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Remote Fluency: Taking a Design Thinking Approach with Tamara Sanderson and Ali Greene

Luke Szyrmer June 3, 2023 3560


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Tamara Sanderson and Ali Greene of Remote Works

On this episode of Managing Remote Teams, we dive into the topic of remote work fluency with Ali Greene and Tamara Sanderson. Ali shares the three essential pillars of remote work fluency, while Tamara talks about her personal exploration of design thinking and how it can aid in creativity. We discuss the challenges of implementing remote work in different organizations, the differences between synchronous and asynchronous work, and the importance of building relationships in remote settings. Whether you’re a remote worker or managing a remote team, this episode will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary for remote work fluency.

  • Introduction to remote work fluency
  • The three pillars of remote work fluency: communication, project management, and productivity
  • Enhancing creativity and relationship building in remote work
  • Importance of adjusting behavior and mindset towards remote work
  • Matt Mullenweg’s Five levels of remote work based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  • Importance of creating flexibility for employees and not asking them to relocate
  • Implementation of remote or hybrid work in small to medium-sized companies
  • Remote work magnifies the good, bad, and ugly of companies
  • Exploration of design thinking process and its benefits for remote teams

About Tamara

Tamara Sanderson is a co-author of Remote Works, with their book focusing on the freedom, flexibility, and focus of remote work. She met Ali in Cape Town in 2017 while both were remote workers for different companies. While working for a company with a great in-person culture, the pandemic made her realize that remote work was a significant skill set. Tamara worked for Google for seven years and traveled to 70 countries. She used to work in private equity and management consulting before dedicating her passion to remote work. For Tamara, remote work allows people to have autonomy over their lives for individuation, making changes that happen throughout different aspects of our lives. Remote work is something that Tamara is incredibly passionate about, and she believes it’s crucial in living a good life.

About Ali

Ali Greene is a co-author of the book Remote Works. Her passion for remote work began in the early days of the pandemic when many people were discussing different work arrangements. She believes that it doesn’t matter where people are located, remote work is a whole new way of thinking about work. Ali sees remote work as a skillset for the next generation of workers that will be using technology to get their job done. She developed the concept of remote fluency with her co-author Tam to describe this skillset. For Ali, remote fluency is not just about technical capabilities, but also the knowledge to be a successful remote worker regardless of the work arrangement.

Where to Get the Book

Timestamped Overview

[00:03:11] Concept of remote fluency for next-gen workforce. Technical and flexibility as benefit.

[00:06:41] Remote work success depends on behavior and culture. Low fidelity versions are possible, but behavior must be intact to prevent chaos and burnout.

[00:09:24] Using 3 levers of skill sets, behavior and mindset, companies should intentionally decide on synchronous or asynchronous work. Fluency in remote work is achieved through comprehensive communication.

[00:12:43] Model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, 5 levels of autonomy, remote work provides highest level, digital first organizational practice, in-office culture can still exist but remote practices vital, personal experience of wanting office culture but later seeking more freedom and flexibility, relocating for job can be difficult and unsustainable.

[00:19:00] Five remote work fluency skills: communication (knowing when to use asynchronous and synchronous communication, clearly conveying messages and expectations), project management (managing workload, expectations, stakeholder communication), productivity (personalized, managing energy), creativity (using environment to fuel brainstorming), and relationship-building (digital connection and collaboration).

[00:24:18] Design thinking process linearizes creativity through stages; being culty can be a natural attraction to organizations; remote environments offer unique stimuli. Encourage creativity through purposeful thought and local environmental influences.

[00:33:55] Ask yourself the right questions, focus on building remote work fluency by developing new skills and improving communication, experiment and learn, and embrace new behaviors rather than being scared of change. Reflection questions in the book can help.

[00:37:06] Remote work easier for SMEs, difficult for larger companies due to real estate expenses and meeting culture. Book available online for remote work training. Interactive and empowering tool with templates, questionnaires, quizzes, and Mad Libs.

[00:40:34] Thank you for listening to Managing Remote Teams podcast. Please leave a review.

Transcript

Luke Szyrmer [00:00:16]:

You’re listening to the Managing Remote Teams podcast, the show taking a kind, cool-headed and fair look at remote teams. I’m the host, Luke Schirmer, and I’ve participated in or run distributed teams for almost a decade as a practitioner. I’m speaking with experts on leadership, strategic alignment, and remote work to help you navigate the issues you start facing after you get your working from home gear sorted. Welcome to the podcast. So today I am speaking together with Ali Green and Tamara Sanderson, the authors of the wonderful book, Remote Works, which is a new release, a fantastic new release, and that works as the organizational change and business management categories on Amazon. And yeah, Ali’s been a previous guest on the show, where this book was just in the early days, as far as I understand. The early brainstorming days, I think. Maybe it’s not even written yet, but I’m so glad to be back and talking with you now that it’s been completed. Yeah, no, it’s a very good read. And yeah, so I think first off, since Tamara, since we haven’t had you on the show, could you say a few words about yourself?

Tamara Sanderson [00:01:24]:

Yeah. So I’m the coauthor with Ali. I met Ali in 2017 in Cape town. We were both digital nomads. We were at respective all remote companies before the pandemic. Allie was at DuckDuckGo, I was at Automatic, which is WordPress and WooCommerce and Tumblr. And so both these companies operated from a very different model and mindset. And it allowed for a lot of freedom, flexibility, and focus, the subtitle of our book. And so when the pandemic hit I was at a great in-person culture company but they had a very hard time transitioning to remote and it made me realize it was much more of a skill set than I imagined. And so out of some of that frustration came this book and it’s been a lot of fun. And yeah, that’s a little bit about my background. But before that I also worked at Google for 7 years. I was an expat. I traveled to 70 countries. I used to also work in private equity and in management consulting. So I have some of those memories from wearing a suit, which I no longer do. But yeah, so that’s some of my work experience. I’m really just, I’m passionate mostly about remote work because it gives people a lot more autonomy over their lives. And I think that’s incredibly important for living a good life, for individuation, for making changes that happen throughout different aspects of our lives. What you want when you’re 25 might be very different than when you’re 40. And so I think remote allows you to flex to your natural rhythms.

Luke Szyrmer [00:02:56]:

Yeah, definitely. That’s that’s great. So thanks. Thanks for that, Tamara. In terms of ideas that I loved in the book, this idea of remote work fluency, how do you think about it? How do you define it? The 2 of you.

Ali Greene [00:03:11]:

Yeah, so I think this idea really came up in very early days of writing the book when Tam and I, Tam I’ll leave you for the official definition, but some backstory on remote work fluency. As we were writing the book already, it was early days of the pandemic. And a lot of people were talking about things that I had a lot stronger of an opinion back then than I do now I will say as a caveat around like hybrid work and office work and remote first remote only all these definitions were just being thrown around. What really frustrated me about all of this and in the early days of brainstorming the book with Tam, we kept going back to, but it doesn’t matter where people are located. It’s a whole new way of thinking about work and how the work is tactically getting done and leaning into the flexibility as a benefit rather than a constraint to be worked around. And so we had this idea of really talking about it is a skill set for the next generation of people that will be using technology to get their job done. And so from there, it’s not about remote work, office work, hybrid work. It’s more about do you have the fluency, the knowledge of being a remote worker, regardless of where you’re placed in that background. And so that’s how the definition and this concept was born. And Tam, I’ll let you dig a bit deeper into what it actually means for us. Yeah, so I think there’s 2 sides of remote fluency. The first side is just having the technical capabilities.

Tamara Sanderson [00:04:41]:

It reminds me of maybe 20 years ago when on your resume you’d be like, I’m proficient in Microsoft Word. So I think in remote world, it’s just being fluent with being able to get things done on a laptop, practicing basic cybersecurity, health, being able to send emails, being able to log on to Zoom. So it’s just, I don’t know, living in this year that we’re in. So it’s nothing, I don’t know, anybody that is connected in any form or fashion probably already has this skill set. I talk to my parents all the time on Zoom and my mom’s 75. So, you know, they’re remote friendly. They have the fluency. But the second part I think is a lot more difficult and that is behavior change in mindset. And so with that, you need to start asking big questions about like, why do we do things this way? Challenging the status quo, imagining how you can work with that in different ways. And that’s what I, behavior is just really hard in general. It’s just, I, a psychoanalysis fellow. And so the more I dive into that world, the more I realize how much is unconscious, how much is routine, how much is based on different fears. And I think that’s the harder part to change. But once you’re remote fluent, you start just questioning a lot of things and it actually seeps into all areas of your life. Hence why there’s an overlap of remote workers and digital nomads. I think they’re both questioning some of the same things.

Luke Szyrmer [00:06:04]:

So how does the skill with the technical tools that you’re mentioning, is that like the kind of tools that you’re talking about, like Zoom, it’s quite different than the kind of tools that you would have been working with at WordPress, at Automatic when you were there. And like, to me, that almost seems like it’s a different level of remote fluency in a way, like just being able to fire up Zoom versus using P2 or something like that, based on what you were describing in the book. Yeah, so I think that almost goes, yeah, that’s maybe the intersection between the first and second part.

Tamara Sanderson [00:06:41]:

We have all these tools, but really it’s about the behavior of how you use those. And so what we saw was a lot of people were like, hey, we met all the time in the office. Like our whole, we just managed by meetings. That’s what we’ve been doing for ages. Let’s just do that at home. Let’s all be on Zoom for 8 hours a day. That’s going to be a really great idea. Obviously not really hard, really exhausting, right? And so I would say with that, they were able to use the tool, but they didn’t change their behavior. And so I think within every single organization, there’s very different ways of doing things. WordPress, very heavy written culture. You have to be able to write things down. Like most meetings are on what we call P2s, which are WordPress blogs. People never want to be on meetings with you. And so I would have a lot of issues sometimes when I was doing. Partnership conversations between engineers at WordPress and engineers at Google. Cause Google is a meeting culture. Automatic people is like, I never want to be in a meeting with you. And so it was to try to get people to do things. And so eventually I had Googlers join a WordPress blog and they were writing back and forth and entering into our Slack channel because it just made it a lot easier because I just could not get automaticians to want to be on a call, which makes sense. Once you’ve stopped being on calls, it’s very hard to start wanting to be on them again. But I think All of those, it’s all about the culture and how we use it. Because ultimately, you can be a remote worker in a very simple way. So we interviewed a woman, Sarah, for our book. And she’s the first remote experience I had was when I was in this book selling cult thing, where you would go door to door and sell books. And I think she was doing this in the late 90s. They didn’t have cell phones yet. And so they would call into a pay phone and then they would have a week where they would go sell books and then check in. And that is a very low fidelity version of remote work. My father, when he read our book, he all of a sudden wanted to claim that He was a remote worker in the eighties and he never told me that. He was like, Tam, I read your book. I was totally a remote worker when we moved to Dallas because I was the only sales rep for Honeywell in the area. And I worked from home. You didn’t know that, but that’s what I was doing. I don’t even know if he had a cell phone at the time. And you can do very low fidelity versions. When Allie and I first started out, we were mostly just using Google doc. We eventually brought in Asana after we were texting too much on WhatsApp, But you can have very low fidelity versions of doing remote work, but it’s about the behavior around it. Because when you don’t have that behavior intact, things get unwieldy and it gets like this chaos. And then you feel like you can never let go, that you always have to be on, that you’re getting messages all the time, that you feel like even more constricted that you did when you were commuting every day.

Ali Greene [00:09:24]:

There’s a really interesting chart we share from Automatic in the book. Matt Mullenweg talks about the different levels of autonomy in remote work. And I think that when you think about the most basic level of what people have experienced in the pandemic was copying and pasting what they did in the office and first utilizing the tools now available to them to do remote work. That was like the very bottom of this pillar, where it was just like a recreation experiment. And what I strongly believe we’ll see and what Tam and I think and give a nod to in the book by helping people develop their skill set is that by using these 3 levers of skill sets, behavior and mindset, you’ll ultimately be able to go up that triangle to figure out where your company intentionally wants to be on different, like, levers that describe culture, but really talk to how the work gets done in an organization. As an organization, do you want to be more synchronous or do you want to be more asynchronous? Why? And depending on the answer, how? And I think that comes down to first your mindset, your belief around should people be more always on collaborating together core work hours or more of a leaning into time flexibility as well as place flexibility. Once you determine your mindset, then you can look at the skills and behaviors and say, Okay, we decided we wanted to be asynchronous. A behavior we need then is to have everybody be not jumping to getting meetings on the calendar. If things aren’t getting moved forward, your natural reaction is, oh, I’m not getting an answer. Let’s book a meeting. That’s not a behavior in a remote work setting that’s geared towards asynchronous work. Your mindset or your behavior should be, oh, I’m not getting the answer I want. Did I set proper expectations? Did I provide the clear information up front? Did I provide a template with the answers of what it needs to look like? And that’s where the skill set comes in of do you know how to create a template? Do you know how to set expectations? And while it seems really obvious, It’s not natural. You talk to people and you say, you wrote an email to somebody. Did you explain when you wanted a response? And I think a lot of people forget that’s what you’re supposed to do. And that is remote work fluency. It’s not forgetting that a best practice in writing an email is provide context, provide expectations when you want a response, and by who if there’s multiple people on the thread, following up in the email, asking for the information when the deadline occurs if you didn’t get it, or acknowledging what’s going to happen instead if you don’t receive an answer. All of these little tweaks, the culmination of that is great remote work. It’s not 1 drastic change.

Luke Szyrmer [00:12:15]:

So speaking of Matt’s five-level hierarchy, I think it was originally described as like a maturity model. It assumed that, or at least now looking in retrospect, it assumed that remote work was the only way and the best way, I guess, to some extent. Do you feel that way now, especially? Because to be fair to Matt, I think he published that right at the beginning of the pandemic where it just, yeah, I think so. At least that’s roughly when I discovered it.

Tamara Sanderson [00:12:43]:

So I think his model, it was like a playoff of Maslow, but it was the 5 levels of autonomy. And so I think if you, it’s not the 5 levels of the best way to work, but if you want pure individual autonomy over your work, it, it leans towards remote work. So I think you can have a philosophical discussion, but I think in his mind, it was very specific towards remote organization. I think he wanted to just say that like where we’re all at is on level 2, unless you’re an emergency worker and you have to be in the hospital every day. If you are the 60% that are working from home. And then I think you put automatic at maybe a 4, not even at the top of it. There’s still like room to grow before you’re in this kind of nirvana where you can work in a completely autonomous way. Do that. Maybe if you’re a freelancer with no intense clients maybe. Actually I would take that away. I don’t know any freelancer that really has that. That really figured out. Maybe if you’re an author without a deadline. I don’t know. Nirvana is never really supposed to exist. I don’t think a lot of people are seeking Nirvana in different religious traditions, but I don’t think many people end there. But yeah, I do think it’s specific on remote work. And I don’t, Ali and I have slightly different opinions on this and Ali used to have a harder opinion on this and I think it’s softened a little. I’m all for, there are, everybody, we’re all individuals. We all have like different preferences. There are different types of work at organizations. I think All companies should be set up so that they are running digital first. I think it’s the best practice. I think we should be using technology to be the intermediary where we can. It’s better for documentation. And then through that you can attract talent that’s not necessarily located within a 20 mile radius. You can have people working at different places. You can cover when people are on maternity leave or paternity leave, when people are on vacation. It’s just like a good practice regardless of what you want your organization to look like on an everyday basis because people are always coming in and out of an organization, you’re always losing that information, you’re always losing that intel, that intellectual capital. So I think it is a great practice. Not being said, I don’t fault a company that still wants to have an in-office culture, and there are going to be people that really thrive in that environment. And I think that can continue to be an option. But I still think even if you are having people come in person, having those good digital first remote practices are really important. And so that’s where I land on that. And I guess some of it is from personal experience. When I was at Google and I left private equity, I was like, all I want is to be in this like fun utopia place that I’ve read on the news. I want to ride a bike. I want to eat free food. I don’t want to be working until 1 in the morning every day. I no longer want to wear these stupid shoes that pinch my toes. Like I was just like, I am done with this. I want to live in California. And so part of the glamor was like going to the office. I really wanted to be in Mountain View And I made a lot of friends. Eventually, my boyfriend was a Googler, as a lot of people did at that time. And that was really important for me. But I was 26. It was a different time in my life. And then I also remember the capstone of my Google days. 7 years later, I came back. I was in Mountain View, then I was in Singapore for 4 years. I came back for a year and I was like, I do not want to be in San Francisco anymore. I need a lot more freedom and flexibility. I had come from this life where I was traveling a lot and I had all this like international interactions when I was in Singapore, living this kind of expat life, friends from all over the place, very few American friends. And I just felt very trapped when I came back to the U.S. And San Francisco felt prohibitively expensive, even on a tech salary. And I was like, I don’t do not want to do this anymore. I in the commute had gotten so bad. It was almost like 4 hours a day. And I was like, this is awful. I was like, I asked for a request to work remotely. And Google was like, no, we don’t do that. You have to either leave or come into the office. Those are the options you have. And so I left and I joined Automatic, which was an all remote company. But if you, like, I’m the same person. And at 1 time, all I wanted to do was be in that office. And eventually, all I wanted to do was not be in that office. And I think by having an organization that’s set up for that same person during different phases of their life It’s just gonna be a lot more sustainable and robust because if Google had let me Work remotely. I would have definitely stayed it would have not even come into a question And I guess now we live in a world of layoffs, but this was 2017 where they were still hiring. I had experience. I knew a lot of people at the organization. And so that’s where my mindset comes from is just how can you keep people in your organization? Just not make life so hard for people. Like transferring your entire life to be in a certain location is really difficult. I had a friend recently, he got a job offer, but they were like, actually, we’ve met you for like a single day for interviews, we want you to relocate your entire family and your entire life within 6 months, even though part of the team is remote anyways. And I just, when he was telling me that, I was like, that seems so normal 10 years ago, but now it was like, he’s been living in Atlanta for 20 years. He has a family, has a partner. Does his partner want to move? Like he just bought a house. Do they want to sell it in the middle of, there’s been a lot of crazy changes with the housing market. And so just all of those considerations for a job that may not work out, You don’t know how things are going to go within those 6 months. You don’t know how it’s going to go in the next year. You could get there and it could be very different than the promises they made. And I don’t know, I have a lot of aversion towards giving up so much of your life towards a corporation that can lay you off really fast these days.

Luke Szyrmer [00:18:30]:

Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah. I wanted to dig into just to move back to the previous previously, you were talking, Ali, about like, in terms of formulating an email in a way that isn’t consistent with remote fluency in a way that kind of takes into consideration the whole context. What are the most important skills that you think people need to be remote fluent in terms of like when you speak with people, when you work with people?

Ali Greene [00:19:00]:

Yeah, I think there’s 5 skills that I’ll touch on quite fast and then if we want to dig into any 1 specifically. I think the 5 that immediately come to mind when you say what are the skills aspect of the 3 pillars that make up remote work fluency, I think, to communication, where a skill set being first knowing when to use asynchronous and when to use synchronous, and as well, how in asynchronous communication, being the most new of that skill set, to clearly communicate and convey your message, your needs, and your expectations, and what happens if those things are not met. So giving yourself proactive permission to move forward in your communication, to not let communication be a roadblock in project management, which leads to the next skill set of project management. I think the biggest shift that we’ve seen in an office environment, I’m used to cultures of work where there’s project managers, there’s people that are really pushing the work forward for you and you’re designated to just churn out your output and work on your task. In remote, everybody becomes a project manager because you need to manage your workload, your schedule, your expectations with the other stakeholders involved in the project. It’s not as if you’re all sitting in 1 room in the same hours of the day creating work. And so becoming a project manager and thinking like a project manager in terms of setting, again, it’s like some of the same things, setting expectations, communicating those expectations, stakeholder management is incredibly important for a remote worker. Underneath project management, these all bleed into another, is productivity. What we’re seeing with remote work is that it’s not time management. And so 1 of my favorite chapters in the book is around getting things done. And within that, it’s really about making productivity unique to you. Tam and I, I think we learned a lot about ourselves writing this book for many reasons and especially in this chapter, learning about our natural chronotypes. There is 1 point, Tam, feel free to jump in because now I’m going to talk about you because I love this story, where Tam’s a night owl. I am not a night owl. I go to bed when the sun goes to bed. It’s like a running joke in my household that like in the summer everyone gets a few extra hours of alley because the sun stays up later so I can get a little bit more energy. But Tam told the story of oh maybe you were a night owl your whole life, because as a kid it was really hard to put you to bed, and some of your first remote work experiences was in a different time zone where you could naturally lean into working later. And while we were writing the book, it was really cool, because I would wake up and see all this forward momentum of work being done because Tam would work nighttime her time. I’m 6 hours ahead. I’d wake up in the morning and be like, oh, I can play off all of this new creation, all this new work that Tam has gotten done. And so people don’t question that enough as a skill set. Like, how do I manage my energy? When am I most productive? We’ve been taught that productivity is something that you have to force yourself into. Eat the frog. And I don’t like that mentality. I think that’s shifting a lot with remote work. And then the final 2 to touch on creativity and brainstorming in a remote atmosphere. I think this is 1 Tam can speak to in a really exciting way, but like how can you use your environment to fuel creativity and brainstorming? And finally, 1 that I’m super passionate about is relationship building and doing that digitally. Through the past couple of years, some of the most amazing people I’ve been able to jump on calls and get really vulnerable and really deep with right away. And there’s a lot of hate in remote work that you can’t build relationships remotely. And I’m here to say that you just need the skillset of learning how to connect with people and share bits of yourself and be open and ask the right questions. And then again, know how to use in-person time, whether it’s an office or a retreat as a tool to fuel building relationships, but not as the only way to build that relationship. Because there’s a lot of ways to connect and collaborate with people in this digital atmosphere. While Tam and I did meet in person originally, the whole first draft of our book was done without meeting up in person. And like you can create great work without having to get together. There’s other ways to build trust, to get to know each other’s quirks and working styles and what makes them tick. And I think that’s a skill set because it’s really scary for some people to do that over a camera screen or just like share writings about themselves and throw it off into the internet. But it’s possible. And so you just have to learn how to do it.

Luke Szyrmer [00:23:56]:

Yeah, definitely. I think definitely a discussion, like the details of exactly what you talk about, how you talk. Like I think that matters a lot when you’re synchronous. And then yeah, the writing piece, I guess people just aren’t used to writing in public about stuff like that. So in a way that feels safe or something. So Tim, Ali was saying that you have some

Tamara Sanderson [00:24:18]:

interesting insights in terms of the creativity piece. I don’t know, is that from IDEO or is that from something else? Yeah, it’s kind of a mix of IDEO and then my personal exploration of a lot of it. And so I’m very into the design thinking process. I think maybe I was indoctrinated through idea, which came up with it. But also, great to be indoctrinated. I feel like I definitely am naturally attracted to organizations that have some type of positive cult-like mentality. I was a Googler and I was named like the most Googliest person 1 year. Yeah, I was at Oliver Wyman, I won a trip for setting a good example and I got to go to Antarctica. So I don’t know, I have, it’s something in my, it is a part of who I am. So I’m just gonna own it, as can be a little bit culty. And yeah, idea was another 1 on the list that I was in, but I really love design thinking actually, like if you look at other philosophies of creative thinking, it vibes with a lot of different ones. But essentially you go through these different stages. And I used to get very overwhelmed because I knew I was a creative person, but like I would have all these ideas and it was very difficult for me to know what to do with all of it. Do I start making something now? Do I think now? Do I brainstorm with somebody now? What do I do with all this stuff going on in my head? And it gives you a linear structure. They always say that like designers and creatives need a container for all their creativity that actually like constraints can really help. And so within kind of design thinking, you start with a brief. So that’s a little bit of a container of what you’re going to accomplish. You go wide, which is called divergence. And that’s my very favorite part because you get to be like, I think Allie saw a lot of my documents at the very beginning. So she knows how divergent I can get. So I’d be like, there’s this philosophy, Allie, from this very niche book I read that we could like really include because it kind of ties into this concept of remote work. And luckily, Ali is very good at the other part of synthesizing ideas because she would then be like, okay, I’ve seen these 40 pages he came up with last night in the middle of the night, great. Here are the 5 concepts we’re gonna go through And if you can put maybe this story in this container, but this is how we’re going to structure a book. And so that’s actually a huge value of having 2 different people with different strengths, because it’s very difficult to do both of those at the same time. And so even if I was writing this book alone, Now I know I would go divergent. And then I would set it apart for a week. And then I would come back and try to synthesize it into concepts. But that being said, I really think there’s so many ways to use your environment that can be really exciting. And So when I think of a lot of like artists and those kind of like capital A artists, capital C creatives, a lot of times they’re getting inspiration from around them. So for example, I love the poet Mary Oliver, which might be a cliche, but she’s from New England, which is where I live. And she has a lot of beautiful nature poetry. And she was very inspired by kind of the lakes and the rivers and the trees that were just in her backyard. And so that’s where a lot of her poetry came from. That’s what she was inspired by. And 1 example I give of this is I used to work in tech, I used to do some design for UI UX. So let’s imagine you are going to relaunch the color and the branding of your app and you’re looking around, you’re wanting some ideas. And so if I was in a traditional tech environment, everybody would come in and most likely they would be all influenced by each other or the same thing because they were living in the same city. So if I was in San Francisco in 2015, it would be mid-century modern and like probably like millennial pink. That would be like the hot thing at that moment. Everybody was going for. And there was like a certain type of type that everybody was going for. And you think it’s unique because it’s new, but you don’t know it’s catching on with everyone. It’s like how, so I have, my name, nobody has, besides apparently people in the country of Georgia, where there was a princess in the 12th century named Tamar. But my mom got my name from the Olympics. And in 1984, there was a skier named Tamara. But you notice there’s a hot name. So as a elder millennial, I have a lot of friends that are named Ashley and Jessica. And there was just like these names, but at that moment they were considered really unique because like nobody had that name from the generation before. And right now that might be like Madeline or Madison or those kinds of names that are really hot but they did not exist before. And so I think that’s what you end up getting in when you’re in an environment when everybody’s coming in from the same stimuli. So in a typical tech environment, let’s imagine you have mid-century modern and it is bubblegum pink, and you’re thinking, this is it. This is like really interesting. Nobody else is doing this. Then comes in next year, everybody has done that and every single website looks the same and every single app and branding. But in a remote environment, you could say, hey, what we’re gonna do is we want to have you come in with all kinds of different influences. So you would set a brief for your team. Maybe you have 10 designers. And you would say, take the day off, do a field trip, go to somewhere that is somewhere located that you find beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, take photos, and just come in with inspiration of typefaces that you like, colors that you like, color patterns you like, etc. And so based on where people live, it might look very different. So I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I would probably go to a library and I would be looking at a lot of typefaces probably from I don’t know the 17th Century or something like that. I would be like looking at this red brick and probably some like flowers that grow here There’s like wild turkeys that actually are in my neighborhood I don’t know maybe I would be influenced by them. And so I would come in with like very different colors. And then let me compare that to I have a very good friend. He’s a great remote work story. And now he lives in Utah and he’s a part time adventure guide. And then he also does marketing for an outdoor music festival. But he might come in with like the rocks, the red rocks of Utah and like the blue skies, and it would be very nature themed. And mine would be very like old world. And we would come in and we would probably be able to have all this different stimuli that are locally based that are not just based on what our contemporary trends. And we might come up with something very different by having that and so you could do a share and tell. And from there you can have a lot more ideas. And so I really encourage people with remote work to dig into your environment and also realize you can be creative without being in a meeting with people. Like, give people a day off to just, I don’t know, walk around. Like, Whenever you meet creatives, they don’t have a very packed schedule. They usually do some work for a couple hours and then they just want to daydream. Let people read for the whole day. Let people go on a really long walk or a hike and see what they come up with and bring it back into the office and consider that work time. Like we, for whatever reason, we consider work only if you are producing something at a computer. But in reality, a lot of things can be considered work if you are being very purposeful about your thought and what you’re trying to collect. And so those are things I recommend is just to use it as a benefit. Yes, we can’t have those. I don’t know why people always glorify the in-person brainstorm, but I’ve been in good ones and I’ve been in bad ones. People like love to talk about that now. You are so creative in the office. I’m like, I don’t know. Like most corporations I bet at are not the most creative companies. And also you don’t want certain professions to be like creative. Like I don’t want my accountant to be the most creative person in the world. Cause that’s like really quickly. And so like, I don’t want David Lim to be like in a brainstorm of here’s all the crazy stuff we can do and then all of a sudden stuff’s all on the dark web or whatever. So I don’t know like not everybody needs to be creative and you can be really creative in your own little like way of designing your little schedule, designing your favorite lunch when you’re working, changing your work location, all of those, like creating a background. Like those are all like small creative activities that people can do to infuse that into remote work.

Luke Szyrmer [00:32:32]:

Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s really good. It’s really good. It’s kind of, no, the way you generate random numbers, there’s like a little seed that you put in the beginning and then off the back of that, it then figures out how the actual thing works. This is in more technical terms. It’s the same kind of thing. If you have a different seed, even though it’s similar people, it’ll come out with a very different, more divergent outcome, I guess, but same kind of thing. I have 1 more, 1 more question to wrap up. So in terms of how things are looking now, there’s a lot more talk of hybrids compared to before. There’s this kind of sense that the pandemic’s ending if it’s not over yet.

Ali Greene [00:33:15]:

I thought it was over already.

Luke Szyrmer [00:33:16]:

Can we just say it’s over? All is well with our life. I don’t know. Is it? Yeah. But from the point of view of certainly, for example, from tech, there’s a lot more of this push to go back into the office. For example, speaking of like, you were talking about Google before. What are your thoughts about how managers can function in this environment where, for example, they and their teams liked being remote and now it’s supposed to go back in the office. They’re supposed to go back in the office. Or also for the other groups of people that couldn’t wait to get back in. How do you think about that now and when you’re speaking with people?

Ali Greene [00:33:55]:

It goes back to how we started this conversation, which is if you’re asking yourself those questions, you’re still already too deep in the weeds and you’re not asking the right questions. It goes back to what are the lessons you learned about having remote work fluency? And based off of the past couple of years, did you genuinely have the opportunities to flex and build a new skill set? And from that skill set, did you improve how you’re thinking about communication? Did you have the time, and probably not during the pandemic for a lot of people in a lot of places to go on field trips and do these brainstormings and these creative exercises. And if you’ve not yet experienced that as an organization, I would say now is the time while you’re really honing in on what your HR policies are going to be like, what your real estate policy is going to look like in the future, how you’re going to evolve, thinking about the tool, the office as a tool, not as a place to get work done. Now’s the time to sit back and experiment and really start learning. Did I learn this skillset properly? Yes or no? If the answer is no, go read our book and practice these skillsets. If you have learned these skillsets, why don’t they feel right or natural to you yet? What behaviors do you still need practice working on? I think that there’s a lot of emotional fear right now for a lot of people and because of a lot of reasons. 1 that I can think to is for successful managers at the second half of their career, what you’re hearing when you hear about remote work is everything that has made you successful so far, forget about it and learn all these new skills instead. And that’s incredibly scary for people. And so instead of thinking about all of these skills at once, what’s 1 new behavior that you can implement to your routine, whether you’re dying to go back to an office or not, that can help you embrace remote work fluency. And so if you’re in an office environment and it’s mandated and you want more flexibility and freedom, how can you recreate the expectations of the office to have more time flexibility of when you come in and when you don’t come in. If you’re someone who doesn’t think they like remote work and you’re craving that office environment, is it because you miss socializing with people and how can you create opportunities to get your needs met of that fun, extroverted brainstorming spark, working with people, not just your co-workers, but people in your local community and at co-workings, for example. And so that’s the type of questioning that the strongest managers will start having in the future. And if you’re looking for those types of questions, we have a lot of reflection questions in the book. Another little plug, but I do think it’s hard to know what questions to ask yourself, how to experiment, and what internal triggers you can push to see how you might adapt to your environment.

Tamara Sanderson [00:37:06]:

Yeah, and I would add on to that is, I think a lot of companies are, you have a whole range of companies, and I think a lot more are, even though you have a lot of employees and a lot of clout at these like very big organizations, a lot of people fall on the SME standpoint of you have 1 to 50 employees. And if you are in that realm, it’s much easier to make the decision to be remote or hybrid. Like it’s just, you don’t have all the complications. When you’re talking about a company like Google that has over a hundred thousand employees, a long history of being the first to be in this kind of tech environment that then changed how all tech companies were. You have really expensive real estate that you have bought in very expensive locations. And I was actually on the redesign project for the Singapore office. So I actually know the financials, which I cannot share, but it is, it’s a lot of what they’re talking about is really hard decisions. I would not want to be at a company that size and making these decisions because you’re it’s not about remote work. It’s actually fundamentally about real estate and what you’ve done with all these capital expenditures, especially in a place where who’s gonna go buy the Google campus now? I don’t know. There’s nobody out there that’s gonna make that expenditure. So you are stuck with that. You have people that want to work remotely and don’t wanna come into these offices. And then you also have a lot of behavior that was around these offices. So it’s a very meeting oriented culture. And so all of those things, like it’s really hard work to change that, even if it’s bringing up these, we always say that remote work puts a magnifying glass on the good, the bad and the ugly. And so you’re, you’re, it’s just like out in the open that there, this is like a tough problem to solve. And so I would never want to have to work on that, because I think it would be incredibly difficult. But for most companies, They’re in a much smaller realm. And even with somewhere like Google, if you were in a smaller office, so for example, I worked in Asia for 4 years. If I was in the Bangkok office or if I was in the Indonesia office, those are all much more manageable and you can make a lot of different decisions. It’s usually just if you were in these major headquarters. So I would say that’s a separate case because you’re really looking a lot more at like financial reasons versus the actual bread and butter of can you work remotely and are you effective and productive that way. So where’s the best place to find the book? Online. So you can, you have the book it’s available on Amazon everywhere. You can also go to Barrett Kohler, which is our publisher. If you want to buy it in bulk, you can go to bulk books and you can get up to a 40% discount. We would love to talk to people about how you can use it as a way to train. Asynchronously, we think of ourselves as your remote work coaches. So you can go chapter by chapter as a group. And even if, you know, the powers that be at your organization, let’s say everybody’s still flip-flopping on remote work. Some people like it, some people hate it. You can just say, hey, I have a team of 10 people, I have a team of 50 people, we’re going to try this out together because we have control and autonomy over our little worlds within this organization. And so we really think of it as an empowering tool because it is used with, there’s a lot of templates and questionnaires and quizzes and Mad Libs. We try to make it incredibly interactive. So it feels almost like you’re in a training together versus it being like an academic study. And so we really want people to be able to immediately use the practical tips within the book.

Luke Szyrmer [00:40:34]:

Great, thank you very much. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Managing Remote Teams podcast. If you enjoyed the show, Please leave a review.

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