Defaulting to Action: An Essential Skill for Success in the Remote Workforce

Defaulting to Action: An Essential Skill for Success in the Remote Workforce

It is really amazing to me how many people think that having a job means that someone else is going to tell them what to do all the time. That may be how the world used to work, but not anymore! Today, if you want to be successful, you have to learn how to drive results within your company, and default to action.

Defaulting to action is a staple of Zapier’s work culture, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to master it when I worked there. Zapier is not the only company that values this philosophy; Amazon includes among its leadership principles a “Bias for Action” and it’s something more and more companies are beginning to embrace. It is a valuable skill even at small companies, or if you work for yourself.

At Zapier, we typically defined “default to action” as the ability to make decisions independently and take action with little or no oversight. This is especially important for a remote workforce. If your boss is across the world, they may not be able to answer your question right away. In those instances, it’s important to be able to evaluate the situation, make a decision and take the necessary action. If you fuck up, you fuck up. But the beauty of it is that the faster you fail, the faster you learn.

Defaulting to action will look a little different depending on the nature of your work. But everyone can do it. If you work with people more than technology, it can mean doing as much as possible on your own. Minimize what executives need to do by saying, “I think we can go in A direction or B direction, which would you prefer?” Or, you can also set your own deadline and plan to meet it unless told otherwise. In that case you might say via email or Slack, “Hey, I’m going to publish this blog post on Friday unless I hear from you with another plan.”

As a business owner, I often spot missed opportunities for people I work with to default to action. For example, if you want my opinion on something don’t expect me to take the time to read a big, long email about it. I’m too busy for that. Instead, give me an Opinion A or Opinion B and frame a question so I can easily answer with a yes or no. This is the best way to get results when working with team leads, executives, and leadership teams.

Learning to take action and direct decisions is a very, very important skill. At Zapier, I learned how to make those split-second decisions. If you feel in your gut it is the right move to make, you should make that decision on your own. Use Good Judgement. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. It’s very simple, but a very cool thing that happens when you grow in your career.

A lot of remote workers in particular think they need to prove something to their boss. If you don’t want them to think you are slacking off when you are 5,000 miles away, you may send a long arbitrary list of stuff to your manager so they know what you are working on. This is pointless. They don’t care about the details, they just want to know, did you get the job done?

And you know what, if you do fail, it’s not that big of a deal. Failure is much more important than winning. I believe if you just win all the time, you won’t know what to do when you fail. Practice failing so that you know how to respond when things go wrong. Defaulting to action is about acting when you feel in your gut it’s the right thing to do. Very rarely does it fuck everything up. A lot of people have fear that prevents them from moving forward. Don’t let fear be a blocker. I’d rather fail 300 times but then also win 420 times.

As long as you don’t accidentally delete the entire website, it’s better to apologize than ask for permission. There is one caveat to all of this, and that is if you work for a micromanager. That is the worst bullshit ever and if that’s what you are dealing with, I do feel sorry for you. But, if it’s any consolation, business moves fast and there is no room for micromanaging in the future.

I am an independent SEO consultant who works with clients around the world. If you’d like to connect, please send me a message.

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