The Power of Building Relationships in Remote Teams, With Maria Svensson Wiklander

Maria Svensson Wiklander is the co-owner and co-founder of the community and coworking place, Gomorron Östersund.  Maria is also the co-founder and co-owner of the Remote Lab, a knowledge and development node for the future of remote work.

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Luís:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of The DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. I am your host, as usual, Luís. And today we have as a guest Maria Svensson Wiklander. Maria is the co-owner and co-founder of the community and coworking place, Gomorron Östersund. Did I get that right?

Maria Svensson Wiklander:

Yeah, you did.

Maria Svensson Wiklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Okay. And also the co-founder and co-owner of the Remote Lab, a knowledge and development node for the future of remote work. Our vision is to assist society, organizations and individuals in the transformation from the norm of the physical workplace to a remote mindset, as regards to both societal and organizational development.

Luís:

You’re the right person to have on the show, Maria, because that’s something that I did the major career shift in order to help propagate remote work. I’m definitely interested in learning more about what you do and how you do it. But before anything else, welcome to the show.

Maria Svensson Wiklander:

Thank you so much, Luís, for having me. I’m so excited about this.

Luís:

It’s an absolute pleasure having you and I want to start, as I usually do, by asking you how did you come to the realization that this was a goal that you wanted to pursue? It’s very specific. Right. Bringing one of the goals of one of the companies you’ve founded is to transform from the normal of the physical workplace to a remote mindset. Tell me the story of the day where you realized that this was the goal that you wanted to pursue professionally.

Maria Svensson Wiklander:

Yeah, it’s actually a pretty long story.

Luís:

We have time.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, that’s good.

Luís:

Long form podcast.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, it started back in 2009, I was running a digital agency and we had the vision to be the best company to work at and work for. Or work for, and the best company for our customers as well.

Luís:

Marketing or development?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Both actually. We were a digital agency.

Luís:

Oh, nice.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We did websites and internal systems and yeah, stuff like that. Apps and stuff like that. But mostly marketing. Yeah. We actually had people working from different locations back then already in 2009. But what we wanted to do was basically to meet the needs of our employees and the needs for them were to live in different places.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We got questions about people wanted to move and stay in the company. And we said, “Why not?” We should be allowing that since we want to be the best workplace for our employees. And we don’t see any obstacles in doing our job on a remote daily basis either. We started doing that and building that. And I, myself moved in 2011 from the city that I used to live in to the city where I live today, in Östersund.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And actually, then I was the CEO and leading the company from a remote office as well. And we started to build different structures and we worked very closely with our customers. And we also realized in 2013 when Slack came, that was of course, revolutionary for our organization and our internal communication. And we’d realized that we were having so much better internal communication than our customers did, even though that they were sitting in the same physical location. Even though that they were sitting next to a colleague in the neighbor office, they didn’t know why they were absent for the day. If they were out traveling, or if they were on a sick leave, or what the matter was.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

That actually then led us into doing consultancy work or advisory work for our customer as well in building and maintaining and developing effective virtual teams. I was writing articles about it, and we were doing a lot of blog posts about it as well. And meeting customers and doing interviews and doing talks on it.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

When we founded our coworking space in 2017, we also realized that we live in a region where people move because of lifestyle, not because of work. Only 1% moved to our region because of work, the rest because of lifestyle. Because you love skiing, for instance, and then you bring your job. When we opened our first coworking location, we realized that most of the community members that we had were working remotely from their company.

Luís:

I think because I’m somewhat familiar with Sweden, but that’s not the case with most of the listeners. So I think it’s worth you opening up a parenthesis and describing a bit the kind of place where you go. So they really understand that there’s not a lot to do there, apart from skiing. Right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, there is actually allowed to do here.

Luís:

I mean in work terms, in work terms. Right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, in work term. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, we have a lot of governmental organizations. A lot of the inhabitants in Östersund work there, of course. But the rest bring their work with them, for instance. Or we do have some IT companies as well, but it’s limited possibilities there, of course. It’s a smaller city that we live in.

Luís:

Yeah, it’s a beautiful place. It really makes me think of that digital nomads remote work lifestyle, because it’s the kind of place where you look out of the window in the winter and you feel like you’re in a fairytale movie.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, definitely. We have a lot of fairytale movies being recorded here as well, so that’s completely correct, with reindeers and everything. Yeah. We actually realized also that the people who are sitting at our spot, they were not in an equal position from the colleagues that were sitting in the same physical office. So, we wanted also to break the barrier and inform and try to stimulate more knowledge around remote work so that we could help the companies to transform into a more remote friendly way of working.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

This work we started two and a half years ago. And we went to San Francisco and also around Europe to see how companies were thinking around remote work. Both large companies, such as Cisco and Apple and Google, et cetera, but also smaller remotes, first startups. And also, accelerators and incubators and other kind of networks for startups.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And before the pandemic, companies weren’t ready for doing remote work. They didn’t see the global trend around it. And they didn’t see and acknowledge the employees shift in behaviors and the employees actually, already before the pandemic, wanted to work at some time or at some days from home. And even though that we in Sweden have been leading in Europe when it comes to working remotely before the pandemic, we haven’t had that much research around it. And there hasn’t been in overall, in globally, that much research around it.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We wanted to stimulate more research and we wanted to do our own reports. And we wanted also to disseminate this knowledge in different ways, such as courses and stuff like that. That’s the beginning and foundation of the Remote Lab that we started last year. We’ve been running for one year now. It’s a long story.

Luís:

Yeah, no, no, but it’s super interesting. A couple of points from there. I had no idea that Sweden was one of the leading lights in remote work in Europe. I mean, I mostly deal with the North American market, but I, myself, I am in Europe. And I knew that Ireland specifically, was doing a lot. Right. I had no idea about Sweden. How did you think this came to be? What led Sweden to get the head of the pack on that situation?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, if you look at the figures, there have been several year based reports around the European countries when it comes to teleworking and remote working. You can see that in 2009, we had about 16% that some of the time or always were sitting remotely or working remotely. And in 2019, that figure was 33%.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We had quite a lot of experience in working remotely in Sweden and that is because we have had a quite strong IT background and the developing companies in Sweden. And the IT industries of course, it’s of course the industry that is leading and also ahead in the driving force in this transformation into more remote work.

Luís:

But why do you think that culture specifically, the remote culture specifically, took more route there? Because there are plenty of countries that are also growing a lot in technology in the IT industry, where India for one, for example, but also some Eastern European countries, like the Ukraine, where remote work is still not seen with the best eyes. Right. They do still have this kind of culture where people need to be in the office to be productive.

Luís:

I’m curious what specifically about Sweden, right, among all the countries that are growing their IT infrastructure and increasing in the number of IT graduates, what specifically drove that growth? Right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

I don’t really know but I can think around it. Sweden is a country with quite high welfare and a lot of knowledge workers, which allows for remote working for instance. And it’s also a country that is pretty big for its population. We have a lot of room here.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

There is a lot of distance in traveling. For instance, it’s about 600 kilometers for me to go to Stockholm. It’s quite far. So that’s also a reason why you pretty much have to be able to do remote work because we also have a lot of resources in the north with all the mining and the forest industry, et cetera. And a lot of big companies have the main activity in the north of Sweden. And it’s quite a long way from the very north of Sweden to the very south of Sweden. The distance in itself, I think, could be a contributing factor for that.

Luís:

Yeah, I can see. That definitely makes sense to me. Okay. So back to 2009, where you started your story and later, you mentioned that Slack only started being around on the 2013. And that immediately made me feel incredibly old. That’s quite a thing.

Luís:

Back to 2009. Right. In 2009, I was starting a new job. I remember it distinctly. And at that job, even though employees were fairly treated, the needs of the employers were far from being the priority at the company at that time. Right. I don’t think they even made the top five list. It’s very interesting that you were focusing, that your company was focusing on that.

Luís:

Today it’s a bit more common, but it’s still not nearly common enough. So tell me, apart from just you generally looking like a nice person, what was the event or series of events that led you to decide that this was a priority for the business to pursue? And also, that remote were going to be a big part of this?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Oh, that’s a big question about values, I believe. I think I’m born and raised with a lot of people around me and a lot of focus on inclusiveness and to include people from all kinds of places in spaces. Even at Christmas dinners we had foreigners coming or people that I didn’t know for Christmas dinner, for instance.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

I think that a large portion of empathy for that. And also, that there was studies around that enabling the possibilities for employees to grow within the companies will lead to much better output, of course. And if you have happy employees, they will also stay longer. Basically, the focus for us was both in keeping our employees and making them happy because happy employees is better employees and they work better together, et cetera. Building relationships and building a strong culture was definitely a part of that.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And the second part was of course, marketing. If we could to be the best company to work with, if we could be the nicest persons to have in their team, they would stick with us. Yeah, both for the better output from our employees, but also, a better output for our customers.

Luís:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s actually something. When I mentor young writers, I usually tell the people who want to make a living writer writing, in marketing, but not only in marketing. I usually tell them that I referred them to a Neil Gaiman piece. I believe it was an address he gave at this university, where he says that obviously you want to be the best writer that you can possibly be, but it’s understandable that you’re not going to achieve that overnight. Right. When you start, you won’t be the best when you start. But if you can deliver on time and be a pleasure to be around, then people won’t complain that you’re not the best. Right. You can afford not to be as good as everyone else. Right. If you’re a pleasure to be around, if you’re a happy person, a pleasure to be around and deliver on time. So, that definitely sounds like very good device.

Luís:

You touched on connection and let’s talk a bit about that because, tell me how was that path like from figuring out? First, what challenges did you first face when you started letting your team progressively be more remote? And how did you solve those challenges in a way that led you to learn so much that then you started helping other people solve those challenges?

Luís:

Because you mentioned connection. And a lot of people struggle with that in a remote space. Right. It’s very easy to, de-humanize the people you work with, to just look at them as if they were avatars on a screen and not real people. Did you feel this challenge and how did you solve it?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, definitely. We had our fair deal of challenges. One of those were, for instance, that some employees were sitting in the same office. So, we had people in one physical location and then we had a small office and where they were sitting together, et cetera. And they were more strongly connected to each other than the others in our company, which led us to do remote Fridays, I think it was, where everyone was sitting remotely. Just in order for them also to experience the other side of things. How is it to everyday sit in a remote position in a meeting for instance. And how could we do to include everyone in a better way?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

That was one thing that we actually tried to work around and it helped a lot. Definitely. And our advice now is, when you experienced challenges within a remote setting, put the CEO or the management team outside of the office for three month, and you will definitely know where your improvement spots are or where you need improvement.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Another thing that was crucial for us actually, it’s not a failure or it’s not a challenge either, but it was a very good thing, that the whole management team was sitting remotely. So we didn’t make any decisions in physical locations, for instance. We didn’t have any discussions. So every discussion that was needed within the company were taking place digitally or virtually. So that was a good thing.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

The other thing was that we had, of course, some drama within the company, people not getting along or not communicating properly, et cetera. We putting a lot of focus on that, doing exercises and doing workshops around it, how to communicate together. And putting together, for instance, the way we should work together. We also allowed people to come with suggestions on how to improve our everyday work. We built that together, which was a very good thing. We came up with a lot of different methods for solving different issues and situations that was all led and basically driven by the employees.

Luís:

Interesting. Tell me a bit more about those communication workshops and specifically the conclusions that you arrived? Communication is obviously a very crucial part of remote work. We keep talking about that a lot. But I want to know specifically if you figured out something in the way that people write specifically, because I see that you mentioned Slack. And of course, a lot of communication remotely is written. And also, what you feel is a good balance of written communication versus video, like we’re doing, versus audio, like some people really enjoy doing.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah. One thing that I want to highlight with that company is that we built a lot of our communication on humor, which is, yeah, it is nice. It’s a nice way to communicate. It makes life so much more fun. But basically, how to put humor into the virtual setting. So we did, for instance, Slack bots, that each time when you posted the word coffee or the word workshop, a GIF showed up, or a random GIF, or a random comment showed up, for instance. And which was quite funny.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And also the way we use GIFs in our communication and also how we chose our channels in order to withdraw the personal, the relationship-focused conversations as well. A lot about that. This was so long ago, so I have a hard time to remember. I haven’t talked about this in a while, so that’s really good.

Luís:

No problem. No problem. It’s great, actually. Maybe you don’t remember if you could remember any specific examples, it would be great, but if you don’t. How does it inform your current management? So we can bring it closer to the present. Right. How do those lessons have shaped the way you manage your current companies?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, today, I’ve been running a few companies since then. And we had a startup that we also worked completely remote that. And now, I am also the head of the board of a nonprofit organization that is situated all over Sweden and work a lot remotely. And with the nonprofit, we’ve really worked with that because we have a lot of people who doesn’t speak Swedish as a native language working in our organization. Which has been a challenge to actually make the leadership of this organization, to see that they are actually capable of doing remote work as well, even though that they don’t manage the language, they can still communicate. And it’s a good way to start to integrate everyone from the whole country.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Basically, what we’ve done is to present one tool at a time. And now, we have a whole infrastructure of different tools that this organization is working with and it’s working perfectly. And everyone is really into it and included in this internal communication, which is super important and valuable when going forward. But we’ve also started to build, for instance, a way of doing culture or building our own culture.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

That is also something that I’ve learned during the years. That you have to focus and you have to plan and you have to really structure the way you build your culture when you work remotely. And in this nonprofit, we do a Monday dance every week. Yeah, it’s really funny, or it’s a lot of fun. So no one can dance. It’s like everyone dance in their own way, but we do have some choreography to stick with.

Luís:

Okay.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

But it looks very different from everyone.

Luís:

I want to touch in a couple of points because first I want to clarify the language situation. So do you mean that not everyone in the nonprofit speaks Swedish?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Yeah. Okay.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Exactly.

Luís:

All right. How many languages do you have between the…

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

I think last we checked, we had around 12 languages in the nonprofit, but most of them are learning Swedish and most of them also knows English.

Luís:

Yeah. The default is English or the default is Swedish?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

The default is Swedish.

Luís:

Default is Swedish. Okay.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Okay. Yeah. That’s great that you’re starting to think about that problem, because it reminds me when I first starting doing remote things. Working with people all over Europe. It wasn’t called remote work then. It wasn’t even called work because I did it as a hobbyist, playing video games.

Luís:

And there was, usually you defaulted to the language that the game was played in. Right. That was usually the default. And it was very interesting to see how people that clearly that wasn’t their first language, but they still managed to communicate and sometimes to strategize together and to coordinate. So it’s really interesting to hear about that experience that you had.

Luís:

Specifically about the nonprofit, some people tell me, I’ve met managers that told me that in remote work, because you don’t see people working, one of the best ways. Well, not the best, but one of the more flawless ways to make sure that people are actually doing their work and motivated and not slacking off, is to pay them very well. Right.

Luís:

I have been told, I have some people who are off the record told me that, “This company, they don’t do a lot of cultural stuff to make sure people are happy, but everyone comes to work and everyone pays good work because they just pay a lot of money.” That’s one main motivator for at least some people. Right. But in this case, it’s actually the opposite. Money is not the motivation at all because it’s a nonprofit. What do you think makes people without the…

Luís:

Because a lot of people join nonprofits and charities, not for the money, obviously. They join it for the social contact. Right. They want the connection, they want to be helping people. They want to be in a room working for a good goal for humanity. Right. So, you don’t have the money motivation and you don’t have the, let’s all work together in the same physical place as a motivation. I’m very interested to knowing what was the strategy? When you sat down to structure the culture, as you said, how did you solve the problem of motivation?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, the thing is that everyone that I’m talking about now is employed. So they do have a salary. We have 30 employees at this time all over Sweden. So yeah, it’s a medium sized nonprofit. And the things-

Luís:

But nonprofits, even when they afford salaries. If you work for a nonprofit for a salary, you can usually go work next door for something that is for-profit and get at least 20% more pay. It’s still motivation still plays an important role. Right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. The motivation in this part is just to state the fundaments of this nonprofit is that we do activities at within sports culture, and outdoor, for people in the outbounds of society. Mainly we’ve been focusing on immigrants in the last five years since we started this nonprofit. So we have a lot of newly arrived Swedes as we call them, or friends that we work with. And the main focus that we have is that when people meet, they build relationships and that’s what you need when you come into a new country, for instance. Or you are in the outbounds of society in some way.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We want to include everyone. And the motivation that we see is basically, that since we started this five years ago, we have seen immediate results with everyone that has been included in our activities. And we meet more than 20,000 people every year. It’s a lot of people that has a positive effect from the very, very simple things that we do.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

For instance, go out skiing together with established Swedes that have been living in Sweden for a long time and also newly arrived Swedes. And they find a straggler and they make friends and they start relationships or becoming friends and also building networks. And in order, solves then depression. It solves needing of a new housing, for instance, or the possibility to get a job. A lot of things just happened when you meet.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And we are an organization that focuses a lot on the culture and the values. So we’re super, super centered around the culture and the values. And it’s the essence that we need to communicate because otherwise we won’t have anyone coming to our activities. And that’s also what you buy into when you get employed by the organization and also what motivates you. That you meet a lot of people and you can see the actual difference that makes. And that’s the fundaments of happiness. Right. What we can do for other people.

Luís:

What does that seeing look like? Because this is a very tough problem. I mean, for example, let’s say that I like donating to charities, usually. Let’s say that I grab 10% of my income this month and I donated to an anti-malaria charity. I know for sure that I saved something like two, three lives that month. Right.

Luís:

But if I go to my street and I pick up a stray dog or cat and bring it home and feed it, I will get a much bigger amount of satisfaction. Right. Because it’s an actual thing in front of me rather than a number on my screen. Right. How do you communicate this benefit, these successes? How do you celebrate them when you’re working with a distributed team?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We celebrate them in different ways. We do a lot of relationship-based activities remotely. We eat cake together and we do different games together. And we definitely celebrate in all our Monday meetings that we have with the whole team.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And we make sure to highlight the good things that has happened. And also, to visualize and bring people up and look what Steven has done this week, for instance, or look what Anika has done this week. And stuff like that. We always try to encourage people by placing them on a pedestal when they’ve done something really, really good. And making sure also to bring up everyone.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And also, for them to connect between each other and just spread the good things that we learned. Because we are in so many different locations in Sweden. We are in more than 30 locations now, I believe. And we have learnings for each and every one of those, which we can place in the next location in order to make that better, for instance. Yeah, we celebrate the small successes in different ways.

Luís:

Yeah. You are a very busy person. When I was going through your LinkedIn to try to get a good grasp of what you were about, I saw that, and you say it to yourself, that you are in a lot of different things. You try to seek opportunities, which is something that I love and respect very much.

Luís:

I would like to have the sense of how does this fit with you managing the teams that you need to manage? Right. As someone who works mostly remotely, who is doing so many things, what does a typical day look like? Or what does a typical week look like if every day is different?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Oh my God. Yeah. Every day is really different and every week is really different. So, it varies. Nowadays, I’m mostly at home, which is nice, due to the pandemic. I don’t travel as much as I used to, which is super good and I like it. And it basically shows also that we need even less physical meetings than we have.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

I don’t know if I can honestly say that I miss the physical meetings. But I think that we have been improving the digital meetings that we have so much more during the pandemics. And everyone seems to have been taking this development previous seriously. So it’s not only us who are used to being on Zoom, or Slack, or Teams, or whatever nowadays, which is good.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

A week looks very, very different. We just sat down this morning to do the OKRs for the Remote Lab, for instance, in order to see how the future or the upcoming year look like and what we should focus on. And that is something that I work quite a lot with the strategics of the companies and try to do that. And I have amazing colleagues and employees in our company. So yeah, we try to do a lot of fun stuff too. And we have of course, our Monday meetings as most companies have. Well, it’s a scattered answer, I believe.

Luís:

No, that’s fine. I’m assuming that you’re mostly talking to people. Right. Would it take accurate to say that most of your job is having meetings with people? Correct?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah. I’m doing a lot of talks as well. I’m doing about three or four talks per week. So yeah, a lot of talking.

Luís:

So what are the favorite topics?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Remote work of course, or the future of work. Or we’ve done five reports since we launched the Remote Lab. So a lot of talk about our reports. Moving patterns, for instance, is something that we focused on before the summer that we did a lot of talk on then. And now, it’s about going back to the office. Sweden has released the recommendation of home office work from the 29th of September. So a lot of focus has been on that. Just before our interview now, the radio was here and did an interview. A lot of focus on talking to people. Yeah. Talking to people is mainly what I do.

Luís:

You collect and treat massive amounts of data in the Remote Lab. What was the data, the point of data or the conclusion that surprised you the most? Right, recently.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Oh, recently. Well, yeah, when we did some moving patterns report, it was quite surprising to see how many people are leaving the larger cities now. And for instance, in Sweden, the region of Stockholm did go to the prime minister or to the state and asking for help to see how they could basically stop people from moving, or what they should do about the situation. That was all over the newspaper. Yeah.

Luís:

Yeah. Because Sweden already has such low populational density. Sweden was the last time I visit before the pandemic. I was literally flying back from Stockholm. I was spending a few days, almost a week in Stockholm with my brother, just because we enjoy traveling to Sweden every now and then.

Luís:

And we were flying back. Right. The day before we were flying back, it was in February or something like that. And social media was getting crazy. February of 2019 and social media was going crazy over COVID and this and that. And no one knew very well if you should put the mask, not put the mask. What do we do? Is it contagious? Isn’t it? No one knew anything.

Luís:

And we were just walking around Stockholm and saying, “This is really nice.” This place, it’s not very crowded. Right. There’s a lot of space there’s life on the streets, but it’s never crowded. It’s very comfortable capital to walk in. Now, if people are leaving, I imagine that it’s starting to become a bit too empty.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well. Yeah, you can debate on that. But mostly people are moving, which is true for all the larger cities that experiencing that loss in population, they are moving to basically the surroundings of the city. Not very far. But some of course, are also moving for instance to our region.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We have seen a lot of people that has been moving to which is the name of our region, without knowing anything about it. The first time they’ve been here is to look at the house that they’re going to buy in. The next time they visit is when they are moving into that house. And that’s the only two times they’ve been here.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

We’ve seen a lot of those movements around, which just said quite good for our region, of course, but it tells us something about what we have starting to value more. And that’s the lifestyle instead of the work. Before the pandemic, the work was what we centralized everything around. And then we had to adjust our lifestyle to fit our work. But I think that the COVID has shown us that we really need to start thinking about what’s valuable for us and that people having doing that. And now, we choose lifestyle first, and then we make our job fit into that lifestyle.

Luís:

I think that’s the nicest thing I’ve heard anyone say about the pandemic.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Right. A lot of people learn that, “Oh, it doesn’t matter how much I sacrifice for my work. I can lose my job and my work for reasons completely outside my control.” I think that for the first time, a large swath of the population realize that.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

I’m from a dentistry background. I was a dental surgeon years ago. In fact, that was one of the reasons I considered once moving to Sweden. And I haven’t done that for some years now. But a lot of my colleagues who were exceptional, exceptional practitioners and very popular and had super pleased clients and et cetera, they just couldn’t work. Right.

Luís:

It didn’t matter how much they had sacrificed for their profession. They couldn’t work for a year in Portugal. I don’t know how it was in Sweden, but in Portugal it was like, it was forced vacations for dentists, for something approaching a year. Yeah, wasn’t great.

Luís:

I think more and more people realize that, it’s great to have a job you love. It’s great to work for your passions, but your life can be completely around that. That’s an interesting realization. Okay. Let’s wind down with some more rapid fire questions. I want to ask you a bit about tools. Right. What is your remote work stack? What are the tools that you can’t live without everyday?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Well, yeah. Slack is definitely one of those tools that I can’t live without. We are working with this 37signal suits. So we use Basecamp and I’ve been using Basecamp for almost 20 years.

Luís:

I’m a fan. It’s a very underrated tool. It’s not as shiny as the other tools, but the UI looks a bit outdated, but it’s very good. I love it.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

It is. And it’s also good with the different extensions they can have or add ons. Yeah. Basically, those are the tools that I can’t live without. And also Zoom, of course. I use Zoom a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot and do a lot. Of interactive workshops in it and the courses and stuff like that. And I couldn’t live without Zoom.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And also of course, the Google suite that we use a lot as well. Yeah. So basically, I’m not using anything strange I’ve been using or trying out mmhmm during the spring or the winter in the spring. So I used that in sometimes when I have lectures or doing talks, which has been really nice as well.

Luís:

So how is that spelled?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Mmhmm, M-M-H-M-M.

Luís:

Wow, that should be quite a domain name

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, yeah.

Luís:

Right. I’m going to add that to the show notes.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah, do that. Yeah. It’s a quite nice tool, a presenter tool. Yeah.

Luís:

Right. Okay. So what about, if you could give something, could be a tool or could be an experience or anything, but it can be money and you have to buy in bulk. If you could give one thing to everyone working with you, what would it be? Right. It needs to be the same thing for everyone. You can’t ask them or give them the money.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Oh, oh. That’s a good question. Well, I think I almost forced everyone to read it already, but I really love the David Heinemeier Hansson book and the Jason Fried book, Remote, No Office Required. That is something that I would definitely give to everyone.

Luís:

Okay. Well, that’s a great answer actually. And since we’re on the books, what other books would you give to everyone? Or what other books have you gifted to people more in general?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

More in general. Yeah. There’s an ikigai book, which is really good, which we also use in our companies to see if we should take on a project or not. The ikigai concept, it’s a Japanese concept where you actually evaluate different things in your life, from different aspects and how it fit into different circles.

Luís:

So is the book called Ikigai or is the book about ikigai with a different title?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

No, it’s called Ikigai, I think. Yeah.

Luís:

Got it. Got it. What about yourself? What purchase, could be a book or something else, a tool, anything really, has affected your work life the most in the past year?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

In the past year. I see that you use that also, but Calendly is really good.

Luís:

Oh yeah. Yeah. That definitely helps out a lot.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

It’s a really good thing that, yeah, it does help a lot when scheduling meetings and stuff like that. That is something that is top of mind now. But yeah, if I could think for an hour, I would come up with several things, of course.

Luís:

Okay. Well, no, Calendly is pretty good. I think that sometimes you underestimate the impact that simple tools have. Because before Calendly, it used to be an endless back and forth with messages or email until saying, “Are you available at this time? No. What about this time? What about this time?” It is these little things matter. They do matter.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah. It does save a lot of time.

Luís:

Yeah. So let’s talk about the final question. This one is a little bit more elaborate. And please feel free to think for as long as you like. No pressure. Let’s say that you’re hosting a dinner. Right. And during the dinner, there’s going to be a round table about remote work and the future of work, a topic that you’ve talked a lot about, of course. That you still talk a lot about.

Luís:

But the attendants to this dinner is somewhat different. They’re going to be the leaders of tech companies from all around the world. Now, the twist is that the dinner happens at the Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host, get to choose a message to put inside the fortune cookies. So when all these people are going to open their fortune cookies, what will they read?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah. Basically, I think that it would read something around, when thinking about doing hybrid work, commit to remote first way of working, or something like that. Because that’s the situation that we see today, at least in Swedish organizations, or organizations all over the world. That they are planning on going hybrid in some way. But they think that they can do it with the norm of the physical office, which will then be something that allows for an A team and a B team to grow. And that will separate the company in two. And basically, also be a challenge for the culture of the company.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

I think that something around that, because that’s what companies need now. They need to realize that remote work and hybrid work is about the whole company, the whole setup on the company. It’s from vision down to benefits. It’s everything in between. It’s not only about how you do meetings, which a lot of companies stick with.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

They try to improve their meetings, but in the end, it’s about a lot more. It’s about documentation. It’s about transparency. It’s about so much more. Really to investigate what remote work means to that company. And also commit, really commit to that. And doing that transformation because that is what needs to be done in order to make hybrid work.

Luís:

All right.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

Yeah.

Luís:

Well, that’s a great answer. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for being a guest, Maria. Now, I would like you to tell the people that are listening, when they want to continue the conversation with you, learn more about your projects, what you’re up to, how to get in touch with you, where can they go? Where should they go?

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

They can go to the site, remotelab.io. And there, they can find my contact information and reach out. Or they could go to LinkedIn and search for Maria S. Wicklander and meet me there and connect.

Luís:

All right. Well, I will add all of that in the show note. It was an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much for being a guest.

Maria Svensson Wicklander:

And thank you, Luís, for having me. It was a pleasure.

Luís:

And thanks to everyone listening to this podcast about leading and managing awesome remote teams. This was your host, Luís. And my guest today was Maria Svensson Wicklander from the remotelab.io. See you next week.

Luís:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me. And I hope they’re a joy for you listen to as well.

Luís:

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. 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.

Luís:

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 DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

One of the main challenges of remote work is the disconnection that teams feel because they are not in the same physical space. And sometimes leaders, when they haven’t worked remotely, don’t understand how remote employees might feel left out.

During this episode, Maria Svensson Wiklander mentions why building relationships in remote teams and creating a culture is what powers teams to give their best and increase their productivity and engagement to the company.

Highlights:

  • How Sweden has transformed into a remote work hotspot
  • Tips to motivate employees remotely (Spoiler: Keep them happy)
  • How to establish relationships in your team
  • Why you should celebrate small wins in a remote team
  • Insights about building a remote culture

 

Book Recommendations:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up every Monday!