Building Effective Remote Team Collaboration Processes, with Luke Szyrmer

Gabriela Molina

Luke Szyrmer specializes in commercialization across DeepTech, Finance, and Software/Internet. He serves as an innovation consultant that helps both startups and established companies get to market faster with new products. Luke is also a podcaster, the host of the Managing Remote Teams Podcast, and the author of the book with the same name.

Remote leader

Read the transcript

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. I am your host as usual, Luís, and my guest today is Luke Szyrmer. Luke is a podcaster, the host of the Managing Remote Teams Podcast, and the author of the book of the same name. So highly relevant to you, my listenership. Welcome, Luke, to the podcast.

Luke:

Hello. I’m absolutely excited to be on the show. I love the show, and yeah, happy to also be on and be interviewed by you.

Luis:

Yeah. And it’s great to have a fellow podcaster on the show. Right? It’s really nice. And I guess we can start by that, right, the Managing Remote Team Podcast, right? I don’t know if you know the origin story of my podcast. I guess I can tell it again though. The listenership has probably heard me tell it some five or six times by now, but what is your podcast? Why did you decide that you needed to build the Managing Remote Teams Podcast?

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the podcast itself came about as part of my learning process and research for the book, more or less. So a lot of it came about because I wanted to speak to people that are in the space, that are dealing with very specific topics. I mean, so the full backstory with the book really was that, I mean, I’d been managing teams remotely for a good 10 years, mostly at one company, highly distributed, lots of time zones, lots of locations. And when I’d be speaking with people before the pandemic, they’d be like, you don’t even see these people? How do you know what’s going on? And I realized as soon as the pandemic started, that people are going to need some help, some advice of how to think about it because most of the content showing up, come March 2020, was lists of tools and that kind of thing.

Luke:

And that actually, there’s more interesting questions that people could be asking themselves. And I initially didn’t know where to start, although I’d picked up different bits and pieces myself as I was reading and trying things out over the years. So I started there, started speaking with the authors of those books. And then it just one thing led to another and I had a podcast.

Luis:

Well, it’s quite good a learning tool. I mean that’s basically, I mean for completely different reasons, but this podcast also started as me trying to educate myself. And it just makes sense, right? It’s something that you do for yourself, but you can also repackage so that other people can benefit. So yeah, I guess we have similar views in that regard. So tell me about some of those questions. What are the questions that you wish more people would ask and they don’t?

Luke:

Yeah. I mean, I think a lot’s changed over the last two years, so I think, now people are much more aware of a lot of this. Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it’s more about what exactly is productivity in the context of working remotely? I think that’s a very non obvious. It sounds obvious and it could easily give a glib answer, but actually every team, depending on what they do, was going to have a slightly different way of thinking about it in their particular context, so that was one thing. Another thing is how do you actually make decisions together when everyone’s distributed? That’s another not totally obvious thing. And yeah, things like meetings, I think especially at first, everybody was just trying to replicate what was going on in the office, sitting at home in their pajamas or whatever.

Luis:

Many people still do.

Luke:

Many people still do. Exactly. Exactly. So that was at a high level where that was the starting point where I started trying to get more specific research packed answers for things and also figure out what jived with my experience.

Luis:

Yeah. So let’s grab at that point about people collaborating together. Right? What was the thing that, when thinking about that question, right, when thinking about how people can participate, how people can give their own opinions in a distributing setting, what was the assumption that you went with and how did reality match or fail to match that expectation?

Luke:

Well, so my background is in software. And software, in and of itself, is very both creative and analytical. And I would argue, I mean, there’s many different styles. But I think it is very collaborative because ultimately it’s what the team builds together that matters beyond little nibbly bits and bobs. So that collaboration piece was really, really important. And I think for me, the big shift was largely, again, this was before the pandemic, using MURAL, so the online white board. Being able to work with that style of work. So visually, so this is again with a distributed team of roughly 18 people, very technical people coming together.

Luke:

And completely from nothing, planning out, analyzing, figuring out how to structure this big architecture, this big completely backend system, all kinds of moving parts and all of that fully, visually, remotely was something that surprised me because I think even at that point, I think usually, if people were doing stuff remotely, it’s – . So now Bob is going to give a presentation, and then Sandy’s going to give another presentation that’s going to be a half an hour. And that was the extent of remote collaboration often or at least the typical patterns. Then I think breaking out of that into this way where you have everyone talking with everyone, if not verbally, then at least visually you’re laying out things, putting them in relation to each other, sizing them, drawing things, drawing arrows, drawing this and that. That made it significantly different as subjectively for the participants I think, and also very productive.

Luis:

Yeah. I think that the visual point is key, right? There’s a weird dynamic in what I call the N+1 problem in video calls, right? In a meeting, one plus one equals two, pretty much as we’re doing here and that doesn’t change a lot with video. But the relationship, the scaling is different come to remote versus, to online versus offline, right? In an in-person setting, you can add people to the meeting and it takes, you can welcome, you can add quite a bit of people before it starts detracting from the functionality of the meeting, from the ability to get things done. Online, and especially in Zoom, I think you reach that saturation point at an N+1 that’s much lower, right?

Luis:

The moment I add a third person, if I would add a third person to this call, that’s allow, that’s a bit why I don’t usually do three-people interviews, it automatically detracts from the quality of the conversation. If we’re four, even worse. And then by the time we’re five, to me, that’s just a waste of time, right? I avoid very, very, very, very hard. I mean, I try. To me, the ideal team number, I know it’s not possible for many kinds of businesses, but for the purposes of a marketing team, the number I like is seven. But I very much avoid having the seven people in the marketing team in a meeting. To me, that’s like a town hall meeting where not everyone is supposed to necessarily contribute in the same way, right?

Luis:

It’s just there’s something about video that means that when someone is talking, the other people are not, right? The other people are not contributing. They’re either listening or more likely their brains are shutting down because if we have five people in a virtual room, chances are that what one person is saying doesn’t impact everyone in the same way. Right? So it definitely feels like a big waste of time. And I wondered, I wanted to know if you’ve, I mean, I’m sure you’ve felt this, how do you usually deal with it?

Luke:

So I think what we’re talking about is largely facilitation, and to a lesser extent, meeting or collaboration design. So basically before you go into a call or a meeting, particularly one that’s important because not everything is equally important, that you’ve thought through obviously the purpose of the collaboration of the meeting, the what it is, roughly where people are in terms of what they know, what they have, and then how you want them all to come together. So basically, structuring the meeting. And I think an agenda in the traditional sense is very linear where we’ve got these five different points. And then first, we’re going to talk about this and that, and that’s useful. But I think using, again, going back to online whiteboarding, using let’s say visual structures where you can create activities, ideally fun activities, do it in a fun way where you can actually visually prepare the space where the group is going to collaborate or have some kind of a particular type of activity thought of beforehand and roughly how much time you’re going to spend on each thing.

Luke:

And then, lead the group through that process. And I think that is the planning that most of that actually isn’t done in the meeting. It’s done before the meeting. And I think that’s what makes the meeting itself where the “work” happens, the interpersonal work. So each person’s really contributing, even if they aren’t speaking. So they’re adding post-its, they’re moving things around, they’re grouping. And making that kind of collaboration possible is I think what’s really valuable in the context of meetings and something that, in an in-office setting, you just didn’t have, or it was we’d have a special workshop where everybody flies together to some remote, exotic location, and you spend three days doing this kind of thing, and then you don’t see them for a year. Right? And I think what remote work is allowed is for this kind of thing to happen more frequently with less friction. Doesn’t mean every meeting needs to be this way, but yeah, both just doing it, practicing it as a facilitator, but also helping the team come together and do that. I think that’s the big potential opportunity for remote teams, I think.

Luis:

Yeah. One thing that I like that I feel that a lot of people don’t take advantage of, and I think that it has to be a bit of a social thing, right, they might feel it’s unpolite. I like live note-taking, or maybe more accurate, note-making. So when someone is talking, let’s say that I’m talking and you come up with an insight. It’s interesting if you just type it in the chat. Right? Because then, there’s a second layer to the conversation, right, happening in parallel without having to interrupt whoever is speaking, which I think that is interesting. It drives you a bit into multitasking, which can be dangerous. There are some problems to that, but overall, I think it’s quite healthy and I don’t think people don’t do it nearly enough.

Luke:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I completely agree that as long as it’s on the same topic, then it doesn’t feel like you’re multitasking, and yeah. And again, I think using tools, I mean, for me, I think the big thing was around, even Google Docs, right, this whole idea of being able to edit collaboratively. So even on one call-

Luis:

Google Docs are still the best for that as far as I can see.

Luke:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And using that functionality live as part of a meeting, I think that’s also really interesting. And it means that everyone’s engaged even if they aren’t talking. And I think really trying to move in that direction when possible, again, that’s not relevant for every single kind of thing, like a job interview or something, I don’t know, or maybe it is, I don’t know. But being in this situation where you don’t have only the person who’s saying anything is the one who happens to be thinking in the group. And as a side effect, you get engagement, you get people motivated, and you get everyone’s input, which makes the collaboration a lot more subjectively valuable.

Luis:

Yeah, definitely. I have to think that when it comes to developers, right, that developers have a bit of a natural advantage, right, working remotely, I feel I had a natural advantage working remotely just because of my involvement with the video game community because so many of the video game community driven projects were, by their nature, managed remotely through either ICQ or IRC channels or bulletin boards. So I do feel that I was doing this, before I knew it was remote work, I was doing it for a long time. And then I started working remotely pre-pandemic, right, trying to build a company that was basically evangelizing remote work. And it’s actually slightly frustrating that I spent three years of my life trying to push remote work into the main light and then a bug comes along and makes it instant. Right? I guess that’s mother nature for you. Yeah, but-

Luke:

Invent a bug, right. Invent a virus.

Luis:

I would rather not take credit for that. Exactly. Exactly. So why do you feel that, in your life, pre-remote work prepared you for the roles that you’re assuming now?

Luke:

What prepared me?

Luis:

I’m sure you bring to the table, to the remote work table, stuff that comes from before you started remote work, right, from your personal history.

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, actually similar to you. I mean, you grew up with computers. I actually never had a formal, let’s say software engineering education. Initially, I was writing scripts to get some game to work or some modem to work or something like that.

Luis:

Funny how you get great engineers like that, huh?

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, and then ended up in software, even though I studied other stuff. And then now, more and more yeah, it’s managerial and then business side stuff, but coming from the technical background. I mean, I think in terms of the preparation, so one of the things I guess that’s worth pointing out is, for example, for me, one of the biggest things that I wasn’t good at was visual thinking going into, growing up basically, I was absolutely convinced that I can’t draw. Yeah. And I mean, when I was a kid, I did a little bit, but it was mostly my sisters that did all the drawing in terms of an adequate-

Luis:

I’m a stick figure kind of guy.

Luke:

Yeah. That’s more or less where I got to. And at some point, I realized that there’s this whole other way of thinking about the world. So, I mean, I was used to the more structured, let’s say, mathematical way. I was used to reading and writing. But this visual, because I wasn’t drawing, didn’t really feel that natural. And the way that I got over that hump was that I started drawing cartoons together with my daughter. She was two years old at the time. And in fact, so the full situation was something along the lines of it was difficult to leave the house with her in the morning. And it was almost like when we, so we would be stressed out because she wasn’t doing what we expected and she didn’t know where all these expectations were coming from.

Luis:

Funny how that’s kids, right?

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So literally, what I did one weekend with her is we sat down and we drew out on post-its. I mean, it’s got to be a post-it, right, if it’s me. On post-its, we drew out each of the things that she does every morning, and then we put them into an order. And then we hung that up on the wall. And the fact that she saw it suddenly meant that she understood what it is that we’re expecting of her as we were leaving the house. And then, she would draw it, I would draw it, and then we’d have some collaboration there. And then we hung that up. And I think once I did that, I realized, oh, I actually I’m feeling okay about this, but I want to learn more. So I took a cartooning course, and that was a good thing.

Luis:

Nice. Where did you take it, if I may ask?

Luke:

Yeah, sure. So there’s a guy named Sean D’Souza. Originally, he was a cartoon turned internet marker back from ages ago. He has this site called Psychotactics, and he does all kinds of courses. And amongst other things, he has a cartooning course there, which he puts on every once in a while. So one of the things that I like about his style is that his courses are very geared towards transferring his skill. So the idea is that you actually do need to go and do exercises every day. Then we’d spend the whole week drawing circles, different circles, and all kinds of bits and pieces. And after a few months, I got to the point where, okay, I know how to think about this. And then, at the same time, looping back to professional stuff, that experience helps me look at a whiteboard very differently because just this the sense of how you use space, how each of the parts relate to each other. It just really helped even though it wasn’t something that before I found particularly intuitive.

Luis:

Yeah. Huh. That’s interesting. So first of all, I love that concept of you deciding that, oh, well, I’d like to learn how to draw cartoons, let me do a drawing cartooning course. I think that a lot of people think that that’s like a second education. That’s something you need to go to drawing university for. You just can’t do an online course, but you totally can. There’s a lot of things, right, there’s a lot of things that you can do just online, just by learning online. You’d be surprised at the amount of things that you can do just learning online. Is this, in any way, part of the reason why there’s crayons on your book cover?

Luke:

I think so. Yeah. In fact, I had a couple of options and, again, I decided it together with my daughter and she was like, I like the one with the crayons the most. So I think indirectly probably yeah. I guess, it’s also worth mentioning that I did do some of the cartoons that are in the book, in the Managing Remote Teams book, so some of those are mine, and yeah. I think it’s just, it was a side project that turned into a book, and yeah, with a bit of cartooning on as part of it.

Luis:

Tell me a bit about the book process, the book making process, because you were very quick to market with it, right? There are only two people that I know, you being one of them, now I know you, there were only two people that figured out that remote work was going to hit it big in 2020, and actually managed to get a book out within that year. Right? I know some people that published remote work books on those year, on that year as well, but they were just fortuitous who have been working on them for two years or something like that. So how was that process like?

Luke:

Well, it was somewhat easier because this was my second book. So at least I had some idea of what was ahead. And to be fair, I just barely squeaked in right after Christmas with it.

Luis:

You did it. You managed-

Luke:

I did it. I did it. Yeah.

Luis:

And someone with a couple of books out, it’s really hard to put the book out in less than a year, in less than-

Luke:

Yeah.

Luis:

Just so that listeners know. It’s very, very, very hard.

Luke:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it was just about, first, doing the research. Again, the podcast helped a lot in terms of really getting outside of my experience, mostly one place, a little bit of other experience. I knew there was, I was certain that there would be some assumptions that I’d have coming, first of all, from purely from IT because I wasn’t necessarily only thinking about IT. Also, just company specific stuff, which might not be true in general. And going and deliberately seeking out people to talk with about, say, different ways of managing projects, different ways of how to run meetings, of all of that. I mean, that was part of my research process in addition to reading books by these people. And after that, it was just a lot of editing and learning how to cartoon in that time period actually because-

Luis:

Yeah, I published a book. I published a book in a year and I also learned how to cartoon, right? That’s a good flex for you.

Luke:

Initially, it wasn’t meant to be part of the book process at all, but I realized actually if I’m drawing, I can actually do my own illustrations, then I figured why not. Of course, that meant another extra month or two tacked on for me to do enough iterations and ideas and all of that to get something that I can use. But yeah, it got there in the end.

Luis:

Yeah. So obviously the book is about a lot of learnings that you had, right, and you’ve crystallized that in the book. And I want, obviously, to tell people, right, I usually do this disclaimer early on, but I guess I’m doing it in the middle of the show now, that listening to our conversation is in no way shape or form a replacement for reading the book. The book has tons of stuff that we’re not even touching. Right? If the conversation interests you even a little bit, you should go there and buy it. It’s available on Amazon and we’ll have a link to it in the show note. But I do want, before we move on to something that’s a bit farther away from remote work, I do want to talk with you about figuring out remote productivity, which I know is a topic where you have a little bit of a twist compared to most people. So if you could tell me a bit about that twist, about how you see the remote productivity angle, I’d love to hear it.

Luke:

Sure, sure. So I think in general, with productivity in larger companies, the default way of thinking about it is whether or not each person is being productive. And you assume that if each person is productive, then the whole team is productive. And certainly, when coming from a traditional project management style, timekeeping, time sheets, scanned charts and all of that. And there’s definitely a place for that kind of thing, depending on exactly what type of business you’re in. But I think for, certainly for creative collaborative work, which software is one, but I think it can be applied to marketing, to all kinds of different areas. It’s much better to think first in terms of what the goal is, what the target goal is. And then only look at team level output relative to that goal.

Luke:

So basically, this gives the team the space to work out what the best way of achieving the goal is rather than trying to hold them accountable for and getting as much “output” out of every hour that they give you and getting as many hours out of them as you can. It’s much better to think of what it is you want to do as a group or as a company, and then working with the team to get there as quickly as you possibly can. So it’s yeah, more in the sense of enabling them and not squeezing as much as you can out of them.

Luis:

Yeah. It’s something that’s very interesting. But I definitely agree in that respect, where I usually jokingly say that it’s the Tao of Management, right? I don’t know if you know about The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. It’s an old Chinese philosophy where the whole, the big part, the big chunk of the philosophy is let things, most things will sort themselves out, right? In most cases, a lot of what you do is just making sure that nature takes its course. Now, obviously we need to be somewhat active in business. That’s not to say that you can just sit around doing nothing, but I tend to see that, especially in a remote context where people who look for remote work tend to be higher autonomy people, right, if I just give them, tell them where we need to end up, like here’s what I’d like to happen, here’s the end result that I like. I tend to see that people usually find a better way to get there than they would if I would just give them a list of instructions.

Luke:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It just, it feels better for them I think. They can turn it into somewhat of a game where they’re going after what it is that you want. And also they can figure out, particularly in a group setting, they can figure out amongst themselves how to do it, of course, with your input. And I think I saw my main role as a manager, not so much at the team level, but more enabling them and giving them the infrastructure, clearing blockers at an infrastructure level, giving them, making sure they had the right tools at the right time. And it might not sound like much, but it’s actually pretty much a full time job if you’ve got a big enough team.

Luis:

No, I absolutely agree. I usually say, sometimes I’ll have someone congratulate me on the team achievements and I’m like, I mostly try to make the way free for them, right? That’s mostly what I do, right? I try to keep stuff out of their way so they can do their thing. And one thing that I always ask that I like to ask on my one-on-ones is given the team’s goals, given the business’ goals, what do you think would be most enjoyable use of your work time? I like that question a lot.

Luke:

Yeah. No, that’s a great one. That’s a great one. Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, that’s both for them to share with you, but also amongst each other, so they know in terms of what’s enjoyable, also what the right time of day is to do different things, when they need rest. All of these things, which had a predetermined structure in an office, they don’t necessarily apply, so there’s no need to apply them in a remote setting.

Luis:

Yeah. Sometimes work is work. I definitely don’t want to sound like a follow-your-passion guru. I’ve spent my share at hours parsing boring spreadsheets. Right? Sometimes that’s just what you have to do. But, by and large, I want to move myself and the people working for me to a position where they’re looking forward what they have to do that day, right, even acknowledging that’s not always possible. There are just some realities that are inescapable, right, but yeah, that’s the way I’d like to move anyway. So look, so I know that we touched a bit on this beforehand and we agreed that we wanted to focus on the managing of remote teams. But I would be, because I know that part of my, the vast majority of my audience are C-suite people leading remote teams and building remote businesses.

Luis:

But I know that the segment of the listeners, because they get in touch with me, they’re people that are working remotely and that they have this ambition of creating something, creating a business for themselves, right, online, and that they’re trying to acquire those skills. And you do have another book out, a very interesting book, which I didn’t actually have the time to browse before our interview. I skimmed by the Remote Work book, but I couldn’t get the chance to read this one, which is called Launch Tomorrow. It’s basically about taking a product, start up of business from idea to launch in one day, right? Now, I don’t want you to stick to the title. I don’t want to hold you to the title of the book because I realize that book titles, it’s like the four hour work week.

Luis:

Well, maybe it’s not exactly like that, but I wouldn’t be doing my job for my audience if I wouldn’t ask you at least for some pointers, for someone who is listening to this, he is happy with their remote job and he is thinking about building their own remote business, their own remote thing that they can manage and grow up from home, from their desktop. What do you think it’s the most important for those people to know?

Luke:

Sure. Well, the book itself is focused on using landing page testing to test out different ideas. So basically, at the idea stage, you can already start interacting with people to see what it is that they find interesting or not. And the idea is to do that, or as much of that as you can, before you start investing significant amounts of time and effort and energy into building something so that when you do actually, when you do start building something, it’s going to be roughly what it is that people want. And the mindset, although on a landing page, landing pages are, nowadays, almost the 21st Century’s equivalent of business cards, right? It’s the basic this is what we’re about, more or less, and it goes into more detail than a business card. But at that point, you can yeah, you can have a specific thing that you’re offering. And certainly for people working remotely, any kind of digital products like courses, like books, all of that is quite simple to test. There’s a lot of tools along those lines.

Luke:

The core of it is basically using these UX type tools to figure out, and/or advertising, to figure out if you’ve got 20 different ideas, which is the one that actually is going to have a lot of interest in it. So specifically in terms of testing, yes, there’s the, going back to Tim Ferriss, how he tested his titles with AdWords. There’s techniques like that. There’s great tools like fivesecondtest.com where you can get 25 different opinions within 20 minutes about a landing page. And you can find out whether you’re being clear in what you’re saying. There’s all kinds of different tools and techniques around this thought process. I think the biggest insight there that I had actually wasn’t that, as much as I talk about landing pages, the most significant factor wasn’t what’s on the landing page. It’s who you select for the audience and how relevant they are to what it is that you want to create. And-

Luis:

What do you think are some good tools to select that, because, I mean, as a marketer, I have a lot of them in my head. I personally favor Facebook. I think that Google is a bit overrated, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Luke:

I mean, I think a lot of it, especially in the early stages of a product, a lot of it’s about being very specific. I mean, I like interviews. So I think usually getting to the point where you, especially for products that are less B2B-ish, going out and speaking with people, figuring out what it is, what it is they’re struggling with in a particular group and getting a good sense of that, so that when you do come out with something, it’s hitting a pain point that actually exists within your target audience. And yeah, I mean, I think even within both Google and Facebook, there’s a huge amount of variation. Under Google, you’ve got all kinds of different YouTube channels where there’s very different audiences on each one. Within Facebook, you’ve got groups with everything from, I don’t know, paleo diet fans to, I don’t know, model train set type fanatic. I think ultimately it is about that.

Luis:

These are very vocal people, the train enthusiast people.

Luke:

Yeah. I’ve definitely known a few in my day. And yeah, so I think getting that match right, and also being specific with that initial group helps a lot in terms of building products that end up being relevant for them.

Luis:

Got it. Got it. So thank you, thank you for those insights. Now I do want to wind down because I want to be respectful of your time. This is going on for longer than I planned, but it’s great because I’m enjoying the conversation. So I want to ask some rapid fire questions. You can take as long as you would like to answer them. So the first one is what, up to let’s say 150 euros, what is the thing that you would get for everyone in your team, right? And you can’t give them the money or a cash equivalent like a gift card. You need to buy in bulk. But that said, you can buy anything. Experience, tool, app, physical, digital, whatever.

Luke:

So keeping in mind the productivity theme, I think the key thing that I think everyone should have, particularly if they work from a laptop, is a docking station that allows you to do multiple screens. I think that is absolutely critical. That’s one of the few things before the pandemic that we knew for sure actually does increase productivity, having more screen space. And certainly, when you’re playing with online whiteboards, having a big wide space helps. But even if not, you can have your chat app on one screen, your email app on another one, and what you’re working on on one, and then this is something you’re consulting on on another one, so more screens is always good.

Luis:

I always get on my soapbox regarding that because I was resistant. I resisted for years to getting a second screen. And then I felt like a fool once I finally got one because I used to be that guy who says that I can just split my screen into two. Right? I can just tile my apps. What difference is it going to be? And boy, did it make a difference.

Luke:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. It’s the whole same argument with space as you have in architecture, right? You need physically the space to be able to move your attention effectively between things without needing to do keystroke, flipping between apps, or mouse movements and all of that. So it really does make a difference pretty quickly.

Luis:

Now that made me really excited for virtual reality. Right? I don’t know if you’ve tried workspaces yet with the Oculus Rift. It’s definitely not ready for prime time. It’s a bit janky, but just the idea of infinite screens, right, and you can manipulate them like Minority Reports style all around that. That just feels great already, so I’m excited. I’m excited for the future.

Luke:

Yeah, no, definitely. Definitely. Yeah.

Luis:

Okay. So how about yourself? What is the purchase that you’ve made in the past, let’s say, six months that has improved your productivity or any other metric you’d care to track?

Luke:

What I have purchased recently? I am buying a lot of books. Actually, one thing that I bought for my podcast, you might be interested in this one, I’m not sure how much the audience. It’s a sound effects pad, to be able to have sound effects as you’re in a meeting or on a podcast recording. So I’m looking forward to-

Luis:

How does this work? Does that just make a sound and the microphone captures it, or does it actually connect to the computer and insert it in the recording?

Luke:

You connect it to the computer. I’m just configuring it now, so I don’t know fully. But as far as I understand, the idea is that it becomes available on one of the sound drivers in Windows or on your Mac. And then it basically operates with MIDI. So you can put any sound effects that you want there.

Luis:

That’s what this podcast needs, more fart noises, right? That’s it. We’re going to upgrade the show.

Luke:

I’ll definitely make sure to include that in the Managing Remote Teams Podcast too.

Luis:

No, but I like the idea.

Luke:

I mean, I’m also curious about how that’s going to change meetings to be honest, work-related meetings, being able to play around with sound effects or yeah. See if you can change the interaction, the design of the experience of the meeting at that level.

Luis:

So I want to dig a little bit deeper into this now. So why was the light bulb moment? What was the idea that you had that compelled you to pick this up? I know that you haven’t tried it in practice yet, but I’m sure that you imagined a use case.

Luke:

It feels to me that having this ability to interact live with something that’s pre-prepared and thought out and relevant together in a conversation would be interesting and hopefully entertaining also. So because the sound effect can be an audio clip of somebody else saying something, it could be, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a fart noise, but if you want to, you can.

Luis:

Yes. I think that might get old fast.

Luke:

I think it already is.

Luis:

Yeah, probably. You’re probably right. You’re a more mature person than I am.

Luke:

So yeah. So I guess in the same way that I was exploring the visual stuff and I’m digging further into the audio level, audio medium, and how you structure the interaction over time, and then how you can yeah, pull in things that are yeah, helpful and interesting basically.

Luis:

Great. Okay, so next question. You mentioned books. So apart from your own books, which I’m sure you’ve given out a lot, what are the books that you’ve given the most, or if you don’t tend to give books, recommended the most?

Luke:

I think the one that I’ve given the most is probably Gamestorming. Yeah. So this is a book that came out probably, what, 12 years ago now or something. And yeah, it’s very much about this whole idea of serious games. There’s other books in this genre, but it’s the one that I happen to like the most. So the idea is that there’s different games that you play as a group to explore a certain problem space. They’re like group design tools to some extent, but they’re a lot of fun. And things like make a poster that you’ll use to promote the product you’re going to build before you build it, or yeah, different kinds of ways of exploring a completely unknown area where there’s a lot of uncertainty. I think they’re really helpful in that sense. And also, there’s definitely a pretty strong visual component there too.

Luis:

So Gamestorming. Gamestorming. No, it’s nice. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it. Thank you for that. I’m going to follow up on that recommendation. If that strikes your fancy, I don’t know if you’ve come across SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal.

Luke:

I’ve heard of Jane McGonigal. I don’t think I’ve heard about that particular book.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s something in line with what you just said. So you might be interested in looking it up. She also wrote Reality Is Broken, but I think that SuperBetter is probably more actionable for people in our shoes.

Luke:

Yeah. Okay. Yeah, definitely. I’ll take a look.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. All right. So any other books that you’ve gifted?

Luke:

The other one I think in the context of the innovation context, usually a good intro book is Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation. Again, quite visual and yeah. Back when I lived in London, six, seven years ago, I used to run a meetup around innovation and product topics. And I had actually the authors of both of them at the meetup at some point. So I know their content really is helpful and people really engage with it. And it’s a good way to think about these things, which tend to be quite wooly if you don’t really know how to start.

Luis:

That’s the way to put it. Yeah. Yeah. But for sure, for sure. It’s always great, the book that manages to get you past that initial friction, right? It really is the case that the first 10% are the hardest, right? Once you pick up some momentum, it definitely gets easier. Not to say that you won’t get roadblocks along the way. For sure, you will, but it’s definitely the one, once you understand that you can start, then you’ll figure the rest as you go.

Luke:

Yeah.

Luis:

Right. All right. So final question. This takes a bit of a longer setup, so please bear with me. But, let’s say, that we are in a position where we can, again, go all out to dinner and you’re hosting a dinner. In attendance are going to be the execs and decision makers from top tech companies from all around the world. The round table of the night is about remote work and the future of work, and the dinner is happening at the Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to pick what goes inside the Chinese fortune cookie. What is your fortune cookie message, Luke?

Luke:

It’s how you work, it’s not where you work that matters.

Luis:

It’s how you work, it’s not where you work that matters. That’s a great quote. Right? So shall you leave it like that or would you like to speak a bit about your choice?

Luke:

Let’s just leave it like that.

Luis:

Okay. That’s good. Let’s leave it for the people to think about. Let’s have people reach out to you actually saying what they think about that. How can people find you? How can people continue the conversation? And where can they, obviously they can get the books at Amazon, but where can they find the podcast? Where can they find more about you and your work?

Luke:

Sure. So I think I’m most active on LinkedIn, so that’s probably the easiest place. And yes, the book’s on Amazon. The book’s also available in other stores. The podcast website is managingremoteteams.co. Not com, but co. You have a bit of information about the book there. I mean, I am on other platforms, but probably LinkedIn is the best place if you want the quickest way to reach me.

Luis:

All right. So we’ll have all of that on the show notes. And, Luke, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much for the conversation.

Luke:

Yeah, it was great. Thanks, Luis.

Luis:

It was awesome. And thank you for listening to the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close 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 convince 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 on 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.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a 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 you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you 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 adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

When transitioning to a remote work environment, not even the most successful leaders know how to build the right collaboration processes. While there are guides, books, and podcasts (Like this one), the truth is that it depends on each team and its dynamics.

During this podcast episode, Luke Szyrmer shares his experience managing remote teams for years and how he has understood how to boost collaboration and build productive and happy virtual teams.

Highlights:

  • Most common questions people have in terms of remote work
  • Common assumptions people had about remote work before the pandemic
  • Tips to have productive remote meetings
  • Finding your managerial style when leading distributed teams
  • Insights about Managing Remote Teams book

Book Recommendations:

 

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