Building for you, with you

Mar 3, 2023

If you’re here you already know that we launched Frond in early February. And if you’ve spent any time in Frond you know that there are big, important features still to come. You better believe we’re clamoring for a mobile app, pricing, and admin controls just as much as you are!

But launching so early wasn’t an accident. It was the plan all along. We believe that the best way to build for communities is to build with communities. And holding the product back until it’s perfect would’ve held up that important project.

Since launch we’ve received so much helpful feedback, so many valuable feature requests. We couldn’t be more excited to be building Frond with you!

In that spirit, today we’re releasing our public roadmap. By building in public, we can ensure that your community’s needs and our team’s vision are one and the same. Take a look, we can’t wait to hear what you think!

The Frond Team

Introducing Frond

Feb 7, 2023

At Frond, we believe community is a superpower. No matter where you’re going, a thriving community will get you there faster.

As a remote team from day one, community is at the center of everything we do. When we’re not feeling connected as a team, we’re less motivated, less trusting of each other, and our work suffers.

On a bad day, it can feel like a downward spiral. We tend to think of community as a cultural problem, but we believe our tools are fundamentally failing us. Our tools were designed with the assumption that our sense of connection, our sense of community, would come from elsewhere. We can’t assume that anymore.

Our need for connection, the need for community, stretches far beyond remote work. We’re living through a time of profound isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. It’s such a crisis that the US Surgeon General has declared it a “loneliness epidemic.” At the heart of this crisis lies our tools, our online spaces.

Social media promised to unite all of us in a global community. And yet, in practice, they emphasize our differences and drive us apart. That’s because their business models depend on our attention rather than our sense of community.

And so many of our communities live in chat tools like Slack and Discord. They have promise! But as they grow, they often devolve into overwhelming, chaotic streams. Keeping up is too much work, and new members are greeted with the dreaded “wall of chat.” And that’s putting an artificial limit on our online communities.

If we believe community is a superpower, it shouldn’t be so hard to build it online. We deserve better. That’s why we’re building Frond as a better way to build community online.

Chat gets messy; that’s why Frond organizes conversations into threads, each starting with something richer than a chat: photos, videos, links, or just long-form writing. Better conversations, easier to follow.

Threads are organized into groups, which your community can shape as it grows. Whether it’s cooking, French New Wave cinema, or cute Corgi photos, your groups will spark rich conversation. Love Corgi’s but not into film? Your feed is easy to personalize so that you’re only seeing what matters to you.

Add all this up and you’ve got a platform that can grow and scale alongside communities in ways chat can’t.

This is just the beginning. We’ve got many more features planned to make it easier and easier for you to grow your community. From more extensive admin features, to desktop and mobile apps that will drive engagement, and beyond.

We’re so excited to go on this journey with you. We know that with better tools, we’ll have more energy for what really matters: our communities. We can’t wait to see where you’ll take us.

Today we’re thrilled to announce our pre-seed round of $3.3M led by Cherry Ventures. We’ve been working with an incredible group of funds and angels; if you’re curious there’s more information in our press release.

If you want to stay in the loop, follow us on Twitter for the latest and greatest on Frond.

The Frond Team

Building a culture of serendipity

Aug 22, 2022

We’ve talked a great in this space about how remote work can sap teams of their natural spaces for informal communication. And without informal communication, a sense of loneliness and isolation can set in, causing teams to drift apart and teammates to burnout.

Burnout has a huge organizational cost. It’s something teams should go to nearly any length to avoid. But the role of informal communication isn’t just preventative. There’s a positive case too.

We typically think of serendipity as luck or chance. The apple landing on Newton’s head. But serendipity is an incredible source of innovation. Serendipity brought us penicillin, Post-it notes, velcro, Aspirin, the smallpox vaccine, and countless other fixtures of modern life.

Research has shown that serendipity isn’t luck; it’s a practice, a culture that can be fostered. Serendipity is the ability to combine events or observations in meaningful ways, to see meaningful opportunities where others can’t. It explains why some organizations are “luckier” than others. And informal communication is the fuel for serendipity in an organization.

So how can a team be more serendipitous? Nancy K. Napier and Quan Hoang Vuong wrote about teams leveraging serendipity for strategic advantage: “by far, the most important aspect … is organizational culture.” They conducted a deep review of research and found that teams that were especially serendipitous emphasized four key values:

Encourage cross-pollination. Opportunities for serendipitous breakthroughs often come from “exploring the ‘periphery’ of some field” through unexpected information. This requires both formal infrastructure (helping surface information through formal searches) and cultural infrastructure (helping people from diverse teams and hierarchical levels come together). The more your culture encourages conversation between people who don’t work together everyday, the more opportunity there is for serendipitous innovation.

Build a culture of trust. We’re big on trust at Frond. Why? We believe that serendipitous opportunities are more likely to be found and acted on when people feel comfortable taking risks, don’t fear blame for an idea not panning out, and are encouraged to openly discuss ideas. We have a whole post about fostering trust in remote teams here.

Embrace inefficiency. This is a tough one for many leaders, who are taught to optimize for productivity as a linear variable. In fact, literature suggests that cultures that grant teammates autonomy to experiment, create flexible structures that can accommodate shifting opportunity spaces, and tolerate a “controlled sloppiness” generate more serendipitous innovation.

Celebrate serendipity. Researchers found that in order for teammates to act on serendipitous opportunities, it “has to be perceived as relevant and important for that organization.” Leaders who build cultures that recognize and celebrate the value of serendipity are more successful. The more you tell stories of serendipitous successes, the easier it is to develop (and hire for) a “serendipity disposition.”

At Frond we believe that focus on culture is key to great remote teams, and that the tools we use shape our cultures. Our tools should help teams shape culture and build community. We’re working on it. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest!

The Frond Team

Are we here to work or make friends?

Apr 5, 2022

For decades Gallup, the renowned polling and analytics company, has included this question in in their annual employee engagement survey: Do you have a best friend at work?

Many managers, even at Gallup, have scoffed at the question. What does friendship have to do with work? Apparently plenty. Over and over Gallup has used that question to demonstrate that performance and workplace friendship are positively correlated. Specifically, women who “strongly agree” they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged in their work (63%) compared with the women who say otherwise (29%). Another Gallup survey from 2006 found that both men and women who claim to have a best friend at work, 51% reported that they “work with passion” and “feel a profound connection to the company”, only 10% of those without a best friend at work responded that they feel that passion and connection. It impacts retention too: 75% of respondents who had a best friend at work planned to be with the company for at least another year, compared with 51% who didn't have a best friend.

Beyond polling, academia has studied the way workplace friendships are built as well. These studies say the key is informal communication, which they define as “real-time, unplanned and interpersonal interaction that is likely to occur when people actually ‘bump’ into each other” (Andrea, Arnaldo, & Romano, 2011). This type non-work conversation is far from frivolous, it’s the raw ingredient for friendships, trust, and therefore high performing teams.

If you’re on a remote team, the second half of that definition likely gave you pause. Without a water cooler to chat around, hallways to ‘bump’ into each other, or lunches to catch up over, fostering informal communication is a challenge. When work is only about the work, teams can end up stuck in the mud. Without a workplace that naturally encourages it, remote teams have to commit to a deliberate practice of informal communication. The obvious tension between “deliberate” and “informal” underscores why remote teams struggle with this. In practice, what deliberate informal communication looks like depends on you and what comes naturally to your team.

One easy place to start as a manager is checking in with your teammates regularly. The way to do this effectively is through “emotional acknowledgement,” the act of noticing non-verbal cues from your teammates and acknowledging them. It’s as simple as mentioning to a frowning co-worker “you look upset this afternoon” or a smiling teammate “you seem excited today.” It seems like a small thing, but studies have shown it’s remarkably effective way to build connection and trust.

Something we started to do organically at Frond is share a few things beyond work in our daily stand-up. Sometimes it’s as simple as what we did over the weekend, other times what you’re reading, or listening to, or maybe something interesting about the town you grew up in. We found that these small glimpses beyond work fostered more connection on the team than anything else.

Beyond that, a great resource comes from GitLab. They’re an all-remote company that is pioneering many of remote work’s best practices. Their leadership is encouraged to create space for informal communication with their teams. That can range from small commitments like using emojis or dedicating time at the beginning of Zoom calls to ice breakers, to more involved efforts like social calls, game nights, and co-working calls. GitLab’s employee handbook is public and has a whole section filled with creative way to encourage informal communication.

Helping cultivate happier, healthier, higher performing remote teams (and communities!) is our reason for being. We’ve got more exciting experiments coming in this space soon. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest!

The Frond Team

The Great Trust Crisis

Feb 7, 2022

From day one Frond has been a remote team because we believe it’s a better way to work together. Nothing beats taking a mid-afternoon walk when you feel your creative energy ebb, or working into the night when inspiration strikes, knowing you can take it easy with a cup of coffee and a book the next morning.

But we would be lying if we said there weren’t tough days too. Awkward Zoom moments, Slack miscommunications that never would’ve happened face to face, and that creeping sense of burnout that can set in working from home every day of a pandemic. We see these pain points in the remote work experience as an opportunity for innovation, so we’re deeply curious about them.

Among our favorite resources are the studies about remote work that have come out since the start of the pandemic. They give us a snapshot of what’s working, and what isn’t. And something we’ve noticed in nearly all of these studies is this curious paradox:

Workers clearly prefer remote work

And yet... they report record levels of burnout since switching

It’s just pandemic stress driving burnout, teams are working more

What's going on here?

We believe there’s an invisible resource driving this paradox: trust.

Not only is the way that we’re working eating away at trust, but because of its asynchronous nature, remote work requires more of it. Without an office we are starved of the coffee breaks and hallways chats that build trust. And with less trust, we are more likely to misunderstand each other, and so we compensate by overcommunicating and “performing work.” Which of course, leaves us exhausted and with even less trust in our tanks. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s burning us out.

We’re in a bind right now. How do we get out of it?

For our team, the answer lies in better understanding what trust really is.

For that we turn to the expert: John Gottman, the famed psychologist and professor emeritus at University of Washington known for his foundational work in relationships. Not only did his research result in an entirely new approach to couples therapy, it had much further reaching implications. His groundbreaking methodology allowed researchers to codify and then measure interactions between people in new ways, and has been applied to research not only into marriage but also parent/child relationshipsoffice teamworkand even soldiers in Iraq. That broad application has unearthed elemental truths that now inform larger theories of human relationships.

And, of course, at the very center of human relationships lies trust. Research into its properties and dynamics upend conventional wisdom in many ways. Traditionally we think of trust as dependability. We trust people that do what they say they will. Yet, Gottman says, “Dependability is not enough. I can trust you to always be evil.”

So if trust isn’t linked dependability, where does it come from?

“I have to trust you to be more [than dependable]. I have to trust you to care about me.”

Care might feel like an unusual word in a work context, but there has been a great deal of research into it. Studies have found that care at work boils down to something called “emotional acknowledgement”, the act of noticing non-verbal cues and acknowledging them. It’s as simple as mentioning to a frowning co-worker “you look upset this afternoon” or a smiling teammate “you seem excited today.” It seems like a small thing, but it has enormous power.

In evolutional biology there’s an idea called costly signaling theory. This theory says that a small act can be seen as a sign of genuine intentions if it was a risk for the sender. So, for example, a peacock displaying its feathers is an “honest signal” of fitness to mate because it also attracts predators. It’s risking its own safety to communicate.

In a work context, acknowledging someones feelings at work is and “honest signal” because it’s both a display of vulnerability, and shows a willingness to get involved in complex (risky!) situations with difficult emotions.

And all helps explain the trust crisis in remote work. The remote workplace is almost entirely comprised of text based tools that are focused on the content of work: email, documents, chat, code, etc. An unintended side effect of those content focused tools is that they strip away the emotional context that we bring to the work. Building trust isn’t about what we say, it’s about how we say it, but we don’t have a place for that anymore.

And that’s where we come in...

At Frond we want to help remote teams work in new ways that build trust as intuitively as they when they shared the same office. We’re building tools that make creating community online feel natural, that way teams can shape their culture, as opposed to having their tools shape it for them. Follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest!

The Frond Team