This month, we sat down with Greg Caplan, the CEO of the remote company Spot, a virtual platform made for walking meetings. Our conversation focused on how technology can support healthier work and, by extension, healthier lives.
- The way we’re working is wreaking havoc on our physical and mental health. Zoom fatigue zaps our energy. The average person is only active 20 minutes per day. We spend more time sitting than we spend sleeping.
- Scientific research shows people are more creative while walking vs sitting. Walking was essential to the creative processes of Beethoven, Virginia Wolfe, and Steve Jobs.
- But our current meeting tools were built for a desk and a keyboard. Spot is building meeting software that uses transcription and AI to build notes for you while you walk. Their goal is to make walking meetings productive while the technology fades into the background, so you can stay fully focused and engaged.
- Curious about incorporating walking meetings into your workday? Greg recommends starting small with more informal 1:1 or small group calls with coworkers you feel comfortable with and build from there.
- More and more workplace tools are remote-native — built by and for remote teams — with strong opinions on how to support healthier ways of working and living.
- In the early 2000s, trendy office space was a reflection of team culture. Today, the tools companies choose for collaboration will be how teams reflect and build team culture. Which tools a team chooses to use says a lot about who they are and what they value.
- www.meetwithspot.com — Spot is a virtual meeting platform made for walking.
- How to Host an Efficient Walking Meeting
- You can find Greg on Twitter @gdcaplan
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Welcome everyone to the Twist Future of Work Series, where today we’re focusing on the future of meetings. I’ve got Greg Caplan here with Spot Meetings who I’m so excited to talk to because they really are developing the future of meetings as far as I’m concerned. So as a product user and sort of fan of the company, it’s going to be very cool for me to get the chance to talk to Greg.
If it’s your first time turning in for a Twist Future of Work Series publication, this is all about focusing on products and services that are promoting the future of work, remote work, asynchronous work, what we like to do here at Doist and what our partners like Greg at Spot Meetings like to do as well. So it’s how we’re approaching work and also the tools that we’re using to do that.
So my name is Chase Warrington. I’m the Head of Remote here at Doist. If you’re unfamiliar with Doist, we are the fully remote team of about 100 people from 35 different countries spread around all time zones that built Todoist and Twist. And this is the Twist Future of Work Series, which again is focused highly on asynchronous communication and remote team communication. So that’s a little bit about me and who we are, Greg, welcome to the Twist Future of Work Series. I wonder if you could give us a quick introduction to who you are and who Spot Meetings is.
Hey, Chase. It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much for having me on the pod. My name is Greg Caplan. I am the co-founder and CEO of Spot Meetings. My background, I grew up in Chicago. Right now I live in Chicago with my wife and our new son, but my history, I have almost a decade of experience as a member of the remote workforce. So I’ve been thinking about remote work for a very long time. And previously I co-founded a company called Remote Year that helped people travel the world with this amazing group of people while working remotely.
And so I’ve been thinking a lot about remote work and that led me to understand the challenge that people have working remotely and being just caught up on video meetings all day long and the challenge that they have doing that. So I fundamentally believe in audio meetings as empowering people to be a little bit more mobile, a little bit more flexible in their workday. And so that’s what we’re building is a tool set to help people do that, which is called Spot Meetings. An audio meeting platform built to be on the move with you and be mobile and support you wherever you happen to be meeting.
It’s such a cool thing that you guys are trying to tackle. And I think we’re going to get into the why behind it, which I think is interesting part of the story. But I wondered if you noticed this, the future of work movement has birthed a few different acronyms and phrases that I just love. So one of them is, everyone knows Zoom fatigue, right? And what may be lesser known is the walk and talk, which I don’t know if you know Greg, this is totally associated with Spot Meetings.
Now I think GitLab uses this, it’s officially in the GitLab handbook. So it’s a real thing. But the walk and talk epitomizes to me what comes from this future of work movement. It’s become a necessity because of things like Zoom fatigue, but it also shows the innovation that has come out of this movement. So I wondered if you could just elaborate on what is a walk and talk and what does a walk and talk mean to you as the CEO of Spot.
For sure. Well, I think let’s start with the first term, Zoom fatigue, right? And Zoom fatigue, pre-COVID people were working remotely but it was more on the fringes and then COVID happened and now it’s sort of mainstream. And we find ourselves spending most of these days sitting on our computers on video meetings all day long, Zoom teams, Meet, whatever it ends up being.
And Zoom fatigue is the idea that when you’re sitting on these video meetings all day long, it just is exhausting. And it’s exhausting physically to be hunching over your screen all day. It’s exhausting mentally because you’re looking at yourself and you’re performing into the screen. And it’s really, really hard for people to do for extended periods of time. And I think they were invented truly at a time when this was the exception, right? People had a lot of in-person meetings, a lot of in-person interactions in an office environment and Zooms or video conferencing was sort of an exceptional thing that worked well, but wasn’t so commonplace.
But now that people are working permanently remote, it’s just all day, every day and people are crumbling under the weight of this platform or this form factor of meetings and struggling with the challenge of sitting on their computers looking at themselves on video meetings all day long. And so you and I, we’ve been working remotely for a long period of time. We faced this challenge viscerally for a long time and had to come up with our own solutions.
And as COVID hit and more people have that experience of really confronting the concept of exhaustion and difficulty of being on video meetings all day. Many of us just found audio as a breath of fresh air, right? As this unbelievable relief from being on video for so many meetings all the time. And so that brings us to the walk and talk, right? If you’re going to be off video, right? And you’re going to be on audio, there’s no reason you have to be sitting, right? Because sitting is, I believe the smoking of our generation, right? We as the modern generation are sitting more of the day on average than we’re sleeping. Just crazy to think about. It’s an epidemic.
Yeah, that is true. Just when I think about my basic day, that’s 100% true.
It’s crazy. The average person is now active less than 20 minutes a day, right? We have this terrible, terrible experience where we’re sitting all day long. And basically what people have started to find is that if you do audio meetings, you have this incredibly powerful computer in your pocket. You can take these meetings while you’re moving around. And it’s the perfect harmony of being productive getting things done, but also getting some activity in.
And there’s such perfect harmony between those two, which is this new concept of a walk and talk. And although it’s new digitally, it’s not so new historically. So some of the greatest thinkers in history were just absolutely passionate and devout walkers. So you had Beethoven, who really believed in walking and was one of the core part of his creative process. Virginia Woolf, one of the most incredible writers was just adamant about her creative process being at the foundation of stimulated by thinking about these stories and ideas through walks.
And one of the most innovative people in the history of the world, was one of the most active and passionate walkers specifically in walking meetings. He created probably the most important invention of the last 50 years, the iPhone Steve Jobs, right?
Really. He’s a walk and talker?
He was a prolific walker. He did almost all of his important meetings walking. There’s a lot of famous anecdotes of important meetings he did with people walking around the campus that they had or walking around different parts of California. And so I think the walking meeting is not new. The new thing is that digital walking meetings are doing calls on audio and taking them walking around. Now with this new behavior of walking talks, people really enjoy it. They’re really excited about it. They’re really passionate about it but frequently they feel guilty about it, right? They feel guilty.
And they feel guilty for two reasons. First of all, there’s this social construct that if you’re not on video, you’re not paying attention, you’re not focused, you’re not engaged in the meeting. And that’s true and that’s fair. And there’s some social dynamics to that. But I think the more important guilt comes from the fact that when you leave your desk, physically literally leave your desk, you have to literally leave your tools behind, right? So all of these tools are built for a keyboard and a mouse, right? And a screen and a camera.
And so when you get up and walk away from your desk, we’re left with basically the technology from 1900, right? The phone call, right? A phone call, it’s literally analog dial tone. And there’s almost no technology supporting that form factor to be more rich and featured and productive like we have this tool set on desktop. And so people feel guilty because they’re really constrained with how to make that walk and talk productive. And so that’s really what we’re thinking about is how do we give people a tool set that’s built for that form factor to be delightful and productive.
Gotcha. Okay. Yeah, let’s break down the walk and talk for somebody. So how do you describe, and for context I should say, I did a walk and talk this morning. I started my day with my first meeting being a walk and talk. So I have become a big fan of walking talks and I try to do them whenever I possibly can, but there are times to do them and times not to do them.
So it’d be interesting to get into that, but let’s just talk about what differentiates a walk and talk from just a phone call? Why can’t I just call the person on the phone? Or maybe to phrase it differently, why should someone use a professional tool like Spot specifically designed for this as opposed to just doing a phone call?
Yeah. I think that’s the right question, Chase. I think a lot of times people say, “Hey, I’d like to switch my Zooms or my Meets or my team’s video meetings to walk and talks. And I’d say, “Hey, let’s slow it down. Let’s start with your phone calls.” Right? People are traditionally doing calls that actually can be done walking that are already audio only or audio first.
I think a lot of people trying to make too big of a leap to a walk and talk is a little too aggressive sometimes. And not going to be set up to be successful. So I think the things that need to be on video should probably for now stay on video. Let’s start with the conversations that are already done as phone calls. And so we’ll talk about is this, you did a walk and talk this morning, you did a phone call with someone and that’s great.
And so you have this tool set which is a phone call to support that conversation. Now, what we’re building is a more robust tool set specifically to help you take notes, right? Because that’s the major problem set with these conversations. You have the conversation, you’re active, you’re engaged, you’re having a really good chat. And then at the end of it you are left with no record of what happened, because you don’t have any way to take notes and remember. And so the feature that Spot does is uses transcription to take notes for you.
And pretty soon we’re launching the ability in the next few weeks to have full transcriptions from every conversation saved right there in the app. So at the end of the call, you have the full transcript and then we’ll start to build on top of that features to help you highlight certain moments and turn some of those highlights into tasks for things that you need to do. So in real time, you can sort of build the minutes of your call and give yourself a deliverable of what actually needs to be remembered or take action upon.
Yeah. That transcription feature is incredible. And I have to say super accurate as well, surprisingly really accurate, it captures more than just the bullet points. And you also have the ability to make notes yourself within the app too. You can toggle to write down things, to have an agenda, things like this. You have all those tools right at your disposal within the app.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So we have a bunch of tools, the core as we’re learning from our users around what they really focus on it is that transcription and taking notes. So you could put your phone in your pocket, you have the conversation and when you need it, we have the support there to really quickly remember what you need to remember. But we have a whole tool set that we’re building out to support that form factor of audio walking meetings on mobile. So you can share content, you could create an agenda or task list. You could collaborate in all different ways.
But hopefully we can make it so simple and delightful that you could put your phone in your pocket, not even thinking about it, just like a phone call, but all of the history and richness and content gets saved for you so that you know what you need to do afterwards, and aren’t left naked while you’re either pacing around indoors or walking around outside and have what you need to actually make that a really valuable conversation.
I love that it’s the less is more concept. You’re not going for just a bunch of bells and whistles, you want it to just be a delightful experience and just really use that core features that really resonates with each individual.
Absolutely. So walking is such a magical behavior and walking is I think the best use case of what can be done if you’re not on a video call trapped and sitting at your desk, number one, if you’re active, you’re getting steps and your heart rate’s going. But more importantly, the act of walking, it puts you in a sense of flow, right? It gets you engaged in the conversation, it helps stimulate focus and it helps stimulate creativity, right?
And so the last thing we want to do to interrupt people’s focus and creativity is force them into this app to do something while they’re on that conversation. So hopefully Spot as a productivity suite can fade away into the background and just be there when you need it. Not a captive thing that will force you to keep your phone out, looking at a screen while you’re outside walking. So hopefully it’s seamless.
We have a similar ethos behind our products, Twist is the antithesis of a lot of chat tools that are designed to keep you in the tool. And the more minutes you’re in there, the better the tool is doing. And Twist is the total opposite, right? It’s like, “Get out, go do real work and when you need to come back, this stuff will be here.” But it’s again the less is more, fewer features, and what’s not there is almost as important as what is there.
Absolutely, absolutely. We’ve been having a long debate about notifications. How do we do notifications? And there’s a few different kinds of notifications, right? Which is, you have the system notifications, push notifications. You also have the in-app notifications and trying to be really thoughtful about reducing those down as much as we possibly can to focus people on what are the most important things that they actually need to know about and do, rather than notify, notify, notify, notify, everything is a notification, you have to look at every single piece of content ever or else you’re not done.
And I think just like y’all are doing at Twist, we want to reduce the burden that people have in terms of engaging with our platform rather than increase their engagement or workload. So that’s something to strive for. It’s not easy or perfect but it’s definitely an aspiration of ours as well.
I love that we’re aligned on this. Let’s say someone’s looking to make the transition to incorporating walk and talks into their day to day. What are some tips you might give them maybe starting with what types of meetings should be walk and talks and what shouldn’t and any other advice you have around this?
Definitely. So, first of all, I would say start small. I think if you’re not doing walk and talks yet, I would start with people who you feel a lot of comfort with. And I would start with either a coworker, a close coworker, a manager or a direct report or even a peer that you have within your company, and say, hey, if we’re doing a catch-up that maybe has a little bit less content collaboration or things like that and it’s more of a catch-up type of environment, that’s a great place to try it out, right?
The other type of meetings that we’ve seen people use very frequently are their peers outside of their company. So maybe they do social professional networking kind of catch-ups with folks in their industry at their level but not supplier vendor, customer relationships. A really great place to get started, to start to understand how to do it, to get comfortable with the tools, to get comfortable with the form factor with one or two of those meetings.
And most people that we talked to, as we do a diagnostic on their calendar, they tend to have a handful of those meetings every week anyway. So start with the things that are comfortable, start where it’s not so scary. And I would say, try it out on Spot, try it out as a phone call. Probably not so good to do it with a video platform and try to communicate audio only. It’s a little bit more complex to set that expectation. So try it on an audio only platform, either a phone call or Spot or something like that.
And then if you decide that it feels good and you want to do more of those familiar conversations, start to expand out on those and the frequency of those that you use audio only and try to take those walking. And then eventually as you get more comfortable with the form factor and the tool set, then you can start to sort of migrate into a larger portion of your meetings being done walking.
Great advice. I’ll add one or two more that I’ve learned because I did exactly as as you mentioned at first, I started small and then really ramped it up too quickly, and didn’t learn a couple of things along the way. I didn’t have enough of a test period to learn some of these things and then got into a little bit of a hairy situation. So one is you’ll learn this by doing a couple test runs, but being cognizant of wind is a big deal. If it’s a windy day, it’s not the right day to test a walk and talk, especially in a somewhat important meeting. That can be a bit distracting for the person on the other end.
And the other one is start with one-on-ones small groups. Don’t try it in a large group setting right away, just think about the minimal impact you can have if it’s just one person that gets a bad experience. I’m yet to have a really bad experience, but it’s worth being cognizant of, starting small means starting small in terms of the breadth of the conversation but also the audience as well.
The wind is a really, really good point. I think one of the other issues with a walk meetings is not knowing your connection quality in different places outdoors. So I think going outdoors is probably not even step one. I would say to start even smaller, try to endorse pacing around wide is a really easy way to do it. You have Wi-Fi, you have good connection, you’re not going to have background noises. Pacing around inside is probably the easiest way to start.
And it’s just as many steps, they’re just indoors in smaller circles than being outside and in the elements. So again, start as small as you can, try out doing some audio meetings with people you’re very familiar with in surroundings and environments that you’re really familiar with. Because it takes some time to get used to knowing the different routes to take knowing the right way to handle those different things.
But you could, as you start to use Spot, if you become a user or working on some creative features to help with lots of these little problems that arise, not all of them are out yet, but for a good handful of these minor challenges to those user experiences, we’re working on some pretty delightful features. For instance, background noise, right? So wind is one of the things that you talked about. There’s some really cool AI tools that we’re going to apply to your input microphone to help you actually strip out a lot of those background noises in a lot of environments.
And so it’s a really complex thing to do in a lot of different environments, but we’re sort of building this, we’re calling it smart mute technology to take advantage of different ways to use AI, to strip out some of those background noises to make a more seamless and clear audio stream coming into to the other participants on your conversation.
Although it’s not live today, as we continue building out the platform, we’ll have very specific features cognizant of the form factor of meetings on mobile in different environments. And so that’s something we’re really excited about building. And the other experience that we have a very light feature set today is around signal strength. When you’re out walking around, we give you and the other participant some feedback when your signal strength gets low, to give you an understanding that you might lose connection soon and sort of gives you some opportunity to either go backwards or give the other person some clarity that that’s kind of happening.
I think there’s ways in the future we could give you even more guidance around what’s happened and how it’s happening to help people stay in a more comfortable, connected environment.
You guys are absolutely tackling the main challenges. There’s really not a lot of reason not to incorporate these into your life once you’re familiar with the concept other than those few things. And so if you tackle those then you probably solve the hesitation that most people might have because I can say for me, I’m a horrible meditator. I get antsy. I can’t sit still that long, my feet fall asleep. It’s a bad experience for me. But a walking meditation is so much more pleasant and the same is true for me with meetings.
In both cases when there’s walking involved, when there’s a little bit of movement involved, and for me, it’s also about getting out into a bit of nature even if it’s just walking through the green area and in a park here in the middle of the city, but just to get away from the desk and to change up the day a little bit. It’s part of taking advantage of the freedom this style of work gives us. I think it’s a shame to waste that you’re given all this flexibility and freedom by things like asynchronous work and remote work, location independence, you can craft your own workday, but then you’re harnessed to your desk because of meetings.
So if that’s the case this is a great way to get outside. And for me personally it’s a nice way to not just break up the day, but also to give my mind a little kickstart again. I find that I function better, especially for a brainstorming session a walking meeting is perfect for a brainstorming session with a colleague. It’s absolutely perfect.
There’s a really cool study. I think it was at Stanford where they assessed creativity amongst folks basically giving them an object and having them come up with different uses of that object. And the amount of unique uses that people came up with on average, they use as a proxy for creativity. And as you can imagine, when people were sitting down, they came up with, I don’t know, six or seven different uses on average for this item. But while people were walking, it was 18, something crazy. So people were two to three times as creative with this sort of rudimentary proxy through creativity walking as they were sitting.
So there is real data in sort of unique ways to show that people are actually more creative while their blood is flowing and they’re moving around. And so to your anecdotal experience, feeling more creative and engaging and invigorated while you’re walking actually gets confirmed through the scientific research.
Wow. Well, that’s an awesome segue into this last question I would love to ask you. And I’m not sure if they’re connected or not, but I’m always very interested in the why behind the product or service. Obviously you saw a need for something that needed to be fixed or something that could be improved, but I can’t help but sense that there might be a deeper meaning behind it for you. So was there anything that propelled you into wanting to solve this problem?
Absolutely. Absolutely. So I love remote work. I’ve been championing and thinking about and building around remote work for almost a decade. And remote work is so incredible because it’s this economic enabler for people all over the world to have this incredible opportunity. It’s this flexibility for individuals to live the lives they want to live. But in reality, in practice today, remote work ends up meaning people are huddled in these tiny little rooms, hunched over desks, sitting at their computers and dancing on video all day long.
And that feels more like a dystopia than the utopia that I’m so excited about, about remote work. And so the challenge of that is sitting all day is literally mentally, physically, emotionally killing us. It’s creating a really unhealthy workplace for people all over the world. And so at Spot our mission is to support healthy collaboration.
And we believe fundamentally that there is an opportunity for tools to support a healthier way to collaborate. And healthier to us means physical health, mental health, and team health, right? The way that teams come together and we want to support that kind of collaboration. And so we really, at the core of everything that we do, we go back to our mission, which is supporting healthy collaboration. And we think a fundamental input to that is mobile, right?
Allowing people to be productive and collaborate effectively on mobile is a core piece of the foundation of how to help people live a healthier lifestyle, be more mobile, be more active, be more creative and engaged, and collaborate with their teams in ways that are more fruitful and more productive and leave everyone involved better off. And so that’s the foundation of everything that we’ll ever build is helping them have the right tool set to leave happier, a healthier and a more productive life.
Once again, our ethos aligns so well here, and that’s a very cool to hear the backstory there because it is so similar to what we really feel with Twist and what we’re trying to build here, which are just products that help lead to a happier life overall, which as part of that is solving some of the challenges that come with work. It’s not everything. Work isn’t everything, it’s just a piece of life for us and we can solve some of the challenges that come with that.
In our case it’s addiction to chat tools. And in your case it’s sedentary meetings. But they both align at this ethos, which is, let’s help people live and work better, happier, healthier lives. And it’s cool to solve that through technology. I think there’s something really exciting about that and that’s what’s coming from this future of work movement. And I think it’s going to be really fun to watch how this evolves as more teams get on board with this idea and to watch products like yours, continue to grow and flourish.
You know what I’ll say Chase, one final thing. I think what you said is so profound. I think what you all are doing at Twist is very much aligned. And I love the new brand positioning you put out ASAP to async is it just so perfectly embodies the problems that people are having with some of these tools. And I think the foundation of these problems is they were built by teams that were working co-located, right?
And they support their technology, their platforms that can support people working remotely, they weren’t built for and by people working permanently remote. And I think that they’re these sort of open and flexible tools that can do a whole lot of things. But in the future to actually help people do things with a little bit more specific intention and in a specific way, you’re going to need a new tool set to arise. That has a little bit more of an opinion I think. And these tools that have a little bit more of an opinion specifically about the right way to work is going to be really, really important.
And I think in this remote world, the tools that you choose are your culture just as much as in an office environment your office was your culture, right? If you think back to the 2000s, the archetype of a great place to work was the Googleplex. And Everyone aspired to have their version of the Googleplex, right? Where they had these bright colors and these open floor office plan and scooters running around and free lunch and ping pong tables and all these kinds of perks and amenities to their office. Well, I think we come together now, our office, our environment that we collaborate together and is the tools that we use.
And I think that the tools that we use being your culture means that the choice of the tool set is going to become as strategic in this going forward remote environment for companies to make as what your workplace was, where your workplace was, was how it felt to be in there, was for that last generation. And I think the decision on what tools to use is going to become a really key important thing that the leadership team decides.
What tools we use, how do we use those tools? What does that mean about how we want to run our organization? How we want to build our culture around our team. And I think the tools that will win out when that type of thing happens are the tools that have a specific opinion, and they build the way that they work around that approach.
I could not agree with you more and I think the word that resonates with me that I’m thinking about when you say all this is intentionality. And I think that’s what successful remote work revolves around. It has to be done intentionally. The future of work won’t be haphazard. You won’t just pick a suite of tools that could just serve any old function, you’ll hand select the tools just like you said, because this creates the culture of the company and they will fit your specific needs of the organization.
And specifically with distributed teams that are spread across time zones, how you tackle meetings and how you tackle asynchronous communication, this has got to be at the core of what you decide you’re going to tackle in one way or the other.
Absolutely. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you start seeing the tools of choice on people’s job descriptions in the future. What tool you use? You used to have their address. Where geographically are they located, what does their office look and feel like? That is exactly what people are going to be asking about. And I think it’ll be made evident through them, the earliest part of the process manifesting what tools do you use together. It’s home, right? We’re all working from where we’re working. And the only thing that changes company to company is what tools you actually interface with at the application layer.
Yeah. It makes perfect sense. It’s like you want to know what you’re getting yourself into as a prospective employee. What suite are you using? What products are you on? Like, “Oh, they operate in such and such product. I don’t think I want to be a part of that.”
It becomes a part of the company DNA, for sure.
Well, I think if you say, “Hey, we’re in Slack,” then prospective employees know that then the expectation is you have to read all those notifications every day. And that means you get all your work done through all those disruptions throughout the day. And then at the end you have this stream of hundreds of messages to go through. So you’re not going to be working nine to five, you’re going to be working 24/7, right? And so if that’s the tool you choose, it says a lot about the culture that you’re going to actually be when they actually get in and start working for the company.
That’s like not having the ping-pong tables these days. “Give me the ping -ong tables and scooters, man.”
Exactly. I think that’s right, Chase.
Greg. This was so great. Thank you very, very much. We will make sure to link to Spot and all your social media and such. If there’s any other places you would like to direct people that are following along here, please let us know where they can learn more about you, follow you and also the company.
Sure. We love Twitter. So you can find me on Twitter @gdcaplan, G-D-C-A-P-L-A-N. I tweet a lot for myself about remote work, about walking meetings, about all kinds of things like that. And then you could follow Spot @meetwithSpot or meetwithSpot.com.
Perfect. All will be linked to in the blog publication that comes out with this. Greg, thank you so much. Great to meet you, thoroughly enjoyed it. And I look forward to following the success of Spot as you guys continue to rock on.
Thank you so much, Chase. This was so much fun.