Lisette Sutherland is a remote work advocate extraordinaire and the driving force behind Collaboration Superpowers. Lisette’s superpower is the ability to give multiple options to tackle the most grievous of remote work challenges, and she has compiled them all on her excellent book – “Work Together Anywhere.”
Luis Magalhaes: Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. This is the DistantJob podcast, and I am your host, Luis Magalhaes.
Luis Magalhaes: This is going to be a very short introduction, because I’m changing the way the show introduction goes. I will use this bit merely for simple housekeeping whenever needed, and today is one of those cases.
Luis Magalhaes: So, here are the changes: no more canned advertisement about DistantJob, I will be doing it live. I will be explaining live, when I with a guest, what DistantJob does. And so, it will hopefully be different every time, a little bit different every time. You will see me stumble through it, so I hope you enjoy that.
Luis Magalhaes: So, today we have Lisette Sutherland on the podcast. Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers is going to be talking about her book. And we had a few minor technical difficulties with Zoom. I had to resort to my backup recording, which means that the podcast wasn’t recorded on two separate audio tracks, so there’s a bit of me and Lisette talking over each other at times.
Luis Magalhaes: I’ve cleaned up most of it, but I ask for your patience. The sound quality today is not to the standard that you’re used to. Again, it was a fluke, and the next episode should go absolutely fine. Thank you for your patience. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Lisette Sutherland.
Luis Magalhaes: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to the DistantJob podcast. My name is Luis, I’m the head of marketing of DistantJob and your host, as usual. Today with me I have Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers. So, Lisette is a remote work advocate, and she’s a specialist based in the Netherlands. She has conducted extensive research, interviewed hundreds of people, practiced and experimented for years with helping remote workers and remote teams. And she spreads it around through Collaboration Superpowers across a variety of media. Books, which we’re going to touch on today, especially on the book. But, also Work Together Anywhere workshops, weekly podcasts, a bimonthly newsletter, et cetera, et cetera. You have a lot going on Lisette.
Lisette: Yeah, when you say it like that, I think, “Oh man, that’s a lot.”
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Okay. So today we’re going to have the pleasure of having a conversation with Lisette, but first let me talk about DistantJob.
Luis Magalhaes: What does DistantJob do exactly? If you want to start with remote work, if you feel that your company can benefit from remote work, and we’ll get into all the reasons that your company can later on in this podcast, but … let’s say that you’re a small company, you have a lot to think about. You need to get your MVPs, you have already a lot on your plate, or maybe you’re already a big company, you have a lot of processes and you feel that you need to mess a lot with them if you’re going to start hiring remotely. Well, DistantJob takes that from your hands. It takes that trouble from you. We handle the whole process from you, we’ll work with you to build your hiring strategies, something that I’m going to talk with Lisette later on about the value. We find the perfect fit for your company, for your team for your culture. We handle payment in a chart and even if you want to give them some perks as you do to your other employees we handle that as well.
Luis Magalhaes: Basically we are the full package remote hiring and HR. And the people work for you but we take care of them in all the ways so you don’t need to worry about how to take care of people that aren’t based in your location. So you got all the advantages of remote hiring but none of the hassle. Lisette, thank you so much for being here. I’ve read your book Work Together Anywhere, which makes this conversation a lot harder because it feels like whatever question I might ask of you, you can just go RTFM.
Lisette: I’ll be like it’s on page 73 and …
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, so, this is a great guide, and I guess this begs the question, how is your interaction with people? Doesn’t this book essentially get you out of a job?
Lisette: You would think so, except for I’m getting more speaking gigs and workshop requests than ever, so actually, the book is having exactly the effect that I would hope that it would have, in that people want to … Which is strange, people want me to come to their location and speak at their location or give workshops in their location rather than online. So I really push back for the workshops speaking, I really love to do only because I’m an extrovert. I love meeting people, I love going to new places. I especially love eating new food, and drinking new drinks, so I love that.
Lisette: But for workshops, I highly recommend people do workshops online, because if you want to learn how to work remotely, then the best way to do that is remotely. For the companies whom I can’t convince, I do a hybrid workshop. I come there for half a day in person, and then we do two online sessions together, so they get a little bit of both. I convince them to go online.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s nice. That’s a great approach. By the way, have you ever been to Portugal? If not, I need to set you up with a gastronomic tour, because if you’re into food this is a good country for that.
Lisette: Okay, sign me up, I’m in.
Luis Magalhaes: But yeah, so, it really is very strange that some people want to learn how to do remote work and they ask for you to be on location to do that. Why do you think that is?
Lisette: It’s a couple of reasons. One is, people are really used to having others come to their location. They’re used to doing workshops in person and presentations in person. And then the other is, the flip side of that is people don’t think that online workshops can be good. Because really what they’re expecting is a webinar. They’re basically, they’re thinking that they’re going to be watching a series of videos and taking small exams afterwards and that’s just not how I personally like to do workshops. I feel like my expertise is one thing but there is a huge amount of expertise in the group, every group that joins a workshop. Everybody has some sort of experience working remotely, and has something to bring to the table. My workshops are designed to be extremely interactive, and are a way to share knowledge with others.
Lisette: I guide the conversation and I give a bunch of tips that I’ve gotten from the interviews, but it is interactive in that we do breakout rooms, we do exercises, and people are talking amongst themselves. And then after the workshop, you get to join a Slack group where you can talk to a whole bunch of other people that have also done it so that you can share your experiments. That is the best part because people can say, “Hey, I found a new tool,” or, “I tried this thing and it totally didn’t work for my team.”
Luis Magalhaes: There’s a cohort element of it?
Lisette: Yeah, and I think that that … It’s fun to do these on-demand videos and I do them myself, too, for learning certain things. Just when I thought about what I wanted and how wanted to teach and facilitate, interactive for me was the best way to go. Not the most scalable way to go, of course, but the best way to go. And I do now have a whole group of facilitators who also give the Work Together Anywhere Workshops, so it is, in fact, scalable. It’s just not scalable with me.
Luis Magalhaes: In the future you’ll be able to make an AI copy of yourself and just …
Luis Magalhaes: … have your computer slaves working away.
Lisette: Sounds awesome.
Luis Magalhaes: In the background, in the background.
Luis Magalhaes: Going on to the book, the book is very interestingly organized because you have sections specifically for people to be the best remote worker or employee that they can. Then you have sections for teams, for managers, for all to build the teams. The chapters are segmented by the goal of the people reading the book, which I found very nice. And just due to time constraints, we’re going to focus essentially on the chapters about managing and leadership because this is a podcast about managing and leadership and building teams, after all.
Luis Magalhaes: A concept that you’ve given, that you talk about in the book early on, is about productivity versus [presenti-ism 00:08:34], which I assume means making it more important to see that someone is productive than to see that someone is actually at their work station, working. I wanted to start by asking you if you could give me some examples of how to measure the productivity. What are your favorite ways to measuring productivity?
Lisette: Yeah, I’m not a big fan. One, I’m not a big fan of tracking people and tracking how they manage their own time. I track myself, I use Toggl, I track all the hours of the day and everything that I do, but that’s just for my own, like I want to know where my time goes. But if a boss were tracking me, then I feel like there’s an inherent lack of trust that is being shown. And also, I feel like we should be rewarded for good work. We should be rewarded for good work, not how much time you spent on that work.
Lisette: A couple of years ago there was this whole article about a guy who had built a bot to do his work, and the bot was able to do his work in like, one hour. And he just spent the rest of the day hanging out at his desk playing video games or something.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Lisette: And I thought, “Wow, if I was the manager of that guy, I would be hiring him to automate as much as possible.” I mean, if he can automate his eight-hour job into one hour, and sit around the rest of the day, I would just think that guy needs to be promoted instead of fired. You have to use his talents for good and not evil. I feel like, if somebody can get something done in one hour rather than eight, then that’s great. What we should do is be setting expectations for what is the work that we need to get done.
Lisette: I’m a big fan of the agile framework, because that’s what I know. That’s what I’ve … I won’t say grown up in, but that’s my surroundings. I work with a lot of agile coaches, a lot of agile teams, so I’m used to that. I just think that the framework is really genius, because it measures productivity and people can’t get too far off track. Because, what does it matter if you’re in the office 40 hours a week? What really matters is what gets done. The measure of productivity, I just feel like it’s not very motivating to say, “Hey, we’re gonna measure you by the time you spend between nine and five pm.”
Luis Magalhaes: See, the main question I have with that, is that when you start looking at people as a different kind of number, which is like task completed or KPIs or something like that, I think it’s very easy to slide into micromanaging them.
Luis Magalhaes: Feeling like, people act, this person, and produced seven units of productivity today, and John only produced three. How do you prevent sliding into that? Just starting to see people as numbers? What is the most holistic way that you’ve encountered of measuring productivity?
Lisette: For me, it’s that the team sets the expectations for what the team is gonna get done during the week. I really like the sprint planning, for example. You get together as a team and you decide, “Okay, here is the feature we’re gonna build this week.” And then everybody goes off and works on their aspect of that feature, their aspect of what’s being built.
Lisette: I agree, the whole idea of, if you’re doing customer support, okay, John did 25 customer support tickets and Anne only did three, what’s going on? Every system that can be gamed will be gamed. I feel like if you want to get together and be productive as a team, you can decide as a team, and then have the team monitor each other. If you’re the super lazy guy on the team, and everybody else is productive, you’re gonna get called out pretty quickly by your teammates for doing that. Measuring systems like that, it gets tricky, just because everyone’s gonna game the system. There’s always somebody that does.
Lisette: If you decide as a team something, there’s a trust-building component to that. That should be integrated and highlighted, I feel. I don’t have the magic answer. The one thing I’ve learned from the book, really the one thing, if there’s anything I’ve learned from the book is that, what works for one team doesn’t always work for another team. And that tools are really specific to personality, and each team has its own personality.
Lisette: Also, the other thing with the agile way of working is that, I hear a lot from people that it feels like you’re getting on a treadmill that just never stops. And, in reality, productivity goes up and down. I have some weeks where I just rock it and other weeks where I’m just like totally useless. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because that’s how productivity works in people. We’re not machines. We need rest and downtime.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I’ve talked with Victoria from Brazilian company [inaudible 00:13:22], and they actually felt that trouble very keenly, and what they did to fight it was, each sprint was its own Trello board, and once the sprint was over, they just threw the Trello board completely in the trash and started the new one, just to get some closure. Because, definitely some people feel that treadmill effect when it comes to sprints, that it’s just a never-ending sequence of tasks.
Lisette: Yeah. Yeah, and I think that as a team you need to take into account that some weeks are gonna be more productive than others, and people go through hard times in their lives and that needs to be taken accounted for. But if everything is transparent to the team, then there is a level of trust that’s built and nobody’s gonna try to game that system. Because that, when you break trust, that’s a system that is very hard to rebuild. That’s where the focus should be I feel.
Luis Magalhaes: Got it. Since we are talking about productivity and we’re [inaudible 00:14:19] into trust, there was a part in the book where you said that when people are working remotely, productivity usually increases, except when there are policies in place that destroy productivity. Tell me about the day that you realized that. Do you recall if there was a specific instance where you figured out that this could be a lot more productive but there are these policies in place that are just blocking it?
Lisette: I’d have to go to the specific page of the book. I haven’t read it since it came out, so I haven’t read myself … I mean, you can’t imagine, after five years of working I was like, “Oh, my god, I cannot read this book again.”
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, I’m sorry, the purpose is not to hold you to account to every word, every word [crosstalk 00:15:05].
Lisette: No, I’ve got a good example in my head, actually. I think I’ve got a good example in my head, which is, for example, I have a friend of mine here in the Netherlands who has to hire someone to take his daughter to school in the morning, because the office where he works requires him to be there at a certain time and that time is before school starts.
Lisette: To me, policies like that get totally in the way of productivity because there is no reason for him that he needs to be there at eight am, except for that the boss wants everybody there at eight am. That, to me, is an unproductive policy that just has no place in the modern world anymore. And you think of the loyalty that my friend must have toward that company. If he can find a job that allows him to take his kids to school in the morning, he’s gonna jump 100%, as soon as he finds it.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, and it shouldn’t be such a big deal, right? We’re not even talking about him working less hours, we’re just talking, getting in an hour later and getting off an hour later, as well.
Lisette: Yeah. And I feel like he’s not asking for much, and he’s asking for something that’s really important to him, which is his family and taking his daughters to school in the morning. Those kind of policies I find are really anti-productive and they’re everywhere. There’s many companies, where, if you’re not in the office, then you’re sort of out of sight, out of mind. And I feel like it’s an old-school mentality.
Lisette: On the other side of that, a lot of people will say, “Oh, I’m working from home today,” with the intention that they’re gonna be at home and completely out of touch with everybody at the office. I also feel like those days are sort of a thing of the past. Given the communication tools that we have there’s no reason to necessarily be out of touch. It’s one thing if you’re saying, “Hey, I need a day to myself where I can think, and I don’t want to be interrupted by any meetings or anything.” That’s one thing, but if you’re just saying, “Hey, I want to work from home, well, then there’s no reason that you need to be out of touch with the office.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. It’s easy enough to keep in touch, and actually I think that what ends up happening in many cases is that people are so connected that they get out of the office and they get home and they bring the work with them anyway.
Lisette: Oh, yeah. To me, that is the main problem. Leadership or managers always feel like that people are gonna be lazy, and in fact the opposite is true. It’s been proven to be true. People want to work from other places because they’re more productive. And the higher thing that people need to think about is that it’s hard to turn off, and people suffer from burnout far more than laziness.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Even if you’re a bit lazy, there’s also a self preservation thing going on. There was a quote in your book, which I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was … You were interviewing something and he said something along the lines of, “Well, you know, of course they are productive because they don’t want to get fired.” Most people have the understanding that they need to actually produce.
Lisette: For sure for sure.
Luis Magalhaes: But anyway, since we were talking about keeping in touch, there’s another kind of keeping in touch that you talk about in the book, bonding and team building. And I’ve read a lot of articles about it over the years. I’ve been managing remote teams for a while now, as well, and I’m very interested in that. What it feels to me is that a lot of what is advised, like scheduling social activities, scheduling team drinks, et cetera, team parties, it sounds a bit like we’re working for our robot overlords and our robot overlords tell us, “Now is mandatory happiness time. Go and be happy and talk to each other and socialize.”
Luis Magalhaes: Whenever I’ve tried to do it, whenever people have tried to do it, something rang a bit hollow with that. And maybe it’s just my personality. I’m the kind of guy that I like working with people. I like the people I work with, but when I’m outside of my work time, as much as I like the people that I work with, if I’m with them after work, I can’t really leave work behind. My mind is still somewhat tethered to that work mentality because I [inaudible 00:19:37] work with that person. I guess this is a multi-part question, but how do you feel about that? Don’t you get some opposition to that concept, that it just feels a bit faked?
Lisette: I hear that from people a lot, and what I tell people is, one, experiment with lots of different things. Again, what works for one team isn’t gonna work for another. Yeah, your virtual coffees on one team might be totally awkward and stilted and everybody’s like, “I got work to do. What are we doing here talking about coffee?” But there’s a number of things that you can do. Like, for instance, there’s a number of teams who will show up to their meetings five to 10 minutes early, just to build in the personal time into meetings. Whoever wants to, there’s no requirement, and I think that’s a really important point, whoever wants to can show up five to 10 minutes early to hear about how was your weekend? What’s going on in your life? How did that thing with your kids go? And then the meeting, for those who just want to attend the meeting, the meeting can start on time and end on time. That’s one way of building a natural personal time into a day with colleagues if you wanna chitchat.
Lisette: And others ways to do it, where you don’t have to do it necessarily in meetings, are Slack channels. Everybody and their dog is using Slack. If you’re not using Slack, you’re using Stride or some alternative, so it is not tool-specific. But, just have a getting to know you channel or a book club channel, or share pictures of your pets channel, or a movie channel, or something. Every team should have this hanging out getting to know you channel where you can ask random questions. People love that. It also makes the workplace little bit more human.
Lisette: At Happy Melly, that’s the company where I’m the remote office manager, we have a random channel, and people like to just put random things in there. Like, “Hey, I’m at an airport and I’m seeing this weird thing.” Or, “Hey, here’s my cat who just walked in.”
Luis Magalhaes: In our case we use Basecamp.
Luis Magalhaes: The best thing about Basecamp is also the worst thing about Basecamp, which is that it’s not intrusive at all. Things like that, we do have the Basecamp Firechat, but unless you specifically remember to go there, to see if something’s up, it’s very hard to find out if something’s up.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s like the opposite of Slack. Slack is completely in your face, too much in your face, for our taste. But Basecamp basically errs on the wrong side of that.
Lisette: Yeah, and just, like I said, what works for one team won’t work for another. Or virtual lunches, there’s teams that do virtual lunches, where whoever’s around on Wednesday at whatever time joins for a virtual lunch and you just hang out and have lunch together. The Happy Melly team had a virtual dance party. We’ve had several virtual dance parties where we actually, somebody deejays and the rest of us get up and boogie.
Lisette: I would just say experiment, experiment, but don’t ignore the team-building component. Whatever method it is that works for your team, do that, and then keep experimenting. Some things will fall flat but everybody appreciates the effort, because team building’s an important component.
Lisette: I’ve gotta say, I did interview one guy who thought team building was a complete waste of time and didn’t have it at all on his team. He’s never spoken to anybody on his team. They do everything through a ticketing chat system, and nobody talks to each other. They don’t have meetings, they do everything through a tool. So it is also possible to have a high functioning team that doesn’t even talk to each other, or even know each other. That is also possible. You just have to figure out where you fall on the spectrum.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well, absolutely, but just from hearing you talk about it, it sounds a bit wrong. I don’t know what the guy’s experience is, but the feeling that I get and maybe the intuition is completely wrong, is that the moment that someone has a reason to jump ship, they’ll jump ship.
Lisette: Yeah, I think the way he keeps people on his team is he pays them a lot.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay.
Lisette: So that seems-
Luis Magalhaes: There’s always someone with more money. That’s just a reality.
Lisette: Indeed. I would say his team is highly unusual. I’ve only heard of him doing that, his company doing that, in this specific circumstances. I am sure the people the work for him, they’re not doing it for any sort of team building reason. They’re doing it for another kind of motivation, which is, you get paid when you finish the work. You could take on as much or as little work as you want and he pays really well. And I think if that’s your motivator, then that is the team for you. But for the rest of us who love interacting with colleagues and enjoy having a work relationship, then team building is pretty important.
Lisette: I should also mention there’s some awesome tools that facilitate team building and one of my favorites is a virtual office, and there’s many different kinds. There’s one called Remo, there’s WalkAbout Workplace, and my favorite is Sococo. And that’s actually, you go to an office online and you’re there hanging out in different rooms and you can see where your colleagues are in a virtual floor plan. Awesome.
Luis Magalhaes: Actually, how do you feel about video games? I’m asking this because my earliest experience with remote management was like … And when I figured out this would work, was like 10 years ago or 12 years ago. It’s just such a long time, when I became, just by complete accident, the guild master of the World of Warcraft. And I find myself having to coordinate 40 people two times a week, four hours each time, just doing … World of Warcraft was a hard game. Sometimes you were [crosstalk 00:25:15]-
Lisette: Oh, yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: … the same video game boss for an entire evening with no more than 10% progress, and somehow I had to convince these 40 people to work together and to prepare the characters for the other four hours’ grind, two nights forwards. That was when I realized it’s really possible to motivate and coordinate people, large groups of people through the internet. And they weren’t even getting paid.
Luis Magalhaes: How do you feel about video gaming and online gaming when it comes to bonding and team building?
Lisette: Oh, I think it’s huge. It’s actually a slide that I recommend in the workshop for how to do it, is video games. I mean, it’s analogous to the ping pong table in offices or the foosball table in offices. It’s a place where people can go and work on a common goal and have fun together. It’s also, I would say, it should be eye-opening to leaders and managers these days because lots of kids have grown up with online video games, so they’re already used to collaborating from everywhere in the world, all together working on a common goal. A video game is exactly the same as a team, working towards a common goal together, and kids have grown up with this now. I mean with World of Warcraft, since the early days, they’re already used to collaborating this way online and I think it’s up to leaders and managers now to catch up.
Luis Magalhaes: I’ve been talking tentatively with someone that works in gamification to be on the podcast, because I find it a big waste how tools like Trello or Slack or Basecamp or anything … Well, Slack not so much because it’s a communication device. But why aren’t the major project management systems building some scores of a kind? Just so people can get that scoring, that they’re scoring thing on, building a score through the workweek, [inaudible 00:27:15] the Sprint of something like that. It feels like a missed opportunity.
Lisette: Oh, for sure. I think a lot of companies are on it now. I mean, gamification has been a buzzword for years, but there is still this … You see it also with Lego Serious Play, and if you’re doing workshops in companies, managers saying, “Hey, we’re not looking to have fun here. We’re looking to solve a problem.” And I think managers forget, it’s not about the fun, it’s about aligning around a common goal and working together. And if it’s fun, more people are in.
Lisette: What’s interesting … I’m having a million thoughts at once, actually, but one thing that’s interesting, I’m having a lot of companies come to me specifically right now because my brand looks fun and they’re missing that aspect in their teams. They’re coming to me specifically because they’re missing fun. And I thought it was a little bit strange, but then if you look at my brand, it’s very playful and bright colors, and things like that. And I did it on purpose. But I do think that that aspect gets left out of management a lot, and that it shouldn’t. Playfulness and fun can be the magic that makes a team really run.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. When it comes to games, it’s fun because … It’s fun? It’s interesting, because I don’t think that most online games these days are about fun, necessarily. They’re about achievement, meaning that the things that games do really well is that they split the work reward thing into very tiny little pieces. I spent two hours in an online video game and I know that [inaudible 00:28:50] on those two hours I can take on two to three challenges, and after each of these challenges I’ll get the rewards.
Luis Magalhaes: I’ll actually get, on that afternoon playing two hours, which is a significant chunk, you can do a significant chunk of work in two hours, I’ll get three instances of [rewardiness 00:29:09] which is completely virtual. I think that people are still missing the proper way to tackle that in work, meaning that I’m recording this podcast today. I’m doing it because I have fun doing it, talking with guests like yourself and like my previous guests. But, if this wasn’t fun for me, if I was just, “Oh, okay, so tell me about this and tell me about motivation, and tell me about that,” the only thing that I would have to look forward to is really the podcast statistics and the podcast reception, and that is only really meaningful, like two, three weeks ahead. Unless you’re having fun in the act, what you’re left with is something that’s in the very far future.
Lisette: It’s true, but I think also, one thing to remember is, fun is different for different people, and everybody has a different motivation. Some people are motivated by camaraderie, some people are motivated by achievement. Some people are motivated by power. I would say, each person on the team has a different motivation, and there’s a great game, actually, that Management Trio taught me, which was Moving Motivators. It’s actually just a set of cards, and you have everybody put in order what motivates them the most from left to right. It’s a set of cards with different motivators on them.
Luis Magalhaes: You’re really into cards, aren’t you?
Lisette: It’s funny, I’m really into games. Yeah, and I’m really into cards and [inaudible 00:30:36]. I feel like cards are a really easy thing. They’re small, easy to carry around, and super powerful, and I’m a gamer myself. Not a video gamer, but I do love … Board games is my thing.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, nice. We have a big board game. Some big board game aficionados in this [inaudible 00:30:55] actually.
Lisette: Oh, okay, ooh, ooh.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly.
Luis Magalhaes: Since we’re on the game thing, you’ve mentioned very briefly on the book, virtual reality, and I know that you’ve written the book over a period of what, three years? Five years?
Lisette: Five years it took me, yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. Well, I’ve published some books. I know how it is, don’t worry, five years is good. Five years is good.
Lisette: The hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, tell me about it. Have you experimented anything since writing about it? Have you experimented with virtual reality? Has something excited you in the last year or so concerning virtual reality and remote work?
Lisette: Well, one thing that’s exciting is the cost is coming down, so that’s great, so it’s not so prohibitive. There’s a couple of things. I live close to a virtual reality arcade, so that’s what I’ve done is I’ve gone there. And what they do is they put you in a huge room and you get a pack and a gun and you’re on a mission to hunt zombies.
Lisette: And what I’m amazed by is how vivid and how real it is, when you’re in virtual reality. It’s come a long way in the last five years. And the thing with remote work, I don’t mention it, I’m a huge VR fan. I don’t know about it as much as other people do but at every conference you’ll see me at all the VR stands. You’ll see me at all the VR [crosstalk 00:32:18].
Luis Magalhaes: Nice.
Lisette: Because I really-
Luis Magalhaes: What are your favorites? What have you tried?
Lisette: I don’t know what the name actually, that’s an interesting question. I just go to the booths, and then I’m having a hard time, blanking on the names, but I tried-
Luis Magalhaes: You need to try Resident Evil 7. If you don’t suffer from heart problems. If you suffer from heart problems, don’t.
Lisette: No, I got a good heart. I got a good heart.
Luis Magalhaes: Good, then go Resident Evil. I literally played Resident Evil 7 on VR for the first time. I played for 20 minutes. I had zero fights. I didn’t meet any enemy. I just waltzed through an abandoned house. I got to the first safe point and I had to stop and rest for an hour because it was just that stressful.
Lisette: It is really intense. I mean, I had a 20-minute session at this arcade, and I was sweating like crazy after 20, ’cause I’m ducking behind buildings and buying sandbags and going under. I mean, the experience is incredible. In terms of remote teams, there are very few remote teams that are working in virtual reality, sadly. There’s a great tool called [Rumi 00:33:17], which I recently discovered, where you put on your goggles. You go into your virtual office. You walk down the hall, you go into your conference room, and then you stand with your colleagues around a virtual whiteboard and that’s where you do your planning for the day. And this is where they meet daily.
Lisette: The thing is, is that, we’re still as a world struggling with Skype for business and basic conferencing. People are still using spider phones, for god’s sakes and Skype for business, which if you know me, it’s my least favorite tool out there.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I understand.
Lisette: The idea, the reason why I didn’t use …
Luis Magalhaes: I understand.
Lisette: … talk about virtual reality is because, we’re just not there yet. People are just not open to it. We’re still struggling with basic video conferencing and to ask businesses [inaudible 00:34:06] to try virtual reality, it’s just not in the cards.
Lisette: Secretly I’m a huge fan. I show, in all my presentations, I show this clip from Coachella in 2012, where Snoop Dogg is performing in person, in the flesh, and he’s performing with Tupac as a hologram. And if you didn’t know that it was a hologram, if you started watching it, you would never guess. I mean, it looks so lifelike, it’s so real.
Lisette: And if you think about what the possibilities are with holograms and virtual reality, going to the doctor, it changes a whole different thing. The doctor could hologram into your living room. You could go see specialists, you could go to museums. I mean, there’s so many things that you could do with just that, but we’re just not there yet.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, yeah. It’s the future of the future of work. Okay. Wow. It’s been like 40 minutes and I still have so much that I want to ask. But I know that you have a hard stop, so I want to be respectful of your time. I guess that since the DistantJob is mostly about hiring, I need to ask some hiring questions.
Luis Magalhaes: At some point, early in the book, actually, you comment that one of the things that you should look for when hiring remote is people with remote work experience. I want you to comment on a quandary that comes for this, which is, if you’re only looking for people with remote experience, and if that is a big factor in your hiring, how do we get more people remote? But, because people have to start somewhere. And related to that, how do you bring older experienced talent? Maybe people that aren’t as tech-savvy but can be trained to be tech-savvy and have a lot to contribute.
Luis Magalhaes: Because usually companies, there’s a bit of a … We talk a lot about diversity these days, and as well we do, because diversity is important. But do you ever look a bit the diversity of age?
Lisette: Yeah, also, indeed, and as I get older I’m starting to worry about it myself. I was like, “Oh, my god, I’m getting old. I’m gonna be one of those people.” One is, it definitely, I mean, for somebody who hires other people to be on the team and hiring company, I also look for remote working experience, because in my company, I don’t wanna have to train somebody on how to work remotely necessarily. Of course, they get trained on how the team operates. But yeah, then there is a quandary, well how do you get started if … How do you get a job if you don’t have any remote working experience? And I think the answer to that is, is also one of the qualities you want to look for in a person, which you need to be self-motivated and proactive.
Lisette: There are lots and lots of ways to get remote working experience. You can go on Upwork and find small jobs, where you’re interacting with people remotely. That’s one way of getting experience. You’ll do it that way. You can volunteer for organizations so that you can get some sort of remote working experience. You can read the book, which has a whole checklist for individuals about how to work remotely and what are the things you need to think about if you want to work remote.
Lisette: And then also I would say, if you have a current job where you’re co-located, try stepping away or try to work online as if you’re in the office together. Like go and work from home one day a week, and see what problems you run into. I recommend this especially for managers who’s never worked remotely before. That they start to work remotely to see what the problems are that you’re gonna encounter.
Lisette: But if you’ve never worked for a remote company and you really want a remote job, I still think try it out first because you don’t know which part you’re gonna love and which part you’re not gonna love. For instance, some people really get lonely when they’re working remotely. They love going into the office because they love being around people. They love the social atmosphere of being in the office.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s why we have cats.
Lisette: Yeah, I mean, I was gonna say, I don’t have that at all. I hear lots and lots of people have that. I personally don’t have it at all because, for me the office is a place to go but I don’t get to choose who I hang out with at the office. It’s just you go to the office and those are the people you get to hang out with. I have a very rich social life outside of work. I choose the people. I’ve got my climbing friends and my dancing friends and my language group friends. I have no problem going out and finding social contact.
Lisette: But other people really like to get that through their work. You don’t know if you’re gonna find that lonely or not. You don’t know what kind of problems you’re gonna have at home. Is your internet connection good enough? Is there construction outside your house all the time? Do you live really next to a busy road? Are your kids home all the time? Are your cats walking on your keyboard?
Lisette: If you have no experience at all, there’s gonna be a few things that surprise you, about working on your own. I don’t wanna say from home because you could be anywhere. But there are gonna be a few things that surprise you. My recommendation for people who’ve never done it yet is, dip your toe in and start to get some experience. There’s lots of places you can do that. And then figure out what’s gonna work for you and what’s not.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so that sounds good, and I think that could be applied to older people.
Lisette: Oh, yeah, indeed. I forgot about the … Indeed. There’s lots of ways to learn online. We talked about on-demand courses in the past. For people who are older, the same thing applies, I think. Find a way to volunteer remotely, work for a remote organization. There are thousands out there where they would be happy to have a volunteer or even an intern or a place to start. So, yeah, I don’t think that depends on age at all.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, so you also place a lot of emphasis, and I think rightly so, on onboarding and welcoming people into the team. Again, this goes into that awkward mandatory happiness territory. What are the key ingredients? Say, the top three ingredients for planning a great welcome? Let’s say that I was joining the Happy Melly team. What would that look like?
Lisette: When you’re joining the Happy Melly team, one, you get a Trello board, and that Trello board is your onboarding plan. It’s got all the cards, it’s got who’s who in the company, and it’s got, okay, what to do first. First thing is you read the team agreement and you give comments on the team agreement. Then you read about how our compensation works ’cause we have a very strange feedback system that’s unusual to most companies. And, you also have a buddy, so there’s a buddy on the team who’s there to answer any of your questions, like, “Which channel do I post this in?” And, “Where do I go for invoicing?”
Lisette: But essentially, what happens on the team is, you get this Trello board and you work through the cards yourself, and on the cards it says, “If you have questions then this is the person to contact.” We specifically have you add yourself to all the tools. For instance, if you need to get added to the website, you’ve gotta contact [Hanu 00:40:59] to get invited on the website. There’s your chance to reach out to Hanu, get to know him, and have him add you to the website and explain the [crosstalk 00:41:06].
Luis Magalhaes: I see, because I saw the picture of the Trello board in the book and I wondered how did someone go through this. The way I’m used to using Trello boards is, doing task archive, doing task [inaudible 00:41:17] or shifting it between columns. But you use it more or less like a checklist, I guess, or a roadmap.
Lisette: Yeah, indeed. It’s like a to-do list. And there is a … Well, you can’t see ’cause I had to cut it off in the book, there was a size requirement, but what you can’t see is there’s a done column. Once you’re done and you’ve been added, you move that card to the done-
Luis Magalhaes: Ah, that all makes sense now.
Lisette: Yeah. [inaudible 00:41:35]. Limited by Amazon.
Luis Magalhaes: You needed a centerfold.
Lisette: Every team has its own system and the only thing that I would encourage is … I had this experience once where I showed up at an office that they had hired and this was an in-person job. And I didn’t even have a-
Luis Magalhaes: I love that story.
Lisette: I didn’t even have a chair. I showed up for my first day of work. There’s a desk. There’s no monitor, there’s no chair. You just don’t feel welcome. That is not the-
Luis Magalhaes: You were just spoiled. When I was in that situation, I didn’t even get a desk. They just gave me an IKEA package and told me figure it out, assemble it.
Lisette: Oh, my god, yeah. It’s exciting, your first day of the job is exciting and you don’t want to tamper that energy from the get-go. What we also do at Happy Melly is we send everybody a gift. For instance, we have colleagues in India. We sent them a cake and flowers, which is something that you can order online in India. We had another colleague from Germany just start. We sent her, her favorite type of wine with a treats box. You get something in the mail, and you get your Trello board.
Lisette: And one of the parts on the Trello board is you have to organize a virtual drinks with the team. During a virtual drinks, we have you create a personal map of yourself, which is just a mind map of yourself.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, so it’s the new people that’s organizing? The new person is-
Lisette: Yeah, the new person organizing.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s very smart. That’s very smart because since it’s not organized by the leadership, it doesn’t feel like mandatory. That’s very [crosstalk 00:43:12].
Lisette: On your own time as per what you need, and because it’s a remote team, we hire proactive people. It’s not a test of your productivity but it’s because we’ve hired proactivity that they have no problem working through these Trello boards on their own.
Luis Magalhaes: You failed the drinking party task, you’re done, sorry.
Lisette: Hard to fail that one. Diversity, we have two women on our team are Muslims. They don’t drink at all. And so, we have a virtual tea party together, and that was just fine with the rest of us.
Luis Magalhaes: Which is fine, yeah, it is fine.
Lisette: We’re inclusive of all types.
Luis Magalhaes: All right. Again, I want to be respectful of your time, but I do need to ask one final question, and then obviously ask you where people can find you. You need to do a co-located event. Well, that’s not necessarily how dinners work, but for the purpose of this example let’s make it be a co-located dinner. You are hosting a dinner at the Chinese restaurant, and all the technology-related decision makers in Silicon Valley are attending. They’re having a roundtable about remote work. What is the message that you put inside the fortune cookies?
Lisette: Whoa, okay. Let me get this straight. We have a dinner, an in-person dinner at a Chinese restaurant with all the Silicon Valley execs.
Luis Magalhaes: You got to pick the fortune cookie message.
Lisette: Oh, my goodness. If I had to pick the fortune cookie message, I would say, “To thrive, be remote first.”
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a good message. Thank you very much. I will add that to my fortune cookie top 10.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, so tell people about your work, where they can find you if they want to continue the conversation.
Lisette: Yeah, everything you could possibly need is at collaborationsuperpowers.com. I really hope that people try the workshops. If you’ve never worked remotely before, this is a great way to dip your toe in. And if you have worked remotely before and you’re just looking for ways to take it up a notch, then the workshop is a really fun way to share and hear other people’s experiences. Yeah, I would love that, and of course, get the book. It’s a big book.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s a great book. Yeah, it is a really good book. I really appreciate the way you put it together. It’s just such an awesome amount of info. But more importantly, it’s a reference book. You can easily look up whatever question you may have in the index, and get to the appropriate content. I really appreciate your organization, so thank you very much for [crosstalk 00:45:52].
Lisette: Oh, thank you.
Luis Magalhaes: And again, all the links to Lisette’s stuff will be in the show notes. You’ll be able to find them in the show notes. And Lisette, it’s been a pleasure. I mean, I wish we were doing this in person, just so I could hold you hostage with coffees and pastries and keep going on for an extra hour. But I know that you’re-
Lisette: [crosstalk 00:46:14].
Luis Magalhaes: So, thank you very much for coming.
Lisette: Thank you. Thank you, I appreciate it.
Luis Magalhaes: And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Lisette Sutherland, and her book is Work Together Anywhere: The Handbook on Working Remotely Successfully For Individuals, Teams, and Managers. Now, I will have the Amazon link on the show notes, as well as the link to Lisette’s website and Collaboration Superpowers.
Luis Magalhaes: But a couple of things before you leave. Number one, thank you so much for sharing the show. It really helps us a lot. It helps us reach more people and spread our remote work message. Please keep on doing it, on Linkedin, on Twitter, on Facebook, wherever you feel like it. Also, it’s very rewarding and very helpful if you leave your reviews on your podcast listening service of choice. Not only Items, though Items is the most popular one, but wherever you listen to the podcast there is probably an option to leave a review. So please do so, we would be very thankful.
Luis Magalhaes: Finally, if you need help with hiring, with building an incredible remote team, that you direct following Lisette’s tips, you could come to us. You should come to us. We’re pretty good at it. We do it 40% faster than the industry standard, and we take care of everything from finding the people to payment and HR. So the next time you need a remote superstar, think globally, think remote, think DistantJob.
Luis Magalhaes: Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next week.
Our conversation with Lisette goes from hiring to onboarding to how to get experience in the remote work arena, even veering at times into the weird and wonderful world of video-gaming and virtual reality. All of this with her book as the background.
As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!
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