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Making Remote Work Meaningful with Stephanie Lee

Stephanie Lee is the Team Experience Manager at Buffer. She has a master’s degree in philosophy and was previously an educator in one of Singapore’s top schools. In 2010 she started a career as a professional life coach. And she also has her own weekly podcast, Every Human Art.

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Remote Manager

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host Luis. In this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote games. My guest today is Stephanie Lee. Stephanie is the Team Experience Manager at Buffer. She has a master’s degree in philosophy and was previously an educator in one of Singapore’s top schools. And 2010 did concurrently with their work at Buffer, she started a career as a professional life coach. She also has her own weekly podcast, Every Human Art. Stephanie, welcome to the show.

Stephanie Lee:

Hi, Luis. Thanks for having me.

Luis:

It’s an absolute pleasure. And I think I hit all the major beats in the introduction. Is there anything you’d like me to add, or you’d like to add?

Stephanie Lee:

Please No. I think those are the highlights of my life right now, besides my two dogs that we were just chatting about before we started recording.

Luis:

Yeah. The definitely two dogs is, That could be actually a show. Two dogs. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

a podcast in itself.

Stephanie Lee:

I posted on my,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

Sorry. I posted on my Instagram story that, that’s my full-time job and everything else is my side hustle.

Luis:

Being a dog mom, right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

Okay. So specifically about yourself. And, again, this is a podcast about working remotely but there are a lot of trends that we can pull off. And I guess I’d like to start at the beginning. How was your introduction to remote work? How did it happen that you came to work remotely and eventually become an expert at managing teams working remotely. And specifically at finding teams the tools, the best tools to work remotely which I guess is what a large part of what you do at Buffer. Correct?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. That’s a massive part. And that’s such a great and loaded, I mean, complex question. Let’s start at the beginning. So, slightly more than five years ago, I joined the team. So prior to Buffer, I was in a completely different setup. I used to be a teacher and I was a teacher for five years. So that was such a structured life. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Definitely brick and mortar. That was way before pandemic. So we didn’t have Zoom classrooms and stuff. So in a physical school, someone’s telling me exactly where I got to be at what time and what I’m supposed to do at that time. And I had figured out that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an educator in Singapore for the rest of my life.

Stephanie Lee:

I figured it’s something that I can always go back to. I have a deep passion for it, but I was looking for something different. And around that time in the pursuit of emotional fulfillment from work and stuff like that, I started a side project around philosophy. And I was figuring out how to manage the social media around it.

Stephanie Lee:

So I discovered Buffer and discovered the product but it was really the culture that drew me in. And five years ago, even though remote work was already fairly common, I don’t think it was as established. I mean, when we talk about tools we’ll see that, five years ago the tools we had, we’re still bootstrapping a lot of tools.

Stephanie Lee:

So it was still new. I was like, “It’s impossible.” Like how can companies work this, they never see each other. Buffet just seemed such a wonderful community. It seemed such a wonderful company. The culture was amazing. It felt aligned with my personal values. So I was like, “Let’s just try. You never know until you try.”

Stephanie Lee:

So I applied for a community role which they failed, but in the process of my application, Buffer basically reached out and said, “We failed the role but here’s another one that’s open and we think it’d be a great fit. Would you consider it?” And that’s how I joined remote work and Buffer in general as a lifesaver, which was conceived as an internal community role. And it has just expanded in amazing, fun and exciting ways.

Stephanie Lee:

And I think I fell into the whole tool set of things because I’m a bit of a tools geek. I like to build systems. I like to try new things. I like to figure out ways to optimize my productivity and stuff like that. So I was always curious and I’m that person that really enjoys poking around the admin console and dashboard and figuring out how things work. So, fast forward five years and this is where I’m at with remote work and specifically the tools side of the operational side of things.

Luis:

Nice. All right. So there’s a lot to unpack there, but the thing got packed. So because I work at the recruitment company, I work a DistantJob. I get a lot of questions about how I get through remote work. How do I get to remote job and how am I hired by a really good business? And listening to your story, I just, for the sake of the audience I have to ask, what do you think caught their attention?

Luis:

Because it’s very unusual. It’s highly unusual that someone applies for a job and gets that response. Right? More often than not, they get no response, which personally, we had these in job things. It’s terrible. We make sure to get back to every person even if it’s with the, “Sorry. You didn’t the job.” But,

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

Usually that’s it. “Sorry, you didn’t get the job. If something comes up in the same vein, we already have your CV on file. So we consider it for that,” et cetera. Right? But in your case, that response is quite unusual. Right? The, “Hey. You didn’t get the job but we have another one and we think would be you’d be a fit.” What do you think prompted that decision?

Stephanie Lee:

Wow. That’s such a great question. And what comes to mind is that was the kind of company we were at the time. At the time, Buffer was coming out of a phase of experimenting with Teal organization. So, Fredrick Laloux Reinventing Organizations, we’ve tried different organizational structures. So I think the spirit of the company back then, which was 2016, was let’s try things. Let’s look for generalists are willing to build different things.

Stephanie Lee:

We were still very startupy. And when you’re in a startupy culture, you need people that are able to be scrappy, that able to do things that they were not trained to do basically. So for example, I was in the finance team for two years and I have no background in finance and my finance accountant mom was like, “Do they know that you’re not trained for this?”

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

But, that was the kind of company we were. It was like, “You haven’t tried this before but we need someone to do it. You’re willing to try. We’ll support you in learning how to do your best at it.” So that was the kind of company I joined. And that was the way we were at the time. So people were trying different things, doing different things. And I joined the company at a time where we needed to build these systems of employee records and figuring out how to just systematize a lot of things.

Stephanie Lee:

So it fit with the kind of person that I was. And I think that came through in the interviews and in my conversations with the team and stuff like that. As a teacher, I had to wear many hats. So I was kind of a jack of all trades already. Teachers in Singapore and I think anywhere have to be generalists. You have to be an expert. I mean, you have to actually be a T-shaped individual. You have to be an expert in your subject area,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

But you also have to be a coach and a babysitter and a counselor and keep kids alive. So I personally think teachers are multi-talented individuals. That’s the biggest stressor, keeping them alive.

Luis:

Trying to kill themselves and since it’s impossible.

Stephanie Lee:

Oh my gosh, the stories I could tell. The students I taught in an all boys school and they were 13 to 17 years old. So you can imagine the sort of things they got up to.

Luis:

I don’t know how we got to a 1,000 year old civilization. Is that a multiple 1,000 more? I don’t know. How then the first people weren’t just born and died immediately.

Stephanie Lee:

Well, natural selection. So we’re the ones that survived. Imagine that.

Luis:

Imagine the ones that didn’t. What they were like.

Stephanie Lee:

Exactly.

Luis:

Yeah. I don’t know.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. So I’d say that what happened back then was, there was an alignment with the kind of person that I was, with the skills that I brought or at least the openness to pick up skills and where the company was at the time. So since then, Buffer has evolved. We’re much more mature company. We hire people that are specialists in the areas. So we also look at different things right now. So I think the key there was a fit between the individual which was me, and the company and what they were looking for at the time.

Luis:

Yeah. that’s definitely sets of abilities that I value highly. I mean, mostly it’s a bias because of my own career path because actually my formal training is in dental medicine, specifically surgery. And then eventually just because of life circumstances, I had to care for someone with disabilities and et-cetera.

Luis:

I ended up coming up with something that allowed me to work from home at first as a writer, then as a marketer, eventually as a manager. So I can definitely appreciate and I try to do that when a business, it gives people room to grow in areas that are in their area of expertise. Right?

Luis:

Because realistically, you can live multiple lives and throughout your life, you can wear multiple hats and learn multiple things. So what you went to school to do isn’t necessarily the thing that makes the most, the thing that you will do for your whole life. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. And I think there’s a certain beauty in someone having gone through such a varied path.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

That diversity in experience, I always say it’s never a waste of time. My original background, way back was advertising and video production. And I did marketing as well. And my first job out of polytechnic, so after my diploma, was as a copywriter and as a brand executive.

Stephanie Lee:

And so on one hand, people might say that you’ve wasted all that time. You should have just done what you’re doing now. But on the other hand, I think everything I’ve learned from those experiences has helped me bring a much more unique voice and perspective on things. And now every time I record my podcast and I hear people give feedback on it and talk about how it resonated. I’m like, “Yeah. All those years in the radio studio paid off.”

Luis:

Yeah. For sure.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

That’s just the thing. Right? The richest life is like a tapestry. It’s like a patchual graph experience. It’s not just a piece of cloth that’s all the same color with no patterns. I mean, I keep saying, something that I’ve said a lot in this podcast is that, a lot of my managing decisions, managing a remote team are informed from when I was younger. While I was doing my master’s degree, I was leading 40 people raids in world of Warcraft. And I was also managing completely remotely, a team of writers and editors in a video game website.

Luis:

And that wasn’t called remote work because the expression didn’t exist. But in fact I was coordinating people over the internet. Right? And that sounds so something, one of my previous guests, Jude Elise said. It’s like, “Well. Jude Elise, I’ve been doing the remote work thing for 100 years.” So it’s like, “It’s not a new technology.” The technologies that support it is new but the concept of working from your home is not that new. It’s just been broadened to a lot of other occupations.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. I love, first of all, the image of tapestry, I think that’s a perfect way to describe it. And also what you’re saying about how it’s actually a really old way of doing things. We’ve always done some form of this and that’s what I say to people when they’re like, “How do you do remote work?”

Stephanie Lee:

And what I say to them is go back to basics. Go back to when you’re in the office and think about what makes work, work. Is it really the face to face time or is it the bonds that are created? And then how can you recreate it in a different platform, in a different medium. But the essence of it is the same.

Stephanie Lee:

So I love what you said about leading those raids. I had a very similar thought when I started at Buffer and I had to grapple with all these times zones because my team is, my team right now, I’m in the people team. They’re all in the US, Right? So I’m the only one in Apex. So time zones are a challenge.

Stephanie Lee:

But I think about my long distance relationship with someone in Chicago for two years. And I’m like, “I’ve made it work before. I’ve communicated with someone. I’ve built relationships for a long time across the world. So I can do this.”

Luis:

Yeah. By the way, it’s definitely tough. It’s definitely tough. I’d say that it’s even hard when yo in the middle. Right? Let’s say that you have two bosses and you have one boss that’s three hours ahead and another boss that’s four hours after you and that’s just in vain.

Stephanie Lee:

Then you’re online all the time and then you have to manage your energy in a completely different way.

Luis:

Completely. Very different. But again as some people like to put it in the gaming community, that’s first world problems. Right? That’s a problem that you have because it means you’re working from home. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

Okay. So back to the thing that you were doing at the moment and tools. Right? What are your starting assumptions when trying to find a better alternative for a tool that is currently in use? Or when do you also, part B of the question, when do you figure out that there’s a problem in the team and there should be a tool for that? Right?

Luis:

So I guess this is a two-part question. What’s your thought process? Because there’s that old adage that you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. I’m not fully on board with it. I think that sometimes it’s nice to look for improvement even when something isn’t broken. But there’s definitely a huge cost in switching tools in anything,

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

So what are your thoughts on these loose set of propositions?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. Change management is definitely something that’s very important, especially when you’re not in the same place and you can’t physically see what’s going on, and people can’t just bring their computers to you and you fix it. So that’s definitely important. I like to think of it in two categories. So, is this a reactive change that we want to have? Is it in response to a problem like you say that we’re having? Or is it a proactive change to improve the situation?

Stephanie Lee:

So if there’s a pain point or there’s a fundamental need like as a remote team, we need an. Right? So,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

It’s a matter of finding what’s the best fit for us. And the best fit could be determined depending on the company. Like for us it’ll be, is it easy to use? Is the support team responsive? Can we be assured that they take our feedback or we’re able to get issues fixed quickly, stuff like that.

Stephanie Lee:

And we have amazing relationships with the success teams and so many of our vendors. And that’s one of the highlights of my job. I remember talking to one of our success managers about Stardew Valley when the pandemic hit. And we were just emailing each other about that, checking on each other at every email. So relationships are really important.

Stephanie Lee:

Back to what I was saying. So is it a reactive issue that we’re trying to fix? Is it because for example, we realize as a concrete example at Buffer, we realized that there was just so much information and in a remote company, you don’t have filing cabinets, information moves so quickly.

Stephanie Lee:

There’s so much to absorb. You have to figure out what needs to be pushed and what needs to be just made available and stuff like that. And we decided that it was time that we created a company wiki,

Luis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie Lee:

Or a knowledge place for evergreen information like, what are our values? What is the org chart? What are the benefits that I can claim? And stuff like that. So we set about looking at all the options for the tools. First of all, we look at what we already have. And I think that’s what I like about Buffer. We don’t just buy tools for the sake of buying tools. We look at what we have, whether we can use it. And if there’s a use-case for it that’s kind of beyond what we currently have, then we’ll start reviewing our options and then we’ll evaluate it based on ease of use.

Stephanie Lee:

Does it integrate well with our current toolkit, and stuff like that. So that’s the reactive point. For the proactive one, I find it a lot more fun. It’s also less about the tools and more about stakeholder management. Because you kind of have to make a case for how it’s going to make our lives easier. Right?

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

So it’s a matter of looking at how we are currently doing things. Where are the opportunities for optimizing, the work day for saving time, for smoothening the employee experience comes in, And then we’ll figure out if a new tool needs to be introduced. So for example, we made Loom available to the team more widely. We brought it under team admin management. So in the past it was, if you need a Loom account, just grab one. But it gets a bit unwieldy when you have 90 people and you can’t track what tools they have.

Stephanie Lee:

So we decided to bring it under the company, now I manage that. And it’s kind of whether, as in men you need it, you can just tell staff that you want an account and I’ll send you a license. And that isn’t in response to a problem, but it’s a way to unblock people that may find that, that’s the best way for them to communicate. And I’m one of them. I love sending teammates videos, partly because it’s a lot faster to send videos but also,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

I hardly see my teammates. Right? Because of my time zone. So I’m like, this is what I look like. Remember what I sound like. Feel more connected.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

So, yeah.

Luis:

Did you think though, I mean, I guess this is a personal communication. This is different in personal communication styles because people have different styles of communication, but I see it in WhatsApp for example, in WhatsApp and Telegram, you have the option of recording an audio. Right? And sending it.

Luis:

And I feel like the worst person in the world, because I love sending those because I don’t have to type. But I hate getting them because, so now instead of quick list came in something, I need to press play and I’ll have to listen to this people speak in their own rhythm, so this person speak in their own rhythm and et-cetera and it’s hard to fast forward.

Luis:

Some Telegram has the functionality for that but it just feels that it’s great for the person recording but it’s definitely not so great for the person receiving. Because they can’t consume the information at their own speed. Right? So again, I do the same thing but I feel kind of bad about others because when I’m on the receiving end, I don’t like it. So how do you think these things into consideration?

Stephanie Lee:

That’s such an interesting one. I can’t say that I’ve heard that feedback in the team. If anything, it’s been, “Oh, it was really great to see that Loom video.” Our CEO just sent one to all of us, I want to say one and a half weeks ago, and it was pretty really.

Luis:

Well, there are much more – than I am. So that’s understandable.

Stephanie Lee:

I think what we’ve experimented with and the teacher in me knows that this is what works, which is, you have one message but you offer it on different platforms. So for example, if you find that in a particular team and I think it’s also contingent on the people that you’re communicating with. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

That it’s a two-way street. But if you find it in a particular team, they prefer to read, then there are a lot of apps out there that you can use to transcribe messages. I sometimes use the transcription to all my iPhone, instead of recording a voice message if I know that the person I’m talking to, doesn’t like to listen to voice messages or might find it inconvenient.

Stephanie Lee:

But I’m with you. I’m 100% of voice notes or video message person. I have a friend that just communicates with me through video. So, yeah. I think it’s a matter of knowing who you’re communicating with and then looking in the options available there.

Luis:

Yeah. All right. So going back to the tool selection. What do you think that makes the tool more remote friendly? Right? Especially considering distributed teams, we were talking about it before. Distributed time zones. Right? I guess that the big factor might be a synchronicity of Hughes, but that’s the most obvious things. But what are the least obvious characteristics when you’re figuring out tools that improve your team’s workflow?

Stephanie Lee:

Things I think about are, does it integrate with our Identity Management System or our single sign on provider. Nerdy stuff like that. Like, does it play well with our current tools?

Luis:

Very important. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

It sounds nerdy or even very specific but these things matter. Right? Workflow matters.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

Integration flow matters.

Stephanie Lee:

Exactly. We want to smoothen their workday, not add to it. So if it’s one more thing to log in to and they can’t just use Google Sign in. Then that’s an extra step that they have to take. So does it play well with our current toolkit? I mean, I think by now in 2021, the security standards should be there but does it have TFA? How do they treat their customer data? What else do we look at? Is it easy to provision and deprovision accounts? Because unfortunately, even though we hope that retention rate is super high people come and go,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

… In a company. So you need to be able to manage everything easily. So, is it easy to add a new user and to remove a new user cleanly? What happens to the data when they leave and stuff like that? So that’s on a very specific technical perspective that I think through.

Luis:

It’s important to think about those things. Right? Okay. So let me change that for a minute because we were talking about the tapestries, the personal tapestries a little while ago. I want to figure out how, if in any way your education in philosophy comes into the picture. Right?

Luis:

I talked with a friend about this for a little while because she’s also a philosophy major, but we didn’t get very far. We just planted the seed there about philosophy and remote work. Right? What do you think that the great thinkers of the past when they were commenting, a lot of them, not all of them but a lot of them commented, on how work is done and how people work together. How do you think that could apply to remote work, if this makes any sense? How do you think that they would have seen the idea of remote work, and what from their teachings can we use to make more sense of this new way of working?

Stephanie Lee:

That is a fascinating question. I can’t say that I’ve heard that one before. And funnily enough, the first place my mind went with that is Political philosophy and Plato’s Republic. And where we talk about how societies should be organized and what people do, and what’s the best way to lead a country and stuff like that. I think the same thing applies to work.

Stephanie Lee:

So if we think about all the Political philosophical tropes, I think they can be applied to this. It’s not going to marks in communism and all the work stuff because that’s obvious. I think also, and this is what I love about remote work.

Stephanie Lee:

It gives us an opportunity to really think about what a meaningful life looks like. What it means to flourish and to thrive on an individual level as well. So when I think about philosophy and remote work, we get to answer or we get to ask the questions and figure out answers for like, what should work look like? What does a meaningful life look like? What do we owe each other and how should we interact? What’s the social contract look like in the company? How should we be managing our time? How should we treat each other? Even the trolley problems about, should you sacrifice one to save the many?

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

And when you have to make a decision with work, whether it’s remote or not. These are all philosophical questions that will come to mind. So, that’s why I love and I’m always grateful for my journey in philosophy. I think you can’t unsee life through that lens once you’ve been there.

Luis:

Yeah. It’s definitely and there are a lot of things that you can necessary, I mean specifically not the about remote work. But for example, at Buffer, I expect that as a company that thrives on social media. Social media management is your business. I mean, now you’re getting more into dialogues. I know you have a new product out. That’s about having conversations with customers. Right?

Luis:

But still through social media. So the past five or the past five years or so of bringing more people to realize that social media is just a tool, it’s not an unmitigated good. And there is definitely some soul searching to be had, on how to properly use these platforms for the betterment of the society, instead of maybe the way they are generally going right now. Actually, I don’t know if you saw that documentary, The Social Dilemma. Right? So,

Stephanie Lee:

I did.

Luis:

I absolutely must imagine that companies like Buffer eventually will have to have someone discussing ethics of use and usage and et-cetera on board. Right? Just as the social media companies should have. Right? So that’s definitely someplace for philosophy. But I was thinking about your point of a meaningful life. Right? I never really understood what philosophy was for while I was a student. I only got it when I was an adult and I started reading philosophy on my leisure time for my own self growth.

Luis:

And I figured out, “Oh, it’s how to live a good life.” Right? That’s essentially the main purpose. I used to think it was an abstract thing. And then as an adult I figured out that philosophy is actually a tool set. Right? On how to live a good life. And that brings me back to remote work, where we have this thing, that’s work-life fusion. Right? Back to what you said a bit ago, people used to work from their homes all the time. Right?

Luis:

The barber worked from his home. You wanted to have your haircut or maybe a teeth pulled out, you went to the barber. The blacksmith worked on his home. Right? The farmer works at his home and then occasionally goes to the markets to sell the works. Right? So for the longest time, society fused work with life. Right?

Luis:

You lived and then you worked in the same place. And work was a part of your life instead of something that you went to do and completely compartmentalized. You went to this place, you had your work friends, this was where you did your work. And then that segment of your life ended and you started a new one until the end of the day. So that’s where I think that philosophy could help us reintegrate that concept of work-life fusion. Am I making sense or is this just complete nonsense?

Stephanie Lee:

No, I see where you’re coming from. And that’s such an interesting way to think about it. About it’s kind of like fashion right. It’s cyclical. It comes back to the same at this point. I think about natures eternal recurrence of the same, but not quite. It’s quite different as well because, I mean I think the way we work today it’s the outcome of the industrial revolution. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

And that’s how work became seen as like, we need to go to offices, we need to be in cubicles and perform a certain function and then go home. Because it’s highly alienating during the industrial revolution. And you’re just in a production line and stuff like that. So I think the evolution of society has led to that fracturing and right now we’re seeing that we’re soldiering back the pieces and they’re going to look different because they’ve evolved in certain ways.

Stephanie Lee:

And we get to think then about what a meaningful life looks like. And I love what you said about back then. Everyone just worked from their homes when we were small. And I mean, when communities were small and everyone had these different aspects of their lives, just meld it together. So we’re at this point now where we get to decide what that looks like. And at a company like Buffer. We’re not only remote. We also are so encouraging of people doing other things outside about living their lives. And we connect on all these other things as well.

Stephanie Lee:

So for example, you mentioned earlier, I am also a coach and I get to do that. And it’s not something I keep from the company. They know this is what I do and there’s this almost a celebration of that. And also a curiosity about how that part of my life can support the work that I do and the projects that I take on.

Stephanie Lee:

So this is 2.0 or 3.0 of the way work is done. And I’m super excited that we’re at this point and it’s almost bittersweet that now the world is really experiencing remote work. And it’s a global phenomenon that we’re all grappling with these deeply philosophical questions about how we want to work. Right? So it’s a pity that the catalyst was something so tragic. And, I mean, we don’t want to have it, hopefully if we can avoid it in future,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

That’d be great. But the outcome, like that reckoning that we’re all having now about what is work and how do we want to do work is really kind of cool.

Luis:

Yeah. Absolutely. And that gives me a nice, smooth segue into actually your coaching, which is, the first thing that comes to mind is, what possessed you to think that 2020 was the good year to start the second job? Right? What was the -.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. Well. It was so funny because it ended up being the best possible year for me to do that. But definitely at the start, it was like, “Seriously, what possessed you Steph?” I say it turned out to be the best year because prior to the COVID situation, I was traveling quite a bit. I was traveling maybe three to five months a year. Just in and out of Singapore. Partly because I could and they were fun trips and I could work from anywhere. But also because my previous portfolio was planning retreats and that’s kind of how I built my presence in the remote works. Yeah. Building fun company retreats for more than a 100 people.

Luis:

Right. So that’s a niche everywhere that took a hit.

Stephanie Lee:

Sorry?

Luis:

That’s a niche that took a hit?

Stephanie Lee:

100%. Imagine the existential crisis of, “Why am I here? And what am I doing?” Last year. So, coaching was actually a lifeline. It was something that was meaningful. It was something that I could pour my heart into developing and learning. It was a completely new skill. And I say that last year was the best year to do it because it was such a demanding course. And if I had been traveling and grappling with all the time zones, it would have been so much more difficult. So being stuck at home kind of really knuckling down and getting all my practice and all of that training done, that really helped me speed through those early stages of my coaching journey. Yeah. So I think I needed that outlet.

Luis:

Right.

Stephanie Lee:

I have become such a strong techtician at work. I almost needed to get a boost in the creative sphere, a kick in the butt like, “This is how you think creatively. This is how you think strategically. This is how you listen differently.”

Stephanie Lee:

And coaching is exactly all of that. You go into every session that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s really exciting and really terrifying. And it’s a huge personal journey for the coach so that you can help your client go through that personal journey in a safe and meaningful way. So I think it was a great compliment to what I do at Buffer. And it reminded me of my mentoring days as a teacher and I’ve missed that a lot.

Luis:

Yeah. So I really enjoy hearing you talk about that because in a previous life, long ago, I actually took a coaching course. And I acted as a coach and it was a different world back then. And I remember that one of the things that the head instructor said to us coaches was, “If you want to be a good coach, right? You can if circumstances demand it, you can do it via Skype call or something like that. Make sure you have video, but avoid doing it remotely. Get on the room with the client as soon as you can because a big part of coaching is building report. And it’s really hard to build report through a video call.” And the report part, it’s quite true.

Luis:

I mean, even putting coaching aside for a moment and even thinking about psychology, psychotherapists. There are several studies done that say that, when a psychotherapist is good the main point is not what kind of psychotherapy they do but their ability to build a report with their clients. Right? So, and coaches,

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

Definitely there’s something to be, report is a huge deal. And so all those years ago there was this person telling me that, “It’s very hard to build report on a video call. By all means if that’s the only option, do it. But get the person in the room with you as soon as possible.” Now, fast forward to where we are, that advice sounds, it hasn’t aged well. But at the same time I bet that a lot of people still think the same thing. So I’d like to ask you both as someone who worked at Buffer with your teams and as someone who’s now working as a coach, how can you surmount this challenges of building report over video?

Stephanie Lee:

That’s a good one. I think of it like sensory deprivation almost.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

When you’re in-person, you get data from all your senses. You can feel the energy shift. You can see how that person is acting. You can see what it’s like when they physically change position. When you’re in a Zoom call or you’re even on a phone call, it’s almost you really have to learn to have that super acute sense of picking up these cues from just one outlet.

Stephanie Lee:

And on one hand, if you’re not used to doing that, it can mean that you miss a lot of information and therefore it’s not an effective call. It’s not an effective session. You can’t connect. But when you start in a place where you know, it’s almost like you know you’re, what’s the game blind man’s buff. Or when you play the game where you tie your legs together with someone else and you have to cross the field. You know from the start that, that’s what you’re working with, then you try to make it work. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

So for a remote team like ours, we know we don’t have the in-person hugs. We don’t have the physical touch of putting your arm around someone and going like, “Yes, we can do this.” Or all of that. But this means that you make the most out of what you do have and you hone those skills for picking up cues for connecting with each other, just based on what you have.

Stephanie Lee:

So even on the video call, I find that my teammates are very good at just spotting facial expressions or flinches or someone biting their tongue. And we’re also really good at saying, “Hey, Steph, was there something you wanted to say or was there something on your mind?” Or as a coach for me because I’ve been on Zoom calls. I’ve lived on Zoom for five years. I’m so much quicker when I’m with a coach that’s in America or that’s in Singapore on Zoom. I’m so quick to say, “What just happened there, do you want to tell me more about that?”

Stephanie Lee:

Because I’m honed to pick those up. Whereas in person, sometimes you can get inundated by information and you’re like, “What do I do with all of this information that I need to sort through as well?” So I think you can make the most out of everything, that out of any situation you’re in could be a bit harder, but once you get that skill nailed down, it makes you even more effective on that front. So I get where your coaching teacher was coming from but I hope that they’ve changed their mind in 2021.

Luis:

Yeah. Well, I mean, either they did or they’re out of a job. So. There’s definitely not a lot of room for, You really can’t do in person coaching in 2020 sadly. Or I guess you can, but you’d be going against the law in most countries. So,

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. And we don’t want to do that.

Luis:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, you could be a rebel coach. Right? You could be doing that but I definitely advise against that. So and you look at someone that you spoke a bit a while ago about long distance relationships. But I’ve been in a couple of long distance relationships as well. In fact, one of my most serious relationships began on World of Warcraft.

Luis:

So again, there’s definitely tools for expressing yourself. Right? Maybe Zoom. I mean, again, Zoom is very one dimensional. I think that maybe one day doing work will be a bit more similar like a video game. Right? You were talking about Stardew Valley and exchanging the experiences of Stardew Valley with the person and the other company.

Luis:

And let’s make no bones about it. Stardew Valley is a game about work. Right? You are working on that game.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

It’s about building a farm and feeding the animals and all of that. And I’m fascinated by how, in a context, people can really find a huge amount of fun in doing repetitive tasks which is usually the thing that everyone runs away in work. Right? I love writing articles and producing podcasts and stuff like that. But kill me before I have to fill in the spreadsheet. Right?

Luis:

So I’m thinking out loud here and I think a lot about this. I don’t think that gamification is a good work because I think that it was over-hyped some years ago and it ended up being unimpressive. But I do think that there’s probably user interface solutions to make work more interesting, more enjoyable. Right? And more social, ultimately because when you look at the experiences like MMLs, World of Warcraft or even games like Stardew Valley, the social component is a large part of what drives them.

Stephanie Lee:

Yes.

Luis:

This was a tricky question. It was just amusing. Please feel free to comment if you like.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah, I love that. And I feel we’re not really disagreeing because, what you said about gamification resonates so much with me, we thought for so long that, that was how to motivate people. But I think when we strip away all of that fun stuff, when we come down to what breeds loyalty and what helps people feel meaning in their work, yes, it’s about meaningful tasks. They see the bigger picture at what they do, they can contribute to a bigger vision. But also that sense of rallying with people. And when you rally with people, it is predicated on the quality of relationships. And maybe I’m saying this from a bias lens because I’m a highly relational person. That’s I think my top strength in StrengthsFinder or the second one. So I’m definitely someone that thinks relationships are the core of everything.

Stephanie Lee:

But when we strip down all of that, then that’s what we need to focus our energies on. Right? It’s about, how do we connect with each other. My other podcast with my colleague Marcus, we’ve met twice in our lives probably but we have such a great report because of that openness to what the other person is saying and the ability to vibe on common interests. And these are the things to really tap on. I think that can make long distance relationships of any kind, whether it’s work or romantic or friendship or whatever.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

That’s really what it comes down to. And then the flip side is in-person, everyone comments about those couples and those families that are at dinner but on their phones and they feel disconnected. So it’s not really about being in the same physical space.

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

Unless you’re a physical touch or a quality time kind of person but even then, there are ways around it. Right?

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a great point. Right? The presence and being in the moment are huge components. Feeling connected to the experience, to the present experience. Again, I guess that’s also another good question. Not for you, just a question for the world in general, whoever solves it will earn much money.

Stephanie Lee:

He’ll be rolling.

Luis:

Yeah. How to make people more connected. Right? With their work. I think with the work they’re doing. Right? That’s also a good question to answer because again, and this is a funny thing that my friend Sharon often does, he’s been in a podcast a couple of times as well. He often says that company culture, there are a lot of definitions about there but the one that he likes, the one that he came up with is that it’s about connection. Right? A great company culture is a company culture where there’s a lot of connection because that’s ultimately what drives people.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. Your friend is very wise. I think it’s that. Because you can’t work in concert, if there are no bonds between you. Right? Even on ourselves and the atoms and molecules, they’re are all connected. That’s why we’re sitting. It’s why my body is not disintegrating right now to go super morbid, Rick and Morty style.

Luis:

Exactly. That would be an awkward, good thing. Well, it wouldn’t be an awkward podcast because it’s only an audio podcast, but it would be an awkward videocast. For sure. All right.

Stephanie Lee:

That would be uncomfortable.

Luis:

So, I know it’s already in the evening there and I want to be respectful of your time. I’d like to wind down with a couple of rapid fire questions. You don’t need to answer rapid fire. Right?

Luis:

You can take as long as you like. So if you had 100 euros or dollars, your preferred choice of currency, to buy something to give to all your colleagues, what would you give them? And the rules are, you can’t give them the money or an equivalent like a gift card. You really need to buy the same thing for everyone. But you can buy whatever you want. Experience, app, artwork, whatever.

Stephanie Lee:

Is it a 100 per person?

Luis:

Yeah. 100 per person, that would be. Otherwise you’d be reduced to gum. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah, right. I have almost a 100 colleagues.

Luis:

Right. So, yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

I don’t know why my mind likes to say, I’m like, “I either buy them a plant or,” Okay. Let’s ignore all the practicalities around keeping things alive. But I would pay for the adoption fee for an animal. I think caring for an animal helps people feel connected. Having my dog with me through lockdown was probably the only thing that kept me sane, to be honest and happy. So,

Luis:

Yeah.

Stephanie Lee:

That’s what I would do. Send an animal to everyone.

Luis:

I absolutely second that. Right? Shortly after I started working full remotely, I had a pretty bad breakup. And what kept me sane was actually collecting and taking care of stray cats. Right? So that was definitely something that helped me a lot. People usually say to me, “Wow, you really are a wonderful person for doing that.” Then I’m like, “Nope. It helped me more than them. It helped me more than them.” Right? It kept me sane. I was the person that got the benefit out of that relationship. So.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah, we feed them. They don’t pay rent but they give us unconditional love. Of course.

Luis:

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that cats give unconditional love.

Stephanie Lee:

That’s true.

Luis:

Yeah. But there are a stabilizing presence. You can say that love is too stronger word for cats.

Stephanie Lee:

I feel like cats make you work for it though. So when they give you like a little nugget, you’re like, “Oh my gosh.”

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. They are one of those for self-respect. That’s what they are. They are. Right? Usually.

Stephanie Lee:

We need to learn from them. Yeah.

Luis:

No I’m not. Nothing against dogs, but again, with the dog, I feel that I don’t have to work for it. Like you say, it just, this day, it’s just the highlight of the dog’s day. This is when I arrive. Right?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah. One of my dogs is a cat dog though. So I have to work for her attention.

Luis:

Good. Okay. So,

Stephanie Lee:

Good.

Luis:

We went off track with this question, but great suggestion. Yeah. Adoption fees. I love it. Let’s see. What about you? I mean, excluding your dogs, what purchase has made your work life easier or more productive?

Stephanie Lee:

Books. A 100% books. One of my favorite benefits I prefer is that any book we want they’ll send us the E-book. And I’ve read so much. Last year I read 60 books. I mean also because I wasn’t going anywhere. But I feel like that changed my life and it continues to.

Luis:

It’s like a book a week.

Stephanie Lee:

It was.

Luis:

That’s great. Congratulations.

Stephanie Lee:

Thank you.

Luis:

Yeah. Awesome. So since we were also on the book train, what books do you gift the most? What are your most gifted?

Stephanie Lee:

I gift, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. And what is the other one?

Luis:

That’s a definitely,

Stephanie Lee:

It’s Daring Greatly, not Braving the Wilderness, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Those are my two top gifts that I always send around. And then I’ve given people The Alchemist and some books by Thich Nhat Hanh. But it depends on the person. I feel that the Viktor Frankl books and the Brene Brown books are good for everyone.

Luis:

Nice. And definitely, those are some of my favorites and I particularly love The Alchemist. But, yeah. You can’t go wrong with Man’s Search for Meaning. That’s an awesome book and you can go through it in a couple of days because it’s surprisingly small.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah.

Luis:

All right. So final question. Do you, let’s say, and I’m going to give a little bit of a twist on it. Let’s say, so you work in a company that’s all about social media. It’s all about reaching people with your message and facilitating the way that they do. So let’s say that through some arcane ways you knew that the next message you were going to put out on social media was going to reach the decision makers at the top tech companies all around the world. Right?

Luis:

You know that for this Tweet or Facebook post or whatever. Tweet is good, because it forces you to be short. For this Tweet, you have the attention of 100 of the most important people in tech, what is the Tweet?

Stephanie Lee:

Wow. I’m stunned right now. That’s not the Tweet. That’s my response to your question.

Luis:

It not it. Got it. We’re going to close. Thank you so much for being [inaudible 00:55:14].

Stephanie Lee:

Wow. I think it’s a bit boring, but it will be something a little bit more an eloquent version about how important privacy is and how we’ve trusted them with all of our data. And I hope that they do their very best.

Luis:

I like it how you qualify it that, this is the general direction. I’ll have someone write it better. That’s a very delegating leadership focus mentality for efficiency.

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah, I like it. Generally this is the direction I’m going in but make it look pretty.

Luis:

I love it. So Stephanie, it has been an absolute pleasure having you here. Thank you so much for doing it. Please let people know, how can people, well, obviously find more about Buffer and how can they use Buffer now, Buffer can be good for them. But also yourself. Where can people find you and continue this conversation?

Stephanie Lee:

Yeah, I am Stephe_Lee in most social networks. So that’s S-T-E-P-H-E underscore L-E-E on Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn as well. And my website is Stephelee.com. And Buffer’s at, @buffer.com. And you can check out my podcast, Every Human Heart. That’s where I really get into the more everyday philosophical questions that Louis and I started on. And it’s such good fun to think about these questions. I think the unexamined life is not worth living.

Stephanie Lee:

So join me on social media. And I would love to connect with anyone that has any ideas or opinions or thoughts about any of the stuff that Louis and I have talked about. I really enjoyed this chat. It was super fun.

Luis:

Thank you so much. I loved it as well. See you around and to all the listeners. This was DistantJob podcast, the podcast about building and leading us on remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob podcast. And 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 to more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convinced to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me. And I hope they are a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Luis:

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to DistantJob.com/blog/podcast. Click on your favorite episode. Any episode really and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up.

Luis:

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, Mrjob.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 adieu, see you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Remote work has put many teams to the test during the past years. However, despite the challenges to overcome, remote work allows teams to connect and build strong bonds.

During this podcast episode, Stephanie Lee shares how having a diverse path experience helped her perform successfully in her current role. She also reveals how to make remote work more meaningful and how you can connect with your team members successfully with the right tools.

''When we come down to what breeds loyalty and what helps people feel meaning in their work, yes, it's about meaningful tasks. They see the bigger picture at what they do, they can contribute to a bigger vision.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Benefits of having a diverse professional background
  • How to make sure your team is productive with the tools they use
  • How to get the most out of your remote team
  • How to identify remote-friendly tools that are perfect for your team
  • Building meaningful relationships remotely
  • Tips to make people feel more connected with their job

 

Book Recommendation:

 

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