Marcus Wermuth is the Lead Mobile Developer at Buffer, and frequently writes about and delivers talks on how to lead remote teams.
Luis Magalhaes: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to yet another episode of The DistantJob Podcast, a podcast about building and leading great remote teams. So, what is DistantJob? Ah, I’m glad you asked. DistantJob is a recruitment company with a different model. When you need a new employee, when you need that last final piece in your grand master plan to take over the world, you usually have two alternatives. Either you go look for that person yourself, or more often than not you post a job description on a job board or on your own website, and you passively wait for people to come in. Then you have to sort through them, et cetera. That’s the model of that. Now, this is the passive approach. What DistantJob does is the active approach, DistantJob work with you to learn your requirements to find out exactly who you need. And then what do we do? Well, we start our hunt all over the world, we hunt them down and we capture their pets. We tell them that we’re going to do nasty things with their pets if they don’t join your company. No, actually we just make them a better offer and that’s it.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s the way they work remotely, they are at the top of their field. And because we have top recruiters and top negotiators, we usually end up with someone that’s a better deal than what you would find locally, and much faster. Actually around 40% faster than the industry standard. So the next time you need to find that superstar, think differently, think remote, think DistantJob. On today’s episode I talk to Marcus Wermuth, which is Buffer’s lead mobile engineer. Forgive me if I sound a bit gitty on this interview because I’m a fan of Buffer obviously. One of the things that Buffer is best known for is for their transparency as a company, that’s where we dive in with Marcus.
Marcus Wermuth: Sharing everything with your team by just being open and honest, and sharing also the hard things maybe the challenges you have with your team is sometimes huge factor in just building great trust and bonding with your teammates.
Luis Magalhaes: One of the most unique things about Marcus as a leader is while he does value the concept of empowering people, he always wants to make sure that that empowerment is in the direction of adding value to the company.
Marcus Wermuth: You can have the most empowered team and the best engineers, but if they are not building for the company or building for value at the end, it’s like as they would be nonexistent.
Luis Magalhaes: And when we talk about the importance of learning to become better leaders, and to manage better, Marcus points out that the way that you learn it is not necessarily by taking an academic approach, but more about finding ways to understand what the components of leadership and teams are.
Marcus Wermuth: It’s not about getting something … getting this work paper out of it, “Oh, we have to do this, this, and this.” For me, it was more important for those two people as the engineers to understand how teams work, and what’s behind a team. A team is not just five persons, and working together, there’s all of that stuff in there like status, and ego, artificial harmony, trust, conflict, all of those things on a team. You know? So for me it was more important to not get the round tables or what to dos out of that book, but to rather tell them, “Hey listen, those are the things going on in a team.”
Luis Magalhaes: Ladies and gentlemen, Marcus Wermuth. Hello ladies and gentlemen, this is Luis with The DistantJob Podcast. I am here today with Marcus, the lead developer at Buffer. We’re here to talk to you about how to build and manage remote teams. Marcus, welcome.
Marcus Wermuth: Hey, yeah thanks for having me.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s really nice you know. I’ve been wanting to talk with someone from Buffer ever since I started the show because little known fact, I actually launched my marketing career using Buffer as a tool. It’s really a great deal, and it managed to help me focus less time on the logistics, and just building out some content. I really have a lot of love for you guys.
Marcus Wermuth: That’s awesome top hear, thanks. Thanks. We’re trying our best over here.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s really great. It’s no exaggeration to say that it helped me launch, it was the main deal in launching my marketing career.
Marcus Wermuth: That’s awesome.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s something. That’s something, you know? People say that it’s the work not the tools, but having the right tools is certainly helpful.
Marcus Wermuth: Yes. Yes, I agree. It’s always about processes, but then at the end tools help too. That’s true.
Luis Magalhaes: Look, it’s super hard to have an interview with someone from Buffer because of the transparency, because it takes a lot work to find the questions to ask that you haven’t answered already on the Buffer blog because you are a super transparent company. I can go online now … at least this was true a couple of years ago, I don’t know if you’ve changed it. But I can go online no, and see how much your President, your CEO earns, which is amazing. I don’t know anyone else who does that.
Marcus Wermuth: Oh, you can see it. What everyone makes not just the CEO.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, the level of transparency is incredible and that’s why I wanted … what I wanted to start with is the … you as a manager, as someone who leads people, how do you feel this transparency has affected your leadership? How much does it relate? What is different from leading a team where everything is transparent?
Marcus Wermuth: Very good question. I think in my personal journey, I started as a developer, been a freelancer, coded for most of my career until now. But in the transition to becoming a manager, I think the biggest thing for me was really being open and honest, which at the end is transparency. I think that that was the biggest thing which helped me go through it., and the biggest thing I learned for myself because I think being transparent … the thing is for me, it’s supernatural to have everything transparent right now. So it I chat to my friends who work at other companies, it’s really mind blowing for me sometimes to understand, “Oh wow, you don’t have this? Oh, you don’t share this with all your team?” So for me it’s supernatural, and I can’t even imagine working somewhere else right now. Transparency is, when it comes to managing I think, the biggest thing you can do. Because with transparency what you ultimately do is build trust with your team, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yes.
Marcus Wermuth: So those two things relate heavily to each other. By sharing everything with your team, by just being open, and honest, and sharing also the hard things, maybe the challenges you have with your team is sometimes huge factor in just building great trust and bonding with your teammates.
Luis Magalhaes: My followup question to that is, when everything is transparent, when everyone in the team is seeing in realtime what’s happening and what’s going to happen in the future, how do you prevent the environment from becoming one where it’s like there’s too many cooks in the same kitchen? Meaning that since everyone sees everything happening, everyone starts giving their input and their feedback on everything. Obviously I don’t want to devalue the importance of getting input and feedback from the team, but at some point it feels to me that it would be a bit chaotic when everyone is trying to weigh in on every decision.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, I can see that. Well for us, it isn’t that chaotic. It comes probably also down to how the culture is set up, how the culture in your company is set up, how feedback is working, and how you all interact with each other. We don’t give feedback to just give feedback or hurt the other person, we give feedback because we think it’s better for the whole team and the whole company. When it comes to the decision process, maybe it’s also because we’ll start with it in maybe a small room … we are not in a room, but you know what I’m saying is we start maybe with something in a small group, develop the idea, the project, the decision, whatever we have to do. And when we have something to share, we’ll put it out there and share with everyone, and then get feedback.
Marcus Wermuth: The feedback then already is something more helpful because it’s not at the beginning where you’re still thinking about the idea or the decision, or when you’ve already tried to evaluate something and put it in front of the others. But I have to say it’s never been chaotic when we did that, it’s never been … it’s rather the opposite, that sometimes people come up with other solutions, or other ideas you’ve never thought about. You can’t think about all the different solutions, and even if you get maybe five feedbacks too much, there’s still something valuable in there because it’s a view from another person in another country, from another cultural background. There’s always something valuable in there.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, that makes sense. Thank you for bringing up the fact that you can’t always … obviously you can’t take everything in, which comes to another question. How do you prevent information overload? Meaning that people spend their all day just catching up with everything that’s happening because everything is transparent, how do you … I guess “train” is not the best word, but I’m not coming up with the right word right now. But how do you help people achieve their kind of self-discipline?
Marcus Wermuth: That’s interesting one. Actually this is something I think we’re continuously trying to get better at especially when it comes … just email comes to mind. We have transparent email … not to the outside, but at least internally we try to share all the emails. We have lists, we put the lists on each email thread so everyone can see them. Email is definitely a hard one where if you subscribe to all the lists, and get all those lists, you can spend your whole morning until lunch to go through all the emails. That’s not something you want, you want to see maybe the information but not all of them. The first thing we did is we have Google lists, in Gmail we have lists and you can subscribe or unsubscribe to certain, or maybe get … what I did is I get most what is of interest to me like the engineering, the product teams, the leadership emails, I get them straight to my inbox. Other emails, I’m not involved in too much. I get maybe a summary at the end of the day where I see just an overview of the topics of the subjects of those emails.
Marcus Wermuth: That’s something to help a little bit with it. Something else we’re trying is, that since the beginning until now all those email threads and all those transparent information are always opt out. So you’re always in those threads, but you can opt out which is not a good thing because the information overload is there already. What we’re trying to do is to rather do an opt in, so you’re not subscribed to most of them but if you want, the information is there and you can get it. Which then isn’t an information overload anymore because you’ve just subscribed to maybe your team’s information, and if there is something you want to know from the marketing team you can always go there and look. That’s something we’re trying to do right now. Of course you can go into detail, what tools we use to structure our meeting notes, and now we’ve started to use something to have more longterm information wiki. So there are different tools and processes to prevent that, but I would say that the biggest thing we’re trying right now is doing the opt in instead of the opt out.
Luis Magalhaes: My last thing about transparency, and it ties in to what you’re saying about opt in and opt out, there is a feeling that I have … and feel free to correct me, I might be completely wrong in this. But my feeling is that if you make everything transparent, meaning that everything is visible to everyone, then doesn’t that make the situation happen where you assume that people are seeing something so you don’t go out of your way to telling them. Meaning I have something that might not be mission critical, but it’s definitely mission important, a task that needs to be done by someone that’s working under me. But since I’m assuming that everyone sees everything, maybe I’m not as diligent in letting them know, “Hey, where is this? Hey, how are you doing with that?” As I should. How much do you assume that people are reading versus what they are actually reading?
Marcus Wermuth: I almost assume that they don’t read it.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay.
Marcus Wermuth: So in that sense I never expect them to read it without me, or I don’t expect anything from them without me saying something to it. Of course, they can and they are doing it, but I don’t expect it from them because that’s not a good thing to do because email is distracting, slack is distracting. I don’t want them to be in there all day and just read up on things to know what they need to do. In my personal team, I would never expect them to just read it and do it. There’s always situations where they do, and it happens a lot too, of course. If you have a good team, and a team who’s eager to work, they’ll do that. But I don’t expect it, and I would always mention it again in slack, mention again in a sync in the chat I have with them. I would never expect that from them. The transparency is just more for the sake of sharing information, and the sake of having the information if you want it. It’s not that we share everything, and we have everything transparent just so we don’t have to talk to the other persons.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a very good point, thank you for putting that so eloquently. Something that people listening should know about Marcus is that he has his own blog, and he has published some talks about these things. I definitely … I’ve read them, and I’ve listened to them, and I definitely recommend everyone to go. There will be links in the show notes. There was something that you Marcus wrote that really made an impression on me, which is that you can easily find yourself … and I’m paraphrasing, I might not be getting the quote exactly right. Find yourself with an amazing team building something that doesn’t move the company forward, or even worse, working with a group of empowered people and they’re all going their own way, and not producing a lot of valuable work. Whenever I read something about management today, it’s always about empowering people, empowering, empowering, empowering, empowering. But I have been in that situation where I have been empowering people, and I don’t see them contributing value. That was really powerful for me to read someone that’s saying this, which is very counterintuitive, very against the common knowledge that’s out there.
Luis Magalhaes: When do you see that there is need to have a turning point? And stop … well, not stopping empowering the individual, but how do you direct the empowered individuals in a way that they are using their empowerment to make the contribution?
Marcus Wermuth: That’s a good point there. Well for me, I had to think about these things because I was coming from an engineer and I didn’t know what does it mean to be a manager now. I had to think about these things, and I saw them all over the place but I didn’t really realize it … exactly as you said, until I was in the same situation that you can have the most empowered team and the best engineers, but if they’re not building for the company, or building for value at the end, it’s like as they would be nonexistent … they’re existing, but not working in a good way. Your team has to be empowered, or could be empowered if you want to, but it also has to come … the top level, the higher level vision for your team needs to come from the company. The quote you mentioned basically comes from that when you become an engineering manager or manager, your focus shifts away from just what you yourself do, to more of what can your team do to contribute to the company.
Marcus Wermuth: If you think about it, if you’re a let’s say social media manager, or if you’re an engineer like an individual contributor, you think about your work the whole day, “What can I do to get my promotion? What can I do to get better?” Right? So you try to evolve yourself and think about how you can get there. But then suddenly, if you’re the manager of the team or of multiple people, that needs to change because you can’t just think about yourself and the way you can get to … I don’t know, get the next promotion to become a senior engineering manager. You have to think about other people now, what do they have to do? Empowering them of course is a big thing, but just the simple thing is that whatever your company wants to do, you need to get into that mindset and tell that to your team, and direct your team towards that. Because if your team is over here, and the company is on the other side, you will never meet and you will never build value for the company.
Marcus Wermuth: But if you are where the company is, and you’re building into the same direction, then it just becomes more powerful for everyone, for the company because you’ll get more users, you’ll get more money, whatever, for the manager because your team will be much more happier, they’ll be much more motivated to actually build something because it has an impact into the company, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yes.
Marcus Wermuth: That’s the whole shift there for … at least that happened for me when I was coming from an engineer to a manager to think about, “Okay, it’s not about me anymore, it’s about other people now.” And how you can direct them. How you can build vision so that that vision goes into the same direction as the company.
Luis Magalhaes: What were the steps like? What was the conversation? … if there was a conversation, what’s the conversation like with some of these individuals when you realized that you had to direct them away from empowering them individually and getting them together as a team?
Marcus Wermuth: Well, the team they were … there’s something I have to say especially, I’m just making examples from my team now. I started before as-
Luis Magalhaes: You can use fake names to protect the innocent [inaudible 00:19:29].
Marcus Wermuth: Oh, that’s fine. There’s no [inaudible 00:19:31].
Luis Magalhaes: [crosstalk 00:19:33] and Jane.
Marcus Wermuth: Cool. I started as an engineer at Buffer, so I started in the mobile team. I started as an IOS engineer, then went over into Android team. For one and a half years I was an engineer in the mobile team, and the mobile team was always in a special situation where it was a little bit disconnected from the whole rest of the organization and the product team. We were building our apps, they were good but we were just copying what the web tools were and we weren’t really that connected. Then I think it was beginning of 2017 when I was [inaudible 00:20:11] left, and I feel into this position where I’m at now leading the mobile team. The biggest thing I had to do to move towards what I just told you was not to chat to the individuals, the individuals were pretty aligned already. But what was missing was that one voice moving them towards the company, it’s not only … I didn’t only have to chat to the team, but also to the rest of the organization.
Marcus Wermuth: And saying to the rest of the organization, “Hey listen, here’s the mobile team. We need to talk to you, we need to be involved, we need to be there, we need to be involved in product decisions whenever there’s something for apps, and whatever. We need to be involved.” So chatting to the rest of the company, chatting even to the CEO and saying, “Hey, we are here. We need you, help us, bring us closer to the company.” Then ultimately, the individuals, the feedback I got said, “Oh, that’s awesome. You’re leafing mobile, we’ve never been so close to the rest of the company.” Comes automatically. If you try to move the whole team towards the company, towards the vision, then the individuals themselves already come more aligned to that too. Does that make sense?
Luis Magalhaes: Yes, yeah. It makes absolute sense. There’s a couple of things that come to mind, I’m not sure if it’s the case in Buffer. It might well not be, but in most organizations you would have resistance even just from the perspective that meetings with more people are less efficient, if only from that perspective. Did you get any resistance? And if you did, what were the arguments to overcome it?
Marcus Wermuth: I didn’t get that much resistance because a lot of people were seeing that we … mobile especially was on another side and it wasn’t too many people, was just one adding me as to some product meetings, or some high level meetings, was okay. You know, you’re not adding 10 people at once. So there wasn’t much resistance, and a lot of people saw my reasoning so I was able to lay it out in a good way and saying, “Hey listen, we’ve never been in those meetings, we’ve never been there. We should be there.” Having a good reasoning yourself, and of course showing value to those persons is the first thing you should do to let them know that they should add you to meetings, or they should involve you in those. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be much resistance if you need to be there. If there’s resistance, then maybe either you didn’t show them enough value, or you didn’t see the real reason behind why you should be there and you weren’t able to show it to them.
Luis Magalhaes: Wow, that’s true. So you should lead with showing the value of the-
Marcus Wermuth: Oh, of course.
Luis Magalhaes: … value of the [crosstalk 00:23:00]. Absolutely, okay. That makes absolute sense. That makes absolute sense. Regarding … hitting on these points from a different perspective, you make the case that it should be company first, team second, and individual third without removing the value from the individual of course. We’re not talking about zero sum game here, but there’s also a point in your writing … which is a different article altogether, but where you’re talking about how you realized that when someone came to you with a problem and you solved the problem for them instead of pointing them in the right direction, you were actually doing them a disservice because it was their problem and it was their chance for growth. By just helping them out altogether you were taking that away from them, so in that case, in the name of efficiency you were taking the opportunity to learn from the individual. I want to know how you balanced this with the first point because obviously the best thing for the company at least short-term is for you just to do the most efficient thing and solve the problem yourself.
Luis Magalhaes: The person is the third one who needs to be prioritized, but in this case you’re actually giving less efficiency to the company because you’re saying to the individual, “Hey, here are some pointers but you figure yourself out.” To benefit the individual. How do you balance these two things?
Marcus Wermuth: I wouldn’t say … you just said that this is a disservice for the company, I wouldn’t say that because it is not that every task or everything that come to me, or there is, I don’t just say, “Hey, you’ll do it.” Most of the time I will try to, it’s not that easy by the way, delegating, and [crosstalk 00:24:50].
Luis Magalhaes: I know.
Marcus Wermuth: It’s not that easy, you need to feel helpful. So saying no actually sometimes is pretty hard.
Luis Magalhaes: No, I … hold that thought, but really in my own experience, if that happened to me I’ll [inaudible 00:25:05] the time. I was exactly like that, when someone came to me with a problem I want to say, “It’s okay, let me handle it. I will do this.” And I didn’t say this because I was being polite but I was thinking, “I will just do it faster and better anyway.” Blah, blah. Then when I met someone else who was doing that to their team, and I was the outside observer, I was saying, “Oh my god, I’ve been [inaudible 00:25:33] all this time.” I didn’t notice, I didn’t [inaudible 00:25:40].
Marcus Wermuth: I wouldn’t go that far and say that you’re that person, but it’s really helpful to see, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Marcus Wermuth: To see someone actually do it to someone else.
Luis Magalhaes: Exactly.
Marcus Wermuth: For me, the whole discussion and the whole article, what you read, was revolving all about personal growth. I would have never gotten that role if there wouldn’t have space, or there a chance to get this. It’s a circle, if you don’t give them opportunities to grow, they never go there, and basically you never get to a higher level. To get back to what you asked is that the balancing is … I don’t want to say it feels pretty natural for me but the engineers I have in my team are pretty … to use that nice word again, empowered in the sense that they know where we’re going. Again there is the higher level vision alignment, they know where we’re going, they know what the goal is for us to build, they know what to do. My job ultimately is to work with the rest of the team like the Buffer team and the mobile team to think about higher level things, strategy, how we work, and all of those things. That’s what I think about, and that’s what ultimately contributes to the company.
Marcus Wermuth: Saying no to them to certain things like, “Hey, you do it because it will help you grow.” Is for me not a disservice to the company because ultimately those persons, those engineers, they grow with that, they become a senor engineer one. Then ultimately they add much more value to the company because they just learned this thing, they learned how to do this, they learned how to think about this so the next time something like that comes up, they know it themselves already without coming to me. The person ultimately became a better engineer, or a better copywriter, or whatever role you have there. It might look like a disservice to the company, and might be balancing, but it’s actually not because evolving and mentoring those persons to do those things is actually a good thing to help them do those things. Ultimately, I’m here to move everything out of the way to let them do the work. I’m just here to help them.
Luis Magalhaes: Right, that makes absolute sense. I guess in a sense it’s always a matter of priority, right? If the house is burning, you’re probably going to be handling the buckets of water yourself. But I guess if it’s something that can wait … I mean I assume that there’s a calculation in your head going, “Okay, how much harm is this going to be like one, or two, or three weeks going to be versus me having a more competent person in a month?”
Marcus Wermuth: I don’t think too much about time. Of course when there’s something very time sensitive, we’ll get in there together [inaudible 00:28:38]. But I wouldn’t say I’m thinking about time when something like that comes up, I wouldn’t say, “This person now takes two weeks where I would take a week.” That’s I think never the case, I don’t think like that. At least that’s me personally.
Luis Magalhaes: No, no, but I’m saying that if a person needs to learn then that’s obviously extra time, right?
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah. It comes down also to the cost, is it something where they have to learn a new language to program something? Or is it just something they bring to me because I might have more context, or whatever? As we have everything transparent, I can point them to something, “Hey, get the context and do it.” It’s not much about the learning, more about the doing part. Yeah I agree if it’s about learning, of course that will take a little bit more time. But ultimately, you have a better person afterwards.
Luis Magalhaes: Another thing that I noticed when I was reading your stuff was that we have a bit of a story in common, I mean when I started my marketing career … again with much thanks to the Buffer so thank you again for that. But when I was starting my career in marketing I was mostly doing the social media planning, creating social media content, and writing … which is you know I’m a writer, that’s my craft and I was doing a lot of that. Then as I started progressing, and I got in charge of the team, I noticed that I couldn’t do that as much anymore, or even at all in some cases. I was reading how you figured out that you had to drop … I mean I don’t know if you dropped it completely, I assume not. But you probably had to drop a lot of time that you spent coding and focus on managing. To me, that was a very hard transition. To me, that was a very very hard transition because even though I knew that I was being productive by being a good manager, I wasn’t having so much maker time and that felt extremely unproductive.
Luis Magalhaes: I felt a lot of insecurity there. What about you? When you went through that transition, what was the internal conversation? What was going on your head? What was the self talk like?
Marcus Wermuth: Again, this might be different from person to person, but we had definitely a similar approach there. As I’ve written it in my book, also said it in my talk, it was really hard. The first few weeks, months, were really hard. I was coming from coding, seeing my contributions in GitHub, seeing, “Oh, nice. This button works, now I can touch it, I can feel it. It works, I can see it.” To then going to another role where I don’t have anything to show except notes, and calls in my calendar. My Thursdays blocked out with a whole lot of calls, and at the end of the day I sat there and my head hurt because I was talking English all the day and I didn’t have anything to show. That was for me the hardest part to understand like, “Am I adding value? Am I productive? What am I doing here?” I chatted with my manager a lot about that, and Katie really helped me there.
Marcus Wermuth: But that was the hardest part for me to basically understand that as a manager your contributions, and your goal … not goals, but your contributions and the outcomes of that, they are much more longterm than short-term. When you’re a developer, you write, you see your line, you see the button pop up, you see the image show, you can see it almost immediately. But as a manager, when you work with your team, when you do one on ones, when you work on goal setting, when you help grow them, the outcome is visible maybe in a couple of months, and maybe even a year. So you have to adjust to seeing an outcome appear later than what you actually expected it to be. It was hard for let’s say first few weeks and months, but then for me it settled a little bit because I studied something technical. I’ve coded most of the time, but for me coding always felt like a tool. I’m not sitting here at home saying, “Oh, I wish I could code.” I’m not regretting my choice. That ultimately helped for me to stay in this role and enjoy it.
Luis Magalhaes: At the end of the day, when you close your laptop, or turn off your computer, whatever it is your setup, unwind the mechanical chicken, whatever, what is going on your mind that helped you say, “Okay, this was a good day. This was a productive day, I did stuff today that I’m proud of.”? What’s the mental checklist that you go through?
Marcus Wermuth: Depends on the day. Let’s say Thursday is a good example because I’ve … almost every hour a call … not every hour, but in the afternoon at least. Well, I’m happy if those chats, if the one on ones with my teammates were good. We chatted about productive things, we chatted about maybe career growth, maybe a problem. When something needy, when something really good happened in a call, that for me is something good. I have a to-do list, I put some things on there either in the morning or the day before. So if I check them off, it’s a pretty good feeling. Then I’ll just let it flow how the day … you never know what happens. Maybe now, today I have something planned but then after lunch something else happens and I do this. It always comes down to how you personally feel, also your energy level. If my energy level is pretty down, I feel quite exhausted. Then maybe it wasn’t a good day because you spend a lot of energy in something.
Marcus Wermuth: But if you end your day and you feel good about it, some energy was left on the way but you still feel good, then maybe it was a productive day. I stepped away a little bit of thinking like, “Oh okay, today was a good day. Tomorrow is a bad day.” Just let it flow and adjust to the situation because you can’t plan productive days and unproductive days, they sometimes just happen.
Luis Magalhaes: Wow, I’ve never talked about that, about it like that. That seems like I like that. I like that. It feels very … I’m a bit disconnected from that community now, but it feels a bit like the surfer’s philosophy. There are days when the waves are great, and there are days where you just have to paddle.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, but that’s it. I’m not a surfer myself, some people at Buffer surf. But that has worked out for me, you know? Because spending every evening saying, “It was a productive day.” Then, “It wasn’t.” Or maybe it was, for me that’s a little bit … not wasted energy, or wasted thoughts. But I have my days planned, I have my week, I have my meetings planned. Sometimes everything works out well, but sometimes you have to stay where it didn’t work out well and you don’t have to beat yourself up. You just go with the flow.
Luis Magalhaes: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk books because you have a library section on your blog, and I love the recommended books. In fact, you recommend one of my favorite books that I [crosstalk 00:36:06] twice. It’s The five Dysfunctions of Team by Patrick Lion-
Marcus Wermuth: Lencioni.
Luis Magalhaes: Lencioni. Lencioni, that’s it. That’s it. I was being very careful not to butcher the name. I’ve read that book twice … actually I’ve read it once, and I have listened it in audio book. It’s a great book, it’s a really great book. It’s very easy to read. I recommend it to everyone because it’s told as a story. It gives you a lot of tools and a lot of techniques, but it doesn’t sound technical at all so it’s really good. But it’s funny because we’ve been this whole conversation and we haven’t said the word “remote” once, but we both work with remote teams. It’s just the matter of a fact that we’re so used to dealing with remote teams that it’s not even in our minds anymore that they’re remote.
Marcus Wermuth: True.
Luis Magalhaes: With this book, I had a bit of a [inaudible 00:37:00] and I want to know how we will implement the things in the book because after reading the book and liking it so much, it tried to implement some of the exercises with the remote team, with the team on the Zoom call and it just felt flat. It’s not that it didn’t work some, but soke of the exercises, some of the round tables that they suggest we do in the book, it just felt that people weren’t opening up in the same way that they would open up if everyone was in the same room if there was that human energy around. I know that you and Buffer, you sometimes join the people at the team physically and I guess that’s the way to solve the problem. But in smaller companies where that’s not an option yet … which is the case of a lot of people that DistantJob world with. They’re are building remote teams, but they don’t really have the possibility to gather the team in a single location. How do you think that you can implement those round tables, which are so important?
Luis Magalhaes: They’re like the core of the book. When I did it on Zoom, it just felt a bit flat. It felt that people were … it felt that instead of giving the 80%, people were giving me 50%.
Marcus Wermuth: Good question. Well, I like the book because of all the topics in there. Most of us at Buffer read it, I even still say it to team members to read it. I don’t remember that we really did all those round tables, for us it was more important to understand what those five dysfunctions are and then to cope with them. I remember one thing which really helped was like artificial harmony, I would say was a very big one for us. What we did in the retreat … and I know this is not what you just mentioned-
Luis Magalhaes: [inaudible 00:38:51] that’s fine.
Marcus Wermuth: But we all have been in one room, and chatted about like, “Hey, let’s open up and chat about all of your harmony.” That really helped us. Sometimes it has to happen in person, but I would say that it’s just how you set it up. If you do it in Zoom as you said, maybe you don’t have to do it how the book says it but maybe adjust it to the team and again go with the team and see what they want to share, what they want to chat about. I know it’s sometimes difficult on Zoom to do round tables, and to really open up, but I think it’s then just a matter of how you set up the meeting, and how you set up everyone to share those things. For us, one example coming to mind was in person … I’m sorry, but we also do chat of course 99% on Zoom so we have those chats also in Zoom. Then it comes to the setup, and the culture, and the company like, “Are you open? Do you want to chat about those things?”
Marcus Wermuth: And maybe share some notes beforehand, or chat with each individual person before and get them into the right mindset. I think it’s not impossible in Zoom.
Luis Magalhaes: Related to the book, you talked about how you didn’t necessarily implement the round table ideas but you still tried to identify the dysfunctions. I’m not going to try to cite the dysfunctions now because I would just make a bad fool of myself. Because when I was reading the book, the point of the round tables to me was they were really the main way to identify the dysfunctions. People just sit, and they talk, and there’s someone more experienced pointing out, “I’m detecting, I’m feeling that there is a dysfunction there, and this kind of dysfunction.” How do you do it then? How do you try to detect the dysfunctions in the team? If not [crosstalk 00:40:46].
Marcus Wermuth: Again for me, it wasn’t like, we have to read it and then we find out the dysfunctions. For example, just recently two of my team members never read the book, and I said, “This is my favorite book about teams, please go read it if you have time.” And they did. It’s not about getting something, getting this work paper out of it, “Oh, we have to do this, this, and this.” For me, it was more important for those two people as the engineers to understand how teams work, and what’s behind a team. A team is not just five persons and working together, there’s all of that stuff in there like status, and ego, artificial harmony, trust, conflict, all of those things on a team.
Marcus Wermuth: For me it was more important to not get the round tables, or what to dos out of that book, but to rather tell them, “Hey listen, that was all the things going on in a team. How do you feel about it?” So then I chatted one on one with them about those things, so can I understand first what they are feeling? “What do you think is not working for us? What do you think we could be better at? Where do you think we excel? Where do you think we’re good at? That’s my … that was my goal to sharing that book with people, and also for me understanding what are the wheels of a team? What are there … what things can we do to make it better? And then chat to maybe the persons individually, understand what they think because they might feel safer to share with me, they might feel more at ease in a one on one to shout it. Then I’ll take it, I’ll mix it up and think a little bit about it.
Marcus Wermuth: Then maybe when we come together … we just had a team retreat where just my team met. We can tackle some of the things, or we can do some team activities to just get closer to each other. That was for me the most biggest point about the book, to learn how teams can now work, even if it’s called the dysfunctions of a team.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I know. The title is a bit on a negative side, but it’s definitely a very good [inaudible 00:42:50]. I love that. What you did here, and I loved it because it really speaks to an engineer. You basically took the engineering approach to the book, and it’s like, “Look, I’m giving this book tom everyone, so that … we don’t need to do the exercise in the book.” But it’s like you’re taking the team as an engineering apparatus, and [inaudible 00:43:15] that once all the engineers know how the apparatus work, then they will have an intuitive knowledge to detect what’s wrong with it.
Marcus Wermuth: Exactly.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s exactly … I hadn’t thought about it as an engineering approach, but-
Marcus Wermuth: Me neither.
Luis Magalhaes: … [inaudible 00:43:28].
Marcus Wermuth: I didn’t think about it like that too, but yeah it makes sense.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s so great, I guess that would actually be a better approach for engineering teams. Now, I guess that it depends from teams to teams but yeah this is definitely a good insight depending on the kind of people in the team that would influence the approach.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, and saying with what you asked me about, “It didn’t work out for us with the Zoom.” Maybe if everyone reads the book, and then takes their notes in and [inaudible 00:43:55] and eventually maybe you’ll get more out of it with just doing your big round table in Zoom.
Luis Magalhaes: I’m going to do that man, thanks.
Marcus Wermuth: Let me know how it works.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I will. I will. Obviously the other book recommendations are on the website, and I’ve actually read all of your book recommendations, and I totally support them. The links will be on the show notes, but I wanted to know if there are any exercises, or thoughts, or even courses that you recommend to people that are just arriving into the position of needing to manage remote teams?
Marcus Wermuth: Good question. When it comes to becoming a manager, what I did … and I shared that in one my thoughts. One thing is to never stop learning, wherever that is. You just asked me about courses [inaudible 00:44:47], but in general, never stop learning. I think that’s the most important thing for me to continue to learn. What you can do especially in management is there are so many books out there, and I know my library section webpage has just four books. I need to update and add more because I have a lot more books. There’s so many books out there, and there’s so many knowledge even from older books, even from 30 years ago where you can still get something out of it, or at least see how they did it and the understand, “Okay, that’s not how I want to do it.” Reading for me was a huge huge factor, I’m still reading a lot today. Two other things I did and they’re not courses or anything; one other thing I did is get a leadership coach. I got one for at least a year I think.
Marcus Wermuth: Have a couple of calls with them, maybe once every two weeks or so. You chat with them how it’s going, they help you. They have a lot of resources, and they get you set up in the right direction. That helped me personally quite a lot.
Luis Magalhaes: Is there any recommendations? Is this a specific service?
Marcus Wermuth: No, what I did I just went and searched, and found, and then compared. Sent some emails, maybe had a first call. Just whatever feels best for you. I wanted someone who knew about startups and maybe remote work, so it’s varying. You have … it’s kind of finding a doctor, someone who you get along with very well because you need to get on the same level. It highly depends on … there are a lot of people out there doing coaching and helping you get into the manager role. If you google, you’ll find a ton even for your own country.
Luis Magalhaes: No, no. I’ve had on one before actually, Stephen Dohrn was on The DistantJob Podcast on the fourth episode I believe. Amazing guy. Amazing guy, and he does that specifically for remote leaders. For people leading remote teams.
Marcus Wermuth: Oh, nice.
Luis Magalhaes: So there’s definitely some offer there. It was just an individual, it’s not like you went to a company providing these services-
Marcus Wermuth: No.
Luis Magalhaes: … with the coach. You were out there looking for it?
Marcus Wermuth: I wanted the personal connect. I just didn’t want a team or a community, I wanted the personal connection to understand what-
Luis Magalhaes: What was your criteria? What did you decide, “Okay, this is … I’m going to compare these.” What was the criteria for comparison?
Marcus Wermuth: For me, it was a gut feeling. I looked at the website, what she wrote on there, what she had on the page, what she said about leadership and managing. Then of course we had a first call where you feel like, “Does to work?” And I had a really good feeling, so that’s how I decided. I think it has to be a gut feeling, if you really want to go deep, understand certain things. I think she’s doing it as a sidekick, I think it was called BrightSpark Coaching. Her name was Niki. She did a really great job, and she would help me to level up, and even get me out there speaking. That was also her doing it.
Luis Magalhaes: Great, man. Great, great. That is nice.
Marcus Wermuth: One last thing I think which I find really called to share is also something … I used LinkedIn, and it might sound weird right now but I’ve been using LinkedIn quite a lot not for looking for jobs because I think it’s not only there for looking for jobs. I type in the search “Mobile leads.” Who are other people in my role, and I just connected with them. I tired to say, “Hey, would you love to chat even just by email, or on a video call and just exchange knowledge, and exchange thoughts.” 60, 70% maybe didn’t respond, they’re busy or they’re not using LinkedIn, that’s fine. But people responded, I connected with and got to chat with 4 PM at Dropbox who were on the mobile team and understanding that Dropbox as a big company has the same problems as I do in my small mobile team. That kind of helps you, “Oh, I’m not alone. This is not just my problem.” That was really powerful for me to just continually network on LinkedIn because I think it’s great for that.
Marcus Wermuth: It’s not just for looking for jobs, it’s also just for looking out in the world and seeing if there’s anyone else doing the same thing.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a great point. LinkedIn is this very weird thing, it’s like a mix between a kind of professional dating service, and a social [inaudible 00:49:27] because it’s set up as a social network, but it has great features. All the great features are connect, connect, connect. It’s almost like those weird dating sites pushing people on you.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, that’s true.
Luis Magalhaes: But you make a great point that it’s probably a nice relatively inexpensive and certainly not that hard way to build a peer group, so that’s very interesting.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, I didn’t pay anything. I just used it as is. I connected with a lot of people I’m still in contact with, great people. Just today someone reached out, it’s really cool to just find other people and connect with them because there’s Twitter, there’s Facebook, there’s Instagram, but I think that LinkedIn is still the professional part where you see what other people do and more about work. That’s what I wanted to connect with other people on. I think that’s a great tool, worked well for me.
Luis Magalhaes: It is definitely. I mean I actually got to know you, I was introduced by Laurel Farrah which I met through LinkedIn. So that definitely helped me out.
Marcus Wermuth: There you go.
Luis Magalhaes: And disclaimer, we get no sponsorship money from LinkedIn [inaudible 00:50:39] podcast is not sponsored by LinkedIn, though if you want to give me a call [inaudible 00:50:49]. That’s not the case. We’re almost wrapping up, I want to be respectful of your time. I wanted to know because working from is something, sometimes it’s more of a challenge than people realize. People that are about to say, “Man you have the best job ever.” And I’m like, “Yeah, well it’s pretty cool but it’s still work. It’s still a job.” I wanted to ask you, what was your best work related purchase in the last … let’s say in the last year for less than 100 bucks? Or I guess I mean you live in … you’re set up in Munich. Munich is an expensive city so let’s make it €100 just to give a bit more.
Marcus Wermuth: That’s hard, €100. Well, I would have set the thing I’m sitting on, this chair because sitting, when you sit all day it’s very important but that’s worth more than €100. Let me think, €100. I think for remote team probably a good webcam I would say. I have my laptop and a monitor so my laptop is closed, I don’t have to webcam there so I bought a pretty good webcam and that really helped on quality, it’s always there. So I would say-
Luis Magalhaes: What type of webcam is that? If you-
Marcus Wermuth: It’s a Logitech. I would’ve … I need to probably look up the model name, it’s 1080P so it’s very high definition. It helps with the quality. We can put a link probably into the show notes if you want to, but this Logitech webcam is probably pretty good for home setup.
Luis Magalhaes: Sure. I guess this is something that I almost talk about every show that obviously video is super important. Just before we starting I always make the point of telling this to the guest that the podcast is audio only, no one ever sees the video but I always have video on just because it’s so much easier to talk with someone when you’re looking at them.
Marcus Wermuth: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s really key for remote work as you don’t see each other everyday, so seeing them once in a while in a video is really good.
Luis Magalhaes: I know you have stuff to go, and I don’t want to keep you anymore. Thank you very much for the time, but there is one last question that I ask everyone so you can’t escape from it, which is the following. First of all are you familiar with fortune cookies? I always like to ask this because I know it-
Marcus Wermuth: Yes.
Luis Magalhaes: … it’s a [inaudible 00:53:07]. If you were hosting dinner of team leads and remote managers, and they were discussing the best, in the dinner they were going to be having a round table about how to best manage remote teams. You were the host at that Chinese restaurant, and that means that you get to decide the message that goes inside the fortune cookie. What would your fortune cookie message be?
Marcus Wermuth: Be open and honest.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, that’s it. That was pretty … I know that came from the inside because you didn’t almost pause.
Marcus Wermuth: I know. I think that would be pretty key for me, it is still for me.
Luis Magalhaes: Wow, okay. That’s great. What a great way to finish. Thank you very much.
Marcus Wermuth: Thank you for having me.
Luis Magalhaes: It was a pleasure. Obviously I’m going to put the links to your website, and everything else on the show notes so people know where to find you. But where can people talk to you?
Marcus Wermuth: As you already said, ping me on LinkedIn if you want to, my name, you can find me. Then I’m also active on, connected on Twitter so I’m [email protected] That’s what I mostly do, Twitter and LinkedIn probably. I’m also on Instagram but just for more personal stuff, if you find me there just add me.
Luis Magalhaes: All right. Again, hey it was a pleasure Marcus. Thank you so much.
Marcus Wermuth: Same for me, thank you for having me.
Luis Magalhaes: That was Marcus Wermuth, if you want to reach out to him, to talk to him, you can find his website and his Twitter handle on the show notes. As for this podcast, if you enjoyed DistantJob Podcast please help us reach more people by sharing the episode on social networks, subscribing on iTunes, and maybe leaving a review, that would be awesome. If you want to know more about how to hire better people and faster, come to distantjob.com and if you really enjoyed the podcast, and you wish to have a transcript of it, well head over to distantjob.com/blog. There on the podcast section you will find a way to give us your email address, subscribe, and we’ll you all the transcripts that are available at the moment. You will be notified when new transcripts become available as well, so if you’re interested in taking this to the next step, or learning even more about how to manage, and lead, and build remote teams, that’s what you can do. See you next time, this was Luis with the DistantJob Podcast. Until next week.
In this podcast, among many other things, we talk about how Buffer’s focus on transparency allows their teams to generate unprecedented value; why empowering people only works when it’s in service to generating said value; and how you need to be creative when adapting leadership lessons to remote teams.
Marcus’ recommendation for your remote office? The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920.
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