Mitch Turck Explains Why Managers Fail Leading Remote Teams

Mitch Turck is a transportation innovation evangelist, a podcast host, and producer for Telekinetic and Question Authority. He has been named one of 2021 Top 75 Minds in Remote Work. Mitch has also drafted legislation to make telecommuting a civil right and conducted publicized experiments to dispel the myths and fears at one’s surrounded remote work. He also consistently teaches on the convergence of virtual org. opportunities and their impact across other areas of society.

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Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Mitch Turck. Mitch is a transportation innovation evangelist, a podcast host and producer for Telekinetic and Question Authority. He has been named one of 2021 Top 75 Minds in Remote Work.

Luis:

He has drafted legislation to make telecommuting a civil right and conducted publicized experiments to dispel the myths and fears at one’s surrounded remote work. He also consistently teaches on the convergence of virtual org. opportunities and their impact across other areas of society.

Luis:

Mitch, thank you for coming on the show.

Mitch Turck:

Thank you for reciting that mouthful of garbled word salad stuff that I think I wrote somewhere at some point. Yeah.

Luis:

It’s not so bad. It’s not something. I did some slight adaptation. It wasn’t so much word salady.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

Right.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah.

Luis:

Otherwise, I would choke on it. But it’s a pretty nice and unique resumes. I look forward to just talking about it. But why don’t we start at the beginning. You have one of my favorite stories, where you … Actually I talked about this, not necessarily about your story, but about stories like that in my YouTube show. That’s Virtual Coffee Chat. You have one of those stories where you decided to go be a remote worker traveling, without letting your boss to know.

Luis:

You’re just supposedly working from home, but you really were not. That’s a fascinating story. Why don’t you give our listeners the short version?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. It certainly wasn’t my first foray into remote. It’s also funny, because I think a lot of folks who are now starting to embrace remote work or just starting to get their arms around it, hear about it, they’re like, “Well, that actually doesn’t sound like a really good argument for remote work that you’re like lying to your bosses.” I’m like, “Well, to be fair, this is more of the graduate level course in the arguments for remote work and not so much the intro.”

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. The idea was basically that, based on a lot of frustrations we had working with my partner and I working with our companies, and trying to make a difference and do what we could, and we just got burnt out and didn’t really see other options, but didn’t really want to quit, because we cared a lot about our teams and everything.

Mitch Turck:

I was already remote, but I was working in New York. I relocated to Florida, which was true. She was not remote, but we negotiated to get her to be remote, and she relocated to Florida. Then from there, as far as either of our companies knew we were working from Florida. But we actually drove around the country for two years without them finding out and never had a hiccup with it.

Mitch Turck:

The argument really about it is not like, “Hey, you should be allowed to do this remotely, and it’s great and blah, blah.” The argument was back then that everyone thought remote workers were a lot less productive, that they’re lazy, blah, blah, blah. What we’re trying to prove is basically, we’re driving around the country, hiking, biking, seeing all kinds of things, doing all kinds of stuff, basically on vacation.

Mitch Turck:

If you can’t tell the difference between our productivity doing this and if we’re a block down the street, then that obviously proves that there’s some value or some equity in working remotely. In fact, I actually received verbal praise from my very difficult manager with whom I obviously had a bad relationship, verbal praise for improved performance, improved behavior, whatever that which I thought was ironic.

Mitch Turck:

I was like, “Yeah. All I had to do is get away from you and smell some fresh air, and that improved my performance”

Luis:

Exactly. You’re such an easier person to be around when you’re not around.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Exactly.

Luis:

Right.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. That was interesting. Yeah.

Luis:

Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, yeah, I mean, there’s a point where I think that we sink and that point is that whatever the case, most people working in office today are already working remotely. They just go to the office to do it. But the amount of face time you get with people in offices decreases all the time. It’s an old over from the industrial age. It’s a bit of a power game, just employee saying where you should be working, because literally it doesn’t matter for many kinds of jobs, for others still does, of course.

Luis:

But for the ones that we’re discussing, and that the listeners of this podcast probably fit into, it really is silly that you go to a cubicle or to an open floor office, and you sit down and you open your lap and you do 99% of what you do from there. That’s quite silly, which brings me to the next point about legislation to make telecommuting a civil right. That’s a pretty tall order.

Luis:

What is your thought process behind that? What is your justification? I guess that’s the proper word to say. Why do you think it should be a civil right?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. Again, this was pre-pandemic. I’ve said to a few folks on several podcasts that I don’t know that it necessarily needs to be a thing anymore. Now that we’ve really … We’ve gotten through organic, if you want to call it that, organic cultural shifts, what I was hoping we would get in a decade after this legislation was passed.

Mitch Turck:

We’ve already achieved what the goal of the legislation was, which was to reduce, or totally marginalize the idea of telecommuters as a discriminated group, basically. Basically getting people to realize that telecommuting is a location, it is not an identity, which ironically is the argument people make as to why it shouldn’t be legislation, is telecommuting is not an identity.

Mitch Turck:

I was like, “Well, that’s the problem. It is.” If I say such and such as telecommuting, at least if I said it pre-pandemic, there’d be a lot of standard stuff to be said. It’s like, “Oh, they’re on the beach.” Like, “Oh, they’re in their pajamas.” Like, “Oh, so they’re not actually working today.” These are all discriminatory behaviors. Even if you think they’re funny, I mean, a lot of people think racist jokes are funny, or sexist jokes are funny. The whole point is that they’re steeped in discrimination.

Mitch Turck:

They play into actual outcomes from an employment standpoint. Your ability to get a job, your ability to advance, your ability to be noticed in the workplace, it does matter. Obviously, a lot of people have seen that. I’m glad. I’m actually a little bit shocked to see how well people have been received as telecommuters over the pandemic.

Mitch Turck:

Again, I think it’s exactly to the point I was going for with the legislation, which is, you just need more people to do it so that people realize, A, it’s not it … I mean, the problem was that most people, I think, when they would get an occasional day, when they might be able to telecommute, it really had nothing to do with telecommuting and more to do with burnout and horrible work-life balance to say, “Oh, I get a day where I don’t have to go in the office, I’m totally going to slack off.”

Mitch Turck:

It’s like, “Cool. I get that. But that’s just you having a mental health day. That is not what telecommuters do on a daily basis.” I think the idea was the more you normalize it, the less is going to be an issue. I even had this concept of sunsetting laws, which is you put laws into place with the assumption that they will eventually based on a period of time disappear. That was the idea for that is like, “I agree. Being a woman, being a black person, being Muslim, those are identities.”

Mitch Turck:

Being a telecommuter should not be an identity, but it is. If we can get rid of that, that would be great. Then we would no longer need to have this law. Yeah. I think that was generally the idea and the defense of it. Honestly, yeah, I think I don’t know that we really need it necessarily now. I think we do need protections of some sort for folks who have every reason to be telecommuting, either permanently or occasionally, and have bosses who are telling them “No” for no good reason.

Mitch Turck:

For nothing that’s based in fact, or proof or anything that the employee can argue against. I think we do need that. But that also comes down to more general stuff, too. We could argue about as far as work-life balance, as far as the technologies people are tied to surveillance, any of that stuff. At that point, it becomes a little bit of a broader issue.

Luis:

Oh, yeah. But that makes complete sense. I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of people with disabilities in the past. For example, I do think that those people should be entitled to choose. Obviously, I defend that a company should be able to institute the work policies they want. If I join a company, knowing full well that they don’t do remote, that’s on me. I shouldn’t be able to say, “Oh, no, no. I’m entitled to remote.”

Luis:

If during the whole process, I was told that we don’t do that that takes company, that’s not entitlement I should have. But someone with a disability should. Or other circumstances, I’m just using disability as Yeah.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Well, disability is an interesting angle. Because at least in the US, the ADA law, Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s actually primarily what my telecommuting legislation was based on, because it’s the best precedent for that law because one of the accommodations of ADA is that you should … as long as you can do your job, these are all things that are written out in the law and basically say, “As long as you can do your job, your primary functions of your job, and it’s not an undue burden on the employer, telecommuting should be an option for you as an accommodation for being disabled or differently-abled.”

Mitch Turck:

That right there basically just paints the picture of how that would make sense. If we just extended that to a larger group of people, then that’s how you mostly how you get my legislation. But one of the things I think is interesting about the ADA law is that a lot of … you see the discrimination in telecommuting or, I guess, in both groups, in that a lot of court cases will show that an employer who has fired or disciplined or suspended someone who has telecommuting as an accommodation under ADA.

Mitch Turck:

That employer will not argue the person’s disability and say, “You’re not disabled enough to warrant this or you don’t really have it is really whatever.” Usually is not 100%. But more often than not, in the court cases, strangely, you’re finding that they’re saying, “Oh, yeah. We had no problem with the person telecommuting. But the problem was then that as telecommuter, they weren’t performing well enough.”

Mitch Turck:

They usually had no evidence really to back it up. But because of the stigmas against telecommuters, if you got in front of a judge who was just like, “Yeah. Well, we all know that that’s true. Telecommuters don’t really work that hard,” in their mind, then you would have a lot of these case … these cases would not go the way of the employee, because it was … I call it redlining, which is a bit of an appropriation from more important cultural and racial issues.

Mitch Turck:

But the idea of basically taking people who are in a protected group, and finding a way to put them in a different group that is not protected. Re-bucketing them so that you can then discriminate against them. That’s the thing that has happened a lot with people who are protected under ADA is that you then say, “Okay. You’re protected under ADA. We can’t discriminate against you. We’re going to allow you to telecommute. Now, we can discriminate against you for being a telecommuter because that’s okay.”

Mitch Turck:

I always found that to be an interesting and really troubling scenario for people who are trying to do what they can from an ADA standpoint.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s quite sad. I’m sorry to say that I saw similar things happening in the physical workplace. That’s partly why I decided to become a remote work advocate. I definitely understand that. Now we reached an interesting point, because that experiment that you run for yourself and your partner was effectively done at scale, thru COVID.

Luis:

In fact, to me, the most impressive thing is that this was done in the worst conditions possible. It was done with little to no preplanning. It was done where people had a lot of stressors at home, from elderly parents that they had to take care of, to kids not being able to go to school, some places that shortages at grocery shops, et cetera, et cetera, some places that stricter, more draconic measures than others.

Luis:

There was a lot of stress to go around. Yet most people performed quite well at their jobs, sometimes even better than when they were in the office. Where does that leave the office?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Exactly. Just the fact that even given someone that horrible proxy for working remotely or working from home, which I was just calling working from confinement, even given that scenario, the vast majority of them were still saying, “Oh, I would like to continue doing remote work. I was again, surprised. Surprised to find that, that people who had very little or no experience working remotely were telecommuting.

Mitch Turck:

To your point, where maybe working amongst all their kids running around, or they had all these added stressors, and we’re still able to see through that like, “Okay. Well, if things went back to normal, this would actually be good and enjoyable, and I’d like to continue it.” I was a little surprised, honestly, to see how favorable it was. Because to your point, yeah, what people got exposed to was not working from home or remote working. It was a very weird form of imprisonment.

Luis:

Yeah. Exactly. No. Look, I like the idea of the bell curve. Most likes, dislikes preferences in society are distributed along the bell curve, across any group that you’d care to measure. I do think that our preferences on engaging with work are similarly distributed along the bell curve. The problem was that up until now, we were all shoved into one end of the bell curve, which is spend eight hours a day, five days a week at an office.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. You said it earlier when we’re talking about the arguments that you have to fight against everything. I think what’s funny, and this is the way … There’s a lot of convergence and a lot of the work that I do, even though it’s across industries, and one of the things is that your realizations, your innovations, the new knowledge are constantly arguing with ghosts, basically. You’re not arguing with the current reality. You’re arguing with the perspectives that have carried over through ages.

Mitch Turck:

You’re talking about the industrial age and things like that. So many people who really needed this education in the value of remote work and telecommuting and working from home, were had no reason to be opposed to it, or had no reason to even be skeptical of the information they’d be receiving. But the ingrained generational ideas of what it means to do work and why going into an office is the thing, it’s archaic.

Mitch Turck:

Yet, that’s what you end up arguing against. It’s frustrating, but it’s funny, because it’s just always familiar to me, whatever the case may be, especially if you’re talking about technologies. A lot of time, it’s the thing you get pushback on is the what-ifs and the fear and uncertainty and doubt of basically 100 years ago that we shouldn’t be talking about now.

Mitch Turck:

But people’s collective minds are not updated at the rate that your Chrome browser, or your iOS phone is, unfortunately.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. The human OS is very, very hard to update.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Human OS is pretty much unlike Windows 95 at best, I think right now.

Luis:

Exactly.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

Exactly. I really like the way you put it, the way you organize your thoughts about these things. I read an article from you. It was something to the effect of the big collaboration, the big lie around collaboration in the office or something like that. I don’t remember the exact title. But I’ll be sure to link it in the show notes. Look back when Yahoo and IBM took their anti-remote work stances, we had DistantJob published some of the first takedowns of that.

Luis:

But your article, you pick some other companies as well as those, and you lay out a very, very good general principles takedown of that, which is very interesting. I recommend people give it a read again. I’m going to link it in the show notes. But the main premise is that the thing that’s being defended is not really the thing that people care about, either due to them not knowing exactly what they care about, or just lying about it.

Luis:

It really has nothing to do with something magical that happens in the office. In fact, everything points that something magical does happen in the office, but it’s counterproductive.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks for that. Appreciate that. That’s kind of you. Yeah. I think it’s titled Collaboration is a Lie, pretty straightforward. Yeah. There’s a few components of that. But I think one of the easiest mental models there is just that collaboration has been deified. It’s this term that’s always wonderful and, to your point, magical and everything.

Mitch Turck:

That’s one of the great battles that supposedly telecommuting has to fight is, “Well, what about the collaboration that’s lost?” It’s like, “That’s not the way it works. Collaboration is one part of a formula” When I when you and I interact, when you and I hopped on this thing, there was no guarantee of collaboration. I mean, this is actually about as close to positive collaboration as you’ll get, because of the circumstances. But there’s no guarantee of that.

Mitch Turck:

Distraction is the other half of that equation. It’s not always half, of course. But that’s the part that needs to be brought up to someone’s saying “Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.” It’s like, “Yep. Well, also distraction, because those are both parts of interaction.” If you’re telling me that you’re doing all this for the sake of collaboration, I also need you to be showing me how you’re measuring distraction and understanding distraction.

Mitch Turck:

Which in most cases, given the circumstances, especially hierarchical organizations, where people can’t really say “No” to higher ups, distractions are the thing that you definitely get. You hope you get collaboration, but you definitely get distractions. To just have one-half of the equation waving around is a little bit preposterous. There’s all these studies that we’ve had obviously around.

Mitch Turck:

But people, how much distraction interferes with your day and your ability to get back on task from distractions and how much distraction people have. I mean, this is usually the number one thing from, at least, a day-to-day thing. Usually the number one benefit that people will report on when they’re telecommuting is like, “Oh, I’ve minimized distractions.”

Mitch Turck:

That’s the operational thing that I like about telecommuting. That right there is just so underrepresented when people talk about collaboration in the office.

Luis:

But I want to push back a bit on that, because I think that it’s actually quite possible to have really good collaboration. I mean, we’re having a collaborative discussion right here. That’s what this is. But you can go much deeper. I mean, I’ve been playing online games, MMOs, since 2004, and I was participating in collaborative projects online with my gamer buddies, my gaming buddies since before.

Luis:

I have a history of over two decades of collaboration online to solve complex situation, solve complex puzzles, create complex pieces of media. There’s all that. It’s perfectly possible. The thing is that you need to have people engaged and driven for that to happen. Many companies use physical proximity as a replacement for actually nurturing engagement, or getting the people driven.

Luis:

But I think I’ve said this about a dozen times by an hour in this program. But it’s the magic thing about the office is that when you get there, you have nothing better to do, so you might as well work.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

That’s the magic thing about the office. But when you’re at home, you have a million better things to do than work, unless, your work is really engaging, and you’re really interested in doing it, and you have a sense of achievement when doing it. Sadly, most businesses these days fall short of either hiring the right people, or incentivizing them, nurturing them to have this approach to work.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Hit right in the head. It’s just a matter of what I would always say is strategizing, how are you going to have people work remotely is actually building how your business works. Having an office is really just your excuse for not doing those things. That’s why we get so many managers who are not managers. That’s why we get so many practices and processes that aren’t documented, or aren’t accountable.

Mitch Turck:

Because the idea is like, “It can always get solved by someone just going to someone else and doing it.” Typically, that doesn’t actually happen. Yeah. I think that’s one of the core arguments to be made is it seems to a lot of folks that collaboration, or productivity is more difficult in the remote or in the virtual environment. It’s not untrue. But it’s more difficult because you never really did it in the office.

Mitch Turck:

It’s really just a matter of you have set really low expectations once you’ve built an office and put people in it. Because it doesn’t all grind to a halt, everything seems fine. But the reality is you didn’t actually do the thing that you were supposed to do to build a business and have it operate smoothly. Once you make everyone virtual, now you have to do the thing.

Mitch Turck:

For that reason, I think people were managing remotely or managing remote operations and all that other stuff are people who are actually building how your business works. You know what? I actually want to touch on your other point, too. I’m in the same boat as you. Twenty plus years, I’ve been working virtually with people for all reasons and actually just took stock internally on the 10 … If I was starting a company and could hire anyone I wanted, who were the 10 people I would hire?

Mitch Turck:

I think I came out to 8 out of the 10 are people I’d never worked with in an office for an extended period of time. I think almost three or four of them I’ve never met in person. I think the argument about having to get over the hurdle of virtual collaboration is really more of a matter of, well, part one, personalities are different. You and I maybe are the type that are more comfortable with this engagement than other folks.

Mitch Turck:

We have to acknowledge those folks. Two, which is the point that you made, if you give people the tools, then they can build up that rapport and build up that collaboration. If you never give them the tools, then they come to the assumption that, “Oh, collaboration doesn’t work in a virtual environment, because I’ve never really been enabled to make it work.”

Mitch Turck:

It’s like, “Well, okay, sure. I mean, that’s true for all things in life.” Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. You mentioned if you were going to build that company, now, what would it looks like? What are the top three to five things that you would do to avoid that pitfall?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Well, I guess, let’s be clear. The pitfall of what?

Luis:

That pitfall of people usually just are all shoved into a box and then they have to do work. You don’t need to define your systems that drive your company. I guess the pitfall of not having systems to drive your company.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things that I find really funny is that clients will tell me … I mean, just in general, you hear people say, or employers say, “It’s difficult to measure performance remotely,” which is not true. I mean, if you can’t measure it remotely, again, to your point, you said earlier, most of us are just working virtually inside the office. Most of our work is virtual or screen-based.

Mitch Turck:

If you can’t measure me remotely, you definitely cannot measure me in-person. You’re just not measuring is your problem. But I think, to that end …

Luis:

How will we ever know if we have something after this conversation? Mitch, tell me. Do tell me, right?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Let’s flyover it then just make sure that you were editing it to make sure that –

Luis:

Exactly.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

It’s not like we’re going to have a file by the end. What is this?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think, to that point, this is more tactical. But I think you can bring it up pretty easily to a more strategic level. What I always say to folks is like, “I don’t even need to know what product you make, or what business you operate in. If you have employees, you can survey your employees. You can ask for their opinions.” To your point you made earlier, if you have a team full of employees who all say, “We would like to work in an office.”

Mitch Turck:

You’re like, “Okay. Well, then that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing that, because I mean, unless I want to fire everyone and start anew.” But point being, if you actually pay attention to what your employees have to say, and you actually consider them to have just as much authority as you do on a day-to-day operations, if not more, then you can solve a lot of the communication and collaboration issues that bubble up from a lack of that communication.

Mitch Turck:

I think that, to me, is just one of the easiest things to do is constantly be doing reviews. I built a review, or an evaluation tool around cultural fit, or I should say job fit, but anything from how are you performing at your job to should we do this thing next week, or whatever the case is. Actually just asking folks who work for you for their input is the thing that I don’t … I don’t know why we don’t do it more.

Mitch Turck:

I guess I do know why, which is that we don’t have facilitating managers. We have hero managers. That needs to change. That would be a big part of it, too, I would say, or just more broadly, I would say. As a leader, you have to be a facilitator and assume that you are holding everyone else up. You are not pulling them along in the direction that whatever suits your whim at the moment. That’s a big part of it, I think.

Mitch Turck:

Part and parcel to that, I think is just transparency in general. I have a piece coming out soon on documentation as a key part of culture, not because it is a form of communication, which is I think, a big pitfall assumption that folks have is like, “Oh, documenting is a form of communication, I can also just call someone up on the phone, or we can also just meet in-person.” But the difference is the documentation is commitment.

Mitch Turck:

It’s not about communication. It’s about commitment. I’m holding myself accountable when I document something. In most countries, certainly in the US, when you have something written down, you can take that to court. That’s a contract. Committing to documentation is important. I think what you see manifested from that is a lot of the transparency that’s really interesting in some of these more innovative companies like, is it Stripe or get … Stripe, I think is the one who has email transparency.

Mitch Turck:

As much as possible, everything is CC’d to these distro lists that anyone can go into at any time. That may sound familiar as like, “Oh. It’s like how Slack works. This is like, well, this was before Slack. This is exactly how these tools get built is people institute best practices.” Then someone’s like, “Oh. This should be a product instead of a best practice.” Then there you go.

Mitch Turck:

That kind of stuff, Buffer is transparent about salaries. Not just like, “Here’s the formula for our salaries,” or “Here’s what our jobs pay.” But like, “This is what I make. This is what everyone at Buffer makes is right here. It’s public.” That transparency I think is huge. Dan Price the CEO of Gravity Payments, I think is super famous for this at this point.

Mitch Turck:

This is basically his brand on the internet, is telling everyone what he’s doing at the company, and how he came to that decision by asking his employees what they wanted, and telling everyone that “This is what my employees get. They make 70 grand. They get $500 towards a charity, blah, blah. This is why we do it this way. Here’s the documentation around it.”

Mitch Turck:

That stuff, I think, is huge. It’s also huge, I think, because …

Luis:

Well, it saves you time. If you have everything documented, there’s close to everything as possible, you can cut down on questions that distract you or distract your employees, right?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

If you have a culture of look it up before you ask, obviously, in order not to frustrate people, the things need to be there to be looked up. Otherwise, if I look up three things, and I can’t find any clear answers, I’m just going to give up looking up and I’m going to go to my direct manager or to my colleague. But if you keep a good culture of documentation, and then you say, “Hey, we document everything.”

Luis:

Obviously, people are here to help. But look at the documentation first before you bring someone. Then that is easily at 20% productivity gain across a company or team.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. To your point, you have to … there is nuance, too, and you have to do it well. It’s not something you can do a half-assed job of. Again, we get back to that idea of, if you’re starting a business, and that sounds like effort, and you think you have better things to do, it’s easy to just shove it by the wayside and say, “Well, we’ll get around to documenting how we pay people, and why we pay them, and who you can talk to if you don’t think you’re fairly paid.”

Mitch Turck:

We’ll do all that in the future. Then next thing you know, you have 50 employees. You’re like, “Well, now, it’s really awkward to do that. I’m scared. I don’t want to and blah, blah, blah.” Well, okay, now, the opportunity was there at the beginning, and you had to do it from the start. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. I think that’s where we see a lot of failure.

Mitch Turck:

To the point you made earlier, is just people who are running businesses, and not preparing them to be scaled from the standpoint of a healthy … I don’t like the phrase work-life balance, but just generally a healthy culture. It really becomes toxic very, very quickly as you scale up. It’s unfortunately, one of the things you really got to start off strong with, I think, at a company or have someone come in and fix which gets expensive as it does, but any kind of software or anything else.

Mitch Turck:

It’s always the cheapest thing to do is build it right the first time. The most expensive is to fix it when it breaks. Try to avoid that.

Louise:

Exactly. Exactly. To be clear, it’s fine to build stuff as you go along. Obviously, to update and improve stuff as you go along. I know very little companies that reach year one with the same set of rules, systems, and processes that they had on day one. But they had something. I mean, they had a plan. They had something on day one, the ones that succeed. Anyway.

Luis:

Speaking as succeeding, 2020, we’re recording this in the summer of 2021. 2020, obviously huge costs just in human wellbeing. Let’s not even get into the economics. But just in human wellbeing, and human suffering, there was a huge cost in 2020. But if there was one thing that actually benefited from the pandemic was remote work. Now, I do think, but I’d like to hear your thoughts about it.

Luis:

I think that it will eventually have very positive social repercussions. What do you think will be the social impact of so many jobs having moved to remote and the decent chunk of them? I believe we can foresee that a decent chunk will stay remote.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Well, I mean, again, I was pleasantly surprised to see granted some of it being under duress. But just what percentage of jobs, at least, in developed countries could be done remotely. I mean, in the US, at least in Canada was similar. The practical estimate of who could work remotely feasibly was around 30% or so from official government agencies, pre-pandemic. Some thorough studies from academia said stuff like 37 or 42, things like that.

Mitch Turck:

But at its peak, we had, I think, up to 60% of the workforce working remotely, which is pretty incredible. Again, speaks to like, this is a very large group of people. This is not fringe Instagram influencers who blah, blah, blah. I won’t get into it. But it’s not the stereotype that people imagine. It’s arguably most of the workforce could be doing this, and therefore, is part of that population.

Luis:

My 62-year-old dad was working remotely.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

He is not an Instagram influencer.

Mitch Turck:

Maybe he should be.

Luis:

Maybe.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. First off, just that realization that how we think about planning our cities and our built environment, how we think about layouts of homes, how we think about climate, how we think about everything else in those nations, at least, is really gives you pause because you realize like, “Okay, it could be highly impactful and has massively positive potential if managed well. Now, what do we do?”

Mitch Turck:

That’s where I think we’ve gotten to a little bit of frustrating agendas from folks. I don’t even think agendas, but just a natural pushback from folks who have fear of what could happen negatively, which, again, this is across industries. This is emblematic of change is people have fear, uncertainty, and doubt. They say, “Well, what if this? What if that? It’s like, “Okay. Sure. Okay.” That could happen. Yeah.

Mitch Turck:

But we have to be responsible adults. In that sense, I think, it’s interesting, because I want to withhold judgment from this, just because I feel I haven’t heard anyone really give a good argument for it yet. But the location agnostic, equal pay for equal work argument is one of those complex ideas where the assumption sounds good on its face that like, “Oh, everyone should make what people in San Francisco make, regardless of locations.”

Mitch Turck:

It’s like, “Well, okay.” That’s someone who …

Luis:

It’s complicated.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Someone who works in mobility and sustainable transportation and things of that nature, on the built environment. I can tell you I don’t want you doing that. I don’t want you making a San Francisco salary and living in Topeka, Kansas or something like that, because that’s where we get a lot of behaviors that lead to unsustainable living.

Luis:

Oh, you can even go farther than that. If you have a really good employee, a really fantastic employee, that’s the pillar of, I don’t know, your development efforts. He’s your lead develop or whatever, on your world changing software. You don’t want him retiring after one year and a half, because he lives in Zimbabwe, and they made enough to retire with. Right?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. That’s a fair point.

Luis:

Right.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. I would say and this goes back to one of the principles if I were to start a company is you really have to think about how you are rewarding people in some way that is not monetary. Because at some point to folks, there are very few folks out there that are motivated by money who have enough of it. There’s a very obvious reason why someone who is near the poverty line is motivated by money.

Mitch Turck:

Most people when you get to a point of being comfortable … and we see this all the time. It’s how do you know that your mid-level manager, whatever, who comes to you and says, “I don’t make enough here,” is someone you should let go, because the evidence shows that that person will leave in six months anyway, even if you do appease them from a salary standpoint, because they didn’t need the money.

Mitch Turck:

It was not about the money. It was about frustration, about their value in the workplace. I think the idea is there, is we need to think more intelligently and more creatively. Again, a lot of that comes down to talking to your employees and listening to them about how to get them more involved. That lead developer you’re talking about, that’s a person … I would give her more autonomy. I would give her more of a voice.

Mitch Turck:

Is she in board meetings yet? No. Does she want to be? Cool. Put her in there. Or does she want to take eight weeks of vacation instead of four? Cool. Do that. What does she want to do? Does she want to have a bigger team under, a smaller team under, does she want someone else to handle this part of her job that sucks? We can do all those things. We don’t need to pay her another 50 grand. There’s just such diminishing returns on that from both parties.

Luis:

Exactly. Someone with a lower standard, a country with lower cost of living, at some point, you see money just becomes … you throw in an extra 100k, money eventually becomes infinite. At least they stop living the lifestyle, including the work that they have. I mean, by that point, they might as well create their own software company, do their own projects. They have the money to do it. Economics are hard, man.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. We should just all settle on that. It’s hard. Yeah. We shouldn’t be going into one or one different thing.

Luis:

But there’s a more interesting impact that I’m very interested in measuring. I’m interviewing someone actually, after you, that’s actually trying to change the economy of Barbados by appealing to digital nomads is very interesting.

Mitch Turck:

I think I know who the name of that guy.

Luis:

Yeah. Peter Thompson. Peter Thompson.

Mitch Turck:

No. I don’t. Okay.

Luis:

It’s okay. Anyway, the idea and I really believe in this is that we’ve had a lot of wealth stuck, right being captive in three or four western countries, mostly western countries. There are some non-western countries that are quite rich, but I talk about what I know. I do see that remote work, digital nomad, or even not digital nomad, even full-time remote work where people just decide to work for a company in one country, but go live somewhere else.

Luis:

I do think that helps redistribute organically some of the buy. I can only see that being good. But of course that goes back to the conversation about wages. Probably don’t want to pay the person in Zimbabwe as if they lived on San Francisco, but it doesn’t feel good to pay them the average salary of Zimbabwe and developer.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s some nuance to the way we talk about wages that maybe need some fixing. But yeah, to your point, I think one of the things I’ve said to folks a lot is that what you get … I’m sure Peter Thompson will probably harp on this. But what you get when you have a remote workforce in a location, which is a hypothetical thing, unless you’re like Gonzalo Jalles, Madeira Villages or something.

Mitch Turck:

But if a ton of your local residents are remote workers, what you effectively get is like a tourism economy, which is what … I mean, apart from the labor around dealing with tourism, is exactly what you want as a locality, which is that people take money that came from somewhere else, and bring it to you, and they leave it there. That’s an amazing thing for that locality.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah, we can argue about the macroeconomic impacts long-term and everything. But yeah, if you’re trying to bring an area that is underserved, or underinvested in up to par, then yeah, that’s about the best thing you can do. Not necessarily need to incentivize them. There’s a lot of incentive programs, as you know, I only know them mostly in the US, apart from golden visas and stuff in Europe.

Mitch Turck:

But incentives to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma, or move to Vermont, or whatever, and we’ll give you 10 grand. Well, those are nice little nudges. But one of the things that I like from the perspective of the built environment and land use planning and mobility is the argument to be made there when you realize that if you have a bunch of remote workers, as local residents, who are basically just gifting you money and tax dollars from elsewhere, then that tells you what do I need to build here to make it appealing?

Mitch Turck:

I need to just build a great place to live. No more do I need to worry about wanting to incentivize some large employer to come here and d an office so that I can have people who come to work at jobs who then give me tax dollars. You just say, “How do I make the best place to live, because if I have the best place to live, people will come here.”

Mitch Turck:

That seems to me a more sustainable approach to planning your cities and your regions, than to blend them around which large employer is willing to take a big tax incentive to come here and employ people.

Luis:

You can go directly for the tax dollars off the people working and skip the middleman. That’s definitely the cost of the middlemen. All right. I want to be respectful of your time. I think it’s time for us to wind down with some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be. Please expand as much as you’d like.

Luis:

If you could gift something around the value of $100, let’s say, to everyone working remotely with you, and with the caveat that you can’t ask them to what they want and you can’t give them money or a gift card equivalent. What would you buy? What would you buy everyone?

Mitch Turck:

I’m gifting someone something that’s worth about $100 and they’re all remote workers. It would be dependent on, I guess, the group of folks that I employ or whatever. But it would probably be some service, some wellness service that is maybe not one that most of them would partake in. Whether that’s therapy or a massage or something like that, but just the thing that pays back into their wellness that they may not make time for or budget for personally.

Mitch Turck:

Especially if they’ve never done it before, if it’s something like therapy that maybe they realized from that like, “You know what? Maybe I’ll start doing that. That felt good. That gave me a nice reset, and put me in a better state of mind, or a better physical state.” I think that’s what I would do, something around that. Yeah.

Luis:

Nice. Nice. I love that answer. What about yourself? What in the past six months or so have you bought that as drastically improved your … You don’t like work-life balance. I’m not a fan either. But just life in general related to work or work-life fusion if you like.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. I mean, I’m lucky and that I … I mean, I’m a poor personal example of work-life balance because I intentionally don’t work a lot of hours to my financial detriment. But I just … Yeah. I do pretty well on that anyway. But …

Luis:

No one said, the balance needed to be even, right?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. If anything, I need more work in my balance. But I don’t know if it’s good or bad. But we got a hamster, about a year too late. Everyone bought their brand new pets in April of 2020. We did it in like March of 2021. My partner and I have this little hamster. They’re not great pets. But it’s at least nice to have another …

Luis:

But everyone was getting dogs. You went for the … Can you walk the hamster?

Mitch Turck:

No. You cannot walk the hamster. You can’t put him on a leash. Nothing. He roams around, does whatever he wants. Yeah.

Luis:

He does his own thing?

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. I get it. I have a lot of cats. You can walk cats. Well, you can try. You can do with some cats. But mostly it’s not going to go your way. You need a very special cat to be able to pull that off. But it’s relaxing. It’s quite. I mean, I’m a fan of the take a 5, 10 minute break every 30 or minutes or 60 minutes of work. During those breaks, pets are a nice thing to have around.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

They’re quite relaxing. They help you get mindful. Yeah. All right. Let’s talk about books. Are you a fan of gifting books, let’s say? What books have you gifted the most?

Mitch Turck:

I am a horrendous reader. I read a ton of articles and documents. I read zero books. In fact, I think one the last podcast I was on is …

Luis:

Give me your documents

Mitch Turck:

No. No. Thankfully I have a book. I have a book. You caught me at the right time in my life. It’s the first time in 10 years I’ve read a book. It’s really interesting. It’s called the Power Broker. It is about Robert Moses, who anyone in the transportation world knows about. But ironically, most people do not. I think it’s a huge book. It’s a 66 hour audio book.

Mitch Turck:

But it’s probably one of the best all-encompassing stories about how 20th century America and arguably then the Western world happened for better and worse. It’s certainly not all-encompassing. But as far as how we build cities, how we build suburbs, how we just build the environment, all the things people may not consider around inequity and climate and things of that nature, the influence it has on growth, all this other stuff.

Mitch Turck:

There’s just so much of it. That’s really interesting. I think it’s just also interesting, because the guy had so much power. Yet, you’ll never read about him in a normal American history textbook. He’s just not acknowledged as someone who matters. But he’s probably the person you could point to as being responsible for America looking what it looks like from 1,000 feet up.

Luis:

Wow.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah. I actually have that book in my to-read list. I’ll make sure to bump it up. It sounds really interesting. Yeah. Thank you for the recommendation. Let’s move on to the final question. This one is a bit longer setup. Bear with me. Let’s say that we’re in the in go out to dinner land again. That we can once again join with a lot of people in the fraternal dinner conversation around a big roundtable.

Luis:

You are hosting a dinner, where in attendance are going to be the people that have the power in the biggest tech companies all around the world. There’s going to be a roundtable about remote work and the future of work. Now, the twist is that you’re doing this at the Chinese restaurant. As the host, you get to choose the message that goes inside the fortune cookies that these people will get. What is your fortune cookie message?

Mitch Turck:

What is the fortune cookie message? It’s got to be something about … I guess, if it’s the executives, it got to be something around, quantify what you do, or quantify your biases or something like that. I don’t have a sassy, one-liner. But basically just something around the idea of whatever your beliefs and biases may be, it’s your obligation as the leader of the company to say, “I’m going to, again, commit this to paper with some evidence that someone else can then disprove if they have better evidence.”

Mitch Turck:

It’s got to be beyond my own biases. Yeah. I know that that doesn’t fit in the cookie.

Luis:

I have to do that.

Mitch Turck:

But I love cookies. Maybe it’s a big cookie. I don’t know.

Luis:

There you go. Maybe a big cookie. Could be. But I do you think that quantify your biases is pretty catchy. I don’t know. Maybe could be a title of a future article. Who knows?

Mitch Turck:

Okay.

Luis:

What I want people to know is how they can continue the conversation with you. How can they learn more about what you’re doing, what you’re up to? Please.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t have anything in particular to plug. I work with varied clients across industries, often very much behind the scenes. There’s not a whole lot to do as far as following me or anything. I do have a podcast called Telekinetic which you can find anywhere. I would say if you want to connect with me just follow me or attempt to friend me on LinkedIn, I do a lot of my ranting there.

Mitch Turck:

Anything that’s not there usually ends up there. Yeah. That’s probably the way to go for folks. But eager to have a discussion.

Luis:

Well, it was absolutely awesome having you. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Mitch Turck. Mitch, it was a pleasure.

Mitch Turck:

Yeah, Louise. Thank you so much for having me.

Luis:

It was an absolute pleasure having you. Thank you so much. I hope once the pandemic is over, you’ll consider bringing your van over to Portugal, and we can share a glass of wine or something in that region.

Mitch Turck:

It was on the shortlist. I’ll make it even shorter now. Yeah, for sure.

Luis:

All right. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to this episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

We close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. 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. The more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convinced to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope to enjoy for you listen to as well.

Luis:

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.

Luis:

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.

Luis:

To help 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. With that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

The pandemic caused a global remote work experiment that made managers test their leading skills. For employees, remote work meant having a better work-life balance. But for managers, the experience in some cases was stressful as they felt challenges in terms of communication and collaboration.

In this episode, Mitch shares his fascinating story about how he started working remotely. He mentions that working remotely is actually building how your business works. It’s about building all the processes in terms of documentation, collaboration, trust, etc., in a much more intentional way which is why many leaders often fail to lead remotely.

Highlights:

  • How being a remote worker has become and identify (and why it shouldn’t be) 
  • Discrimination in telecommuting 
  • How working remotely puts managers to the test in terms of collaboration and communication 
  • Why the ‘’measuring performance remotely is difficult’’ argument is false
  • Insights about what remote collaboration means
  • Tips to become a build your remote business effectively 

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!