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Encouraging Feedback Meetings in Virtual Teams with Michael Gutman

Michael Gutman is a marketing and business strategist focused on creating a better world. He’s an advocate for remote work and sustainability and works at the Remote Work Institute, where he helps organizations seize the opportunities of remote work and overcome its challenges.

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Mike Gutman

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host, Luis, in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. Today, my guest is Mike Gutman. Mike is a marketing and business strategist focused on creating a better world. He’s an advocate for remote work and sustainability and works at the Remote Work Institute, where he helps organizations seize the opportunities of remote work and overcome its challenges. Mike is also an instructor and he has a very popular remote work course.

Mike Gutman:

That’s true.

Luis:

Mike, welcome to the show. Pleasure having you.

Mike Gutman:

Thanks, Luis. Thanks for having me.

Luis:

Yeah. Before we kick off, tell me if I missed something about your introduction. Tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself. What do you do? Of course I’m sure they’ll be interested in checking out your course. Let them know what it offers and where they can find it, and then we can recap that at the end as well.

Mike Gutman:

You got it. Yes, you listed whatever I have at the top of my LinkedIn profile, but like most people, we are a tapestry of experiences and roles that we’ve had over the course of our career. So yes, I do remote work consulting. My traditional, I would say, career path, let me to online marketing, where previously I was the marketing and partnerships director at an organization called FlexJobs, helping to connect people and organizations to the value of flexible and remote work.

Mike Gutman:

From there, I worked and partnered with LinkedIn, where I was commissioned to teach remote courses on how to find and excel in remote jobs, how to create remote work policy, and then of course as an advocate, we couldn’t have predicted the global pandemic of which we are in, but it has really accelerated the adoption of remote work and organizations are now trying to figure out how to best organize themselves, support their staff and all the different stakeholders, and I’ve been helping organizations figure that out. So I am many things all at once, but certainly trying to make the world a better place, and I think remote work is one of those things that can help to do that.

Luis:

I absolutely agree. That was actually my priority in getting into remote work. I did it originally as a way to help people with physical disabilities, so I can definitely relate to that, but I guess let’s talk about the pink or green, or whatever color coronavirus is, elephant in the room, elephant-sized virus. Let’s start there.

Luis:

Obviously 2020 has been a very special year, and for not the greatest reasons, but it did allow remote work to shine in a way that it hadn’t previously shined before. Even though I’ve been in the remote space for years now, I saw my assumptions challenged in the last six months, let’s say. So I want to throw that ball to you. What has the current situation made you change your mind about? What did you believe about remote working we’re doing before the pandemic that now you think differently?

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I think many of the remote work advocates can glorify remote work as a one size fits all tool that is this magic bullet to cure many of the things that employees in organizations struggle with, but what I think now that people have been thrust into it, we’re starting to see what the ugly sides of remote work actually are. I think illuminating those things is a great thing, because it just means that there’s an opportunity to get better and better and better, and I can list out what some of those things are. For those of you listening right now, raise your hand if you’ve ever felt Zoom fatigue, where you’re just on all of these Zoom meetings and you are just-

Luis:

I’m raising my hand.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. Luis is raising his hand. I think everybody probably is. Where you have meeting after meeting after meeting. It’s easy to stack those in and you’re exhausted afterwards.

Luis:

Yes.

Mike Gutman:

This has been a recurring problem, but I think many people are experiencing it, is the ability to turn work off after you get done, because you are constantly available. When you don’t have a separation, a physical separation from work and home, you’re not coming back to the comfort of your home, you’re still in the office. How we define the spaces that we live and work in and separating those two are important. If you can’t compartmentalize that throughout your day, it becomes difficult and, again, exhausting. So I think some of these things are becoming more and more apparent in organizations, and there are very tactical strategies that you can do to help with some of these issues.

Mike Gutman:

Then you get into some of the fun, ugly stuff with remote work, like raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a Zoom call with a collared shirt on top and then shorts or sweatpants down below. Or maybe somebody has put yourself on mute and gone to the bathroom during a Zoom call in a meeting. Those are all very real experiences that you have when you collide your workspace with your living space.

Luis:

For sure. For sure. It depends a lot, it varies a lot person by person. For example, the workspace thing, it’s very subjective. I have my own workspace desk dedicate to screens, et cetera, printer, documents set up in my living room because I don’t really have the ability to have a separate office room, but I have it behind the couch and I can make that mental separation, that behind couch, work, in front of couch, living room arrangements, right? TV, et cetera, et cetera, but even if it’s this tiny, invisible barrier, it’s still important to have it. I wonder what setups do you use, what setups you advise to people? Some people found themselves stuck in the present situation in single-room flats. That’s definitely not the ideal, but people can still do stuff, right?

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I think this is one of the things that I would give some advice to managers or leaders in this space, is that understanding that everybody’s needs are different, everybody’s living situations are different. If you’re living in, I’ll say San Francisco or New York, for example, here in the US, those are very expensive cities, and oftentimes to make it affordable, you have to have roommates. These shared living spaces are not private and aren’t necessarily conducive to productivity, so you have people essentially locking themselves in their own personal bedroom to get work done.

Mike Gutman:

Then you have to ask the question how do you support your employees and understand all of their different working situations so that they can be productive and healthy, really, and safe? The first and foremost, find a happy position to be working in. Right now, for those of you listening, I’m standing up. This just feels good for me throughout the day. I recommend just taking a break and standing up, regardless of what your situation is. Put an alarm clock or something in your calendar to signal you to do that. Moving around is super important for me and it energizes me and gets me out of that funk and drag throughout the day.

Mike Gutman:

I’m somebody who likes to be mobile, so I will take my laptop and I will set up in various spaces throughout my house… I live in a home with four people total in it, so we’re constantly trying to juggle where our meetings are taking place, the formalities versus casual meeting can be taken in less or more private spaces. So we’re constantly moving around trying to make sure that we’re being respectful of other people’s space when you have got four people under the same roof remote working. So that’s another issue that I think needs to be taken into account, and just communicating that with the people you live with is super important, setting boundaries, discussing schedules before the day starts.

Mike Gutman:

Then I think from a productivity standpoint, I’ve got some nice headphones. I’m currently using the Arctis Series 7, I think SteelSeries 7, which are actually gaming headphones-

Luis:

That’s nice.

Mike Gutman:

… that are noise-canceling from the microphone, so you’re not hearing a bunch of… if I’ve got somebody else in the other room listening to music or anything like that.

Luis:

I keep telling that to people. Almost no one follows that advice, but I keep telling that to people. Work headsets always suck. Gaming headsets, those are the ones you want to get.

Mike Gutman:

Oh yeah. Oh yeah, and then when hopefully this pandemic is over, I can go back to working in coworking spaces and coffee shops and it’ll drown out all the background noise when I’m having a meeting.

Luis:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. You a gamer?

Mike Gutman:

I’ve grew up with the OG Nintendo, so I’ve been… and the huge cinder block-sized Game Boy, so I would say that I’ve been gaming since back then, but I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time online gaming. I do play a lot of board games, though.

Luis:

Oh, awesome. Awesome. Actually, in my company I’m not the big board game fan, but we have a lot in DistantJob, and we’ve found that that’s actually one of the ways that we can bond the best through the internet, is just playing board games through Zoom. I mean, some board games have digital versions and it’s more and more common now, and actually a lot of the people just. It’s a lot of fun to play board games. But I asked because I’ve found that’s actually my first remote work experience, is… Well, I started working remotely like 10 years ago or even more, like 15 years ago, just managing an editorial room.

Luis:

That’s the the with writers. When you write on the internet, and I was first a deputy editor and then an editor in chief of a games website, and obviously it was a games website so there was no money for offices and everyone worked from home, so I got my taste of remote work early on, but then when I started getting into online gaming, I started coordinating people in World of Warcraft. I’ve talked about this a bunch of times. It really stuck to me, that there was a different dynamic in exciting people about stuff and doing… because World of Warcraft MMO, a lot of hours doing a lot of repetitive tasks and often failing and failing and failing against a boss until you eventually succeeded, it was kind of a grind and it was unpaid, so getting that team spirit up was a real thing that you needed to get.

Luis:

So the reason I asked is why do you feel that so many people… I mean, I was looking at the latest report from Global Workplace Analytics, I’m sure you’ve heard of them, and it is reported that although productivity seems to be doing fine, a lot of people report disengagement, report that the teams aren’t really… they feel less cohese, people feel less in touch. Granted, part of that is understandable because we were all shoved into remote work. Well, I wasn’t, but most people were shoved into remote work without any proper preparation, but how do you think people can best react to this? How can we get the World of Warcraft spirit into our daily work life, do you think?

Mike Gutman:

Well, I don’t know that you can in that sense, however, I think it comes down to being intentional, right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Mike Gutman:

When we are in an office together… I am an extrovert by nature, and so if you and I, Luis, are having a conversation and people are around us, they can hear and they can engage if they’re an introvert, and they can get swooped up without having to be proactive, for example, into the culture, into a conversation. When we’re all working in our isolated homes together, how do you build some intention with how you get those types of informal experiences when we’re all talking together? It’s difficult. Companies try to have coffee breaks where they invite people into a Zoom meeting together, or you might try to have a happy hour. It just feels different. There’s something about a collective energy of humans being in the same room where you can literally feel somebody else’s energy.

Mike Gutman:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked into a room and it’s felt really, really awkward or exciting. Those triggers are different when we’re all on a Zoom call. I think it comes down to being very intentional. You can set up games and self-select the people who want to play a game. I’ve certainly hosted Trivia Night happy hours for teams before and that’s been a really fun way, but I think every team is unique and different, and you have to find out what’s going to engage you and what you want to do, but what I think the hard part now is that people have heightened anxiety with all of this global pandemic stuff going on, so I think the natural tendency is to retreat into your own space that is the most comfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone when there’s already a foundation of heightened anxiety is just that much more difficult.

Mike Gutman:

I would recommend teams just have this conversation together, like, “Hey, who’s feeling unengaged because there’s so much other stuff going on in the world that we feel like we have to take care of? Is there something that we think we could do together to make this a happier, healthier place for us?” And that’s the start of a conversation to figure out what those things that you can do to build culture and build engagement look like.

Luis:

I’m actually super impressed that we, people as a whole, have done so well considering the situation and that most people, most white collar workers, find themselves in right now. I’m surprised the loss of productivity wasn’t major, because no one was really ready for remote work. Maybe actually remote work is easier than everyone thought. Who knew? Who knew?

Mike Gutman:

Well, I would say that-

Luis:

Definitely. Yeah. Please go on.

Mike Gutman:

… most people want the flexibility.

Luis:

Yeah.

Mike Gutman:

If we’re going back to Global Workplace Analytics, they reported that 80% of people want to have, be able to work remotely or have the work flexibility in their lives, and so I think when this happened, the people who wanted it and didn’t have it were probably saying, “Well, hey. This is working out pretty well,” especially there were circumstances where people might have kids at home, they might be taking care of an aging parent, they might have some sort of health issue. Being able to create and dictate the spaces that you work best in is an important piece of creating an environment of trust and accountability, I think people, because they were looking for this type of flexibility, they want to outperform to show their teams and managers that they can do it well.

Mike Gutman:

I think probably some of those initial productivity gains where people were trying to prove that the model works, again, there’s fatigue that happens after doing this for a long time and you’re dealing with now more homeschool children and parents having to deal with many of the logistics that come with that. We might not be seeing the gains we initially saw with productivity, but I think inherently people want to work in a way that works best for them. This is giving them the door to walk through.

Luis:

Absolutely, and my point is that it’s working better than I thought, right? Aren’t you finding that?

Mike Gutman:

I think it depends.

Luis:

People have a lot of worries on their mind, yeah. It’s suboptimal for everyone, but that said, just the connections, the industry connections that I have, for example in the video game industry, a lot of people were worried that they weren’t going to do their goal dates, that the games wouldn’t come out on time, et cetera, and actually most are doing great.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. From the just output standpoint, I think we’re doing pretty well. From a, I think learning and development, mental health, all these other things that you need to invest in in order to make this sustainable, I think there’s gains to be made there and a lot of learning opportunities to be made there. I think that when you are working in a multigenerational workforce where you’ve got maybe four generations working on the same team, the idea of how working plays out can be much different, and so I think everybody had a different relationship to this new way of working, and trying to figure out some sort of common ground is really important.

Luis:

Yeah. I like to think I love learning. I like to think I love learning. I have a master’s degree. It was very enjoyable doing it. I think I did quite well. I have never been able to finish an online course. I don’t mean free ones. I mean I put money on the line and I have just never been able to go through one of them to the end, no matter how excited I am at the start. What is wrong with me?

Mike Gutman:

Probably more than we can cover in this podcast, Luis. You know?

Mike Gutman:

Nothing’s wrong with you. We all learn differently, and from an educator standpoint, I think it’s on the owner of the teacher to identify the different learning styles of the students. Now, when you have a prerecorded course, that interaction between you and the teacher doesn’t exist, so you don’t get that constant feedback loop, you don’t get to evolve your teaching style based on the different personalities and learning styles of your class. I would ask you, were the courses that you were taking prerecorded? Were there teachers engaging with you on a one-on-one level? Were there office hours where you could visit the teacher, give feedback about the way you were learning and how you thought the course could be better? Tell me about your experience.

Luis:

I’ve had several. Like I said, I attempted several. Definitely prerecorded are the ones that excite me less, but usually they were forum-like platforms where you are mostly left to… the teacher gives you prompts on how to interact with the other students, right?

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. Discussion board.

Luis:

Yeah, exactly. Discussion board kind of thing. There have been, on a couple of occasions, there were open rooms where you could have Q&As with the teachers, but rarely, pretty rarely.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I would say you’re not alone in that sense. I also think that for me, I can be interested in something and want to take a course just to learn, but it’s much more probable that I will complete a course if I am actually applying the material as I’m doing it. I’ll give you an example. I’m currently working on a documentary right now, and I wanted to invest in my skills in Premiere Pro and get better. I took a course and soaked all of it up because I could apply it immediately to the post-production process. For me, that’s much more engaging.

Mike Gutman:

So if people are looking to advance their skills and are having trouble following through to completion learning all of the information, I would say pick courses that you can apply immediately, because I think you’ll be much more engaged in the course and want to finish through it, but when you’re just trying to build general skills to put on your resume that you’re not using right now, some of that stuff doesn’t apply and then you get disengaged because it’s boring.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. In my case, I certainly have tried to go into courses that are relevant for the stuff that I do, but I definitely see your point, and the ability to do it right now, that’s definitely something to be interested in. That’s actually the case with people working from home. If there was a time for most of us to learn how to work from home better, now is it. Now’s the time. Now’s the time where you can apply that.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. And if you could pick your curriculum, you could have an online course and say, “80% of this maybe applies to me. 20% I know this already or it’s too basic,” which happens in the classroom. Imagine a world where we could pick all the curriculum that fills all of our learning gaps, and we get to pick and choose everything that we’re engaged in. Think about how much more efficient your dollars and time are going to be into your learning experience.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s absolutely true. Let’s talk a bit about this more from a company perspective. From a business perspective, most of the people listening are managers or leaders. They’re mostly interested in improving their leadership skillset, but also in this particular situation, in how to better prepare their employees for… how to make them better at working remote. Of course that includes mental health, et cetera, and what is a good way right now for companies and businesses and leaders to help their teams grow?

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I think one of the just most basic foundations with I think remote work, but any work, is just asking your team where they’re struggling. I think making any type of assumptions is not the great place to start. I think you start by acknowledging what you don’t know, and that’s how you start to turn over stones, get information about where you think you need to customize your training by just asking your team, “How can I best support you? What do you need?” Because now on any Zoom call, you’re being invited into somebody’s home. Everybody’s home situation’s going to be different, therefore everybody’s needs and how they can be their most productive versions of themselves are going to be different. If you’re not asking your team straight up, “What do you need to be successful? What are some of the things that you’re not enjoying about remote work? What is working, what isn’t?” And getting those feedback loops over time and then having managers share that knowledge, share that with each other and continually to grow and evolve, then I think you’re missing an opportunity.

Mike Gutman:

There’s plenty of training materials that are out there. I teach a course on LinkedIn Learning about the foundations of remote work and remote work policy. Those are good places to start, but again, those are just starting places for general information. I think the specifics in how you learn from your team and what they need is the most important part, and then you as a leader don’t forget, you need training, too, on how to manage remotely. So I think asking, getting real feedback about how people are feeling about their leadership teams is a really important piece to this. You’re not immune to the pitfalls of remote working as well, and from a leadership perspective I think there’s even more responsibility for you to be able to lead by example in how you want your team to operate. So I think those are just a few starting places to consider.

Luis:

I agree with you. Obviously we need to tailor the learning to an employee’s necessities, but I also do think that starting points are important, especially because a lot of people are starting right now. I personally found out that it’s something that I didn’t expect but that helped tremendously with my employees, was actually a very simple, basic course about schedule management, you know?

Mike Gutman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luis:

How to properly organize your schedule when you are working from an office, it’s mostly done for you. You have a time you have to be there and you have a time you have to leave. That’s not the case, and people tend to get lost. People tend to get lost when they do it from home, so actually calendar management, that is one that I’ve see that has benefited people working with me a lot, especially when they are new to remote work, which has happened in a couple of times.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I mean, every aspect of working changes to some degree when you’re working remote, but I think the most important piece is the communication piece. I think one tip I always tell teams is, I ask the question, “Have you had a conversation with each person who you collaborate with, whether it be on your team or cross-collaboration or cross-functional? Have you asked them how they prefer to be communicated with?” Some people prefer Slack, some people prefer email, some people prefer project management tools to work asynchronously and if you don’t know how somebody wants to be interacted with for a tap on the shoulder experience or for just to share an idea or to collaborate on a project or to have a formal meeting, everybody’s communication style is different, and if you’re not asking how people wanted to be communicated with and if you’re not letting people know what you prefer, then I think you’re missing an opportunity for everybody to be on the same page.

Luis:

Absolutely. Absolutely. On that note, for the communication part, one trick that I really like is the operations manual. This is something that I picked up from my engineer friends. They write a nice, sometimes it’s longer, but usually like two pages manual saying, “Hey, here is how I interact. Here is how I would prefer you to interact with me.”

Mike Gutman:

Yeah.

Luis:

“This is Luis’s manual.”

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. And as a leader, I would encourage you to ask your teams to do that with each other, and then once you have that, from just an organizational-wide perspective, give autonomy. People want to be able to have the freedom to communicate and collaborate how it works best for them. It doesn’t need to be a top-down policy of the specifics, but some basic guidelines from a policy perspective say, “Hey, teams, have this conversation. Make sure you all know,” and write it down. For an accountability standpoint, once it’s written down you can say, “Okay, yes, check. We all know how we all want to be communicated with. Let’s move forward on it and let’s leave room for it to evolve as time changes and we say hey, maybe this isn’t working the way I thought.” Nothing is etched in stone. Everything should be organic and flexible and constantly evolving because our circumstances that are out of our control are constantly evolving.

Luis:

Absolutely. Well, Mike, let’s talk a bit about your virtual office setup. We live on our computers now.

Mike Gutman:

Yes, we do.

Luis:

We live in our computers now, we live in our screens. What browser tabs do you have open right now?

Mike Gutman:

Oh, goodness. I’m working on like five different projects, so what I do is I have a window, essentially, with browser tabs that represent each project, so essentially I’m not confused as to which window tab is associated with which project, so that helps me quite a bit.

Luis:

It’s like you have five offices.

Mike Gutman:

You can tap into any… I look at it as mind spaces. I know if I have to shift into a mind space between one or the other, I have all the information at my fingertips for each of those mind spaces. That helps me quite a bit.

Luis:

What apps can’t you live without? What apps or tabs do you start your day with?

Mike Gutman:

I’m a fundamentalist. I don’t need a lot to get work done. I think any app I can use, for me it’s not about which apps, it’s about how you organize your day and whatever works for you. There’s so many different apps that are out there. From a project management tool, it could be Trello or Asana or Basecamp or any of those. From a calendar tool, it can be Google Calendars or Outlook. Whatever you use, it’s more how you use them. For me, what really helps me is before I begin my day, before I start to look at email, I think about what I need to accomplish for that day. I don’t do this just for work. I think about, if I’m going to be a whole, happy, healthy person, what do I need to invest in throughout the day to make sure that I am doing a little bit for myself and for all the areas that I want to invest in.

Mike Gutman:

For example, I know that I need a little exercise, so I will literally schedule an exercise in my day. I will schedule time to hang out with my wife during the day. These are just checklists to make sure that I’m doing all the things in my life that I want to be paying attention to investing in so that I can be the best version of myself. I just spend five minutes to do that and plan out the day of how I want to be spending my time prioritizing, what are the needs to get done versus the wants to get done, and that helps me prioritize everything and I can do that throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month and so on and so forth. It’s just a nice guideline to make sure I’m following who I want to be and how I want to do it.

Luis:

Well, as you’ve probably understood by now, I’m also a big fan of scheduling so I’m completely with you there. So you work with a lot of people, you collaborate with a lot of people. If you had $100 in your pocket for each of those people, what would you give them? The rule is you need to buy in bulk for everyone. Could be physical, could be digital, but you need to give everyone the same thing.

Mike Gutman:

I want to make sure I understand your question. I’ve got a hundred bucks to give to everybody and I’m buying it all at once?

Luis:

Yeah.

Mike Gutman:

I’d just give them each a hundred bucks and say, “Spend it how you want.”

Luis:

Yeah, but that’s cheating, right?

Mike Gutman:

No. That’s actually how I give gifts to my friends for weddings and everything and say, “Listen, the beauty of cash is you get to spend it however you want. I can try to predict what I think would be valuable for you. Granted, it might be more sentimental and meaningful, but at the end, I want you to have the flexibility to spend it how you want,” and I think if I use the analogy of weddings, I think people less and less are using registries and more they’re looking at experiences and helping me fund… maybe I’m buying a house, maybe I’m going on a honeymoon or maybe I want to invest in some kayaks. I think the flexibility of just cash allows people to spend it how they want, and I think that’s an important piece of this. We’re talking about flexibility and letting people work and live the way they want. I think just giving them cash allows them to do that, too.

Luis:

All right. Let’s say you give yourself cash. What would you buy?

Mike Gutman:

I’d probably buy some sort of experience, maybe take my wife out on a date. For me, I’d much rather invest in experiences that last forever versus a physical thing that I’ll get bored with or not use after a long time. That’s essentially how I look to view money and value exchange.

Luis:

Fair enough. Now I am sure you’ve bought some physical things to make your work life easier or more balanced. What physical thing have you bought? Apart from the SteelSeries headset, which you already mentioned, so I’m going to need a new one, what is a thing that you have bought? I’ll even grant you that it doesn’t have to be physical, it could have been digital, but what has significantly improved your work/life balance or productivity in the last six months, let’s say?

Mike Gutman:

Nothing, honestly. I’ve not invested in any technology in the last six months. Again, I don’t need much to operate. I’m somebody who can be productive with minimal tools and tech. I have a laptop, I’ve got a headset and internet, and I’m off to the races. I can get work done anywhere.

Luis:

Nice.

Mike Gutman:

And I know you’re fishing for something, but I got nothing for you, Luis.

Luis:

No, just interested. This is interesting as well.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah.

Luis:

Not going to press it. I am going to ask you, though, for books. This is a special year, special situation. The people that are stuck remote. They didn’t plan for it, they didn’t necessarily want it, maybe they’re enjoying it, maybe not, but regardless, they were caught unaware. What is the book or books that they should read?

Mike Gutman:

There have been I think a number of books that have come out around remote work. Admittedly, I have not read a lot of them because I’ve been living and practicing and teaching this stuff for so long and experienced and learned as I go experientially, but I will say one book that I’ve recently read that has helped me in my remote work path has been a book called Crucial Conversations, which I think essentially looks at high, emotionally-charged conversations that might lead to some sort of confrontation where there’s a lot at stake.

Mike Gutman:

I think these types of conversations can be more challenging to do when you’re not in person, and they give you a nice tool set to be able to break that emotional response trigger, where somebody might say something that’s triggering that might cause you to be defensive or might cause you to go on the attack or might cause someone to retreat. How do you stop that cycle, bring I think your more practical self back, the goal of the in a way that is kind of respectful on both sides? I think that’s a tool that most people can, especially in the height of a pandemic where people are going through so many different emotional states that most people won’t get visibility into, but might come out in other ways when you’re talking. That’s the book I’d recommend.

Luis:

That’s super interesting, because I was actually talking about this topic a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, but I actually find it easier to have challenging conversations online.

Mike Gutman:

Maybe, yeah. Why?

Luis:

I just work in some pretty high… My original master’s is in medicine. I was a surgeon before I shifted to remote work. Maybe it was because it was kind of a high stakes environment, but let’s say that I had to give some feedback to an assistant, that was a much harder conversation to have in person and I could see them taking it a lot more personally and emotionally than anything that I do now, really.

Mike Gutman:

How do you respond to that physical reaction when you’re in the same room with somebody as they shudder to hearing some hard information that you’re giving them? How do you react to that?

Luis:

I usually tend to emphasize. I tend to say, “You know, this is really not about this. This is positive feedback. I’m telling you this not to make you feel bad, I’m telling you this because we as a team should improve, right?

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. So I’m asking why is that harder in person than it is remotely for you? What’s the difference for you?

Luis:

It just feels that I feel people too much. It’s like I don’t like the sensation of seeing people shudder. Obviously I want everyone to have a good time. I think that people work at their best when they’re not stressed, and I don’t like being a cause of stress.

Mike Gutman:

Fair, although I would challenge you and say, isn’t that feedback, that nonverbal feedback that you’re seeing, an important piece of that conversation to know how somebody else is feeling, and then being able to curb the conversation accordingly? Are you missing that type of feedback when you’re giving it in a remote setting?

Luis:

That could be it, but I also think that it’s a bit of a problem with authority. When we are in a physical setting, and let’s say that I’m the surgeon and the other one is the assistant, no matter how much I try to put ourselves in the same level, there’s just something about the setting that makes that harder. Here, when I’m working online, it does seem that everyone is more… it just feels much more horizontal, regardless of titles.

Mike Gutman:

Let me ask you this. You’ve commented on how you like to give feedback. How about how you like to get feedback? Remote setting or in person?

Luis:

I think I’m okay both ways. I think I’m okay both ways, actually.

Mike Gutman:

Okay. Now, one step further. Have you asked your team how they like to get and give feedback, and what their feedback preference is and what their comfortabilities are, whether it be praise, whether it be constructive criticism?

Luis:

Yeah, I have. I have. On my remote team. I wasn’t that evolved back then when I wasn’t that much of a team person, of a manager, I must say. I mean, I always enjoyed working in teams, but I wasn’t managing so much as I am now. But now as a manager, I actually have. I find it that people quite enjoy video calls. Some people are more comfortable with chat, text chat, that’s true, and I try to accommodate those people, but I find that most people in my team, maybe it’s an outlier, I don’t know, but in my team, I find that most people are very comfortable with voice chat and even with giving feedback, which is something that I always ask, we do our… I like doing weekly or biweekly, if there’s a lot of things going on, one-on-ones with the people that I manage. I always like to ask them, “Hey, how am I doing? Am I doing everything that I can to make sure that your job goes well, to make sure that you are able to do your best job?” I find I’m really happy that people tend to… they do tend to give me feedback.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. I think that’s an important piece. So two things that, I think, Luis, we’re talking about here. I believe it’s super important to ask your teammates how they like to give and receive feedback. Some people feel uncomfortable having it in a team meeting and they want it in a one-on-one environment. Some people want to have a specific time set up for those feedback sessions to occur. Some people want them more frequently than others, where they want course correction every week, where some people say, “Hey, I know what I need. I’m off to the races. Let’s check in in a month.” Having those conversations is good, and then the other piece that you mentioned, which is from a manager’s standpoint, asking the question, “How can I help you? What do you need to be successful? I’m here as a resource for you to help you as long as you know what your goals are. If you don’t, we can talk about that, but how can I be a resource for you and serve you?”

Mike Gutman:

I think some people are comfortable answering, some people aren’t, and that comes back down to this term and concept of psychological safety, where if people feel safe, regardless if there’s a power dynamic with leadership versus people being managed, if people feel safe to be able to give you and manage up and give you feedback as a manager, then I think that’s a great place to be. Of course the word vulnerability comes in a lot, about being able to create that type of environment, but it’s something to keep the pulse on if your teammates feel comfortable giving you feedback as a leader. That’s an important place to be.

Luis:

Yeah. I think that part of what you just said really makes sense, going back to the thing we were talking before about the manual. Write me your manual. As someone that is going to be on my team, write me the manual where it says, “What is your favorite communication style? What you feel comfortable with, what you don’t feel comfortable with. How would you like to receive feedback?” That should be one of the things that says in that manual, right?

Mike Gutman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luis:

So I know how to interact with the people.

Mike Gutman:

That’s it. In any online account that you have, there’s usually a link that says preferences, and you get to customize it. This is exactly that. You get to customize your preferences in your work setting, and if you don’t let people know about it, how are you going to be able to shape the environment that works best for you?

Luis:

Yeah. That’s actually a very good analogy. I hadn’t thought about that. Last question, this one has a bit of a longer setup. Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner. Once all the pandemic is over with. Let’s not do anything illegal, here, but once we’re done with this pandemic, you are hosting a dinner and the invitees are the decision makers at the biggest tech companies in the world. They are the CTOs, the CEOs, the hiring managers, et cetera, the people that are going to help shape the future of work. The twist is that this dinner happens at the Chinese Restaurant. So you, as the host, get to choose the message that goes inside the fortune cookie. What is your fortune cookie message?

Mike Gutman:

Is it the same for each one?

Luis:

Yeah.

Mike Gutman:

Okay. I think if-

Luis:

You have limited time.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. And limited text characters on the actual cookie wrapper.

Luis:

I’m not going to limit you so much. Let’s make it the fortune pie, if you want.

Mike Gutman:

Sure. Let me give a disclaimer into where my head is at for this conversation, because I think-

Luis:

Sure. Right away.

Mike Gutman:

We’re talking about people who employ hundreds of thousands of people but influence the entire world. I would ask all of them beforehand, I would just think about what is your version of a better world, a more equitable world, a more sustainable world? When we think about how we as community members can lift everybody up, that I think is the question that I would ask when making any product decision, when making any acquisition, when making any policy privacy. I would ask the question, how do we create a world that lifts everybody up? And maybe that’s the question that I would serve to each of these members as a mission statement or value that they leverage to make decisions, because I think that some decisions benefit other people more than others. Some people it serves ad revenue versus all of the people behind who are using the product or service.

Mike Gutman:

What’s the net positive for a social media app like Facebook? What is that net positive in a thousand years? Will the world even remember it? Will it have a big impact? So I think we all get such a small window into the way this universe works in our lifetime. I think it’s our responsibility to try to make it a better place so ultimately we can sustain ourselves and humans can continue to thrive together without sacrificing each other, sacrificing our environment and try to achieve some sense of harmony. I think with leadership, I think that’s something that I would want to ask them to do with every decision.

Luis:

I think that’s a great message to end on. When people want to continue the conversation with you, where can they find you and where can they find what you’re up to?

Mike Gutman:

Sure. I think LinkedIn is a good place to be to connect with me. Again, my name is Michael Gutman. You can search for me on LinkedIn. I’m also a LinkedIn Learning author. I teach courses on remote work. You can find me there. I invite you to watch my courses, or feel free to connect with me on there as well.

Luis:

Awesome. Okay, so Michael, it was an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much for doing this, and yeah, looking forward to maybe around you someday.

Mike Gutman:

Yeah. Thank you for inviting me, Luis. Take care out there. Very nice to spend an hour together.

Luis:

It was a pleasure. Thank you, too, ladies and gentlemen. This was the DistantJob Podcast, a podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams.

Luis:

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:

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/podcasts, click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. 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 adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

2020 is almost over, and most leaders have learned valuable lessons regarding managing and leading their teams remotely. However, there is still a lot to improve and strategies to implement for teams to feel connected throughout a distance.

In this podcast episode, our guest Michael Gutman shares why encouraging feedback meetings in virtual teams is fundamental to build a strong culture. He provides valuable insights regarding how to lead remote teams efficiently and how leaders can establish trust within their virtual employees.

''’You're not immune to the pitfalls of remote working as well, and from a leadership perspective there's even more responsibility for you to be able to lead by example in how you want your team to operate.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Remote work: Before and after the pandemic
  • Why remote leaders need to develop empathy
  • Tips to build the right remote office set-up
  • How to engage remote employees and make a healthier culture
  • Importance of feedback meetings for team growth
  • Encouraging collaboration with the right communication strategies

Book Recommendations:

 

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