Taking your company remote with Stefania Chiorboli

Stefania Chiorboli is a People Operations/HR Generalist, specialized in distributed, global teams. She’s an advocate for remote work and humans in tech, currently supporting several projects and companies that are working remotely.

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Luis: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the latest episode of The Distant Job podcast. I am your host Luis. As usual we have a podcast today about building and managing remote teams who win. Now, my guest today is Stefania Chiorboli. Did I get that right?

Stefania: It’s actually … no. But nobody does.

Luis: Sorry.

Stefania: It’s Chiorboli.

Luis: Chiorboli.

Stefania: No, it’s okay. Chiorboli with a … in Italian we don’t have, the Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letter K. So, Ch is what we use to make the sound K.

Luis: Oh, so it’s like Chiorboli.

Stefania: Yes. So if you meet somebody called Chiara, it would be written in the same way.

Luis: Oh, nice.

Stefania: C-H-I. Yeah.

Luis: Oh, I’ve learned something. Already starting a good start to this podcast. Though I kind of messed up my introduction, apologies, let me start again.

Stefania: No worries.

Luis: Chiorboli, she previously worked at Automattic, and now she runs her own consulting business. Where she helps people and companies build and manage remote teams. Correct?

Stefania: Correct.

Luis: So, I guess there’s a lot to cover, but tell me a bit how your business works currently, and how remote work makes it possible.

Stefania: Well, that’s a bit of a [inaudible 00:01:44]. So I did work with Automattic, and then I worked with Status and I built quite a lot of experience in remote practices, remote teams. How to make sure that employee experience is the best it can be. And I’m really passionate about that stuff. So I am in contact with a lot of other remote people, operations, practitioners, and companies that are doing similar things. It came out by itself, sort of. I was in touch with this [inaudible 00:02:16], got introduced to the Hoxby Collective, which is a UK base agency that want to make it possible for more people to get remote work based on the work style they can have.

Stefania: So when you think about working parents, or people that have any sort of issues that would prevent them to contribute to a corporate work environment and being there all the time, and match [inaudible 00:02:47], can find employment in a way that is meaningful and where they can do their best. So through that I started linking with even more people. And a connection of mine put me in contact with a company in Amsterdam where I used to live. Which is really funny because they work in the hotel booking business, in a way. Which is something I also did in my past.

Stefania: I was with Booking.com when it was [inaudible 00:03:19] in Amsterdam, it was a Chinese startup. And I stayed with them for about 10 years. So I did learn a lot about hotel marketing, about even search and SEO and Google. I mean, we did a lot of really tests through this time. So this company in Amsterdam is in that type of business, and at the same time they found themselves out of not really a strategic decision, but more of what just happened, to have about 20% of their workforce be remote. They didn’t deliberately do that, they just had a few people that were there and then asked if they could just go back to their countries and work from there.

Stefania: And they were like, “Yeah, okay.” And now they’re realizing the potential of building up on that. Because they wanted to still have a strong culture located in the office, but at the same time they wanted to make sure that they can grow also remotely. And that the two cultures are seamless. So people can work from Amsterdam a while and then go away, or the other way around. And I think this is quite emblematic of what I hear whenever I talk with other potential clients, or within the collective. Companies that are right now finding the moment to go hybrid because they were created in an office, they’re starting to see remote work at the horizon and they’re quite scared.

Stefania: But at the same time, tempted, because they see the potential of that they actually believe in the way that remote work can make the world a better place. And not just an economical resource of theirs. Obviously you have access to more talent, obviously some other things can be also financially appealing. But what I see mostly in younger CEOs and founders is they really care about doing something good for the world. Don’t make the same mistakes of the previous generation.

Luis: Nice.

Stefania: Opening up their space for a more diverse workforce, and they’re much more sensitive on a lot of aspects than I did see when I started working in the corporate world about 20 years ago.

Luis: Okay, so there’s a lot of threads that I want to pick up there. So how did it eventually work out? The company that wanted to make sure that they could let their people work from home, or from other countries, but still maintain their culture. How did that work out and what steps did they take?

Stefania: For one, I think every company that does that needs to have it fully customized to what their culture is. So the work we are doing now, I’m working together with their people in office, is to transfer some of the resources and the traditions that they have at the office into a way that is also enjoyable remotely. So say that they have a celebration at the office every time they hit some sort of a target or a record. That celebration would translate for the remotes into getting a voucher, for example, for going out with their families and then sharing the photos and sharing the things that they did.

Luis: Nice.

Stefania: At the same time, in a context with, and I’ve seen it also with other hybrid companies, onboarding makes sense whenever possible to be done, to include at least a week or a period of time at the office. So this new person gets a sense of what are the dynamics there. Another thing that is important is to try to change … not really change, more shift the mindset of the part of the workforce that is at the office. So, for example calling into meetings from their desk and you wear a headphone and a mic, rather than all cram into a meeting room.

Stefania: Sharing more photos, more visuals. Commenting of things in a way that is easier to search. Another thing that we’re going to be working on is creating more video material so that both for onboarding, but also in general, to translate more of the company history and make sure that all these things that, if you’re co-located you’ll pick up at the coffee machine or just by body expressions, or the vibe. Like reading the silences, or reading the words, are in fact available in a way that is less ambiguous and easier to find.

Stefania: I think the work is in part making sure that the people that are not co-located have the tools and the processes that work best, that are most efficient for them not to waste time and not to feel stuck. And on the other hand, the workers shifting is likely the habits of who’s at the office also in terms of encouraging them to work from home more frequently. Because that’s how they find themselves in the shoes of their colleagues. And this is working out all right, I think. I’ve been working with them for now about a month.

Stefania: I’ve been visiting the office on occasion. But the way that I see people contributing to discussions and being more open minded about things already in this span of time is impressive. Now everyone is reading more about remote, about hybrids, about trying this process, trying that. Having the next meeting in a different way. Joining events. I think we’re all signed up for, there’s a Nero, the design tool, is having a conference next week. But a bunch of them also signed up for the parts that they’re interested in. They’re becoming more timezone aware. And it’s really interesting to see how it develops.

Luis: So there are a couple of things there. So first, tell me a bit more about your process, because you said that once … it depends on the company, right?

Stefania: Yes.

Luis: It depends on the needs of the company. It depends on what the culture is, that there’s a different set of solutions for different companies. How does it start? How do you diagnose that? How do you start figuring out what is the right solution for this particular set of people?

Stefania: I always start with research and discovery. So what I spend the time doing is having one on one meetings with people, but also looking at whatever previous data there is about what was tried and what is the situation and to assess that first. So it could be that there were employee engagement surveys that were done before. Or any sort of documents about how the current situation was built up, and what people think about it, and what their feelings are. So there’s a lot of conversations and conversations are great to get the pulse of things, but I always need to have a systematic way of working data and metrics.

Stefania: So I run surveys to generally asking people how do they feel about things. So there would be, in a hybrid context I do have a sort of template that then can be changed slightly, depending. But where I ask the remote part of the workforce how they feel about things, what challenges they have, what’s going great, what could be improved. Similarly I ask the same questions to the people at the office, “Do you have remote work colleagues and is that creating any challenge for you in your daily work, and the ability of collaborate?” “What do you think is missing?” “What could be done better?”

Stefania: And then evaluating statements such as “Working at the office is more efficient than working remotely.” What do people think about that? Or I investigate if the career opportunities are the same, the salaries are the same, the benefits are on the same level. So I do have all my checklist of things. And once I’ve done that, which doesn’t really take too long, and I think if I’m really well invested, first I get to have personal relationship with the people, that always makes it easier to do any work after. But I also have a quite clear picture as well as some solid metrics that I can measure again after three or six months for anything that is identified as a pain point.

Luis: Interesting.

Stefania: So that is my starting point, really. And once I have all that in my hands which really takes a couple of weeks max, and not even full time, most of the times, because it’s just a matter of being organized and getting the scheduling and analyzing a bit the data. And then I can start with actual initiatives. It depends in the company, like from the company and the company culture how much free space I have. Like sometimes I’d need to check with the founders, or check with some people before I start with something. I tend to make sure that everyone is as informed as possible. And then it’s just a matter of going.

Luis: Nice.

Stefania: Yeah. What really keeps me on track is making sure that I have the metrics in place, for me. And reminders of checking on certain things after a certain period of time.

Luis: What do those metrics look like? What are some key metrics that you use?

Stefania: I check typically for … one that comes to mind is the effectiveness of onboarding. Or the satisfaction for how good is your working experience with this company? A sort of NTS equivalent, for example. I use a lot of them to test at the beginning, and then whichever I see that is getting lower scores, and that identifies a pain point, I will reuse after to test again.

Luis: Got it. And this is anonymous surveys that you use to collect this data?

Stefania: Yes. Absolutely. And I keep it fully anonymous and confi- and even if I add to that all the one on ones that I have, but all entirely confidential, so I use the responses, maybe, in a sort of combined form where I touch upon them. But I never share who said what. And I want to make sure people are absolutely comfortable to share what they really think without being afraid that anybody would ever get back. But to be frank, I don’t even think … I think it’s a normal fear to have, but I don’t think their founders would contract me if they were the type of people that wanted to go after their employees.

Luis: Of course. I mean, I just said anonymous surveys, not because … it’s a tool. The anonymity part wasn’t the important part. It was the survey part.

Stefania: Oh, okay, cool. You know, I’ve been working with the US people for a long time, so those are huge concerns there. Probably bigger than we have in Europe. Like anonymity and confidentiality and things like that are things that [crosstalk 00:14:59].

Luis: Yeah. Because there’s more of a culture of litigation in the US, for sure, than Europe.

Stefania: Yes.

Luis: So that makes absolute sense, in fact. But that’s why we take a lot of care in dealing, most of Distant Jobs’ clients are US, and we take a lot of care in our contractual work and things like that, because we know it’s very important for them. So that’s part of actually the service that we offer. So, actually, something that I usually comment is that even though Distant Job is a fully remote company, we have two offices, but they are optional. In fact, we have an office in Canada and an office in Ukraine. And the office in Canada is just really so that our president and founder has a space where he can focus.

Luis: It’s basically a one desk office. And the one in the Ukraine, you know, it’s like we some people in Ukraine, but it’s usually just like two or three people at most that are there. It’s a nice space where they can join up if they feel that they’re too isolated working from home. So it’s really optional. But a lot of our clients are really hybrid companies. And I wanted to know what was your experience, because you mentioned hybrid companies where part is in office and part is remote. And I have a theory, I have a theory. My theory is that for a hybrid company to work well, the people that are in the office need to act exactly like the remote employees.

Luis: As you mentioned, they need to be in video calls. When the company meets, even the people that are in the office need to be on the video call, and not in the room together. Stuff like that. So these people are effectively working in the office, but as if they would work remotely. And then my theory is that the only reason that companies don’t go full remote, it’s just because some people just like being in a shared physical location. And there’s no real business reason, it’s more of a personal preference reason. Do you feel that there’s any truth to this?

Stefania: Absolutely. I think I agree 100%. Although, I’m challenging my own assumptions. Because I’ve been working fully remote for five years now. So I don’t miss the office, I find that the more I think about, I really have a lot of distance to that concept. But I do see now that sometimes to be more open minded about things that I used to challenge so much. Like I see, in a place like Amsterdam, for example, which is full of expats. Sometimes they relocated because of the companies that hire them ask them to. And so, you have a whole bunch of people of ages between, I don’t know, 20 and 30, maybe. Mostly.

Stefania: And they don’t have families around, they don’t have friends around, they don’t really have a social life in that country. It’s a country full of opportunities and things to do. So it’s not that they couldn’t find them. But I do see it as a nice experience, and part of the charm of taking a job for a certain company. It’s almost a person in a way. So at that age group, in a city as exciting as Amsterdam, and I would expect that London, Berlin, Barcelona, maybe are similar. There is something that brings all these people together, sharing the experience. Finding a support network of friends.

Stefania: So there is something there that is valuable as well. So I don’t really think that one choice should exclude the other. It’s a bit like throwing away the baby with the water, right? So if there are things that are still working, and that are important to people and make them feel good and stronger, and they learn from each other. That helps too. You’re coming from very different cultures where also the way that hierarchies work. Or dealing with people can be very different. So being exposed to each other also helps to building more subtle skills, emotional intelligence, the ability to communicate cross culture. So there is value also in that.

Stefania: And people are also very different. So thrive in being surrounded by others, and some not. I’m probably one of the not. So for me it’s easier to think I’m just going to stay at home and [inaudible 00:19:59] in my computer. And whenever I have a meeting it needs to be maximum biz. See you in video for a bit. But there are others that get less motivated, have less ideas. That need more of that interaction. So I don’t think there is actually a business, there is nothing that on a business level you can not do remotely that you would be able to do when you’re physically co-located.

Stefania: But people are different. And people also change throughout their lives. So it’s good if you can, and if you feel that it’s valuable for the people that are working with you to have a space where they can be co-located for a while, or for a period of time, fine. I don’t have any, I mean, there is value in trying to catch it all, I think. And I think that’s the big, probably where the hybrid company is they focus probably, if they focus properly and source some of the challenges that happen most frequently, which are about the call in for communication and brain storming, can probably find the best of the two worlds.

Luis: I mean, there is a lot there to unpack. And I would push back a bit on the idea about the importance of the office in establishing meaningful social connections and friendship. Because I think that says more about what’s wrong in our society than what’s good about the office. I there’s definitely a room, and maybe more remote work opens a window to that. But there should be other things for people to come together that aren’t work, right?

Stefania: Oh, I completely agree with you. I think [crosstalk 00:21:55].

Luis: And I know that a lot of people don’t have that. But I think that’s something that we should improve in our society, rather than just say, “Well, for that we have work.”

Stefania: No, I completely agree. But there is a big difference between being all people from the same country in their own country, and being a lot of expats that know nobody in the place they’re at. So it’s a bit like when you go for … I don’t know, an [inaudible 00:22:21], or like a studying experience abroad. The fact that you’re there studying with other people kind of helps you building also social skills. And I think that’s what’s fascinating for the people that come here at that age, because they get exposed to that. But I wouldn’t feel the same way with a bunch of Italians in Italy. No. Or only Dutch in a fully Dutch office. Then of course your life will built on other levels. But it does ease it up for expats to meet and to mingle and to be exposed to each other.

Luis: Fair enough. Fair enough. So, I totally agree about the creativity aspect and the thriving aspect. Because again, some people just do their best work when they’re surrounded by others. And you can simulate being surrounded by others in the internet, but it’s harder. It takes a lot more energy. I mean, I remember when I used to play more frequently online games. There was a really sense of community there. There was a really sense of community, and of team in that you were actually in that virtual space surrounded by other people.

Luis: But as soon as you stepped away from the computer and turned off the monitor, that relationship was immediately weakened. It’s not like, you think about the people that were on your virtual team. You think about them during your day, because they’re still people, and you still have a bond with them. But that relationship, that bond is a bit thinner than if you actually spent time physically with them. And that’s kind of why we recommend that people try to gather all their team in a space. As I know you used to do with Automattic, right?

Stefania: Yeah.

Luis: So that’s a really strong component, in my opinion. So, what is … I mean, let’s say that someone has a fully co-located operation. Everyone in office. How do you usually find that it’s easier to start a remote part of the company? So, to hybridize, lets say. You find that it’s easier if they grabbed part of the people that are already working in the office and telling them to go home, or giving them the possibility to go home? Or do you think it’s more interesting to start building your remote team from scratch with new hires?

Stefania: I think it depends entirely by the type of business and operation. What I’ve seen happen more frequently is that it starts from engineering. So, there is typically a situation where you have a developer or two that are in the office, but would prefer to work from home. Or just start working from home, because it’s the type of work that doesn’t require to be co-located by the finish, most of the time. So this is where the push comes from. Or, and alternative, there’s a part of talent competition. So, you can’t really hire the best talent, especially in engineering, unless you are open to let them work remotely.

Stefania: This is where it starts. Like if there is no need, if the people aren’t asking for it, and if everything is working fine in a company that is co-located, mostly people are so used to just keep on doing what was working before that they don’t even consider it. So what triggers it, is either the workers themselves that start proposing it, a bit like we had that discussion with Diego a couple to weeks ago, just make a case for it, and roll with it. Or it’s the talent issue, because you start having a recruitment teams that goes, hey, I can not find anybody that is as good as we want them to be that would accept to sit here for their living day.

Stefania: And so then people start wondering, how do we do that? And in this case what happens is that they are the first one or two remote people, so creating an entirely remote team, I think it’s not always great because you create completely two classes of citizens, essentially, in this way. So having a remote person or two joining an existing team is a really a good experiment, and a good way for them to collaborate and to iron out all the issues that could happen. And then you can expand it to create a fully remote team and see how that interacts with the company on a bigger scale.

Luis: Interesting. All right.

Luis: Hey there, it’s Luis. Welcome to the intermission of the Distant Job podcast. If you’re listening to this podcast there’s a very big chance that you’re interested in building a great remote team. And to build a great remote team you need great remote employees. That’s where Distant Job comes in. So here’s how it works. You tell us the kind of position that you need to fill. We talk to you, we try to figure out not only what are the exact requirements that that person should have, but also we try to figure out who would be a perfect fit for your company culture. Because we really believe that that matters. Then, once we have an exact picture of what we’re looking for, we’re off to the races. Our recruiters tap into their global network, and we filter people very well.

Luis: So that you don’t waste your time interviewing people that are never going to be of interest to you. We make sure, because we are techies and our recruiters are techies as well, so when people get to you, they are already preselected, and you just have to decide between the cream of the crop. And once you make your selection, we handle all the paperwork, we handle HR for you, we handle payments. And you get a full time, remote employee that’s among the best of the world. And managed entirely by you, by your processes and following your culture. If this sounds good, visit us at www.distantjob.com and without further ado, let’s get back with the show. Thank you for listening.

Luis: So, I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and I like the picture that you have on the background. You have a picture of a balcony with the graffiti saying “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.” Why don’t you tell me the story behind this picture?

Stefania: That picture, okay, there used to be a different one, but I couldn’t find it anymore. I was it, in fact, as a graffiti on a street in Amsterdam itself. I took a photo and I kept it as my background for the longest time, because I think it’s really what it is. I was tired of, 10 years ago, when I left Booking.com, I really felt that I couldn’t work anymore with something that was detached from my life. I don’t really believe in things such as work life balance, because you need to be passionate about what you do. And if you’re really passionate about what you do, it’s also part of your life. I do read books about remote work, listening to conferences and podcasts. Because I care. Because I think it’s better for the world. Because I’m really, deeply interested in the topic.

Stefania: And so, doing something and trying to create a picture of me that is not my real self, that shows up in an office is something I cannot do. And I saw that first graffiti, which was with two figures that looked more like the Blues Brothers, in fact, on top of it. I took a photo, I loved it so much. And then somehow I lost it, it was on some profile that I didn’t use anymore. And so I wanted to find it again. And I did a Google search and I found the same artist, because that’s clearly coming from the same artist, it’s the same type of font. And the original, the graffiti I saw is even in the background. But that looked like a studio. And I think the place is here in Amsterdam where that was taken, and where the first graffiti I found.

Stefania: And I just love it, and I think it represents the entire thing. We bring our full selves to work. And it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. So changing that in order to allow people to do what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing. And at the same time being able to do all the other things they care about, is what really keeps you alive and creative an able to do amazing stuff with your team. Is what matters the most, and this is what remote work, I think is bringing to the world that is not accepted before.

Luis: So, what do you think, because we hear a lot about people saying “Follow your passion.” Do this, do that. Work in an area that doesn’t feel like work. That’s advice that we’ve been hearing for decades. How do you think remote work changes that?

Stefania: I think you find ways to be creative in whatever work you do, based also on your passions. So for example, in the last decade or so, I started practicing a lot of yoga. My big two topics that I read up about are yoga philosophy or doing yoga myself, mindfulness and all that. Plus people and people [inaudible 00:32:41] things, particularly in remotes. And you have no idea how many connections I found within the two. So sometimes a class with somebody teaching me about some yoga principle that then comes back into a focus about coaching and how to be able to find your own self leadership. Principles of how, for example, we talk a lot nowadays about mental health at work.

Stefania: And how to reduce stress, how to be able to meditate better, focus better, be more creative and all this stuff has come back into the things you can do with somatic stress relieve, like how the body is simulating stress and throwing it out. So I think that’s really what happens. Once you have the opportunity with remote work to focus more on your passions, they come back also in your work to give a new creative force to it. And yeah, and I’m seeing the same for example, my boyfriend is a software developer. His passion in his spare time is woodwork and metal work. And he does find the same type of connections.

Stefania: Like he learns to do something new with his hands that then translate into different ways of coding or making products. And I’ve met really great coaches like leadership coaches in the US that I used to work years ago, that apply so much philosophy in their … it’s funny, once you have the space to really nurture yourself and your passions, that all translates into other creativity to what you do at work. And I think that’s really where the, and I know it does sound a little bit like hot air, oh. Like work on your passion and you won’t have worked a day in your life. Everyone wants to do that it is true that when you have the space to really study and learn and focus on things that don’t seem work in that moment also the quality of your work will improve.

Luis: Though, I have to say that there’s a dark side to that as well, that as remote work has become more and more prevalent, I see more people that treat remote work as disposable in a way. That they take advantage of the fact that they’re working remotely and they end up underperforming and kind of blaming it on the fact that the remote work system isn’t there. The company culture, et cetera. Basically they say, “The reason I’m not delivering, I’m working the best I can, but you know, the remote work, the company isn’t doing it as people like Luis or Stephanie advise. So it’s not really my fault, it’s just that the structure isn’t there.”

Luis: I see that there’s a lot of people that kind of use remote work as an excuse to maybe not perform as much as they would need to in an office environment. Now, as an HR person, I wanted to get your take on this. How do you identify and deal with those people? Because I feel that, I’ll just say, because remote work is new to everyone, we tend to be more tolerant of things that we wouldn’t usually be tolerant if someone was working with us in an office.

Stefania: I don’t know if that is true. Because like I remember working in an office, and frankly it was no different. There is always a part of people that you meet that are always complaining about something that someone else has the authority for saying, but they don’t. I remember envious conversations about a bad manager at the coffee machine. Are these people working right now? Or fixing the problem? No. It’s just venting and just trying to find an excuse not to do to. So yeah, of course, remote work can be a great excuse not to work, like anything else. What I think is very important is, and managers or leaders and people themselves are really getting it, is accountability.

Stefania: So, once you create a really clear [inaudible 00:37:16] of expectations, you also need to have commitment from the other side. And then it’s just going to happen, so there is no excuse. And I think there’s many, many people that appreciate the opportunity to work remotely so much that they’ll do anything they can to keep it. So it’s not at all even like an option that you’re working remotely and then you just sit and watch Netflix all day and then say, “Yeah, but I work remote and I have nothing to do.” Or “I did not know what people expected of me.” I mean, it’s really important that as a person you’re self motivated enough that you should know what you’re doing, or if you’re stuck because something isn’t working, you take initiative and fix it. Or to ask, or to be very loud and vocal about it.

Luis: I understand where you’re getting. But I do have the feeling, and maybe this is just the way it needs to be. But managers that I talk to that are remote managers they tend to be more tolerant than in office managers. And you know, I’ve worked in offices, I’ve worked in physical locations, I’ve had very good managers and very good bosses. So I’m not saying that people in the office are by default more severe, or that that’s a bad thing. But I do feel that sometimes people that are new to remote tend to take advantage of the fact that remote managers tend to be more tolerant. And remote managers tend to be more tolerant because of the humility of knowing that this is a new thing. And none of us know how to do remote perfectly, we’re still all learning. Haven’t you ever felt that?

Stefania: Frankly, no.

Luis: You’ve had very harsh remote managers, was that it? They were always on top of you.

Stefania: No, that’s not so much. But what I think is that I did feel a lot of insecurities from remote managers, for example, about their ability to lead in that environment.

Luis: Interesting.

Stefania: But again, it’s down to the … what do you mean with more tolerant? Like with delivering staff like with output? Or with corollary things like [inaudible 00:39:47]? Quite a bit difference in that.

Luis: With all kinds, it all comes. I mean, I remember having a client that was very upset that people didn’t attend birthday parties. Office virtual birthday parties. His reason was, you know, it’s work hours, we’re doing the birthdays in work hours. It’s a culture event. They should be going. If they were working in an office it wouldn’t be acceptable for them not to come. On the other hand, the people who weren’t attending the birthday parties, they were performing to expectations, their performance was good. And you know, I’m a bit torn, I can see the logic behind both positions. You know, it’s a bit weird to say that birthday parties are mandatory. On the other hand, what does that say about the culture if people just think it’s okay not to attend, right?

Stefania: Yes and no. I think the culture needs also to adapt and recognize that some things are forced in the office or not. So, the birthday party in itself, it’s a bit of … it’s cute, but at the same time if I just started working and I’m focused and I’m in the flow of actually getting something really good done, why does everybody have to stop? I think … I don’t know, on this type of thing, I think there are a few things that are really core for culture, which are, in a remote setting more the times that you are co-located, so team meetups, all hands going on a trip together. Or dedicated maybe once a year, twice a year big town halls where everyone is there. I personally don’t think a birthday party is a tradition that should survive necessarily in a remote environment because it’s artificial.

Stefania: It’s not something that people feel as a need. So send the person a card, wherever they’re located, send them a cake. Make sure that then they post a video and say hi, or whatever. But it’s not performance. It’s not output. If people don’t want to attend, they’re free not to attend, I think. So in tolerance, I think what is important is that there are certain guidelines about how to treat each other. And how you expect people to interact with each other, those are really important for culture building. Some companies even have a code of culture. We’re kind to each other. We’re friendly. We help out. We use [inaudible 00:42:31] and this and that. Because that creates the core of the communication and then if somebody is not matching that, that can create a toxic environment for a person or for a team. And then you can act upon that. But you need to have very clear expectations in terms of what your role is and what you’re supposed to deliver and when.

Stefania: And those are the things that you should not be tolerant about. You should really give [feeback 00:42:56] right away. The rest, is it really that important? I think for companies that are hybrid and so translating their work practices and resources from only office to hybrid and then remote, you need to prioritize what really matters. What is the one most important things that group these people together. And what is the most important thing you want to achieve. So manage based on that rather than trying to impose rituals that people clearly don’t feel. So what culture is it if it doesn’t come from the people themselves? I mean if people felt that that was important, they would want to attend the birthday celebrations.

Luis: I guess that part of the reason … I mean, just off the top of my head, it’s about engagement, right? And how do you deal with an employee that’s maybe is not only disengaged, but doesn’t really engage like the rest of the company? So for example, we’re not talking about the brilliant jerk here, right? The brilliant jerk, guy or girl that delivers awesome results, but is just toxic to everyone else. Those people I don’t think deserve any tolerance because the reality is that no matter how good a job they do, the loss of productivity that their toxicity causes in others, diminishes the overall company performance. And what matters is the overall company performance.

Stefania: Absolutely.

Luis: But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking more about a brilliant hermit, right? Someone that does a good job, maybe not brilliant, but just a good performing hermit. Someone that does their good job, their work meets expectations. But it really isn’t like they’re part of the team. It’s like the team is here, and they’re there. They kind of silo it, and they really resist all kinds of attempts to come into the team. And that isn’t really loss of productivity because they still deliver. But in my mind it’s loss of potential. Because you know, part of what makes the company great is more than how good each individual performs. If everyone decides to become a hermit, then suddenly the company ceases having one of its main reasons to exist. Right? So how do you deal with, I guess, with bringing people into the fold and how do you deal with people that seem to resist attempt to be brought into the fold?

Stefania: I think it depends on the reason. What I do is the same as what I do with a new client. It’s like, I get on the phone, “What’s up with that?” So is this person learning and working a style different from the rest? Or is there a problem with them feeling they’re not good enough? Like is it imposter syndrome? Is it a lack of psychological safety. Is it because they joined a team that is so committed together that they already have all their own dynamics and everyone is super loud and everyone is so fun and they feel that they can not penetrate in there. So there can be many things, and also, I think it’s important to, on one hand helping the team itself understanding that there are different ways to be part of the team.

Stefania: So allowing people to be themselves, if somebody can simply be more introverted. Or less comfortable in a certain setting. But they can still enrich the team in their own way. So there is a component there of diversity and inclusion and making sure that there’s more perspectives on the table is important. Then there are things you can do on individual coaching with this person. If you understand that there is something that can be done to make them more at ease and more able to collaborate. Also understand what are the unique talents they’re bringing aside for the drive still of work. For example, their rate of coordinating.

Stefania: So, give them the space to do something they’re really good at so that the team dynamics gets enriched by it. And then they will also feel more comfortable contributing, because they know that they’re bringing something. Generally when this happens is because people feel that what they do is not important, or not valued or not visible. I would say that with that type of approach and then individual coaching you often get to a point where they can contribute better. It can also happen that the point is that they just don’t care. They wanted a job and what they’re looking for is just a job.

Stefania: So there are roles and positions that that could be acceptable, depending on what they’re doing. But maybe sometimes they are not, though. So it depends on the company, on the culture itself. I’d say that in general what is most worth doing is spending time trying to understand the person and the dynamics and see what can be done about it. And then, if it turns out that the person is not a match for the company or for the team or like it’s inhibiting productivity for the others, then of course you’d have a conversation about [inaudible 00:48:20].

Luis: All right.

Stefania: But I wouldn’t be too strict or too fast at doing anything like that. Because sometimes we just don’t understand other people, cultures, their ways of communicating and there needs to be, find some time to find out.

Luis: All right. Sounds like good advice, thank you for that.

Stefania: You’re welcome.

Luis: So I’m starting to become conscious of your time, we’ve been here for almost an hour now. So I want to wind out with some more casual questions, or maybe not so casual, because it depends on your perspective. So if you could buy in bulk a tool, can be a virtual tool or can be an actual object for everyone working remotely with you. Or everyone that works for your clients. What would that bulk tool be?

Stefania: Virtual white boards.

Luis: Really?

Stefania: And mics.

Luis: Recommendation?

Stefania: I’m looking into them. I’m within a few vendors, I don’t know for sure because it’s also something I’ve never used. But I think that’s the most, at least personally. It’s the part that I miss the most. So whenever I have a good virtual equivalent, I’d be very happy to use it. So I can just white board with my colleagues using as if I was in front of a real one.

Luis: Well, let my take the opportunity to plug our blog at distantjob.com/blog, because we did do a decently thorough research on digital white boards. So you can just write that blog search, and you can maybe we’ll help you on your search Stefania.

Stefania: I’ve had like five or six different recommendations, and they all look really nice. So I need to try them all.

Luis: There’s a lot of nice out there. Okay. What about you? Stuff that you’ve bought in the past year or six months that’s really made your work life better?

Stefania: Good headphones and mic. I feel like these ones, it was a bit longer ago, I got these ones which are noise canceling and wireless and they have a decent mic, in an airport at some point.

Luis: You’re talking with your headset microphone?

Stefania: Yes.

Luis: Oh, it’s really good.

Stefania: Yeah. So that was a bit of [crosstalk 00:50:58].

Luis: They’re usually not that good.

Stefania: No, no, they’re very good. And they help me focus in, on one hand if there is too much noise around me, or I need a moment. They give me that super nice feeling of quiet if I need it. They’re great for meetings because I’m having lots of [inaudible 00:51:15] this type of chats. So it’s important that my sound comes out correctly. And I think it’s really made a difference. For the rest I’m really basic, honestly. I don’t like tools and stuff. I like to be … all I need is my laptop. I don’t have any sort of funky super elaborate home office to set up or anything.

Luis: Nice. Do you use a laptop stand, by the way?

Stefania: Nope.

Luis: Okay.

Stefania: I grab it around whenever I change … because I need to change position a lot during my day. And I sit weird, cross legged and then I move and then I’m on the ground … I think I need a couch more than anything else.

Luis: I’m sitting cross legged right now. So I do try. I find that the laptop stand is useful just so I tend not to slouch so much. I still slouch, but having the stand, it’s a very easy … the stand that I use is a very easy controlled. It actually packs, I can put it in my bag, it doesn’t take a lot of space. But it’s nice because I just sit that much straighter.

Stefania: I should actually give it a shot. I probably should give it a shot.

Luis: It’s cool, you can find some … the too elaborate ones are just too much of a bother. But the simple ones I find that are useful. So what about books? What book or books have you gifted the most? Or if you don’t usually gift books, which ones do you usually recommend people read?

Stefania: All the Basecamp books are really great for me. I read them a bunch of times, I passed them on to a bunch of people and all of them, from “Remote” to the most recent one, “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work.”

Luis: Yeah, my VP gave that to me a year ago, and I still haven’t got to it.

Stefania: No, they’re really a good and nice and fun and easy read. And I have some sort of a devotion for the Basecamp theme. Definitely them. Another one that I liked a lot that I discovered in the past year is called “Reinventing Organizations” maybe you heard about that. It’s about the new self managing teams and the personality of how the personality of organizations evolved throughout.

Luis: Can you repeat the title please?

Stefania: “Reinventing Organizations”, I don’t have it with me right now, because I’m in Amsterdam, it’s in my place in Portugal. It’s also a quite easy and nice read. Because it’s illustrated, it’s not one of these business books that gets too heavy. It has illustrations it really explains things in a super understandable way. And it brings a lot of examples of how some recent organizations have been able to self manage and work in a way that is more matching the way that the philosophy of remote work is. So less control and command, much more trust and autonomy. Finding your own solution. Trusting that people are actually going to do a good job, because people are naturally tended to be good and want to do something nice. So I really like it, I think it’s a very good link for anyone that is in HR to … and it doesn’t have maybe experience with remote work or with self managing teams. New theories about people operations. I think it’s a very good book to help transition them from traditional HR science to what’s happening now.

Luis: Well, that’s some good recommendations, thank you.

Stefania: You’re welcome.

Luis: Question, let’s say that you are hosting a dinner where the top execs of technology companies, the CTOs the CEOs, the decision makers go to have a round table about the future of work and remote work. You’re hosting it at the Chinese restaurant so you get to choose the message that comes inside the Chinese fortune cookie. So, what message are these people going to crack open on their fortune cookies at the end of the meal?

Stefania: Wow, that’s a cool question.

Luis: Well, it’s my job.

Stefania: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No this is really a [inaudible 00:55:51]. So they are already into remote work at their companies, right?

Luis: No, not necessarily. They are in tech. They are in tech. And the round table is remote work. Some may be into remote work. Some may be still evaluating.

Stefania: “Go for it”? “Trust your people”? Something like that. I’m not really great at improvising tag lines. But I would love to find … or “It’s not a job it’s a lifestyle” maybe.

Luis: That’s good. I mean, that seems to be a perfect way to end the conversation, yes.

Stefania: Is it? Good.

Luis: Okay. That’s a very good quote.

Stefania: Cool. I made it mine. I will have to find the original author of that and pay him royalties. Or work together.

Luis: All right. So, if people want to continue the conversation with you, if people want to know more about your services, where can they reach you?

Stefania: My LinkedIn page for now. Yeah, let’s stick to that because I’m starting a bunch of other things so I’ll probably be working and collaborating also with Angelique which you interviewed a couple of weeks ago.

Luis: I see, yes, from Happy-

Stefania: Hello Monday Club.

Luis: Club, yeah.

Stefania: Yes. So I might be reachable through that shortly, but for now just look me up on LinkedIn and then send me a message, it’s the easiest.

Luis: Okay. Stefania, thank you so much for doing this. Sorry for messing up your last name.

Stefania: May I ask, how do I pronounce yours? Because I was in the same situation, I just could not get it.

Luis: My name is very hard for English speaker, but maybe Italians can get it. It’s Luis [inaudible 00:57:55].

Stefania: [inaudible 00:57:55]?

Luis: Yeah, that’s … you know …

Stefania: [inaudible 00:57:58]?

Luis: That’s what usually people end up to. It’s weird, you know, Portuguese has these weird sounds.

Stefania: I know, you leave out all the, like the first and the last vowels are not being pronounced and that’s confusing.

Luis: Yeah. We had a war with the Spanish over it, it’s a big deal.

Stefania: Exactly.

Luis: Anyway. Loved having you on the show.

Stefania: Likewise, it was super nice chatting with you.

Luis: Let me know what you’re up to, and thank you so much, it was my pleasure.

Stefania: Yeah, likewise, see you around when I’m back in Lisbon, for sure.

Luis: Oh, for sure. See you.

Stefania: Okay, thank you.

Luis: Bye bye.

Luis: And so we close another episode of the Distant Job podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in this conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to Distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode, really, and subscribe.

Luis: By subscribing you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form. And, of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally. Not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, Distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the Distant Job podcast.

More ways to listen:

Think about taking your company remote? Stefania Chiorboli shares some insights to help your company transition to a remote or hybrid environment without losing part of your culture. 

In this podcast episode, Luis and Stefania Chiorboli talk about how remote work can make the world a better place, not only because it’s materially and financially appealing but also because it opens a space for a more diverse workforce, and it allows every remote worker to have the work-life balance that they choose in a way that is meaningful for them and allows them to give their best without being tied to an office. Our guest shares the details of how she helps a company that wants to go remote, and how she helps them translate their company culture to a remote environment.

Book Recommendations

  • Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness” by Frederic Laloux