Leading a fully remote team with Jamon Holmgren

Jamon Holmgren is the Co-Founder and CTO at Infinite Red, a consultancy where they design, develop, launch, and support mobile and web apps. He’s a software developer, husband, and father of four. His life-long obsession with coding has taken him from running large excavation equipment to framing houses to 3D CAD design, until he eventually landed on a career in software.

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Luis Magalhaes: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the DistantJob podcast, the podcast about building and leading remote team [inaudible 00:00:14]. I am your host, Luis. With me today, I have Jamon Holmgren. Jamon, welcome to the podcast.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Luis. It’s really nice to be on your podcast.

Luis Magalhaes: Jamon is the founder and CTO at Infinite Red. Jamon, would you want to expand on that? Tell our listeners a bit more about you, what’s with you, all the contents related to remote work and work, in general, that you put out there.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Absolutely. I am, as you said, one of the co-founders of Infinite Red. My current position is CTO. I’ve been a software developer for about 14 years. I own my own consultancy for 10 years. Then four years ago, I ended up starting a business with … Now, Todd Werth and Gant Laborde are my business partners. We’re a consultancy. We do, mostly, mobile apps. That’s what we’re known for. We do mobile apps in React Native. We do design. We do a lot of react as well on the website of things. I have a team of about 30, right now. Yeah. I mostly lead the engineers. I also do a fair amount of technical sales.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. You have a great podcast. Well, you are part of a great podcast serious about … it’s called, Building Infinite Red? What is-

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. That’s right.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I listen to a couple of episodes. I was humbled by the quality, actually. It’s very smooth. It’s very clear. It inspired me to up my game.

Jamon Holmgren: I appreciate that. Yeah. It was a lot of fun to put together Season 1. We’re holding off on Season 2 for now, but we’re going to get back into it at some point here.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Well, it comes highly recommended. I will include links to it in the show notes.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. We talk about remote work quite a bit in there as well. It’s one of the underlying themes of that podcast as well as other business-related things. It was just starting with consultancy.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Since we’re touching on remote work and we at DistantJob are all about remote work, that is our [inaudible 00:02:35]. What’s the thing that most excites you, right now, regarding remote work and why?

Jamon Holmgren: We started doing remote work probably four years ago, five years ago. Somewhere in that range. At my previous consultancy, actually, we started doing that and then really solidified it once we merged with Todd with that. I think the big change in that amount of time has been the tools. For example, you and I, right now, we’re talking on Zoom. I’m in Portland, Oregon. Well, near Portland, Oregon. I’m just north of there in Southwest Washington State. We’re nowhere near each other. It’s very cool to have this real-time face-to-face that wasn’t really … You can do Skype. Skype has been around for a long time, but it was just poor quality and just always had glitches and would hang up and stuff. The tools have gotten so much better.

Jamon Holmgren: I also think that it’s becoming more acceptable in society to be a remote worker. People didn’t understand it before. Like “What do you mean? You just work in your pajamas all day and you don’t actually do any work,” and things like that, but-

Luis Magalhaes: Well, when people ask me about my lifestyle, I just do the team first thing and say, “I’m a dream dealer” and that’s it. It’s easier to explain.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. They get that. Yeah. I think that it’s mostly centered around the tools and the things that enable us to do the work that we’re trying to do remotely.

Luis Magalhaes: All right. I have a quote. I believe this is a quote from you, but I might be wrong. Correct me if I am. That basically says that remote work can be a power to fix incredible societal problems from over inflated housing markets to global warming, to dual income families stretched in. Am I misquoting you? Did you never say this? I was super curious because this is something that I believe in and I don’t get a lot of people talking about this. What are your thoughts on this one? What led you to say this, if you did say it?

Jamon Holmgren: I don’t remember that exact quote, but it does sound … the spirit of it definitely sounds like something I would say. It’s interesting because we’ve put so much effort into infrastructure to get these heavy metal boxes containing, generally, one person from one place to another just so that they can then go and sit at a computer connected to the internet, which by the way, is also connected to their home, back at home. Or it doesn’t have to be their home. There could be a short walk down the street to a co-working space and they happen to have internet there too. As long as your job can be done on the internet, then why are we spending all of this energy, time, expense, all these roads, the capacity. Everybody complains about traffic. They’re dumping tons and tons of pollution and CO2 into the atmosphere as they’re sitting there idling, waiting for the traffic to clear.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah, there are some other options like maybe, you could take public transit or maybe electric cars or whatever. Those are potential ways to fix this, but we have the literal ability to almost teleport ourselves into the office or wherever we need to be through video calls and other types of remote communication. Yeah, it really does solve a lot of problems. Not only that, but there are some other really cool things too. For example, I have four kids. If one of them is sick, they can be keep an eye on them as I’m working. I don’t need to necessarily miss a day of work. I can keep rolling, but then, I can also be there for my kid. My wife doesn’t have to bear the burnt of that. She can continue to do the things that she wants to do if she’s volunteering or going to the store or doing whatever she’s doing.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s a big deal though. That’s a big deal. How do you organize in these situations? Because in my experience, my own experience and the experience of a lot of people that I’ve worked with is that, when they’re working at home and then suddenly a child-related emergency happens, they can’t do their work.

Jamon Holmgren: Right.

Luis Magalhaes: They are consumed by the child-related emergency. We’re a family friendly company. We’re all about that. I’m never going to say that people shouldn’t do that.

Jamon Holmgren: Right.

Luis Magalhaes: I’m constantly impressed by people that can do what you just say you did, which is, I can juggle my sick kid and still get my work done. Maybe not that maximum capacity but good enough that I don’t feel that it’s wrecked my productivity.

Jamon Holmgren: Right. I think every family has different dynamics. I grew up in a large family. I’m a second of nine kids. We grew up to be independent of our parents, to some degree. They didn’t have the attention to give all of us. Of course, they obviously did spend a lot of time with each of us, but it wasn’t a constant thing. You hear about helicopter parents these days. That is definitely a thing, but it’s not me. It’s not me. My kids are pretty self-sufficient. I’m here if they need me, but I’m doing my work. Even if they’re sick, that’s generally the case. I don’t know. It is interesting to me too because there are parents at Infinite Red. They may take a full day off if their kid is sick. I tend to not do that, but then I also do have help from my wife at home too. That’s helpful. She’s a stay at home mom. She’s able to do quite a bit as well.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. I would say, overall, it’s just different family dynamics and things like that. I don’t know. I figure I can take short breaks and go help them and do whatever they need to do, but most of the time, they don’t need me hovering over them.

Luis Magalhaes: All right. That’s a nice setup that you have over there. When it comes to remote work, you told me you’ve been doing remote work for five years now. Let’s say, in the last two to three years, what have you changed your mind the most about remote work? What did you think when you started that don’t believe now after doing it for five years?

Jamon Holmgren: That’s a really good question. I think one of the more interesting things that, I think, I have changed my mind on is that face-to-face interaction is still extremely important. I use to think like you could still just do video calls and stuff, which you can and that is important, but you still need to get everybody together once in a while. We do fly everybody to one location to work together for a week every year. It’s usually in October. We’ve done it a couple times here in the specific Northwest area. Actually, several specific Northwest area. We did it once in Las Vegas. That’s been really cool. Nice to sit down and work together.

Jamon Holmgren: I think another piece of this that I didn’t … I don’t know if I necessarily didn’t believe it, but I didn’t really think about it was that remotely doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to work from home. There are co-working spaces now. You can go rent a desk. You can work from a coffee shop. It’s just like remote work isn’t so much work from home. It’s more work wherever work is best for you.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That makes sense. That makes sense. In fact, some people are much more productive working from some place that’s not their home but that’s also not necessarily the office.

Jamon Holmgren: Exactly. Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Was there any unforeseen consequence from making your company a fully remote company?

Jamon Holmgren: I think that we had to work a lot harder to make people feel connected than I anticipated. The amount of communication that has to happen, amount of just changing how do we interact with people. In an office, you have all these little interactions that happen throughout the day and you just don’t have that with remote work. You have to be more intentional of it. It’s not that we don’t say that remote work doesn’t have downsides. It does. It’s more that they’re worth it.

Luis Magalhaes: I agree with that. What are some of the downsides? I’m curious if it’s the same ones that I detect.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. I think just feeling disconnected with the rest of the team is a piece of this. I don’t always know what everybody is working on. I can’t look around the office and see people working on things or I definitely can’t see their body language when they’re typing in Slack. I think that it’s easy to, maybe, not notice when someone is having a bad day. It’s-

Luis Magalhaes: Well, that’s a good one.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. It’s easy to overlook people. Now, to counteract that, one of the things that I’ve done … One thing that I think we’ve done to counteract that is, every week, I will actually reach out to people and ask, “What’s your stress level? Zero to 10 and 10 being super, super stressed and zero being not stressed at all. Then I’ll get an answer like six. I do this in direct messages. I just message each person individually. I would say, “Interesting. What’s your baseline stress?” Maybe they say, “Well, I’m normally at about like a three or four.” Okay. It’s a little higher than normal. Because some people, their baseline stress is a seven or their baseline stress is a zero. I’m pretty much a zero or one. If I’m at a three or a four, that means I’m stressed. If other people are at a three or four, maybe they’re not stressed or at least not any more than normal.

Jamon Holmgren: Then I’ll ask, “What are the drivers of that? What is driving that stress?” Sometimes it’s something at home like something in their personal life and they don’t necessarily need to tell me all the details, but they’ll at least let me know that something is going on. Other times, it’s like “You know, it’s this project. This project is really stressing me out for some reason.” Sometimes there’s things like that.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s interesting. Yeah. I haven’t talked about it because when you’re at the office, you can definitely see the person that comes in with the proverbial storm cloud hanging over their head.

Jamon Holmgren: Exactly. Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. What’s the conversation like when you explain people that you expect this from them? Does it happen during onboarding? Is it something that just naturally happens in the company? How do you handle this? Because it takes a bit of trust.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Certainly, most people, when they start to work for a company, they try to make themselves look as sunshine and roses as possible, right?

Jamon Holmgren: Right. Yeah. It’s very important during onboarding to let people know the … especially if they’ve never worked remotely before, what some of the things that they need to watch out for are. For example, we hired a sales coordinator recently. She had never worked remotely before. A fantastic coordinator. She’s been great to work with, but one of the things I had to say early on was, “Make sure that you over communicate. Make sure that you communicate more often than you use to.” Because if we’re in an office, then I can just see what you’re working on and maybe we’ll talk about it here and there as we’re going throughout our day.

Luis Magalhaes: Of course.

Jamon Holmgren: When we’re working remotely, I can go a whole day without hearing from you. It just never comes up. You have to be a little more intentional about it. Like “Hey, this is what I’m working on. These are some things I need from you.” Just doing that more regularly. Often, we will jump into Zoom to close that gap a bit too.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That’s a good way to do it. What does your usual day look like? What is your usual work routine once you start your day? What is it like at Infinite Red?

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Mine, specifically, I generally get going at around 8:00 a.m. I do about an hour of open source or some other type of coding to stay on top of my game. I work a lot on our open source or we have some internal tools that I’ll hack on or maybe I’ll work on our conference app because we put on a conference called, Chain React for React Native developers. That app means to be ready for July when we’re going to have the conference. I’m going to hack on that a little bit. I do that about an hour and then from 9:00 to 10:00, I’ll work on my email and respond to sales leads or things like that. Generally working on my sales work because there’s always something to be done there. Then 10:00 or 11:00, I’ll usually have a meeting, whether it’s with my business partners or with the leadership team which I have one today, for example, at 11:00. I’m going to be working with the leadership team to go over some leadership topics.

Jamon Holmgren: Or I do meet with my engineering team. We have four engineering teams with three or four people each. We get together and talk about engineering topics and different things. It’s nice to have those touchpoints. Then, I usually have some sales meetings as well. Meeting with people, talking about potential projects. I have one at 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Then the rest of the day is a lot of random staff, catching up on Slack and helping developers with things, making sure that our operations team has what they need as far as the engineering side of things, and networking with other people. Maybe I’ll go to coffee with somebody. I do spend a lot of time connecting with different types of people. My day is very, I guess, people focused. I really enjoy that first hour of the day when I get to code. I had carved that off because otherwise, I would never get a chance.

Luis Magalhaes: I want to dive deeper into that because that’s something that I felt. I was wondering if you’re going to touch this because you mentioned at the beginning that your origin story is as a developer. My origin story was as a writer. Then I started doing content writing and then content marketing and then director of marketing. I definitely felt the pain. I’m so glad that you talked about doing that hour to stay in the game, to keep your game fresh. I definitely feel the need for that. You seem to have in your calendar a lot less make your time than manage your time or leader time. How was that transition? It wasn’t easy for me. It’s still isn’t easy for me. I assume it wasn’t easy for you. How did you deal with it?

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. I started my business in 2005. It was just me for four years. Then after four years, I started hiring some people, which means, I’ve been a manager leader for about 10 years now. More or less, I guess, for the next five years, spent most of my time coding and leading at the same time. I would work on a project. I would have people working with me. I would, pretty much, be the lead programmer on a project. Then probably about five years ago, that was when I made the transition to just basically leading. My last leading in actual project and doing significant coding was in 2014. That was a great project. It was really fun to do and everything, but after a certain point, as a business owner, you have to look at yourself as being the bottleneck. You’re not helping by coding. You’re actually holding us back.

Jamon Holmgren: I think, if I were to go back and talk to Jamon from 2005, I would probably say, “Hey, you need to spend less time coding and more time building the business.” I don’t know. I enjoyed the coding part of it. Maybe it was fine. It did slow down my business growth. It took a lot longer to get to where we are right now because of that.

Luis Magalhaes: Jamon, from 2005, I would have some choice words to say to feature you.

Jamon Holmgren: Probably. Like “What are you talking about? This is the most fun I’ve ever had, coding. I don’t want to run the business. I want to code.”

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. All right. From listening to your podcast and from reading your remote work handbook, I know that you’re a very value centric, culture essential company. You’re also very explicit about performance expectations and measuring. How do you keep track of how your employees are succeeding or they are having trouble? What kind of reporting structure do you use? How do you look at performance or how was the actual technicals of structure? Because from the people I talk to, there’s always a conflict here between not trying to measure work by hours. That’s always a full errands, but in any business, really but especially in remote work, it doesn’t work like that. A lot of people have trouble just finding a way to have their employee’s report to them without feeling pushy, without feeling like they’re always breathing down their neck.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Yeah, I think that remote work brings a lot of that to the forefront. Because no longer can you just pretend to be watching them by looking over their shoulder as you walk by, which by the way, is not a great way to measure productivity, anyway, because employees get very good at pretending like they’re working. Another thing that I’ve learned is that any measurement that is easy is going to be bad. It’s not going to be a good measurement. Any measurement that is easy to collect and quantify such as how much time you spend in the office, maybe how many commits you have, how many lines of code. Those are all terrible metrics. They just don’t work. Ultimately, you have to put in the work to actually figure out how someone is doing through a holistic approach. Talk to them directly, talk to the people that they’re working with, talk to the clients that they’re working with. You need to, actually, sometimes experience how they work yourself by, maybe, working with them on something, which I try to do and get a holistic view of many different people.

Jamon Holmgren: If you don’t have enough data points, then mix up the teams and be like “Hey, you’re going to work with this person for a while,” and see how they perform there. Generally speaking, people are pros and they want to get better and they want to work hard and produce something valuable. I don’t have to babysit them. At the same time, I think it is important, as you said, to have some level of accountability there because we all tend to atrophy if we don’t have that feedback loop. It’s still a work in progress as far as what things that I would look to as really good indicators of someone’s success. Ultimately, if the client is happy, if the team who is working with them is happy, if I enjoy working with them, then that’s a good indicator.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. It definitely sounds like a good indicator. I want to talk a bit, now, about actually building the team. I know that you’ve made a point of making sure that the growth of the company is slow and stable. It makes a lot of sense. Something that spiked my interest and I don’t know if this is accurate information, but I found it in a blog. We all know that the company blog is the gospel. It must be true. It must be true, but I read that all your designers and developers are US based. Some might be nomads, but they’re still US based. Why is this so? Was it a conscious decision? Not hiring anyone from outside the US or was it just the way things happened?

Jamon Holmgren: I think it primarily started out because we were not a remote company, at first. We had more local people. We do have a few contractors who are outside of the US, but everybody, core team, is … everybody who’s actually a W2 employee is here in the US. The majority of our project teams are all fully US based. I think that that is a piece that we wanted to focus on the US market. We wanted to focus on US developers. I think that that was a conscious decision after the first initial part where we weren’t remote and that was less of a conscious decision because it’s hard to hire someone from outside the US when you have a central office to commute to, but yeah, that definitely has been a piece of what we do. We generally look at US based people for new employees.

Jamon Holmgren: Right now, we are mostly hiring freelancers to help expand our team a little bit without taking on a bunch of core employees. We’re also considering a junior apprentice program, which we may announce at some point.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s very nice.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. ClearSight-

Luis Magalhaes: Would this program be open to people outside US or are you still wanting to stick with that?

Jamon Holmgren: We’ll probably end up sticking with that, at least, at first because there are a lot of places even within the US that are great sources of junior talent. My original company, which was called ClearSight, I actually taught most of the developers as juniors and brought them all the way up, they’re almost all seniors now. I think they’re all seniors now. That was really cool. It was a part of my identity for the original company. We haven’t done that so much with Infinite Red now, but I want to get back to my roots on that.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That sounds nice and definitely satisfying to see people grow like that. Well, I’m wondering, what do you feel is the blocker from hiring people from outside? Is it a concern about time zones or language difficulty, something like that?

Jamon Holmgren: I think that time zones are definitely an issue. Even if someone has exactly the same language and culture, being in a different time zone really causes issues. Also, I think there are some things where just culturally since a lot of our customers are American, it’s nice to have people who understand the culture and understand the expectations a little better. It’s just easier to manage them. I won’t rule it out entirely in the future. That is something that I definitely have a huge amount of respect for developers all over the world. I’ve met them at conferences and stuff and there’s incredible talent everywhere. If you’re talking time zone like Central and South America are amazing because they’re closer to time zones and there’s really awesome developers down there, but then there’s also awesome developers over in Eastern Europe and Africa is now emerging as a really great place where we see a lot of great Nigerian developers coming out of Nigeria.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah, it’s becoming very much a global industry. For us, ourselves, because we’re so small and we have a particular focus, then it makes, I think, the most sense to do US based.

Luis Magalhaes: All right. Sounds great. I definitely agree with you there. I’m not so sure about Africa, but I do know some incredible people in South and Central America. I couldn’t listen to the whole series yet, on your podcast, but one that caught my attention because it’s an area that interested me a lot is the one on hiring. That’s why we’re talking about this now. What the sense I got there is that as far as employees measure up with certain technical bar, what you really paid the most attention to is strong and soft skillset and fitting and values. What is the looking for and finding these values to look like? What are the kinds of questions or conversations that you have with people to figure out if they live up to these values and if they have the required soft skills?

Jamon Holmgren: I think that there’s no replacement for some level of experience with people. If you had a chance to interact with them regularly over time, that’s the best thing. We have a community, Slack. If you go to community.infinite.red, you can get an invite to our Slack community. We interact with them in there. If we see someone who seems to be just a good overall person, then they rise up a little higher on our radar. Also working on open source together, see how they interact with people on open source, but ultimately, we really love the model of paying someone a contract and having them work with us to see how they perform in a natural project with actual pressures and with an actual team. That’s a fantastic way to do.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s so cool. That’s how we do it as well.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s a really great way to-

Luis Magalhaes: Do you have any specific setup? At DistantJob, we basically do three months. For three months, we give you full benefits, fully salary, full everything. After three months, we reconvene and we figure out if we want to continue with it or not.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a great way to go.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Okay.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. I really do think it’s a great way to go. There are some downsides to that. Obviously, not everybody can quit their job and have, potentially, did not work out, but-

Luis Magalhaes: As long as you’re upfront with it. People knew what they’re getting into.

Jamon Holmgren: Exactly. You’re upfront about it and this is the option. It does exclude some people. Now, I think if we do come up with this junior program, that will help a lot because these people will be coming from other industries and/or just starting out. That will be a fantastic first engagement, I think, to break into the industry. Yeah, I love it as a way to get to know someone. A lot of times, what you find is that, maybe some people interview well, but ultimately, you get them in a day-to-day situation and they don’t show up or they don’t ship or whatever might happen. There’s no substitute for that.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I agree. I absolutely agree. I want to go into, now, a bit last remote and Infinite Red centric and talking a bit more, finishing up by talking a bit more about your personal trajectory. I was wondering. I think you’re the first person that I have on the podcast that had a high profile company merger. I’m wondering, what’s the best lesson that that experience taught you, the merging cloud site with Infinite Red? What’s the best lesson you took from that?

Jamon Holmgren: Well, I think that I locked out in some ways because I wasn’t necessarily … I’d never done a merger before. It wasn’t something that I really understood the dynamics that were happening there, but I had the benefit of really great partners. They understood. They had been through the process a little bit more. They understood the risks that were involved with that. We actually ran our businesses together as if they were one business for a while. I still had separate books and everything, but just put people together on projects and paid each other. It was really interesting to make decisions together like that. It was almost like dating in a way. We got a chance to see how we interacted. It worked out pretty well. I think it was risky. I think there were a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong, but where I was at the point, I really was looking forward to that. That’s totally lived up to it. It’s been fantastic to have someone to share the load.

Jamon Holmgren: It gives me so many more, I guess, perspectives and experience that adds to my own and has been a really good thing, but I would definitely say going to it very carefully, setup very clear expectations, and then have a very, I guess, straightforward way to exit. It’s really important to have exit plans. If this doesn’t work out after one year, two years, three years, four years, how do we then break this up without killing the businesses or how do we buy someone out. That’s something that I think is really important to get very, very clear. Use an actual lawyer, use an actual person who knows what’s going on and make sure that it’s very solid. Then work very hard on your relationship, spend a lot of time together. My partners and I would spend … every week, we have three meetings. We didn’t have an end time. If we need to just sit and talk for three hours, we would sit and talk for three hours.

Jamon Holmgren: It’s really about getting you to know where we’re all from, coming from, what our goals are, how we’re encountering certain challenges and how we fix those things. All of those things are really important. Spend that amount of time. Because then, when the going gets tough like it did last year for us, it got a little tough for us, but we had that relationship to fall back on and that trust level was really high. That was really important for us getting into this partnership.

Luis Magalhaes: Hey there. It’s Luis. Welcome to the intermission of the DistantJob podcast. If you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a very big chance that you’re interested in building a great remote team. To build a great remote team, you need great remote employees. That’s where DistantJob comes in. Here’s how it works. You tell us the position that you need to fill. We talk to you. We try to figure out, not only what are the exact requirements that that person should have, but also, we tried to figure out who would be a perfect fit for your company culture because we really believe that that matters. Then, once we have an exact picture of what we’re looking for, we’re off to the races.

Luis Magalhaes: Our recruiters tap into their global network. We filter people very well, so that you don’t waste your time interviewing people that are never going to be of interest to you. We make sure because we are techies and our recruiters are techies as well. When people get to you, they are already preselected and you just have to decide between the cream of the crop. Once you make your selection, we handle all the paperwork. We handle HR for you. We handle payments. You get a full-time remote employee. That’s among the best on the world and managed entirely by you, by your processes and following your culture. If this sounds good, visit us at www.distantjob.com. Without further ado, let’s get back with the show. Thank you for listening.

Luis Magalhaes: The feeling that I get from you and I got this from the podcast where you participate, The Infinite Red podcast, but I’m also getting it here is that you’re a very relaxed person, a very cool person. I’m wondering if … but being a leader sometimes is stressful. Right now, I can’t imagine you being stressed, but I’m sure that at some point during the last, let’s say, 10 years you were, is there any lesson that … during your growth as a leader, was there any lesson that you learned the hard way that you-

Jamon Holmgren: I tend to be pretty able to handle stress. I’m able to just keep going. I have the motor. It doesn’t seem to really stop me, but last year really taught me that there was an upper limit to that. There is a point where it becomes really tough. I had some personal stress going on at the time too because I had … my house was set on fire, actually-

Luis Magalhaes: Wow.

Jamon Holmgren: … by a burglar. We weren’t home at the time. Nobody was hurt, but you pick up the pieces almost literally and rebuild our home. That was going on for the first part of the year. My stress level was much higher. Like I said in the beginning, my stress level was, normally, a zero or one. My baseline was more like a four or five that whole year.

Luis Magalhaes: Wow. I can imagine. That was a tough situation, for sure.

Jamon Holmgren: Yes. Exactly. That, in addition to the challenges at work were really tough. I learned that I did have an upper limit. There was a point where my stress level got too high. I actually even had panic attacks, which I never had before in my life. It was a whole new experience and not a fun one. I found that I was less able to deal with challenges. It was much harder for me. I would get upset about things much quicker. Likely though, I feel like that’s gone away. It’s been over a year now. I feel like I’m back to where I was before, at least, to a large degree.

Luis Magalhaes: Were there any specific actions that you took to get back to baseline stress level or was it just time?

Jamon Holmgren: I think that time was a big thing, but also, I did change my job. I was chief operating officer before and I changed to CTO, which brought me back into code which allowed me to refocus on the things that I really loved, and huge, huge credit to my co-founder, Todd Werth, who took on a lot of those operational things. He allowed me to move into that position. I really appreciated that. Also, our co-owner, Gant Laborde, took on the chain react conference leadership, which allowed me to then shed that. Because I was the type to just take on anything and because of that, I had gotten loaded up with a lot of things and the stress level is very, very high. Now, really, I’m in charge of two things. I’m in charge of our technical team and our sales. Those are the two things that I need to worry about. I can really focus on those. That really helped.

Jamon Holmgren: I also was working out regularly. I built a gym in my garage once we moved back in. That was really helpful. It helped my stress level immensely. I stopped drinking so much caffeine. That was actually-

Luis Magalhaes: I can’t do that. No, I was with you up to home gym. I would come up there, but don’t touch my coffee.

Jamon Holmgren: Exactly. I was the same way, but I don’t know. I’m 37 1/2 now. Actually, as of today, I’m 37 1/2. It was-

Luis Magalhaes: Happy birthday.

Jamon Holmgren: Yes. Thank you. Thank you. I know because it’s my daughter’s birthday today. She just turned eight and I’m 29 1/2 years older than her. The caffeine just seems to affect me differently now. I drink a lot of decaf. I avoid drinking too much caffeine. That actually helped a lot. Yeah, working out, caffeine, just spending a little more time with my kids. It just feels like there’s a lot of stuff that I was able to focus on and get back to where I needed to be, but time was a big piece of it, for sure.

Luis Magalhaes: All right. Let’s get back to taking care of your team and perhaps, some lighter matters, but thank you for sharing your story. This was really nice.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: I can’t say that I’ve had the stressful experience as you did, but I am definitely going to take you up on the home gym. Maybe not with the caffeine. Let’s see how that goes.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. Absolutely.

Luis Magalhaes: If you have $100 to spend on each person that works for you, what would you give them? I’m specifically asking to improve their work life.

Jamon Holmgren: That’s a really good question. I think for remote workers, it’s really important to have good lighting and good audio equipment and a good webcam. Now, generally, if you’re using a MacBook Pro, it comes with a good webcam. You got that, but for $100, you can actually get pretty far with your audio equipment and your lighting. For example, I have and I’m just showing it for our podcast audience that cannot see it. I am just-

Luis Magalhaes: It’s a very nice light.

Jamon Holmgren: Yes. I have an LED light that has a flexible neck. It’s $22 or something, but it helps backfill one side of my face which would be too dark, otherwise, when we’re talking on video calls. I think that having that is good because we do video calls quite often and it’s nice to have good equipment that you can trust. I also have a good setup. It’s a little more than $100. It’s about $200, maybe $250 for my microphone, the microphone boom that I use. Then the box, I don’t know what you call it, but [inaudible 00:44:45] box here that the mic goes into and then plugs into a USB. That allows me to have good sound as well.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I can definitely notice that. The investment in microphone and webcam are really cool. I’m curious about the LED light. I haven’t thought about it, but it really makes your picture quality look very nice. Very nice. What about books, what book or books have you gifted the most? You can’t say your remote work handbook. I’m going to link that anyway.

Jamon Holmgren: Yeah. I appreciate that. We did put that together. It was a team effort. It says that it’s by the founders of Infinite Red, but it was really a team effort. I use to be a huge reader when I was in high school and middle school. I read a ton. I don’t read so much anymore. At least, not books, but I do follow a blog that I very religiously called Stratechery. Stratechery is really interesting. It’s by Ben Thompson. I think it’s one blog post per week free and then you can subscribe, which I do, to get four per week. This is a fantastic tech industry blog that analyzes the changes that are happening and the businesses, especially the large businesses that are encountering different challenges and competing and collaborating and doing different things. I find it very interesting because I don’t have a degree. I don’t have an MBA or anything like that. This is my MBA, is reading this everyday catching up on industry news and reading analysis of it. I highly recommend Stratechery.

Luis Magalhaes: Sounds right. Okay. I’m getting to the point where I’m getting conscious about how generous you’ve been with your time. I want to bring this pleasant conversation to an end. I want to ask you one more question and that is, let’s say, let me setup the scene here. Let’s say that you’re hosting a dinner with the top tech [Zacks 00:47:10] from Silicon Valley, CTOs, chief engineers, et cetera. They’re going to have a dinner. You’re going to host the dinner and they are going to have a round table about the future of remote work. Setup at the Chinese restaurant. As the host, you get to choose the message that goes inside the Fortune cookies that they crack open at the end of the meal. What is the Fortune cookie message?

Jamon Holmgren: We’re talking about the future of remote work with this.

Luis Magalhaes: Yes. Yes.

Jamon Holmgren: Interesting. I think I would say something like “Start from a blank slate” or something like that. Don’t be hung up by the societal norms that we have in place right now. Reset and start over and say, “What if we did not need to all be co-located? What if nobody was? What if the only people that are co-located were if they actually, physically, had to be in that spot like hairdressers or something like that?” I’m talking about like white-collar work. What if nobody was? What infrastructure would we need? What changes to where people lived and how their, I guess, lives are constructed? I guess I would just say, “Start from a blank slate and let’s reset our expectations.”

Luis Magalhaes: That’s a beautiful question and beautiful advice. That’s a great place to end. Okay, Jamon, you and your company put out great, beautiful, enlightening content out there. I’m going to link to all of that.

Jamon Holmgren: Awesome.

Luis Magalhaes: If people, specifically, want to continue the conversation with you and reach out to you, where can they find you?

Jamon Holmgren: I think the best place is Twitter. If you go to twitter.com/jamonholmgren, J-a-m-o-n H-o-l-m-g-r-e-n. You’re going to find me and I love connecting with people on Twitter, so please do. My direct messages are open if you want to chat about various things.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s how I got to you.

Jamon Holmgren: Yes. Exactly. I appreciated it a lot. I love just being a part of the community there. I’m an extrovert. I like people. I like hanging out with people especially online, so definitely reach out.

Luis Magalhaes: All right. Thank you so much for your time. This was a lovely conversation, Jamon.

Jamon Holmgren: Likewise, Luis. I really appreciate it.

Luis Magalhaes: 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 this conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blogs/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 Magalhaes: Of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team as 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 a deal. See you next week on the next episode.

More ways to listen:

In this episode, we talk about a wide variety of topics, but fundamentally: leading a fully remote team. What is it like to lead remotely? What are the downsides? How do you manage your time efficiently? And, how do you measure your team’s performance?

Jamon highly recommends the blog Stratechery by Ben Thompson.


As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!

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