I have always hated year-end reviews. They’re like cramming for finals—too much pressure and not enough continuous learning. Once a year, you sit down and try to shove everything that happened into one document. Prove your worth. Show the company you did something.
At Swell+Good, we’ve ditched the traditional performance review playbook in favor of something we like to call Monthly Action Plans (MAPs). These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, check-the-box meetings. Nope, these are roll-up-your-sleeves, let’s-get-down-to-business chats that happen, you guessed it, monthly.
During MAPs, we take a dual-lens approach: reflective and forward-looking. We dissect the past month—celebrating wins, learning from missteps, and gathering all those “ah-ha” moments. It’s not about dwelling on the past, but about harnessing it to fuel our future endeavors. We ask the hard questions: What worked? What flopped? What can we polish, and what needs a complete do-over?
Looking ahead, we scout the horizon for what’s next. We strategize on how to be the most kick-butt team members we can be over the next 30 days. And growth? It’s not just encouraged—it’s expected. Be it devouring new literature, mastering a skill, or snagging a shiny new certification, we’re each in the driver’s seat of our own professional development.
MAPs are not the only avenue for improvement, but they ensure none of us are ever coasting. No one gets missed. Got a bright idea or a nudge for a colleague? Speak up, anytime. Eager to learn something new? Dive right in.
We’ve even taken the MAP concept company-wide. Bigger issues, process improvements, you name it—all fair game in our collective MAPs. At the start of each month, we start a thread in Basecamp and everyone shares their feedback and ideas on our processes and projects as a whole. It’s our safe space for the big stuff, the team stuff, the stuff that makes us who we are.
And yes, we write it all down. Because accountability isn’t just a buzzword for us; it’s how we roll. Twelve times a year, every year, we’re checking in, not out.
MAPs aren’t just monthly action plans. They’re actual maps. Maps to our collective growth and success.
We’re a team of storytellers, and our narrative isn’t just about what we’ve done, but also about where we’re going, learning every step of the way. We’re in the business of making stories come alive, and that includes our own.
At Swell+Good, it’s about the people. Always has been, and always will be. And just like the good ol’ office space that our team has left behind, it’s not the walls that define us, but the stories we create within them—and, of course, the growth we share along the way.
How do you manage your team’s growth and development? What is working and what isn’t? Hit the reply and let us know! We love learning from other teams, too!
When I was in college, I loved working in the Student Union. On paper, it was not a great place to study—loud, bustling, full of interruptions. But I loved it. On any given afternoon, you could find me with my stack of books, a notebook (I preferred—and still prefer—to take notes by hand), and a big plastic cup of Diet Coke.
Business school, with its approximately one million group projects, was spent holed up in study rooms; crowding around a table with three other classmates as we pored over case studies, parsed out Excel files, and built PowerPoint slides.
In the early days of my career, I worked from a cubicle that I decorated with photos and quotes. When the cramped little corner got to be too much, I would spread out on a big table in the middle of the marketing area (which I’m sure was not at all distracting to my colleagues…).
When I pivoted to full-time remote work in 2016, I learned to make my own spaces: coffee shops, coworking desks, and my dining room table all turned into offices. To this day, if you give me a city and five minutes, I can find you a cafe where you can hunker down and work.
And now, I spend most of my time in my home office with the big blue bookcase, rainbow-woven rug, and windows overlooking my mini-forest.
All of which is to say: where we work matters.
I recently read a Harvard Business Review article that talked about how our physical surroundings shape our work—and coming out of the pandemic, when office life looks way more flexible than ever before, this type of research feels particularly relevant. Many of us now get to choose where we work.
And if I have a tip for you today it’s this: why not change it up?
Because as much as I love my home office (and I do, because I’ve created it to hit all of my sensory needs—candle, ergonomic keyboard, a specific spot for my coffee, etc.), there is magic in going somewhere else.
The Harvard research agrees.
First, it says, “Engage in placemaking to shape your place to better reflect who you are and who you want to be.” (I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s Peony Blossom candle.)
But then, it continues, “If you’re stuck on a problem or feeling lethargic and uninspired, it may be a signal that you need to work in a different place for a few hours a day. Research suggests that subtle shifts in environment such as ceiling height or natural elements can often stimulate a different type of thinking and influence your well-being. Sometimes we need more than one place to address the needs of the multiple hats we wear at work.”
Which is why you can find me at my favorite coffee shop at least once a week.
When I need to shake out the cobwebs, or find some new inspiration, or finish a very specific deliverable, I change locations. I physically get up and go. And it always helps.
For me, a change in scenery is particularly useful when I have a set of tasks I think I can complete in their entirety in 2-3 hours. I head to the coffee shop, spread out at my favorite big table, and do not leave until my list is done. It is incredibly motivating and one of my best productivity hacks. I’m not only time-boxing, I’m place-boxing, too.
In fact, I might be due for a coffee shop visit this afternoon…
As you think about place for yourself, here are my two questions for you:
- What can you do to make your “typical” workplace feel more like “you”?
- Where could you go to change it up?
Here at Swell+Good, we talk a lot about work processes. How do we make our team more efficient? How do we improve quality? How can we better serve our clients? And, most importantly, how do we make sure that everyone on our team actually gets to enjoy their life?
Yes, we love marketing. And yes, we love helping organizations raise more support so that they can better do the work they were born to do. That’s our what, and we’re kind of obsessed with it.
But if we’re honest, we give equal attention to our how—to the way we do the work, not just the work itself. We’re very, very into work culture. We’re very, very into people being humans first and employees second. And we’re very, very into work being fun and not-terrible.
We were virtual and remote long before being virtual and remote was cool, so we’ve had lots of time to get creative on how we connect and communicate—and ultimately we feel pretty proud of where we’ve landed.
Our tricks aren’t magic, but they are intentional. And over the next few weeks, we’re excited to give you an inside look at the secret sauce of Swell+Good.
First up, we’re asynchronous.
That means that our team can work whenever they want, wherever they want.
Or, more simply, working asynchronously means when you send a message you don’t expect an immediate response.
And here’s the deal: “Not only does async produce the best work results, it also lets people do more meaningful work and live freer, more fulfilled lives.”
Working Asynchronously? How? Well, let’s turn to the research!
- Synchronous communication prioritizes communication over productivity. “Synchronous communication is heavy on staying connected. Here, you are expected to be available at all times during the day. In a team group chat with over 10, 50, or even 100 employees, this could mean you could possibly miss out on important information just because you weren’t available within a certain timeframe.” (Read more!)
We’ve all experienced this, right? Sitting on Slack waiting for a response? Getting left behind as a reply-all email spirals out of control? Watching your colleagues travel way off course on a problem you could have solved in two seconds all because you took a 30-minute break to make a sandwich?
- Synchronous communication promotes overworking and increases work-related stress. “Being constantly available translates to working 24/7 with no downtime. Employees, especially those with parental and spousal responsibilities, fail to find a work-life balance, resulting in increased levels of stress that can often lead to burnout.” (Read more!)
This is the real problem. When you’re expected to be “on” 24/7, you’ll….be on 24/7. And that’s just not a healthy way to live.
(You already know our opinions on work emergencies. And if not, here’s a hint: You don’t actually have any.)
But here’s the deal, friends. It doesn’t have to be this way.
When you prioritize working asynchronously instead of rapid chat (or, even worse, constant meetings), you give your team freedom. You give them flexibility. You give them time.
Sure, we have client calls that are scheduled. And there are some conversations that just have to happen immediately. But 85% of our internal communication can wait—so it does.
- Really, really good task and project management. We use Basecamp (another huge fan of async, btw), but you can use any tool you like. The key is actually using it—and making sure that everyone on your team is using it, too.
- Long-form written updates. It’s the old “this meeting could have been an email” except instead of an email, we default to public posts. Have notes you want to share? Type them up. Have a discussion question? Post it and let people reply when they have time. Writing—then sharing that writing in an open-to-your-team forum—is where the magic happens.
- Plan ahead. If you don’t want crazy, “emergency, do this now” deadlines, you need to have a long horizon. Same-day deadlines are not in our policy (they happen sporadically because…life, but they are absolutely the exception, not the rule). This lets people plan their days and their weeks without worrying about missing a key task that got added to their list two hours ago.
- Over-communicate. Asynchronous communication works when everyone explains everything they’re thinking. Over-communication also makes occasional meetings and conversations way more productive because everyone on your team is already up to speed!
We’ll keep sending you what we’re learning about working asynchronously (and all of our work processes! We’ve got lots more to test and discover and share!)—and we want to hear from you, too! Have you tried async communication? How has it worked for you? Let us know by replying to this email. Just make sure you do it at a time that works for you.