposite of its founding principle — innovation.

Is the stand-up meeting still the best way to foster the type of innovation, team cohesion and problem-solving that it was designed for?

 

What Is a Stand-Up Meeting?

Originally conceived of in 2001 as a reaction to the top-down, siloed, and gated waterfall development process, the Agile method focuses on faster iterations based on user feedback, valuing responsiveness to real-world data over master-planning.

Following the pure Agile playbook, the daily stand-up looks like this:

At the same time every day, a small team of four to six people gathers, physically standing up in a conference room together for a maximum of 15 minutes, with each person being given the space to answer three main questions:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I complete today?
  3. What am I blocked by?

Three simple questions designed to hold people accountable, celebrate victories and remove obstacles to progress. But after its widespread adoption, including by tech titans like Amazon and Apple, the daily stand-up has been mostly stagnant for decades.

With 77 percent of companies either remote or hybrid, according to a Gallup report, old-school daily meeting mainstays like physically standing up (to keep it short), passing a ball around the room (to ensure focus on the speaker) and gathering in the one location where the work is done no longer make sense. With teams more widely distributed than ever, holding these synchronous meetings means at least some of the team likely won’t be able to take part, removing one of their original benefits.

It’s possible to convert this to a virtual video format, but to build a successful remote team, we need to test each aspect of our remote infrastructure and ask ourselves: Is it built for today’s workspace or yesterday’s?

Let’s take a deeper look into why the stand-up may be a counterproductive activity for distributed teams.

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6 Problems With the Daily Stand-Up

1.     Lack of Transparency 

Providing transparency is one of the explicit goals associated with this practice, and back in the day, it may have been the best option to make sure everyone knew what was going on. But now, we see the opposite. The information shared during this meeting is trapped there. Only attendees have access to what’s shared. Teammates from across the organization are shut out completely.

Technically, it’s possible to record and/or transcribe these meetings for viewing later, but let’s be real: Watching a rerun of a status meeting you couldn’t attend is taxing, unenjoyable and unlikely to be the best use of anyone’s time.

 

2.     Lack of Accountability 

Creating accountability is another objective of the stand-up, but synchronous meetings are clearly not the most efficient method to document actions and hold people to them. Spoken commitments, especially when offered in rapid succession, are difficult to recollect consistently. Alternatively, one could simply share their actions, challenges, and expectations in written form. The clarity and availability for anyone to review those written statements will increase the feeling of ownership and accountability.

Worst of all, continuing the synchronous stand-up leads teammates to believe that accountability and transparency is created via face time, a myth that the world’s leading distributed teams know simply isn’t the case. Creating an asynchronous-first culture means converting face-time-biased practices to a format that is universally accessible across the organization at all times, and encourages people to document their actions, goals and challenges.

 

3.     Lack of Flexibility 

Many teams are distributed across multiple time zones, especially in companies hiring the best talent, wherever they’re located. This means that for some teammates a meeting may take at 8 a.m., but for others, their workday is halfway over or almost done. “What will you complete today?” starts to make less sense.

Even if your team is clustered in similar time zones, not everyone needs to share working hours. Someone might need to drop their kids off at school, while someone else might be a night owl. One of the biggest benefits of remote work is the freedom to craft your workday, such as the non-linear workday, and forcing everyone to be on the same call negates the flexibility that people long for.

 

4.     Presenteeism 

In a remote setting, managers often misuse daily stand-ups as a tool to make sure people are at their computers working, placing the emphasis on presence over real productivity. In Qatalog and GitLab’s recent study, Killing Time at Work, the data revealed that this kind of “digital presenteeism” is the number one blocker to adopting asynchronous communication. It’s responsible for remote workers adding 67 minutes to their workday, with a direct negative effect on productivity.

In other words, a culture that rewards you simply for being present diminishes focus on the business metrics that matter. People become more fixated on projecting value than creating it. Bottom line: It shouldn’t matter when you’re working as long as the work is getting done.

 

5.     Shallow Connections 

Advocates of the stand-up will claim there’s value in the face time you get with your teammates during this ritual, and there’s good evidence to support that in its traditional form. But I would argue that if building relationships and trust is the goal, then reinvesting this time in other social activities would produce a much better return. A few minutes of hurried small-talk before the routine begins isn’t going to do much to strengthen your culture. But intentionally scheduled, dedicated time to connect will. Virtual coffee is greater than stand-ups.

 

6.     Wasted Time 

A 15-minute daily stand-up with six people uses a collective seven-and-a-half hours per week. With most attendees, like Nancy, rating its value at “absolutely zero.” Now imagine the same ritual converted into written form and shared in a transparent space that’s universally accessible at any time, actually holds people accountable and can be achieved in approximately 10 percent of the time it takes to hold a stand-up.

These wasteful hours don’t even include the price of context switching. Studies show that it may take as long as 23 minutes to regain focus on a task once you’re pulled out of a deep work mode. Breaking that concentration to attend a stand-up to describe what you were just progressing on seems particularly pointless. With thorough documentation, an async-first organization can reduce context switching, support different work rhythms and chronotypes and make space for employee wellness.

 

How to Replace the Daily Stand-Up

If the traditional stand-up doesn’t work in the modern workplace and may be doing more harm than good, what now? At a minimum, consider how you might adjust this activity to meet your team’s needs, and hopefully take steps towards a more asynchronous approach in the future. A few steps you can take include: 

 

1. Survey the Team

A great place to start your stand-up overhaul is to simply ask your team if they get value out of the process. Maybe they do. Or maybe they appreciate certain aspects of it, like  camaraderie, that you could lean into even more with an updated format. Do they have their own ideas for how it can be improved? Ask yourself: Is a daily cadence necessary, or could this be a weekly or even bi-monthly activity? Considering those questions and surveying the team can help build trust and cohesion in the process.

 

2. Create Other Opportunities to Bond    

 If human connection is your goal, consider if this format is really serving those needs, or if there are better ways to build trust and camaraderie virtually. For example, instead of reciting their to-done and to-do lists in a stand-up, the marketing team at Doist holds a casual weekly (optional) coffee hour with a red-yellow-green check-in to see how everyone’s feeling about the week.

 

3. Add Tools to Improve Your stand-ups

Incorporate tools to make your stand-ups much more useful than just a check in. In a post from Workshop Wednesday founder Arthur Van Kriegenbergh, he suggested a variety of ways you could convey information without meetings, including digital whiteboards, easy screen recording, multiplayer file editing and cloud-based project management. Many teams also automate their async stand-ups via a tool like Geekbot. Twist also has infinitely customizable, scheduled threads natively built in.

 

4. Make Attendance Optional 

Synchronous meetings should almost always be optional, but this is especially true when the practice could be done in the written form. If you find stand-ups are convenient and appreciated by some teammates but not others, consider making the ritual optional and sharing a written version asynchronously.

 

Replace Your Stand-Ups With an Asynchronous Format

The best way to ditch the stand-up is to simply convert this activity to a written, asynchronous format. At Doist, we post our “snippets” for the week on Mondays, which explain what we worked on last week, what we’re planning to work on this week and if we’re blocked by anything. We’ve even tweaked the phrasing of these questions to correlate to our core values, which reinforces our team’s commitment to them.

We also share any personal information that may be useful for our teammates to know, like if we’re dealing with some challenges at home, or if we plan to be even more offline than usual. Unlike the rushed, everyone’s-watching real-time dynamic, these small opportunities to reflect and share personal experiences can deepen team connections.

Each team has a dedicated thread in Twist for their snippets, which automatically populates with a snippet template each Monday morning. Our Squads, shifting cross-functional teams that move work forward in our Doist Objectives, will also post snippets in their dedicated channels.

screenshot of an asynchronous meeting platform post
Example of an asynchronous meeting platform post. | Screenshot: Doist

This system gives everyone the flexibility to share their version of the stand-up, on their time, when it suits them best. Likewise, their teammates can review that thread when it works best for them, and all of the information is well-categorized in an easy to find place, and transparently referenceable later.

Even Agile purists will appreciate that both additional context and avenues for problem solving can be presented with links to relevant threads. With the async stand up, there’s no need to force everyone to listen to what might not concern them.

More on OperationsThe 3 Biggest Struggles of the Remote Worker — and How to Fix Them

 

Why It’s Time to Ditch the Stand-Up

Whether you agree the stand-up is outdated or not, the key here is we all need to challenge our preconceived notions of what it means to work together. We have an opportunity to build a better process that works for everybody, so we need to question our rituals and work to optimize them for the challenges ahead.

Is the traditional stand-up one of those ceremonies that can afford to go in a remote world? We think so.

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