On this episode of the DistantJob Podcast, we’re proud to present Victoria Haidamus, Product Manager at Officeless and Startae.
Luis Magalhaes: Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the first DistantJob podcast of 2019, a podcast where we talk to people who have built and lead remote teams that win. What is DistantJob? I’m glad you asked. DistantJob is a recruitment company with a different model.
Luis Magalhaes: When you need a new employee, when you need that last, final piece in your grand master plan to take over the world, you usually have two alternatives. Either you go look for that person yourself or, more often than not, you post a job description on a job board or on your own website and you passively wait for people to come in.
Luis Magalhaes: Then you have to sort through them, et cetera, test them, all of that. Now, this is the passive approach. What DistantJob does is the active approach. DistantJob works with you to learn your requirements, to find out exactly who you need, and then what do we do? Well, we start our hunt all over the world. We hunt them down and we capture their pets.
Luis Magalhaes: We tell them we’re going to do nasty things to their pets if they don’t join your company. No, actually we just make them a better offer and that’s it. That’s the way they work remotely, they are at the top of their field and because we have top recruiters and top negotiators, usually end up with someone that’s a better deal than what you would find locally and much faster.
Luis Magalhaes: Actually around 40% faster than the industry standard. The next time you need to find that super star, think differently, think remote, think DistantJob. Today’s guest is Victoria Haidamus from Brazilian company Startae and Officeless.
Luis Magalhaes: Companies that are dedicated to helping remote teams achieve their top potential. The conversation is wide ranging, we talk about everything from leadership to building fully network companies, to the value of small rituals, here’s a taste of what’s to come.
Victoria: People are looking to get out of their work today are three things, autonomy, mastery and purpose. How can we as leaders, as even managers create that environment for our team? We sometimes devalue how much those small rituals can effect the team’s morale and the team engagement but I thing it is those small rituals in the end can make a lot of difference and can be really important.
Victoria: Let’s pretend that before you were playing football and now we were playing basketball, you are still trying to win the game but the rules have changed. For me that’s what we have to see if we are trying to apply remote work for real.
Victoria: You have to understand that the rules change, the rules for the engagement change, the rules for transparency, the rules for progress, the rules for goals change in this environment.
Luis Magalhaes: Ladies and gentlemen please enjoy my conversation with Victoria Haidamus. Hello ladies and gentlemen and greetings, welcome to one more episode of the DistantJob podcast. A podcast about building and leading remote teams to win. With me today is Victoria Haidamus, hello Victoria.
Victoria: Hi Luis, thank you so much for the invitation, I’m so happy to be here today.
Luis Magalhaes: Why don’t we start telling a bit to our listeners what you do about, in relationship to remote teams and remote work?
Victoria: Okay, that’s cool. Today I work in a project called Officeless. We believe that work relationships should be based on autonomy, purpose and confidence. More than that about trusting one another. We are from Brazil and we help people and companies, teams in general, to implement remote work based on those things that I just said.
Victoria: Officeless actually started because Startae is a design studio for start-ups and for six years we’ve been working with start-ups from all over the world. We’ve mastered the art of how to work with projects that has to be agile.
Victoria: Projects that have to have fast results so that we can experiment and see the results to the client’s feedback with taste. At the same time we’ve mastered how to work side by side with these start-ups even though most of them are from abroad and our team is spread through Brazil.
Victoria: That’s why in the beginning of last year we decided to make a new branch and start Officeless so that we could have a whole team dedicated to talk about the way that we believe that remote work can be.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, so that’s awesome and by the way I’m impressed by how prolific a writer you are. I mean there’s been a couple of people that I’ve interviewed in the podcast so far that have written a lot and I mean I was looking through your stuff and I think you’ve written several times per month on this subject over the last months, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Do you post once a week, something like that?
Victoria: Yeah, I try to keep the consistency of one time a week and also we post a lot through the Officeless’ profile so most of the time we have a main content. Probably that’s what you saw are articles. We try to make smaller content for our Instagram, for our Facebook pages, even our LinkedIn pages that link to that main article. That’s how we try to approach our content production.
Luis Magalhaes: Something that I’ve seen that you’ve written a lot about and you focus a lot on your writing is the concept of self-management. Of how the people that you hire for your team, if the team is remote, people that you put in your team need to be able to self-manage.
Luis Magalhaes: To set their own priorities, their own goals and to take responsibility for their own work. I also know that you’re running a workshop about project management.
Luis Magalhaes: I’d like you to talk more, to tell me a bit more and listeners obviously a bit about what kind of framework do you use to set goals and for the people who are self-managed to report on those goals or on what they’re doing.
Victoria: Yeah, that’s also, that’s a subject that I love to talk about because I think that when we work remotely we don’t have a physical place that connects that team anymore. We have to have other things that connect our team.
Victoria: One of the main things I think that connect people besides obviously a good culture and working hard to maintain a team culture is to work together towards a main goal. We strive so that in the beginning of our projects, projects with clients or even internal projects, that the whole team is involved in setting the goals for that cycle.
Victoria: In setting how they think we can get there together, but more than that I think that besides having a goal to work towards it’s the feeling that we are progressing towards that goal. Otherwise we can feel really isolated, really lonely and feel like we are on a hamster wheel, like working a lot but we are not moving, right?
Victoria: That can get the team to be really disengaged with time. Especially if they don’t see each other, especially if they’re remote. That can happen. What do we do? Today we work in six week cycles, so we’ve tested a lot of different assignments for this cycle.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s what you would call a sprint in agile.
Victoria: Yeah, exactly, sprints usually last one week. We have, we work in weeks as well but we saw that six weeks it took time that you can work, that you can feel the progress of the project advancing but still it’s not always hushed and you can have bigger goals as well.
Victoria: We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Base Camp, they are a big inspiration for us and they also work in six week cycles. For us it’s been working really well. Even with our clients we have the six week project, the six week cycle and then we break it down into sprints like you said. Into weekly goals.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay.
Victoria: So that the team knows that we have a big goal at the end of the six weeks but each week we feel the progress because we set little goals for those weeks.
Luis Magalhaes: What’s that conversation like? How does that happen, how do you make sure that every element of the team has a say in the goals?
Victoria: We have some process that we use in the beginning of the projects. If it is an internal project usually we have our North Star for the year so something big that we want to achieve at the end of that year and we talk to … That usually comes from the leaders, but we together as a team agree on what we can do during the next six weeks that will get us closer to the objective of the year.
Victoria: The whole thing is about fragmentation, if you [inaudible 00:10:40]. We have an objective for the year and an objective for six weeks, then objective for the week. Lastly, we still have an objective for the day. We talk everyday to see how we are progressing on those objectives.
Luis Magalhaes: What’s that conversation like, can you run me through, is it like you have a round table with everyone on the team and each person tells what, gives their opinion on what should their goal be or does everyone weigh in on what should the team goal be. How does that work, how is the conversation structured more or less?
Victoria: We usually talk about the team goal, we only involve the individual goals when we go for the daily goals. That’s where we actually divide the work and see what will each person be working on from day to day. When we talk about the bigger goals, like the goal for six weeks or even for the week.
Victoria: We usually brainstorm together because everyone knows the big goal, everyone can weigh in on what should be done, so that bigger goal can be achieved. We usually have a voting system where we can vote on what should be prioritized.
Victoria: Usually the leader of that project has a bigger weigh-in on the voting process.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so that’s super interesting, can you … Because I’ve met several teams who struggled a bit with the voting in the past. In Agile in the Scrum method of Agile, they usually vote with cards but I’ve found that that method is very hard to do by Zoom in a distributed place.
Luis Magalhaes: Tell me a bit more about your system, I’m curious.
Victoria: Yeah, sure we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Design Springs. Design Springs was a technique created by Google Ventures, so that they could go from a big objective to a best idea in five days. They usually did those techniques in person but we managed to adapt them for their remote environment.
Victoria: We mostly used Morrow as a white board, a virtual white board basically. There we can put post it and use like little stickers, obviously virtual stickers so that our team can use them to vote. We use that virtual white board so we can jot down our ideas and what we think we should do to get to that objective.
Victoria: Then we vote, no this is going to be, this is what we should prioritize, this should be less prioritized. That’s also a good thing to say, we try not to say no without a reason. Even though some thing may not be prioritized this cycle.
Victoria: It has a reason for why it is not being prioritized and it’s not being left out. Maybe it’s going to enter the next cycle, maybe it’s going to enter the next week. We try to be really realistic on what our team can get done that week.
Victoria: Obviously, that’s the learning curve especially if you’re working with the new team and you don’t know how well you work together or how much work can you get done at the end of that week. That’s a process of experimentation, of trying to see what we can get done together well.
Victoria: Because that’s really important for us. It’s important for us. It’s important for us at the end of each cycle being it the week, being it the six week cycle we get to that place where we can call that goal done.
Victoria: We don’t like leaving things open for the next cycle, we like to have the liberty so that in the next cycle we can choose things that we prioritize or things that may have come to be important and start again, so that’s really important for us.
Luis Magalhaes: Just to be clear, so it’s like you put all the ideas, you write all the ideas down on the board and then people vote with stickers like they have stickers with different numbers. They put the number of votes there, how does that work more specifically?
Victoria: It’s like this, let us pretend that both of us are on a team. I have five stickers and you have five stickers as well. They are round stickers, they are basically a ball, a little ball. Little red dots so that we can put those stickers on top of the post it that we think we should prioritize.
Victoria: Then most of the times we’ll have a team leader, someone for that specific project has that role and that’s something that we also emphasize that being a leader for us is not about your position in the company, it’s about your position in that project.
Victoria: I can be a leader of this project, you can be the leader of the next, it all depends. Coming back to the voting process that leader has more stickers than us, so if we have five he would have seven. If it came to a tie he would be the tie breaker.
Luis Magalhaes: I see, so it’s basically, it’s like the casino if you really like one idea you can put all your chips in that idea, right?
Luis Magalhaes: You make sure that that goes forward, I see.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s super interesting and you mentioned the tool Morrow, I will put that link in the show notes so people can check it out. You were starting to talk about they’re more like leaders and less like managers. You’ve written about this before that you don’t think that there’s a place for management in remote work.
Luis Magalhaes: There’s a place for leaders, so run me a bit through that concept. How do you see that concept, the leader of the future and the manager of the day or of the past.
Victoria: For sure, I see that when we worked in an office environment a lot of the time the manager had that task or the responsibility to make sure everyone is working. When we go to a remote environment each person of the team has to be responsible for their own work.
Victoria: That task is no longer that relevant, so we talk a lot about creating processes to make sure that people are working. That’s not a task of one person but also that the whole team can make sure that the team is working. Let me give you an example.
Luis Magalhaes: Please do.
Victoria: We have daily meetings as in Scrum and in those meetings let’s say if we are on the same team I would say, “Oh, Scrum, yesterday to today I did this, this and that. I managed to accomplish all the things that we said we were going to do for today.
Victoria: Then you can say to me, “Oh, Victoria I had some problems, I managed to accomplish this and this but the third thing that we talked about doing I didn’t have time. Those other things took more time than I expected so I’ll have to do them today.
Victoria: That’s a way that I’m rapidly in one day, I know what you did, I know what were the problems that you faced. I immediately learned so that the next time a task that is similar to this one appears, I know that it will take a whole day to be done.
Victoria: Not half of the day and if we have another person on our team that says, “Oh, I had a lot of problems, I didn’t manage to do anything from yesterday to today.” That’s okay sometimes we are human being sometimes we have problems, sometimes we don’t manage to be as productive as we wish we were.
Victoria: If that keeps happening, if that happens one day, two days, three days, the team automatically knows that that person is not engaged. We don’t need in that sense, we don’t need a manager to see if they’re working on it or not.
Victoria: Maybe we need a leader to talk to them and say, “Are you having any problems, is there something we can do for you, is there something missing, are you missing any tools, are you missing any resources? I think the role of the leader is to keep the team balanced to see if the team is needing anything so that they can do their work.
Victoria: Like I said sometimes the leader is the person that has the most context on what is being worked on. He can answer questions and he can be there for the team so that the team can do their best work. That for me is the role of the leader.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s super interesting, that’s very similar to Scrum actually but with the difference that it’s usually what you described as a leader is usually described as a Scrum master. Which goes around and tires to figure out the blockers and how to unblock people.
Luis Magalhaes: Here’s one question I guess, in your project when you run that and when people face blockers when they report the blockers, is that something that you try to address during that meeting or do you wait until the meeting is over to talk to that person in a one on one capacity?
Victoria: We usually try to wait because if it is something that can be solved really quickly, if it’s only one question like, let me see an example, “Oh, where’s the file with the last version of the presentation?” That’s a pretty simple question that can be answered right away.
Victoria: We answer right away so that that person can return to work as soon as the meeting is done. If it’s something that will take more time we usually wait so that only the people that need to be involved to solve that blocker are involved.
Victoria: Because a thing that we see a lot and it goes for remote work as well, is that people usually, they schedule meetings just because they schedule meetings and that’s not healthy we think. We think that if you scheduled a meeting, if you interrupted the time, the focus time that that person had to be working.
Victoria: To be generating value for that project it has to be a really important purpose, it has to be a really important thing because like if I said it’s a meeting, takes one hour and it has four people. It’s not just one hour that has been spent, it’s four hours because it’s one hour for each person.
Victoria: In answering the question that you asked me, we try to involve only the people that are needed to solve that problem so that the rest of the team that were in the daily meeting can go on and continue to do their work.
Victoria: If they’re not having the problem or if they’re not helping to solve the problem, they can be working on something else. They can be focused on their work so that their time is valued as well.
Luis Magalhaes: Got it, so a couple of things come to mind, jumping in from there, which is you’ve written a fairly deep article about how companies go from very only directional leadership organizations with one person on top. Micro managing everything to organizations where everyone manages themselves.
Luis Magalhaes: I don’t know if you created or if you made reference to a color code that someone created that the company that has everything coming from one single person is a red company and goes down in color graduation all the way down [crosstalk 00:24:31] hue which is a kind of blue.
Luis Magalhaes: There is a part, I’ve identified reading that I saw examples of a lot of companies that I’ve worked with in the past and also saw companies that I’ve worked in in the past and I identified like that. I think the step where most companies get stuck, at least in my experience.
Luis Magalhaes: Is when they are transitioning from a command and control company that has a very strict hierarchy to a predict and control company where there is still some hierarchy but employees are generally more trusted to go about their own lives and the leaders are more acting in a supervision role instead of a control role.
Luis Magalhaes: Actually even I think that’s supervision is the word that they use but I think the supervision is a bit of a rough word in the way that it makes it feel like someone is looking over your shoulder. I like to say that it’s more like quality control or quality assurance.
Victoria: A support role, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, seeing if the work that person developed is really going to fit well in the general scheme of …
Victoria: For sure.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, so how do you think a company can do a successful transition from command and control to predict and control?
Victoria: Right, that’s awesome, that’s an awesome question and about the reference I loved that article, it was really based on the book called, Reinventing Organizations. I highly recommend it because it’s a book that makes a parallel between the evolution of consciousness for society and the evolution of organizations and the roles inside those organizations. It’s a really inspiring book, I really loved it.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s very good.
Victoria: How to go from a command and control to a predict and control, I love that term, I’ve never heard that before, predict and control. I think that the first step is like I said is to involved your team in the objectives and the goals.
Victoria: I saw a really interesting study from Daniel Pink, do you know him?
Luis Magalhaes: I mean that doesn’t spring to mind right now, no.
Victoria: He has two books, I think he has more than two books, but he has a book called, Drive, and he has a really interesting …
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, I read that book.
Victoria: Yeah, he has a really interesting TED talk where he talks about what motivates people in the creative environment. What he found out from his studies is that the reward and punishment worked really well when we had, I wouldn’t say easy problems but problems that had a well-defined solution.
Victoria: That you could easily say, easily reward and punish people for not achieving those standards, those goals. The environment that we are in today, in my opinion and in his as well, is that we are always looking for more inoperative solutions.
Victoria: We are looking for, we are trying to solve problems that are becoming each day more complex so that we have to have easier solutions, we have to see something works and try again and try again and try again.
Victoria: In this environment he discovered that the reward and punishment that we used to use in management, it actually hinders the productivity. It actually makes us get worse solutions.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s weird, I wouldn’t have foreseen that. I’ve heard said that, I like more the reward than punishment, I like the expression, “carrot and stick”. Just because it’s funny, I’ve heard people defend that the stick is necessary sometimes but that it’s better to work with carrots more because people take positive feedback a lot better than the negative feedback.
Luis Magalhaes: Because I don’t recall the last time I saw anyone saying to throw away both the carrot and the stick. What do you replace the carrot and the stick with?
Victoria: I’m not taking away the importance of feedback, enough quality control, enough saying that things are good or bad, things that have been produced. Those should not be the main mechanisms to engage your team. What he says and what he found out that people are looking to get out of their work today are three things.
Victoria: Autonomy, mastery and purpose and how can we as leaders, as even managers create that environment for our team. First purpose, so we involve our team and why things are being done and why we are setting this goal instead of that goal.
Victoria: Because that’s a common mistake that I see, some leaders they communicate the what has to be done really well, but sometimes they forget to communicate why that is important. Why are we pursuing that goal instead of that.
Victoria: Like Simon Sinek said, “People usually connect with why things are being done.” That’s really important as leaders we have to communicate really well, not just what has to be done but why it’s being done. So that the team can feel engaged and so that the team has the liberty and the autonomy, so we enter the second step.
Victoria: That the team has the autonomy to say, “Oh, wait if we are doing X because of Y, I think that there are better ways that we can get to Y. Here are other ways.” The team has that opportunity so weigh in and so few heard to feel that they are really contributing to what we are trying to achieve.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, so that’s meaning one, right?
Victoria: That meaning, that’s purpose and then autonomy. Mastery is basically feeling like you’re working to you’re getting better at what you’re doing. The three things are connected you see, if I communicate why things are being done.
Victoria: Automatically people can have the autonomy to think about and to try to solve problems to get to that objective. Even if it’s not the first thing that we said, maybe they found a better way to solve that problem because they know why the problem is being solved.
Victoria: By doing that they are developing themselves, they are getting better at solving problems. They are getting better at using their skills.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, so that fits very well with something that I usually use when making comparisons about remote work which is, well my time it was a while ago but playing online games. Specifically there was this game called World of Warcraft.
Luis Magalhaes: I don’t know how popular it is in Brazil but it is very popular in Europe.
Victoria: Very popular.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, cool and in the early years of that game you add this massive events that were dungeons where you needed to coordinate 40 people. It was usually a long term pursuit meaning that you had a full week to do that event.
Luis Magalhaes: You had the week to do it after the week was past and it would reset and you had to start all over from the beginning. Most people would actually need to practice it for several weeks before they could complete it in one week.
Luis Magalhaes: Obviously, it involved a lot of resources and a lot of people, even when people weren’t doing it, they needed to spend some part of their time preparing for it. Just building their character and practicing with their character and building up materials and gathering materials and all of that.
Luis Magalhaes: This is a huge coordinated thing and obviously there was no money involved. People were doing it just for pleasure. It was a video game and yet it was hard work at the same time as it was a video game. I was always so fascinated by the kind of game that could make people literally put as much effort as they would into a job, putting it into that …
Luis Magalhaes: Exactly, I do think that you called purpose and I said meaning, I think it’s more or less a similar thing. A lot of people talk to me and tell me, how can I make my people motivated about their work, love their work. I don’t think it’s about process really.
Luis Magalhaes: I think that the love for the work comes first and when people genuinely love what they’re doing and find meaning on what they’re doing then that’s half the battle won.
Victoria: Exactly and it’s funny that you talked about games, I think we have a lot to learn from games. Because games like World of Warcraft or even EVE Online.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, EVE Online, that’s even more like a job.
Victoria: Exactly for me they’re like testaments of what people can do when they work together when they have a clear purpose, when they feel engaged with something. They create these amazing worlds and like you said sometimes they even work more on these games, that they are not getting money in return.
Victoria: Actually, a lot of times they’re paying to play the game, and they put in more effort than in the job they are being paid to do. Why is that, I agree with you, I agree that meaning comes a long way to being really important for engagement. I think that it comes individually of course from each person liking what they’re doing.
Victoria: Loving what they’re doing and wanting to get better at it. I also think as leaders we can make an environment where that is possible. That’s why I thought we as Officeless talk a lot about communicating clearly why people are doing what they’re doing.
Victoria: Because that’s where they connect, them understanding that even if once a day they are doing a task that is not what they like, it’s something that is hard, it’s something that they would rather be doing something else.
Victoria: They do it because they understand that it’s important to get to that goal that the team set together. They feel that their work is important to advancing that goal and I think that that’s something that games bring to the table really well.
Victoria: Because sometimes we do tests and they have, like you said we have to develop our characters and something that we have to do is develop our characters are not nice things. They’re nothing that we would like to be doing.
Victoria: Since we know that the final objective is to have a better character, to have more power, more skills we do it even though we’re not earning money for it.
Luis Magalhaes: To your point there was something related to this, since we’re talking about games, you said something a while ago that’s only connected with me right now. Which is that you make it a point that it’s important for the team to how they are progressing along the goals.
Luis Magalhaes: I think that’s the important part of the meaning or purpose because I remember from those times gaming that people would just, like they were going to be fighting a boss and obviously when they win the fight, when the bosses health bar reaches zero.
Luis Magalhaes: Sometimes, some weeks the difference between that week and the last week was like they got the bar 20% lower. It’s not even if they won or lost, they lost on both weeks but they would be happy knowing that they were 20% closer this week than they were last week.
Luis Magalhaes: The rallying cry could be progress, progress is a very powerful word. When people see that they’re doing progress, even if they didn’t get to the final result that they wanted yet. Just it being visible that it’s closer can be very motivating for people.
Luis Magalhaes: That said, we were talking about setting a project, now how do you make these things visible to people? If you make it at all, how do you make progress visible in a remote context. I mean because it’s not as if we’re building buildings.
Luis Magalhaes: If we were a team of masons and we were building a building we could say okay last week there weren’t any windows, now there are windows. Things like that but work online is by it’s very nature ephemeral in a way. You work with design, so not so much, you can see if the design has more elements if the buttons work, etc.
Luis Magalhaes: You know what I mean, a lot of the work is not like that so how do you show people progress?
Victoria: Yeah, it’s a real challenge because like you said the things we work on are virtual and we are not, when we talk about remote work, we’re not even seeing each other, right? Most of the time, so the way that we do it, I think there are two ways.
Victoria: One way is fragmenting, so we have usually as a company have a goal for the year. If you stayed the whole year working towards one goal without seeing any progress after a month you’re going to be de-motivated. What do we do, we break down that goal into smaller chunks, so we break it down into six week goals.
Victoria: Then we break that six week goal into weekly goals and even to daily goals. That each day we have that feeling that we advanced 1%. At the end of each one of those cycles, specifically the weekly cycle. In the six week cycle we have a small retrospective to see what went right and what went wrong.
Victoria: At the end of each cycle, we together as a team say, “Oh, what can we learn from this week that we achieved all of our objectives. What can we learn from next week?” Then we have that feeling of progress because, “Yay, we achieved our objective, that’s awesome.”
Victoria: Even if we didn’t we can talk about why that worked and how can we learn from that for next week. That’s one way, so that’s a way of structuring your processes right, structuring the work so that you feel progress as a team.
Victoria: The other way is using tools, I think it was your next question, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah what tools do you use to structure that? I mean because what I found in a lot of tools is that they’re not good for that because once you mark something as done it disappears. You can’t have that feeling of going there at the end of the day or at the end of the month and seeing, “I did this, the team did this.”
Luis Magalhaes: Those things are gone, all that matters is the stuff that isn’t done.
Victoria: Yeah, we usually wait to mark everything as done in the end of the project. That’s also a thing that we do right, we have used a lot of tools from Flow to Base Camp. In all of them we structure our projects using Kunbh, so the structure of columns for to doing need to review and done.
Victoria: Oh, and that’s right, need to review is a column that is not in the original Kunbh form. It’s something that we’ve added so that we can give confidence to the team and how can we give confidence by doing that?
Victoria: That people that are still getting used to being autonomous and fewer are still getting used to not having someone on their shoulder to see if they’re working. We did this column so that if they finish a task but they’re not entirely sure if they did it right.
Victoria: Or if they feel like they need the team’s help for revision or for quality assurance they put it there and they call out for help.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, it’s very funny I’ve been using that same system for when I’m managing editorial teams. Usually I love the Kunbh specifically for taking articles from beginning to end. I call them for ideas and then I call them for needs to be written this week. I call them for is being written and then you know the quality control, column where an editor will go and check the article.
Luis Magalhaes: You know this because you write so much there are always problems with our writing that we’re blind to them. It’s always good to get the second pair of eyes on a text before it’s published.
Victoria: Exactly and if you have a space reserved for that visually when you entered the tool you can see everything that needs to be reviewed so that’s why it’s so important to have that space dedicated for that, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly.
Victoria: Something that you placed a really interesting point that when you mark everything as done it simply disappears, right?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Victoria: A mistake that we’ve done in the past is having just one project for the whole company that is continuous. We used to have one Kunbh board for everything that happens inside Officeless and we would keep using that same Kunbh.
Victoria: That brought us back to the hamster wheel feeling right, that you are always doing, that there are always things being done. There are always more things to be done and it seems like you’re not making progress. It seems like you’re just working more and more.
Victoria: You still have only that one Kunbh board, I seems like you’re on that hamster wheel, it seems like you’re just rolling and rolling and rolling and nothing is happening. There’s just more things coming in and more things going out everyday.
Victoria: What we started doing is actually dividing our project into multiple Kunbh boards. If we were, for example, we are trying to put a new lending page for the Officeless workshop on the air. That alone would be a project and sometimes you would even divide it into the design part.
Victoria: A Kunbh only for the design part and a Kunbh only for the implementation part. At the end of the project when we close that board there’s a feeling that it’s done. That that is actually finished right, so we artificially create that feeling that you talked about from a mason theme, the house being built.
Victoria: Yeah, now we have windows, in our case it would be, yeah, now the design is actually done because we closed that Kunbh board, so we closed that project, so it gives a theme, that feeling that somehow that it’s a small ritual.
Victoria: I think that we sometimes devalue how much those small rituals can affect the team’s morale and the teams engagement. I think it is those small rituals in the end can make a lot of difference and can be really important.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, that’s a very good point, I worked a bit like that before but what I found is that, that creates a bit of Kunbh overwhelm. When I as the Director of Marketing in one case, just have to jump between like five different boards at once and I felt that it was very difficult to get the whole picture.
Luis Magalhaes: I had five different boards to keep track of, right. The solution that we found for that was actually to tie the boards in with the screen, with this print, meaning that [crosstalk 00:47:38] for each sprint we had the column.
Luis Magalhaes: The last column on the board was end of sprint and all the cards were put there once they were done and then during our end of week meeting you would just go through everything that we accomplished and arch of it. Your way sounds very good as well, I’m just wondering if you don’t get overwhelmed?
Victoria: Yeah, I think there are a lot of different context, I mean like you said if it is overwhelming you more than helping you then maybe we should think about another rate. For the me the most important thing to take out of the most important lessons that I took out of this was not having multiple Kunbh boards.
Victoria: Or one Kunbh for sprint. I think that those are solutions that fit different context. For me the most important lesson is that projects should have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely.
Victoria: Because that is what I think works that we can touch and feel they have because when you’re making a table you’ll know when the table is done even if you’re making five different tables. You can feel it, you can see it, you can touch it when it’s done.
Victoria: What we were trying to do is bring that same feeling of done to the virtual world. If you do it with multiple Kunbh boards at the same time or one Kunbh for sprint I think that the feeling that we’re trying to pursue is the same right.
Victoria: It’s the feeling of something being finished so that we can even celebrate a little bit. That that’s finished, that we worked on that and we have something to show for it, right.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, yeah absolutely and I love the table example. I love the table example by the way, so I want to shift gears a bit and talk a bit about an expression that I read in your writing, that’s the first time I encounter which is, network organizations.
Luis Magalhaes: You talked about network organizations as an alternative to hierarchical organizations. I’ve touched a bit on the similar subject before, you know in a podcast that I did a few weeks ago with Laurel Farrer.
Luis Magalhaes: We were talking about hierarchical organizations versus flat organizations. Organizations with no structure, it was a bit of a one-sided conversation because both me and Laurel have studied a lot of organizations and we’re usually fans of the ones with the hierarchy.
Luis Magalhaes: Obviously, hierarchichis’ can have serious but overall I’m more fan of what the companies with hierarchichis’ accomplished than the flat ones. You’re bringing a third kind of organization to my attention which is not necessarily flat but a network organization.
Luis Magalhaes: Why don’t you explain a bit more what’s this concept of a network organization and how does it work compared to the hierarchy?
Victoria: Yeah, sure, I think to understand what a network is, I think first we have to understand the concept of network right? Because for me and what I studied the concept of network is that you can’t destroy the network by destroying specific points.
Victoria: What do I mean by that? In a hierarchy organization for example, if you destroy and when I say destroy is with a lot of commerce, that’s not the word but anyway. If you destroyed the management everyone that’s beneath him is, how can I say, they don’t know what to do anymore.
Victoria: Where to go or what should I do, where should I go, what should I be working on?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, it’s fragile.
Victoria: It’s fragile, exactly. On the other hand if you destroy one point in the network, say every point is connected, you don’t destroy the network itself. This concept came from when the United States was trying to organize it’s intelligence when they were in the Cold War against the Soviets.
Victoria: They were thinking about a structure so that they could organize their intelligence in a way that if the Soviets destroyed one of their armen points, one of the headquarters, they wouldn’t destroy the whole intelligence.
Victoria: That’s when the network concept came up. Because if all of the points are connected to all of the other points all of them have all the information they need and can communicate with each other really well. There are a lot of things that are based on that now, Block chain is based on that.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh, yeah.
Victoria: Block Chain is based on the network model. When we bring that to organizations I think that it’s something that I have to admit it’s something that we’re still trying to achieve but it’s something that we really strive for in our team.
Victoria: We strive for so that each person, knows what they have to do, knows how to do it and can ask for the help they need. Not mattering even if the person is working on their project or not. A lot of times I’ve come with problems working with Officeless and I’ve counted on the support from the Startae team.
Victoria: Because today we are separate teams but we are we are still in high communication with each other. A lot of the times I’ve counted on support from them to help me in tasks that I was doing. I think that those are steps toward that sort of organization.
Victoria: Where each person can access they need it. I think that’s also an important point. It’s not that I have to know everything that’s going on all of the time because that would be super overwhelming, especially in bigger organizations.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, yeah, we talked a bit about that with actually Marcus from Buffer is the lead mobile engineer at Buffer. He actually told me that when I asked about this, because they have a big culture of transparency and when I asked about how that prevented overwhelm.
Luis Magalhaes: he actually told me a little, the importance is that the information is there in case it’s needed but I don’t expect.
Luis Magalhaes: I don’t expect anyone to look at it, I still go and tell people directly stuff. It’s not that we use transparency as a way to not have to not have to talk to each other. It’s more for backup than anything else I guess.
Luis Magalhaes: Those were not his words but that’s the feeling that I got so that’s very interesting.
Victoria: Exactly and I think transparency is a really important characteristic when we talk about that Buffer organization. You have to have full transparency so that you have access to what you need it, when you need it, not all the time.
Victoria: That example of Buffer is a really good example, I think they do it really well. They work with [inaudible 00:56:04] really, really well.
Luis Magalhaes: A couple of things there, that seems to be a bit similar to the model of hierarchies that I support, but obviously different scheme. On the pyramid I think the key thing is that on the bad pyramids information only travels from top to down.
Luis Magalhaes: Where a good pyramid information will go in both directions. Meaning the base can also influence the top and I think that’s a very good role that works on what you’re describing but in more hierarchical situations is the mentorship rule.
Luis Magalhaes: This is what I try to do is for the people working under me I always tell them, “Look, I’m telling you these things, I’m giving you excess information not because I expect you to keep it all in your head but the situation might arise where I’m gone for some reason.”
Luis Magalhaes: Hopefully not very bad reason, “But if I go away the pyramid can’t crumble.” I need the people that are reporting to me in this case to step up and take my place. I think that when you are in a pyramid if you’re a good leader as opposed to a manager again, if you’re a manager you’re just occupying your place in the pyramid.
Luis Magalhaes: You report to the people up and you tell things to the people down. If you are not the manager but the leader you’re actually mentoring the people below you to be as competent as you are. Because you don’t feel threatened right.
Luis Magalhaes: This can’t work if you feel threatened. Again, that’s why it should be healthy hierarchy instead of a [inaudible 00:57:56]. Anyway you’re training the people that are working under you to actively be able to take your place if needed.
Luis Magalhaes: This is actually highly motivating for those people because they can see that there’s a path forward in their career and they’re just not cogs in the mechanism. I honestly think that the flex structure and the hierarchical structure and this structure, the network structure which is thank you for introducing me to that concept that’s really good.
Luis Magalhaes: I think it depends on the culture of the company but it’s definitely worth experimenting. Which structure is best for each company. It’s probably a question that should be asked more.
Victoria: Exactly and I don’t … You said before that you had a little preference for hierarchical structures. In my case I think that it depends on the context, right. I think if we were more open to studying the different types of structures.
Victoria: The good parts and the bad parts of them, we would be able to choose, even to make a hybrid of what worked best for us, for our team.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, that’s a good idea, you should make that study.
Victoria: I’ll try, that’s why I’m trying to experiment on network organizations so that I can have some experience to talk about it. Talk about the real challenges and the real good parts. Because I think that the structures they are for me they are very similar to the tool that you use.
Victoria: I have a really hard time when people ask me, “Oh, but what is the best project management tool?” My first question would be for whom?
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, what kind of projects, you know.
Victoria: Exactly, because I think that there is no one solution fits all, we have very different teams, we are very different concepts. Very different problems that we are solving so for me at least it’s a fantasy to think that there will be one tool or one structure that will save all and that would be the hero of all and it will fit everyone is going to be good for everyone.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s definitely not diversity and [inaudible 01:00:17] is good. We keep … It’s a very big buzz word these days in the work place, diversity but people forget that diversity isn’t just about people it’s also about tools, it’s about processes, it’s about thinking [crosstalk 01:00:37].
Victoria: Yeah and I think that some people don’t want to think about that because it demands that you know yourself, that you get to know your team, that you get to know what are your problems, what are the things that you were trying to solve?
Victoria: A lot of the times people just want quick answers for their problems so that they can solve them right away. Most of the problems that we are facing today are not like that. We have to put a lot of work into them so to be able to solve them. There are no quick answers anymore.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, so speaking about that, so now I’m going to ask you for a quick answer which is because now that we’ve established that there are no quick answers. This is a problem that I face myself in the past and I’m curious you’re opinion on it.
Luis Magalhaes: Which is we talk a lot about giving people autonomy what I found out is that in come cases, not always, some people feel again [inaudible 01:01:36] everyone being different I find that some people do very well at autonomy but it also happens to me at times that I’ve given autonomy to some folks and when they have the freedom they tend to work for themselves.
Luis Magalhaes: Just like a lone wolf kind of guy, there are those super heroes that don’t work in teams they’re just very good at what they do but they’re lone wolves. It’s like they take the freedom but they don’t really take the responsibility or they don’t develop the leadership skills to go with it.
Luis Magalhaes: They go and they do their own thing and their own thing can have a lot of quality but it’s often not directed in a way that’s helpful in the context of what the rest of the team is doing. That they feel like it feels like they’re a bit apart.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s directly in consequence of giving them autonomy. How do you think that could be solved?
Victoria: Yeah, that can happen a lot especially [inaudible 01:02:42] the way we were educated to work, right. The way that our schools are, the way that even our universities and most of the work places are. The way that work usually works is that people give you an assignment, you take the time to do that assignment, you came back with the result and report to your manager, right, that’s it.
Victoria: At Officeless we try to talk a lot about creating mechanisms of accountability and mechanisms to see, like I said before to be able to see the progress of the work more than seeing the people themselves. I think I’m going to be repeating myself a bit but some stuff is really important and really deserves being repeated.
Victoria: Like transparency, transparency is really important in that sense because if I know that from today to tomorrow you had to have a design for that page done. If tomorrow you don’t give me back that design, I know that you’re not, how can I say that.
Victoria: You’re not fulfilling your responsibility. Not just to me but to the team because the whole team knows that it was your responsibility to do the design from today, from yesterday to today. Sometimes we think that if we don’t have a manager there will be no accountability but if we put the team in a situation where this work depends on each other.
Victoria: If someone doesn’t do their work the whole team can make that person accountable. If we only had one manager sometimes it would fall under that manager’s shoulder to go and talk to that person and try to understand what’s going on and try to get the work done.
Victoria: If the whole team depends on the work that’s being done from that person, for that person, the whole team will make her or him accountable. That’s where transparency becomes really important. That’s where involving the whole team in the decision of what will be done in that cycle becomes really important because then the whole team is accountable for each other.
Victoria: If someone doesn’t do their job the whole team will be pissed off.
Luis Magalhaes: Fair enough, got it. Where did I want to go from there?
Victoria: I’m sorry I tried to …
Luis Magalhaes: No problem, no problem so it really is about trying to keep people accountable to the whole team and not just letting them go on and do things by themselves in isolation. It makes perfect sense so I want to give a bit to take a bit of a jump there.
Luis Magalhaes: Because it’s been almost one hour and I want to be respectful of your time but there are a couple more questions that I’d like to ask. One of these is again related to what you just said about keeping people accountable and giving the team a sense of what to expect.
Luis Magalhaes: In your writing you recommend that you share with the team a bit of your personal schedule. Let them know a bit of how your day looks like. You mentioned that you enjoy meditation and you enjoy going hiking before you start your work day.
Luis Magalhaes: Your team knows that unless there’s an emergency they aren’t supposed to try to get you at that time. To respect your personal time which is something that often breaks when you’re working remote. I think this is a very good idea, my fear is that a lot of people want to keep their private life separate from their work life.
Luis Magalhaes: They wouldn’t be very comfortable about sharing the kind of things that go on outside of their work life. What kind of conversation would you have with these people?
Victoria: I think it makes thorough sense, like I said people are different and they’re comfortable with sharing different aspects of their life. I think that even if you don’t want to share that you only start working because you are meditating or you were hiking or you were doing anything else.
Victoria: It’s important to share with your team, the time that you will be available and how and at what time they can reach you and you will give them a more immediate response. That should be treated, of course that part of the cultural routine but that should be treated as something normal and not with a lot of judgment.
Victoria: Because if I tell people that I only start working at 10:30 PM, not PM, 10:30 AM.
Luis Magalhaes: That could be a [inaudible 01:08:25].
Victoria: It could be, my life style some people …
Luis Magalhaes: That happens with the World of Warcraft players, right, they start at 10 PM.
Victoria: It can happen right, if I tell my team that I start working at 11 AM or even 11 PM for that matter. There should be no judgment that, “Oh, she’s only starting to work at 11 AM, oh so she’s not as dedicated as everyone else.”
Victoria: If that starts to happen, the work won’t work. We have to … Sharing why you are starting to work at that time helps people understand that you are not slacking off, that sometimes you have other priorities. Sometimes you have to spend some time with your family.
Victoria: I have a coworker for example, that he only starts to work at 1 PM or 2 PM depending on the day because his wife works the whole period and his mom can only stay with his small daughter in the afternoons. He has to stay with her the whole morning.
Victoria: For me that’s a really noble purpose and that’s really a noble cause of why he’s only working from 1 PM to 9 PM because he spends and he’s being a present dad, he’s spending time with his daughter. Even though if he didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with the team I think that we have to try to create a culture where I can say that I start working at 1 PM and I stop working at 9 PM.
Victoria: That’s okay, that people understand that I am a human being on top of everything that I have other things that I do. I have other priorities that can contribute to my work at the end of the day.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, that sounds like a great conversation that you could have to convince people to do it. I agree, it would be nice if people shared the details of their life without being embarrassed, without fearing judgment.
Luis Magalhaes: You’re right at the very least if they can communicate their hours that would also be very good. At DistantJob when we get people, when we recruit people to work remotely with our client companies, we start with the assumption that they are going to be doing the North American work hours.
Luis Magalhaes: They will be available during the North American work hours but what we found is that the companies that are flexible, meaning they say, “Hey, you know what we need some overlap so we can communicate but you don’t really need to do the North American work hours as long as you show your work done.
Luis Magalhaes: We find that these companies have a lot more productive employees than the ones that want them to stick to North American schedule.
Victoria: Wow, that’s an awesome result.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, it’s an awesome result, obviously on some jobs that’s very hard for example support desk jobs you want that support desk to be on those hours and that can still work well. As long as the person has the discipline in their personal life that can accommodate that.
Luis Magalhaes: We come back to the same thing that we’ve been coming back to throughout the podcast which there isn’t really set, something that works for everyone, you need to explore different alternatives.
Victoria: Yeah and you have to communicate that really well, right.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, exactly.
Victoria: If we could talk about two pillars I think it would be that, explore solutions that work for you and to communicate that to your team to be transparent with the people that work with you everyday.
Luis Magalhaes: For my last question I need to have a bit of a background check because I’m not sure if this is a common thing in Brazil, or not. Do Chinese restaurants in Brazil have fortune cookies?
Victoria: They do.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, cool, so let’s say that you’re organizing a dinner where they will be a round table about remote work in a Chinese restaurant. The people attending are the top exes and CEOs and Chiefs of Silicon Valley companies. People in a very good position to bring remote work to a lot of people, to a lot of employees.
Luis Magalhaes: You’re organizing the dinner so you get to put the message in the fortune cookies, what message are these people opening on their dinner?
Victoria: Oh, my gosh, wow that was the hardest question of the whole conversation [crosstalk 01:13:33].
Luis Magalhaes: I stump a lot of people … We can come back any time, I stump a lot of people with that one.
Victoria: Let me see, I think I’ll show a bit of my nerd side now.
Luis Magalhaes: Sure.
Victoria: I’m completely [affectionated 01:13:56] more with the movie, The Matrix.
Luis Magalhaes: Ah, nice.
Victoria: There’s a line in that movie that I like really much. It’s when the oracle tells Neil that he should know himself. I think that’s a really good message to leave people because talking about remote work, like I said before.
Luis Magalhaes: You’re essentially red pilling them?
Victoria: Yeah, exactly. You want to apply the remote work, take the red pill but then nothing’s going on and go back to the old model of the organization, take the blue pill. Yeah, I’m that person, but yeah I think sometimes people they want to apply remote work but they don’t want to look inside right?
Victoria: Another metaphor that I use a lot for remote works is as if before you were playing, let me see, oh my God I usually use the metaphor with football, like the Brazilian soccer. I don’t know if that’s going to be relatable.
Victoria: Let’s see, let’s pretend that before you were playing football and now we were playing basketball. You are still trying to win the game but the rules have changed. For me that’s what we have to see if we are trying to apply remote work for real.
Victoria: You have to understand that the rules change, it’s not just that people are now working from home. The rules for the engagement, the rules for transparency, the rules for progress, the rules for goals change in this environment.
Victoria: We have to adapt to these rules if we want to win the game and for me the first step to start this adaptation, to start going on that path is knowing yourself, knowing your company, knowing your team, knowing your goals. Yeah, that’s why the message would be that one.
Luis Magalhaes: All right, that is an awesome message, thank you very much. If people want to reach out to you, to ask for your help in setting up their project management and their remote teams or even just ask some question as to coach them on being better remote leaders. How can they find you?
Victoria: Awesome, you can see more about Officeless at Officeless.cc. And if you want to talk to me you can email at [email protected] or you can find me at LinkedIn at Victoria Haidamus.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay, I’ll have links to all of this, I’ll have links to all of this in the show notes. Okay, Victoria it was a pleasure having you, thank you so much for coming. We will see you around I guess.
Victoria: Thank you so much for the invitation, Luis, it was awesome to participate. I hope that people can understand my English, I know it’s a little bit rough but I practiced for this conversation and I love being here, so thank you so much for the opportunity.
Luis Magalhaes: It was perfectly understandable Victoria, thank you so much for coming. Wow, that covered a lot of ground, again thank you Victoria, thank you so much for your time. If you want to learn more about Victoria the links will be on the show notes. You can reach her out to several mediums.
Luis Magalhaes: If you want to know more about us or listen to previous episodes give us a visit at distantjob.com/blog and look for the podcast tag. You can also help us out by leaving your review on iTunes or on your podcast provider of choice.
Luis Magalhaes: You could also share the show on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, whatever strikes your fancy as far as social networking goes. If you’d like to pour over the lessons that you learned from Victoria or any other guest for that matter.
Luis Magalhaes: Subscribe to the podcast page and you’ll get emailed transcripts of the show. You don’t have to listen to the podcast, note pad in hand, we do that for you. Finally, if you need to build that incredible remote team and you need to find the best people to do it, check out distantjob.com, we’ll help you out.
Luis Magalhaes: This was Luis with the DistantJob podcast, see you next week.
In this episode, we dive deep into the several kinds of structure that companies and their communication can embody, and what it all means for teams working from several different countries.
Victoria talks to us (among many, many other things!) about what top performers come looking for when they consider joining your company; the importance of virtualising small workplace rituals; and how to build and benefit from a company with a network structure, as opposed to flat or hierarchical. (DJ Podcast drinking game: have a drink whenever Luis mispronounces “hierarchical”! Such is life.)
As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!
Need that one incredible employee to bolster your team? Get in touch and we’ll find you who you need.