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How to Optimize Productivity and Engagement of a Remote Workforce with Savannah Peterson

Savannah Peterson is the Founder of Savvy Millennial, a fully remote company whose goal is to make the future less scary by building community around new technology. Her specialties include community building, content strategy, thought leadership, presentation/video support and earned media. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 in Consumer Technology and has been taking products to market around the world for over a decade.

 

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Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob podcast. I am your host as usual, Luis in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Savannah Peterson. m Savannah, thank you for coming on the show.

Savannah Peterson:

Thank you so much for having me. Hello, everyone. Excited to be here.

Luis:

Yeah, I’m excited to have you. We are recording this during a pandemic. I feel like I now have to start every show with that caveat, meaning that because people will just be used to needing the context when people talk about remote work in 2020, that the conversation is slightly different. The adoption rates rocketed-

Savannah Peterson:

Yes, it’s safe to say.

Luis:

It’s been on everyone’s minds, but you were talking about remote work before this, right?

Savannah Peterson:

I was.

Luis:

So as many of us. So I want to ask you to go a bit, if you can imagine pre COVID world, if you can remember. It was like 100 years ago, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah. A long, long time ago.

Luis:

A long, long time ago. But in that golden age, before the pandemic, before the apocalypse and we’re running like in a Madmax movie, how was remote work related to your business life? How did remote work make your business possible or helped you make it better?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, I think that I was a accidental early adopter of remote work. It was more about optimizing myself as a contributor early on in my career. I found that working in a traditional office environment honestly was really distracting to me. When I worked for other people, I understood why it was part of the deal, but it wasn’t the most productive environment for me. I felt like I went to the office to make friends and be nice, but I was there because I had to be and then I went home and I got all my work done.

When I started building my second business here, Savvy Millennial, I wanted to make sure that the business reflected my belief in my team’s ability to optimize their own output. If they had wanted an office or if everybody wanted an office, I would have been happy to get an office or pay for coworking space for my team, but I travel a lot. I traveled well when the skies are open, as I’ve been joking, I traveled about 80% of the time. So I’m remote from wherever location I’m speaking or from wherever I happen to be doing business development. It felt silly for me to have an expectation on my teams to force them to come into an office and to spend time commuting or to live in a certain city if I, myself, probably wasn’t going to be in that city or in that office at any given time.

So for us, I always wanted the business to work anywhere in the world on any time zone with a team that was based anywhere. More, because I think that it’s a great way to optimize people and give them autonomy. It was less of a super strategic, I want to save on real estate overhead. I mean that’s a perk, but I still pay San Francisco rent here as a resident. So it’s not-

Luis:

So that’s something. One of the most expensive office spaces in the world is your San Francisco.

Savannah Peterson:

Right. It’s my apartment. Yeah.

Luis:

Exactly.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah.

Luis:

Probably. I mean listeners know I’m from south Portugal. You can probably rent the building here.

Savannah Peterson:

Probably. I mean or at least like I would have a really nice sized home, I think in most places for the rent or the mortgages for what we pay here.

Luis:

So you actually have the luxury office experience.

Savannah Peterson:

I do. I have the luxury office experience and for what it’s worth, my employees are paid Silicon Valley rates despite not living here.

Luis:

Nice.

Savannah Peterson:

So there’s a big debate over whether or not people will still make as much money. I personally, we do Silicon Valley quality work. You’re going to make that kind of money. So that’s how we looked at it.

Luis:

I do want to drill a bit more because that’s unusual. So give me the thought process behind that. How did you come to it? It certainly couldn’t have been an easy decision, right? A lot of what people see when they think about getting remote, they think and somewhat rightfully so that they’re getting value just because what takes to live a good life in Lisbon Portugal, it’s not the same thing that takes to live a good life in London, UK or in New York. So what is the thought process behind that? How did you come to that decision?

Savannah Peterson:

Well, to me when I think about compensation, I think about the value the market places on that service. If I am selling your services into one of the highest value markets, Silicon Valley, or any of the other large technology markets and we’re garnering a certain price for those services, I’m going to reflect that in what I’m paying you. Quite frankly I mean, I’m going to pay myself a Silicon Valley salary, no matter where I lived through the business, I built a business. So I want to have a healthy consultancy and do the things that we do. I think that if you chose to live your life wherever you chose to live your life, that cost of living bump is your own benefit. Congrats to you for finding out how to optimize your life in a lower cost environment.

I think that’s great. You should reap the benefits of that. You work for it technically a Silicon Valley consultancy and you’re going to be paid accordingly. To me, it’s actually just quite simple too. I save a lot of money on my employees. I’m not buying snacks all the time. I’m not paying for real estate. I’m not taking them to dinner. I try and treat them. I try and be lovely to the team and all the contractors and everyone that works with me, but it’s different. I think for me, the easiest thing to do is to compensate you accordingly. One of the big policies I have, we have a lot of contractors on the team and we try and be the fastest payment you’ve ever received. It’s a point of pride for us. So we’ll never wait those 30 days. We want you to feel valued and then you’ll prioritize working with us, hopefully.

Luis:

Nice, nice. That sounds awesome. So let’s go a bit on the traveling aspect. So you, obviously, you used to travel a lot.

Savannah Peterson:

Yes.

Luis:

Right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yes.

Luis:

Now you settled down for reasons completely unrelated. You just felt it would be a nice time to have a quiet year, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, exactly. Taking a little time off the road.

Luis:

Exactly.

Savannah Peterson:

Giving the suitcase a rest.

Luis:

Of course. Of course. Good decision. Good decision.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah.

Luis:

Exactly. So I guess the first question is, has something similar happened or used to happen with your team? Are there a lot of travelers in your team and even if there are not, how does the team deal? How do you organize the team to say if the boss is shifting time zones regularly? How does that affect the running of operations?

Savannah Peterson:

Great question. It’s all about transparent communication and making answers easy to find. So I’ll make sure that in my email signature, I indicate what time zone I’m in, just in case somebody has forgotten. There’s obviously calendars exchanged. I travel the most. My partner in the UK also travels quite Sophie And I typically have to communicate more with our squads in different times zones. But Darren, I know you talked to Darren Murph at Get Lab, he has a really great answer to this, and it’s always answer every question with a link. And I think anytime I’m going to bed or I’m getting on an airplane or making a transition, I’m trying to leave every channel or every email thread with a handoff. And I’m trying to make sure that everything you have available that you need to do your day or to be optimized. And it’s not always easy. And I think for me as a founder, and as the primary traveler in this circumstance, the burden’s on me. I never expect my team to be up at a weird hour, I accommodate them.

So if I crossed into the abyss and I’m down in New Zealand or I’m in a different area, I’ll be the one who gets up at three in the morning to make the call, not having them accommodate. So I think you do want to understand where the majority of your team is and try and aim for the middle of there and optimize the times you can meet and be together.

But it’s really just about communication. And I think what I’ve learned from my team is I really try and balance that business travel and that leisure and, 90% of my travel, at least, is business-driven, but always having a good time. And we have a tradition in our Slack chat to share a photo from the week wherever we were in the world every week. And it sounds very simple, but it can be very cool depending on if some of us are in Taiwan and some of us are here, and especially with protests going on all across America right now and with COVID, and it makes for very interesting sort of window in. So it’s just being transparent, being human.

And the one thing I will say that I think sometimes people try and do that I’ve seen, and I can smell it because of how much I travel, don’t lie about it. It’s okay to travel. It’s okay to have taken a family vacation or be working with your family from an island right now, or whatever. My team knows they can always go and do and be wherever they are, and take time to be with their families. Most of my partners have children. I do not, so I always make sure to try and be extra accommodating since it’s something I don’t know about yet. But yeah, you figured out how to work from a beach in Lisbon and do your job? Freaking great. Awesome. Do it. Don’t be shy about that. Embrace it.

Luis:

So let’s do a bit, I want you to go a bit deeper into the figuring it out because that’s actually… Obviously as someone whose business is a recruitment agency specialized in remote, I need to fight a lot of fears.

Savannah Peterson:

I bet, yeah.

Luis:

Yeah, it’s never easy. But it’s much easier to convince people to hire someone who is working from home than to hire someone whose aim is to travel frequently. Let’s call them the digital nomad, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yep.

Luis:

Because there’s the expectation that, okay, this person works from home. Maybe they even have their own office. They will be reliable. The digital nomad, that rings alarm bells on people’s minds. I have a much harder time getting the value of the digital nomad cross. And I’ve had my own experiences where I’ve tried to travel and it didn’t go as smoothly as I thought. In fact, it never goes as smoothly as I think.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah.

Luis:

Just getting into internet. I have been in the middle of nowhere in Brazil and I had a fantastic internet connection. I have been in the center of Dusseldorf in Germany, the peak of the civilized world, and could not log into Slack. Slack did not to work, and so it’s definitely something unexpected. I went to say, so when you’re strategizing, number one, how do you strategize before you travel? And once you get there and your plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, what is your emergency scenario?

Savannah Peterson:

Really, really, really great question. And to address the beginning of your point, I hear you on the digital nomad bit. I really tried to, I was sensitive to that with my personal brand. As a speaker I tried to almost just dispel that title a little bit and defer that because of exactly what you’ve talked about, because of that stigma. And I have always had a permanent address, so it’s a little bit different in my case.

But I think one of the things that I would encourage people, and I think we’re seeing this a lot as leaders right now, is it doesn’t matter if you’re making a new hire or if you’re adjusting with an existing employee, if you trust them to do the job, it shouldn’t matter where they are. Internet is a thing, and to your point, when you come into contact with the enemy, occasionally you are completely massacred by the enemy and you can’t get on the internet, and that’s just the thing.

And I think one of the things that I have gotten really obsessive about, even when it feels ridiculous, is if I am going somewhere, for example, I did a product launch in the Philippines and I was on a leisure trip, but it was a business leisure trip. I wanted to travel, but I was going to be doing a product launch, and I launched a smartwatch from Palawan in the Philippines back in October. And it was really hard. I actually wouldn’t recommend that to a lot of people. Don’t do something that’s going to require a ton of bandwidth and do things from a remote island nation.

And I think it’s about being strategic and when are you in the middle of a push. For me, there’s sort of consulting and speaking season. There are times of year when I know I really need to be connected, and there are times of the year when I can kind of maybe roll the dice a little bit. And I think that it’s important to be cognizant of that. If you are expected to be in an important meeting or doing something important, it’s on you is that digital nomad to find a good workspace. And if that means getting up two hours before the meeting at the crack of dawn to make sure you find the right internet cafe, it’s on you because, to me, the way that I see it is you get one or two, “Oops, I couldn’t get off the plane in time,” or, “I couldn’t get online,” a year. And after that, people are like, “Great, congrats. You chose a life of travel, figure it out. It’s not my fault you can’t make your meetings.” And that’s where I think it’s about personal accountability.

And also simple things like have equipment or accept that you’re going to pay more for yourself and bill and just know that you’re going to have to occasionally take a fall on it or hotspot your computer, or whatever it is, with your data. Because I think that’s the other thing too, sometimes I see digital nomads trying to be cheap and live off wifi only. You’re going to have some sort of data plan in whatever country you’re visiting if that’s what you’re doing and you’re trying to run business. Sounds simple, suck it up and pay for the plan.

Luis:

For sure, for sure. I would add, in Europe we have inter-European roaming internet. So I’m in Portugal, I have my roaming internet from my Portuguese provider. And then I go to Germany, I theoretically have the roaming internet the same. Just don’t rely on that. Actually get the German SIM cards, or a SIM card from the country that you’re visiting, because it’s not going to be a smooth ride. You’re not their priority, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Right.

Luis:

The clients from companies in another country are not their priority.

Savannah Peterson:

Right. And I think that’s a really good point. And I recommend for folks, if you are going to do this and you want to do it right, go check out on Reddit and see what people are saying about the internet or about cell phone carriers, or go looking at a travel forum. So someone has tried to do what you’re doing before, and so learn from that and find different ways. Even here in the U.S., we had a pretty funny moment, Darren and I were doing a southwest panel last week, and he had three sources of internet die all at once. And so I had to do the first 15 minutes of our live panel to a few hundred all by myself.

Luis:

Nice.

Savannah Peterson:

And he’s living in North Carolina. He’s at his home and has his hotspot and his ethernet and his data on his phone. You really have three backup plans when it comes to connectivity. The rest of it doesn’t matter. Your video doesn’t have to be glamorous, but yeah, decent audio and a good internet connection.

Luis:

Yeah. Yep. Definitely, definitely. Obviously, you make it a good point of trusting the people to do their job, right? That seems to be a common drive in most of the things that we’ve talked here. How would you go about building that trust over video and over a synchronous chat? Because it’s not like … I mean, you hire-

Savannah Peterson:

It’s hard.

Luis:

I mean, I know from experience when you hire, you obviously try to hire someone that you can trust by default, but there’s also a part of it, the big chunk of that that’s built and in remote, we need to build it fast and we need to build it well. What are your strategies for building trust between you and your employees?

Savannah Peterson:

Really good question. And it’s particularly made difficult with virtual onboarding and not knowing when you’re going to see your team. I think a lot of the all remote teams, I see my team at least once a year, if not more than that. And I think most teams that are all remote make a point to physically get together. And right now we’re in a really tough spot with that.

I’m glad that you asked, because I think especially with a new employee, there’s two things I like to make really clear in the beginning. New employees just want to win. They want to know how to win. They came, they got a new job and they want to perform. And so two things within that. I think it’s great to have super clear KPIs and metrics. And if people understand what their job performance is going to be measured on, it sounds very simple, but the more direct that is, and they know what that is, the easier it is for them to perform autonomously and without you around, because it’s clear how to win. And so I like to ease a little bit of that job anxiety, because I think everyone’s a little stressed out when they start a new role in particular.

And I think one of the other things that I do that I really recommend you do because this can be awesome is be thoughtful in one of your first challenges or tasks for a new employee and set it up so they can win. Make it the type of project where it’s maybe a one pager instead of a 20 page brief. It’s so they can get some feedback. They can have some iteration and then they can have a victory and pass something over the line to the rest of the team or share with the rest of the team pretty quickly and that gives them a feel for what our culture is.

And I think it’s also, oftentimes I’ve learned it’s less about whether or not I trust the employee. It’s whether or not the employee trusts themselves to be able to do their job to their fullest without my oversight or someone else’s.

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. I’d like to second that. In my marketing team, one of the most powerful onboarding tool that I’ve found is the one week marketing project, right? It’s your first week. It’s your first week you have two tasks. Number one, we have an onboarding checklist, so go through the onboarding checklist. Number two, here’s your one week project, so you do this, right? This is what you’re expected to do and we’ll talk about it next week.

Savannah Peterson:

I love that. Yeah.

Luis:

I’m definitely, really … I mean, and it’s not that hard to find a one week project for someone if we’re being honest, right?

Savannah Peterson:

No.

Luis:

If you put your mind to it, regardless of what … It gets easy in marketing, but even if you’re not in the marketing industry or even if you don’t have a marketing team, if it’s a different kind of thing, certainly you can find some job that could conceivably only take a week to be done.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, or even just an analysis. How are we placed against our competitors? What are three things you wish you could say about our company right now that you don’t and research how we could be thought leaders in that? I mean, marketing of course is easy, but even from a technical situation, you could build something. There’s things you can do. But I like that. I mean, it’s hard to identify milestone moments and I call them champagne moments in business and especially very early on in a new job. And so if you can have something where you can deliver something that gives you a feeling of satisfaction and lets you as a manager see the quality of work you’re going to be getting moving forward, it can be really awesome.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Let’s talk about managing the team and specifically the day-to-day. What is your managing routine? How does your business day go from beginning to end and how does that translate into the week?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, so the days and weeks vary depending on being on the road or not, but generally I start every day … Well, I’ll back this up. The night before I go to bed, so I write myself notes and I write myself notes with priorities, tasks, handoffs, and also just a good vibe or some sort of word of affirmation so when I wake up, I know what my priorities are and I don’t have to run around thinking about it for the first hour of the day.

And I structure my day based on who needs what when, and I try and think of myself. Oftentimes as the leader or the boss or a decision maker on a team, you’re actually not just the leader, you’re a blocker. If there’s something that I need to hand off or pass onto someone or copy I need to write so that something can move forward, that’s what I do right away. I have a big chunk of my team is in the UK.

The first part of my day, since we only have a couple hours together every day, is to interface with them, take calls with them, figure out if there’s things we need to do and then shift towards my American day, and then the evenings is usually when I’m talking with Asia, if that’s Taipei or Hong Kong. Yeah. And then after those calls, I’ll figure out, what do I need to get ready to lob over to the UK because they’re starting to wake up?

I base my day a lot on time zones. I know people who are super pro at asynchronous communication have a tendency to not even really think about it that way. They have a fluid shot, but I do try and … Occasionally I need things quickly because we’re in the nature of launching new products. And I don’t like calling people at two in the morning. I prefer to try and catch it if I can at least before you’ve had dinner with your family, maybe 7:00 PM if I got to push it, but trying to keep things within reason. I think about it like that a lot.

And really, I always try and make myself very available to the team. And we always prioritize talking about where you’re off at in your head before we talk about business, because I think that’s always important. I don’t like when people start a call just to talk about work and haven’t gotten that emotional pulse because that’s a really big part. It’s a part they don’t tell you about when you’re running a remote team and how you can sense just even the slightest intonation or a change in lexicon and maybe uncover there’s something else going on under the surface with your employee.

Luis:

Yeah. Can you give me an example of that?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah. It’s been really interesting, and this is no reflection on anyone in the UK. This is just how it’s been for our team. Our American side of the business, I have a lead in New York who has a whole crew that he works with and we’ve all we all handled this transition quite well. And I mean, pandemic is chaos, but the workflow piece of it, we’re really synched up on this. It was literally just another business day as usual with a little extra check in for safety. The UK side of the team right away reached out to my team, manages the 14 over there. I could… Before he even told me what was going on, I could sense the exhaustion in his voice. I thought it was family. I thought it was stress, thought it was anxiety. It was the team.

Luis:

Why would anyone anxious in 2020? I don’t… what’s the…

Savannah Peterson:

I know, I know shocking, right?

Luis:

Exactly.

Savannah Peterson:

He’s a really happy, go lucky guy. He’s classic Brit, apologizes, funny, really dry sense of humor. Love working with him. Swears all the time. He sounded totally deflated. We were starting to… we were supposed to be talking about our COVID strategy and what we going to be building during this time period, and who we’re going to be pitching. I just had to pull back and say, “We need to talk about what’s going on. How’s the team? How’s your heart? How’s your family?” We spent two hours just kind of chatting and getting caught up, because his team was actually really struggling. I understand this, but there was a lot of just so many unknowns, and he had basically the full gamut of the SNL skit about the Zoom chats between people showing off inappropriate body parts, crying, talking about people that are…

He really had every end of the spectrum. I think he’s had to spend a lot more time on the caring and feeding of the team. I subsequently have spent more time caring and feeding for them, and making sure that the business is safe around them, so that we can get through this. So, I think, yeah. It would have been a great time to be opportunistic and jump on pitching ourselves as an all remote team, who’s already done this to businesses who are trying to save their community right now. But we actually had to spend the time saving our own internal community. So, yeah. It’s different. Also little things like… Something that I… and I bet you recommend this a lot. I’m kind of gifty and I’ll send treats in the mail. So, the team gets-

Luis:

Oh, that’s awesome.

Savannah Peterson:

… gifts in the mail. Yeah. You get treats like Giles. This is my UK lead. He’s a huge Star Wars fan. So, he got custom Star Wars TOMS for Christmas. You got to have little things. I send fun cards and silly books or whatever. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about, since you can’t be in the office and set a nice beverage, or buy him a sandwich, cause they’re working hard, you got to find other ways to reach out and do that. I think mail is a really unsung hero of morale for remote work, because everybody knows if you sent me mail or I sent you mail, it took intention. I took the time I thought about you. Then I went to, went to mail… I went to the post office. It’s really, it’s super heartwarming. I noticed that I don’t understand, even on the shy, quiet dev type or the super sassy engineering, and a little thoughtfulness goes far.

Luis:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. That’s actually a great tip. I haven’t placed… I want to go with that later, but I don’t want to miss the thread here and talk a bit about… Well, obviously, there’s a stressful situation going on, but more than that, when you say that you, in the morning, you take care of the people in the UK. And then, You do this and you do that, and that’s the end of the night. You write these little bullet points for yourself about what the next day is going to go like. It’s hard when you work remotely, to prevent work from taking over your life, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah.

Luis:

We accept that being a… in your case, you’re the owner. In my case, I’m part of the C-suite. So, you accept that with our rank, there’s a certain expectation that we are going to have our lives more tied to our work, but still, it happens a lot with remote work, that one of the dangers of remote work is that work consumes your life. How do you keep that in check?

Savannah Peterson:

Oh, great question. Something that I try and balance a lot. It’s something that I think everyone is really dealing with now. So, couple things, you got to have some sacred spaces in your home. If you’re working from home in particular and in general, I won’t work from a hotel bed. I won’t work from my bed. There’s no computer in bed. It’s a lifelong policy of mine. I don’t think I’ve violated in 10 years. It’s not a place. The bed is not a place for the laptop. Well, and I think you need to also have… And I mean, but I think it’s really intuitive and intimate on a lot of levels. But I think for certain people, if you are going to occasionally sit down and work in your living room or do something, no joke, pick a chair. Don’t pick your couch.

You need to have places for leisure and places for work. It’s particularly hard right now, but you sort of have to have no fly zones for content. Then also in terms of days and hours, and structuring your push notifications, I think is a really big deal. I have almost all of my push notifications are actually turned off, and I check my platforms and things as I need to, when I know that I need to check in. Because if you’re just the recipient of it all, you feel that pressure to respond, and you sort of, you have to put the walls up. I also think too, something that’s really interesting right now is… This is an awesome time to prototype your day. I am a high performance person. I’m kind of obsessed with my own optimization and have been for many years.

So, figuring out the hours in the day in which I work best, I work best from about 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM. After about two or three, I’m kind of like done. I want to have a glass of wine and then muse, or strategize or write. But not be in a busy execution hardcore mode. That’s me. That’s not what works for everyone else. I think for people, there isn’t a nine to five right now. One of the benefits of this pandemic silver lining, I never thought I would say the benefits of this pandemic in a sentence sidebar. But it really is a silver lining here is, your take doesn’t have to be nine to five. There’s no grow… There’s not some physical shop that we’re also going to, that has to be open during the same hours.

It’s different right now. So, figure out the day that makes you happiest. I like to exercise in the morning. My morning exercise with the dog is pretty sacred to me. It determines my mood for the rest of the day. For some people they want to do that at night or take a three hour lunch. That’s great, but explore, and then set those boundaries and be empowered by those boundaries. Not because you’re not online in that moment, but because the fact that you’re not online, makes you a better person online when you do show up. We’re better when we’re not on all the time. We just are.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s definitely a good mindset. But again, no plan survives contact with the enemy. I wonder, how often as the situation that you described earlier, that you have a team across several different time zones. So, you need to work morning, afternoon and evening. So again, that perfectly crafted day in this prime, you probably often can’t execute on it. So, what is the reset button? How do you press the reset on that? How do you get back to balance once the… Just the nature of the team being so distributed takes you off balance.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah. It’s a really good observation. And something that I want to say too is, especially with time zones, you’ll occasionally have to have updates that are lapsed. I don’t like that day, to be clear, like starting at 6:00 AM and finishing at 10:00 PM is not my ideal day. And granted, there are chunks in the middle of that, that I get to sort of do whatever I want or go to the grocery store when most people might be quote unquote “working” but it’s an uncomfortable day. And I think you have to decide if what you’re willing to do for a short period of time versus what you’re willing to, to make a pattern.

So, with clients… And take, for example, depending on our time zones, I’m willing to do a late call periodically, but after a while it’s, “Okay, let’s do this once a month,” or we’re going to adjust this time to something that isn’t completely shooting my day and the team’s day or whatever that is.

And I think when you feel that you’re unraveling and you’ve lost control of your day, you need to take a deep breath and really, actually, this sounds dramatic, I would recommend you take a day off because you’re probably starting to burn out. Just take a personal day. Fuck it. You’re not on any of those calls today if you can avoid it. Remember what it was like to have your time again, because I think when we lose control, you’re on the hamster wheel and you forgot that it’s yours to reclaim. And then, really think about the time someday that you do want to be on the phone and when you’re willing to compromise and when you’re not. And there’s a really interesting psychological study that I read that changed the way I ran my business.

So, three interesting phrases that they studied: I can, I could, and I can’t. And they were looking at… So, let’s say you have a workout class you really like to go to every Tuesday at 4:00 PM, and somebody tries to schedule a call with you during that workout class. Now, that workout class really means a lot to you. It’s where you see your friends, you feel good, it’s a huge endorphin boost every week. And John, down the street, wants to schedule a call during your 4:00 PM. Now, psychologically, you have three choices: I can, I could, and I can’t. Right?

So, if you say, “I can,” you are 80% more likely never to actually return to that class or reclaim that time for yourself because you’ve just made the choice that work was more important than you being healthy.

Now, if you say “I could,” you’ve got a higher percentage. You’ve got like a 60% chance that you’re going to return to that class next week and reclaim that time, and there’s hope for you, whereas that other opportunity was really slim in the first opportunity. If you say, “I can’t,” and schedule, push that call to a different time and go to your class, it’s a 78% chance you’ll continue to do that consistently and create balance in the rest of your life as a result versus if you were willing to accommodate.

So, it’s like… I don’t mean to sound rude or stuck in my way if I say, “No, I need to go to yoga today,” but it really actually is that. You know, it’s, “I can talk to you any other chunk of time, but this one is how I stay mentally healthy and fit, so that I can do all the other things to do today.”

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah, that’s you are the boss, so you need to have some advantages to that, right? Obviously, respecting-

Savannah Peterson:

Absolutely!

Luis:

… respecting your employees, the time zones and comfort and all of that, but you’re not going to be fired by saying, “I can’t.”

Savannah Peterson:

Right! Right. And I would never fire someone on my team for that either. And we would record the call and they could listen to it later if they wanted. And I think that that’s important. It’s not… I don’t… It bothers me. I see this happen a lot across different age categories where people will be like, “Oh, well, that new parent got an excuse because they got to have their kid, but I actually want… It’s really important for me to get my hair done or I need to go see my family,” or whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. Like if someone has to prioritize that time differently? Cool. Sweet.

Luis:

Yeah. makes sense. So, okay. So, it’s been almost an hour and I want to be respectful of your time, so I want to wind down with some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be, so feel free to expand as much as you’d like. So, are you ready?

Savannah Peterson:

I’m so ready.

Luis:

Okay. First question: What browser tabs do you have open right now?

Savannah Peterson:

Many. Too many. I am a browser… I’m just bad. I’m real bad. So, I’m a G Drive user. So, let’s see here. I’ve got about four or five different G Drive tabs open. Big advocate of reading and supporting authors on the medium, so that’s open. Currently editing some WordPress posts on both the clients’ page as well as my own, listening to one of my client’s podcasts, got the email, got a few different emails. And one thing I will say is, all of my browsers and tabs are always in incognito mode or private browsing because I care about-

Luis:

Okay!

Savannah Peterson:

… security.

Luis:

Interesting, interesting, interesting. So, you’re a bit like me in that I use my browser tabs as to dos.

Savannah Peterson:

Oh, 100%. To dos and thoughts. I wouldn’t even say they’re all actionable-

Luis:

Exactly.

Savannah Peterson:

… sometimes, but I do… Actually, no. I love that they are to dos. That’s a really good reframe.

Luis:

Exactly.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, I’m horrible with tabs.

Luis:

So-

Savannah Peterson:

Horrible.

Luis:

… So, this gives me a nice picture of your virtual office, but the thing that I didn’t hear there is whatever you use to manage your team to keep track of your team’s tasks and performance. So, what would that be?

Savannah Peterson:

We’re usually in Google Docs. So, we’re not an Asana team. We’ll use Slack a little bit. I think chat is death. I think chat is the end of productivity. I know Darren and I kind of agree with this. I mean, chat is fun if you’re just chatting like for fun, but we’re a very action-oriented-

Luis:

That’s so funny. That’s so funny. I have a challenge there.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah!

Luis:

Zoom is the death of productivity.

Savannah Peterson:

Oh, I think Zoom can equally be the death.

Luis:

That’s it.

Savannah Peterson:

We’re kind of anti-meeting. So, I should have kind of prefaced this. My team is very anti-meeting. We don’t call a meeting unless we need everyone there for any reason. If we can just share thoughts and accomplish the task, why would we get on the phone? Unless it’s been awhile and we need to hear everyone’s voice or whatever. But I agree with you. I think that a lot of these tools that are for quote unquote “collaboration” are actually distracting and exhausting. And I just prefer to see the execution in something that we can actually deliver or hand off.

Luis:

Yeah. I’m much more comfortable with having six people in a chat window and I can be working on whatever, and every now and then I check the chat window, than having six people on a call for one hour. That just drains me for the rest of the day.

Savannah Peterson:

I feel you there. I agree. And I don’t think that, unless it’s super productive, it’s really challenging to feel energized by those interactions.

Luis:

All right. So, next question… And you’re going to love this because it’s probably something that you’ve given consideration to, based on what you said previously: If you had $100 to spend with each person working for you, what should you give them? And, of course, there are some rules. You can’t just give them… You need to buy in bulk, right? You can’t just do your usual thing of figuring out what each person would appreciate the most.

Savannah Peterson:

Oh, that’s very interesting.

Luis:

And you can’t just give them the money out, so that would be cheating.

Savannah Peterson:

Yes. I figured there was a little challenge.

Luis:

Yeah.

Savannah Peterson:

I think … wow, ooh. Okay. Kind of two things come to mind, not sure a hundred dollars cuts it, but so my first reaction is I would give them a hundred dollars in airline credits to bring the team together somewhere fun that we wanted to. I think that might also be a tiny bit of a cop out since that’s kind of a gift certificate, but so something that I know, and this is just a coincidence, but I happen to know from taking my mom on a helicopter ride as a Christmas present that my whole team really wants to go on helicopter ride.

Luis:

Oh, nice.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, so I mean, we’re small, my team’s 22 at Flux. I would take that a hundred dollars and give them credit towards the chopper ride and we could all go on a chopper ride on the same day when social distancing is up because it’s a group desire.

Luis:

Nice. That sounds very cool. So what about you yourself? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the best year?

Savannah Peterson:

What was the question? What …

Luis:

What purchase has made your work life or more productive in the best year? What have you gotten yourself?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah. Good question. Having a laptop that performs at a level you want it to, as a digital nomad, sounds silly. I’d had the same MacBook Air for seven years and I finally upgraded in December. It matters.

Luis:

Yeah, it does.

Savannah Peterson:

Purchasing a URL that’s easy for people to find matters. I’m not using them right now, unfortunately for today, but having gear that can make your audio and video look really sharp if you’re creating content, I think is a game changer, especially with remote. We settled for a lot and it’s okay if it’s kind of ghetto, but I have to be honest. I mean, I’ve been doing remote for a long time. You all listening can’t hear this or see this, but I have a proper drop screen behind me and have always had a set in my house because it’s a part of shooting video and being remote, I don’t know. The excuse of someone sitting in their closet showing you a white wall behind them, white on white on white … we’ve been doing this for two months, have you not thought about the fact that you’re a professional working from this environment? I don’t know. So having gear in my house that when I sit in front of it, I can be well illuminated and it doesn’t feel artificial is good.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point. I’m a super believer in noise canceling microphones. I’m using one right now, It just feels nice to be in a call where people are all wearing headsets and looking fighter pilots or something like that. Right?

Savannah Peterson:

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Luis:

It’s just nice to have the freedom of being able to talk, to have good audio without the encumbrance of a headset.

Savannah Peterson:

I totally agree. It’s funny, we’re talking about this because I want to upgrade mine as well, but I have all my home mobile setup sitting over here. It just makes a difference. Treat … if you think your message is worth being heard, recorded on the kind of equipment that will make it easiest to hear.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. All right. Let’s talk some books. What book or books have you gifted the most?

Savannah Peterson:

Full disclosure, I represent two authors at Stanford who have written books applying design thinking to both our personal lives and to our work life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Dave Evans was the founder of EA overnight and he founded the life design lab at Stanford. The books that they’ve written, Designing Your Life and Designing Your Work Life, number one New York Times bestseller, great books. I’ve given … I disclosed that they are my clients because I have to build the for 10 years. I’ve given those books more than anything, paying for them out of my pocket.

I don’t just get free bags of them from the publisher. It doesn’t work like that, contrary to what everybody might think. But what I like about both of these books, Designing Your Life, especially, is it’s a toolkit. It’s a toolkit of activities to help you figure out how to optimize your day, your life, your week, and it looks at everything from your work, your health, your love, and your play. I don’t think we talk about play enough. I think that we ignore it as adults and play is really where we get our joy.

I love those books because the research, just well, they didn’t just start staying saying stuff. There’s been a PhD thesis done on their research and how it can unlock the way you think. So that’s fun, so love Designing Your Life and Designing Your Work Life.

Then the two books. Well, Dan Pink’s Drive is great. If you want to understand company motivation or your team’s motivation, understanding what drives them. Book is short and sweet and has a lot of really interesting anecdotes. Dan Pink is a great author and does a lot of fun stuff, but Drive got me excited because I don’t think I had thought about how differently we’re all motivated sometimes. For some people, it’s money and purpose and fame and whatever it is, but fascinating.

Then the best book, the book I’ve read in the last two years that changed my business and changed the way I thought about things is a book called The Fixer by Bradley Tusk. He used to do the political strategy for Uber as they were doing their global expansion and was the lieutenant mayor of Chicago. He is a total stud when it comes to consulting and his advice changed the way I price my consultancy. Bonus points, if you’re listening to this and you read The Fixer and you can guess what I changed about my business after reading it, I’ll donate 500 bucks to the charity of your choice. So send me an email or say hi on Twitter. Yeah.

Luis:

Nice. Cool. I might take you up on that offer. Let me see if I can get a copy of the book to be drop shipped to me.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, there you go. Yeah, yeah. It’s a great, it’s a really fascinating read if you want to understand how technology startups lobby Washington or any government, but it’s a … yeah, anyway. It’s fun.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Virtual reality. Yea or nay? In the remote work setting, of course. I mean, if you want to play video games, that’s cool.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah. I think we all agree virtual reality is super fun from an entertainment perspective and there’s no … From a remote work perspective, yes and no. I’ve seen it work. I got to interview the head of Ford Motor companies, their lab and the way they do VR with their teams across borders is really amazing. They can have engineers and designers looking at how it’s going to be assembled on the line. I think with remote work from a manufacturing perspective and some of the heavier lifting hardware stuff, I think we will see VR as like a ubiquitous thing. I think it will be a mixed reality or augmented reality situation that we ended up settling on. I find, and this could just be me being old fashioned, I’m not sure we’re going to be milling around in VR headsets to do our jobs in our lifetime, but maybe I’m wrong.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. It seems same dream I’m in the same page. We need better headsets. What we really need is Google Glass but for VR, right?

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah.

Luis:

Something that you can just put and forget it. But yeah.

Savannah Peterson:

Yeah, exactly.

Luis:

So final question. This one has a bit of a longer setup. So let’s say that obviously once we can all gather in one place, let’s say that you are hosting a dinner about the future of work and remote work. There’s going to be a round table where people are going to discuss the future of work and remote work. And to this dinner, you’re inviting all the top execs CEOs, hiring managers, all the decision makers in technology companies from around the globe. Now, the twist is that the dinner is in a Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to choose the message inside the fortune cookies. What is the message?

Savannah Peterson:

Ooh. Wow. Love that question. Fantastic question. So something that someone said to me, I want to go with my gut response on this. Something that someone said to me recently, that changed my perspective on a lot, so this is like a fortune/challenge for all of them at the table. And I’m not 100% sure of the author, and I’ll try and look it up so I can share this when we share the podcast, but there’s a female writer who poses the question, “What will you admit to yourself a year from now that you already know today?”

Luis:

Oh, nice.

Savannah Peterson:

And I liked that a lot because, as a business owner, I think about it from a business perspective, what are we doing that really isn’t sustainable or maybe it wasn’t right for the business? Is there any employees that are hurting for that reason? Whatever. And then I really think about it a lot on a personal level where it’s, what decision am I putting off making? Or what action am I putting off taking because I feel shy or because I feel lazy or because I feel kind of weak? And if you have an answer, I think for some of us, there is something that comes to mind right away when you hear that, or maybe as you think about it for the next few hours. And I encourage you to realize that truth sooner rather than later, if it’s not harmful, and we’ll make it happen.

Luis:

Right. I will refrain from putting you on the spot. Then asking that question back to you. So I take this as a good place to stop. I would like you to tell our audience, where can they find you? Where can they continue the conversation with you? And where can they find more about your business?

Savannah Peterson:

Absolutely. First of all, thank you so much for having me. This has been such a wonderful chat. My name is Savannah Peterson, and you can find me at savannahpeterson.com. If you’re more keen to find out about me as a human and a personal brand and savvy millennial, my community building consultancy can be found at savvymillennial.com, double L double N. There’s a lot of us don’t know how to spell the generation, and that is totally cool, and I forgive you for that.

And most importantly, if you’re just feeling casual and want to say hello, I’m on the social channels at savissavvy on Twitter and Instagram. Easy to find on LinkedIn and Savvy Millennial is my YouTube. And honestly, nothing gets me more excited than connecting with new community around the world, especially when it comes to having this conversation. So if you enjoyed our chat, truly reach out, say hi. Let us know where you’re listening from and I’d love to be your friend or and I’m happy to continue the conversation on your platform of choice.

Luis:

All right. So Savannah, it was a pleasure having you. Thank you so much.

Savannah Peterson:

Thank you.

Luis:

All right. So ladies and gentlemen, this was the Distant Job Podcast with Luis, the podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. And my guest was Savannah Peterson, the founder of Savvy Millennial.

And so we closed another episode of the Distant Job Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That will 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 these 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 gets to have more listeners.

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, 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 with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. see you next week on the next episode of the Distant Job Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Not working extra hours is one of the biggest challenges many remote workers face daily. And with the current COVID-19 situation, in which most companies are working remotely, it’s crucial to understand the importance of having a work and life balance.

In this podcast episode, our guest Savannah Peterson shares the strategies she uses for achieving the right balance that makes her work efficiently but also to enjoy the things she loves the most, like tasting wine, for example.  As someone who spends most of her time flying around the globe, Savannah shares her digital nomad experience and how she manages her remote team by strengthening one of the most important aspects for any company: Trust.

''It doesn't matter if you're making a new hire or if you're adjusting with an existing employee, if you trust them to do the job, it shouldn't matter where they are.'' Click To Tweet

 

Highlights:

  • Strategies for boosting productivity while working from home
  • How remote work made her business successful
  • Do’s and don’ts for digital nomads
  • The importance of taking time to connect with your team
  • How to build trust and why is it important
  • Ways to onboard remote employees

Book Recommendation:

 

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