Mailchimp’s Nassim Kammah on the Power of One Single Thing | DistantJob - Remote Recruitment Agency

Mailchimp’s Nassim Kammah on the Power of One Single Thing

Luis Magalhaes

Nassim Kammah works at MailChimp as their Engineering Manager, and is at the cutting edge of the conversation about remote leadership and working with a hybrid remote/co-located company.

Nassim Kammah

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Luis Magalhaes: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the DistantJob Podcast. Podcasts where we interview the leaders and managers of top remote teams, and we find out the tools, tips, and strategies that they use to inspire them and to lead them to top performance.

Luis Magalhaes: What is DistantJob all about? If the podcast is about how to lead and manage the teams, DistantJob is all about building the team. That’s because we can find you the best people all around the world, vetted by our expert recruiters, who are experts in their fields, and select the best people based on your specific requirements and your company culture. Our network and experience, combined with the possibilities of remote work, allows us to tap into the worldwide workforce to find you better people faster.

Luis Magalhaes: Today’s guest is Nassim Kammah. Nassim, I apologize if I butchered your last name, I did my best. Anyway, Nassim is an experienced leader engineering manager at Mailchimp, managing remote teams, and he has some great tips, including how assuming best intentions is key to dealing with stress in remote situations.

Nassim Kammah: I’m remote, and directly I’m gonna think, “Oh, you’re trying to exclude me.” Of course, that’s not how people behave, that’s not how people think, they’re just like, “Oh, it just happened organically, we didn’t realize.” But ultimately, I take it personally. And so it’s a lot of work to shift my own emotions, and my own way of thinking, and assuming best intentions.

Luis Magalhaes: He also gave a fantastic tip about one-on-ones, which I immediately applied to great effect in my own remote management. Which is, instead of doing your one-on-ones on Zoom, go out for a walk.

Nassim Kammah: I take my headset, I take my phone, and I go for a walk, and I have a one-on-one with someone. Over the phone, as if you were walking side-by-side. We don’t have the video, but I get 10 times more better conversation, better outcome, I can think, it’s more relaxing.

Luis Magalhaes: We’ve all experience at some point, some difficulty in getting our remote employees to give us actionable honest feedback. And to solve this, Nassim talked to me about the power of asking about a single thing.

Nassim Kammah: Is there a single thing I can start doing, or do differently? And that little word, a single thing I can do, it’s like, “Single thing, then maybe this tiny. Now we’re onto something.”

Luis Magalhaes: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nassim Kammah.

Luis Magalhaes: Hello ladies and gentlemen, this is Luis, your host for the DistantJob Podcast, and I’m here with Nassim Kammah. Nassim is from Mailchimp, hi Nassim, welcome.

Nassim Kammah: Hi Luis, thank you for having me.

Luis Magalhaes: It’s a pleasure, it’s super funny, because Mailchimp has been around for a bit, and it was actually the first, my first mailing list was made through Mailchimp when I was starting my marketing career. It’s actually very cool, since I started this DistantJob Podcast, I’ve interviewed the people from Buffer, which is another key tool in launching my marketing career, now I’m interviewing someone from Mailchimp. It really feels like I’m getting back, getting in touch with people who worked on these tools that were very important when I was starting out. Thank you for your work.

Nassim Kammah: I’m glad we could help.

Luis Magalhaes: Nassim is the engineering manager at Mailchimp, and you work on a remote team, correct?

Nassim Kammah: Correct. People on my team are based in one of our two offices in Atlanta, and also some, I have two team members who are fully remote, and I have someone in Oakland, in our office in Oakland. We are in the distributed environment setup, but I do run my team as fully remote. Effectively, people are in Atlanta, dial in from their seat, even though they are sitting next to each other, they are in front of their computer, as if they were in different locations.

Luis Magalhaes: So this is a super interesting thing, and I’m glad that we brought it up right at the start. Because this has been a hybrid setup, correct?

Nassim Kammah: Correct.

Luis Magalhaes: But the people, the crucial thing here, is that the people that are working in the office, still work as if they were remote. And this is part of what makes the whole thing … You’ve written some things about managing remote teams, and I know that you’ve written about it, you have a rule about it. Am I getting it correctly, is one remote, everyone remote, is that the rule that you have?

Nassim Kammah: That’s the expression I’ve been using, yes.

Luis Magalhaes: Feel free to correct me.

Nassim Kammah: Absolutely, one remote, all remote. The whole idea is, as soon as you have more than one person in the room, the power dynamic changes, and the convention changes. So as a team lead for my team, I can influence how we’re going to operate. I decided for the team that we are going to dial in remotely, so that everybody is at the same level, everybody has the same size on the video, and it’s the same speaking convention for everyone. There is no hijacking by having a power dynamic differential, that we currently see in most people, in most companies with remotes.

Luis Magalhaes: I want to drill down a bit on that, because that is an amazing concept. Part of what we do, here at DistantJob, is we help people, we find employees for people who want to boost their teams, without necessarily adding someone local. We are working with a lot of hybrid teams, where some employees are local, and other employees are remote. We get questions related to this all the time. I think it’s very important, I feel you, I feel that when we’re having a meeting and several people are sitting in the same room, and then one or two people are being remote, it’s really a matter of time until the remote people start glazing out of the picture.

Nassim Kammah: Absolutely.

Luis Magalhaes: This is hard to communicate, and I wanted to ask you, when you’re having that conversation with the people that are used to being in the same room, what is the conversation like? What does the conversation look like when you are talking to those people, that are used to doing the thing the usual way?

Nassim Kammah: I would say I’ve had two types of conversations, with my team, it was pretty easy to sell. I just framed it as an experiment, let’s try vetting in remotely and see how it is. And they loved it, and that was no problem. With other people that are not familiar with that setup, or don’t really have an incentive with it, it does take a bit more work. It does take trying to convince them to be remote themselves, for example. Or I try to explain the power, then I make changes, or the effect that you named. After 30 minutes, 45 minutes, you completely lose your remote.

Nassim Kammah: Effectively when you dial in a remote, I consider that you get 60% of that employee, because they do not have equal footing into the meeting. So I think the best way to realize it is to go remote, even as a meeting organization, go into a different room and call in as a remote, and see what the power dynamic is like. If you can convey your points, if everybody’s able to express themselves, as they should, and so on.

Luis Magalhaes: Please, go ahead, I didn’t mean to interrupt.

Nassim Kammah: We may get to it later, and talk about it later. But I don’t think the issue was really with being remote, or we’re standing in or dialing in. The issue is, when you’re remote, all the communication challenges that we face, are just impossible to deal with. They’re completely exacerbated. So you have this communication issue in a co-located setup, but when you’re remote, it’s just unbearable. For example, if you’re in a meeting, and you have one person that monopolizes the conversation, we’re just gonna be like, “That’s the way it is.” But when you’re remote, that means you’re not going to speak at all.

Luis Magalhaes: Because it’s easier to interrupt, when you’re present, people can see from your body language. Unless they’re completely clueless, and completely egocentric, they can see, “I better shut-up now, that person is wanting to say something.”

Nassim Kammah: Exactly, but the issue is again, having the proper etiquette of communication, and respecting people’s time. And actually, even better, I think [inaudible 00:09:36] for a meeting. Similarly, a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda, that isn’t clear why people are coming, when they’re remote there’s nothing worse than this. “What am I doing here, I’m wasting my time dialing into this camera, and I don’t really know what I’m doing here.” But when you’re local, it’s like, “Oh, it’s just another meeting. There was no clear agenda.” You accept it, because that’s the way we do business. But when you’re remote, that’s totally exacerbating.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, definitely. It’s nice, interesting that you touched that on meetings, because that’s another challenge that I see in a lot of places and I would like your input on. So there was this story where early in my career, let’s say, we were working with someone, it wasn’t working out. That person was eventually asked to leave the company, and the process was actually rather painless, but we did run an exit interview. And part of the feedback that we got, you have to differentiate, because sometimes people are just bitter about being asked to leave. But at the same time, it’s always good to do the exit interview, because you get actual feedback.

Luis Magalhaes: The feedback that I got that has stuck to me throughout the years, is really that we waste time in so many little meetings, that it’s frustrating. And I could feel where she was coming from. At the same time, the leadership was very keen on getting in touch, especially because this was a remote company. The leadership had the feeling that we need to be in touch every day, we need to visit every day, we need to talk to people. We need to talk to people every day, just to give them that feeling. Not necessarily of controlling their work, but to give the feeling that this is a team, and not a lot of people working separately. What do you think, this seems a pretty good argument for meeting every day, what would you say here to avoid the waste?

Nassim Kammah: That’s interesting point, you want to keep that cohesion and feeling included, and being part of a team. At the same time, I could see that employee’s point of why are we meeting, what’s the point. I don’t know, maybe I would put those meetings as optional, or being very clear on what the purpose is. We are meeting for social time, and if it’s just for social time, state it explicitly, and really have social time. But meetings with purpose, defined purpose that people can understand and right around, are harder to justify and can create friction. That’d be my take on this.

Luis Magalhaes: Speaking to management like that, what’s the sell, what’s the sell for the management? When you’re talking to someone that’s in a leadership position, how do you explain to that, what’s the script that you use to tell, to make them realize that the meeting must be focused, or else your company isn’t going to work as good as it could?

Nassim Kammah: I would say, I would ask them, what does a successful meeting look like. How would you know, you end the meeting and it was a success, or it was not a success. And then, what steps are you taking to insuring the success. Because in the end, we are here to get stuff done. And so if you have a meeting in the middle of the workday, that may block your time from being in the zone, it better be important and it better be explicit on what we’re trying to achieve. Otherwise, it’s just gonna grow frustration.

Nassim Kammah: I’m an interning manager, I have a team on different timezones, my role is to give them as much space to focus. I have to be very strategic on when we meet, and why we meet, and what we’re trying to achieve. I’d love to see them all the time, I’d love to hear from them what they’re working on, and I’d love to have social time, but at the same time, that’s gonna cost a lot in terms of delivering, in terms of giving them that space to focus. So I would ask the management, or the people in charge of this meeting, what are we trying to achieve with this meeting, what does success look like. And take it from there.

Luis Magalhaes: How do you personally on your team, or when advising other people I guess, what are the signs that you see to adjust the balance?

Nassim Kammah: The balance between …

Luis Magalhaes: Between letting people get their focus time, get their work time, and then actually still keeping in touch, so that it feels like a team?

Nassim Kammah: Good question. In my team, we stopped doing in-person standup, we experimented with that for example, but we moved to biweekly team meetings of one hour. It is supposed to serve as a sync meeting, as well as some social time. Everybody on my team is encouraged to have one-on-one, cross one-on-one, we use a Slackbot called Donut Bot that does the pairing with everyone. I have an impromptu, I have a one-on-one with everyone on my team as well, on a regular basis. And people pair on the side. Additionally, we use [inaudible 00:14:59] and we do things like Starbucks Thursday or show pictures or share social time every now and then.

Luis Magalhaes: Tell me about Starbucks Thursday.

Nassim Kammah: Starbucks Thursday, it’s more like, we pick [inaudible 00:15:15], and it’s like post a picture of when you were young and comment. Or your favorite place on earth, or the last meal that you cooked, and everybody shares a picture, and there’s a little story around it.

Luis Magalhaes: Nice.

Nassim Kammah: Those little moments, and that’s just on slack, those little moments are amazing. Just like in our team meeting, we save the first five or the last five minutes of the meeting to talk about ourselves. What are we excited for the weekend, what’s the last cool stuff we did, or share with me something that you never told anyone, or that I wouldn’t know about you, share it with the team. That’s super fun, and that’s a great activity to bond and realize that we are actually humans, we’re not just coworkers, we’re humans, we have lives. And we get to know about one another a bit more.

Luis Magalhaes: I want to dial back a bit and go to your point about meetings, because it’s very funny, that mirrors my experience. We used to do daily standup’s, and it didn’t feel comfortable, so we switched to written standup’s on Slackbot, and that worked a bit better. But some people were just not connecting as much, so we did what you’re doing more or less. We’re doing currently half of what you’re doing, because we have a team meeting a week. But I’m curious about, what’s your decision to have two instead of one? Is it like an agile strum thing, where you have the beginning of the week and the end of the week? Is it something like that?

Nassim Kammah: Yes and no. Let’s see, we run Mailchimp on two-week prints, and usually the first week, the first meeting is going to be the Spring planning. And then the second week, the last meeting is going to be re-tool and a debrief. And in between it’s just readjusting priorities, talking about outstanding issues, and so on. We are to never do our meetings on Monday or Fridays, just because that’s usually when people take time off, and the idea is to maximize how many people we are having. I don’t know, two sounded like a right number, Tuesdays, Thursday, really breaks the week pretty nicely. It’s also when we run our quiet hours, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our Slack quiet hours. That’s a good way to sync our [inaudible 00:17:32]. I feel like maybe I should explain what the Slack quiet hours are.

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, sure. Please do.

Nassim Kammah: We found that there’s a lot of chatter on Slack, and we did not really have a good speaking etiquette, or guidelines on how to use Slack.

Luis Magalhaes: This is very important for me, because we switched from Slack to Basecamp because of that, so please.

Nassim Kammah: Oh, gosh. I would love to use Basecamp, but anyway, that’s a different conversation. I’ve been really inspired by Basecamp philosophy, and Justin Fried, and all of these ideas there. But the idea is, there is a lot of conversation on Slackbot, and just to put it this way, Slack is like a conveyor belt, and the whole time you’re trying to decide if you should intervene or not by watching [inaudible 00:18:24]. So you end up watching the conveyor belt all day, because when the conversation is gone, it’s gone. Imagine checking your email every minute, that’s not feasible, we stopped doing that some time ago, well now it’s replaced by Slack.

Nassim Kammah: When you’re a senior, when you’re a manager, when you’re the most senior team member, you can be like, “I’m going to be out of Slack for three hours, I need to focus.” It’s a bit more difficult when you’re a junior, and it’s hard to be in power to say, “I’m not going to check Slack.” The idea is, as a manager, we put in place the quiet hour rule, so it’s every Tuesday and every Thursday until noon Eastern, there is no conversation on Slack. We just don’t talk on Slack, that’s the time when you can focus. If you were to shut down Slack during this time, and turn it back on, you’re not going to miss anything, that means you can focus. It’s explicit, as for everyone.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s some special discipline that you have there.

Nassim Kammah: Everybody was onboard, and again we ran it as an experiment, let’s try this for eight weeks and see how it is. And people were like, “How are we going to react if I have questions, I’m gonna be blocked.” It’s like, the worse that can happen, you’re going to lose four hours, [inaudible 00:19:36] and ask a question in four hours, or send an email, comment on [inaudible 00:19:40], do something else. The worse is that you’ve just got to wait a bit, that’s okay. And the reactions were amazing, people were really into it, I was able to get in the zone, I was able to focus and get my stuff done. Ta-da, yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: I want to grab on the Slack thing for a bit, because I once worked at a place where there was this experience, and I think that you’ve written something or you’ve talked something about this. But there was this experience where it was a lot of creative people together, and what ended up happening was that lots of good ideas were put out on Slack, as informal conversation. We usually say that in remote teams, you lose the water cooler moments, the informal conversation that happens in the hallways. We had the opposite problem, this place where I worked, it was almost all informal conversations, and it felt that there was a need for documentation.

Luis Magalhaes: Because all the people were very remote and very independent, and very creative, but there wasn’t those disciplined people who actually grabbed the ideas and turned them into documentation. Have you run into something like this?

Nassim Kammah: That’s a good question. No, I have not. We have a heavy capture of documentation, and a synchronized communication of our synchronized communication. And all it takes is one person to really inspire the other people of, “I have put my thought into this.” We have a template for all our documents, we have a template, I was like, “I would like some feedback on this by then, this is my idea, you have a few days to give me feedback.” That’s very powerful, when you can see collaborating on their time, and making ideas up and moving forward.

Nassim Kammah: I have not run into the case where there’s a lot of good ideas that go into the Slack vacuum, and they are lost forever. It does sound like a huge opportunity moment for any leader to make a difference, in that case. Push a bit further, close on your idea, formalize it, share with everyone. Maybe it was a bit of guidance, someone, there is a lot of opportunities there.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s a pretty, that’s a good point. It’s a matter of people grooming the other people’s ideas when they see potential. So that’s a good point. I want to shift gears a bit, because I was reading an article that you wrote about feedback, I think you named it something like avoiding triangle situations. You basically painted a picture, where someone was afraid to give feedback to another more senior person, because they didn’t want to cause offense or to be disliked. They tried to get you to do it for them, and you very wisely advised that instead of playing the telephone game, you just coached the person into giving, how to give good feedback. This was in a remote context I believe, and this is something that I noticed, is that the worries that person has about being disliked, about being disrespectful, I don’t see that happening as much in teams that are physical, that are co-located.

Luis Magalhaes: It got me to thinking that it feels like there is a lot of emotional brittleness in remote teams, more than presential. I’m not quite sure, but I can see it in myself that I’ve worked in very stressful companies before, presentially, and companies where we dealt with stressful stuff all the time, and intense situations. And I was mostly okay, but then something, when I’m working in a remote team, someone says something that’s almost of no importance at all, and I’m like, “Ugh,” I’m angry at that person. Then I stop myself, “Wow, why am I so angry at this person? It wasn’t something that was anything offensive.” It feels like the remote situation amplifies the negative, and makes the positive hard to catch. Do you feel that, and how do you deal with it if you do?

Nassim Kammah: I definitely feel it, especially in the model where some people are local and some people are remote. I’m working through it myself right now, I’m trying to catch those moments, I’m trying to understand those moments.

Luis Magalhaes: It’s a bit of [inaudible 00:24:33], I definitely feel the same thing with Facebook or Twitter. When someone says something good on Twitter, it’s like, “Okay, cool person I guess.” When someone says something a little more edgy on Twitter, you’re like, “Let’s get the pitchforks.”

Nassim Kammah: I think what’s difficult when you’re remote, there are a few things. Number one, you do not have as many communication challenges, you read something on Slack, it’s missing context, you can not see the body language, you don’t know what’s going on. Sometimes someone drops a line, goes to lunch, comes back, and you’re like, “What happened? Are they upset, are they going to [inaudible 00:25:09]?” And so on. So you’re missing a lot of communications there. Number two, being remote is very, very isolating, it’s not for everyone. It can feel very odd to be included in the room, and the struggle is real there, I would say.

Luis Magalhaes: You think that amplifies the emotional response?

Nassim Kammah: It doesn’t explain it, it doesn’t justify it, but I think that’s where it comes. I know that for me, I’m very triggered by a lack of inclusion around anything remote. For example, I learned after the fact that a conversation happened in the hallway and I wasn’t a part of it, but it does matter very much to me. I was like, “What am I supposed to do? I’m remote.” Directly I’m gonna think, “You’re trying to exclude me.” Of course, that’s not how people behave, that’s not how people think, it’s just like, “It just happened organically, we didn’t realize.” But ultimately, I take it personally.

Nassim Kammah: It’s a lot of work to shift my own emotions and my own way of thinking, assuming best intentions in such setup. But it’s such a norm, it’s always like that, that it’s a lot of work.

Luis Magalhaes: It happens to me when someone asks me, not tells me, asks me, “Can I get this tomorrow?” And I’m like, “What? From one day to the next?” How dare they? Come on, it’s not that hard, it’s not such a bad request. If someone came to me in my desk in an office, and asked me that, I would think this was pretty reasonable.

Nassim Kammah: I used to work with this coach and this amazing person, Paloma Medina, she’s worked a lot with Lara Hogan as well. They have this model … Come again?

Luis Magalhaes: What’s the name?

Nassim Kammah: Paloma Medina and Lara Hogan. Paloma developed this model called the BICEPS model, that identifies the core needs for everyone. Pretty much what I’m realizing more and more, I was listening to Lara speak at a conference last week, I’m realizing more and more that when you’re triggered, is your [inaudible 00:27:19] in your brain that is really having an intense reaction. Most of the time it can be traced back to one of the six BICEPS model, those are the initials for the BICEP model. The B is for belonging, the I is for implement and progress, the fact that you’re making progress throughout your purpose. The C is for choice, having flexibility and autonomy. The E is for equality or fairness, P is for productivity, S is for significance.

Nassim Kammah: But for me, most of the time it’s fairness. I do not have access to this information, I am being triggered. So I need to find a way to calm down my [inaudible 00:27:57]. Usually it takes like six seconds to calm down and move on and take that direction, so that’s what I’m currently working on. So Lara and Jason Wong were commenting like, “Engage your frontal brain, do some mathematics just to get the blood going into your [inaudible 00:28:14], and recycle, and then you’ll be able to breathe more.” But I tried to think of a time of, I’m having a very intense reaction, or one of my reports is having a very intense reaction, which of those is triggered, which of the BICEPS that those have triggered. When it’s in my case, it’s like, “Take the six seconds to calm down, and then reassess the situation.”

Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, the six second rule, I like it, sounds good. We actually have an ex-yoga instructor in our company, I guess I’ll set up everyone with some mindfulness practice.

Nassim Kammah: Yes.

Luis Magalhaes: That should be good. You talked about inclusion, and making sure that the remote employee is included in the company. I want to ask you about, how can someone be proactive in trying to get the pulse of the company? In trying to make up as much as possible, for not being part of those hallway conversations? Since you can not get the pulse during those casual hallway conversations, what are some alternatives that you can explore?

Nassim Kammah: It does take a lot of networking, a lot of developing relationships with other people on the ground. That’s mostly in the case of distributed environment, when you have some people co-located and some people who are remote. It’s gonna be about finding allies that can represent you in the office, people that can be like, “Maybe we should move the conversation online, on Slack, or into a room.” And really developing, having ears on the ground, if you will. I think that’s the most effective way of doing it.

Nassim Kammah: Then you have other classics, like the remote water cooler, the going for coffee over Zoom, and other stuff. You can read about it everywhere, it does work, it does take time, it does work. What I’ve started to do that was even better though, is I take my headset, I take my phone, and I go for a walk, and I have a one-on-one with someone over the phone, as if you were walking side-by-side. We don’t have the video, but I get 10 times more better conversation, better outcome, I can think, it’s more relaxing. The two of us are having a one-on-one, but at a distance, and we’re still talking on the phone.

Luis Magalhaes: Is the other person walking too?

Nassim Kammah: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Oh, cool. It’s a planned walk date.

Nassim Kammah: Exactly, I would be like, “Do you want to go for a walk?” He’s like, “Okay, I’ll call you in five minutes.” I really recommend it.

Luis Magalhaes: I like that, I’m going to try that. That’s soft skills, and you are an engineer, I read about your transition from engineering to management, you wrote about that as well. And this is very funny, because I was in a previous show talking about exactly the same thing with the mobile lead for Buffer, Marcus, a great guy by the way. He had the same experience as I had, which was, I was a creator, background as a writer, then a marketer. Then I saw myself actually managing a team of marketers, and suddenly I didn’t have as much maker time, almost not at all. And it was very hard for me, and I wanted to know, first was it hard for you? I’m assuming that it was, but maybe it was just a breeze. But if it was, how did you deal with it? What was your self-talk when you were switching from maker to manager?

Nassim Kammah: It was hard, it’s still hard. It’s so rewarding to ship something, get something done, feel like you’re truly effective. I like to remind myself of the impact we have, the reason why I moved to management is that I could have a greater impact by empowering a team to deliver. As a solo person, I can do so much, I can work so many hours, and have so much impact. By really getting the right team, empowering them, giving them the tools and the space and direction, and the vision, as a whole we can accomplish a lot more.

Nassim Kammah: It takes longer to see results, but it’s so rewarding when you see someone having an aha moment, or when you ship a big project and it took a few people to get there. That is really what I live for. When I have a downturn, I tend to remember our wins, and what we are accomplishing, and the good, how things are going for the team, and as a whole the impact we’re having on the company.

Luis Magalhaes: Just to drill down a bit with that, if you’re comfortable with it, at the end of the day, this is the stuff that I’ve struggled with before, and I’ve seen more people struggle, I guess that it’s real. Especially in remote teams, again, because you don’t have that connection of talking, of being with the people every time. You get to the end of the day, what are the things that you think about that you can say, “Today was good, today I did a good job.” Ordinarily, in our previous positions, to me it would be a very good campaign sell, or two pages of great copy. In your case, I guess it was lines of code or just pushing it, pushing the code. But you would have something tangible, what is the equivalent to that now?

Nassim Kammah: I do a review of how my day went, and I’m being a lot more proactive and planning my weeks now. I switched to using a physical planner, and for the next week, I spend my Fridays, I usually spend an hour planning what my next week is going to look like. And I really list-out my big rocks, the big stuff I need to accomplish next week, and block off the time. And then as I go through the week, I can cross them off. It sounds simple and basic, but really seeing the progress you’re making towards different initiatives that you’re running on, different groups you’re engaged with. And then really being honest with yourself, by the end of this day we’re having this conversation, I would consider that a success. I have prepared for this discussion, I’m spending a great time sharing all those ideas with you, hey, I did something.

Nassim Kammah: I met Luis, I met someone new, we shared about interesting topics, that took some time. That counts.

Luis Magalhaes: I have to say that part of the reason why I started this, is because my day is just so much better when I spend an hour sharing ideas with people. The rest is obviously, I hope that it’s being useful to people as well.

Nassim Kammah: At the end of the day, turn yourself in the world, and ask yourself what impact did I make on other people. It could be a one-on-one where you had a coaching moment, or when you really listened to someone. It could be a team meeting where you really restated the vision for the team and where we’re going, and people came out energized. That’s all very successful, harder to grasp, but really reflect what difference have I made for other people. That’s what we do as managers.

Luis Magalhaes: Awesome. I’m going to pickup on the management thread, because a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken, you laid out your management philosophy, in written. I thought it was great, I think more people should do that, I should probably do that to my team, so that people know what to expect from your management. That was a great idea. I noticed that you gave a lot of emphasis to one-on-ones. I’ve gone back and forth personally on one-on-ones, I used to do it with every member of the team, at least once a week, now I do it more irregularly. I guess it’s almost always every member of the team, every week, but not as a rule, it just tends to happen, sometimes it doesn’t.

Luis Magalhaes: I’d like to know, the one-on-one, take me through what the one-on-one looks like when you’re having it with the person on your team. What’s your structure, if you have one?

Nassim Kammah: I do not really have one, I would … One-on-one is really their time, it’s their time to talk about anything that they want. I really state it and explain it this way, you have something in mind, “How’s life, what do you want to talk about?” And they’re always opened this way. Sometimes people have a lot to share, sometimes they don’t, in which case I would followup with questions. Before I go more into the one, I’m gonna step back for a minute and quote my manager. His name is Marc Hedlund, he has this quote where he says that, “Regular one-on-ones are like oil change, if you skip them, plan to get stranded on the side of the highway at the worst possible time.”

Nassim Kammah: The whole idea is like, if you don’t check in, if you can’t pick up on the soft cues, on how is it going for people in their life, how is their stress level, what’s on their mind, what’s worrying them, what’s going well, what’s not going well, then it’s going to explode and you won’t know about it, if you don’t have that regular check-in. That’s why the one-on-one is for me every week, actually the same day every time, and always very open-ended. I do have some questions that I always ask, when the conversation is flowing. Like, “What’s going well for you? What do you want to stop doing? What do you want to start doing? What is your one wish? What are you excited about? What are you worried about? Is there a single thing I can do better to help you do your job?”

Nassim Kammah: I also ask them for feedback, if they have any. And the whole idea is, I always ask them for the feedback, like, “Is there a single thing I can do differently, or start doing?” The first few times people get surprised, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t think of it.” But since I ask them every week, they start paying attention, and we work on that feedback [crosstalk 00:38:10].

Luis Magalhaes: Because I used to ask something in that vein, and at some point it just got awkward. I was asking the same thing, and people were still going, “I don’t know, but thank you for asking.” It just started getting, this feels like it’s going nowhere.

Nassim Kammah: How were you asking it?

Luis Magalhaes: I was asking it, I think those were the words, “So is there something that I can do to make your life in this company better? To make your work better?” I think it’s okay, I’m glad that it’s okay, but I would like some suggestions.

Nassim Kammah: I think the big difference for me was when I switched from, “Do you have any feedback for me?” To, “Is there a single thing I can start doing, or do differently?” And that little word, “A single thing I can do …” it’s like, “Oh, if it’s a single thing, then maybe this tiny thing.” Now we’re onto something, let’s talk more about it.

Luis Magalhaes: Jedi mind-trick, confirmed.

Nassim Kammah: Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: There you go. All right, okay. I can’t help but notice that you have a beautiful green screen behind you.

Nassim Kammah: Yeah, it’s not working right now for some reason, it doesn’t give me the virtual background option.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s fine, but it got me thinking, working remotely happens from the place where you choose, maybe the comfort of your home, maybe a co-working space. But it’s good to have a nice, a sweet setup. Tell me either, what was something that you bought within the last six months that cost $100 or less, that’s really improved your work-from-home experience? Or if you can’t think of anything, then what would you gift to every member of your team with $100 bucks or less, to improve their experience?

Nassim Kammah: That’s a good question, especially with Christmas coming up. I would say that green screen, it’s such a novelty. Everybody knows about a green screen, you see it on TV all the time, and so on. But the number, it just gets the conversation going, I have a different set of backgrounds. I have a swimming pool setup, and a beautiful library setup, and a spaceship setup. And depending on the meeting and the forum, I would change the background, and I would see people talking about it. I was in a meeting not too long ago, and our founder was in the room, and after three minutes it was like, “Aha, I know what’s going on. This is a virtual background.” Because he was looking at my library setup at the back, and was like, “This house is way too clean, what’s going on?” And then he realized, “Oh it’s a virtual background, okay.” Then I put my swimming pool setup.

Luis Magalhaes: He lives in a library.

Nassim Kammah: Yeah, exactly. It gets people laughing. Imagine if everybody in the room, and for our setup, if all of us have a green background, and we all had the same image background that we can project, then it’s like, “Okay, let’s meet in a spaceship.” And then everybody, we are all in, next thing you know in the next meeting, we are all into the same spaceship and having a meeting.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s so cool.

Nassim Kammah: You can have fun around that. For me, beyond the fun element, and setting the mood, it’s also about protecting my privacy in my office. Sometimes I work in an office, but we also have our coats in the house, I don’t want my wife to feel bad about getting our coats while I’m in the middle of a meeting. That’s why I got this originally.

Luis Magalhaes: I have two followup questions, number one, can I get the link of where you get those to include in the show-notes? And number two, is it cat-proof?

Nassim Kammah: Yes, and I believe so, it’s called the Webaround, I got it online, I’ll send you the link for sure. I do not have a cat, but I do have a dog, and a baby, and it’s dog-proof and baby-proof, yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: That feels good, that’s feels pretty good. I want to be respectful of your time, we’ve gone on for almost an hour, now for 50 minutes. But there is one question that I ask everyone, and I can’t let you go without asking. Which is, here’s the setup, the managers and CTOs of all the top Silicone Valley companies are meeting for dinner at the Chinese restaurant, you are the host, they are discussing, they are having a round-table on remote work, and you as the host decide what’s going to be the message inside the fortune cookies. What is the message inside the fortune cookies?

Nassim Kammah: Whoa, hello there. I would say that remote work is the future, and I would tell them to try it.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, try remote work, it’s the future. That’s a lovely note to end on, but obviously I want you to tell people where they can read your stuff, where they can talk to you. Because I know for a fact that you’re very active on Twitter, so please give us your Twitter handle, but also anywhere else where you want to send people.

Nassim Kammah: Sure. They can reach me on Twitter @KETIOO, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a name. Or on LinkedIn, or on Medium, I should really write more on Medium, online, that would be the best.

Luis Magalhaes: It’s pretty good, I recommend everyone, I’ll have links to it on the show-notes, because I really think that there are some stuff that anyone interested in managing remote teams should read. It’s very nice.

Nassim Kammah: I would stress that if you are in a company with remotes, and you are a leader, I would really encourage having more leaders going remote. That’s the only way you’re going to make remotes work, is by having leadership going remote as well. It does work, I’ve been doing it for three-and-a-half years, and I’m pretty damn effective at my job. It does make a difference. That would be my second fortune cookie message.

Luis Magalhaes: There you go. Go remote yourself.

Nassim Kammah: There you go, yeah.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, I agree 100%. Look Nassim, it’s such a nice conversation, thank you very much. It was a pleasure having you.

Nassim Kammah: Thanks Luis, it was great meeting you and talking with you today.

Luis Magalhaes: Okay, take care.

Luis Magalhaes: That, ladies and gentlemen, was Nassim Kammah, engineering manager at Mailchimp. If you want to continue the conversation with Nassim, you can do so through his Twitter, LinkedIn, or Medium, the links to which will be on the show-notes. If you wish to build a remote team that is absolutely awesome, if you want to hire people better and faster, think remote, think DistantJob. Visit us at, give us a call, send us an email, you won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this podcast, if you would like to support this podcast, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes or your podcast provider of choice. And sharing it on the social network, share it today to people that you think would like it.

Luis Magalhaes: That’s it, this was Luis with the DistantJob Podcast, see you next week.

This episode touches on how the importance of treating remote employees just as if they were regular, co-located employees; how negative emotional states can be more prevalent during online communication and how to manage them; and on the best formula to get honest, actionable feedback from your team members. But that’s not all, of course – this is one of the wider-ranging DistantJob podcasts ever!

Nassim’s recommendation for your remote office? The Webaround.

And for more information on the leadership frameworks he mentioned, check out  Paloma Medina’s  BICEPS model and  Lara Hogan’s work.

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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