Designing Remote Work Policies to Make Your Company Culture Empathetic and Strong, with Jason Morwick

Gabriela Molina

Jason Morwick is the head of Remote-First at Cactus Communications, a remote-first organization dedicated to accelerating scientific advancement by empowering key players in knowledge creation, communication, dissemination, and promotion. Jason is a remote work advocate leader and practitioner from back when it was called telework. He is the co-author of the books Making Telework Work, Workshift, and Remote Leadership.

Head of Remote Cactus Communications

Read the transcript

Luis Magalhaes:

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, Luis. Today, my guest is Jason Morwick. Jason is the head of Remote-First at Cactus Communications, a remote-first organization dedicated to accelerating scientific advancement by empowering key players in knowledge creation, communication, dissemination and promotion. Jason is a remote work advocate leader and practitioner from back when it was called telework. He is the co-author of the books Making Telework Work, Workshift, and Remote Leadership, the most recent one from 2021. Jason, welcome to the show.

Jason Morwick:

Thank you for having me.

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s a pleasure having you. There’s a lot to go through, but I think that I want to start by the telework bit, because I didn’t even know it was called telework. I started because I’m a child of the internet and I went to the internet in my early teens. I found my home there and I never really left. I was involved in a lot of communities, a lot of projects, and I knew that I was doing stuff through the internet, often more meaningful than what I was doing that time at school and later at university. This was just natural for me to collaborate. Then it was only years later that I found that that was called telework. Why don’t you tell me how telework inserted itself into your career? Obviously, it has shaped it because you’re the co-author of lot of books about it. How has it shaped your career?

Jason Morwick:

Well, let me first give you a brief history lesson since you said you are a child of the internet. If you remember, or you may not remember, years and years ago before it was telework, it was telecommute. That started back in the 1970s. It was a guy named Jack Nilles who coined that term. If you think about it, we didn’t even have fax machines show up and become commonplace into the office until the late 1970s.

Jason Morwick:

Telecommuting was really before its time. In the ’90s, they tried to sex it up by turning it into telework instead of telecommute. Now, of course, because of COVID, it is called remote work. It’s basically the same term. We use them synonymously. But back when I started to work remotely full time back in 2006, we called it telework. I was working for a large company that was based out of California. I was a remote worker in Florida, so I was three time zones away. Most of my team was co-located in one location. Back then, 16 years ago, it wasn’t as common as it is becoming right now because we’ve all had to undergo this two-year experiment because of COVID.

Luis Magalhaes:

That was definitely some experiment. How has it evolved over the years for you? How have you found that your approach has worked, that the approach of your colleagues has changed, et cetera? Maybe up to COVID because 2020 was a special year, but up till that, how did things evolve?

Jason Morwick:

What you would find prior to COVID most likely is that most teams, if they had a remote worker, they were the minority. Usually, you had more of a hybrid team. You had a team that was co-located in one location with other team members that were not co-located with the team. Having gone through that experience myself, I know what it’s like in having to have to be a little bit more proactive and intentional to make sure that you’re not out of sight, out of mind, but I think COVID has changed the game a bit. It’s at least made us all much more empathetic to those people that are remote. Even those that are returning into the office, they know what the experience is like being remote and they can definitely empathize with what remote workers are going through. But I think it’s a little bit easier now to work remotely, not just because of the technology, but because people’s attitudes towards it have changed.

Luis Magalhaes:

Definitely the case. I mean, DistantJob has existed since, I believe the company will be 15 years old this years. We were actually the first remote recruitment agency, but I wasn’t here for the start. I joined a little after midway through. I was amazed that, oh, this is actually a thing. There are actually companies doing the whole and here I was, I came from nine years working as a dental surgeon. It was all day in office. All day in office and I’m like, wow, there are actually people that are doing what I was doing when I was a teenager in the internet, but they run their work like that. That’s pretty amazing.

Luis Magalhaes:

It’s interesting to see that the acceptance certainly has blossomed with COVID one of the very few silver linings. You are now the head of remote at Cactus Communication. Head of remote is a job that as far as I know didn’t exist three years ago. It’s the hot new job. A lot of my connections on LinkedIn, either they’re seeking it out or they ping me saying, “You know Lu, how do I get a head of remote job? You’re the remote work guy. You have the remote work podcast, remote work recruitment agency, how do I make this happen?” I think it’s one of the hottest titles, certainly this year. And so, how’s it been?

Jason Morwick:

It’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun. I used to do consulting for organizations that were trying to make the transition from an office-based environment to a more remote work setup. As a consultant, you can offer advice, but it’s up to the organization, whether they follow through on that or not. However, now being head of remote, I definitely have skin in the game. I’m part of the organization. I’m responsible for helping make the transition from that office-centric culture to one that’s more virtual, more remote and online. It’s been a lot of fun. There’s definitely some challenges to it along the way, because we really are talking about changing culture, changing behaviors. That is a lot more difficult sometimes than just, say, implementing new technology.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. I mean, this is a job position. The head of remote is a position that’s still influx. It’s very new, very newly created, everyone has their own spin on it, and people are still figuring out what are the major touchpoints that a head of remote needs to manage in the company. I assume that to a large extent you are designing your job. Is that fair to say?

Jason Morwick:

That’s fairly accurate. There was a job description when I came on board, but that continues to evolve. I know at Cactus, I report up through the CHRO, so the chief human resource officer. In some organizations, I’ve seen the head of remote report up to the COO, so it’s more of an operational role. In every organization, it might be slightly different. There might be a different flavor to that same role.

Luis Magalhaes:

For yourself as a head of remote, what are the pillars that you need to make sure you check? What do you feel that you are the person that’s responsible for?

Jason Morwick:

You mean what makes me a good fit or what’s in the job description?

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m saying as the head of remote of Cactus Communication, what are the things that you feel that are under your control that you need to figure out, that you need to make sure that they’re happening?

Jason Morwick:

I think there are a couple of pieces. Number one, it’s the overall organizational culture, because like I said, it’s a shift. It’s a mind shift for the culture of the organization to change their practices and behaviors. There’s an element of policy, of course, in that. When I first came on board, that was one of the first things that I had to do was draft new policies and get that through and approved and published. Then there’s also a piece around technology, because we can’t work remote unless we have the right tools and platforms in place. There’s a lot of reviewing what’s out there and getting that in place for employees to use.

Luis Magalhaes:

Got it, got it. Let’s talk a bit about policy. What policies do you think are make or break in remote work environment?

Jason Morwick:

Well, first and foremost, it’s who gets to work remote. In some organizations, not everybody gets to work remote. Our organization is a remote-first organization, which means it’s open to everyone. Everyone has the ability to work remotely. Even though we do have offices, we don’t force people to work remotely, but we also don’t require them to live near an office. There’s no requirement to come in a certain number of days per week or anything like that.

Jason Morwick:

Some organizations are not the same. They require their employees to show up into the office now a couple days a week. That’s all part of whatever your telework or remote work policy is going to be. Then you have to think about allowances or reimbursements. Are you going to reimburse people for anything such as expenses related to their home office set up, their internet connection, or in our case, for folks in India, we do reimburse for co-working spaces if they want to use a co-work space for the day.

Jason Morwick:

All these types of things have to be taken into consideration to think about what is allowable, what’s not. We also have certain circumstances where you have maybe interns or international citizens working in a country and what are they allowed to do by law or are they regulatory? Are they required to do something different than, say, citizens of that country? You get into all these complexities that have to be worked out.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. You mentioned that Cactus Communication is remote-first. Why that decision? Where did that decision to go remote-first come from?

Jason Morwick:

It came directly from the CEO, Abhishek Goel. About six months into the pandemic, I think he saw the writing on the wall and he decided to go all in and be a remote-first company. Now, prior to the pandemic, Cactus was a very office-centric culture. They had several offices around the globe. People came into the office. The biggest office was in Mumbai, India. It housed a couple hundred people and people came in five days a week.

Jason Morwick:

Now, when the pandemic hit, I think Abhishek realized that this was going to be a big tipping point for most organizations to transition to become more flexible, more remote. People were going to expect that. Now, coming out of the pandemic, what we’re seeing is that a lot of other organizations are requiring people to come back into the office. That’s good for us because we know that employees predominantly want a more flexible work environment and we offer that. It becomes part of our talent acquisition and talent retention policy to be able to keep people remote.

Luis Magalhaes:

You mentioned that you had some offices in India. In other countries, what other countries did you have office?

Jason Morwick:

China, Japan, Korea, the U.S., Denmark and the UK.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s already a big diversity even before you were remote, assuming obviously that those different notes talk to each other, which I’m sure they did. There’s already a bit of internationalization, international communications and relationships built in. Do you think that was a factor and advantage in making the company remote?

Jason Morwick:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Because even before the pandemic, because we had all these nodes as you call them around the globe, people interact with each other remotely anyways. If you were based in India and you were trying to reach somebody in Denmark, you weren’t going to see them face to face, you would have to do a Teams call or a Zoom call or something like that. Already, you were working with them virtually even though you were office-based. Because we have people already working across time zones, now we just make the transition one more step in just allowing people to untether themselves from the office.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s actually a globe spanning company. What do you feel are the biggest challenges and benefits as well? But we’re mostly here for the challenges of working across cultures, because the work culture in Eastern Europe, let’s say, is very different from the work culture in China. There’s a difference with your work culture, in India as well. Certainly, the U.S. is completely different. There’s a gradation, but definitely, certainly you have people from incredibly varied work culture. How does the overall company culture is infused by that and how do you juggle that?

Jason Morwick:

It’s definitely a challenge because we have certain cultures say, for example, that maybe more direct than others. We have certain parts of the organization, which may not manage across time zones as well as others, then you might see some friction there. The company culture is such that we try to ingrain our values into every new joiner that comes into the company. We spend a lot of time talking about our culture, what our values are and that sort of thing. Hopefully, that cuts across everything, but it still is a challenge, especially as we’re working remote, where people are trying to say, for example, communicate in real time and they’re expecting other people on the other side of the globe who maybe late evening, early morning their time to meet with them. Because the cultures in some areas are very accommodating, they will do that, but that does create some friction internally. Our job is to create awareness within the company about these sort of challenges to make it easier for employees to work together.

Luis Magalhaes:

Do you have any specific suggestions or any examples of things that you’ve done to increase that awareness? Also, perhaps it would be good to talk about that now, how do you onboard for those values because I assume these answers are related to one another?

Jason Morwick:

Well, let me take your second question first, which is about the values. Of course, we have an onboarding program like most organizations where they come in, they get an orientation, we teach them about our values. There’s actually a book that every employee or Cactusan as we call them gets prior to their arrival, which specifically outlines our values and gives some examples about that. We do spend a lot of time in the onboarding process talking about that and how we expect people to live those types of values.

Jason Morwick:

Now, we also do some cultural training as well to create that awareness. We’re continuing that process even now. We’re trying to expand that just to create even more awareness and cross pollinate these best practices as we come up with them. For example, just little things like setting your Teams status or putting something in your signature block with your normal work hours or days that you’re going to be out of office because of local country holidays. I mean, just little things like that can help clear up some potential conflicts where people may expect you to be online when you’re not planning to. We try different things and approaches just to make sure that people are aware of what’s going on all over the globe.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m actually a big fan, on Slack especially, I’m a huge fan of having your work hours next to your name, especially because I also think that people shouldn’t be available on Slack all the time. Part of your work, they should be spent with Slack plugged off so you can focus on what you need to do. That’s also a factor there.

Jason Morwick:

We’ve actually asked leaders to push down onto their teams certain cutoff times, unless it’s an escalation or an emergency, but we want people to shut down. We don’t want or expect people to work 24/7 because we know that leads to burnout and that does no one any good. It doesn’t do the employee any good. It doesn’t do us any good as an organization. We want people to be able to take some time off. We try to get leaders to enforce some of those quiet times and some of those times where people should be away and not working.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. For sure. You mentioned that part of your role was also figuring out the best tools for the job. I do want to talk about that as well, specifically about because I am a total tool and app nerd, especially my specialty is marketing. There’s this marketing website called AppSumo. I’m not an affiliate, so they’re getting free publicity here. But I see myself, I mean to me, that’s just what I call app porn.

Luis Magalhaes:

I open it up every day to see if there’s something new and I’m like, “I don’t really need any new tool,” but I just enjoy looking, seeing what else out there and thinking about how to use, et cetera, which is actually completely counter, I mean, sometimes we fail to follow our best advice. The advice that I always give to others is use your tools until they break. Once they break, look for a new one, but then I go to an app marketplace and see the latest and greatest marketing as in like, “Ah, I like that.” What is your process to A, identify tools that need changing and B, choosing the best tools to enable your team to work remotely?

Jason Morwick:

Well, we’re constantly trying to engage employees to find out what’s working, what’s not and what are their current challenges. For example, when I first came onboard, even though everybody had Teams and we did have a portion of the company using Slack as well, the one thing that I heard over and over again was the need for a whiteboard application. We went through a process where we looked at about 15 whiteboard apps that are out there and start comparing the functionality and start experimenting with a few to find out which one is going to work best for the organization. Then, we have to also prioritize that tool amongst other things because of course like every organization, we have a budget and there are so many tools out there, there are so many things that I would like to have, but then we have to prioritize what is the biggest need for the company right now.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. I also don’t know if you agree, but I’m a big fan of the, you need to eat your own dog food. I’m very low to select or advise to a team or to my team any tool that I’m not going to be using. For example, we have an SEO department, ultimately, I’m responsible for deciding the bills that we pay, so the tools that we use on the SEO department, but the reality is that I’m not going to use an SEO tool probably. I might have to look at one for the reports, et cetera, but it’s not going to be my daily usage. I’d much rather listen to the team and hear what do you prefer, and then see if that is budgetable if that fits my budget, of course. Let me make the question another way. When you’re managing your own team, your remote team, how do you prefer to manage? What does your virtual office look like?

Jason Morwick:

It’s interesting because we are trying to move more toward an asynchronous culture where everything’s not in real time, but my personality is I do like to talk to my team in real time. There’s a balance there of trying to schedule time with people just to make sure that I can catch up with them and create that personal connection with team members, as well as when you’re trying to get work done, how do you get that done asynchronously? For me, my team members are in India. I am based in the east coast of the United States, so I’m nine and a half hours difference. I have a short window where I can catch people in real time early in the morning my local time, but most of the time, I’m working asynchronously. It’s a lot through shared documents and other tools like that where we can collaborate offline.

Luis Magalhaes:

Got it. What do you feel you win when you do the synchronous stuff that you enjoy?

Jason Morwick:

The synchronous stuff is really about creating connections, building the team. It’s not always about getting a lot of work done perhaps, but it’s more about keeping that bond between various team members. We know this through research that remote teams tend to be a lot more task-focused and that’s actually not a good thing, because over time, teams that are too task-focused, they lose the bonds between the team members, that erodes the trust, the cohesion, and eventually affects team performance. When I’m working synchronously with folks, a lot of it is not just working through various activities or tasks, it’s about ensuring that I have that connection with somebody, I get to know them a little bit better.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m assuming it’s mostly a tool for team meetings and one on ones, would that be fair to say?

Jason Morwick:

Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m very interested by that concept because I mean, by no means, am I against video conversations. We’re having one now, but I do, back to my background on the internet, I do remember that I used to play World of Warcraft. There was no video chat back then. Even the audio chat was quite terrible. It was mostly text. I made some of my life’s biggest friendships doing that. On the other hand, I definitely see what I call the NPC phenomenon when working with remote teams. An NPC in a game like World of Warcraft is a character that is computer-controlled that’s just there to be transactional to give quests and give rewards and exchange there for successful completion of a quest.

Luis Magalhaes:

I do see that a lot of remote teams fall into the trap of the other person on the other end of the internet not feeling like a person, feeling like an NPC that’s just there to get your input and to give you something back. I’ve experienced it two ends of the pole. This is a personal question of mine, I don’t have an answer, but I want to figure out what’s the secret source in those games that’s why I’m studying a lot of game theory. What’s the secret source in those games to make the asynchronous or maybe synchronous, but still text based relationships work so well?

Luis Magalhaes:

I remember that back then, it was a treat if we would… I mean, to see what some of my teammates looked like, I would actually have to physically travel or they would give me a photo maybe to a messaging app or something like that. I want to know what’s your thoughts on synchronous text, because we assume automatically that if we’re doing it synchronous, we need to do it like we’re doing right now, on a Zoom window, everyone there. But how do you feel about everyone being interacting at the same time in a text chat?

Jason Morwick:

I think it can be effective depending on how it’s managed. I think there are different levels. You said, if you wanted to see what some of your fellow gamers look like, you would have to travel in person to actually see them back in the day. I think we’re doing that in the return to office and I think that’s effective. Even before the pandemic, I would recommend to remote teams that when you’re joining a new team or say a new project is getting kicked off, if you had the ability and the budget, you should meet face to face, because when you’re meeting face to face for the first time, that can help make the relationship that much easier down the road. If you don’t have that capability because of the pandemic, because of budget, whatever, then the next best thing is usually video.

Jason Morwick:

We know, again, through empirical research that video improves the quality of communication, because you can see someone, you can see the nonverbal cues and all that good stuff. Then if you can’t do video, then you move into these synchronous chats and things like you’re mentioning. Like I said, there’s different levels. Usually, most organizations want employees to create those bonds between the team members as fast as possible and make them as strong as possible, which is why you go to the end of the spectrum where you try to meet face to face if possible, and then keep going down the spectrum from there. But on, say, a day-to-day basis, then text works very effectively because if you want people to constantly communicate with each other, then that leaves that as one of your few tools that you can do on a daily basis for a remote team.

Luis Magalhaes:

For sure. For sure. I think that one of the interesting things in this interview, one of the things that people will get from this interview is really the idea of what it’s like to be the head of remote. Because again, like we talked at the beginning, it’s a newly minted position that many people are being interested in. You already said that you usually talk to your team at the beginning of the day because of the time zone situation, but I wonder if we could go a bit more exact. What does your typical day look like? What are your typical daily activities and expanding on that, what does a week look like?

Jason Morwick:

My day varies greatly. There is a portion of my day that is done asynchronously usually or sometimes synchronously, and it’s just operational support. Because I am the author of several of the policies within the company around remote working, that makes me the point of contact a lot of times for questions around, can I get reimbursed for this or can I do this? I want to live as a digital nomad and move from country to country. Is that allowable? I get these types of queries usually a couple day that I have to respond to. A small percentage of my day is what I would call operational support, just answering questions and doing things like that.

Jason Morwick:

I also do a lot of training. For new joiners that come into the organization, I have an opportunity to talk to them specifically about how remote works within the company, some best practices and tips to try to help them get up and running as soon as possible. I also review some technology. I may talk to a vendor, may look at a new app or tool, kind of check it out, play around with it, maybe I’m trying to get other teams to use it as well. Then there are other types of automation projects, where we’re just trying to streamline things or make them easier for remote workers.

Luis Magalhaes:

Got it. I want to pick on the digital nomad comment. I’m wondering now what answer would that person get and why? What does the digital nomad policy look like? How do you weigh digital nomads versus people who work remotely, but from home or from a co-working space?

Jason Morwick:

We have a policy that if you want to move about your home country, if you are hired in the United States or India or country in Europe, you can move anywhere within your home country and we don’t change your compensation if you move from the city to a rural area, or in the United States, we have big disparities between one state to another. We don’t change your compensation. You’re free to move within your home country.

Jason Morwick:

It gets a little bit trickier when you want to move out of country. That’s when we get into conversations about how long do you want to move for, because then there are visa requirements. There might be some employment laws that we have to research before we can give an okay on that move. We haven’t had anyone take us up on it permanently. We’ve had some people do some temporary things where they exit their home country for short duration, then come back to their home country and that’s fine, but we haven’t had anyone yet say, “I’m going to live my life as a complete nomad. I’m going to go across Europe, one country every month or something like that.” When that employee does come about and I believe it will eventually happen, we’ll have to go to our legal team and have to do some research just to make sure that we’re keeping the employee and the company safe.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s fair. It’s an interesting point of view. The other thing I wanted to ask is actually I want to be respectful of your time and I didn’t realize that the conversation had already went on for over half an hour, so apologies. I was just engaged. That’s good. That’s a good sign, I suppose. Let me you ask a rapid fire question. The question is rapid fire, but the answer doesn’t need to. Feel free to take as long as you like. If you were to buy something to the tune off, let’s say, $150 for everyone in your team, what would it be like? You need to buy in bulk. You can’t give cash, the cash equivalent like a gift card or ask them what they want.

Jason Morwick:

The number one thing that people ask me for are headsets, a good headset.

Luis Magalhaes:

What is for you a good headset.

Jason Morwick:

Oh, I don’t know. I don’t even use one, but…

Luis Magalhaes:

We’re both with no-

Jason Morwick:

It’s a-

Luis Magalhaes:

Talk about eating our own dog food.

Jason Morwick:

But you see, I am fortunate because I have a nice home office set up. My kids are older, so they’re usually out of the house during the day. It’s very quiet and I have that luxury, but most of the people that I work with, especially we have over 1,000 employees in India, for example, probably smaller homes and usually a lot of family members around. We like to have a good pair of noise canceling earphones for folks so that they can focus and make it a little bit easier for them.

Luis Magalhaes:

All right. What about yourself? What have you bought and doesn’t need to be $150, could be any value. What have you bought in the past year that has made a real difference on your productivity, work-life balance, or any metric that you’d care to measure?

Jason Morwick:

There are several things in my home office, probably all for about 150 bucks or less. The first thing that I bought was an attachment for my desk to make it a standing desk. A lot of times, I’ll alternate between sitting and standing and that has made a huge difference. I notice my posture is terrible when I’m hunkered over a laptop all day long. Sometimes, I’ll get up at the end of the day, my neck will be sore and my back will be sore, but having an attachment, which really cost me about $80 or $90 to make my desk into a standing mode, that has helped me greatly. I also had a second monitor and I bought that second hand, but having a second monitor hooked into your laptop so you have two screens is a fantastic boost to my productivity and I bought a detachable keyboard and a separate mic. That has helped me as well.

Luis Magalhaes:

Nice. I’m definitely a believer of all of the above, especially the second monitor. By now, the podcast listeners are tired of hearing me harp about the second monitor, but the reality is that I didn’t believe it until I almost accidentally got one because I got a new gaming monitor for my gaming PC. Then I had the old monitor and I was like, “Well, what shall I do with this? I might as well try this second monitor thing.” Now, I cannot imagine working for prolonged periods of time without the second monitor. It’s definitely game changing so that is awesome advice. I think I’ll never tired of hearing guests repeat it because it definitely is a game changer. It definitely is a game changer. The other things that you mentioned, how do you feel about treadmill working since you’re down the rabbit hole of working standing?

Jason Morwick:

I’ve seen them, but I haven’t tried it myself. I don’t know if I could recommend it. Personally, I don’t know if I could be on a treadmill and keep my focus. The last thing one wants to hear on a conference call is me out of breath.

Luis Magalhaes:

See, I find it very good. I try to take, this is an advice that I’ve gotten from podcast guests over the years, and I’m trying to apply it more, going out on walking meetings if I can get good connection. For meetings, that’s actually very good, but I’m with you. I don’t think I can focus on work while I’m walking.

Jason Morwick:

What I recommend to people is instead of investing in the treadmill is just to take frequent breaks during the day. If you’re working from home, it’s good to get up, walk around, walk outside, get some level of exercise no matter how brief. The one benefit when we we’re all working in the office in between meetings, you would have to get up, leave the conference room, perhaps walk up a flight of stairs to your next meeting or something like that. At least, you are walking around from place to place throughout the day and you’re getting some steps in.

Jason Morwick:

When we’re working from home, it’s common that you can go three, four, five hours without ever even standing up. You’re just sitting behind your computer. I always recommend just even if you have to build it into your calendar to remind yourself, get up, walk around, stretch a little bit, get outside. That’ll make you more productive too throughout the day.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s actually fantastic advice. The thing about healthy habits is that you need to make them easy. I remember one time I was working in an office, but there was right to the side, literally next door, there was a gym and the owner made the protocol with my company that the employees would have free access to the gym and I was never fitter in my entire life because I was next to a gym that I could use unlimited. Absolutely, remind yourself because you need to be reminded and make it easy, for sure.

Luis Magalhaes:

I want to devote the final part of the podcast of conversation to talk a bit about books because you are a three-time co-author. That makes sense. I also want to talk about books that are not yours, but I guess I’ll start by asking, in these three books, Making Telework Work, Workshift, and Remote Leadership, how did your thoughts about remote work evolve over the course of writing them and what was something that you expected and maybe even new to be true when you wrote Making Telework Work that for remote leadership you’ve pivoted on?

Jason Morwick:

The one theme that I have not pivoted on is that when I co-wrote Making Telework Work back in 2009, the secret sauce to make telework work was simple. It was leadership, the leader stepping forward and taking control of their team regardless whether it’s hybrid remote or all in person. I think the fundamentals of leadership never changed regardless of the environment. That theme has stayed true since I wrote the first book 2009, all the way up to the most recent one in 2021.

Jason Morwick:

I think some things that have changed are really just the technology, the amount of people that are now working remotely versus what it was before. We used to be in the minority if we were remote workers. Now, I think in many cases, it’s the majority of folks. That is the piece that has changed. The technology’s gotten a lot better and made it a lot easier, but I think remote leadership still holds true to that very first thought that I had back in 2009, about what makes remote or telework work.

Luis Magalhaes:

How can the leaders of today do their best to contribute to the future of work, to make remote work work? I mean, obviously, you wrote entire books about this, so I’m not asking for the whole thing, but what’s the elevator pitch, let’s say?

Jason Morwick:

A couple of simple things. When I say there’s a couple of leadership principles that never change, and number one is set the example. If you are going to lead a remote team, even if you have access to the office, you should at least occasionally work remotely so you can understand better what your own team members are going through. That’ll at least give you some more empathy.

Jason Morwick:

Number two, the other leadership principal is always look out for your team members. The way you can do that is by really getting to know them. Very often because of proximity bias, we tend to communicate more frequently and better with those that are physically around us. If you’re leading a hybrid team, especially you want to make sure that you include your remote team members, you want to make sure that you get to know them, that you build the connection with them so that they feel truly as members of the team.

Luis Magalhaes:

That’s great advice. I do want to tell the listeners, I should have said this earlier, but just a small disclaimer that we’re going to have your books up in the show notes, the Amazon links to all your books in the show notes and also to your author website if you have one. I’ll ask for it later, but this conversation does not in any way, shape, or form replace the books. This is not a cliff notes conversation. I actually make it a point whenever I have an author or co-author on a podcast to not go over the material in the books in any degree of specificity, because I think that, A, that’s impossible, you can’t cover in a 45-minute podcast a book, much less three and you just get a lot more bang for your buck and especially for your time by having a book that you can refer back to and read on and et cetera.

Luis Magalhaes:

Again, just that warning for the people that aren’t up to speed, I hope that you take a lot of value from this interview with Jason. I did, but definitely you will take even added value in lots of different things from the book. Check them out. They will be on the show notes. But now, I do want to ask you, Jason, apart from your books, what books do you usually give out?

Jason Morwick:

There’s a book recently that was given to me that I have given out now, it’s called Killing Bad Meetings.

Luis Magalhaes:

I like the name. I like the title.

Jason Morwick:

Exactly. By Kevan and Alan Hall. I thought that was a great book because I’m trying to do that with Cactus right now is getting people not to be so meeting-centric and work more asynchronously. Why do we need so many meetings to get things done? That book was very helpful. I also like Cal Newport’s Deep Work because that is almost along the same lines, where it’s talking about arranging your day and your time so that you’re focused on the things that really matter, the things that are going to pay off in the long run and not get sidetracked with all the distractions and the trivial stuff that tends to suck away your time.

Luis Magalhaes:

Absolutely. I am a huge lover of Deep Work. In fact, that’s part of why I pushed to have the, hey, let’s have a not be on Slack time. Let’s make the little green light not on by default. Those are great suggestions. Thank you so much.

Luis Magalhaes:

The final question that I have for you has a bit of a longer setup, so please bear with me. But let’s say that we’re in a time and place where it’s absolutely fine for everyone to get together for a big dinner. Now, you are hosting such a dinner and the topic of discussion for the evening is remote work and the future of work. What’s more, in attendance, there will be the top executives and the decision makers for tech companies from all around the world. The twist is that the dinner happens at the Chinese restaurant. As the host, you get to pick what message goes inside the fortune cookie. What is your fortune cookie message for the evening?

Jason Morwick:

My initial gut reaction is to say, trust your teams and trust your employees and let them work where they can do their best.

Luis Magalhaes:

Trust your teams and trust your employees and let them work where they can work their best. That sounds great. That sounds like a great message to close off the show. But we’re not going to close off the show right now because I do want to ask you, I do want you to tell the listeners where can they find you to continue the conversation and where can they learn more about Cactus Communications and your books and your work?

Jason Morwick:

Sure. You can learn more about Cactus Communications at cactusglobal.com. You can reach me either at LinkedIn. I think I’m the only Jason Morwick on LinkedIn so I’m easy to find or at [email protected]

Luis Magalhaes:

All right. Do you have any website where you aggregate the books for those interested in learning more about them and getting them?

Jason Morwick:

Yes. You can go to remoteleadershipbook.com.

Luis Magalhaes:

All right. That’s fantastic. I’ll include all of that on the show notes. Jason, it was a pleasure having this conversation with you. Thank you so much for being a guest.

Jason Morwick:

Again, thank you for having me.

Luis Magalhaes:

It was my pleasure and it was also my pleasure to have you here, dear listeners. Thank you so much for listening to the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis Magalhaes:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. 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.

Luis Magalhaes:

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 and 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 produce the conversations in text form.

Luis Magalhaes:

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. To help you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. With that, I bid you adios. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

A few years ago, when remote work was still called “telecommuting,” the role of Head of Remote work was considered unnecessary. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, remote work became a need. And companies started needing remote work experts to help them transition in the best way possible.

During this podcast episode, Jason Morwick shares how the role of Head of Remote has become fundamental. Not only to provide companies with the best technology to shift from an onsite to a remote work environment but also to build a strong culture where employees feel valued and engaged.

Highlights:

  • How COVID has made remote work more empathetic 
  • Insights about his Head of Remote role 
  • What pillars should all organizations look out for when transitioning to a remote work setting
  • What policies are key for companies to have in remote work environments? 
  • Challenges and benefits of having a culturally diverse company
  • How to balance asynchronous with synchronous communication 

Book Recommendations:

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up every Monday!

 

Are you our next superstar remote developer?

You live, breathe and eat code, and have fun figuring out how to solve problems. And you love living in South America or Eastern Europe. But you don’t feel as fulfilled as your friends in North America.

I NEED A JOB