Designing Your Remote Work Team’s Experience, with Monica Kang

Monica Kang is the founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, the author of the book, Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work, and the host of two podcasts, Dear Workplace and Curious Monica. She is an internationally recognized expert in workplace creativity who facilitates cultural transformation, leadership, development, and team building in a fun, actionable, and relatable way.

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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 Magalhaes. And today my guest is Monica Kang. Monica is the founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, the author of the book, Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work, and the host of two podcasts, Dear Workplace, and Curious Monica. She is an internationally recognized expert in workplace creativity who facilitates cultural transformation, leadership, development, and team building in a way that is fun, actionable and relatable.

Luis Magalhaes:

She’s also, just by looking at their LinkedIn profile before the show, a kind of a serial founder, because I see that you have a lot of things going on, Monica. Isn’t that right?

Monica Kang:

Just a few things. Life is more interesting.

Luis Magalhaes:

It definitely looks like that. Welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure having you.

Monica Kang:

Thank you for having me.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. So, why don’t we start just by talking about your relationship with remote work. Specifically, how has remote work impacted your career and how has it helped you, if at all, progress your career into this very unique career path that you’ve taken?

Monica Kang:

Thank you for having me. I love this question in many layers because I feel professionally, because of the different jobs and the work experience I had, I got to experience of different kinds. Different kinds, as in what it was like to when you’re an employee and have … Just even getting that sick day and working remotely, it’s like, oh no, are you actually going to be working if you work from home? That takes various, from the moment of what it felt like to start working now on my business full-time. At home next to my bed, putting a desk and saying like that’s my workstation, as well as growing my team now that works fully remotely, and now serving clients remotely during the pandemic and needing to readjust everything.

Monica Kang:

I will say, number one, is that I feel because of that diverse experience of how remote experience has been from first being curious about, is this even gonna work, even for me? Because I’m an extrovert, I love people, the joy, regardless of how stressful and fun it is at work. Just seeing around people versus suddenly feeling like your work at home is a very different feeling for those who have never done it when you do it the first time, and I think that feeling is something that we should never underestimate, how it takes time of adjusting. Then two, how important accountability is when you work alone at home, or at your workspace and what it’s like when you guide your teams when you can’t see. When you ask that question, how it has influenced, I think what really came to my mind in my reflection to that question is, there’s really no one way.

Monica Kang:

I think, how can leaders be more mindful that, hey, just because I might be more comfortable now with remote or I’m not comfortable, it doesn’t mean my team members feel that way, and regardless of how I feel as an individual, how do I constantly remember the different experience I felt about remote and design my work experience, not only for our company, but for also our team and clients? Noting that everyone is experiencing differently and there are both challenges and opportunities to that. Of course, that being said, thinking about the future, remote is here to stay, so absolutely important that we built this skillset now and forever.

Luis Magalhaes:

Okay. There is a couple of trends that I want to pull at there. Obviously you wrote the book, or a book anyway, but on creativity. I was expecting this very creative approach about designing, design the remote work experience. Can you give me a few examples? What does it mean for you to have designed your remote work experience and what does it mean to design your employees work experience? For the listeners, we’ll get you the book in a minute, I haven’t forgotten the book, but I like to … This is a non-linear podcast, right? It’s a bit like Magnolia or some starts off nonlinear movie. Let’s pick at this tread and see where it takes us.

Monica Kang:

No, I love that you brought that up as well, because again, part of the reason why I think as being, foremost, a leader, just another person, but also somebody who’s devoted to creativity, innovation, and culture, and people development, the philosophy of rethink creativity and the learning that I’ve got to be reminded was, when you see yourself as a designer, and I’m not talking about graphic designers, I’m not talking about artist designers, I mean, leaders, you’re listening. You’re the architect of your company. You design your workflows, you guide how your people probably would feel. You’re designing the way how the experience is done.

Monica Kang:

You’re designing the way how work deadlines are set. When we see ourselves more as a designer, we quickly realized that, every single thing that we do, we don’t do, and what we say, and we don’t say is actually impacting how our employees feel and express and want to do and feel accountable. When you ask that question, how are we creatively thinking about the design of the workplace experience remotely? My number one start actually is that mindset framework, that like, how do I see myself as a designer? And really thinking about, hey, let me do this project.

Monica Kang:

Let’s say a workshop. Workshop is let’s say a typical products and services that we provide. I want to make sure I learn as much information so that way, when I get a chance to now work with my colleague, Sam or Sarah, I design it in the way that, hey, I know Sam tends to like writing style, Sarah likes to talk in video. So, how do I design the workflow so that way we incorporate both communication styles and our client who actually wants written reports so that way we create that? Then how do I design the accountability flow as clear as possible so that way they get to chime in and co-design?

Monica Kang:

But again, I’m designing the clear foundational structure as clear as possible to empower them, but also making it clear that we are creating this and systemizing this to empower them for them to speak a voice. That’s very important and something that I want to help celebrate, because work is part of life. If we don’t feel like that we are constantly in the opportunity to help design how other people’s experience can be on something simple as a workshop, or even joining a podcast, then it plays such a huge role.

Monica Kang:

I mean, honestly, folks who are listening, they probably have been in many meetings, how it feels so different when you show up to a meeting, whether online or in person, how it feels different when somebody feels you prepared you, or feel like they provide a clear, that they know how you can step in and step out. To your question of, how am I designing part of the framing, is actually really in that mindset and setting intentional practice of foundational and really taking the time to ask, do I really know my colleagues strength and preference? Do I really know my client’s strength and preference, and be proactively designing instead of taking a cookie cutter approach.

Monica Kang:

That’s where honestly, a lot of the creative freedom comes, that’s where a lot of the autonomy comes, and that’s where a lot of flexibility of like, ooh, Monica, I have a question. Can I raise that? Can I bring up this new idea? It becomes easier to bring that up because they know where they can step in and step out. Again, when you design it with that intention, you are empowering them and have that ownership and stakeholder.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Okay. I have a follow-up question because you talked about people with different styles of communication, and I’m wondering, how do you design around people having radically different styles of communication? For example, there’s people, for example, in my case, I absolutely hate doing Zoom meetings, right? I love recording podcasts, having a one-on-one conversation with someone. I don’t consider a one-on-one conversation a meeting, but if there are three or four people involved, I much rather have a back and forth in chat. Just because I have a dear love for efficiency, and I think Zoom is super inefficient once you put more than two people in. Because realistically, only one person can be talking at the time. Whereas in the chat, everyone can be typing at their own pace, and it’s asynchronous and it’s much better.

Luis Magalhaes:

When a company that’s not mine, I try to play by the rules that are agreeable to most, but on the company on a company that I built, for example, I founded the company called Think Remote, and I believe that in the whole … The company is almost half a year old now. We’re on our six month, I believe. I think that we’ve had one, we have had one video meeting with the team on those six months. We’re all writers and we love writing, so we do everything on chat. That’s how I worked for the longest time. Before remote work even had a name, I mostly worked with texts, so I’m completely allergic to Zoom calls.

Luis Magalhaes:

Now, you contrast that with some people where I work at other places, where they actually … They’re not even good at typing. They don’t enjoy typing because they don’t really feel that they’re good at expressing themselves in written form. It’s not like they want to be annoying to people and to waste people’s time. It’s just that they feel the medium they best communicate is through audio and video. When you have people where the communication styles clash so much, how do you design around that?

Monica Kang:

Such an excellent point, and thank you for willing to share your personal insight and journey on that. And first, congratulations on the milestones of your company. The first one or two years is so crucial, so congratulations on that, and celebrating these important conversations. I know leaders who are also tuning in, they’re probably thinking about those, because the next question we often get worried about is realizing that how vastly different the way we lead is when we’re at the very early stage of just having one or two team members, and three or four, to suddenly 10 to 20 team members, and even like 50 to 100, and then the next thousands.

Monica Kang:

I say that to actually answer your question, because as you can see quickly, how you would honor those different work styles only complicates more with team members, but you obviously want to grow, so over time, you will be growing more team members with different styles, with different preferences, and so the curiosity is, how can I ensure that we are gradually heading to a more … Setting norms that could permit and empower as many, and are there certain things that we look out for traits that empower within our work style that we look out for?

Monica Kang:

Maybe one of the things, if we are feeling, hey, we know because of maybe the type of work we do, we hire a lot of flexibility, so it might be that certain times, might like to work in the morning, might like to work at night. But the flexibility piece is that, flexibility mindset is that, hey, because that person works at night and that person works in the morning, if you don’t hear back from that person, don’t give that person a hard time that person’s not working yet, that person’s going to work at night. And being aware of that.

Monica Kang:

Those are two different skillsets that you’ve already hinted, which is having strong self-awareness of like, and being able to express that, but too, also realizing that, just because I have a preference in how I like to work, doesn’t mean my team members who have a different preference is right or wrong. It’s just objectively some people like chicken and some people prefer orange. Some people don’t like it and I’m going to go vegan, and we don’t find fault in that. It’s really important to, first recognize that it is absolutely a journey, it is not black and white.

Monica Kang:

I really appreciate you highlighting that. And two, as folks are listening, is that it’s a process. A few segments I want to build on that to kind of give an insight. One of the things, I work with a lot of executives along culture, people development, is that even though our intention of celebrating diversity and different work styles, we do race as a leader, how far can we think about all the individuals and how do we make sure that team members realize that we’re doing our best, but we might not have every 100% feel like they can always be in their way?

Monica Kang:

This is where the beauty of the system could actually be of an empowerment. What I mean by that, you want to break this down. One, first as a leader, when you’re listening and thinking about this, is having that self-awareness of like, okay, what is actually the style that works for me? And Luis, you kind of shared it, which I loved is that I don’t enjoy because of so-and-so, which is really important. We want to have clarity in why we feel something is not workable for us. I hear you, as extrovert as I am, I love product being productive.

Monica Kang:

I do enjoy a lot of the chats and do try to figure out how do we do more with less meetings. That’s having strong self-awareness, which is key. The second thing is-

Luis Magalhaes:

Can I add something to your point? If I may interject, I also don’t actually see it as an introvert versus extrovert thing.

Monica Kang:

Oh, it’s not.

Luis Magalhaes:

I think that for an extrovert, it must also be very tiring having to be quiet while they wait for the turn, each person, and let’s say in five people, while they wait for four other people to talk in turn, which is what needs to happen in Zoom. I think that it’s actually must be very tiring for an extrovert to stand that.

Monica Kang:

This is where I might surprise you and say, not necessarily. Depends on how the meeting’s designed. This is the reason why, with the first word choice I emphasized in the earlier of our conversation is how important it is, as leaders, we see ourselves as designers. You’re absolutely right, Luis. It’s not about just being introvert or extrovert. It’s not about like, I like chats and videos. Honestly, when you’re probably tired, you are not going to like the chat system. You’re going to be like, I am so tired of typing out. I just need a break, and we’re going to then just like talk it out.

Monica Kang:

It’s because we’re people. We fluctuate through different things. This is where seeing one, yourself as a designer that is ever evolving and changing. And two, probably more seeing really as a facilitator. This is why your creative mindset and as a leadership mindset is key because a facilitator means like, hey, I know that we have, let’s only an hour and we got to go through these things, let’s say in that video call, even thinking about that, it’s less about each person goes around and says, how do I design this? In a way, everyone gets to share, but it doesn’t feel like everyone is just waiting and they have to say something. That’s in the design. That’s in how you facilitate the conversation.

Monica Kang:

That’s in how you facilitate the workflow, not just one project, the whole company and the whole system, which is where the culture and team development is evolved over time, and especially remotely, which is so key, when so much of things are missing translation. The reason why folks are still appreciating the video conversations, and even in our conversation here, I know folks are only listening, but we get a chance to see each other on video, which I do appreciate, is that there’s a little bit of extra human touch.

Monica Kang:

While there are some aspects that remote brings, there are some part of the visual aspect that remote could still celebrate beyond just the chat. Part of the question is how do we design it for those flexibility and insight? Again, that self-awareness, breaking things down, being curious. Honestly, probably being realistic, what can we do and what can we not do? And how do we take one step at a time? Maybe Luis, as you said, hey, we might not be able to do … We don’t want to do as many video called meetings, but these are the times where you can openly discuss about it. This is the system of how we set it up.

Monica Kang:

These are ways that if you feel the chat is getting overwhelming and not working for you, how you can express, because the number one thing, especially as early stage entrepreneurs and early founders of any project, both intrapreneurs, internal leaders, and entrepreneurs who build their own company is, the accidental mistake we often make is, how much of it are we designing for our preference, but not our team? Yeah, chat might work well for us, and we’re seeing the result, but do we actually know if this works well for the team? I hope, in a way, what I shared with you, as a reminder, that it’s not just a cookie cutter one-step answer, but it’s really breaking things down and realizing that it’s a process.

Monica Kang:

But the key is when we take the time to do that with care, we not only make our team members feel heard, but realize they’re actually the co-designer and they feel ownership in how they want to participate. You might be surprised, Luis. It might be that you still don’t have to do Zoom calls, but for other team members, if they want to, they might internally, and that’s something that they can choose to do as an option.

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh yeah, that’s absolutely the thought, is never to forbid anyone from working the way that they work better. But I guess that’s same place as mine. One thing that I really enjoy doing, and I feel is really productive to your point, is to set, what I call a team agreement, right? A team agreement, where, and I always do … A team agreement is basically a document where you explain, in rough lines, how the team is supposed to work. What tools they use, what are the processes, the protocols, whom should they go to, to find about something or something other. I usually codify this in an open document so everyone can edit.

Luis Magalhaes:

Because I do think that you’re you’re right that, that’s a great point, that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to build something that’s perfect for you if it doesn’t work for anyone else. That’s just a recipe for having an unproductive team. The initial document was definitely attuned to my personal days, because well, I was the one who made it, but then over time, and giving people the freedom to edit it and to put suggestions, at some point I then stop maintaining it just because it was a bit too much of extra work. But at some point, I put it on GitHub as an open source document, and to see … It was interesting to see people fork it and add their own things and remove some things and etc.

Monica Kang:

What I love about those moments, and thank you for sharing that as well, which is, when we’re going through that phase, the next question leaders often wonder is like, okay, well, how much of that do I feel like, I’m just like the documents going so far off, and I’m like, oh no, where’s it heading? This is why value and mission statement is so key. Again, not something that you just put on your website that looks pretty and nice and has pretty pictures, but really living it right. That’s where it gives clarity and foundation for the team members to know, hey, I want to share this suggestion.

Monica Kang:

Because looking at our value, if we’re thinking about how we celebrate remote work, can we take a moment, seeing how the past two years radically shifted how we think about remote even further, can we consider this? Because the way we work is now changing even further. Can we bring that up? It feels easier for all stakeholders to bring it up because the foundation of the values and missions are clear, and so for founders and entrepreneurs who’s listening, who’s like, how do we get to that stage? How do I still feel like, even though the document’s out of my hand, that we’re still all on this together as a co-designer and not feel like I have no idea where it’s heading?

Monica Kang:

Build and have clarity in that values and mission. It’s not just about like having a meeting that says, ladies and gentlemen, this is our mission and value, but really living and breathing it. For instance, for our team, diversity is something that’s really important. I specify this, that it’s diverse voices and really thinking about the inclusive development. How I think about bringing that up is that, when we do projects, I usually follow up with all the team members who was working on that project and says, hey, couple of questions. We’re going to do a reflection blog on this. I want you to tell me what your thoughts were.

Monica Kang:

Then I take all their insights to create a blog, but really celebrating their voices, because I want them to feel like you worked on this, you should speak about it. There’s a lot of work, to be honest, like I need to make sure I keep track of it, where’s the voices? Where are the emails? It’s so empowering also, not just for me, but for the team members, and they often shared that. Even if it’s like a few extra minutes to write this, they always walk away and they get to see their quotes on a website and feel that, hey, I can publicly say I worked on that and feel proud about it.

Monica Kang:

There’s so many wins that you can create. So, it’s not just about simply hiring diverse talent, it’s not simply about how you do diverse things. It’s creating win opportunities of permitting all different ways that things could be done, and that’s where the creativity is. Creativity and innovation is not just about doing a big, innovative project that’s going to get million billions of dollars of usages. It’s about how you design things differently.

Monica Kang:

Think about these questions differently and realize, geez, I’m going to walk away from Monica’s and Luis’ conversation and think about, what’s one thing I want to do differently in how I empower my team. What’s maybe one design, and as a facilitator, I want to do differently. That’s the framing, I hope, folks feel empowered.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I’m constantly trying to remind people on this show about how they can really expand their concept of diversity. Because especially with remote work, I do believe it’s one of the strengths of remote work. Let’s look at the two of us. The reality is that I don’t know your life story. I just met you today. We are, at least physically, we are reasonably different, but the reality is that there’s probably more in common between us than between either of us and someone that we hire in, let’s say Ethiopia or the Philippines. They could look like us, they could physically look like me or physically look like you. And yet, there would still be more in common between the two of us.

Luis Magalhaes:

Just because of our shared culture, right? Again, I’m guessing. I’m guessing. But I’m assuming just because that’s the case, that we probably shared a decent amount of TV shows, cultural things, books growing up. We work in a similar niche. We’re both entrepreneurial mind and etc. Someone that I hire for my team in Mumbai, India, even though they might look even exactly like me, the odds are they don’t, but they could, there’s probably that diversity of culture, of thought, of way of thinking that’s really hard to reach when you’re hiring in your immediate environments, or even your country.

Monica Kang:

Absolutely. And even for me, I have the whole team, this is a reason why, when you asked that first question about remote work and how that influence me is, I’m so grateful that as, an entrepreneur, that I was scrappy, and still scrappy as … It was honestly a small humble company size that our team, the only way we can grow was to be remote. None of us are actually in the same city or country. I mean, we have six different countries, different time zones. Any project that we work requires at least checking at least four or five different time zones.

Monica Kang:

When we schedule things, we just do a Google document scheduling because it’s like, we forget who’s in what time zone, because it’s hard to clash that. Noting that some people, it’s going to be 3:00 AM while for others, it’s like 3:00 PM. Being humbly reminded of that, that remote does give that expanded capacity and talent reach, but also designing again, designing and facilitating, how am I being mindful thinking about the different time zones and how am I designing in a way that I am not perceiving what I see online to be the end of the story?

Monica Kang:

This is so crucial because often, when we designed the work or lead things online and work together that, going back to your references of finding that commonality, we might be surprised. That commonality, sometimes it could be valued, just like what we spoke about how being both entrepreneurs. For others, it might be the shared personal preference. It might be actually been food for others. It might be the work style, but the key is, as leader is, as you’re working remotely, it is so crucial that you look out for that Vader.

Monica Kang:

What’s something that I can connect with this team member? What’s something that I can connect and collaborate with this client? And empower them because that’s where the way you’ll find some bridge to meet somewhere that you both understand, but also find the ease and comfort to step back and say, Hey, now that we know each other a little bit more, let’s talk about what we can do differently and improve. When that bridge of trust is not built and not intentionally done online, then it’s a lot harder, and so, so important to celebrate, but also be even more curious.

Luis Magalhaes:

Well, at the end of the day, it all it goes down to where you fall on the pineapple and pizza debate, right?

Monica Kang:

Oh, I don’t know that expression, what does that mean?

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh, well, then let me enlighten you. Some people believe that it’s a sin and a blight on humanity to put fruit on your pizza.

Monica Kang:

Why? It’s called pineapple pizza.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I am one of those people.

Monica Kang:

Is it Americans

Luis Magalhaes:

I am one of those people. So, if you put pineapple on your pizza, I guess this interview is over. I just can’t sit. We just can’t talk anymore. That’s not acceptable.

Monica Kang:

We’re recording this live. Ladies and gentlemen, if you start seeing the interrupt, now you know why.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, exactly. Why would you even put something sweet on top of cheese.

Monica Kang:

Why not?

Luis Magalhaes:

This makes no sense.

Monica Kang:

Why not? Well, this goes back to again, the preference. We’re probably doing projects, leading certain ways, communicating certain things in the way that we think like, how in the world is that possible? Why would they not do it this way? But for them, it might be like, well, why not? How can we? It is so, so important, especially when we lead online, because that conversation touchpoint is probably … The few meetings or the few chats that you have, how do you communicate with good intention? How do you assume kindness and how do you defer judgment?

Monica Kang:

Because at times, there will be moments of like, why do they want to have that call? Why can’t they just talk about it on chat? There’s probably another reason why, so how do we open that up as leader, deepen our self-awareness and realize, hey, this is a way I like to do it. Let’s hear about why that pineapple is important for that person.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Let’s talk a bit about creativity, because that is the subject of your book. Again, it’s called Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work. I want to put up the usual disclaimer that I always do, that listening to this podcast is not in any way substitute for buying the book, and there’s no way that in a 45 minute, or even one hour interview, we can go through all the contents of a book. So, don’t think that you’re getting the cliff notes and you don’t need to read the book.

Luis Magalhaes:

Anyway, just my interviewing style doesn’t fit into covering all the aspects in a book. I do recommend you go and pick it up. I did. It’s a quick read. It’s a beautiful book. You put you, or for someone else working under you, put some real effort into the pagination, into the formatting thing of the book, so it’s a very breezy read, and it’s full of interesting content. I do want to bring it back to creativity and remote work. Because there’s this trend that I … It’s always been present, but now post COVID, it’s coming back with the vengeance, that some people really want to get their employees back into the office.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m surprisingly okay with that. We’ve just talked about different opinions, different ways of doing things. Even though I’m the host of a remote work show and create remote-only companies, and do remote hiring, I should be all about remote, and I’m actually not. I’m here to tell you that I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a business to decide that the way they work is with everyone in the office. Now, what I resent is that they come with, instead of saying it outright that this is how they prefer, they come up with stupid excuses.

Luis Magalhaes:

While I believe to be a stupid excuse, feel free to challenge me on this, is that you need to get people together in the same space to be creative. Now, I don’t want to straw man this argument, I actually want to ask you, is there any reality to this? Is there any reason? Because my experience is the opposite. I am more creative when I have time to think, to ponder, to be alone. Usually, most of my creativity happens during a walk, not while I’m at my computer, but I’m I’m open that it might be different for other people. So, I’m asking you, is there any truth to what these people are saying when they’re calling their employees back to the office under the guise of, we need everyone to be together, to be creative?

Monica Kang:

Such an important question and something that I have been asked quite a bit as we are continuing the remote time longer. Honestly, a lot of companies have had to make the decision of, hey, if we go a hundred percent remote, how are we doing things that we used to do in person, such as the innovation, the incubation, the in-person interaction, the post-it note experiences? It does look a bit different. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. I’m glad you like the creative visuals. Those were actually PaperCut work. I actually just do briefly comment on that. I did that. Then I asked my inner layout designer to put some creative notes, so that way people felt creative as they’re going through the journey.

Monica Kang:

If I can do a quick plugin on top of that, I wanted to make it even more creative. We actually just released a second edition today. So, it’ll be a few days later when they hear it and pull even more creative illustration. That’s a whole other illustrator that I got, as well as now audio books, so they can listen. But I share that because even in that process, what I was being reminded is I, myself too, as I shared earlier, I love keeping things as, do more with less.

Monica Kang:

How do we do this with as less meetings? How do we do this in a way that we honor as everyone do the deep thinking work, deep ideation work? I’m humbly being reminded that that deep innovation work for some people means we got to talk about it. We got to talk about it, we got to be in the room together. Because we couldn’t do that, of course, in person, it was something that we had to think about, how do we do this as much online? I think what I’m excited about, honestly, about the pandemic, as difficult as these past two year has been, it really pushed all industries to really reframe, what does that online creative collaboration look like when you really can only do this online?

Monica Kang:

I don’t think we would have ever thought it was as possible unless it was this time, because if it’s not workable, but it was like, let’s just have a coffee chat and meet in person at least. People would have defaulted to that because that’s what we’re used to. To humbly be reminded, give you a perspective, I mean, think about, even for instance, the other traditional creative industries, such as fashion. I was just chatting with another retail executive of mine and just sharing about how Monica, we usually do from the printing, the illustration to the fashion shows, like the design, putting it on the models, that all has to be in person.

Monica Kang:

You can’t do that online. It doesn’t make any sense. We had to really reinvent what we can do online and what we can do in person. I just want to put that on the premise to answer that question, because I, again, about all the nuances. Now, again, the good news is there are parts that we can do online. And I think part of the framing that’s really, really important is that it’s never either or. It’s always yes and. It’s always yes. In-person, there’s going to be some components that is going to be so much easier, post-it’s flying in and out. There’s no lagging computer tech era when you move this post-it to another.

Monica Kang:

You can see the reactions. You’re like, oh, I see Luis frowning. Oh, I see Sarah like smiling. What does that mean? We can catch those a lot faster in person. And that doesn’t mean that doing that online is lost. The way I want to encourage leaders to reframe rather is, hey, let’s first start with question one, which is, what’s your comfort level right now as a person about what it means to create and innovate? Question two then is, what does it mean for you to innovate and creatively collaborate as a team? Because perhaps the picture we have and what we think about it is actually the thing that’s limiting us from exploring what it could look like online, as well as translating some of the things that we used to do in person to online.

Monica Kang:

For instance, for me, I used to do a very interactive workshop in person, and I cannot imagine how it could be done online. Now, because of the pandemic, I had to be challenged myself in how I had to redesign everything that I used to do in person online. It’s been a humble reminder. I’ve only downloaded Zoom, honestly, during the remote pandemic period and I had to really relearn the tricks. As somebody who had to relearn myself, I am excited that the truth is there is a way to find it, but we need to find clarity in that first, what’s my comfort?

Monica Kang:

What is the picture that perhaps have? What do I feel like I cannot do? And what’s the existing tools? To give you a quick example, let’s say some of the barriers folks often feel is like, hey, well, Monica, honestly, to answer those questions in-person, I feel like I can tap on Luis’ shoulder and say, hey, like I have a question here. I can chat. It’s easier to be in multi-zone experience. I feel like I’m not as creatively inspired looking at a screen. So then I ask leaders, when you share that, let’s break that down a little bit more.

Monica Kang:

How do we feel visually inspired? Is it the images? Is it the music? Is it that you have to do like an interactive physical activity? Then, as a facilitator and as the meeting host, as the ideation lead, you want to design that component. Let’s say, one prompt I like to often say is like, hey folks, for this first prompt, to do some icebreaking in digital whiteboard, I want you to stand up, look around your room and find one random object that makes you solve this differently, or it makes you smile. Completely something random.

Monica Kang:

Now they got to stand up and like literally walk around. Then in the process, they’re thinking about it. Then when they get to share, it’s something so much more than just like, this is my idea, and putting it on the chat. That’s how you can design again, and facilitate the opportunity to innovate an articulate that interactiveness. Then, of course, you want to celebrate the different tools. I mean, we’re also using a digital tool to do this podcast across the different countries and time zones, and same thing when you have your different team members who joined the call for the ideation session.

Monica Kang:

Make it clear, of course, what you want to get out of that meeting and how you want to collaborate. But again, that’s where you build in the flexibility and the structure such as like, hey, let’s use these digital whiteboard tool such as Nero, Mural. Hey, let’s use these like team networking. We also just released it, for instance, like an online game that people can use just for ideation on their own. Creating and having all these different tools empower the stakeholders, but again, it starts first with having clarity.

Monica Kang:

What does that creative collaboration look like for me? Why do I feel it’s a barrier online? And what would I need to see happening that it feels to me that we can do it? And how do I find the tools? Then it’s easier to make those decision. For some, it’s still going to be like, I still feel like this last component, I cannot do this unless in person. Then think of hybrid. Hybrid, remote, it’s both here to stay. But I hope that thinking process is really, really crucial.

Luis Magalhaes:

I think that a lot of people do confuse, or maybe confused is not the right word, but most people definitely mix the needs to build report and to create the connection with people with the being creative and brainstorming. I think that we can actually separate the two. I’m actually all for being in a physical location with the people whom you work with, that I don’t think you need to do that every day or even every week. But I do think that there’s a massive benefit for our fully remote companies.

Luis Magalhaes:

I don’t know if this has happened with your company, with your business yet, but if at some point in time, let’s say once or twice a year, you can get everyone for a day or two together, that pays massive, massive dividends, but then the creative work can very easily be done outside. I think that what happens is that people, even when they work in physical locations, they tend to be so isolated that when they get together to collaborate and be creative, they get the two energies at the same time, so they start building rapports.

Luis Magalhaes:

Obviously, if you have rapports with, with the people you’re working with, you interact better with them, and that leads to better ideas, to more creative ideas. But you don’t necessarily have to attach the two at the hip. Again, I do see creativity as something that doesn’t need the two people to spark. Sure, there’s such a thing as shooting ideas back and forth, but that can very easily be done online. You don’t really need to be … I mean, you’ve talked about watching the person’s expression and touching them on the shoulder with a question, and this and that.

Luis Magalhaes:

But again, I think that falls into, oh, this is a real human being. I like this person or I don’t like this person so much. I feel comfortable around them, etc. I think that all can happen if you gather your team a couple of times per year, and maybe not even necessarily doing work. For me, when I met with my team, it has always been a mix of work, but also the traveling together, getting to know each other, etc. That’s super fun, but it doesn’t have to be either or. It can be a mix or it can just be a single thing.

Luis Magalhaes:

But I do think that’s what you get from being together is not necessarily creativity, but it does improve creativity.

Monica Kang:

This is the reason why having more discussions and conversations about this is so crucial, at least what you’ve just highlighted again, is how everyone experiences this so differently. You shared about how it comes for you, but like, hey, I feel like … I don’t necessarily have to meet somebody in person to feel creative. I’m pretty comfortable doing the deep work by myself. I’m pretty comfortable … I love being able to see my team members, but I don’t need it to necessarily fuel new insights. I’m going to probably say yes, and for some people, that is the way they are inspired. That is the way that fuels them. That is the way that they’re motivated.

Monica Kang:

And when they recognize that and not have that anymore, and if your folks who probably used to do that as the only way that fuel then creativity, this is a very difficult time because they don’t have that. This is the reason why, actually not just creativity but connectivity. Some people, I think I’ve been pretty surprised myself, as even an extrovert, and we used to travel every week, I’ve honestly, surprising or not, I’ve only been in three car rides the entire two years. Have not gone to the airport, which is shocking for somebody at the travel level.

Monica Kang:

That was because I realized I’m pretty comfortable living alone as well as being with people. Because I think I’ve worked and lived alone for so long in my life professionally, living in three, four different countries. I’ve gotten comfortable, and now I’m really grateful that … But that’s not the case. Even my friends, again, this is nothing about just simply extrovert, introvert. I’m just sharing as one framing reference. But even my friends who are even more introvert, compared to me, said that they’re just going … I need to talk with somebody that’s like not on Zoom.

Monica Kang:

I realized, for me, actually, I wasn’t feeling to that degree yet because I was having so much social engagement on screen that I felt craved enough. And it was a reminder that, oh, how can I constantly defer my own judgment, that just because I’m comfortable in feeling connected online doesn’t mean that other people feel the same way and being humbly reminded of that. To your question again, on that creativity, yes, it might be that for me, maybe I’m okay being creative on my own, I’m okay being creative online, but it might not be the same for my team members. The key as a leader, and especially when we lead remotely again, how do we constantly have that self-awareness of, what’s something that we know we want, but what’s something that my teams are expressing and hinting that they want?

Monica Kang:

And designing a way, even if your team is 100% remote, designing a way and facilitate the workflow in the system that celebrates all those different voices and ways of working together. So, when you even do those occasionally in-person retreats, again, even if it’s just not about work, even if it is about work, that is not the only time that folks could. Some ways, as an example in how you do that, could be that, hey, for folks who’s maybe in a similar city, maybe there’s like a stipend, or permit them, hey, like do your monthly get together.

Monica Kang:

They get a chance to at least check in, like hang out. They might not be doing product innovation while they’re having dinner, but when we feel more comfort, when we feel more trust, and when we feel like I can just talk about this to Luis and he’s not going to judge me, that I’m going to probably feel more comfortable, even in that chat conversation to bring it up because he’s got my back. That’s such a key thing that again, if we think about the people we trust in life, it’s not something that’s built overnight. It’s built over time, it’s built over continued trust building and relationship.

Monica Kang:

That’s why all of this, both in-person, offline, but again, even if your team is 100% remote, possible to do by intentionally designing that. That’s the part I was sharing. Again, a humble reminder, this is why the seat of the leader is so extra courageous, a lot of humility, a lot of intentional work, and strong self-awareness that takes in part of being more creative as a leader, actually requires from that first step is like, how much are you really comfortable knowing about who you are and how you step in? Lots of nuggets and hopefully questions to reflect upon.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah, I know that time is running short. We’ve been at this for almost an hour now, so I want to be respectful of your time. I do have a few more general questions. I know you’re not a fan of those because your ethos is to follow every voice and figure out what works for each person. But I’m going to ask you anyway about, let’s say that you need to buy something in bulk to give to everyone who works with you, everyone in your business. You can’t give them gift cards or any money, or money equivalent.

Luis Magalhaes:

This one’s, even though he might dislike it, you need to make a purchasing choice for everyone. Could be an experience, app, jewel, whatever. Up to let’s say $100, what would you get for everyone working with you? I really sincerely hope it’s not pineapple pizza.

Monica Kang:

You said I can’t do gift cards.

Luis Magalhaes:

No. But that’s just cheap.

Monica Kang:

$100 is really low though. You can barely get even a couple of books with $100.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Sure, feel free to bump it to 200. That’s not the important –

Monica Kang:

Part of the creative activity. I ask because I think it depends on the budget. If it’s only like $100, I would think about, what’s something consistently that all team members often request? Is it that they often say, hey, I’m not having enough play time, I’m not having enough books to read, I’m not having enough good food. Then I would translate that into something common, but still with flexibility, which is like, even if I buy them books that I purchased, then it’s different books that I thought about per person, and then I’ll send them the dollar amount of hundred. Or if it’s a subscription, then I will think about, what are a couple of subscriptions that everyone kept bringing up, and then we can like give access to everyone so that way they get to use that as for learning tool.

Monica Kang:

But if I have a couple more zeros and it’s like a couple thousand dollars more, I would probably allocate that so that we get to spend time together in person for maybe a week, or maybe just treat ourselves, do a full vacation package, and be able to come together so that they, not only get a chance to really just enjoy being together. I’ll probably design a retreat for our team, work together and have fun, but creating experiences with it. Maybe you go to amusement parks and play too.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Well, you could give them an Audible subscription, then they’ll be able to listen to your book, among others, among –

Monica Kang:

That too, I guess.

Luis Magalhaes:

Something like that. Audible is not the sponsor, by the way, but if they want it to be, I’m open.

Monica Kang:

Always ready for it.

Luis Magalhaes:

Exactly, always ready for it. What about yourself? What purchase have you made in the past year or so that has improved the way you work or your work-life balance if you prefer?

Monica Kang:

Treating myself.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah.

Monica Kang:

I say treating myself because I think a couple ways, as an entrepreneur and as a bootstrapping entrepreneur, we’re very mindful of budgets. You think about every single dollar of like where it’s being invested in, how is the impact being made. Honestly, I think I’m guilty as well that it means then my preference of what I might want goes last, of like, even in that flight seat, or even in that food, I would want to … I want something nice, but I’m going to probably look at the budget, and say as like, maybe I’ll just save that couple dollars more so I can like pay my people and invest this in my team.

Monica Kang:

I was glad that, actually I reverted a lot of our travel budget to expand some of our work internally and create a production and creating now music, podcast, storytelling children’s book, but also really investing in like creative illustration and storytelling. For me, that was like a treat. We got to do a lot of things that I would have never felt like we could do until later on. So, that was great. Then I also just treated myself to just buying more books. I love reading and I love children’s book, which is why I’m so excited to be a children’s book author as well.

Monica Kang:

Every time I had a win, I would just go to the digital library and treated myself to a children’s book in the past that I felt I didn’t buy, because it is non-business related. It really feels like a treat and I get to indulge in myself. Actually, I get a lot of business ideas looking at it.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I’m a fan of philosophy and I guess you could say personal development books. I buy them all the time, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve actually discovered that the best lessons you get from fiction books. It’s something else to read some of the great works of fiction and figure out, both … And from different cultures as well. One book that I’ve read something like five or six years ago, and I felt where … I’ve asked myself, where was this book on my life? This answers so many questions was Musashi, by a Japanese author. I will not mention because I would do a disservice in pronouncing his name. But it really left a mark on me. then I started paying more attention to fiction.

Luis Magalhaes:

I see that there’s a lot you can learn about business and about life by reading fiction. When I was in my 20s, I definitely kind of looked down on fiction books and just bought stuff to improve myself, business, philosophy, personal development, etc. I think I would have been better off … Well, not better served, because I’ve read a lot of good books, don’t get me wrong, these books are important, but I could have definitely benefited from reading more fiction.

Monica Kang:

Absolutely. This is reason why I am so proud, now I celebrate watching like TV shows, K-drama, movie, animation, anime, because while you’re tuning out, and it feels like maybe you feel checked out and you’re just feeling lazy, you’re actually indulging yourself in storytelling. Again, it’s how you consume and celebrate these moments that there’s a lot of creative storytelling that I’m being reminded. I’m reminded of how important it is to empathize and really relate to people and know that, that’s the picture.

Monica Kang:

That person looks like the bad guy, but it turns out there’s a story of how it came across that way and being reminded of, how do I always be reminded of deferring judgment for myself? How do I be kinder to others, but also to myself in that?

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Most people don’t wake up with the ambition to be the bad guy, to do something … I am really going to-

Monica Kang:

good story on that.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m really going to ruin someone’s day today. That’s what’s going to … No. Most people have pretty solid reasons for doing what they do. Just sometimes that ends up in disaster for other people. That definitely is interesting concept to explore. I would also say, regarding treating yourself, what I found out personally, and I’ve come to this realization not a long time ago, is that, while I’m a fan of keeping your lifestyle in accordance with your last salary, not your current salary, it’s definitely a problem when people upgrade their lifestyle as soon as they get to raise, because then we get used to that. Then, if life gets in the way, as it often does, we see that we ran out of cash quite fast and aren’t able to maintain our lifestyle.

Luis Magalhaes:

I’m a fan of keeping a minimal lifestyle, but at the same time, I’ve come to realize that, if I’m in a job, if I get the raise, if I get like a 5X raise, if I’m making five times or 10 times or 20 times more money than I was, let’s say three years ago, that’s probably not by accident. I’m probably working more. Or even in terms of hours, I’m working the same time, that’s probably going to be, I’m probably putting more of myself, more of my energy into that work. You should plan for covering that cost.

Luis Magalhaes:

The reality is that, if you’re having a bigger salary, you probably also should have bigger expenses in taking care of yourself, whether that’s traveling or going to a spa or seeing a therapist, or something like that, you do have to account for that cost, because no matter how good you are, that cost will be there. If you’re making more money, chances are you’re also investing more energy and being more, how do you say it? Being more drained.

Monica Kang:

To add to that, I want to just really build on that to say, treating yourself does not have to be expensive. The key is that you A, recognize what are other ways that you like to be treated? Why is that making you feel treated? How is it accessible? What is perhaps financial versus like maybe time costs? I mean, it’s different costs, maybe it’s the energy. For me, sometimes it’s just like binge-watching on shows for a few hours and I just need to decompress because I had a very serious conversation for 10 hours.

Monica Kang:

When you do culture and people development, this is kind of the norm I speak every day, and so I need a little break and be human and just watch cheesy TV shows and not think about something for a little bit. Checking yourself, as folks are listening, if you’re feeling like, wait, I don’t have the money, I don’t feel like I can treat myself yet, I hope you give yourself a bit of pat on the back and realize, it’s not just about financial con gratification. It’s about designing. Again, This is why the word that I share from the very beginning keep coming up, seeing yourself as the designer. You are the protagonist in your life, and you are permitting your team members to design that life internally, and so really, really important.

Monica Kang:

This is part of the reason why I wanted to republish, even Rethink Creativity, and really create all these tools to make creative thinking, as you asked about creativity in the workplace, really accessible, and reframing what it means to even treat ourselves.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Talking to me about books a little bit, apart from your own book, which I’m sure you’ve given out a lot, what are the books that you’ve most gifted to people?

Monica Kang:

It depends, but might not be surprised, it is connected to visual story. Little Prince is one of my ultimate favorites. So, I often buy this for myself, but gift it to others. This is a fine that I found during the pandemic, and it is so beautiful. It’s called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. It’s like visuals in quotes. It is very powerful. Every time you open a page, there’s a lot of powerful insights. For instance, like here’s one, I think everyone is just trying to get homes at the mall.

Luis Magalhaes:

I love that kind of book.

Monica Kang:

There are so many layers and it gives empowerment. How to Make Great Art by Neil Gaiman is another book that I often gift, which talks about the power of reminding ourselves we are all artists in our life, but we’re all just being artists in different ways, and how it feels at times society limit us, and what we feel, and giving people the liberty and freedom. This is a whole other series. Sometimes I buy a few. It’s called the, What You Do Matters. There’s three parts of it, what you do with a problem, what you do with an idea, what you do with a chance. It’s actually for children’s book, but it’s so well done.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I mean, the listeners can’t see the covers, but you showed the cover, and that did not give me children’s book vibes. It was just the most beautifully designed painterly cover.

Monica Kang:

These are powerful because these are frameworks that we forget. We are so busy probably doing things again, and we’re not taking a step back to say, hey, how am I actually doing with the ideas? Folks who are probably listening, there are some ideas that you’ve been sitting for a while and it’s like, I’ll get back to it and we haven’t circled back in maybe perhaps years.

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. I’m a fan of children’s books myself. This is actually something that I do when I travel. I always try to buy a children’s book when I travel for two reasons. First, usually, you can learn something about the culture of the place where you traveled to by seeing the stories that they tell their children. And secondly, if you want to have a shot at picking up the language, that’s a pretty good thing to have a children’s book, because chances are the language isn’t going to be very complex in the book. Those are two things that I love about children’ books. The Little Prince actually, thank you so much for bringing that up. That is a beautiful book that I have carried with me for many, many, may years.

Luis Magalhaes:

I actually parted with it a couple of years ago when I moved and I gave much of my library away to my old college, so that I parted with it recently. Yeah, thank you so much. I want to finish off with a more creative question that you might enjoy replying. Let’s say that you are having a dinner. You are hosting a dinner, and in attendance, are going to be the decision makers at the top tech companies from all around the world. People in leadership positions, people that have the power to design other people’s experiences as you’ve been referring to through this podcast.

Luis Magalhaes:

During the dinner, there’s going to be a Roundtable about remote work. In fact, the whole topic of discussion for the night is the future of work. My little twist on this is that, the dinner happens in a Chinese restaurant because I do love some Chinese cuisine, and I’m a fan of fortune cookies. As the host, you get to write the message that goes inside the fortune cookie, that this people are going to open up. So, what is the message?

Monica Kang:

How can we design a workplace for all?

Luis Magalhaes:

Okay. That’s a good short message. That was quick. Did you know the question was coming?

Monica Kang:

No, but that’s a question I often always think about. I say that because, for all means different things for every person, for all, that’s … For some, it’s going to be thinking about, how do we design this remotely? For all, might be thinking about different types of work style. For all, might be different generations. For all, might be different types of work type. How do we connect and make a workplace inclusive for those who work in the factory, as well as who works in this office setting? That’s very different decision-making, and so how do we do that? If I get to choose a second one, I would say like, how do we normalize happy workplace creative culture?

Luis Magalhaes:

Oh yeah. That’s also a great one. Yeah. Well, the time flew by. This was a lot of fun. I think that we could go for another hour, but alas, we do have to get back.

Monica Kang:

we have to come back.

Luis Magalhaes:

Exactly. But it was an absolute pleasure having you. Now, I do want you to tell people, how can they get back to you? Continue the conversation, where can they find out all about how you can help them unleash their creativity? Of course, where can they find the new edition of your book?

Monica Kang:

No, absolutely. Thank you for having me. This was such a joy, and I really hope folks have found meaningful insights. Again, I hope I challenged you and new questions. That’s the key. If you walk away feeling like that was just a nice chat, then we didn’t push you enough. So, we hope that we pushed you in framing new things. Love connecting with new folks, please reach out. You can find me on LinkedIn at Monica H. Kang, K-A-N-G, or of course, buy my book, Rethink Creativity. For those who are listening podcasts and want to hear another podcast, certainly find us on our show, Dear Workplace or Curious Monica, where we cover workplace trends and challenges as well.

Monica Kang:

Please visit our site for some other free resources. If you feel like, hey, I want to be able to dabble on some of these creativity, go to innovatorsbox.com/free. Also, our game that I mentioned, it is free as well to make it accessible for all, so that way you can use it for your team building. It’s game.innovatorsbox.com. If you can’t find some of it, let me know. Lastly, for music, if you enjoy some beats, we have our music at InnovatorsBox Studios. So, if you find that in any music streaming platform, you can find us as well. We’re all around a few corners, so find us where you like to go.

Luis Magalhaes:

I love that you’re doing music. So fun, so cool. That’s so cool.

Monica Kang:

We wanted to creatively challenge, that if culture, and people, and leadership is really important, how do we talk about this beyond the four walls of a workshop?

Luis Magalhaes:

Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much, Monica. It was an absolute pleasure having you as a guest. I totally enjoyed the conversation.

Monica Kang:

Thank you for having me.

Luis Magalhaes:

And I hope you enjoy that as well, dear listeners. This was the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams, with your hosts, Luis Magalhaes, and my guest today was Monica Kang, the founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, and author of Rethink Creativity: How to Innovate, Inspire, and Thrive at Work. You’ll see all the links to her stuff, company, podcasts, etc, in the show notes, and see you next week.

Luis Magalhaes:

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 will 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 have 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 Magalhaes:

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. 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.

 

More ways to listen:

Designing a remote work experience involves knowing your employees’ strengths and preferences and building a workflow that encourages everyone to give their best.

Monica Kang believes that all leaders have an important role in designing their team’s remote work experience. Not only based on their personal preferences but also on how each member of the team works best. During this podcast episode, she also reveals how businesses can boost creativity and innovation in a remote work environment.

Highlights:

  • How leaders can design their company’s remote work experience
  • How to create workflows with people that have different working styles?
  • Why processes should be designed considering the way teams work and cooperate
  • Why leaders should breathe and live for the company missions and values
  • What is diversity in a remote environment?
  • How to encourage creativity and innovation in a remote environment?

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!