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Succeeding as a Remote Leader with Gary Walker

Gary is a remote and modern work specialist. He helps organizations transform their ways of working by embedding digital and remote working practices and increasing the adoption of digital tools. He is the author of the Ready for Remote book, and currently working as Director of Digital of Distributed

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Remote leader

Luis:

 

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob podcast. I am your host Luis and this is a podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. And to talk about that today, I have Gary Walker. Gary is a remote and modern work specialist. He helps organization transform their ways of working by embedding digital and remote working practices and increasing the adoption of digital tools.

Luis:

He is the author of the Ready for Remote book, and currently working as Director of Digital of Distributed. Gary, welcome to the show. I’ve just introduced you, but if you would like to add anything for our listeners to know, I’d love to have it.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me Luis, it’s really nice of you. Nothing to really add to that kind introduction there. Thank you. I think that covers everything. People will become well aware of my accent as we go through this, it’s Glasgow, Scotland, so sometimes it can be a little bit tricky to keep up on, but hopefully we’ll keep the pace nice and slow so you can follow.

Luis:

Well, I can follow perfectly and it’s actually quite nice to have different voices literally on the podcast.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, that’s true.

Luis:

It’s pretty international, but it just makes it sound a lot more so.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, more important.

Luis:

Yeah. So we were recording this in January of 2021, the year of hellish pandemic landscape has passed us, and with it came a lot of remote work stuff. Now, you wrote the book, right? You co-wrote a book actually. You co-wrote a book about becoming remote, about getting companies and teams into remote work. And suddenly everyone was forced to go remote work.

Luis:

You interact with these people daily, what did you feel were the biggest challenges, and what things that you say in the book do you think helped and what other things do you think were … you were surprised that that ended up being different when there’s mass adoption of remote?

Gary Walker:

Yeah. So myself and Matthew Goddard, we worked together very closely over a number of years and co-wrote the book Ready for Remote, and it was more like a manifesto in the future of work. We kind of put it together two and a half years ago now. So quite a fair piece of time. I think if I was going to do it again, I’d probably write it a little bit differently.

Gary Walker:

And what I noted, I suppose the main thing for me is a lot of people’s fears about remote working are very similar to how it’s been for the last year. People were worried about isolation, they were worried about loneliness, they were worried about cultivating a connected culture. The one thing I kept trying to just keep the world mindful of, is the last year isn’t really representative of true remote working. And only people that have worked for a sustained period remotely would appreciate and understand that.

Gary Walker:

So it’s very understandable the way a lot of companies approached it. I think a lot of them threw a bunch of tools and technology at the problem. I think a lot of them tried to replicate the physical office virtually. So it was almost like mapping how they work in a physical office virtually. So lots of meetings.

Gary Walker:

And it was pretty unsustainable. I think they were also not really giving their people the guidance around when you don’t have a commute, how you can use that time to benefit your wellbeing. All of these different aspects.

Gary Walker:

So from the book, I think a lot of the things can translate to the way it is just now. I think the biggest difference though is the social connections. So what we said a lot when we wrote the book was when it comes to the social side of remote working, it doesn’t have to be diminished. It’s just a little bit more deliberate in the way that you go about it.

Gary Walker:

But the problem that you’ve had in the last year is everything’s diminished because everything’s locked down. So that makes it really difficult. I think even people who are seasoned pros at remote working have struggled with it. I’ve spoken to a lot of my colleagues who have remote worked for many years, I’ve worked remotely on and or for 15 years, and I’ve had a lot of struggles too. So it’s a completely different landscape to probably how it will be once it starts to settle down again.

Luis:

Although, I mean impressively, most polls that I’ve seen and … yeah, literally almost all the polls that I’ve seen, said that 2020 was surprisingly productive for the companies that went remote. Surprisingly is key because maybe the expectations weren’t as high. But it actually seems that as chaotic as 2020 was, it wasn’t actually so bad for remote work. It does seem that remote work is actually more resilient than even its most ardent champions thought it was.

Gary Walker:

I think for me, the most insightful surveys and research will probably come out once the pandemic ends and we’re going through a period of what that settled down. And the reason why I say that is when you look at, in particular the first six months of the pandemic, I would say that most of the surveys I read for larger organizations, a lot of people were saying they were overworking.

Gary Walker:

A lot of them were bombing out with the meeting culture. So by default the productivity may have been adversely looking like it’s high, but the reality was that there was a combination of things going on, people were kind of meeting to meeting, to meetings, therefore they were doing a lot of their tasks outside of that, therefore overworking. Aspects, I suppose economic pressure on people, because I think a lot of people were under the pressure, rightly or wrongly, and I do think wrongly that they had to safeguard their job. So it was almost like I need to prove myself here. And by proving yourself, people naturally overwork. They become more productive.

Gary Walker:

So I’m really curious to see as we go through this pattern, and I know a lot of people are saying they’ll go into a kind of blended, hybrid type model, but I think it’ll be great at that point to start to compare apples for apples, the people that are remote.

Gary Walker:

But I do agree with you, I’m a massive advocate of, non just the higher productivity that you get from remote work, but for the fewer errors that come through, the more disciplined,, deeper focused time that you get as well is so much more beneficial. And once you get the right rituals and processes in place … I mean you’ll know yourself because you’re remote work, let you get a really nice balance with your own personal life and the different things you want to do.

Gary Walker:

So, it’s a positive year in terms of remote work because a lot of people have been exposed to it, but I think for me the upturn is they haven’t even seen the true benefits of remote work. When that happens, it could be even more powerful. So yeah.

Luis:

Yeah, my colleague, he’s the founder of DistantJob, he often says that it’s not that remote work is harder to manage, but it actually, when you go remote, your weaknesses as a manager are exposed because you can’t just rely on the environment of the office to make up for them. Right? But if you are actually a good manager in an office setting, that goodness will shine through in a remote setting and if you have any flaws, you’ll learn about the flaws pretty quickly, right?

Gary Walker:

Yeah. Absolutely. I usually talk about it as managers or leaders. You’re either a leader or a manger. I think managers are very office based. I think true leaders are servant leaders, so they’ve got the ability to make sure their team are aligned on what they’re working on. He gives them the autonomy, and we’ll talk about that in a bit. Gives them the autonomy of using their own skillset, using their imagination, using the skills that they have to solve the problems.

Gary Walker:

And they can clear all the politics that traditionally come in some of these larger organizations out the way to enable their team. I think that’s the main thing, as long as you’ve got a leader who’s got a low ego, and they highly align their team, that’s super important.

Gary Walker:

I’ve read quite a lot of people in the past say, “Well how do you know your team are working when you’re remote?” And I’m like, “Well, how do you know your team are working when they’re in their offices?”

Gary Walker:

It’s one of these things, productivity or visibility is one of the main advantages to remote work and … absolutely.

Luis:

It’s hard to make a case for that because, I mean everyone enjoys working with a low-ego boss, but the great bosses that everyone knows, are high-ego bosses for some reason. Everyone who is successful to the point that they become business legends, they seem to have a high ego because I guess it’s the high ego people that have books written about them.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, potentially. I mean there are some low-ego leaders out there. But from a business perspective, I think it’s more people that … Maybe over time as well, I mean it must be like anything, when you’re being loaded and told that you’re a progressive visionary, a powerful leader, then there’s probably an aspect of that growing their ego somewhat.

Gary Walker:

But I think there’s a lot of people that seem to be quite humble as well and I think those people are probably the most inspirational ones. Ego is probably the most destructive of any sort of team as we know. I think it’s impossible probably to have a team with zero ego.

Luis:

and it doesn’t need to … I’ve been in a lot of teams with high egos, and as long as they don’t get so high that they can’t be managed. Because we can’t all be Zen Masters, right? A team full of Zen masters would probably not get anything done, right?

Gary Walker:

Yeah. That’s very true. I think it’s when you’re hiring people, you’re just trying to evaluate I suppose the level of ego as well I think. I think it was one of the books I read, it was called, and the guy said when you’re hiring for a team, it’s better to have a hole than to have an asshole. That was pretty much what he said.

Luis:

I absolutely agree. Absolutely agree with that. So tell me a bit about your job. You self described your position as Director of Digital, you work at Distribute, that’s a business that’s about bringing about the remote shift.

Luis:

What does exactly a Director of Digital do? How is your contribution here?

Gary Walker:

So for Distribute Consulting, so that’s led by Laurel Farrer, which a lot of you will know, she’s also in the remote space for over 15 years. Within Distribute Consulting, we do a lot of consulting with government agencies, multi-medium enterprises, try and help them get ready for remote.

Gary Walker:

From a digital perspective, I’m working out our digital content, the work reducing, our marketing side of things and liaising with our Director of Marketing, Megan Dilley to make sure we’ve got the right digital platforms for people to put content out there.

Gary Walker:

But also on the product side, so some of the sub-brand products that we’re working on. So we’ve got ready for remotes.com, which we’re evolving at the moment and that’s for small to medium enterprises. We’ve got some other products that we’re developing as well.

Gary Walker:

My main role is focused on the infrastructure behind that, how we start to get the MVPs out, start to validate some of those products, either pivot, abandon, or really validate what were doing. And then also within Distribute, I do a lot of digital tools consultancy. So when organizations are thinking about going remote, or they’re evaluating their infrastructure, especially their digital tools, I’ll do a lot of work with them to evaluate that landscape, understand what are the jobs to be done within the organization. Do they have the right tools to enable them to do that.

Gary Walker:

And also above that, do they have the right rituals and processes in place to facilitate communication collaboration. And that includes even down to wellbeing. So we run a few sessions wellbeing and technology looking at how the tools can support your wellbeing, how you can configure the tools to reduce distractions, improve your focus time.

Gary Walker:

Also some of the other personal tools that are support, mindfulness, meditation, nutrition, fitness, these different types of things. So it’s quite a rounded role as any type of role in a start-up is like. You like to get your hands dirty and do lots of different things.

Gary Walker:

But it’s exciting because we get exposed to lots of different people who are passionate about remote working as well. So it’s enjoyable. Been with them for about five months and been working with Laurel, I’ve known her for over a year or so and doing some different work for her. So, enjoyable.

Luis:

Sounds super interesting. I want to ask you about, there’s been recently an article in the Wall Street Journal about remote work and how gamification could play a part in it. And I’m very interested about it because I’ve worked in the game industry for a while and I usually revisit gameification every couple of years because I feel that there’s something there, but the pieces don’t seem to have all quite fit in together for me yet.

Luis:

So I wonder as Director of Digital, if gameification is on your radar at all?

Gary Walker:

Yeah, so it’s fair to say on our radar, but probably similar to you, I revisit it and the reason why is most new technologies, and gameification’s not new, but if you look at things like 10 years ago when augmented reality, mixed reality and all this becoming a lot more well known, and recently you’ve had the increase of virtual offices and people starting to explore that.

Gary Walker:

So from a Digital Director perspective, and I’m well aware and I’ll go on and I’ll do some little test projects and stuff, but I what I’ve found with these new technologies, there’s a lot of people trying to fit the technology to a problem. It’s almost like they want to use that technology to solve something, rather than approaching it from the aspect of the tools, not the goal.

Gary Walker:

So what’s the job to be done, and then-

Luis:

That’s called crypto.

Gary Walker:

Yeah. But the thing is, the tool’s not the goal, so for me it’s very much of what is the job to be done? And sometimes the solution isn’t a digital solution. Sometimes it will be, but for me it’s feeling very focused on what’s the outcome that we’re working towards, how do we start today selection modes, come up with all the different solutions that can solve that, and then give an output.

Gary Walker:

When it comes to gameification, what I’ve seen is a lot of, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term, gimmicky, but kind of people are trying to apply gameification to different things whether it’s employee experience platforms and it’s maybe learning management systems, or it could be onboarding, or it could be these different things, but no one’s quite … I wouldn’t say they’ve nailed that experience or they’ve added value to it completely. So, do I think there’s a place for it? Yes. I just think it probably needs the right job to be done. It needs everything to fit in.

Gary Walker:

There are some people that are working on the virtual office environment, and you’ve got a lot of start-ups obviously in that space as well now starting to rise around visualizing the virtual office, which again can be deemed a little bit gimmicky, and it might play to the physical office masses.

Gary Walker:

But that’s maybe where gameification meets office. I think I can see it much more in the sort of connected culture side of things. So, when you want to create … I suppose with the social disconnection that happens at the moment, people are trying to solve that problem virtually quite often. And I think that’s maybe where gameification may have a place.

Gary Walker:

But similar to you, I’ve been aware of gameification since about 2005 I think was one of the first versions of it I saw, and I’ve still not seen an amazing application of that it I feel solves a problem.

Luis:

I have this friend, he’s in IT at a pretty decent position in a communications enterprise, and whenever we talk about crypto he always uses this expression that it’s a solution looking for a problem.

Gary Walker:

Exactly. That’s what it feels like. When you look at augmented reality and mixed reality, when I started to look in that about 10 years ago, most of it was gimmicky, it was marketing companies like, Hey, augment a can of coke, or it was things that aren’t problems. It was more like let’s get people. Then you started to see some nice applications of it. So like Audi where you could lift up the bonnet and you could augment it and get some how-to videos on how to change your oil or your filters. It’s like Kia, I think they augmented their entire catalog in Sweden where you could throw it in a room and bring to life furniture and stuff.

Gary Walker:

But even augmented reality, mixed reality, it took a bit of time before people started and powerful use cases for it. There was a guy called Chris Milk, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him and he created a start-up, they just changed their name a few years ago, to, it’s called Within, in VR. But he has a really powerful case where he used mixed reality and he used 360 camera equipment. And basically he started to augment things that could shift within the European union. So refugee camps springing to life, how cruel these refugee camps were.

Gary Walker:

So he was starting to augment that so that people in the conferences could put on virtual reality headsets and they could experience that surroundings which then could have an emotive reaction for them to do something about that. So there’s some really powerful cases out there for these types of new technologies. I think it’s just about finding, you’re absolutely right, finding what’s the problem and then looking at, is that one of the solutions for it, rather than, Hey, how do we use this new piece of technology?

Luis:

Back to your point about community and having a shared sense of purpose and mission which is actually one of the most extensive sections of the book. I believe the most extensions on your book, is that and hiring. And we’ll get to hiring soon. I want to get to hiring soon. But that’s the thing that always brings me back to gameification in a remote work context, because before starting remote work, I was a pretty hardcore World of Warcraft player, I won’t get into too much detail here because I’ve brought it up a couple of times interest he podcast and the regular listeners are probably sick to death of hearing about it.

Luis:

But the point is that I’m constantly amazing … Every book about remote talks about the importance of building community and how remote work comes with a loneliness and less connection and should really be a priority to try to make those things happen. And while I have experienced playing MMO specifically World of Warcraft, is that actually it was really easy and really simple to create powerful relationships that in some cases, have lasted for years after I’ve stopped playing the game. Just in a virtual setting. Without even video chat. We didn’t have video chat on those days. We had audio chat of terrible, terrible quality. In fact most interactions were made in text chat. And you know, somehow, I know people who married through War of Warcraft, right?

Luis:

I have friends that I visit to this day in different countries that I met there. So the thing where I feel there is a bit of a missing piece, is how do you make work be a little more like that? How can you bring that comradery and that sense of connection and that sense of shared purpose to remote work, because it seems to me that the answer is pretty close by and somewhere, if not in the gameification sphere, at least adjacently. Meaning that there should be something to learn with online video games, community driven video games.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, that’s a fantastic point and I think people who have experienced really deep, meaningful relationships, I think a lot of them feel like it happens so naturally, irrespective of whether it was virtual or not. And I’m similar to you, a lot of the remote teams that I have been part of, to this day, I’m still in touch and contact with the vast majority of those people because over time we all established really good relations with each other. There was obviously different people that you connect with at a deeper level depending on interests and whatnot.

Gary Walker:

But yeah, I think from my own side, when we used to talk about that, it was more about making sure you’re cultivating the opportunity for people to go down that social route, because I think in most organizations, you’re kind of lumped with people that you haven’t chosen. Your leaders or your bosses have chosen these different people and put them together in a physical office.

Gary Walker:

So I think when it comes to the virtual, I think you’ve got more of an opportunity to involve the team members as part of that process of bringing people on, which I think is important. But also then you can start to cultivate the social side because whether you’re using Slack, or Teams or one of the other products are you’re digital workspace, you can create social channels. You can start to create book clubs, film clubs, different things like that where people can come together, whether it’s during work and you’re having conversations, or whether you’re organizing some follow-up or catch ups or meet ups or different things like that.

Gary Walker:

I think, like I said before around the social side, I said it was just a bit more deliberate and I think you just need people to make sure that there’s the opportunity for those folks to have those conversations and those areas to come together.

Gary Walker:

So for instance, one of the first remote teams that we put together, had we not created random channels, or social channels, then potentially a lot of the people on the team might have felt like, you know what from the organization’s perspective maybe they don’t want to create the ability to connect on a social side of work. Maybe they just want it to be a bit more formal. So I think it’s giving people the psychological safety of, you know what, we’re virtual, we’re not meeting up unless it’s every quarter or every half year if we’ve got any budget, but nine times out of 10 we’re going to be virtual, so here’s the different channels that people can come together.

Gary Walker:

And then it’s just over time, it’s like anything, workplace relationships will develop over time and trust is what really underpins those relationships and then do you have things in common and can you create it.

Gary Walker:

I don’t think it’s … I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s not rocket science, it’s relatively straight forward, it’s just I think where people feel a little bit nervous is people who haven’t worked remotely for a sustained period, people who have been sort of institutionalized in the way of physical office spaces. And also people that aren’t maybe that comfortable with technology. Like if they’re starting to go remote, they just have a little bit of nervousness and anxiety and that’s perfectly understandable.

Gary Walker:

So I think if you’ve got people that are creating these areas, creating channels, arranging some of these get togethers, making sure that becomes the norm, and then it starts to just organically grow. And from there definitely from my own experience that’s what’s happened. But I suppose it’d be different for different organizations and different sizes.

Luis:

Yeah, definitely the social sharing and creating a … I guess trying to create a community inside your business is definitely a good starting point.

Gary Walker:

It’s brilliant.

Luis:

And to the point of many listeners that sometimes comment, it often feels quite awkward in the first couple of weeks or even months, but eventually the awkwardness starts going away. I remember at the time when we were doing birthdays at Distance Job, it sometimes felt like it was mandatory fun time. But eventually we found a way to do it that made everyone comfortable and it made everyone want more.

Luis:

And with actually stopped gathering everyone in the Zoom call, though I still recommend people try to do that, see if it works for their company, priorly it didn’t. For us actually what started working the best was that the company sends a birthday gift to someone and they’re welcome to share it. And if they share the birthday gift, which usually people do, everyone gathers together and talks about that and way they got that. And the rationale behind the gift because it’s usually related to a hobby. And we have a nice hang out time just in Slack where we celebrate the person’s birthday and something they care about.

Luis:

So its for different folks I guess.

Gary Walker:

That’s a great point. And no one enjoys forced fun, do they? So I think like you say, the more organic you can make it, you do need to make it at first, but even drawing out people’s interest as well, particular more introverted people creating safe zone. We used to run one of the remote organizations in teams. I think called On Conference, where once a month we’d come together at night, in the evenings or when we weren’t particularly in the same time zones and we would and you can talk about anything for seven minutes or whatever. And you started to learn about some of the hobbies and some of the interests people had on a really deep level that you just wouldn’t be aware of otherwise.

Gary Walker:

So we had a girl called and she was such a massive gamer and she hadn’t really shared that because she hadn’t been working with us for a long period of time and our minds were blown. She did like a presentation on she got into gaming and what games she was involved in and all the different communities. And everyone was like, “Oh my God, this is awesome.” And then all of a sudden that just sparks different conversations. And you know yourself, it just opens people up and they feel much more connected which is nice.

Luis:

So, let’s go on as I said before, let’s go on a bit to hiring. The other biggest section in the book was about hiring and onboarding, but mostly about sourcing and hiring. You actually describe your hiring and sourcing process at the time in a pretty good detail. I found that the detail was surprising. It’s been two years since you launched the book, so I don’t know if you changed anything.

Luis:

But one thing that I really liked that you said, was that for remote working it’s important that you get people with a passion for executing. This is something that I’ve known for the longest time because this job is a recruitment continue specialized in remote. And that’s one of our main criteria. But one thing is to know that, but I see it verbalized so often, that I really want to know what’s the story behind your arriving at that conclusion?

Gary Walker:

Yeah, so it’s purely from personal experience. Basically I’ve worked at couple larger organizations and what I found during that time is, I think it’s relatively easy within large organizations to sometimes hide behind strategy. Not just for a year, but sometimes a couple of years, or hide behind process or things that you’re going to be working on, you’re going to be developing.

Gary Walker:

So what I really wanted to cultivate was a … I suppose within our team, having the ability to make sure we had a back log which was focused on one thing to completion. Making sure we executed on that. And it would be the case that sometimes it wouldn’t be successful, sometimes we wouldn’t have an answer and sometimes we’d abandon it, or we would pivot. Those were the three outcomes really we’d work towards.

Gary Walker:

But what I wanted to create was an environment where the team never felt nervous about executing. So for instance, at the end of every year, we would know that we have executed on multiple different things when we were developing the platform. So for instance as examples, we were building an employee experience platform within a large telecommunications company. The team that were running was fairly remote, but we were always pushing out new features, we were always pushing out new capability within the platform. We weren’t hiding behind strategy. We went from concept to product within two and a half months for 12,000 people which was relatively unheard of at the time.

Gary Walker:

And then we started to evolve the platform and put stuff out here. So it was very focused. So when we were hiring people, it was important for us that people were motivated by getting things done. They weren’t worried … we would create the right psychological safety. We wouldn’t … you’ve heard it 100 times, it’s good to feel and people always say these things, I don’t necessarily the good to feel, I think it’s just as long as you’re learning from some of the things that you put out and haven’t been as successful.

Gary Walker:

So if we could create that environment, you were just wanting people that just wanted to get things done. I think too many people talk about things. I think you see it, I mean I know that’s me sitting slightly controversial, but when I started to do talks at different conferences within the last three or four years, what I always said to myself was it’s really important that I keep doing the doing. I don’t want to become someone who is up there talking about the theory. I want to still be experiencing it, which is why through the work that I do with Distribute and 22 North, which is my own limited company that I do Ready for Remote, it’s really important that I am still developing product, that I am still working within remote teams.

Gary Walker:

I think often you find people within these conference circuits that they probably were doing that at some point, but it may be 10 or 15 years ago. And it’s not to say you can’t learn from these people, absolutely you can, but I do think you lose a little bit because of that. So getting things done is super important, executing, getting your work out there, otherwise …

Luis:

Yeah, I definitely feel there’s different layers of that. I can say the same thing for managers. One of the things that I enjoy so much about DistantJob is that every one of the managers, and there’s not a lot because we’re just a medium sized company, we are almost hitting 40 employees, so not super huge, but we do have a handful of managers on the leadership team and all of them work directly on product. And it’s not to say of course that management isn’t work, it most certainly is a lot of work, and pretty hard work, but it really feels that it’s different when the managers in the company are not just executing on the manager, but are also working directly on product.

Luis:

Because that’s good, not just for the team, but for themselves as well. It’s good for me, even as a manager after I’ve directed and helped and blocked my team and did everything I can for my team, to actually be able to also deliver a piece of content. A piece of product that I made with my own hands. It’s psychologically very stabilizing I’d say.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, I agree. And it’s much more fulfilling as well when you’re doing it as part of a team and you’re not doing it alone. So yeah, I’m massively passionate about people that really enjoy getting things done. And the lower you go part is important as well where possible when we were trying to bring people together into these team.s

Luis:

So how do you usually look for that during interviewing, I’m wondering?

Gary Walker:

So it’s changed quite a lot. When we wrote that section, I think that was the only section of the book when I looked back, I was like, “I wish we’d spent a bit more time on that.”

Luis:

It’s actually super complete. It’s my job, so I’ve read a lot of books that are similarly structured and that have similar content, and I actually think that when it comes to hiring, yours is one of the most explicit.

Gary Walker:

Well it depends, for me it was slightly different. I think traditionally, in the book we were talking about how we built out the remote teams within an established physical office organization. So telecommunications company was one of the largest in the UK, but it was global in terms of some of the staff that we were building out, the first ever remote teams. So therefore we couldn’t rely on the traditional recruitment processes that were in-house. Therefore we had to go from a different perspective.

Gary Walker:

It was very much dependent on the type of role that we were recruiting. But just how we illustrated in the book, the vast majority of that we had to lean a lot on their internal networks, especially when it came to developer resource because this was a number of years ago. But very much working through our internal networks. Looking at some social media platforms, getting connected with different front end developers, service engineers. And then it was a question of going through several stages, but also doing a lot of pieces of work which I would always say it’s great to pay for that work where you can and value the people’s time. It may not always be possible.

Gary Walker:

But for me as well, like another important part was meeting different people in the team. Making sure, not necessarily a cultural fit, because I don’t always side with that terminology. Are they going to contribute something to the culture? Are they going to add something to the culture that we’re trying to build?

Gary Walker:

And then really trying to understand from the four key things that we’re looking for. Are they aligned to the process and what we’re trying to develop here? Do they have can we establish that over a series of interviews? Are they motivated by getting things done? We can see that through some of the tasks and maybe some of the work that they’ve done before. And are they diverse in experience? So trying to get a real flavor of … I think one of the biggest problems in society today is a lot of people who apply for jobs are being evaluated on two pieces of paper, ie. the curriculum vitae. So I think for me, there’s so many different things people can’t put on a CV or they feel reluctant to put on a CV.

Gary Walker:

So trying to draw so for instance, we interviewed a girl called and she was from Hungary and she had never been a product owner. She had worked in a number of different roles, she’d been a leader in a number of different roles. She ticked all the boxes in terms of getting things done and being really strong and aligned with our purpose,], super intelligent, and the breadth of her skillset meant that we knew within a matter of two to three months in that product role, she’d be absolutely flying because she had that breadth of experience.

Gary Walker:

But again, like I say, that differs. You can’t do that in services engineering, or front end development because you need a mastery skillset, if that makes sense.

Gary Walker:

But it was quite a fluid process. I wouldn’t say we had it written down, we have to go through all these steps, it was very much dependent on the type of role. There were new roles that we created like the scaler, which became an adoption evangelist, which sounds very funky. But really that was just some research that I’d done and we were trying to drive the adoption of some products within the organization. And we’d done that successfully without having a specific person in place. We’d done a lot about research around how you can drive that and you can get more adoption across your product set by having someone in that type of role. So that was exciting because we were looking for … I mean it was a completely new role. We had no idea what essentially it would become. It was really dependent and fluid on what we were looking for.

Luis:

So why are some, like you said, independent and fluid, but I still I want to know if there are any common red flags, or green flags also during the interview process?

Gary Walker:

So I wouldn’t be probably the best place to comment on that to be honest because my background isn’t recruitment or hiring. I was a leader of the team and we were bringing those people in. So definitely is in the book we shared how we went about building and nurturing those remote teams.

Gary Walker:

For me, I’m a very intuitive person, I think the lovely Myers-Briggs stuff, I can remember I was an INFJ, so I go a lot with feelings as well. So I think making sure you’ve got a real blend of people as part of that interview process. You’re dropping as many of your bias as possible. And you’re mindful of those as well because they’re always going to come into place.

Gary Walker:

The red flags for me, it’s difficult, trust is something that’s built over time. And I think you’re always going to get it wrong, so I think it’s foolish to think you’re always going to have the perfect hiring record.

Gary Walker:

But I wouldn’t say there was any red flags that jump out at me. I have conversations with people. I like to give them an opportunity to showcase their work. And then if we can bring them into the teams and give them the opportunity to be part of that team and support them in the right way. Because if somebody’s not delivering, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not capable. It just may be actually a reflection if the leader hasn’t aligned them, or given them the right information.

Gary Walker:

So it’s making sure you’re aware of that. That’s often why people go quiet is one of those two reasons. But yeah, I think there’s far better qualified people to talk about that recruitment, red flags and definitely in the hiring side of things.

Luis:

Fair enough. Makes absolutely sense. So I want to propose a quick exercise to you. As we’re winding down I usually like to ask these small questions. You could call them conundrums if you like.

Luis:

So let’s say that you had 100 Euros to spend with each person working for you. And you can’t give them money or an Amazon gift card or something like that. You actually need to buy something and you need to buy the something for everyone. So you need to buy in bulk. What would you give the people working with you?

Gary Walker:

You have to buy in bulk?

Luis:

Yeah. Can be physical, can be digital, can be an experience, whatever but everyone must get the same thing.

Gary Walker:

Difficult question. I would always go with a custom personalized thing. If it was in bulk, I don’t know, maybe some form of experience. May be difficult to bring everyone together, so having experience that they can share. I don’t know what that experience would be. Apologies. I’ve got nothing off the top of my head. I’m definitely someone who likes to percolate and think about things, as an introvert, rather than to spontaneously come up with things.

Gary Walker:

But normally I would go down the personalized route and try think of something that’s really meaningful for that person. So for instance at Distribute, like Christmas one of the bulk items we got everybody was a Polaroid camera and we sent that out to everybody so that they could all share different moments and stuff. So those types of ideas are quite nice.

Luis:

That’s nice. That would have been a good reply.

Gary Walker:

But it wasn’t my idea.

Luis:

Fair enough. What about for yourself. What purchases have made your work life more easier and more productive, or more balanced over the past year?

Gary Walker:

Over the past year, I would probably say … let me think of what I’ve purchased in the last year, which is not a lot because I’ve been working this way for a long time. I would say probably subscriptions, or a subscription to Centr. And Centr’s a fitness and nutrition app. I think is something that’s a recurring purchase. I don’t know if that qualifies because it’s subscription based. But yeah, five years ago, 2015 I started using Headspace, which was a game changer. I think Cetr has been really good for me because a lot of gym …

Luis:

I’m familiar with it. It’s quite

Gary Walker:

Yeah. Center was one that, I’m not a big fan of gyms or anything like that, but because of lockdown and everything we’re very limited of the physical activity that we take part in. So center was an app that was developed about 18 months ago, and it’s got some really great work from home work out videos, non equipment, a lot of nutrition and guidance on their for cooking different meals. And it’s really rich in terms of the different fitness instructors that they serve up. The different exercises that you can take part in and that’s been really powerful for me. Probably coming up to Christmas I didn’t do it as much as I would have liked. So yeah, getting back into it last week, and yeah, that ones been good for me.

Luis:

And your answer completely qualifies. I mean answers from previous guests have ranged anywhere from a house to a dog. So you are definitely within

Gary Walker:

I’m safe.

Luis:

Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk a bit about books. You’ve written a book. I assume that you enjoy books. Do you often gift books?

Gary Walker:

Do I often gift books? So I love books and I like … I probably don’t give them the amount of time I would like to read. So the last couple of years we’ve got a new baby in the house and my older daughter is being home schooled. So I’ve gifted books, I’ve probably given people a loan of books rather than gifting them. But I think it qualifies as gifting because I don’t get them back very often.

Luis:

That’s

Gary Walker:

So what I’ve learned is I would often buy books for people that maybe I’ve found are quite nice. I might buy them and send them over to someone or ship a book … I shipped a couple of books last year over to people. I enjoy books, I’ve got massive backlog, I’m actually working at them just now, of about six or seven books that I need to get to.

Luis:

That’s not really a backlog. My backlog is certainly bigger than that.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, well good luck with that.

Luis:

I’d say maybe like 60.

Gary Walker:

Okay. Okay.

Luis:

I do buy books on impulse. Amazon probably. I’ve probably bought Bezos a new house by now, just based on books. So I wonder, what books have you loaned the most? Or gifted the most as you say?

Gary Walker:

The one that I first read on remote work I probably gifted to a lot of people, but that was about 12 years ago. It was Jason Free and the guys at Basecamp, you’ll know it, Remote: Office Not Required, they’ve kind of followed up quite a lot lately with that. Definitely Headspace, Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace and Mindfulness book. Try encourage people with that as often as I … it’s difficult though because I think a lot of the books I read, because they’re factual or business books, some be able to find those types of moments.

Gary Walker:

So if you think of a meditation or mindfulness, sharing the Headspace book, the Andy Puddicombe book that he wrote, people often feel like they have to have gone through something, or they’re going through something before they’re drawn to these types of books. Those two definitely shared-

Luis:

Probably come through something, right? That’s the thing about life.

Gary Walker:

There always are, but what I mean is, I think people can offer up things like CBT books or skimmer books, or meditation and mindfulness books, but I think often if somebody has a moment in their life, traditionally most people come out of it saying, “that’s a big lesson for me”, or “you know what, I’m going to do things differently.” 90% of the time, or three months later, they’ve gone back to the way they were always doing things before. And that’s what I mean, sorry, it’s always like a discipline to really commit to that sort of practice or something along those lines.

Gary Walker:

But yeah, those are probably the two over the last 10 years I’ve shared the most. Also Adam Grant, I don’t know if you’ve read Adam Grant before. He’s got a fabulous book called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Really enjoyed that book and have shared that quite a lot. And the other one is Susan Cane, which most people will be familiar with now, which is called Quiet: The Power of Introverts. That definitely spoke to me a number of years ago when I read that as well.

Luis:

I waited way too long to read that book. I assumed that I knew what it was about before reading, which is always a mistake. I just assumed that, okay, this is a whole book is saying why introverts are so awesome. I’m an introvert, I know I’m awesome, I don’t need to read it. That’s a mistake. That’s a mistake. Right?

Gary Walker:

It’s a nice book. And I think it gives quite a nice balance too as well.

Luis:

Yeah. Lovely suggestions, thank you so much. So let’s move onto the final question. The final question takes a bit longer setup. So please bear with me.

Luis:

Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner, assuming that dinners are okay in this hypothetical scenario. Not right now. Don’t go to restaurants people. Dine outside if you don’t want to dine alone. But don’t go to restaurants. So avoid. But let’s assume that it’s kosher to have a dinner again and you are hosting a dinner in a Chinese restaurant. In attendance are the decision makers at big tech companies from all around the world.

Luis:

And during the dinner there’s going to be a round table on remote work. Since this is a Chinese restaurant, and you are the host, you get to choose the message that comes inside the fortune cookie. So, what would your fortune cookie message be?

Gary Walker:

I’m enjoying … these questions are fabulous, although they make me slightly nervous as well.

Luis:

That’s fine. Pauses are okay. No one expects you. In fact it would sound pretty weird if you had something off the top of your head, right?

Gary Walker:

No, absolutely. And these are tech people that are at this, yeah?

Luis:

Yeah.

Gary Walker:

There’s a kind of motto that I’ve had for a number of years, although I’ve not used it a lot recently, and it’s kind of ironic especially for the tech industry, but I spoke about it earlier, the tool is not the goal would probably be the icon that I’ve got inside of it. And the reason why, is to try make people a lot more mindful of what they’re actually trying to develop in the tech industry.

Gary Walker:

And I think from a remote perspective, I think that’s important as well. It’s not the technology that’s important, it’s the humane aspects of remote working. So that would be the slogan inside. The tool is not the goal. And I would hope that that end message alone would then spark a lot of interest of, “What do you mean, we are tech leaders in an industry, so please expand upon that.” Which would then hopefully give the opportunity to go into a deeper conversation around humane technology and the human aspect of all of these different types of things and how that impacts remote work as well.

Gary Walker:

There’s my slightly panicked answer.

Luis:

I liked that. The tool is not the goal. That’s a good one. I won’t get you panicked any further. It was an absolutely pleasure. It was an absolute pleasure having you here, Gary. Why don’t you tell our listeners where they can get in touch, reach you, continue the conversation? And learn more about what you and Distribute are up to.

Gary Walker:

Yeah, firstly thanks so much for having me, it was a lot of fun, although you did have me at the edge of my seat there the last three questions. But that will be good for me. So I think the best places to have a look are distributeconsulting.com also readyforremote.com which is one of the sub brands. So there’ll be a lot of stuff coming in the future around those two areas in particular, which is … be definitely be worth having a look at. For myself, so I’m on LinkedIn as most people are, and you’ll be able to find me by putting in Gary Walker or Ready for Remote or something along those lines.

Gary Walker:

So those are probably the best places. My Instagram’s private, so I keep that nice and private, more family based. I’m on Twitter, but Twitter’s a real host of digital remote technology, sports, God knows, you name it, it’s all in there.

Luis:

It’s complicated to manage for sure. I love it but I’ve found that I have to limit my feed to following 100 people. More than that and it’s just chaos.

Gary Walker:

I became a little bit disenamoured with Twitter over the last year or two. A couple times I felt like coming off, but I stay on for networking perspectives. But I’ve never been a Facebook person so I definitely enjoy Instagram probably the most and just from the visual side of things.

Luis:

Well, I had a blast. I hope that there will come a time … We were talking about your visit to Web Summit before the world got into a pretty terrible, low-budget disaster movie territory. Hopefully we will have a Web Summit in Lisbon sometime in the near future and we will be able to meet there. I would love to. Thank you so much for this. This was a wonderful conversation.

Gary Walker:

Thanks very much. It was really a pleasure talking with you. Thank you.

Luis:

And thank you the listeners for listening. This was DistantJob, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. We will 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 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 too as well.

Luis:

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcasts 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 episodes up so you can actually peruse the conversation in text form.

Luis:

And of course if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need, and we will make sure that you get the beset possible candidate, 40% faster than industry standards. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob podcast.

More ways to listen:

Working remotely has shaken the ground for many leaders. As time passes and remote work continues increasing worldwide, organizations are forced to get rid of their old traditions and move towards strategies and processes better equipped to the remote environment.

During this episode, our guest, Gary Walker, gives a brushstroke around many of the processes that surround remote work. He reveals tips to help leaders boost their employee’s performance and strategies to build a healthy culture, and more importantly, he explains why getting rid of office-based management is crucial.

''You're either a leader or a manager. I think managers are very office-based. I think true leaders are servant leaders, so they've got the ability to make sure their team are aligned on what they're working on.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • Why you should be a remote leader instead of a remote manager
  • Why giving your team autonomy is a key for better performance
  • Strategies to build a cohesive remote team
  • Virtual water cooler ideas for remote teams
  • Creating a psychological safety environment
  • Insights on their hiring process

 

Book Recommendation:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!