Todd Werth is the CEO and Co-Founder of Infinite Red, a remote design and creative studio creating beautiful and functional mobile apps and websites. Todd has been creating software for 20 years and has founded three companies. He still codes and designs but not as often as he’d like.
Luis Magalhaes: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob podcast, the podcast that’s all about building and leading great remote teams. I’m your host, as usual, Luis and with me today I have Todd Werth. Todd is the co-founder and CEO of Infinite Red. Infinite Red, that’s a fully remote software consultancy and development company. Todd, did I get that right?
Todd Werth: Yes. We also do design, but everything else was correct.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. I wanted to start this conversation, and this is a bit of a trickier situation than usual for me, because I previously interviewed your co-founder Jamon. I want to make it a point not to ask the same questions, but obviously when I’m following your trajectory, the trajectory of your company, a lot of stuff pops up in common, so I’m going to try to avoid stuff that I covered with him.
I know that you… One of the big things about Infinite Red is that you’re proud in your remote work culture, so I thought that I’d start the conversation by asking you, there’s been a lot of progress in the perception of remote work over the past couple of years, so what excites you right now about that progress in remote work and why?
Todd Werth: When we started this company we decided to make it fully remote at the beginning, and forever, and that dictated a lot of things. That was years ago, so some of the newer things… The technology is definitely better, things like Zoom and stuff, give us reliable video which… We’ve always had video conferencing for the last 20 years, it just wasn’t very reliable. And anything that’s not reliable causes friction and friction causes people not to want to do it and it gives them excuses not to do it. So, that’s probably the biggest one, is just reliable video. If Zoom went away, I’m sure an alternative would come up but it is the best.
The other thing is, people are getting more used to dealing with people in different time zones, that people are working in the place that works best for them. One of the things I always say, and this is going to answer your question, one of the things I always tell people is, “We don’t work at home, we work where best is for each person.” I work out of my home office here in Las Vegas, Nevada, but quite a few of our team that work in [inaudible 00:02:44] are co-working spaces. And that’s actually a chain. They’ve been around for a long time too, but they’re much more prominent now in a lot of cities that they weren’t. I worked for 22 years in San Francisco and we always had those things there, but if you are in a smaller city you wouldn’t. We have one of our team members, Darren Wilson, he lives in a pretty small town, and they have co-working spaces, and he walks about 10 minutes in every single day.
So, that is what works best for him, and my home office is what works best for me, so… I was trying to clarify. We work where best, not at home.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah-
Todd Werth: Those are probably the two biggest in real life things that help.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, and it’s a relatively new thing, right, the boom in co-working spaces. I mean, in my little town by the beach in Portugal, they still don’t have anything like that, the best I can do is a coffee shop with relatively small amount of patrons and a good internet connection. But I definitely see them popping all over the place in Lisbon and [inaudible 00:03:48], so it’s… Even here in Portugal, it’s catching on.
Todd Werth: It’s especially a big deal for our younger team members, or if they’re single. Us, who have families, or that kind of thing, you have constant socialization just in your normal life. But single people don’t and they grew up in a world where a lot of that happened at work and they have to learn a new skill of commuting to socialize, not commuting to work. Having the ability to go to a co-working space alleviates that for some people, which is a real issue for some people.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about that. What do you think about really new stuff like, for example, I had someone the other day talking about AI and VR. VR is a bit freaky, because you have to wear bulky helmets and be yourself as an avatar in a virtualized space. I think that would be fun and interesting to work like that for the whole of five minutes and then everyone would hate it, but it’s a different thing when you start thinking about… Have you thought about the possibilities of digital workspaces, things like that?
Todd Werth: Yeah, for sure. You’re right about VR. I use VR for entertainment.
Luis Magalhaes: I guess, but which one do you own?
Todd Werth: I have the new Valve Index, which just came out, which is probably the first, not to digress too much, probably the first VR system that I think is really ready for prime time, because the other ones…
Luis Magalhaes: Wow, really.
Todd Werth: … had various issues. I don’t want to talk too much about that. But regardless of how good it is, you have this huge contraption on your head. You obviously not going to work that way all day. So, AI, especially if it’s some very light glass system would be very cool. It would very cool… So, having a video conference and having Zoom and that kind of thing and we pay special attention to our equipment, good microphones, good cameras, good lighting for our team. So, we do automize that experience and we try to get our clients to automize that experience. However, there is a difference between if you’re having a meeting with, say 10 people, and you can virtually look at them and especially if your eyes… When you’re looking at their eyes, your eyes appear to be looking at their eyes from their perspective. That’s a huge deal.
I do that. I fake that. I’m very cognizant when I’m on a video call that I’m looking into the person’s eyes. I set up my camera and everything to do that.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I noticed that, it’s impressive. It’s impressive. I try to do it, but I find myself drifting to the person’s face all the time.
Todd Werth: Yeah. Yeah. So, you can do it. And especially if we’re in sales calls and that stuff, I definitely try to do that. But it would be awesome if that just happened naturally. I have a variety of, I think, future ideas that could work for that. One of them is AI, another one is just tracking your eyes and shifting camera perspectives so that when you’re looking up to their direction, the camera adjusts for that. That doesn’t exist right now, but with AI and stuff I imagine it will. If I could move around my desk. I’m sitting at my desk right now. If I could move my chair back, move around and have a camera track me, actually track my eyes and give the person I’m looking at specifically, especially if you’re in a group of people. If I’m looking at Joe or Sarah, it would appear that I was looking at Joe or Sarah and when I turned over and looked at Tom, it would appear that I’m no longer looking at Joe or Sarah. That would be awesome. Just little things like that make a huge difference. We get around that by some skills and training, but that would be cool. I do look forward to them.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Well, you kind of did the low-fi thing where instead of people appearing on camera, they just put some moppets on their hands and then they turn them around, something like that.
Okay. In the remote workspace, we’ve talked about the past, the present and the future. What have you changed your mind the most about in the last two to three years? What is something that you used to believe about remote work and about what you’re doing in the remote space, that you don’t anymore, or that you changed your belief [inaudible 00:08:20]?
Todd Werth: I would say the biggest thing is, I don’t believe it can be as good as in person in all aspects. I think in some ways it’s better. I think in some ways it’s worse and it always will be worse, even with some of this fancy technologies we’re discussing. So, the belief that we can figure out a way to make it better in all situation is gone and it’s an optimistic view.
The other thing is, I’ve come to an understanding that because in our society for the last… Well, since the industrial revolution, our grandparents, our parents, our colleagues and stuff have always worked in a physical location that they commuted to and that’s the only example we have. Now, that’s not normal human way of doing things. Normal human way is remote work. That’s the way we’ve done it for ever. If you were a blacksmith, you would have where you worked probably below your house on main street and your house would be above and your kids would see you and you’d go to lunch at your table.
But, that was a long time ago and people aren’t trained, so one of the things that I do now is, say we’re bringing on a new team member, I ask them their experience with remote work and then I don’t assume that they have any of those skills. I assume they don’t and then we help them develop those skills. And that’s a big thing. No one took a class on this. It’d be awesome if they did. Like if you have a semester class on how to properly do this thing, or if your parents do it. For instance, we have a lot of people with families. Their kids see them do it. To their kids it’s normal. So, those kids are going to have a great example in their life and it’s just going to come naturally to them. So, this is a very short term problem as we transition back to normal human way of working.
Luis Magalhaes: Unless their kids become dentists, then they’re screwed.
Todd Werth: This is true. This is true. I would imagine the old days, probably the dentist traveled to the person’s home.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, yeah.
Todd Werth: I would imagine, but I don’t know.
Luis Magalhaes: I don’t know. I think it was more like a blacksmith situation where they had the office below their living room or something like that.
Todd Werth: You’re probably right. Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Who knows? Anyway, when I spoke to your co-founder, Jamon and that was a lovely conversation. Say hi to Jamon for me when you next have him on a Zoom call.
Todd Werth: I will. He’s actually traveling through Europe right now. He’s in Berlin. Feel free to ask me the same questions too, because I often find that Jamian lies a lot, so-
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, okay.
Todd Werth: You might get the wrong answers, so…
Luis Magalhaes: I’m going to flag this and send it to him.
Todd Werth: I’m totally kidding by the way. He’s probably one of the most honest people I know, but…
Luis Magalhaes: Clearly you haven’t listened to my podcast with him, because you don’t know what he said about you. Anyway, should I invite him to come to Portugal to drink some wines, some beers? Is he going to be around?
Todd Werth: He’s traveling to Amsterdam after Berlin and I’m not sure if… He’s been in Europe for a week and he’s going to be there for another week. I’m not sure of his itinerary, actually.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. I’m going to Ping him. Thanks for the… Anyway, you have an interesting situation because your two co-founders… And I’ve heard you describing your situation as having a council of elders, that decides how the company is working, how you’re going to be dealing that and I wanted to talk… Because I talk to Jamon a lot about how the teams work, what his day is like at infinite Red, but I didn’t really talk to him about how he dealt remotely with his fellow founders, so I want to take a chance now. I know that you hang out regularly, so when you have a fellow founder, when you have a leadership team that’s remote… I know that you hang out regularly, but what is the cadence of those meetings? And how do you keep them disciplined and meaningful? Because I know what happens in my situation, I felt that we had… I felt that in my company and this job, we have a similar setup, where I hang out with the president and the vice president and we have a great time, but sometimes we have a great time for an hour and a half and I stop and I exit the meeting and I think, “Wow, that was just one hour and a half that I had a great time, but no work got done.” How do you balance that?
Todd Werth: Well, getting work done really isn’t our job, to be honest.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. There you go.
Todd Werth: One of the things, when I’m mentoring leaders is… I emphasize, especially during the work day, your availability is way more important than your work. I used to be a software engineer for a long time and if I sit down and do work, that means when someone needs something, it takes me a while longer to get back to them, that kind of stuff, and I need to help 30 other people do their jobs or remove obstacles and that kind of thing.
So, for us, that hour and a half meeting you mentioned where you didn’t get any work done, that’s totally fine. But anyways, to answer your question, how we interact with each other remotely. So, there’s three of us who own the company. Two of us are founders, Jamon and myself and there’s Gant Laborde, who is also an owner in the company, and we’re also executives of the company. We focus on different things. But one of the thing we do is, we have three owners meetings, Zoom calls a week. They range for an hour, two hours, sometimes three hours. We don’t always do all three. We usually do two, the one on Wednesday often gets skipped for whatever reasons, so that kind of cadence we have.
We also have a leadership meeting. So, there’s three of us owners and there’s six total leaders. We have a leadership meeting once a week. The other thing is we have a kitchen table. We have a bunch of dedicated-
Luis Magalhaes: With knives, I assume.
Todd Werth: Yes, when Jamon is arguing with me too much, that’s for certain. First off, we have a bunch of Zoom rooms. We have nine of them and they’re all named after the Clue board, so kitchen, dining room, ballroom, that kind of stuff. They’re all permanently there and we build our own system where you can see who’s in what room and that kind of stuff, and you can schedule each room and that kind of thing.
One of the rooms, the kitchen, is solely for just hanging out with people. It’s not to socialize, it’s to sit there and work amongst other people as if you were in a café. You could talk to them, but most time you’re just working and you hear what is going on around you, that kind of stuff. The reason I bring that up is, I often sit in the kitchen table. There’s usually three or four of us in there, so I may actually be around, say Jamon half the day while I’m doing stuff in the kitchen table. So, there’s that.
In addition to that, we meet up in person once every quarter. Typically, we do it at my house because Gant’s in New Orleans, Louisiana and Jamon’s in the Portland, Oregon area. He’s actually in Vancouver, Washington which is right above that. And Las Vegas is in between. So, it’s three hours for each of them, plus I have a couple of guest rooms which makes it…
Luis Magalhaes: Nice.
Todd Werth: Makes it comfortable for them.
Luis Magalhaes: Forgive me for interrupting, because I want to go back a bit before the actual meeting in person. So, you meet two to three times a week for one hour to three hours long meetings. How do you keep that meaningful? If I do a three hour meeting in a day, that’s my day, I’m exhausted at the end of the day, no matter how much I enjoy being with the people in that meeting.
Todd Werth: Yeah, for sure. We have two different type meetings. We have a gig and a jam. A gig is referring to music. A gig is where you have to pay attention to everything people say. You should be engaged. Those really don’t want to go for over an hour because that’s a lot. Then we have a jam where it’s basically… We’re working together, we may be conversing with each other, but you don’t have to pay attention. It’s understood that you’re probably doing something. The kitchen table is example of a permanent jam. I would say that our owner meetings, sometimes are gigs, meaning we go over specific agenda topics and then they turn more into jams.
So, it’s just our opportunity to… Because it might be, for example, an hour or two. I might be dealing with a team issue and I’m typing in Slack or whatever and then I might say, “Jamon,” I share my window and I say, “Could you read through this to make sure I’m not offending the person, or whatever.” We try to get help. That’s how those go. But we do have OM items, which are owner meeting items that we record throughout the week in Slack. We record them and then we can look them up and we can choose what we want to address during those meetings. It also helps that I love hanging around with Gant and Jamon because we’re all good friend, so…
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I understand that. After a three hour meeting I’m just spent, no more work is getting done, but I guess different people have different tolerances.
Todd Werth: We can also get interrupted quite a bit too. It’s not one of those heads-down, because that would suck if all three executives where not available for three hours during the day. People have issues, client issue comes up, team member issue, that kind of stuff and we’ll stop and we’ll address that. We’ll stay in the meeting, but that happens quite a bit. You can think of it more as a work session as opposed to having a meeting.
Luis Magalhaes: So, it’s more the three of you are in the room. Got it. Got it. Got it.
Todd Werth: Yeah. Yeah. We really try to keep… We have focused entirely meetings under an hour for sure.
Luis Magalhaes: So, you meet once every quarter and you playing PlayStation with each other?
Todd Werth: Sometimes, yeah. In between the time we meet, we do record items we want to talk about at that time, and we produce a list. We do have a thing where we go over every team member and we evaluate whether they should be promoted or change some levels. We do that every single time. We don’t wait for a year or sometimes, every quarter we evaluate everyone and we’ll change their level when it’s appropriate, not at a particular time.
Other than that, yeah, we do a lot of high level discussion, stuff that we do not have time for during the normal week. Philosophical discussions, where we’re going to go in five years, that kind of stuff. It’s where we make big decisions as an owner team, that kind of stuff. Yeah. But often we’ll just be sitting down on my patio and enjoying each other’s company and going deep dive into general topics.
Luis Magalhaes: Nice. Sounds cool. So, you talked about people changing levels and that brings into my mind the topic of career progression, because it’s sometimes that’s showing up more and more in my feeds about remote work is, people haven’t quite figured out how to handle career progression in remote settings. And sometimes, it’s hard to match how much a person communicates with how much they contribute. These things are sometimes in muddy water. It’s easy for a lot of communication to look like a lot of contribution, but not actually being the case. When you approach your employees about career progression, how do you feel it’s the fairest way to do it and how do you figure it out?
Todd Werth: Well, I think that’s… I call myself a leader, not a manager. I think a good leader consists of a manager which is day-to-day, make sure that everything works and everything is managed, but a computer can manage things and it does, often. And then you have a leader which… We have to go storm that hill and then you have a relationship with your people enough where they want to go help you storm that hill. That’s what leadership… But there’s a third one, which is a coach. A coach’s job… I’m about 50 now, but when I was younger, I did various sports and sometimes you’d have a coach helping you out, and they would have nothing but nice things to say about you.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s not very helpful.
Todd Werth: Yeah, it’s great. A coach that only gives you good feedback doesn’t care at all. It’s literally their job to find the next thing for you to improve on and then to help you. As a leader/manager/coach I think the toughest job, to be honest, is the coach part. Leadership is tough too. That’s an ongoing, every day thing where you build relationships with people and you’re consistently… And then they will follow you. That’s more of an ongoing thing. A coach is for each individual person to find out what they need to work on and help them get there. That’s really hard.
There’s no easy answer. That’s a whole discussion in itself, but I will say that, that is… If you’re a leader, God forbid, a manager in a company, and you’re not doing this, then you’re not doing your job. It’s hard, but that’s your job and if you can’t do it, you probably should get a different job for yourself.
So, for us, we have designers and developers and we service clients and we do our own stuff, like we throw conferences and do training, that kind of stuff. So, the output of what… Communication is super important. We pride ourselves in good communication with our clients and with each other. So, that is definitely measured as far as performance goes, but we have their output. They produce design, they produce code, they train people. The metrics on measuring people is something we spend a lot of time… I don’t think it has anything to do with remote work. I think this is actually a very common feeling in a lot of companies, where people resort to falling back to manager, which is truly the easiest part of the job and the hardest part of coaching is where… If someone is failing in that position, that’s probably where they’re failing.
Luis Magalhaes: Where I find that there’s a small gap in remote, when you go to a regular company, you can talk to your manager and have a projection of your trajectory within the company, if you do well, and I don’t see that in a lot of remote companies. A lot of remote companies, what I see is people get there, people start working and then they’re either noticed or not. A lot of the times they’re noticed by their conversation, by their communication, not necessarily by their contribution and it’s up in the air how will they develop inside the company over the years.
And you were talking about levels and people changing levels, so I assume that you have a bit more of a game plan to show people that start working for you, or am I wrong?
Todd Werth: Yes. No, you’re not wrong, to answer your question. It’s unfortunate that people are struggling with this so much. Certain type of business… If you work at a store and you have to be at the cash register, then where you are for eight hours is super important. You have to man the station. But other than that, if you’re producing output, I’m not sure why it’s that difficult to judge. For example, we have a team, say a three person team, doing a software development project for a client. Well, there’s all sorts of stuff. First we have a leader of that team, we call them primary. Secondly, we have the client. Both of those people can provide day-to-day feedback on how people are performing. Our primary is… We’re very confident in them. They have tons of experience.
So, if it’s been three months and you’re working on this one project, I talk to your primary and I ask them how they do every day. The client, is the client happy? I’m not actually overly concerned on how you produce your value. If you can come and put two hours and produce the value of someone who’s worked on full time and you’re available for team communications… We ask people to overlap their time for four hours with the normal working day, every day. That’s fine. That’s totally up to you. I’m not overly concerned about micro-managing how people do stuff.
So, this sounds fairly measurable in my opinion. Now, the more soft thing is how they communicate with the team in general, how they communicate with us as leaders. Are they exhibiting the IR way, which is our culture? And we have specific things that make up that and if they’re being that way. Frankly, if they’re not exhibiting the IR way a lot, we would have already had a conversation when they did that, and if they kept on doing it they’d probably move on to some places that’s more a better fit for them.
Luis Magalhaes: Hey there. It’s Luis. Welcome to the intermission of the DistantJob podcast. If you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a very big change that you’re interested in building a great remote team. To build a great remote team, you need great remote employees. That’s where DistantJob comes in. So, here’s how it works. You tell the position that you need to fill. We talk to you. We try to figure out, not only what are the exact requirements that that person should have, but also we try to figure out who would be a perfect fit for your company culture, because we really believe that that matters. Then, once we have an exact picture of what we’re looking for, we’re off to the races. Our recruiters have entered their global network. We filter people very well, so that you don’t waste your time interviewing people that are never going to be of interest to you. We make sure because we’re techies and our recruiters are techies as well. So, when people get to you, they are already pre-selected and you just have to decide between the crème of the crop.
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And without further ado, let’s back with the show. Thank you for listening.
Yeah. So, how does your council of elders interact with your direct reports and their reports? How do you make sure that information flows up and down the chain of command? What fail safe do you have in place to know if the communication flowed right, or if it hit a block?
Todd Werth: So, I’ll explain the council of elders, as we call it. That silly when you say it out loud, but-
Luis Magalhaes: I like it. I love it.
Todd Werth: Well, let me just start there. Basically, I’m the CEO of the company, but I’m not the traditional CEO. Typically, a CEO can hire and fire executives below them. The two executives are owners and we basically have the same power when it comes to decision making. But, when it comes to deciding, “Are we going to throw a conference?” Which is going to be a year long project or something, I have exactly the same power as Gant and Jamon, in that case, I have no more power. So, that’s how we do it.
The bad thing about it is, I can’t just make decisions and I can’t just push them through, from my perspective. The cool thing about it is, everything that is my opinion on what we should do, I have to convince at least two people to do it. If I can’t convince them to do it, then it’s probably not a good idea. So, it gets rid of, call to personality, where someone personality… The good part of their personality is great, they get stuff done really fast, but the bad parts bring down the whole company.
So, I don’t trust myself to be a single person. I tell people I’m CEO because I don’t want anyone else on the job. I don’t want anyone who wants just the power of CEO and to have their opinions matter more than the other executives, so I block it out from other people.
Luis Magalhaes: People hearing this haven’t necessarily listened to your podcast, Building Infinite Red, so they should, because it’s a really great podcast about building and managing a company.
Todd Werth: And you get to listen to 10 hours of me making really bad jokes, which I’ve tried very hard in this conversation not to do, out of respect for you. But there are drawbacks to the council though. It’s messy. It’s like democracy versus a king. Democracy’s messy. But I do think through the mess, it produces a better result. But, to answer your original question, which is evaluating people on levels and stuff and safeguards and how-
Luis Magalhaes: Actually that was the previous question. [inaudible 00:30:57] answering… This question is, so once you have some decisions made in the council of elders, how do they go to your direct reports and how do they go from your direct reports to their direct reports? The most important part of the question, I guess, is how are you sure the message wasn’t stuck or warped or diluted somewhere along the way?
Todd Werth: Just to give you an example of structure. So, we’re the three executives. We have a couple other leaders that are in-between us and then there’s the team. The primary on a project isn’t a position or level of power. It’s just you’re the commander of that particular mission. The primary may be someone who’s less experienced or a lower level than the people who are secondaries on that particular project. It’s really a role, not a overall… For example, Justin Huskey, who’s our lead of design. So, he has one-on-ones with his design people, the design team… his design people, that’s funny… With the design team every couple of weeks and stuff and then we do one-on-ones, say, every quarter with them.
Obviously, his opinion on his people is very important, as kind of thing. As far as engineering Jamon is our CTO, so he’s like Justin for the engineers and he’s constantly talking to engineers in different groups about technical stuff and that kind of thing. Jamon being one of the owners, when we’re talking about an engineer, his voice has a lot more weight in that case. I deal with account management so me and Jed Bartausky run accounts. He’s the project managers. I’m account manager. So, it’s like that, where there are different people. So, obviously my opinion of Jed, for example, is most important, because I work with him every day.
Now as one of my roles in the company is, I deal with team and I deal with leadership. So, the leaders themselves, I help them out. I mentor them on leadership, that kind of stuff. So, I evaluate leaders specifically and my voice in that has more weight.
Some safeguards when we level. One thing we do is everyone knows everyone else’s levels. And trust me, when everyone knows their level you sure hear when someone is at a wrong level. So, such-and-such is higher than this other person and such-and-such is way worse than the other person. As long as you’re transparent about that, that’s the biggest safeguard, because you have an entire team who takes it very personally if they think someone is at the wrong level.
Luis Magalhaes: What’s the conversation then? “It was brought to my attention that your level is a bit higher than it should be, so you’re going back down.” How does that work? That’s sounds an awkward conversation to have.
Todd Werth: Yeah. Well, I just go in there and say, “Look, you suck. Get out.”
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. [inaudible 00:33:51].
Todd Werth: It’s great. They get it. I bring a box with me. I’m kidding. No. No. No. I mean, obviously we’re not going to demote someone, that’d be ridiculous, but we can definitely make up for it later in different ways. If someone comes to me and confides in me that they think Ted… There’s no Ted here, but I’m just making that up. Ted got promoted and really there’s some issues with Ted that we weren’t aware of. I listen to that. I keep that information confident. I keep their confidence. Obviously, I’m not going to go to Ted and say, “Joe says you suck.” That’d be horrible. But, as a leadership team, we all know that now and then we try to help Ted improve in that way. Often it’s not like we want Ted demoted. It’s that Ted’s above Sally and Sally should be promoted, so next time we evaluate and we move Sally up.
It’s usually the persons below another person that should be higher. If we made a mistake, which we do, that person might sit there at that level longer than average, because they really… And we bring them up to that. If we can’t bring them up to that then we’re failing. That’s our job.
Luis Magalhaes: So, listening to your podcast, I found out that you do something and maybe you don’t do this anymore. Let me know if that’s the case, but I heard you say that you try to talk with the people in the company every day, you wouldn’t be able to… But talk to everyone in the company at least once every two days, something in that region. I used to do that and then on one of the monthly feedbacks one-on-ones, one of my direct reports told me, “Luis, I feel that you don’t trust me because you check on me every day. You can trust me. I’m good at my job.” He felt that I was being a bit overbearing. Then I looked at myself and I stopped doing it. I try to talk less to my people. What’s your secret? How do you visit every day, or almost every day without being disruptive, without disrupting people’s workday, without feeling like you’re overbearing, looking over their shoulder?
Todd Werth: Yeah, that’s a great question. First off, I think I do disrupt people’s workday. I hope everyone enjoys my leadership, but I do know probably one of their complaints… The feedback I get is… I’m nice, and I really enjoy our conversations, but I do like to talk a lot, and I sometimes consume too much of their time. I waste people’s times sometimes, so that’s pretty common. Now, I do just say hello in Slack. We use Slack for our real-time chat. We use the heck out of Slack. It’s an integral part of our culture and our communication. Sometimes I’ll just say hello and just I say good morning, I say wave. When people first start they’re like, “What do you need.” And I’m like, “I just wanted to say hello, like a human.” And they’re like, “Oh. Oh, hi.”
Another thing that Justin, our design lead does, which I started to emulating is, we have a channel in Slack called roll call. It’s basically good morning. It’s equivalent of when you walk into the office, you see Ted walk in, and you may go, “Hey Ted, how was your weekend.” That kind of stuff. So, we have a virtual version of that. It’s not really to check up on people. It doesn’t matter when they work, as long as they follow the general guidelines. People, they’ll be like, maybe at 1:00 pm, “I’m really tired. I’m going to take a nap, or I’m going to the dentist or whatever.” It just gives us a feel that we’re all together. But one thing that Justin does every once in a while. He doesn’t do it very often, but every couple of months. Is every single person that comes in and say, “Good morning. I just had my coffee. I’m rolling up my desk.” He would respond to them and say, “What kind of coffee are you having?” And you have a conversation with them. It’s in roll call where other people could see.
Typically, the way I did it was always DMs, where it was just a private conversation, but I really like this way too because you can ask them something about something you know about them, or they just mentioned and have a conversation and if other people are interested, they can participate. So, that’s a way to do it, just DMing them. Truthfully, I don’t ask them about their work. I’m not checking in. I don’t know about this person… Some people do like this less. I’m a hugger. I like to hug. And some people I know really don’t like it and I’m sensitive to that. It’s the same thing for this. If someone’s a little less… they’re little more… It bothers them a little more if you waste their time and stuff. I try to make it short, so that I’m there and I just say hello. And if they start talking, they ask me what I want to do at work, and I’m like, “No, no, no. I don’t want to talk about work. I just want to say hello, see how you’re doing.”
Other than that, it’s just generally be interested. One of the things I do that I’ve got kudos for, and I’m very appreciative for that kudos, is when we have a new team member, and we’re having bi-weekly… Not bi-weekly, every two weeks, every fortnight we have an all team meeting. So we have a new person just joined, let’s just say Tim… What I don’t do is that super horrible thing where we all go around and tell a little about ourselves, which as an employee I loathed. I hated it. It stressed me out. It’d get sweats when it was coming to my turn. But I still do what every one should know about each person. So what I do, the first time we have that meeting is, I go around and talk about every single person. Like, “This is Carlin, he’s a real person,” and I go through every single person. The reason I know about those people is because I have conversations, so I’m generally interested in them personally.
Now, we have 30 people. Obviously that doesn’t work for 200.
Luis Magalhaes: No.
Todd Werth: But you can certainly do it within your group. Be human.
Luis Magalhaes: Yes. Okay. Check. Be human. I’m going to try that. Sounds hard, but I’ll do my best.
Todd Werth: I was just saying, we have a lot of engineers. Now, our designers are normal people. I’m an engineer myself, so I can say this, but a lot of engineers are… It’s not a lot but a little less social, so it’s a little more challenging, but you’ve just got, as a leader, know each person and… We have one person. She’s super cool. She’s always happy. Jamon, one thing he does, is periodically ask people’s stress level. Like, “What stress level are you from one to ten?” Which I always appreciate. She hates this because she wants it presented in a positive way, she doesn’t want… It makes her think about stress and she’s such a happy, positive person. I can see where without you saying that, it wouldn’t come up in her mind. So, you have to know that about each person as a leader.
Luis Magalhaes: So, we’re heading close to an hour, and I want to be respectful of your time, so I think that I’ll ask you a bit more general, personal, closing questions.
Todd Werth: Sure. Sure.
Luis Magalhaes: I want to know, because you work from your home, same as me. What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?
Todd Werth: I don’t know. I’ve got equipment. I’m talking on an expensive mic. I have good headphones on right now, which I don’t normally use because I have a piece of audio equipment that cuts out me when I’m not talking, so I don’t have to wear headphones and I don’t get an echo. I’m wearing headphones right now because we’re recording this. I’m trying to make it the best quality. So, good audio equipment makes a big difference. I have this little device that my mic goes into that if I get extra loud, it brings me down. If I get extra quiet, it brings me up. It’s called a compressor. It cuts out so that I don’t have to wear headphones. So, good equipment can really make your everyday life great.
Other than that, my wife and I moved from San Francisco back to my home state of Nevada. We moved to Las Vegas about three years ago. So, we had an apartment, San Francisco is very apartment centric and urban environment and now we live in a rural environment. My wife also works out of the house. She used to have an office-
Luis Magalhaes: Do you recommend people get a house? How am I going to include that in the show notes?
Todd Werth: Well, no, no. No. What I’m saying is when we chose this, our number one criteria was our workspaces. Her workspace and my workspace, it was above everything else, because we spend so much time here. Now, I’m not saying you have to buy a house, but when we lived in an apartment, we also considered that, for me, like where am I going to sit. A lot of people just say, “Oh, I’ll just sit in the kitchen or whatever,” and that’s fine. If that works, great. But it’s an important thing. You should put some attention into it for sure if you’re going to be spending a lot of time.
I guess, my thing is even your current space or in a new space you’re getting, just really consider where am I going to be sitting, what the environment, what’s the temperature going to be like, what’s the light going to be like. If you’re on camera a lot like I am, what’s behind you. You all can’t see because this is audio, but everything behind me is… I got a few things on my desk, I’ve got some photos because I’m a photographer, but everything behind me is specifically there because I placed it there to be on this set.
Luis Magalhaes: Got it. Let’s talk a bit about books. What book or books have you gifted the most?
Todd Werth: Oh. Workwise, none. Jamon’s good at that. He’s always pushing some book. He always complains that I never read the books he gives me. The only book I’ve gifted lately is photography books. That’s a hobby of mine and we have a little photography club with a few people here at work. And so I bought everyone the best intro to photography book that I know right now. Other than that-
Luis Magalhaes: What’s the title?
Todd Werth: It’s… Let me look.
Luis Magalhaes: Who knows? Just send it to me by email and I’ll include it in the show notes. Maybe some-
Todd Werth: It’s called Starting Digital Photography by Tony Northrup.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay.
Todd Werth: Yeah, and it’s great for beginners. As far as books, like no, I’m actually…
Luis Magalhaes: It’s a great hobby for people working remotely by the way, photography.
Todd Werth: Yeah. I love it. Not only was a software engineer, I did software design back in the old days before you had professional designers do that. There are people like us, we’re also called architects, but we would literally design the visuals and stuff. I’m a very visually-oriented person and I like art and that kind of stuff, so it is a good hobby.
Luis Magalhaes: Nice. If you had one minute to broadcast to… I used to say Silicon Valley, but I guess that technology is everyone now. It’s moving out of the valley into the whole world. But for tech companies in particular, in one minute, what is the most important message that you feel that you can deliver regarding remote work, and the future of work?
Todd Werth: Well, I know the listeners here are more on the leadership side, so I’ll direct this towards them. I would say for one minute, the ideal situation with remote work is that everyone is remote. If your CEO’s not remote, then your remote systems are not going to be optimized. If your executives are not remote, it’s going to be optimized for them, not you. It’s super important that the people in charge, who make decisions, feel the pain when the remote system doesn’t work. I used to do partial remote companies, like I worked at. I probably wouldn’t do that. I either do fully in the office or fully remote, nothing in-between.
The second thing is, remote has nothing to do with a lot of what people say it has to do with. Remote is only about where people are located. It has nothing to do with when people work. It has nothing to do with how people work. If you decide to have a flexible schedule, that has nothing to do with remote. That’s a completely separate decision. You can have a flexible schedule in an office. You can dictate, or don’t dictate, how people work in an office. That’s has nothing to do… So, a lot of times people conflate flexible schedule with remote work. You can require every remote person to be there at nine and leave at five. That’s your decision. I think it’s silly, personally, but maybe it works for you.
The other thing is, equipment and environment matter. Companies will spend a huge amount of money on staff and then they won’t even buy three hundred dollars of audio equipment for every single team member. That’s crazy. So, just care about that stuff. I’m sure I’m way over a minute.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, no. It’s good. It’s good. Thank you so much.
Todd Werth: Can I interject one other thing?
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, please. Please do.
Todd Werth: So, you mentioned Silicon Valley. I worked in Silicon Valley for a very long time, in San Francisco and also them [inaudible 00:46:59]. They’re actually not remote work friendly.
Luis Magalhaes: I know.
Todd Werth: Quite the opposite. They all move there… It’s a lot of challenges living in Silicon Valley, the cost and that kind of stuff. They’re all physically located close to each other to promote work minimizes those sacrifices and the fact that they’re there. We don’t actually interact too much with that community anymore, to be honest, because the remote work tends not be there. I love Silicon Valley and I enjoyed my time there. It really [inaudible 00:47:35] my career for a very long time, but I wouldn’t even mention them when talking about remote work, to be honest.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Yeah. That’s partly why I mentioned them. It’s clear to me that they aren’t really getting on the remote work train and I do think that it’s the future of work. That’s why I do this. I wouldn’t be doing this, if I didn’t believe it and I want to… Obviously, I want to drag people kicking and screaming into remote work, but thank you for your advice. I think it’s very actionable and-
Todd Werth: Cool.
Luis Magalhaes: [inaudible 00:48:10]. So, thank you so much and thank you for doing this. It’s been a pleasure.
Todd Werth: [inaudible 00:48:15].
Luis Magalhaes: Why don’t you tell people, the listeners, if they want to continue the conversation. I know you’re super easy to Ping online, because that’s how I got you on the show. So, if people want to continue the conversation, how can they get to you? If people want to learn more about Infinite Red, apart from the podcast that I already recommended, where can you direct them to?
Todd Werth: I’m always horrible at pushing this stuff. Jamian is so good at pushing that stuff, but yeah. The podcast to Building Infinite Red, you can Google that.
Luis Magalhaes: [inaudible 00:48:45].
Todd Werth: My twitter handle is @twerth, T-W-E-R-T-H, the German spelling of Werth. There we have a community. If you’re a developer or designer, we have a Slack community, about three or five hundred people. If you are in there and you join, it’s free join, you can Slack me at any time and I’ll have a conversation with you. I love to chat with people. But you can literally chat with me on Twitter. Don’t do it on email, or a phone call. Geez, that’s horrible. But, yeah, reach out. We’re super interested in remote. We promote it a lot. It’s probably the non-technical or the non-design thing that we are engaged in the most, is remote work lifestyle and running companies like that. You can get to me from Twitter, for sure.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. Awesome Todd. Again, thank you so much for the time. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Todd Werth: Yeah. It was very fun and I’m very happy to come back if you want to listen to me ramble incessantly for longer.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, we’ll have to make that happen. Deal.
Todd Werth: Okay. Okay.
Luis Magalhaes: And so, we close another episode of the DistantJob podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in this conversations, that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get a few more listeners.
Now, another thing that you might want to do, is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, or any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.
And, of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard.
And with that, I bid you adios. See you next week, on the next episode.
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]
In this podcast episode, Todd shares his experience leading a remote company and explains how big decisions are made when working remotely.
Todd believes the ideal situation for a remote company to work is if everyone is remote. If your CEO or your execs are not working remotely, then your systems are not going to be correctly optimized.
In this podcast episode, he shares his experience leading a remote team. He explains how some members of the team get together and spend hours on a videocall, just like they’d do in a physical office setting, because he believes there’s a big misconception in what people think remote work is about. He believes remote has nothing to do with how you work or when you work, it’s only about where you’re located.