Pilar Orti is a voice actress, a coach, a writer, and a speaker, as well as the host of the 21st Century Work-Life podcast. She is one of the most prolific producers of content covering both remote working and managing remote teams, and her new book, Thinking Remote, was released just last month.
Luis Magalhaes: Greetings ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another episode of the DistantJob podcast, a podcast about building and leading remote teams who win. I am your host, Luis, and my guest today is Pilar Orti. I’m not going to give you the usual intro because I already did a pretty long intro once we started the conversation. What precipitated my conversation with Pilar was the launch of her book, a book that she co-authored with Maya Middlemiss that’s called Thinking Remote. I quite enjoyed the book. I recommend it, and we talk a bit about the book, but we also talk about many other different things. And of course this conversation is far from exhausting all the topics covered in the book. Get it. You will get a lot out of it.
Luis Magalhaes: That said, some quick words about DistantJob. If you are looking to build a great team, or if you’re looking to upgrade your team with some great talent, these days going remote is your best shot at finding a world-class performer, and that’s exactly what DistantJob helps you with. Not only do we find the ideal person for you, one that fits your company culture, your processes, your values, but we also handle everything from hiring to payment to HR. So really, we make it easy for you to get the perfect fit, the perfect employee that you need. With that said, please enjoy my conversation with Pilar Orti.
Luis Magalhaes: Welcome ladies and gentlemen to yet another episode of the DistantJob podcast. I am your host, as usual Luis, and this is a podcast about building, managing, and leading remote teams who win. My guest today is Pilar Orti. She does a lot of things. She helps organizations and teams make the transition from being in the office to a more office-optional approach. She has a ton, really a ton of material on remote work online at virtualnotdistant.com, and she is the host of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, which is now around, what, almost 200 episodes. Right?
Pilar Orti: Almost 200.
Luis Magalhaes: Yes. Exactly. And she has just published a book on this very subject, Thinking Remote. That is with, you have a co-author. Correct?
Pilar Orti: Yes, Maya Middlemiss. Yeah. We’ve written it together.
Luis Magalhaes: You do a lot of things, and on top of that you’re also a voice actress, which is super fun I think. I believe I’ve played a video game where you were a voice actress, Super Smash Bros.
Pilar Orti: Oh, right. Maybe. Yes.
Luis Magalhaes: Yes. So you have a lot going on. I’m looking forward to asking you some questions, especially about the book, but about the podcast and all the rest. Thank you for being here.
Pilar Orti: Very nice to be here.
Luis Magalhaes: Did I miss anything? Did I forget anything?
Pilar Orti: I think that just about covers it, at least for now.
Luis Magalhaes: Cool. The book is recent. Right? It was launched this month?
Pilar Orti: Yeah. It’s very recent. It’s actually a collection of blog posts, so it’s not fresh material, but it’s a collection of blog posts with some reflection questions at the end of each post. Some of the articles might actually be … some of the chapters, sorry, you might be like maybe a year old or something, but the collection has just been published March 2019.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s super cool. I love the name. This podcast was almost going to be called Think Remote, because I always finish the podcast with you need to think differently. You need to think global. You need to think remote. So I’ve actually been promoting your book for like three months now.
Pilar Orti: Thank you.
Luis Magalhaes: I await the check in the mail. Okay. There is a term that I know that you used in the book, but I’ve also read some of your recent work and listening to your podcast, I know that you don’t enjoy using so much the term working out loud right now.
Pilar Orti: Not anymore.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. What are you using now?
Pilar Orti: Visible teamwork.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I like that … It sounds less aggressive, doesn’t it?
Pilar Orti: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. It is. It does sound less aggressive.
Luis Magalhaes: Reading that chapter in the book made me, a lot of it is about feedback, is about people are working visibly so that others can check what they’re doing and may be saying, “Hey, I can help you with that, are I think that this would be a good approach.” Et cetera, et cetera. This also tied to a podcast that I listened from you where you said that you were recording voiceovers for a cartoon, BBC cartoon, and you felt that it was nice that you couldn’t necessarily hear everything that the people were discussing behind the window so that it wouldn’t throw you off your groove. I guess that my first question would be, when working remotely and visibly, what is your advice for managing feedback from several sources while at the same time keeping the person, the people that have the final say in what they’re doing without getting distracted?
Luis Magalhaes: Because 10 different people from the team can have 10 different opinions.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. If we’re doing that, if we are collecting feedback together from a large source of people it pretty much like what you might do when you are writing a book also, which is you collect a lot of feedback. I think that what we want to look at is, is there anything that is common to everyone? Is this something that is really screaming out at us from that group of people? That’s the first thing.
Pilar Orti: And then look closer to see what people are bringing up, not necessarily of how they think you might want to solve it. Because I think sometimes when we are giving or receiving feedback the message becomes cluttered with this is what we think is not working mixed with this is how I think you should do it. I think that separating those two is very useful. There’s obviously something we’re doing that’s not landing well, if the feedback is not good, because it could be that everyone’s telling us the same good thing also. But if there is a suggestion that we should change our behavior, then to really understand whether that would be the best way for us to change their behavior. I think if we’re getting lots of feedback from different places, it’s look for the commonalities.
Luis Magalhaes: How would you manage that in a way that makes it psychologically comfortable for people? The situation that I found in some teams is that they adopt the ethos of working transparently, of working visibly, but then they are just so overwhelmed with feedback … They’re not necessarily asking for feedback, but since they are working transparently everyone, with good intentions of course, gives it anyway. Then they are so overwhelmed that they feel like, “Okay, maybe I’ll just do my work in my corner and talk directly to the stakeholders.”
Pilar Orti: Yeah. Unfortunately, I think there’s nothing like a good conversation, which is very difficult to have, which is about I am working visibly but I’m also a process-orientated person, and I need to be allowed to take my process a little bit far so that I can see, and I can correct, and I can experiment before getting external feedback. Just because we’re showing our work all the time, it doesn’t mean that we are asking for feedback all the time. There are different reasons for why we do it. We also will show the work so that someone else can pick it up easily. We also show the work so someone else can learn from our process.
Pilar Orti: I think maybe being very clear in the team of why we’re working visibly. We’re not working visibly so that we can all give feedback to each other all the time. Because also, that’s very distracting and that’s going to interfere with the work of the people who are giving the feedback also. So maybe coming to an agreement of, “Okay. We can all see what we’re doing, but let’s just get together every two weeks,” for example, this is just an example, “and either synchronously or asynchronously tell each other how we feel we’re doing.” Because if not, you get that situation where we …
Pilar Orti: And also, we can become very worried, and then what might happen is that we stopped sharing that work basically. Because actually, I just want to get this ready before anyone else can do it. I think it’s a conversation about why we’re making the work visible, and also when we might be ready to receive feedback.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That makes sense. Talking about feedback, still in that vein, do you have any special, I mean any particular strategies that you think are especially effective for participating in the work in that manner? When a colleague, when someone that is working for you or a colleague is working visibly, what is your preferred way of getting into that conversation without necessarily being invited?
Pilar Orti: Ask. The first one is ask, is, “Can I say something about what I’m seeing?” That could be a good one. The other thing is it really depends. You need to know that person well enough to know. Also, you need to know why you’re intervening. Are you intervening because you would be doing it differently? Or are you intervening because intervening now means that the work is going to go in a different direction, which might be more appropriate? Or are you intervening because you want to help? Or are you intervening because you want to understand? I think, at least I’m speaking for myself, sometimes I see something and I think, “Well, I wouldn’t do it like that.” But actually, well, does that mean that’s not the best way to go?
Pilar Orti: But I think there’s two very different things of making your work visible and asking for feedback. They’re very different things. We make the work visible for a whole range of reasons, one of which is not necessarily for getting feedback.
Luis Magalhaes: I want to take a sharp turn here, because you’re at, again, nearly 200 podcast episodes. Across all those episodes, what would you say are the commonalities that you find between the people that really get remote work right, and that they’re being really successful?
Pilar Orti: Just one thing to say is that a lot of those 100, 200 almost, episodes some people who’ve come on the show don’t have much experience in remote work, but they have experienced work differently as to how they might have experienced it 30 years ago. The one thing that the people who come onto the podcast have, and the reason why they understand the potential and that space, is they think about it a lot. They experiment with it a lot. They talk to other people and they make their work visible. It’s very difficult to find someone who’s doing really great things if we can’t see it, and that’s where that term working out loud comes from, comes more from this kind of space, of more from making ourselves visible online to open up for opportunities of connection.
Pilar Orti: The guests that come onto the show, they are usually either business owners or team leaders, or just people who really like to think about this space, and who’ve thought through it a lot, and who’ve made their thinking explicit. That is something as well, that yeah, we might be thinking about it a lot, but if we’re not sharing it, we’re not bouncing ideas off each other, we are not hearing ourselves communicate those ideas, whether it be in writing or in voice. Yeah. That’s the main thing.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, but what’s really impressed me about your work is that it’s not like you are … You are also, in a way, analyzing the work that other people put out there, which is very interesting in a way. On a couple of episodes that I heard, I kind of felt a bit like, almost like I was in the reading club, in the book club.
Pilar Orti: In what way were you feeling like you were in a book club?
Luis Magalhaes: Well, because, so you were with Maya discussing an article, and well, that’s usually what’s done in a book club, and you went back and forth into what you thought that the article had some good points on, and not-so-good ones. It was an article about how remote work may be propagating the discrimination stereotypes.
Pilar Orti: The stereotypes. Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: That one wasn’t that positive, but I’ve come across another couple few podcasts where you also discussed other articles. I really like that approach. What are your pet peeves? What gets you angry that people still don’t understand about remote work?
Pilar Orti: That there is one way to do it. That really gets me going.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a common one. Yes.
Pilar Orti: Yeah, and also that it’s the best thing in the world, I have to say, that remote work is the best thing in the world. It is for some. It is for some. What I’m really interested in at the moment is, and that’s, maybe it’s a pushback. What I’m interested in at the moment is where could this go horribly wrong.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh. I like that. I’m a pessimist by nature, so I’m in.
Pilar Orti: Well, I’m an optimist, but an optimist is expect the best and prepare for the worst. I think that that is a conversation that I’m really seeking at the moment, is when doesn’t this work? What could go horribly wrong? So that we know to be prepared for that, and also to seize the opportunities when we know it’s going to work really well.
Luis Magalhaes: What are you finding out in that area? What is going horribly wrong, Pilar?
Pilar Orti: What could go, I received a message yesterday from someone who said that the remote work policy in their company had been revoked. I don’t know much. That’s all I know. I don’t even know this person, and I found them, and my first question is why. That is something that … What usually goes wrong in the process is that it’s not seen as a change process. We focus so much on the tech and the fact that we are not in the office, and that’s the main thing, and we forget about all the other things that goes horribly wrong. That people try it out for the first time and don’t like it, and have difficulties because their main mode of connection, they need maybe the sensory experience of being with other people. They maybe need to be in a place where there’s a huge buzz, where they feel a great sense of physical connection to others.
Pilar Orti: Does all of that, and then there is the … At the moment I’m still struggling with some of the practices that I’m recommending sometimes, because we’re still very text based in the space, and is still … Working out loud is a great, especially if you don’t mind, if you don’t mind all these things that we were talking about, if you are strong in that way, and secure in that way, and confident in that way. It also works well for those of us who like to think a lot, like the guests who don’t mind expressing their thoughts, comfortable, can do it. But there are other people for whom that is difficult, not their comfort zone, and okay, how do we level the playing field?
Pilar Orti: But it could be that it’s not for everyone, and that’s it. We just need to find the people for whom it is.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well there are a couple of things to pick up in here. For example, regarding working out loud, I personally am not … I am undecided. I like the people that I’m responsible for to work out loud, but I am definitely that person that doesn’t like to get people commenting on the work before it’s nearly close to done. It sometimes only exists in my mind, and will only exist in my mind up until the final 90% where it all connects. So that’s definitely something.
Luis Magalhaes: I mean, again, you’ve just come from writing a book. For 80% of the process it doesn’t look good. Right? Am I right?
Pilar Orti: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: It only comes … If people saw my books, if people saw any of the books that I’ve written before like the final month of editing, I would just be mortified.
Pilar Orti: There’s different ways, also. I think this is really important because if we’re introducing this kind of concept, there will always be people who are uncomfortable at different parts of that thing. So it’s really understanding what do we mean by that. Maybe making our work visible is just naming tasks and deadlines and showing where we’re at with them. It could be sharing our thought process, but not our work. It might be sharing decisions. It might be sharing connections. There’s a whole, whole big range of what it is that we’re sharing. We’re really thinking about information that might be of interest to team members. It might not even be the work itself, and you can talk around the work.
Luis Magalhaes: You talked about not everyone being able to being good at working remotely. I am more and more of the opinion that the most crucial factor on your remote team working well as your remote team, is the people you hire. What do you think about this?
Pilar Orti: Yes, like any team. It needs to be a good fit for the environment. It’s the same as if we were in an office, we might have people who work really well an open plan, but we might have people who prefer small cubicles. I don’t know. And the people will work differently regarding the environment. So it’s understanding your environment. If it’s remote, not only remote, are you mainly an asynchronous team? Is that the way in which people communicate, or actually is it pretty much a synchronous thing? Within remote, there’s also huge variety of ways, and people will thrive differently.
Pilar Orti: There’s also the organization, of course. If the team is within an organization, are they the right fit for that? Because you can work really, really well within the team, and then at some point that doesn’t become enough, but suddenly you’re not a good organizational fit also. There’s all of that.
Pilar Orti: And then of course, there’s all the other things that then transcend the context and the medium, which is the way of working, the way, like you were talking, the way of communicating with colleagues about the work. Yes. There’s a whole load of stuff.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. If you were going to be giving hiring advice, that should be my job because I’m the one in the hiring-
Pilar Orti: I think you’re probably better suited than me.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, but you know, I always like to know, I’m always willing to learn. I want to know, were you to build a remote team, what would you look for? I know that, again, this is specific to your way of working, but what would you look for? What are the characteristics that you think would be good to have in someone that’s specifically going to work remotely?
Pilar Orti: Honesty with themselves and with others. The first thing that, it’s very important for me that people are okay with saying, “Look, I’m struggling with this.” Or actually, “Pilar, you are annoying me.” That’s really important, and Maya will know that. We haven’t had many of those. Or, “Pilar, did you notice you did that? Did you notice you did that with that guest?” Okay. That is really important.
Pilar Orti: For me, that trust is, I mean that’s important for me in any team. I think the understanding that they know how to make remote work work for them so that they understand, so that they can either manage that themselves or ask, from myself and others working with them, “Okay. This is what I need. This is how I like to work.” Of course, the need to understand how to use technology and be comfortable with that, and open to change within that also.
Pilar Orti: And also just someone who wants to learn and who is a little bit obsessed by learning is great also. Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Those are some great characteristics, and I would say that what you touched upon is really important because you talk in the book about the need for psychological safety. This is something that’s, fortunately, being more and more a priority for companies. For example, I’ve had people from Buffer on before, and Buffer is really a wonderful company to work in. They are very careful about making sure that everyone has access to whatever time they need to be healthy, to be healthy and happy, and all of that. I find that is very difficult to emulate because if you’re not really good at hiring, you tend to get those people that come into a remote work thinking, “Oh, it’s great because I’m going to have time to do everything I want in the house and with my children and all of that.” But then … And travel. This happens especially with travel. People think, “I’m getting a remote job, then I can just travel every day of my life.”
Luis Magalhaes: But what ends up happening is that they can’t schedule the work around those things, and they end up not doing anything well. I’m wondering if you’ve dealt with any people, with any teams that had people in this situation, if it’s just a case that it’s not going to work, remote work isn’t for you, or if there is any way to advise, to coach these people into fitting more into the collaborative way of working.
Pilar Orti: I think it really depends on whether you want to keep the person. If the only thing that’s getting in the way of this person being great for your team and being a great fit is that they’re struggling with remote work, then I think that that’s where the coaching needs to be. Then it needs to be about, okay, what is it? Is it about that you’re working from home when actually you could do with working from a co-working space? Is it that you would prefer it if we gave you some set hours, because you’re finding it difficult to set those hours yourself? Would that help?
Pilar Orti: That’s one. If you want to keep the person, there’s all those things that you can do around it. Then the question is do you want to keep this person? Because is it a question of them not understanding remote work, or are they so unaware of how they work and what they need to be their best that you need to be micromanaging them? In that case, you’ve got that choice.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, but that’s not really … I mean, maybe for some people there’s a choice, but if I’m micromanaging someone, I’m not doing my job because I need to spend all my time micromanaging-
Pilar Orti: But then that person is, if you have a person who needs micromanaging on your team and you can’t micromanage, then you need, then they’re going to thrive somewhere else. I think that’s really, I think it’s very important what you’re saying, that you have to distinguish is it just the remote that’s getting in the way, or is it just a bad fit for the role and your style of leadership. Someone else might be happy. Someone else might be really happy with micromanaging because they see that as their role, and actually maybe the nature of the work can do with a very hard-core coordinator on top of everyone. In that case, that person will thrive in that team, and they might be really happy like that, and that’s what they need. Whereas if you have a more laissez-faire way of leading, and you really want to focus on your work and not have to worry about everyone else, then that person’s not a good fit.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Well, that makes absolute sense. I think that my favorite section in your book was a section of about, I believe it’s called Creating a Culture of Feedback. I think that’s it.
Pilar Orti: Probably, yes.
Luis Magalhaes: I should have made better notes. Sorry about this. So unprofessional. [crosstalk 00:24:50] So unprofessional. I believe it’s Chapter 10. Anyway-
Pilar Orti: Yes. Yeah, and it’s the right title. Well done, Luis.
Luis Magalhaes: Thank you. I just finished reading it yesterday, so it was fresh. It’s fresh. Anyway, you talk a lot about, and this is my favorite part of managing remote teams, “I don’t like meetings, but I do like one-on-ones.” I’ve been feeling that it’s more and more the best tool in my arsenal is the one-on-one. I actually have in my Notepad, in my Apple notes, a folder that’s just named Questions for One-on-ones. I collect questions, and I collected quite a few questions from the book, ripped them straight out. I want to ask you really what are your favorite questions? We already talked about hiring, but let’s say that you’re on-boarding someone, and you’re having their first week or their second week one-on-one, what are the questions that you think are more important to ask?
Pilar Orti: What are you enjoying the most can be an interesting one. And also I think we’re not often asked this question, so that’s a good one. I wouldn’t use struggle, but there’s definitely someone about what information are you missing. What kind of information are you missing, might be a good one, especially if we’re on-boarding because a lot of on-boarding is about gathering information. I think another interesting one is, is there anyone you’d like to meet, or is there anyone you’d like to just get to know better in the team or the organization?
Pilar Orti: As leaders, a lot of the times team leaders, you have a lot more information about people, and especially if you’re on-boarding someone. And is there anything that you’ve seen you’d like to know more about in the company, or in the team? Where’s your curiosity leading you to, leading you-
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a good-
Pilar Orti: That’s a good one.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Yeah, where is your-
Pilar Orti: Where’s your curiosity leading you?
Luis Magalhaes: … curiosity leading you? Yeah. Yeah. That’s definitely a good one.
Pilar Orti: I think also what it does is if you do that in the on-boarding process, and I really like that you’re saying what questions would you have, is that you start to show that it’s okay to have questions, and it’s okay to be asking for information, for contacts, for help, et cetera. It’s really good. Yeah. It sets the right tone.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Tell me about the day when you realized that this was something that you really needed to get into, that this was something that was needed?
Pilar Orti: It’s a little bit of a long story, so a bit of personal and vision.
Luis Magalhaes: Go ahead. I want to know how you got from acting, acting, a performance company. Was that-
Pilar Orti: That far.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah.
Pilar Orti: That … Fuck.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Is that it?
Pilar Orti: We’ll go through that very quickly. In fact, I’ve got a biology degree. Did you know that?
Luis Magalhaes: Oh. Well, I have a dental surgery degree, so how about that.
Pilar Orti: Excellent. The biology degree was what brought me to London, and then-
Luis Magalhaes: Mine is scarier.
Pilar Orti: Sorry?
Luis Magalhaes: I scare people more often than you, I bet.
Pilar Orti: It’s great. I don’t think I’ve met anyone … Great. Okay. Sorry. I digress. I have a podcast. Yes. Trainers and actors set up a theater company because, and just looking back it’s really interesting. I really love collaboration, so in the end theater at the level we were doing it and the kind of work we were creating was very, very collaborative. We also talked a lot, so I learned how to teach also, so I did a lot of facilitation of theater creation and also lots of teaching. What I realized was that a lot of what was interesting me was in the rehearsal space, anything that we could do to work better together, and anything that could exercise working together. Not even the show, just exercise on collaboration.
Pilar Orti: Then I went to conference and I saw someone from a theater company in the UK who was using theater for corporate training. I thought, “Okay. That’s interesting.” I started to look into that, and beyond the presentation and communication skills where the application is a little bit more obvious, I saw, “Oh, leadership. Okay. What is it about how we work in theater that can be applied?” What is it about working together that can be applied in teams?
Pilar Orti: So I looked at that, set up a theater company. I did some team away days. I love it because I like the use of metaphor. You give people something to do that’s different and they can talk about lots of stuff they never talk about. So what happened was I met my husband in Holland. He wasn’t my husband when I met him already. I met him-
Luis Magalhaes: That’s what usually happens. Yes.
Pilar Orti: Also my father was quite ill in Spain, and I found myself traveling a lot between Holland and Spain, and traveling-
Luis Magalhaes: Where in Spain? Sorry to interrupt.
Pilar Orti: Madrid. Madrid. Yeah. Madrid, Amsterdam, London, I can’t really complain where my three bases were. I thought, “I need to find something different.” So through PeoplePerHour, the recruitment site, I found someone who was delivering accredited management certifications, training, and they needed someone to run the forum for their learners. I thought, “I can do that. I like that.”
Pilar Orti: I tried to that. It went well with the company we got on. They asked me to run their webinar program. I ran my first webinar, no camera, only talking to the people in the chat. I finished that webinar, I was sweating. I felt like I was in a room full of people. I thought, “This is great. I don’t need to be in a room full of people to feel like I’m in a room full of people.”
Pilar Orti: That’s where I come from, and then I saw that technology was becoming more accessible. I started blogging about working in virtual teams and leading virtual teams, just as a blog. I saw that those posts brought a lot more interest than the normal leadership, than the more traditional leadership. I thought, “Ah. There’s interest, and not many people doing it.” And also of course, the traditional HR profession is very people focused, so at the time, especially, it’s like, “Technology? No. We’re people.” So I thought, ‘Great. Gap in there.” The real interest-
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. We’re all going to be replaced by computers in 20 years. The robot overlords are coming.
Pilar Orti: Before we know it. The real interest for me though is because in this virtual thing, remote thing, we have to talk so much about how we work together to get it right. The grand world domination plan is to then go also into the co-located space, with all these things we found work in the remote space, and apply them, which is already happening without me doing much about it. For me, it’s really about getting collaboration right, and the virtual space is a space where you have to talk and be so deliberate about how you interact. It gives a lot of room of reflection.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh. Absolutely.
Pilar Orti: It’s those conversations. The interest for me is that I think we need to talk a lot more about how we work together, and this provides the right space to frame the conversation for me.
Luis Magalhaes: Wow. Okay. Where should I go next? Because there are a couple of threads that I want to pursue there. I guess back to that first … You got me thinking when you talk about that first webinar that was purely on written form. Well, we’re doing this podcast, as my listeners know, they only get the audio but I always do the podcast with video just because I find it so much easier to have a conversation with people when I’m actually looking at them. But that’s not the reality of the situation. Just due to time constraints, you can’t spend your whole remote working day on video with your team. Well, I mean I guess you could, but you wouldn’t be able to be as productive as you could, so you need to strike a balance between written communication and video communication. In most cases, written communication gets the upper hand.
Luis Magalhaes: But it’s also very easy to misunderstand and get angry at people in written communication. I wonder, you talked about deliberate communication. Do you have any deliberate written communication strategies that you think that can reduce what I call messaging rage?
Pilar Orti: Yes. As soon as you’re getting angry, move away from the computer. I’ve been recently working with a lady who’s just been my favorite client forever. I was so sad. She left the company just at the end and I had tears in my eyes. We used to do quite a lot of async, of asynchronous written communication. Then we started to record audio messages for each other instead of long stuff. What we learned to do is we would start a conversation, and after two or three written messages, if we were still confused or whatever we’d go, ‘Okay. Audio now. Let’s just talk.” Forget the video. It’s just we’d need to have a real-time conversation. Video’s nice also.
Pilar Orti: I think that when you can, because of course you can’t always. It’s not always possible, but to get into that habit of let’s just see when we need to stop writing and start talking. And let’s also see, and also lets show that it’s okay also to stop a written conversation halfway through and come back to it later. The beauty of written communication is that it can be asynchronous. That, for me, is the beauty of it. I am not a chat person. As soon as I do two or three messages by chat it’s like, “This is ridiculous. Why aren’t we talking?” Unless someone’s on the bus, you know, whatever, or their Internet connection’s not good enough for audio.
Pilar Orti: But for me, it’s that it’s each mode of communication has its place. Now that technology’s catching up and we’re starting to be able, in most places, mix them up, mix them up.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. I was just thinking-
Pilar Orti: [crosstalk 00:35:27] going to disagree with me.
Luis Magalhaes: The other day I was meeting someone for the first time. I asked them what I would ask someone for the first time here in Portugal, which is, “Hey, where are you from?” In writing, and immediately from the response that came I noticed that I had just done a faux pas, because it was taken in a “Why are you asking my where I’m from? Are you making any assumptions?” I just can’t shake the feeling that had I asked that same question face to face meeting that person, that would totally not have been the assumption.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. Yes. There’s things, especially … I mean if you don’t know someone, then it’s even more difficult with written communication. I know some people are very different in their written communication to the spoken. I’ve had both situations when people were really warm and friendly by email, or at least that’s how I was receiving it, and then when I met them they were really … I don’t know. Who’s this person? And the opposite, people who I thought were very short and direct, to the point with their email, and then really warm when talking to them. It takes time.
Luis Magalhaes: I guess that Moving to something else that I wanted to ask you is when you’re consulting, when you’re helping people out, what are the top asks that you get? What problems do people bring to you more often in this subject matter?
Pilar Orti: Unfortunately, how do we use the tech? Because that’s really not what I want to be doing. As in the technical aspects of it. But that is really important to remember, that is we need to be providing that if we’re asking people to work or if we’re setting up to work in this way, and not to assume that just because people have used certain kinds of tech that they can use everything, that they’re going to use it like we like to use it in the team, and stuff like that.
Pilar Orti: I think also this whole thing about, especially people who are making the transition, so teams that are used working together who are then transitioning to a remote setup or an office optional, is this whole thing about team spirit, team cohesion. That’s one thing they’re worried about. I think they solve it quite quickly, because that is something that we can solve with some things that we’re quite familiar with. You can have, if you normally have coffee in the office, you can have a virtual coffee. We understand that. Not the same, but-
Luis Magalhaes: It doesn’t taste as well, but-
Pilar Orti: Yeah. Exactly. It’s a little bit pixel-ey, so the same kind of thing. Another issue that there is is the, especially of teams in organizations, is team visibility and that thing that people forget about us because we’re not around, because our work is not broadcastable, maybe. The issue of visibility of a team within a company is, I think that’s a main worry. I think teams, usually they know more or less how they’re going to work out, and they’ve been using email for so long, and maybe they’re already using some of the collaboration tools anyway. So I think it’s the more human aspect. It’s the, “Will I miss you? Will I miss you as a colleague?”
Pilar Orti: Something that, just as a time gen, but something that some people, that we don’t talk about enough, is that actually going office optional can actually improve the relationships in our team, because we move away from each other, and then we can start to choose our moments of interaction rather than be forced by the environment to be interacting constantly. I think if you, for example, I am extremely noise sensitive and I am distracted by anything. So if I were to be in an office where I have someone near me who’s very fidgety, I think I would welcome working away from them, and I would love them even more. Because I don’t have that bit of distraction. I think those-
Luis Magalhaes: The farthest you are away from me, the more I love you. It’s that kind of love. [inaudible 00:39:43]
Pilar Orti: Yes. You see, that is rarely talked about.
Luis Magalhaes: I know.
Pilar Orti: I think because that’s not very popular. How are you going to say that [crosstalk 00:39:48]
Luis Magalhaes: I’m an introvert. I don’t like people, so talk away.
Pilar Orti: Same here. Yeah. I think that the isolation in all sorts of ways is the one that people are more worried about.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That’s a good point. I guess that you touched on tools, and it’s sad that people, that most questions that you get are about tools. You do have a … I did really like something that I read in your book about how people just tend to think that the tools will solve all their problems, and they jump from tool, to tool, to tool. I can definitely see that a lot. I can definitely see that a lot. But I was curious about the opposite problem. When is it, what would you say is your criteria for figuring out when is the trouble that you’re having with the tool too much? What are some telltale signs that a switch in tools is needed, that you’re not just jumping because you saw a new shiny object, but you can feel that, “Okay, this is actually stunting our growth as a team.”
Pilar Orti: I think when you’re hearing yourself or anyone else say, “I wish this would do this. I wish I could.” That’s the moment when you’re thinking, “Okay. There’s a feature that’s missing in this tool.” Then that’s the first sign, I think, that you’d say, “Okay. I think we need something that’s going to enable what we want to do a bit more.”
Pilar Orti: The other thing would be that it’s not being used. If something’s not being used, it could be, it could be the tool. It could, of course, be the behavior. So again, but we have to look at that. Very interesting. Somebody on the podcast, I think it was Mark Valentine, said the other day that tools, especially the collaboration tools that I’m most familiar with, things like Slack Trello, so chat rooms, and [inaudible 00:41:56] boards, they’re being designed for a specific kind of work and a specific kind of worker. It’s really interesting that they’re being adopted by a huge range of teams and workflows. Again, it might be that you have adopted something that’s just not to write for how you communicate.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s a good point. That is a very good point.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. If you think about it, where adapting our ways of working to something designed by someone who doesn’t know us.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That’s true. That’s a very good point. It’s smart and thank you for crystallizing that, because I wouldn’t be able to reach that, to get that phrase out by myself, but it makes complete sense now that I’m hearing you say it.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. The other thing … Can I add something? Oh, Sorry. Carry on, Luis.
Luis Magalhaes: Please do. [crosstalk 00:42:48]
Pilar Orti: Because on that, and it’s on the tools thing, and it’s that a lot of the time we’re getting distracted by the fact that we have technology, and I’ve heard people still, “Yeah, I still write stuff on paper, but it’s really bad.” It’s like, no. Why is it bad to write stuff on paper? It’s a different experience. I remember this one specific example. We were in a team I was recently working with, we were collecting ideas for an exercise from everyone, and we had to go on into Planner which is like Trello, your ideas, and someone had them put their ideas through. When we came to the meeting she said, “I had problems when the tool.” this and that. “Look. I’ve got all my ideas here in my notebook.” Why didn’t you take a picture of your notebook, put that up? We’re not interested in beautifully typed stuff. If you are writing your ideas in a notebook, take a picture of that. We will look at it. If we don’t understand it, we’ll ask you.
Pilar Orti: Or things like drawing faces, on a smiley, on a Post-it during a meeting to show how you’re feeling. Just because there’s the technology does it mean we can’t use other stuff.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Absolutely. My marketing team members, they make fun of me because I don’t use markup software. I just think that it’s slow and ugly and inefficient. I grab my notebook and I scribble with a pen or a pencil, and then I photograph it. And you know, they make fun of me, but hey, I like it. It’s much better. I really think that the software is … I hate using the software, to be frank.
Pilar Orti: Those are preferences, and they’re also expressions of who we are. What we don’t want, which is the fear of a lot of people, which I don’t believe in, we don’t want technology to make us all similar. For me, predictive texting at the moment, for me it’s horror that I go sometimes to Skype and it gives me some canned responses. Don’t do that, because language is part of who we are. It might be very productive and very efficient, but we have to be really careful that technology and what we’re using doesn’t homogenize us. You bringing and doing your sketch is part of who you are and who you like to express yourself, and there needs to be room for that in a team.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Absolutely. To mean, the biggest challenge with just embracing paper is that it doesn’t mesh well, completely well, with, again, working visibly. For example, if we’re working on Basecamp, and you like to having your to-do list on paper, well, that’s all well and good, but you should still type it in Basecamp because otherwise no one will know.
Pilar Orti: Of course. Yes. It’s not one or the other, but it’s not ditching anything for it. Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I lost my train of thought there, but it was a good point. It’s interesting. It’s interesting and we … There’s definitely something to say about analog. All right. It was … What we sometimes forget is that all these companies, it’s in their best interests saying, “Our tool is good for everything.” But of course they would say that, but there are definitely things … When I was managing editorial teams, Trello was the perfect tool. Now, Basecamp is great for some things, but not for managing a blog content producing sequence. There are definitely …
Luis Magalhaes: It’s worth noting that what the selling points webpage tells you is not necessarily true. Thank you for pointing that out. Thank you for pointing that out. Wow. It’s almost been an hour. I want to be respectful of your time. Sorry I-
Pilar Orti: I can talk forever.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well, I would love to, but I assume that you have other things to do. But I do want to run by you a couple more questions.
Pilar Orti: Great.
Luis Magalhaes: I guess that the first of those would be what books have you given out the most?
Pilar Orti: What books have I given out the most?
Luis Magalhaes: Yes.
Pilar Orti: What do you mean?
Luis Magalhaes: Well, I mean you grab a book, and you give it to someone because you think they will enjoy it, because you think it will make them work better.
Pilar Orti: You know why that question was so interesting? I’ve been using a Kindle now for so many years that I rarely have a physical book. So I gift my mother books on her Amazon account.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, well I do that too.
Pilar Orti: She also has a Kindle.
Luis Magalhaes: I wasn’t asking specifically handing out books. I just use the metaphor, you know? [inaudible 00:47:32]
Pilar Orti: No, but really interesting how metaphors change when habits change. That’s really interesting. I’ve got a few favorite books that I really like. I think … If that is your question, and that I recommend that people get. I haven’t gifted a book for ages. I don’t do many gifts anymore [inaudible 00:47:52] I-
Luis Magalhaes: I just gift books, hence the question. I don’t gift anything else.
Pilar Orti: [crosstalk 00:47:57] Team of Teams is a book I really enjoyed.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s on my reading list.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. it’s Stanley McChrystal, I think his name was, colonel, and even though it comes from an Army experience, but what I really liked was that he’s looking basically at the less hierarchical leader and the more self-organized organization and teams. The examples he gives, he goes through history and basically we’re seeing that actually self-organization has been around for ages. It’s not anything new. It’s only other things that are more contemporary. That’s really refreshing. I really, really like that.
Luis Magalhaes: And he is a great narrator. I mean I’ve never read the book, but I’ve heard some interviews on podcasts that I follow. He really has a very good way of explaining things.
Pilar Orti: Yeah, and the other book I really like is Under New Management by David Burkus, who has been on the show twice. Thank you very much, David. Under New Management has, I think it’s about 10 examples of things that organizations are experimenting with. And that can work across different kinds of work. For example, he doesn’t call the remote work, because it’s not something that you can do with some professions. Some professions you can’t remotely, but he does look at unlimited holiday. He looks at self-management, I think. He looks at performance reviews and how they’re changing. He looks at email, I think.
Pilar Orti: What I really like about the book is as well as giving you an overview of the things that people are playing with, is he really shows what works in one place might not work in another. I think it’s really important, really, really important throughout the book that whatever you take up might have worked there, it’s not going to work for you, or could not work for you.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. Interesting. Interesting. I guess my next question, and now you can’t answer books, is if you had … well, you’re based in London, but you also go to the Netherlands and Madrid, so I’ll go with euros. If you had 100 euros to spend on everyone that works remotely with you, what would you buy it? This can be a digital thing, but it can also be a physical object.
Pilar Orti: Chocolate.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. I’ll go with that. I’ll go with that. Would you like to work remotely with me? 100 euros of chocolate could last me for a week, I guess.
Pilar Orti: Yeah. Yeah, chocolate, if they like it. But I think all the people I can think of like it.
Luis Magalhaes: Why would you deal with people who don’t like chocolate? [inaudible 00:50:38] clearly not good people. Anyway. All right. I guess my final question would be imagine that you’re hosting a dinner for the top execs, technology executives in Silicon Valley, that’s CTOs, operations managers, et cetera. During the dinner, the subject is a roundtable on remote work and the future of work. You are hosting this at the Chinese restaurant, so as the host you get to decide what they are going to see when they crack open the fortune cookies. What message are you writing in the fortune cookies?
Pilar Orti: Don’t do it. No. Enjoy the silence.
Luis Magalhaes: Oh. That really sounds like something that I would find in a fortune cookie. Would you care to elaborate on that?
Pilar Orti: No, because that’s the whole point.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. There we go. I deserve to that. I [inaudible 00:51:47]. Okay. Let’s just leave it at that. Enjoy the silence. Okay. But I don’t want my listeners to enjoy the silence just yet. I want you to tell them where they can find your work, what work are you most excited about in the coming year, and where they can continue the conversation with you, Pilar.
Pilar Orti: Virtualnotdistant.com is the name of the company, and again, like Luis was saying, at the moment we’re blogging once some of because we were blogging so regularly and we though, “Okay. I think we can slow this down a bit. We’ve got enough content.” There’s also our mailing list. We do a monthly newsletter with book recommendations, podcasts, and an article. If anyone wants to just, yeah, just send that through and we keep in touch. The podcast is called 21st Century Work Life if anyone wants to listen to that, and I love Twitter. I absolutely, I am having such a laugh on Twitter at the moment. My handle there is @PilarOrti, so P-I-L-A-R O-R-T-I. Since I decided to use it for conversation, and not as much broadcast, I am loving it. It’s so much fun. Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: That sounds great, sounds great. Okay. Pilar, thank you for coming. It was an absolute pleasure, again. I could keep on going for one more hour, but-
Pilar Orti: So could I. Thank you.
Luis Magalhaes: I’m sure you have stuff to do. So hey, again, thank you for coming.
Luis Magalhaes: And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my conversation with Pilar Orti. If you want to continue the conversation with Pilar, you can do so through Twitter, and you can find all the relevant links in the show notes. If you enjoyed the podcast, please consider sharing the episode on your social networks of choice. Of course, if you can go to iTunes or to your podcast service of choice and leave a review, that would help a lot. Also, if you’re looking to build an incredible team, consider hiring remotely. And if you consider hiring remotely, which will let you tap into the best talent all around the world, go to distantjob.com. Give us a shot. We will find you the best people. We’ll find them at great value, and we will do it up to 40% faster than the industry standard.
Luis Magalhaes: So remember, if you need great people, think global. Think remote. Think DistantJob. See you next week.
Is it possible to have your team members work visibly and still respect their own individual processes? Pilar Orti says “yes” – but only if you are willing to have some hard conversations – and ask the right questions! Join us for a diverse conversation with the co-author of Thinking Remote, the latest book that should be part of every remote leader’s library.
Welcome to the DistantJob Podcast, a show where we interview the most successful remote leaders, picking their brains on how to build and lead remote teams who win.
In this episode, we discuss topics such as how the concept of “Visible Teamwork” beats “Working Out Loud,” how to coach incredible employees that are having trouble adapting to the remote work-style, and the value of understanding that no tool was made specifically for you, so you shouldn’t be committed to letting them dictate your processes. And we also ask the taboo question: how can remote work go terribly wrong?
Team of Teams: https://amzn.to/2FWQ2dR
Under New Management: https://amzn.to/2FVF34c
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