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How Agile can Boost Your Remote Team’s Productivity with Lisa Tamayo

Lisa Tamayo is a serial entrepreneur who has started and built several companies. Her love for animals led her to co-found Scollar, the first and only full-stack open platform technology for animals. She has 25 years of strategic & financial planning, business development, and leadership.

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Luis

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the distant job podcast, I am your host, Luis. And with me today, I have Lisa Tamayo. Lisa is a serial entrepreneur who has started and built several companies. She is the CEO and co-founder of Scollar, the first and only full stack open platform technology for animals. Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the DistantJob podcast.

 

Lisa

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

 

Luis

It’s a pleasure having you. I finally get the fellow animal lover in the podcast. It’s taking a while. But I did it. I did it.  Yeah. Persistence pays off. So this is a podcast, as the listeners know, that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. So I want to kick off by asking just how has remote work made your business possible or help you make it better?

 

Lisa

Well, we’ve been doing remote work for a while, actually, even before covid, because it’s the kind of work that we do requires a very specific set of people and skillsets. So we have worked with people in other countries for many, many years, India, China, now the Philippines as well. So that’s always been a part of our working environment. The main teams have generally been in person, but these remote development teams have always been part of our workflow.

 

Lisa

Now, of course, everyone is remote, but it’s just been its part of our DNA.

 

Luis

Okay, so tell me a bit about you. You mentioned that. You mentioned that you look for specific things. People need to have specific skills, specific traits, specific attributes to handle working remotely. How do you look for those when hiring people specifically for the remote position? What kind of questions does he ask? What kind of things do you look for?

 

Lisa

For us, because we are such a high tech company, what we’re looking for is people that can actually do the kind of work that we’re doing. So we have the scholars and open platform, and we need people that can build on specific platforms to ensure that the technology works. We have a variety of different types of skill sets. We need hardware engineers. We need software engineers. We need Fermoy engineers. We need different types of programmers. Now you’re going to hear my cat playing with his ball in the other room speaking.

 

Luis

I’m familiar with. I’m familiar with that feeling. Right.

 

Lisa

And we just have gotten really good at going out through our networks and finding the right people. Sometimes we source the people ourselves, and sometimes we work with other groups that have stables of engineers that we use.

 

Luis

OK, so I why I’m asking, I guess the question I want to hone in on it is this apart from finding out if those people are great at their job or are great at being great engineers, are developing software, working with your tools, what do you think specifically would make them good at working remotely as opposed to working in an office?

 

Lisa

Actually, the tools themselves and we use a lot of different tools. We use Jira, we use Zeppelin, we use Slack, we use teams. We use a lot of different tools that enable us to communicate. We use Zoom and they have to be conversant in a way that enables them to use those tools effectively. And then also we’re a lean, agile house. And so they have to be able to adhere to those standards. Right. Like the Scrum Masters project owner. There’s all these different ways that you communicate and drop your code in. And the tools really help make that possible. And in fact, the other piece of that is we have to learn how to work together. We had a little bit of a hiccup earlier this year with one of our development teams because the code the team was not being put in, the team was not deploying itself in the way that that was the most effective.

 

Lisa

So we tried all these different ways to get the team to be more effective. And ultimately we just said, OK, you two are not working. We’re going to move you over here and replace you with these other two. And then we found some more people. And then the team has to learn how to coalesce around that project with the tools that they’re working with. And that’s not a small thing. It’s hard enough to do this kind of development when you’re in person and then you have the layer.

 

Lisa

And then and my CTO, John Kennedy, who is also my husband, he’s the one that’s working very closely with these teams in these foreign countries. So as an example, he works with the Indian team. So those calls are about six or seven o’clock at night. And then he works with the China team and those close at 10:00 at night. So enabling with the time shifts and all that, I’m just figuring out how to make it work and getting everyone on the team to really gel and commit and do the work they’re supposed to do.

 

Lisa

I mean, that’s really made much harder in a virtual environment.

 

Luis

Nice. So I want you to tug a bit at the agile part because you mentioned agile and then you mentioned all these this time, these time zone differences. Right. So what does your agile process look like? What’s that what’s the framework that you’re using there? How do you manage it and how do you juggle it? So agile is it? And it’s in test is about the team being really self-sufficient and tightly connected and everyone having a voice in the team.

 

Luis

And how do you make that seamless or as seamless as possible when you’re handling people? You have many people on Asian time zones. So how is that?

 

Lisa

You know, it’s always a work in progress because any of these systems are theoretically designed to capture all these things and in practice, sometimes they don’t. And so sometimes we have to kind of shift into for a few minutes, we have to go to a waterfall method.

 

Lisa

Then we pop back over and agile. The thing we’re discovering as a remote team, because we have not just the technical teams across all of these boundaries, but we have the marketing team, we have our e-commerce team, we have our people and culture team. There’s what I call a string of pearls that are going to enable us to launch effectively in August and September. And if we’re not in exceptional lockstep with each other, it won’t work. And I always say that scholars and execution play. So I as the CEO will actually step in and just sit in on some of these meetings at 7:00 at night. I haven’t had to do the 10:00 at night yet, although I know that’s in my future just to listen in and make sure that the teams are moving forward the way they should.

 

 

 

Lisa

And I think that’s appropriate for the leadership to kind of step in and make sure that things are moving along the way. They should be the teams work really well in managing themselves, but sometimes one small detail gets lost or the team gets kind of locked. And so you need an impartial observer to come in and be like, OK, so how are we going to deal with this? Because my main job is to keep everything on schedule.

 

So we kind of go in and out based on where we see the box.

 

Luis

Yeah, OK, so tell me a story about one of those roadblocks. What was a challenge that that was that you felt was particularly, well, I guess, challenging to solve? And how did you go about solving it?

 

Lisa

Yeah, so we are risking our app right now and adding a marketplace and that marketplace will be the kind of marketplace where once we know you and your pet, we can make recommendations that are very targeted to you and your pet life. So that and that’s partly the work we’re doing with some of our big global partners. And so the team has spent a lot of time really figuring out the logic in the workflows based on these user stories for those sort of innards, so to speak, the marketplace itself and how we on board the pet and then how we get that logic towards the mapping of all of these really amazing alerts.

 

Lisa

And so we were doing a meeting to talk about some of the parameters around testing for the different users that we’re going to be testing with. And the meeting quickly devolved into the entry registration screening because a couple of the team members were still stuck on how we should do the registration screen to make it seamless for onboarding new people. And so the meeting that I had planned, which was going to be talking about what are the parameters and the criteria and all this testing and how are we going to know that the users really like it went all the way back to square one to we had to fix this registration screen.

 

So it’s like, OK, well, we’ll just flip the meeting and we’ll do it that way. And then next the next day, I said to my one of my leads include me in this meeting where you’re doing the planning so we can get to the bottom of this and really figure it out. And so that’s what we did. The next day we had a meeting with the development team. We said, OK, let’s really unpack this. And that was where I just kind of inserted myself and I said, I want to know.

 

Lisa

Easy to think, OK, we’re developing something that that looks good to us. But what I want to know is, what’s your experience as a user? If you were presented with this is a brand new app, what would you do with it? And the answers were different. And so we had to slow it down and say, OK, well, let’s use ourselves as use cases and let’s plan it that way. And so then we got through that and got to a resolution.

 

Lisa

But all of the corners of the app had been like everyone was really deep at this one very simple entry point, which is apparently a lot more complex than we realized had to be dealt with. So we had to slow down to speed up.

 

Luis

Yeah. So I like to dig a bit deeper into that. And how do you do those? Those kinds of meetings are mostly because to me the biggest casualty of remote work. And I’ve been doing remote work forever and I advocate for remote work. But still one of the biggest challenges to me is the brainstorming session because there are a couple of questions of things there.

 

Luis

So, for example, it’s really hard to interrupt in a polite manner, right? Usually. And it’s really hard to do that. And some people, the people who have the most domineering talking presence tend to dominate the conversation. I think that the best brainstorming sessions are where you have like four to six friends at the table, you know, perhaps at the cafe. Right. So right now, in some places in the world, you can be at the cafe, but who knows?

 

Luis

But that’s the. That’s my gold standard for brainstorming, right? It really is like four to six friends at the table discussing things and, you know, you naturally and politely interrupt, talk over each other, etc. But there really is no maybe ego is there is the wrong word because it’s not like it’s an ego-less conversation. But people don’t take offense at people talking over because the conversation just flows naturally and doing online, brainstorming, brainstorming.

 

Luis

That doesn’t feel people tend to feel like they’re not being listened to or that they’re being shut down, etc.. It’s a much more intense situation. Intense intensity is not so conducive to brainstorming. So how do you feel about that? Have you met some of these challenges? What have you done to solve them as much other?

 

Lisa

That’s a really great point and a really great question because I missed the in-person parts. We all do because we have had a lot of in-person time in addition to the remote work to me that is largely dealt with and how you build your overall culture.

 

Lisa

So for us, because we’re an open platform and everything we do is based on collaboration, we take that very seriously internally as well. Every meeting with the what we call our all hands, because there’s eight of us now on the main team, as well as another 10 odd folks on the external teams when we have our all hands meetings every morning, sorry, every Monday morning, the first thing we do is a personal check in because we need to be in relationship with each other.

 

Lisa

And then the other thing we do is we recite our core values. We have nine of them. We’re about to put them on our website. And we go popcorn’s style with each person taking one or two. And then we’ve also actually explored each core value, like what does this mean to you when we say delight the customer or all our voices are important in decision making? What does that mean to you? And then we’ve actually talked about that because we need to be able to be vulnerable and honest with each other.

 

Lisa

And then the other thing that I do, if I see someone kind of dominating the conversation, I will watch the other people kind of in that virtual room and ask them, hey, you know, you’re being kind of quiet.

 

Lisa

I’m really eager to hear what you have in mind about this and pull that information out of people in a very welcoming way and then making sure that we all get a chance to be represented. I do that with our own team and I do that with the corporate teams we work with because in a corporate environment, you’re like more likely to see that. And so there are sometimes people that speak a lot more. And I will just say, hey, so-and-so, what do you think about this?

 

Lisa

And really just make sure that they get a voice in that conversation. I do think, though, that brainstorming in a virtual way cannot ever replace truly the in-person brainstorming because you get you actually feel each other right. You can see each other’s expressions. There’s an energy in the room that a virtual situation just can never replicate. All right.

 

Luis

So, I want to ask you, because the remote situation is is recent, the fully remote situation, you’ve always been partially remote, but now you’re doing that. With covid, you’re being fully remote. So have you changed your mind about something related to remote work since this situation started as going fully remote, given you any insights about something that, oh, I thought this thing was going to be like this and actually it’s much better or much worse?

 

Luis

What changed your mind about remote work?

 

Lisa

Again, I’m going to go back to the fact that we’re a collaborative and part of our business model is collaborating with other companies. We literally designed to integrate with other technologies. So we have a big global partner that we work with. And before the pandemic, we used to go to their campus, which is on the Kansas side. There’d be, you know, six or eight of them and four of us. And there was a camaraderie that we built at that they share also they just folded us into.

 

Lisa

And I promise that we do have that to a certain extent on our virtual calls. One of the members will show up in a hat, which is always fun. We’re always like, what hats are you going to be wearing today? And so then sometimes we’ll all show up and hats just to have some fun or what background is this person going to have today? Because she likes to have a lot of fun with their backgrounds. So building ensuring that there’s space for that natural camaraderie.

 

But that’s probably the thing I miss the most. And I’m looking forward to going having again, because, you know, in all honesty, Luis, when we were because we moved to Kansas City from California six months ago, and so we had been looking at office space in January and February and we were deciding which one. Go with and then all of a sudden it was a filter in place, oh, no. So we were disappointed. But then we were also relieved, like, thank goodness we didn’t sign a lease with the time of having an office.

 

Lisa

We’re just not sure when we’re going to be able to do that.

 

Luis

You’ve dipped into it a bit already when you’re talking about the calls. but I want to go into a bit more detail, please, if you’d like to talk about how does your management week or management, they look like, what is your what does your schedule look like? How do you conduct the meetings with the team, with your direct reports, et cetera?

 

Lisa

What does that look like? Well, we take the agile philosophy and run it all the way through everything we do. We run the marketing and eCom teams with an agile methodology as well. We call ourselves the crew because I’m part of that team. There are three of us that are executives. I’m CEO, John CTO, and then Dr. Foobar is CSO. She’s our sailing officer. She’s a long time successful entrepreneur, too. So we have a lot of meetings for me.

 

Lisa

And I have a meeting every morning. We have what we call our daily huddle. So we talk about things that we should be kind of paying attention to on the team. We have one on ones because she’s scaling up. So she’ll schedule one on ones with everyone on the team just to check in with them. John will have at least one weekly meeting with people that report to him. Same with me, the crew, the marketing team. We meet every day to talk about things, and then I just make myself available.

 

Lisa

If someone puts me on teams and needs five minutes of my time, I will make myself available. One thing I’ve learned about setting up these meetings is to leave some breathing room in between for little stupid things like getting a cup of tea or having a break because you can end up stacking these things right up against another. And then in the middle of the meeting being like, hi,

It’s just not the best thing, not the best thing.

 

Lisa

So I know that for me, trying to schedule forty-five-minute meetings and leaves just the time and I sometimes just literally go straight from one to another and that that gets a little bit tiring and then and it’s kind of like I end up bleeding into the next meeting a little bit late, show up like two minutes late and then four minutes late and that’s not good. I don’t like that at all.

 

Luis

You know, that’s why Zoom implemented the virtual background so that you could be actually having your meetings in the bathroom.

 

Luis

And people don’t know just yourself.

 

Luis

It’s just me. There’s nothing happening here. It’s just I have I just have my background, my office background, and there’s nothing to see here.

 

That’s right. Exactly. Move along.

 

I’m going to say it’s peak efficiency. All right.

 

Luis

So I want to transition to the part of the show where I do some rapid-fire questions. The questions are rapid-fire, but the answers don’t need to be so feel free to expand as much or as little as you like.

 

Luis

back to the topic I wanted to ask. The first question is really about your virtual office. And the question is what browser tabs do you have open right now?

 

Lisa

Well, I’m using Chrome and I have a bunch of mail open and mind map and Excel forms and news from the morning and marketing things that I’m supposed to be reading, doing another interview. And so I’m answering those questions on Google Docs.

 

Lisa

I have a laptop which I’m looking at now, and then I have a monitor and that’s John, and I both have the same thing in our desks or back to back. So he’s literally sitting across from me and we’ve got standing desks. What is the best thing ever? I love my standing. It’s the best thing ever.

 

So I can go up and down and then we joke about we can always tell when people on the team are moving their standing desks up or down because it’s kind of like you disappear like this and then suddenly you’re talking to a friend, which is always likely.

 

Luis

 

Yeah. All right. So thanks for the detailed answer. Now, another different question. If you had one hundred U.S. dollars to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them? And just a couple of rules. No. One, you can give them the money. Number two, you need to buy in bulk. You can’t decide on a per person basis now. It can be hardware, it can be software, whatever. But there needs to be the same thing for everyone.

 

Lisa

The same thing for everyone on the team. Good question, you know why two things came to mind? One, a good set of headphones, because I just got a new set of wireless. I’m still trying to figure out how to hook them up to my laptop. OK, but the other thing that came to mind was their favorite snack because when they discovered being remote, like everyone being stuck at home is. There’s a kind of like sometimes people just go, oh, I’m so tired, all I want is ice cream or all I want is that bagels.

 

Luis

 

Yeah, ice cream is dangerous.  Right?  Just right. OK, so what about yourself? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the last year?

 

Lisa

Honestly, the desk, the standing desk, because, like I said, we were getting ready to get an office and so we moved from California. We still have our home in California. It’s now a rental. And we moved with nothing here. And so we filled up the house that we’re renting here. And so we were using the dining table. And so then we had no place to eat  And so he got us these standing desks. And I have to say, I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but I’m kind of in love with my standing desk. It’s made a world of difference.

 

Luis

That’s awesome. , what brand do you recommend?

 

Lisa

I don’t remember the brand name. I can send it to though, sure.

 

Luis

I’ll include it in the show. That’s that’s good. OK, so what about books. What book or books have you gifted the most?

 

Lisa

You know I have two favorites that I always tell people they should read. One is pitch anything by Oren Klaff ; pitch anything because he looks he’s a deal maker, a billion-dollar deal maker in the way he looks at things is through frames and the way you position yourself within the frame and how that positions you within the conversation and that change. That book really flipped my head around because being a woman, CEO, and tech and standing up in front of the room with a bunch of largely white male investors has been a learning experience for me.

 

Lisa

And after the first time, I got basically just slaughtered in front of a room by a guy, I went back and said, I can never let that happen again. What do I need to do? And this book was recommended to me. So that’s a fantastic book. It really helps you show up completely and stay in charge of the room. The second book that I love is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.

 

Lisa

Chris Voss was a globally renowned FBI negotiator and he talks about having to create camaraderie with people who were quite literally hostile, with hostile intent, and get them to do what he needed them to do. And so, again, our business model is so cutting edge that sometimes people say, well, I don’t get this. And so my job is to never let them get to that point but to always be spoon-feeding them in a way that they understand what I’m doing and they want to come along.

 

Lisa

So those are two of my favorite books because they help keep me in a good frame of reference. The other piece of that is if I’m going to stay that in reference, I have to be exceptionally well-rehearsed and versed in what I’m doing at any given time. But those are the two books that I love the most. I’m right now I’m reading Good To Great by Jim Collins, which is another great book.

 

Luis

Oh yeah. That is that is an awesome book. I read it quite a while ago and there are still some lessons that I remember regularly, but I should read it again. Actually, I know that you’ve talked about it. I hope you enjoy it. It’s been a while, but.

 

Yeah. OK, so my final question before you and then I, I want you to let the listeners know they can get back to you. But the final question, it’s a bit more complex. It takes a bit more of a setup. So let’s say that you are hosting a dinner that is being attended by the top CEOs in the tech industry. So we’re talking about CEOs. It’s hiring managers, et cetera, decision-makers, and the dinner as to special things about it. No. One, it’s a dinner where there’s going to be a roundtable about the future of work and remote work.

And number two, it’s set in a Chinese restaurant. So as the host, you get to choose the message that goes inside the fortune cookie. What is your fortune cookie message? That’s an algebra problem. Yeah, many variables, right, put up an algebra problem you just threw at me.

 

Lisa

What’s the message in the fortune cookie? So I’m going to answer it in a funny way because I’m one of my dear friends, is also one of our investors. And he has a podcast called Fill the Boot. He’s getting ready to interview me. And so he gave me this full list of questions. The one question that really struck me is, what is the one piece of advice you would give to people? So when you, like, whittle it down to one thing, it’s always like there are so many things.

 

Luis

That’s a really good question. I’m not exactly sure how I would answer that. I think that a couple of several things came to mind. One would be something super inspirational, like, you know, believe in yourself. You’re amazing. But they are Ceo’s, so they probably don’t need that. The second thing would be like a funny joke or a riddle, something that would entertain them and that that would be interesting.

Lisa

Or, you know, what we could do, it would be kind of fun is do a virtual treasure hunt.

 

Luis

Oh, that’s a new one. Yeah.

 

Lisa

And have everyone take part in it. So each person’s fortune cookie is part of that process so everyone can be involved in it in some way.

 

Luis

And what would be the treasure

 

Lisa

Desert. There you go. We’re going back to ice cream.

 

Luis

OK, well, Lisa, thank you so much for your time. And please, the people who want to continue the conversation, where can they find you? Where can they find more about your business? You can reach us at Scollar . I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to answer people’s questions. I’ve been since I’ve been building business for a long time.

 

Lisa

We actually sold our first company that Autodesk. I’ve been a mentor for a long time and I’m always happy to answer people’s questions about business or remote work.

 

Lisa

But yeah, you find me on the website, you can also find me on LinkedIn

 

Luis

OK, so ladies and gentlemen, this was Liza. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming to the show. It was a pleasure having you on the show.

 

Lisa

It is my pleasure.

 

Luis

And so we closed another episode of The DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners, and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convinced to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click under your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you, adios. See you next week on the next episode of The DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

There are no rules on how to manage your remote team. However, methodologies, philosophies, and frameworks can be useful for distributed teams to optimize their productivity and achieve the desired results.

In this podcast episode, our guest, Lisa Tamayo, shares her experience as the CEO of Scollar and how implementing the Agile philosophy and principles has helped her manage her distributed company. She also discusses what managers should always keep in mind when leading their team.

'' It’s appropriate for the leadership to kind of step in and make sure things are moving along the way. That teams are working well in managing themselves.'' Click To Tweet

 

Highlights:

  • How having a remote company helped them hire people with the skills they needed
  • Insights about how Scollar implements the Agile philosophy in remote teams
  • How to conduct brainstorming sessions remotely
  • A practical example of how she dealt with a roadblock in her remote team
  • Having effective virtual meetings

 

Book Recommendation:

 

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