Luis: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode off the Distant Job podcast. I am your host as usual, Luis and with me today in this podcast that’s all about building and managing awesome remote teams. I have Louise Puddifoot. And Louise, she is a founder and director at Willow and Puddifoot, a company that’s all about growing people and organizations. She’s been over 10 years at the Nielsen company in several roles all relate to people. So Louise, welcome to the show. As I told you in our first email, this is going to be a very interesting episode for the transcripting people. So sorry, you guys, I guess,
Louise: Yes, Luis and Louise, that’s a challenge. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.
Luis: Well, I’m delighted that you’re here. When I was checking you out on LinkedIn, you had the a job title that then I’ve never seen before, People Developer. Why don’t we start there? I mean, I know what developing people is like but I mean this was a first for me. So what’s the story behind you coming up with this title? I don’t think they handed it to you out of college.
Louise: They didn’t. That’s true. I think that’s really my passion and I suppose it’s kind of what I see as my purpose, and certainly my purpose is far as far as work is concerned. So it’s kind of reflected in my career history that you described and the business that I’ve set up a year or so ago in that everything I’ve done over the years really has been all about developing people in different ways, shapes and forms. So you know, I work in the learning and development industry, providing training and coaching and things like that to develop people and I try as much as I can in my personal life or as a manager to help develop people too.
Luis: So let’s jump right in into the managing part because I was reading some some of your articles and one of your articles, what struck me the most was the title, good title, which is “Do your people managers know how to manage people?” I mean there are a couple of interesting things about that because I am managing people, but I kind of fell into that position as the maturation of a creative career. So I started working a long time ago as a writer, and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote some more. Then I branched into marketing. Then I marketed, marketed and marketed some more. And then suddenly I was invited to build a team and I’m like, okay, my job completely changed and I never had any education on this. And I think that’s what happened with lots of people. So I mean I started reading up on it and talking to people. But how do you feel that you can educate managers, and make managers into managers who know how to managing people rather than just people who kind of fell into the job? Which I would guess it’s for the most part.
Louise: Yeah, I think so. I think your experience is very typical of what we see in organizations. It kind of becomes a natural part of the career ladder that as you get to a certain stage in your career, you end up managing people. Whether it’s something you wanted to do or not, whether it’s something you have the skillset to do or not, and whether or not you’re provided with the training and the support to do so. So I think it’s really important for a business as they grow people to think about when is the right time and who are the right people to take on those people management positions. So it kind of starts, I think with the overall design of the hierarchy in the organization, or the career path I should say in the organization. Firstly I’d say in giving people a choice, because there’s some people for whom people management is never really what they want to be doing and they may be really, really expert in their field. And it’s important to give them opportunities to grow their career path another way if they choose to do so.
And then for those that that do have the desire or the inclination to be people managers, I think that’s the alternative career path. And then it’s really about providing the right training and support to those people at the right time. So it’s kind of starts with expectation setting. So if you’re going to become a people manager, your world is going to change, the way that you do your work every day is going to change. You’re going to have to learn how to do things like delegate effectively, communicate effectively, manage your time very differently than you have in the past. So it’s giving people that expectation and understanding that that needs to change. And then really giving them the support and the training necessary to do so as well.
Luis: So I want to bring this around to remote work because I think managing people, I mean most of the conversations that I have in this podcast are really about what’s different in managing people that are co-located with you in the same room versus managing people that may be are a couple of times zones away. Maybe they are all the time zones away. Managing people that have a set schedule. They come in at nine o’clock. They clock out at five o’clock. And people who are on a flexible schedule, that may be the times that they work best because they have the luxury of being able to work from home. Maybe the times that they choose to focus more is when your manager’s not around. Might be the manager’s fault, might not be the manager’s fault. But still I mean I know a lot of people that do their best work in the wee hours of the morning or very late at night. So what’s your take on that? What are some key differences?
Louise: Yeah, I think the first thing is really building the relationship with your team members as a remote manager. So that can feel more difficult if you’re not meeting them face to face. So it’s really thinking about how you’re going to do that. And it’s things like, you know, having one-to-one calls where you’ve got a video camera turned on where you can see each other so you can start to build that relationship using your body language. And then it’s thinking about things like how available you’re going to be, how regular are you going to meet, making sure you’re having those regular one-to-ones, but being available as and when needed as well through whatever way works in your business. You know it may be telephone calls or it may be social media chats or it may be instant messaging or Slack or whatever kind of tool serves you best.
And then I think as a manager, some of the same principles apply, but you just really need to be much more conscious of it when you’re working remotely. So things like making sure people really understand what their role is and making sure they understand what’s expected of them. It can be harder for them to just pick that up if they’re not in an office surrounded by people doing the same thing. So you might need to be much more explicit around making sure they have that understanding and having that conversation with them. And then I think it’s kind of setting the expectation, assuming they’re working remotely too, of the importance of collaboration. And people can feel quite isolated sometimes if they’re working remotely. So giving them that expectation in their role as well, that that they will be collaborating with other people and guidance on how to go about building those relationships and collaborating with them in that remote role.
Luis: Got it. Got it. Let’s talk about the collaboration for a moment because there are some people working on solving this, but there is no real technology solution yet. I mean I’ve had a couple of people in the podcast that are trying to build the technology solutions for that, but at the moment the round table experience in remote work is one of the biggest differences and I would say challenges. Because when you are at the table with several other people, there’s a certain natural flow and back and forth of the conversation. Like kind of like passing a ball, you know, to other people in the table. And if we add two more people in this call, definitely doable.
I mean I’ve done podcasts with four people, but you know, it’s kind of more of a start and stop approach, right? Because you can’t really talk over each other in a video chat or, you know, kind of interrupt each other in a productive way in the video chat as you can in real life. There seems to be a conversation in [inaudible 00:09:36] dynamic that’s not here. So have you met this challenge and have you figured any things that can be used to mitigate it?
Louise: Yeah definitely, it’s much more challenging to get that kind of dynamic virtually and remotely than it is in person. I think some of the things that we found work well are having quite informal meetings. So it can be tempting, particularly when a meeting’s scheduled and you’re all meeting virtually to kind of get straight down to business and item one on the agenda and all that. And I think particularly if you’re building a team, it’s really important to move away from that kind of approach and have a much more informal meeting. So typically I’ve worked with teams where we’ve maybe had the first 15 minutes of a meeting being chit chat, you know, about what you did at the weekend, what the latest films come out or whatever, just to kind of help relax everybody and help get that kind of chatter going so people feel that dynamic coming into the meeting and they feel more able to get involved in and then communicate.
And I think it is that human connection. So bringing some laughter and making it okay to laugh in the meeting and have a bit of fun and have a bit of a joke can also help get a more natural dynamic into the meeting. And then I think from a technology perspective, it’s probably the obvious things like turning video cameras on. In most platforms now you have the option for the chat as well as talking. So some people will be more comfortable typing in the chat pane. Some people were more comfortable speaking up. Having those different avenues that different people with different working styles to contribute in their own way as well.
Luis: Yeah. So I wanted to talk a bit about personal development because you are a people developer, right? So you’re the person to talk to about this. I was in a meeting, a grow remote meeting, a couple of weeks ago where the topic was, well part of the topic was career progression in most work. But we kind of ended up talking a lot more, not necessarily about career progression but really how to have a notion of how people are performing, of what people are doing. And that’s important for career progression because you want to measure the individual contribution.
But there’s another part of career progression which is actually how to stimulate a person’s growth both in their skillset and within the organization’s ladder. And there is a worry. I would say that it’s a concern and I would say that it’s a true concern, that especially in companies that have remote employees and onsite employees working together, that the remote employees are often a bit forgotten, a bit out of sight, out of mind. There’s a fear, and I don’t think that the fear is unwarranted, that if you work remotely, your onsite colleague is probably going to get promoted first. If you are assuming that you are promoted at all. So how do you view this dilemma? How would you advise managers of remote teams, and managers of hybrid teams really, to tackle it?
Louise: Yeah, I think it’s true. I think because it’s so much easier to have those intermittent conversations and build those relationships in person that can sometimes be the case. And I think from a manager’s perspective it’s really about giving those remote people the same opportunities to keep in touch. So it’s having that regular connection and being very thoughtful about how you include those remote people in the overall work of the teams. So you know, not having separate meetings with your in-person people to which your remote people aren’t present, making sure you get them in the room, or on a Slack group, or whatever technology is you’re using, to have those meetings and making sure you have those regular conversations with those remote people to know what’s going on and that you have built those close relationships, and you have had those conversations with them about what they’ve been working on and what they want for the future, what their personal career goals are. So you’re very familiar with their career goals, and really staying close to the work that they’re doing so you have high visibility of the work that they’re doing.
Luis: Hmm. So what’s that conversation like? How does a manager approach someone and talk about that? How can they help someone who has never planned a career path before? Because the reality is that’s the situation, especially of many junior people. We are taught a lot of stuff in college, but never how to plan our careers and to identify areas of growth and avenues of growth. What’s that conversation like? Take us through that process please.
Louise: Yeah, I think there’s a number of questions you can ask to help eke that out of people and help people think through that kind of thing. So I typically would ask somebody something like what they enjoy most about their role, what they really look forward to, what really gets them excited when they’re working to help them identify the things that they really love doing. I’d ask them about when they look into the future and in five or 10 years time, what do they hope to see, what does that look like? And that could be their life in general, but their career will form a part of that, and that might give them an inkling of the kinds of things that they want to be doing in the future.
Luis: All right. So how do you feel that this fits into motivation and overall performance in a way that … Sometimes I approach people with, look, if you would like to have my job in the future, that’s an option that’s available to you. As a boss, my ideal situation is to be in a spot where the person that’s under me can actually step up and do my job because that will free me to do other things.
But sometimes I feel I’m missing the point because I don’t think they really believe me. Maybe I’m just very [inaudible 00:16:27] about it, but it seems that some people really take the remote work thing for a bit now as, well whatever, the guy is saying this just to motivate me, but I know that’s not likely. Or maybe they simply don’t have interest. How do you help someone really create more interested in their career and in their path in the company? I guess what’s a good way to help people feel like, yes, I have a future in this company, this business will look after me as long as I keep growing and performing in my job?
Louise: Yeah. I think a key part is really finding out what resonates with the person and then being able to link the opportunities back to what resonates with them. So that’s really understanding what they enjoy doing, what they’re proud of, what they’re excited about, and also what their strengths are. So helping them identify what they’re really good at. And then I think if you tie those things, like the things you love, the things you’re good at, and how that relates to an opportunity in the company, people then relate to that and see that that’s actually something that fits for them. And therefore it becomes much more achievable and a more realistic target.
Luis: Nice. Nice.
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So let’s dig a bit deeper. Sorry. Let’s be there, into remote work, into the part of remote work. So there’s been a lot of growth in remote positions and remote companies and remote company friendly companies in the past couple of years. How do you feel this has affected your job? How has a remote changed the way you act, the way you work, and all of that?
Louise: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Yeah, I think that it’s been a huge change. I mean for me, I probably started working remotely about, I think 11 years ago when I moved from a local to a global role. And it’s quite a big shift, isn’t it? I can remember initially driving into the office for 45 minutes, sitting in an office surrounded by people I didn’t work with on the phone to people in other countries, not talking to anyone local and driving home again in the traffic and thinking this is nuts, but feeling really guilty about not going into the office. And then it takes time, doesn’t it, to get over that guilt and realize that actually, you know, I’m really productive working this way. Obviously that was a long time ago. Now, you know, I’m mostly based working from home and I think you get used to it. It becomes much more normalized to have those connections with people.
The technology is just improved so much in the years and over the years continues to improve. So it’s really kind of shifted how you can build those relationships and how you can collaborate together to become much more normalized. I’ve got two teenage daughters. I look at them and they’re virtually glued to their phones, messaging people all day long. So for them it’s going to be really different. They’re used to just communicating via technology constantly anyway and used to seeing me and sometimes my husband being based, working from home. So I think it’s definitely going to be a big kind of cultural shift that we see, and we see more and more of it. And for me it’s also changed now that I have my own business. I also work with a lot of people in my business who are not directly employed. They’re freelancers or contractors, but part of the business as well.
So it’s a whole new model, a whole new way of working that you know, people aren’t directly employed. We’re often working together remotely. But as long as you build those expectations in and build those relationships, I think it works really well. I think for me, I like it a lot. So I feel really positive about remote working. And the big kind of surprise to me I suppose is how many different opinions there are about remote working. How there are some advocates and some people that are very resistant to it. And I find that interesting because I feel like it can be really, really effective.
Luis: So when you’re working in your people developer capacity, do you tend to help develop more individual employees or managers of employees?
Louise: Both. All sorts of things. So I train managers of employees and leaders, sometimes in a group training setting, sometimes one-to-one, or through coaching. And then I also train individuals in kind of things like their personal impact, their personal effectiveness, and also in their mental wellbeing and mental health.
Luis: So what are some key for both people that are now transitioning to remote work and people who are transitioning to managing remote teams, what are some key, let’s say three actions that each one can take to ease that transition or to make it more productive?
Louise: Yeah. Okay. I think the things that spring to my mind is kind of making sure you’ve got the right tools and making sure you’ve got the right mindset, and then probably relationships falls into that as well. So if I think about the tools, you need to have the right setup. You need to have the right room, the right technology. I guess some of that stuff’s obvious. Even things like do you have a window, and you need the support of the people around you. So if you don’t live alone, if you live with other people in your house, if you’re working from home, you need to have their support of your space and how you’re going to work. Or if you feel like you need more company in the day, you need to think about things like will I go to a coworking location, will I go to a cafe. And just kind of map out how is this actually going to practically work for me? Where am I going to be when, and am I going to have the tools I need to do the job?
And then I think that there’s something about your mindset as well. So you need to be self motivated typically to work remotely. So how are you going to get that motivation? How are you going to structure your day? What’s your routine going to look like? You know, do you get up and do something in the morning before you start work? Roughly what time do you start? What hours work best for you? How are you going to make sure you’re taking regular breaks to look after yourself and keep yourself fresh in the day? And how are you going to plan out your day to kind of get those moments of maybe deep concentration work that you need. So I think another challenge of remote working can be that because people are on technology and messaging all the time, there can be a lot of constant interruptions if you have that kind of remote working culture.
So you know if you’ve really got to concentrate on something and you need to do some deep work, how are you going to carve out space for that? What does that look like in your working day as well? And then probably the final thing is the relationships. So it can be a bit isolating to work from home, you know, work remotely wherever your based. So thinking about how am I going to build relationships with my colleagues that are remote and also what other relationships do I need in my life around me to make sure that that need is met. Whether that’s going to the coworking space or meeting somebody for lunch or something like that to make sure that you have that support around you as well.
Luis: Right. So what about the managers? If you’re just starting out too to manage a remote team, what are a couple of things that they should take … or maybe let’s take this the other way around. So you have your company, which as you said, you have contractors that work remotely with you. What is your priority when managing these people? What are your key priorities? What does your day look like?
Louise: Hmm. So I think my two priorities are building good relationships with the people I work with, and making sure they have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them or what their role is, what’s needed in the business. So for me, the relationship piece is important. So I will want to take the time when I’m interacting with people to have a little bit of personal conversation going on, or just a little bit of fun going on to kind of build to build those relationships. And it’s things like whether it’s a contractor or you’re a manager of somebody, you know, making a note of key things that have happened for them so that when you talk with them again, you can help yourself remember that their kid just started school, or they went away for the weekend, or whatever it is so that you can help yourself, help build those relationships with people.
And then I think it’s just making sure people do have that clear understanding of what’s needed. So how you communicate, and communicating clearly I think is really important for any manager. But I think that’s magnified when you’re remote because people are really dependent on that to understand what’s needed of them. So I think it’s like having that clear direction of what’s required, what’s required of their role in particular, and giving them that understanding of how they fit in with the overall business or the overall team so they know the role that they play as part of that bigger puzzle of people around them.
Luis: Got it. So how do you feel that communication is best managed? Do you see yourself using video more and more, or do you use chat or emails? What’s your preferred way of communication, and why?
Louise: I think they all play a role. I’m a big fan of video so I will always like to take the opportunity if I’m having a conversation with someone to make it possible for that to be a video call, because I think it just takes the relationship one step further in terms of being able to see each other smile and what each other look like and all that kind of thing. I do think each of the different options plays a role. So you know, if you just need a quick update then a message or a Slack post or something like that is fine. If you need to give loads of information then email is is great too. So it’s knowing the right tool for the job I think is is key. But certainly I think video and conversation generally is the relationship building piece. So that’s a kind of foundational piece for me. And then from that, I think you build the email conversation and the chat conversation. And once you’ve got that foundation of a good relationship behind it, that’s much more easy to do.
Luis: Got it. Got it. So right now you’re working with contractors and freelancers, but hopefully the business will grow if you want it to grow. Nothing bad with staying lean. But hopefully the company will grow. And in that case there will come a time where you want to hire [inaudible 00:29:22] employees. So when you’re doing that and assuming this person will be remote, what skills will you specifically look for in that person. And I don’t mean technical skills, obviously they need to be competent at whatever they job will be, but to ensure they’re going to be good at working remote?
Louise: Yeah. I think to be really good at working remotely, you need to have good collaboration skills, good communication skills, and good self management. So they would be the three key things that I would look for.
Luis: Collaboration, communication, self management.
Louise: Yeah. Yeah.
Luis: And how would you try to identify those in the person? How would you try to interview, or how would you check their portfolios for that?
Louise: Hmm. I think I’d really ask them about what they enjoy doing and how they enjoy working to really understand what makes them tick. That’s key for me in interviewing. So I know a lot of interviewing typically asks, behavioral interviewing, for examples of what you’ve done in the past and stuff like that. I think that plays a role, but for me it’s much more important to really understand what makes somebody tick. And if I can understand that from the kind of work they’ve done in the past and the kind of things that they enjoy, that they seem like a person who’s very self motivated, who likes a challenge and likes to get themselves going, and that they like to do things with other people, and that they communicate clearly, they would be the ways that I would look to identify that kind of thing.
Luis: All right. Okay. Sounds nice. Sounds like you have a plan.
Louise: Yeah, I hope so. I hope to be in that phase of the business soon. So yeah.
Luis: Right? Best of luck with that.
Louise: Thank you.
Luis: So if you had the opportunity to buy in bulk a tool for every person that you work with remotely. And it doesn’t have to be expensive let’s say around 100 pounds, what would you get? Everyone needs to get the same thing. You can just hand them the 100 pounds, but what do you think would improve their worklife quality?
Louise: Hmm, that’s a hard question. What would I get them? I’m kind of imagining they already have the key things like computers and phones and stuff like that.
Luis: Well feel free to get me a 100 pound computer.
Louise: Yeah, I know. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Well-being a mental health is really important to me. So, you know, I’d probably want to give them something to support that. Maybe some kind of app, or I don’t know, Fitbit type device or something like that that can help them manage their well-being working remotely. So I’d want them to think about how do they look after their mental well-being throughout their day to get the best out of them and help them be happy too. So it’s be something along those lines. But I’d probably need to do some research and see exactly what that looks like.
Luis: So what about yourself? What purchase has made your worklife easier or more productive in the past year?
Louise: Mmm. Gosh, this is a bit of a random answer and it’s not in the last year, but probably my dog. So for me having [crosstalk 00:33:03].
Luis: That’s a surprise. Dog.
Louise: Having a dog around I find really helpful working remotely and from home because it gives me that routine of getting up and out in the morning, of a little bit of company in the day, and some structure to my day and all that. So yeah, for me that’s a really positive thing.
Luis: Okay. So what book or books have you gifted the most, or if you don’t give books, what have you recommended the most?
Louise: Hm, well, I’m a member of a book group and I always give my books to my mom, so she gets all of them. I suppose one that I would recommend just in terms of light fiction that we’ve read recently is a book called Our House by Louise Candlish, which is a kind of thriller that I thought was a really great, exciting read, but nothing to do with work. I think from a work perspective there’s one book I gifted to one of my colleagues recently, which is quite a neat book called The School of Life by Alain de Botton and that-
Luis: Oh, [inaudible 00:34:15].
Louise: Yeah, I think it’s different to that. It’s kind of a philosophical approach to emotional intelligence. So it’s all about developing yourself, your relationships, and then that feeds into your work and work culture and stuff like that. So that’s a really nice book from a personal development perspective. And then I think from an a team development perspective, there’s a book I’ve read recently called the Joy of Work by Bruce Daisley, which is all around making teams better and building better teams. So yeah, that’s a good read from a management perspective.
Luis: Nice. The Joy of Work. Got it. Interesting. Interesting Recommendations. I’ll look them up I’ve actually been super interested on the School of Life because I mean maybe the title is not exactly the school of life, but I seem to remember there being like a box set of School of Life books, but maybe he maybe just grabbed the type of [crosstalk 00:35:20].
Louise: There’s an organization called the School of Life that provides-
Luis: I think Alain de Botton was involved
Louise: Yeah. So he’s part of that organization, and the book is really from that organization. So it may be connected to that. Yeah, Alain de Botton has also written other philosophical books.
Luis: Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. So thank you for the recommendations. Again, I’m getting reasonable aware that we’ve been at this for a while now. So let’s talk about a message to deliver to to tech people, tech entrepreneurs, people in leadership positions in the tech business, CTOs, CEOs, and all of that. The setup is the following, you invite them to a dinner. You are hosting a dinner where there’s going to be a round table about remote work. The dinner is happening at the Chinese restaurant. So there’s fortune cookies and as the host you get to choose the message inside the Chinese fortune cookie. So what is that message?
Louise: Gosh, a fortune cookie message. Okay. So something like, “listen, be kind, and be clear.”
Luis: All right.
Louise: How’s that?
Luis: That’s a good message. I think it would make an impact on people if they open that at the end of their meal.
Louise: I hope so.
Luis: Okay. Louise, thank you so much.
Louise: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s been fun.
Luis: It was. It was a pleasure. Please let our listeners know where they can continue the conversation with you. Where can they find you? Where can they learn more about your business and apply if they feel they need your services?
Louise: Sure. So you can find me on LinkedIn and you can find my website. It is willowandpuddifoot.com.
Luis: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Louise Puddifoot and I’m your host Luis. Thank you so much, Louise.
Louise: Thank you, Luis.
Luis: It was a pleasure.
And so we close 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 would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in 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 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 episodes up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.
And of course if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidates 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.