Learning and Leading Remote with Tammy Bjelland | DistantJob - Remote Recruitment Agency

Learning and Leading Remote with Tammy Bjelland

Luis Magalhaes

Today’s guest is Tammy Bjelland, the founder and president of Learning in Bloom, a learning solutions company that specializes in instructional design and a task-based approach to talent and expertise development. She is also the founder of Workplaceless, where she provides resources to individuals who want to advance their careers while working remotely, and to organizations that want to build and grow productive, engaged distributed workforces.

Tammy Bjelland

Read the transcript

Luis Magalhaes:    Hello, ladies and gentlemen. This is Luis from DistantJob. I am the Director of Marketing of DistantJob, and this is the DistantJob Podcast, where we talk to people about how to build and lead remote teams who win. And my guest today is Tammy, Tammy Bjelland. Did I say that right, Tammy?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, you did.

Luis Magalhaes:    Good. Well, it’s a first. I am usually terrible at saying my guests’ names. But anyway, so Tammy is a published author. She published a book about how to learn online. In fact, the book, I believe it’s called exactly that, How to Learn Online. She is a TEDx speaker, she also is in the process of writing a novel and a nonfiction book. Am I right?

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, oh, there’s always writing projects. Yeah, there’s always projects to be done.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. On top of this, on top of this, she is the Founder and CEO of Workplaceless, that provides training for remote professionals and teams. She is the owner of Learning in Bloom, a learning experience design company, and also Language in Bloom that offers a foreign language curriculum and consults for the Council on International Educational Exchange. So, you have a lot going on, Tammy.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, a lot going on. And really, those three companies, it’s really the same company, just approaching instructional design and e-learning from different perspectives and for different audiences. So, still always a teacher, an educator, and instructional designer at heart. And my superpower, as I like to call it, is seeing a learning experience in every single situation. So, that’s where all of those learning companies come from.

Luis Magalhaes:    Well, my superpower, I’m not sure what it is, but it definitely is not saying foreign names. So, I will stick to Tammy for the rest of the interview if you do not mind. [crosstalk 00:02:14]

Tammy Bjelland:    Please, please.

Luis Magalhaes:    And we’re going to talk about learning, because I do want this podcast to be mostly about learning. But you know, as this is the DistantJob Podcast, I would like to tell all our listeners what DistantJob is all about. Now, DistantJob works with companies that want to go remote or have gone remote but don’t have their recruitment department set up to look for international talent. So, what we do is we talk with the companies that we work with to come up with a hiring plan together, and then we search for their ideal candidate. DistantJob handles everything from setting up interviews to paperwork to payments and HR, leaving you to do what you do best, working with your new teammate or employee to achieve your company’s goals, your business goals. So, it’s as simple as that. We facilitate you getting the best international talent possible.

Luis Magalhaes:    And that’s it, that’s about DistantJob. Now, a big part of leading remote teams to success is learning how to do it. Everyone, I mean, there are more and more resources. This podcast tries to be a resource about that, there is lots of learning tools. But how to use them to learn effectively is something that Tammy is the expert on. So, I kind of went into this interview thinking about what I would want to ask someone who is an expert in online education. So, I’m going to go back to that huge list of things that you do or that you have done and that you are doing. As someone that gets absolutely freaked out once my to do list has more than four items on it, I have to say that you have so much going on. How do you keep the pulse on everything and everyone as a remote leader?

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, I will say that it’s a constant learning process, and in order to have, you know, my finger on the pulse of what is going on with other people, I also need to learn how those people are keeping their people on the pulse of what they need to be doing. So, it’s a constant juggling act of determining what my priorities are and what other people’s priorities are, and communicating where those need to intersect and where we need to rebalance. And then in terms of more logistical, granular things that I do to keep on track, I have a couple of productivity things that I use. I have a spreadsheet that I track all of my tasks and time, and the time I have left in the day.

Luis Magalhaes:    Wow.

Tammy Bjelland:    And I do prioritize. So, I have been journaling. I didn’t used to be a journaler, but lately I’ve been journaling fairly regularly. And in the morning, I wake up, and I talk … I talk. I write about what I did the day before.

Luis Magalhaes:    Talking to yourself, it’s good.

Tammy Bjelland:    It is talking to myself, and it’s recording those conversations. But I write down the things that happened the day before, and then I write down what my priorities need to be for that day. And I frame it in a way that at the end of the day, what would I feel awesome about having achieved? And it’s usually not the things that I would probably do first in the morning, which are, you know, the low hanging fruit. I’m gonna respond to this email, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that, just check off a bunch of things on my to do list.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    Those are never the things that at the end of the day you’re like, “Yeah, I’ve really accomplished something.” Right?

Luis Magalhaes:    Absolutely.

Tammy Bjelland:    It’s the really big, hard tasks that you know that you need to be spending a considerable chunk of your time and also attention on. And you need to be reminded of what those priorities are, and Luis, I have to say that probably having a to do list of just four things is probably how we should all be doing it, so kudos to you for [crosstalk 00:06:17].

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh, I’m not nearly as successful at that. I am just freaked out all the time because I have more than four things there. I wish I could make that a regular habit, though, but I do see your point about the email and stuff. Actually, something that has done me a world of good, that I’ve been doing for like one month now, is I found out that in the iPhone, you can just block apps, specific apps during specific hours. And just up until lunch time, I just block the email. I just block Facebook, Twitter, any kind of … even Basecamp at times. And you know, I can just do work, which is refreshing. So, I can definitely see that. So, how often do you manage to get those goals that you set for yourself in the morning? Because I can tell you in my specific case, it’s not very often at all, sadly.

Tammy Bjelland:    All right, well, so we’re nearing the end of the work day here in the U.S., right? So, I’m gonna just take a look at what I wrote down this morning and I’ll let you know.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, I try to keep my list of priorities, big things that I need to get done, to three or four. Because otherwise, it’s like-

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    You need to re-figure out how you’re prioritizing things. So, this morning, I had seven things. So, already I’m not doing great with my system, but I’ve accomplished six.

Luis Magalhaes:    Great.

Tammy Bjelland:    Of those seven things.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, congratulations. I’m jealous. I’m jealous of you.

Tammy Bjelland:    The day is not quite finished yet.

Luis Magalhaes:    No.

Tammy Bjelland:    Who knows what kind of inspiration I’ll have at the end of the day? But I’ve also been trying to cut the workday off at a consistent time. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses, because you know, I’m sure you’re familiar with this, too. But when you work from home and you like what you do …

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    It is really hard to just pull the plug because I get really excited about what I’m doing, and I also like to get a headstart on things that I know need to happen, and so I can just tend to keep going, keep going, keep going. But we have to stop somewhere.

Luis Magalhaes:    Is there any strategy that you’ve been trying to make that happen? Again, it’s something that I struggle a bit with. I mean, I consistently get off work like one to two hours after when I had planned to get off work.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yes. Well, currently the strategy is work at home with your husband, who is also your business partner who reminds you …

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    To stop working. He’ll say, “I thought you were going to stop working at 6:00 today, and it’s 6:20.” And then it’s a reminder that I need to stop. So, I don’t know if that’s a replicable strategy for everybody.

Luis Magalhaes:    No.

Tammy Bjelland:    But currently that’s what I’m employing.

Luis Magalhaes:    Well, I guess I can train my cat, but [crosstalk 00:09:20].

Tammy Bjelland:    And I’m sure there are apps and things. You mentioned blocking certain apps, but I’m sure that there are things that probably shut down the internet or shut down your computer at a certain time.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    Or a few.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, yeah, yeah. But there’s kind of a mental block there, when it’s okay to control when you start, but you get more annoyed if you’re in the middle of something and it just stops, right?

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    It’s definitely-

Tammy Bjelland:    I mean, clearly I haven’t researched what those are because …

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    I mean, the thought is horrifying.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    But I am actively trying to get better about that, but those are some things that …

Luis Magalhaes:    Right.

Tammy Bjelland:    I know, I see a definitely opportunity for growth, opportunity for improvement.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay. So, I got a bit sidetracked there. Apologizes to the listeners, it is a bit late already, so cut me some slack here. But back to your origin story, your background was really in teaching language, right?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    Teaching languages. So, what does that … because the written word is so important when managing remote teams, there’s all the matters of context and how to express yourself eloquently and all of that. What has your background in language taught you about communicating with remote teams?

Tammy Bjelland:    So, it’s taught me many things. So, my background in language informs what I do every day, and I think about it all the time, and every day. So, one of the things, you know, on a high level, is that remote work is so heavily skewed to favor English speakers. So, native English speakers, but also non-native English speakers who have mastered English and can communicate in English. There are so many more remote jobs that are available for people who speak English, so that’s one thing that I’m really aware of, and we’re working on developing resources for non-native English speakers for remote work at Workplaceless. Because that is an area that I see a lot of need for, for remote work to really become available for a wider audience. We need to provide additional tools and resources and support for people who are not native English speakers. So, that’s one thing.

Luis Magalhaes:    What would some of those be?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, well we have our Remote Work Dictionary that we are still working on compiling. So, the first version is out.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh, is that out? Oh, I didn’t see that.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yep. It’s out, it’s available on our website. I can definitely send you the link.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, yeah. I will include it in the show notes, please do. I missed that, I don’t know how.

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, well I mean there’s lots of information out there coming from all directions, so …

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, it’s easy to miss some things. So yeah, we released our dictionary, the first version, and we are actively seeking feedback on that because we’d like for the second version to be released alongside our Speak Placeless program, which comes out in May. And that program is an English language communication program for remote workers, and will actually also cover just additional communication issues within the realm of remote work. So, communicating channels and channel switching, intercultural communication, all those concepts that are really important when you work on a global distributed team.

Luis Magalhaes:    So, yeah, definitely, and definitely the language barrier is such that it’s really helpful to have something. Some kind of tips or some kind of document that you can use just to lessen misunderstandings. So, off the top of your head, do you remember a couple of examples of what’s included in that Remote Work Dictionary that people mind find helpful?

Tammy Bjelland:    Sure. Well, for one, just the distinctions of the words that we’re using. So, remote versus hybrid, what does distributive mean? And there’s actually varying interpretations of some of those words, which is another really interesting component of language there. And then for the next version, we’re definitely going to be adding more acronyms. So, things that we use all the time like EOB, you know … I can’t ever remember the letters of them. See, this is why I need it. But in case you missed it or in my opinion, acronyms for those phrases that are used all the time. But if you’re not familiar with it, you can be like, “What is this string of letters together, and why is it being used in this context?” So, acronyms, we’ll be definitely adding to those in the Remote Work Dictionary.

Tammy Bjelland:    And other terms include categories of tools that we use, so video conferencing is one that seems like it could be a basic term that people would use, but understanding it as a category of tool, and then Zoom is an example of that category of tool. That in itself can really help people understand what tools are serving what purpose because we throw around tool names sort of as a placeholder for what the tool actually does. And that can be really confusing, and that causes or contributes to a lot of that miscommunication and misuse of company channels because you sort of use one tool as a placeholder for the type of communication you want to have.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, so that’s interesting, and I definitely want to go back to tools later. But …

Tammy Bjelland:    Okay.

Luis Magalhaes:    But first, since we are on this transition, I really want you to tell me about the day when you realized that offering training to remote professionals was really your next step. What was the day like when the switch went off in your head to change tracks to that?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, I can say that. So, I will say that the switch was not … it’s not that much of a switch where I made a total career change. Because I’m still doing the exact same thing that I’ve been doing for years, which is creating online learning experiences.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    It’s just the audience has a much bigger focus, or smaller focus, I should say. And the shift happened when I was working at a tech company, and it was a remote company, and I really loved working on that team. I loved my colleagues, I loved the mission, and I wanted more opportunities. I wanted growth opportunities, and I approached leadership about creating those opportunities or finding or getting access to those opportunities, and what would that look like? And what do I need to do in order to get access to those opportunities? And there were basically no resources, you know, it was a small startup so there was nothing really for me. And I’m sure you’ve heard stories, or maybe even experienced this yourself in really small companies and small startups that don’t have a very strong structure, and maybe they pride themselves on that. If they have a very flat structure, and they say, “Well, you can really invent your role.” And you’re like, “Okay, well that’s great.” But is it? Is it really that great? Because what kind of roles are actually needed, and what kind of tasks are actually needed?

Tammy Bjelland:    And I mean, it’s great to sort of invent the role that you are envisioning for yourself, but does it really align with the company objectives? And how can you make sure that what you’re planning and hoping for maintains alignment and actually does allow you to grow in the way that you do? And so I was really frustrated by the lack of resources, and also just the lack of structure in helping develop individuals in their career growth. Because I found a lot of information on how to get a remote job, and there are lots of resources out there about how to get a remote job. And I was more interested in after you get a remote job or even before that, but looking at remote as a career choice, and not just a lifestyle choice.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    You know, you can have a great career with lots of upward mobility in remote work, but I do believe that it takes a lot more work on the part of the individual employee and also on leadership for a host of reasons. But that was really the turning point for me, was as a remote worker working in ed tech, working in education, I wanted more challenges, I wanted more opportunities. And then there was really not any support for that, and I had worked in other remote teams as well, and the situation was similar. And I was like, “Well, if it’s true for me and true for this organization, it’s probably true for a lot of other organizations.” And then I set out to do research on what other organizations were doing, and it’s all very similar. I mean, there are some organizations that have certain career mobility programs in place, but a lot don’t.

Tammy Bjelland:    A lot of remote companies don’t have even an HR person, let alone a learning and development person or somebody to support individual career growth. So, that’s really where … boy, that was a long answer to that question. [crosstalk 00:19:39]

Luis Magalhaes:    So, you really just scratched your own itch.

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    You did pursue your passion for education, which is super nice, which is super nice. Because a lot of us, I mean, I view this podcast as a learning tool, and I think that a lot of what you see in the remote space are really learning tools. Whether it’s a blog post or it’s webinars or groups or whatever, it’s all learning tools. But they really come out of a need for learning, because we want to do this better and we want to change information on how to do this better, than from necessarily a passion for learning. Now, I personally believe that any individual who wants to be successful needs to have a passion for learning, but you have a passion for teaching.

Luis Magalhaes:    Since we’re talking about learning, while reading your learning book, I highlighted the part where you say that good online learners really monitor their own progress. And that reminded me about something that I talked about with one of my first guests here on the podcast, Joel Martin, he is a lead developer at [inaudible 00:20:45] in Microsoft. He told me that the good remote workers shouldn’t let their bosses wonder what they’re doing, they should be upfront about tracking what they’re doing and then showing it. So, I think that the good advice for online learners, monitor your progress, is actually very good advice for remote employees as well. And I would like to know … so, there are a lot of tools where the leaders can track the productivity, the managers can track productivity on stuff like Basecamp, Trello, Asana. But for the individual, you as an individual, Tammy, how do you track your progress?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. I track my progress, so I currently am using Asana and also exploring ClickUp a little bit, which is a new tool that I really enjoy because it has a goal setting functionality that I’m exploring a little bit more. And so I can’t give you results on that right now, because it’s a brand new tool that I’m exploring. But because I do know that tracking progress is one of those things that is important to success as a learner, as a team member, and also as a leader, I’m exploring ways to make that a little bit more transparent for myself and also for my team. So, that’s one way, and then another way is I do an internal blog post for my own purposes and then my team.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh, cool.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, I … yeah. So, every week I just write what progress we made last week and what progress I made on things. And, you know, big decisions that we made and then what’s coming up on the calendar this week. You know, that format is constantly evolving, but I really wanted a way to make my own progress and my own priorities transparent to my team because one of the things that I’ve seen happen in so many teams is that you work on your goals and you have your priorities. And so infrequently do you all get together to really understand what other people’s priorities are that then when you’re trying to reach out to someone and you’re frustrated because they’re not responding back as quickly as you would like, it’s because they have different priorities.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, in doing that internal blog post, I’m really hoping to let everyone know that needs to know, well my priorities this week are pursuing a certain partnership and this sales call that we have scheduled up. And I’ve put my feedback on this particular course a little bit lower on the priority list, so I’m gonna get back to those instructional designers probably a little bit later in the week. So, I find it helpful for myself because it helps me clarify what those priorities are and really actually see what kind of progress I’ve made. And then I’m hoping that my team members also find it helpful because it helps them sort of figure out what I’m doing in a week. And then just the act itself of writing down what you’ve done either the day before or the week before, it does wonders for confidence, number one. Also motivation, because so often we focus on the to do list, so Luis, your four or five item list, however long it is.

Tammy Bjelland:    We focus on what we still have to do instead of what we accomplished, and I like to think that running list, and even going back and looking at that internal blog and looking at all the things we’ve done, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. We’ve come a long way.”

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. So, I definitely want to push on the part about communicating your priorities, because a lot of the tension that I find in the teams I’ve worked with is that people take it personally when you don’t necessarily treat the feedback that they need or the stuff that they ask you to do with the … when you don’t get back to them soon enough, people tend to treat it personally, like a personal slight, instead of taking that okay, this person is just busy with their other priorities.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, yeah. And that’s something I haven’t quite figured out yet, is who really owns that responsibility in communicating the priorities when you are delayed? Or, being more empathetic and understanding of other people’s priorities on the other end of it. So, I think that that’s, I can’t say that I’ve found that perfect balance at all because certainly I have encountered situations where my priorities are different from somebody else’s, and I find that frustrating.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    But especially in my team, where I know that a lot of their progress depends on me or depends on my decisions. And when that’s the case, I always want to make sure that somewhere they can take a look and see what this week’s priorities are for me so that they can sort of figure out where they might stand if they have a question. I always get back to my team members with questions, but yeah. That gives them a little bit more context.

Luis Magalhaes:    It’s a work in progress, right?

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, sure.

Luis Magalhaes:    What do you find is a good measure of your progress, of your evolution as a leader? What are your leadership deliverables, as it were?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. So, I would say, I mean I really love using frameworks to guide some of that.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    And so our leadership program, Lead Placeless, has a framework for leadership on the fundamental skills that you need to be a remote leader, and I use that as a framework. So, we start out with culture, communication, performance management, conflict resolution, vision, change management, and then learning and development. And so in those seven modules or seven topics, there are different key concepts, key skills, and then we have certain deliverables within each of those modules as well. And so as a leader, I’m actually, I go through that process regularly to make sure that what I’m doing aligns with what our development team has identified as some of those core competencies. So, you start out with culture, then communication.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    Performance management, conflict resolution, vision. What’s your vision for the future, and how can you communicate it? Then, change management and learning and development.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, how can you coach and support your team members to grow in their careers? And of course, that’s a very specific nod to my own challenges, you know? With not having those resources available to me, so …

Luis Magalhaes:    So, are they set up like in a pyramid?

Tammy Bjelland:    It’s a cumulative set of skills. So, they do build on each other because really it comes down to culture, which, what’s your mission? What’s your company’s personality? What’s your company’s character? And all of those other skills and how you apply those other competencies, they all need to align with that mission and your company culture. And so that’s the compass, basically, for all of your other skills. And so that’s important not to skip that step, because you can’t jump right into vision if you don’t really understand what your starting point is or what your goals are.

Luis Magalhaes:    Fair enough. So, how do you measure yourself against that? When you’re doing, I suppose it could be a weekly or a monthly or a trimonthly review, but when you’re doing your review, how do you figure out if you held up to that standard, to that framework?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. So, one is looking back at all of those things that I mentioned about my own work. So, the blog post that I put out, my interactions with my team members. We’re a very young team, and when it just stared out, it was basically just me and Laurel Farrer. And for a long time, it was the two of us on calls together hashing out all this content, and then eventually we brought on more people. And so it’s a constant learning process, but yeah, so once every month I’ve been looking at the proof of leadership, I guess. And my interactions with my team members, and how I’m interacting with them, and then all of the other ways that I’m tracking my own progress.

Tammy Bjelland:    And we have self-assessments, also, in the Lead Placeless program, and so periodically I go through that and I am constantly learning more things about myself through those self-assessments. And it’s a nice way to give me a little bit of structure to measuring my growth, like you said, and that is one of the guiding principles of all of the programs that we create. We want to help support and sustain continuous commitment to learning and growth, so it’s not just about taking one class or one workshop and then boom, you’re better.

Luis Magalhaes:    I want to dive deeper into that because obviously that’s your whole offering. And again, there’s a lot of free content, and there are a lot of resources out there. I built this podcast to be that, you know? For me specifically, I built it because I felt that I needed it, but then I also offer it because I think that it can be helpful to all the listeners and everyone who works a distant job. But you made learning your business.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    And you mentioned a lot of your courses, which we will link in the show notes. So, when it comes to learning, how crucial do you think is the video component, and how do you think that people are doing with learning through video versus learning through audio versus learning through books? Because you know, I am going to say, I’m a bookworm. I have a shelf with the books that I learn the most from, and they are invariable completely destroyed, just worn out, written and scrabbled and dog marked, and I learn a lot by reading.

Luis Magalhaes:    And we don’t have that technology yet, when it comes to audio and to video, just to search, to find, to easily bookmark, to easily note, to easily annotate. So, I feel that I’m a big lost whenever I try to learn by audio and by video. What do you think are the key factors that led to this popularity of audio, and especially video nowadays? There’s webinars, there’s video courses. When it comes to learning, where do you see the advantages there?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. So, I will say that everyone has different preferences for how they take in content. So, you said that you’re a bookworm, I’m also a bookworm. I love reading, so I will probably always choose long form book over long form video, because that’s how I prefer to take in content. But when it comes to learning experiences themselves, as you said, any content out there, you can learn from. Is it really a learning experience? That depends on what you do with the information that you take in. Because the odds are that you’re going to forget the majority of that information if it is just passive content. I mean, we forget something like 60% of the information that we take in after 20 minutes, and after 31 days, we forget literally almost everything. Not quite everything, but you know, if you just take in information and you don’t remind yourself, you don’t apply it, you don’t learn from it or learn from mistakes after applying new skills, you are much more likely to forget it.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, as we’re taking in all of this content, the odds of actually remembering those things when we need to remember it, they’re very, very low. And so that’s where learning experience design comes in, that’s where instructional design comes in, and that’s where increasing engagement with the content itself comes in. And introducing opportunities for the learner to check their knowledge, to apply the skills, to assess their progress, to go back and review things that they may have forgotten or didn’t fully grasp on the first try. That’s where we have opportunities for reflection, so being able to connect the content with your own experiences and having a guide to help you do that. Because you’re much more likely to remember something that you learn if it is relevant to you.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    If it takes into account your experience and your background, if it’s timely. So, if you’re able to use it tomorrow at work, you’re much more likely to remember it than if you won’t have the first opportunity to try it out until six months from now.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh, absolutely. Makes sense.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, there are all these components to whether you’ll really take something that you’ve read or heard or watched on video and apply it. If you’re just taking in content like that, it’s really up to you to make a learning experience out of it, whereas if you take a course that is designed to deliver content and help you achieve actual gains and skills, that’s purposefully designed in a different way than just straight content delivery. So …

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, you can make a learning experience out of anything, which is great. And we have all this access to content and really fantastic video that’s out there and audio, and I am a veracious reader, also podcast listener. And so …

Luis Magalhaes:    What are your favorite podcasts?

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, the DistantJob.

Luis Magalhaes:    Well, thank you. That’s nice to …

Tammy Bjelland:    No.

Luis Magalhaes:    This wasn’t scripted, folks.

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, and so I love a lot of podcasts, but my … I try to listen to a mix of podcasts, like story based podcasts, and I really love true crime podcasts. Right now, we’re listening to Conviction, which is a good one, a podcast that’s really good.

Luis Magalhaes:    Have you listened to Hardcore History?

Tammy Bjelland:    No.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh, you absolutely must. They are-

Tammy Bjelland:    Okay.

Luis Magalhaes:    They are works of art if you are into history at all.

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, I’ll definitely take a listen to that. I love Science Vs, which is also a Gimlet podcast, and WorkLife, that was an Adam Grant slash TED podcast, and I think there were only six episodes, but it was really fantastic. I love Invisibilia, oh my gosh. There’s a lot that I really like, and so yeah, I’m constantly listening to content-

Luis Magalhaes:    How do you manage, without those podcasts to listen to, how do you manage to get six out of seven things done? It’s what, you don’t sleep?

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, I’ve never been a great sleeper, that’s true. But I listen to podcasts when I workout, and if I go for a walk or go running. I run very rarely, but if I ever do, then I listen to a podcast. So, have you heard of the concept of, is it temptation bundling? I think that’s the term. [crosstalk 00:38:14]

Luis Magalhaes:    I love the idea of bundling my temptations, yes.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. So, I think I learned about it on the Freakonomics Podcast, actually. So, it’s when you pair something that you don’t … pairing something that you don’t want to do with something that you see as a reward. So, listening to podcasts is a reward ’cause I really enjoy it. And so I only let myself do that if I’m cleaning the house or cooking, I hate cooking, or working out. And so these things that I don’t want to do, then I listen to podcasts when I do that, so …

Luis Magalhaes:    Of course. The next time I see someone running while eating chocolate filled donuts, I’ll know that they follow your advice.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, well …

Luis Magalhaes:    At the same-

Tammy Bjelland:    I don’t know if that’s the advice they should be following.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, so getting back on track, getting back on track, I promise my listeners that I am not sipping wine right now even though it might seem that I am from the route that this conversation has been taking, but it’s been a long day. So, what are some good note taking methods, specifically for leaders? As a leader, you’re very busy. Obviously you want to maximize your learning, so do you have any favorite advice, any specific method for people to maximize their learning experience? You know, taking notes, any favorite systems?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yes, I would just say take notes.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    That’s my favorite system. So, taking notes, so I got this fun new tool for Christmas that I love.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay.

Tammy Bjelland:    It’s a Remarkable Tablet. The listeners to the podcast can’t see this right now, but what I’m doing is I’m showing Luis through the video what it looks like. But basically, it writes.

Luis Magalhaes:    So, it’s basically a big Kindle that you can write on with the pencil?

Tammy Bjelland:    Yep, but it actually writes like a pen and paper, so it doesn’t feel like-

Luis Magalhaes:    That’s wonderful, yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    A shiny, slick screen. It actually feels like paper, and so that helps me a lot because I only take notes now in one location, as oppose to before when I had like five different notebooks in five different bags.

Luis Magalhaes:    It converts into a digital file, then.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yes.

Luis Magalhaes:    Oh.

Tammy Bjelland:    So, in converts it to an image, and if you write legibly, which I do not.

Luis Magalhaes:    Me neither.

Tammy Bjelland:    But if you write legibly, it also can convert to text, so …

Luis Magalhaes:    Yes. No [inaudible 00:40:44] software has managed to beat me so far.

Tammy Bjelland:    No, but you know, no need. So, I really like that because all of my notes then are in one location as oppose to having a notebook in my purse and a notebook in my backpack. So-

Luis Magalhaes:    And I don’t know about you, but to me it’s so much more intrinsically better for me to learn stuff when I write with my hands. Well, okay, so this was stupid. I always write with my hands, I’m not tapping at the keyboards in my feet. But I mean when I write manual instead of through keyboard.

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, and there’s that saying, the hand remembers.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah.

Tammy Bjelland:    And I do believe that for a lot of people, that really is true. I also think that depending on when people grew up or learned how to be students, I think that really also depends on how they take notes best. But I also know that just taking notes in general is really important, so making sure that you document something. You document what you learn, you document how you’re going to apply what you learn, document when you’re going to apply it, and then even beyond that is telling somebody that you’re going to do that thing. So, accountability really comes into play because, you know, I listen to a podcast and I have all these ideas, but if I never tell you, Luis, that I want to do this stuff, nobody is going to hold me accountable. But if I listen to your podcast and I say, “Luis, I really love this idea that your guest had. I’m going to apply this in my meeting with my team on Monday.” And then maybe you’ll followup, maybe you won’t, but I will feel obligated to actually-

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, what’s up with that? Did you try that? Absolutely.

Tammy Bjelland:    Exactly.

Luis Magalhaes:    So, this is actually something that’s very interesting because when I learned back in the old days when we had to interact with human beings, thank God those are gone, but no. But-

Tammy Bjelland:    I’m actually a robot, dear listener.

Luis Magalhaes:    Exactly, exactly. In the old days where you had to interact physically with human beings, the cohort was just such an important part of learning. The class interaction, the interaction with your colleagues, the swapping notes, the swapping impressions. All of that was so important, so have you figured out how to replicate that in a remote environment in digital learning?

Tammy Bjelland:    For learning? Well, that is a really big question, and I would say that it is really similar to a lot of the questions that we ask in remote teams and how to develop comradery among remote teams just outside of the learning sphere. And there are ways to do that, absolutely. There are so many tools that we have now to connect people with one another and allow them to share their ideas with one another. So, discussion forums, comments on assignments, chat rooms, and of course, there’s always the good old video conference that you can use to facilitate live, synchronous discussions. So, there’s many tools that can be used in that way. I would say that certainly the amount of synchronous contact that you have with individuals in whether it’s a learning cohort or whether it’s a team or a department, the higher the levels of connection you will have among the team members or learning cohort. And so you can really simulate, or not simulate, but replicate that kind of comradery that you felt with your classmates.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. So I guess, I mean again, I haven’t actually done one of your courses. I expect to in the future, but I hadn’t done, so I don’t know how they work. But when you’re on sight with a class, you do have this organic element where someone asks something to the professor and it’s something that you haven’t talked about. But then you think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And maybe the professor is taken on a whole completely tangent that he wasn’t expecting or she wasn’t expecting to go on, but then ends up being enriching for the class. So, it just seems that most online learning doesn’t really have that kind of organic development, I guess is a way to put it.

Luis Magalhaes:    But then again, I guess that there’s also online webinars. They can be live, but then there’s the problem that only the people that are there are there, get to have this input. So, how do you feel that this compares to real learning? Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages, but what’s the technology? If you could just wave a magic wand and have something be different, what’s the technology that you would put in place?

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, I don’t know if I can answer that just off the cuff because there are so many tools out there now that do address some of the issues that we’re talking about. You know, if I could wave my magic wand and create a technology that I think could benefit everyone, it would be basically a grade book or a learning book that keeps all of your learning experiences ever all together, and your learning outcomes tracked. And you personally don’t have to do the heavy lifting of recording those learning experiences, but they are all delivered automatically through completion or completing your assessment. And there are definitely tools that are on the way to do that, so digital credentials are one of those things that, you know, that’s happening now. But having a digital record book of all of the classes that you’ve ever taken and the outcomes that you’ve had from those classes, I would love to have that for my own purposes. You know, go back to high school-

Luis Magalhaes:    You know, you should do that. You should do that [crosstalk 00:47:23]

Tammy Bjelland:    High school anthropology class. No, there’s other people creating things like that, and really there are people going through elementary school right now who have recording functionality that we never had growing up. But I will say that there are so many different tools that are out there that I think it’s going to be a really long time before we have something that’s really standardized in that way, where I could look at your learning record book, Luis, in Portugal, and understand exactly what the skills were that you learned as oppose to just [crosstalk 00:48:06]

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, and actually, if you do it through blockchain, it will be really impossible to [crosstalk 00:48:11]

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    So, it would be something. It would be like the CV to end all CVs.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah, and those are the discussions that are going on with blockchain in education. And so it’s coming, I’m not the person to create it, but if we could have it now … I would love to have another podcast episode, Luis, where you and I sat together and we looked at our learning record book about leadership and we compared notes, right? How cool would that be?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t think it would be very cool. Most of my record book would probably be logging hours of World of Warcraft, so I’d rather not embarrass myself.

Tammy Bjelland:    Hey, those are some transferrable skills somewhere.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, they are actually surprisingly transferrable, but that doesn’t mean I’m proud of them. Anyway …

Tammy Bjelland:    Okay.

Luis Magalhaes:    So, we’ve been talking about, well, [inaudible 00:49:06] tools a lot. So, just tell me, what are some favorite tools that you use to facilitate remote work in your own life and with your team? And feel free to talk about both hardware and software.

Tammy Bjelland:    Yeah. So, I’m currently loving Journal, which captures all of my digital files from Google Docs and Mail, all of that, and Slack, too. So, I can just search that instead of having to go through my email and go through Google Docs and try to find-

Luis Magalhaes:    Never heard of that, actually. It’s like Evernote, I think?

Tammy Bjelland:    Well, so it integrates with Evernote. So, it integrates with all of these things, so basically I use it as my information hub so that I can search for information. So, that’s a tool I use. We use Matrix LMS for our learning management system, and that’s also how I do my internal blog, that’s how our team gets onboarded, all through that program. So, those are two of the tools that we use a lot. I’ve been using MURAL a lot for learning experiences, and I mean those are just the things that we’ve been using recently, but of course we use all the typical things like Zoom and Google Drive and things like that.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, okay. So, if you had to pick one, if you have, and I know that you’re getting low on time so I’m just asking you two more questions and I’ll be respectful of your time. If you had to pick a single thing like $100 value to offer to every person on your team, what would it be?

Tammy Bjelland:    Oh, I would absolutely give them a $100 voucher to learn whatever they want, whether it’s a piano lesson, or-

Luis Magalhaes:    All right, good, you know? Invest in learning, I like that.

Tammy Bjelland:    Invest in learning, and it doesn’t have to necessarily relate exactly to their role or Workplaceless, but an important part of our culture is supporting learning in all areas of life, and the better they are as learners or the happier they are as learners, then the happier they are as team members.

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, so before I let you go, I do have to, well, ask where you can get people to find you and to talk with you. But I also have to ask you the question that I ask every podcast guest, you can’t escape from that. Which is, so you are hosting a dinner where there is going to be a round table about remote work, and every important person in Silicon Valley is coming, every CTO, every head of technology, all of that. It’s going to be in a Chinese restaurant, and since you are the host, you get to pick the messages that come inside the fortune cookies. What will these people read when they crack open their fortune cookie?

Tammy Bjelland:    And it has to be a fortune? It can’t just be like a statement disguised as a fortune, like so many fortune cookies are?

Luis Magalhaes:    Hey, follow the fortune cookie rules. If they can do it, you can as well.

Tammy Bjelland:    Okay. I would just put, “Keep learning.”

Luis Magalhaes:    Okay, keep learning, that’s very good. Tammy, I want to be respectful of your time. Tell my listeners how they can continue the conversation. Where can they find you? What are you up to?

Tammy Bjelland:    Sure. They can find out everything that we’re doing at Workplaceless at workplaceless.com, and you can find me on LinkedIn, so Tammy Bjelland, and then of course follow Workplaceless on social media. So, we’re on LinkedIn and Twitter, @Workplaceless.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right, so thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you, Tammy.

Tammy Bjelland:    Thank you. This was really fun, Luis, and hopefully I’ll get to talk to you again soon.

Luis Magalhaes:    Let’s hope then. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the DistantJob Podcast with Tammy Bjelland. And if you want to continue the conversation with Tammy, check the show notes for links on where to find her, where to continue the conversation, and the stuff that she mentioned. So, as usual, thank you so much for your contribution to making this podcast reach more and more people. All the times you share it on social media, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter, it really helps us a lot. So, please keep on doing it, we are very grateful, and what would also help a lot is reviews. Reviews on iTunes or your podcast publishing service of choice. And remember, if you would like to get the transcript for these conversations, just go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, pick the podcast of your choice and register, and you will be sent a shiny link to our members only transcription page.

Luis Magalhaes:    And guess what? If you are looking to build a team or increment the team that you already have, distantjob.com should also be your destination because from there, you’ll be able to tell us exactly the kind of person that you need and we’ll go search around all the world for the top talent in that area, and the perfect fit for your company culture. So, as usual, when you need the best and you need it fast, you need to think differently. You need to think global, you need to think remote, you need to think DistantJob. See you next week.

For further inquiries regarding podcasts, eBooks, blog posts, or general information about remote recruitment don’t hesitate to send us an email at [email protected]

Welcome to the DistantJob Podcast, a show where we interview the top remote leaders, picking their brains on how to build and lead remote teams who win.

This episode sees us talk with Tammy about what it means to decide on working remotely as a career choice, not a lifestyle choice; what are some practical ways to act as a transparent leader while getting the pulse of your distributed organisation; and what the leaders of today need to know in order to be always making the best use of the learning material out there.

Want to continue the conversation with Tammy?

Find her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tbjelland/

Tools Tammy Recommends:

Mural (for team collaboration):https://mural.co/

Remote Work Dictionary: https://www.workplaceless.com/blog/remote-work-dictionary 

reMarkable (for learning & note-taking):remarkable.com

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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