Building Talented and Engaged Remote Teams with Jevin Maltais

Jevin Maltais is a software engineer who has hired and managed over 50 remote people over the past decade. He now helps traditional companies become remote so that they can take advantage of the global workforce and lead happier and more productive teams.

He joins Keith to share his expertise on managerial hiring, specifically when it comes to remote teams.

In this talk with Keith, Jevin discusses:

  • Why hiring the best people probably means working with them remotely
  • How offering remote work helps you attract talented people in senior roles
  • Building relationships and your company culture when your whole team is remote
  • The challenges of ‘hybrid’ teams
  • Some of the mistakes team leaders make that damage their relationship with a remote worker
  • The importance of ‘over communication’ for the success of remote teams
  • Tactics you can use to help engage your whole team and build comradery
  • The value of planning remote team hang outs on company time
  • The warning signs and good signs to look for when hiring remote workers
  • Resources for managers leading remote teams

Connect with Jevin:

Transcript:

Keith:

Hello again and welcome back to Data Beats Opinion. I am Keith Perhac, founder of SegMetrics, and I am here today with Jevin Maltais. And I’m just happy to have you, man. I know about you.

Jevin:

Sure.

Keith:

Tell everyone else a little bit about you.

Jevin:

That’s great. Thanks, Keith, for having me. My name is Jevin. So my background, I’m a software engineer, and over about a decade I built this consulting thing with a bunch of people and all of them are remote. So probably over the past decade I’ve hired and managed over 50 remote people, whether designers or developers or virtual assistants, whatever, I’ve done at all. So now what I’m doing is really focusing on helping companies who are traditional in that they work together in an office and helping them to become remote first so that their existing workforce will be happier, they’ll be more productive, they’ll stick around longer, as well as taking advantage of the global workforce. So, that’s what I’m doing full time.

Keith:

Yeah. And this is interesting because a lot of bigger companies are just now going into this whole idea of, “Oh, let’s have remote teams,” and remote first and kind of stuff. But, especially in the marketing world, this has been the way it is for a long time now because you want to find the best people and you want to find the best people that have a different alternative lifestyle, that want to work for an internet marketer, that don’t really fit into that same niche that is the whole corporate gig kind of thing. So I’ve been doing this 10 years and I think every single person on every team I’ve worked with has been remote. I don’t think I’ve worked in a company in the marketing industry where everyone’s in the same office.

Jevin:

It doesn’t surprise me. And it’s like what you said, it’s because there’s so many different niches of marketing that there’s only a handful of people who are going to be experts in a very niche type of SEO or a very niche type of pay-per-click. And so, to be able to hire the best people, they more than likely will not be in your city. And so that doesn’t surprise me at all for marketing. And it’s the same for software, very, very niche-specific areas where you just are not going to find people in the city.

Keith:

And I think a lot of professionals now don’t want to deal with living in the big city and don’t want to move for work, especially the marketers that I work with and even the developers I work with, they’re very life focused. Not in a, “Oh, I don’t care about work.” They care passionately about work, but they don’t want to have to move to a city that they hate or they want to be able to have a life in addition to that work or that work fulfills their life and being able to live in the middle of nowhere, Idaho or Montana or wherever, and still be a million-dollar marketer is a great plus.

Jevin:

Yeah. And a lot of these people who are very experienced in these niches are not 20 years old. They are 30, 40 year-old people. You and I, we’re in our mid-thirties, and we’re in the family mode now and so lifestyle is really important. Where simplifying things, not having a one hour plus commute each way which is a huge piece of our day and our energy it just doesn’t make sense. So that’s why I feel it’s a really competitive thing to hire really senior people who maybe are in an office. I think it’s pretty easy to be able to pull them away if they are so as to get them remote.

Keith:

And I think there’s two sides of that that worked out really well. One is like you said, so even when I was commuting close by, it was 45 minutes each way. So that’s an hour and a half that I lose each day that I could be doing work. And so as an employer that makes me happy as well. It’s like the people working with me are not wasting time on a train or in a car or whatever, the time that they have is more available and is for working and being productive. And so they don’t have to work as much and then they can have that work life balance.

Keith:

A number of the people that I work with are now stay at home moms or stay at home dads and not that they don’t want to do anything, but they’re there watching the kids, I got to go pick up the kids at three or they got to get them ready and having that flexibility. These are super talented professionals, that just don’t want to do the eight to eight slog anymore.

Jevin:

Yup. And it’s almost priceless I mean, to be able to spend that time with your kids. I might be able to give you a couple of million dollars a year to be able to take a year of not seeing your kids but in general, it’s not something you can put a price tag on.

Keith:

Right. You can see here we’re all remote, that I’m working out of my home office and today I have school conferences with my kid. So normally if I was working in office, I would have taken today off, right? Instead, I woke up at six, I got all my stuff done. After this I’m going to have lunch, go take the kids, come back, do more work. I have a lot more efficacy with my day and the work that I’m doing. Now the problem is that the issue with that is we’re not in the same office, we’re not building that culture, we’re not understanding how each other are working together. You’re kind of the expert at this. How do you overcome, especially if you’re not used to having a remote team or you feel like you’re missing something with your remote team? How do you get people to enjoy that culture?

Jevin:

Yeah. So what I’ve noticed, because I’ve done both, I’ve been in an office and I’ve done a remote, is that people processes and culture really deconstruct a lot faster in a remote environment. So what do I mean by that? I mean that when you’re working together in an office, there’s lots of bandaid solutions that just happen that where you don’t have to be super intentional about it. With remote, you have to spend a lot more effort building these things into the company and if you do all things being equal, the research shows people who have the option to work remote, not necessarily everyone’s working remote that the option work remote are happier, they’re more productive and they stay with the company longer. That’s what the research shows. So how do we do that? So let’s look at some examples. Well, if we’re sitting in an office together we’re having lunch together typically we say, “Hey, you guys want to eat lunch now?” We’re having coffee together.

Jevin:

We’re able to just tap each other on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m working on this one thing I thought you should be involved or what do you think about this? Do you have 10 minutes to hash this out?” And then you sit and you’re just talking to each other because you’re sitting next to each other. And so you’re building these relationships just by virtue of being in the same area and having these ad hoc conversation with each other. With remote, it’s a lot harder to do that because you have the advantage of doing deep work, what I mean is you can easily book off like a three hour block where no one’s going to disturb you. You can close Slack, close your email and you can get a ton of work done. But the downside from that of course is you’re not having these ad hoc conversations and opportunities to build relationships with your team.

Jevin:

So as a manager who maybe is working in an agency or you’re in a software shop or you’re head of a marketing department, spending some time to think through how are we going to solve these individual challenges as a remote team is really important and will really help you in being able to manage people. First thing is implement one-on-ones with your team. One-on-ones it’s a bit of a loaded word, there’s probably lots of people who have lots of ideas of what that means. It’s maybe the manager tells you, “Hey, this is what you’re doing this week or give me feedback about status updates.” And that’s not what I mean at all. There’s some great blog posts by a guy Jason Avanish who runs the software product called Lighthouse that I often reference, but really these are employee led weekly meetings that are one hour long with your employee where they talk about their challenges.

Jevin:

They talk about their hopes and dreams for their career, they talk about where they’re feeling stuck and if they’re lonely by doing this over five, 10 weeks let’s say over two and a half months. Just imagine all of the information that you’re going to be getting from your employee about their true sense of how they are working in your agency and how they feel about things. Certainly the first couple of weeks, they’ll say “Yeah, everything’s great.” But as they get a sense of you really trying to reach out to them and understand their challenges, you’re going to really have a good sense about where they’re at and how you can help them.

Keith:

And that’s one of the things, the one-on-ones were always hard for me because it’s not my forte but whenever I did have them, they were very important. But similarly for a long time we didn’t have them and then we started doing our daily stand ups-

Jevin:

How’d that go?

Keith:

And that changed everything by just-

Jevin:

What was the structure for your daily stand ups? And then how did it change?

Keith:

It was a not too formal. I think it was about 15 to 30 minutes generally per day, we tried to keep them to 15. But it’s just like, “Hey, here’s what talking about, the docket, here’s what we’re doing, here’s the problems we have. The standard scrum questions. What did I do? What am I doing? What’s my blockers? And we had tried it through Slack and those things and man, people hated them. The automated thing, the team really hated anything automated that reminded them to do things.

Keith:

They had a real, like myself included were, I remember I was gone for a week and I was watching the Slack scrubs and what’s coming up. And one of them, one of the project managers kept writing in his thing, “Keith comes back in three days. Your days are limited Because he had convinced me to get rid of it when I got back.

Jevin:

Well that’s a good test. I mean if people are hating it and no one sees value over a period of a week, probably time to reevaluate how we’re doing.

Keith:

Yeah, and I think different teams react different ways. Some people love them and some people don’t like being on a 15 minute stand up. But I think, and maybe it’s different per team, but I find in the marketing industry, at least most of the clients we work with, most of the customers we work with, everyone likes that 15 minutes because they don’t like reading.

Keith:

They don’t like going through all of the… It’s another task. It’s another thing of email that they have to do. Whereas a conversation is much more energizing and fluid, especially when you’re by yourself all day.

Jevin:

Sure. Now my experience working with software engineers is they’re like, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to see face. Like, “Let me just type my thing in. Let me just drag in my to do’s and I just want to get back to working.” And so it totally I’m an advocate for not having a one size fits all remote process because every person is different and therefore every company is different about how you’re going to implement your people processes, whether it’s remote or not so that, I love how you guys have just adapted.

Jevin:

And so you just changed from this automated thing to the stand up thing in person or on video and that seemed to work.

Keith:

And so here’s a good question, what if you have a team that is different? So some people want to just do the, “Okay, I type in my answers and I’m done.” And some people want to be on that call. Is that part of a culture decision you make when hiring or is that a thing where you make it so that some people can do one and some people can do the other?

Jevin:

Yes, I think it’s a great question and I think I like to look at things as like really small atomic team based decisions. Likely you’re, the core people that you’re gonna work with are only going to be another say another two or three or four people that you’re really interacting with every day.

Jevin:

So on a small marketing or a small software engineering team. You need to figure out between your team what cadence and what type of thing are you going to do and maybe not have a company wide policy of “This is how we do stand ups.” Whether it’s going to be automated or this is how it’s going to be. Maybe you’re higher up on the executive and you really want to have a dashboard to see like who checked in today, what are they doing? And so you want to mandate this thing. But the reality is that it may not be the best thing for your team, even if that’s the way that you want to see it and you have to find other ways to maybe get the reports or information that you want or you need to be able to figure out a way so that you can learn or develop trust between you and your employees.

Keith:

And then that brings in an interesting question, which is, are there certain roles that you feel are better suited towards people in the office, versus remote? I know a lot of places are like, “Oh, the designer can be remote.” Because it’s a self owned department, it’s a self owned organism, kind of like a black box. But are there things that you find that don’t work well when they are remote?

Jevin:

I’d like to think that every job can be remote. I kind of see that as a personal challenge of like, how could we build this infrastructure so this person who wants to be remote, and that’s something we need to be clear about, some people want to be in an office around other people, there’s ways you can set that up, but if this person really wants to be remote, we can figure out a way to do that. I should also say maybe teams are only partly remote. So like you’re in the office maybe two days a week and you’re at home three days a week.

Jevin:

I’ve seen it work pretty well for designers specifically. That they can work from home three days a week and then two days a week they’re in the office with the other designers or other people where it’s highly collaborative and they really value getting around on the whiteboard, having that highly interactive thing. You can do that online, there’s online white boarding software-

Keith:

But never as good.

Jevin:

The research shows, I found a paper from the 90s where they did research of virtual whiteboard, a whiteboard without a video thing pointing at it, everyone on video, and people sitting in the office together on the whiteboard and they’re finding that the results were just as good.

Keith:

I will agree with that. Having a video on a physical whiteboard I think would be just as good. The digital whiteboards, I don’t think they work as well.

Jevin:

And that could be fine. Like that’s just something maybe we have to try out as a company. The challenge is like when you have like a hybrid company, so you have some people that work together in the office together like regularly in the office and you have these people that just are not in the office. So let’s take that white boarding example where you’ve got like, all right, let’s go Keith is out here, he’s in Portland, and Jevin and the rest of the team are all together in their office in Ottawa. And so we’re doing this collaboration thing. We’ve got Keith over in the corner on a laptop with a webcam looking at the whiteboard and the other three people are kind of hovering around this whiteboard and trying to do the collaborating deeply.

Jevin:

When you do that, it’s really hard to have Keith engaged in the conversation and in the interaction in the same way as you would with the other three people. So this is when there’s some real challenges with hybrid teams where you have to come up with processes that work so that every member of the team is on this equal footing of being able to engage and contribute in a similar way.

Keith:

And that’s one of the problems that I think when you have, especially a hybrid team you run into, but I think that there’s also, and correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a personality type that I have found can just disappear into the ether when they are working remote. Where it’s just kind of like-

Jevin:

What kind of personality would that be?

Keith:

Someone who just sits down and does the work and doesn’t give that feedback and it’s about, I find that people have to be more proactive when they’re remote, then reactive. At an office, I think you can be much more reactive because someone’s standing around looking and can say, “Hey, what’s going on?” Where if you are doing that remote, you just of get lost. Like at some point someone’s just going to stop emailing you.

Jevin:

Right, I’m not a fan of someone standing in the office saying, “Hey, what’s up everyone like, give me a status update.” Oh my gosh, it’s so disruptive and that’s the [crosstalk 00:18:07]-

Keith:

In the morning right?

Jevin:

That I’m talking about. Yeah, that’s fine, “Hey, how’s everyone doing?” It’s fine. That’s a people person, that’s a bandaid thing I’m talking about but that person who’s really on their own, we need to figure out ways to engage them. Over communicating is really important, communicating well is super important for remote teams because you’re probably not going to be interacting as much with other people if you’re not in the office. And so you need to be able to like communicate your thoughts on Slack or your project management system to put it out there and have people talk about your ideas and your struggles.

Jevin:

It’s like, “I’m struggling with this. What do you guys think?” And so those people that are kind of out on their own, it’s dangerous for them because we’re not, first of all, we don’t actually know how they’re feeling about the situation because they’re not communicating, but also because they probably, they have a ton of value to give. Like they have lots of thoughts about how things are working in the company, about the different initiatives that we have and we need to figure out ways to engage them and there’s different ways to do that if you want to talk about it.

Keith:

Yeah, let’s talk about it, how do you? Because that’s part of bringing it in to the culture, and I think that’s one of the hardest things about that team dynamic. When you don’t have group meetings or you don’t have yearly retreats or something like that, how do you build that culture and make people feel or have people feel like they’re on the same page?

Jevin:

Yeah, so we need to find ways to be able to build rapport with one another. We can talk tactics, let’s talk tactics. So I’m a big tools guy, which I have to be careful of. So whenever there’s like a problem, I’m like, “Is there a tool for this? Is there a software tools or a Slack bot I can add?” So a couple of simple things that we can do. One way is we want to just be able to create some informal times for team members to meet each other. Especially those who are not normally going to engage with one another. So there’s this tool called Donut. Have you heard of this Donut?

Keith:

No, I don’t think I have.

Jevin:

So it’s donut.com and you add this bot to your Slack and you create a channel like donut, coffee or something and people opt in to this channel and what happens is every so often you can program it and say every two weeks a Donut will match you up with other people in your company that you normally wouldn’t engage with based on which channels you’re participating in and so it’ll just connect the two of you and say, “Hey, you guys should have coffee.” Just a really simple thing and then you guys coordinate either offline or somehow to connect together and you just learn about each other and it’ll ask you, “Did you connect?”

Jevin:

And so I’ve met some really interesting people and so super low touch, really easy to add to your system, it’s just a really nice thing to build into your company. They talked about the big thing that they like to talk about is IBM added this tool and the system just happened to introduce two people across a company who were working on very similar projects at total opposite ends of the company and they ended up collaborating and doing a joint presentation and all this cool synergy, whatever happens. But even in smaller-

Keith:

You have good case studies.

Jevin:

Where you only have like 20 people. A salesperson may not talk to a developer at all but even just meeting people to be like, “Hey, I sold this thing of yours.” And, “Hey, I worked on this feature.” Like, “Oh. Wow.” The salesperson can talk about, “Well the person loves it, it’s their favorite thing.” Like, “I had no idea about that before.” So, you never know and now you have this relationship that a salesperson has to a developer that you wouldn’t have had otherwise and so having this thing on a weekly or biweekly cadence is a really nice way to be able to link people up.

Keith:

Yeah. I think that’s amazing. It’s interesting that there are so many tools now built specifically to be for company’s going especially remoter. This has become a huge niche for software and for services to serve very specific niche needs in the [V to V 00:22:33] space.

Jevin:

Yeah, because there’s so many problems. People are lonely, people don’t know each other, people don’t have rapport, managers aren’t trusting their remote employees and so it’s like, how can we build in some things to allow for managing people in a healthier way?

Keith:

Right, and it’s interesting, I’ve done game nights and stuff like that. I’ve done beer nights where we’ll all grab a beer and just hang out on zoom like this, talking.

Jevin:

Fun, yeah.

Keith:

And I think that having those every now and then is fun, what gets I think to be a difficult balance is one of the reasons a lot of people are remote is because they don’t want to do that. They don’t want to have the weekly, “Okay, we’re all going out to get a beer. Okay works over, you’re expected to be here until seven o’clock drinking with us or hanging out or playing games.” Or whatever because they are remote and they do value their own time. So, it’s an interesting balance of how do you keep that comradery? And I really like the Donut software idea, I’ll have to check that out, but how do you keep comradery when, A, everyone’s probably on different time zones and B, not necessarily everyone wants to do that hang out? How do you make it a low pressure thing when you’re all still sitting in front of a computer like this?

Jevin:

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve got a whole article, I just realized, called “Virtual Team Building”, this is my foray into trying SEO topics [crosstalk 00:24:05].

Keith:

(laughs).

Jevin:

I got marketing experts here, I’m not a marketer, I want to be a marketer and so this is my challenge. I’ve got a whole article on it, with some video games you can do, space team that Keith and I [crosstalk 00:24:18] together.

Keith:

I like that.

Jevin:

You can set this up where it can be entirely though the internet. What was the other major one? Oh, even Portal 2, Portal 2 came out years ago, you can run it on any computer, Mac or Windows. It’s a really good cooperative game, you can have competitions between your employees, who’s doing a better job as well as people giving tours of their neighborhood using street view. We have some fun ideas that you can do.

Keith:

That’s cool.

Jevin:

It’s true, people don’t want to take their evenings. I live for hanging out with people in general so for me to prioritize it but it is a challenge to do it in the evenings so I try to figure out a way to do it on company time.

Keith:

On company time.

Jevin:

On company time. Sorry, my headphones were telling me that the batteries low but yeah, I try to do it on company time and I think it’ll pay dividends for that one hour that you’ve taken together.

Keith:

Yeah, and I think hats a solid way to do it. Either doing it in the morning or doing it before the first person leaves for the day so that it is part of that day where normally they would be working. So they’re not having to give up anything.

Jevin:

Yes, exactly and a regular company wouldn’t. Right? I’m hoping. You have to come and stay on a Friday night to come have beer with us. It’s like, “Really?” People who have kids at home, you’re most senior people, they’re not going to want to do that.

Keith:

Yeah.

Jevin:

Maybe they want to because there’s kids at home but-

Keith:

I remember we have a VR set in the office and we did an after work VR thing and my wife was like, “When are you coming home?” And I realized I’d been late for three hours and I’m like, “Oh, I’m just finishing up some work.”

Jevin:

Technically that counts.

Keith:

But I went back into the VR. I still feel bad about that. It is important I think to build that comradery. Now, there are a lot of businesses that don’t actually want that comradery. They want more, like a black box set up of, “Okay I have this person over here in Alabama, who when I have this thing I need them to do, I send it to them on Trello and they do it and it comes back.” Like this whole black box kind of set up. I know you work with more bigger companies that don’t necessarily want that.

Jevin:

Right.

Keith:

Had that been something that you’ve seen as well as a trend?

Jevin:

I haven’t. I would see them, maybe companies who would see the individual more as a contractor where they’re like, “Hey, this is just something we want to give them a couple hours a week. We’ve built this whole process.” And they just don’t want to invest the energy into that individual because they’re not planning on keeping them around long term or the value that they’re providing is very commoditized.

Keith:

Right.

Jevin:

So there’s a place for that. The whole gig economy, Upwork, Fiver type of thing, there’s totally a place for that in the company but the reality, if you have an employee that you’re treating that way, likely they’re having a crappy time and they’re not going to stick around in the company for a long time.

Keith:

How can you prevent your employees from feeling that way? Because that is something that you can fall into, especially if the person isn’t proactive or if you’re someone who gets distracted easily and can’t really follow up as well as you’d like. There’s a lot of things I think as a hire-er or a team manager or as the quote, unquote, boss in there that can mess up that relationship. So what are some of the issues that you see that damage that relationship with a remote worker?

Jevin:

Well, I think it’s in large part, it’s the manager who is not managing well. Maybe that’s implicit or implied in the question, but if you’re not talking to this person to find out how they’re doing in the company. If they’re okay with how they’re engaging with the company. If you don’t have really solid answers about how they’re feeling about it then you need to do a better job whether it’s through doing one on ones or finding other ways to build rapport with them. So, if that’s not your intention and you want them to feel a part of the company then I would say you need to find some strategies that work for you as a manager that also work for that employee, to find those things out and to find a way to draw them into the company to show them that they’re valuable and to hear they’re thought because people generally want to be helpful and feel like they’re part of the team.

Jevin:

And so, there’s probably lots of value that you’re missing from that individual if they are an employee where you could engage them deeper and they could provide even more value because if they’re doing this one segment that’s a small, siloed thing then they’ve got some deep expertise on this one small, siloed, thing that they’re not able to maybe spread or give that information out to the greater company that could be super valuable for your product manager or your sales person or your CEO. So by engaging them more as a manager you can draw out all of that extra value that I’m sure that they would be happy to provide, if that makes sense.

Keith:

It’s interesting, I think that a lot of people forget that you still need to be a good manager to the remote team as well. I think they know it on a mental level but there’s a difference of, “Oh, I need to manage the people in front of me.” Versus, “I need to manage these amorphous connections out there on the internet.” Even though we have a relationship with them, I think it does become, for a lot of people, out of sight, out of mind.

Jevin:

Yeah, and it’s even more important to hire people remotely I think because the manager won’t have the same relationship with somebody who’s sitting next to them in the office, you’re having lunch with all the time, than the person working remote. Those ties are just not as strong. I’ve talked to someone, I interview lots of HR professionals to get their take on remote because they’re on the front lines of finding out these problems and hiring, recruiting and one thing one woman said is, “Being able to manage the person in front of you is like the lowest form of management.” The problems that exist right in front of you and putting out fires is important but it’s the lowest tier of management. You want to be able to go and be more proactive and work on bigger strategic problems. So, it’s hard, it’s really hard.

Keith:

Yeah, and do you have any resources or are there any resources specifically for managers who are trying manage remote teams? That’s obviously what you do as a professional is teach that but what are some things that you say, “Hey, you should really check this out.” Or, “This is something you should really think about.”?

Jevin:

Glad you asked. I have a tool, I didn’t tell him to do this-

Keith:

No, I have no idea what you’re going to say.

Jevin:

I have a tool on buildingremoteteams.com called my remote manager quiz. So, press that, it’ll ask you 18 different questions and it’ll tell you your rank relative to other remote managers who have filled it out and it’ll give you a host of different things that you need to work on and it’ll give you some starting points. Like, “Hey, check out this resource.” Or, “Here’s some other ideas that you can get started.” Here’s where you’re maybe struggling and here’s where you’re doing great, and so that would be a great starting point that’s very custom.

Keith:

I’m going to check that out and we’re going to do a wipe right now as I take the quiz and then it’ll come back, it said I was garbage. I got a zero out of 18.

Jevin:

Well, then at least there’s lots of room for improvement.

Keith:

There’s lots of room for improvement. That’s awesome, I did not know you had that.

Jevin:

Yeah, it’s a couple weeks old. Don’t be discouraged if you do take it, knowledge is half the battle, is that the drugs commercial from the 90’s?

Keith:

GI Joe, it’s GI Joe.

Jevin:

GI Joe, knowing is half the battle.

Keith:

Yeah, knowing is half the battle, that’s right.

Jevin:

Knowing is half the battle. So, don’t be discouraged, you’ve taken the first step, you want to be a better manager, great, you now have effectively a checklist of things that you can start doing for your team that will guarantee help to draw out the best of your team. Not to be too cheesy but we just talked about all these issues about why people feel crappy when they’re not being managed well but if you mange them well you’re going to see incredible things happen for your team.

Keith:

Yeah, I think at the end of the day that’s what it really comes down to is that I think that you really hit the nail on the head which is managing people in front of you is kind of the lowest common denominator, putting out fires is the lowest common denominator. If you really want to be able to manage well and be a good manager and to really be able to grow your team into professionals, if you can manage them remotely then you can manage anyone.

Jevin:

Yeah, if someones sitting next to you and they’re crying and you’re their manager, you’re going to turn to them and be like, “Yo, what’s up?”, that’s low tier stuff.

Keith:

Oh, not me. No.

Jevin:

No?

Keith:

No, if someone broke down in front of me I would have no idea how to react, I am gone.

Jevin:

The next tier is people are crying at home and you don’t know about it and this is what’s happening and then above that is just that you’re being proactive so that people aren’t crying at home. This is it man, I don’t know.

Keith:

Yeah, on Reddit and talking to friends who have had great managers in the past, it’s always interesting to hear that it’s the-

Keith:

People who I’ve talked to that have had great managers, they’re able to navigate that whole process so that it doesn’t effect their team. So that it’s [inaudible 00:34:57] protect them and being able to head that off is the highest level of manager.

Jevin:

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve heard it said, managers are really like shit umbrellas, pardon my French but they’re there to head things off, to protect you so that you can do your best work and so I don’t know, I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve had only one good manager in my entire career of working professionally, whatever 14 years, and they’re so rare but there’s a saying in the industry that people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.

Keith:

Yeah.

Jevin:

So for anyone listening who has quit jobs before, likely that’s been the case.

Keith:

Yeah, and it’s amazing the difference those make. I’ve been lucky enough to have two amazingly good mangers I’ve worked with in the past.

Jevin:

Tell us about those, who were these people and what was that experience like?

Keith:

So one was at Remeets and then one was at Evan’s and they were both just the project managers for the companies and it was a care and an understanding and then an understanding about where I was, because we’re all remote and it’s a care and understanding about the situation of, where I was in addition to where the company is. So, it was very aware of, “Okay, there have been too many changes, Keith is getting frustrated, let’s sit down and run through exactly what’s going to happen because he has 800 emails.” And there’s no way he’s going to parse this out and stuff like that. Just this understanding of, okay, we’re going to go through and test this, we’re going to do it at the same time, because if we do it in lock step it’s going to be faster.

Keith:

Because the way that Keith works, he’ll get stuff done in real time rather than sending emails back and fourth for six hours.

Jevin:

How did he know you were frustrated?

Keith:

Well she knew because generally on the calls or those one on ones.

Jevin:

So you were having those and that’s how she was able to extract that.

Keith:

Yeah, exactly. So I think during those points it’s just communication. Now it’s Slack but it was through Skype, it’s through phone calls and it’s just sitting on the phone for two hours coworking and stuff like that. Things that bring me in and make me feel like I was part of a team and that we’re all part of a team and that we’re all doing this work and it’s interesting because I see a lot of people chafe at the idea of having a manager but I think whatever level you’re at, you need someone to wrangle the cats. Who understands the bigger picture beyond where you are and maybe even if they understand the bigger picture they can at least fill you in on the details because not everyone is talking to everyone so there has to be…

Keith:

You talk in software and especially in marketing about analytics about a sole source of truth, especially with data, where’s your sole source of truth? Where does that person and that data live that lets us know this person is now worth 3,000 dollars or spent 3,000 dollars with us. Same with a company, you have to have someone who understands the sole source of truth of everything because the person on top, especially with personality brands and even with Psych Metrics, we’re crazy and we’ll come into the office and say, “You know what we really need today? A mascot, we need to drop everything, we’re designing a mascot.” And you need that person there that says, “That’s a great idea, we’re going to table it and we’ll come back to it because here’s what we’re doing.” You need that filter so everyone is on the same page because there is a sole source of truth about what we’re doing.

Jevin:

Yeah, that’s great, like managing up. Yeah, I love that.

Keith:

It’s interesting, the more people I talk to, the more info marketers, the more SaaS owners, especially in the smaller personality brand type of places, everyone has that person and it’s because the personality brand, the idea person, the person at the top gets so many ideas, left right and forward, it’s like a water fall or like a fire hydrant. So you have to have someone that is filtering that, otherwise you’re just jumping around like a ping pong constantly.

Jevin:

Yeah but imagine the amount of rapport that person has to have, especially, let’s say it’s the head of the company who’s the idea person and then there’s a person below them who’s somehow managing the marketing team or the COO or something. Imagine the rapport for them to be able to say, “No.” Or like, “Okay maybe.” And so, if it’s remote and you just don’t meet with that person frequently and you don’t know them intimately-

Keith:

That’s much harder, yeah.

Jevin:

How they you can work with them and how they think and what they’re okay with hearing. These are real subtleties in relationships that take a long time to develop and so it takes a lot of effort to be able to build those relationships and you have to find out ways to do it in your company. Especially if not everyone is sitting in the office.

Keith:

Yeah, exactly. So one last question that I want to ask because I think it’s important is, are there things, when you’re doing the hiring for remote workers, that you find are either warning signs? Like this person can not do this remotely, or are actually really good signs that you can say, yes this is a quality that most people who are able to work remotely effectively have?

Jevin:

Yeah, that’s a great question. Two things that I look for that are global in the remote work is their communication skills. They need to be able to share their ideas, share their struggles really well both through texts if we’re heavy Slack users or even email or just through the internet in general and be able to express themselves when we’re doing video calls so that in the one on one they are going to talk about how they’re feeling. The second I think would be, being proactive. When you’re at home it’s easy just to finish your task and then you’re like, “Well, I don’t know what to do now therefore I’m frustrated.” Or they’re just going to go and play video games now. Surely not something I’d do. (laughs).

Keith:

(laughs). Of course not.

Jevin:

But that’s a growth thing. So, people will be like, “Okay, great I finished that and I’ve got these things I really want to go and fix.” Surely this will help the company and people that are looking for opportunists to make the company better, looking for a history of that I think are really important. Red flags would be the inverse of each of those. If they’re not able to express themselves when you’re interviewing them or they’ve said, “I just want to put in my time, just happy to get through.” Like customer support, “I just want to get through my tickets and then I’ll be good. What happens if I finish early? Can I just take the time off?” These are not right, not great signs. Those would be the two that come to mind upfront that are unique I think for remote that I would really prioritize.

Keith:

Yeah, I think that because there’s a lack, this sounds bad when I say it, but a lack of oversight when you are remote because honestly it’s trust. There’s a lot of trust there. Of course when someone’s at the office they could be browsing Reddit but there’s a modicum of trust that I think is implicit of being in an office and it’s harder to have that when they’re remote and so I think you’re exactly right. You need someone who is willing to be proactive, to go above and beyond at least we’ve realized that, that’s not always going to be the case. Some people get tired and when they’re like, “Okay I’m done with my tickets I’m just going to go take a nap.”

Jevin:

Sure.

Keith:

That’s fine but you want someone, especially in that initial phase, who’s going to be like, “I’m excited about this, I want to be proactive and if we’re done with my tickets I bet I could find some support documentation or I can write some emails.” Or something like that.

Jevin:

Yeah, absolutely. I think these things are really important. It’s challenging man, as a manager I think we talked about the overall theme is it’s harder to be a manager of remote people than it is for people in the office but honestly, I think the research is showing, the results are there. If you can figure out how to make it work for your company in your remote culture, to make their remote life work, your company will be that much better off.

Keith:

Yeah, awesome. Well, Jevin, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing your expertise about managerial hiring and especially remote teams. If people want to get in touch with you, where should they go to find you.

Jevin:

Yeah, right on. You can check out buildingremoteteams.com I have a podcast that comes out mostly weekly where we talk about the nuances related to remote work, related to focus, being distracted, loneliness, how to do one on ones, all of these different hard things about remote that we dive into and then if you’ve got particular problems with your remote team that you want to dive into, managing, hiring, whatever, or you are a traditional company and you want to go remote, there’s a button to schedule a call with me and I’d love to be able to give you some ideas on the call and see if I can help.

Keith:

Awesome, yeah and we’ll link the quiz as well in the show notes because I think that’s going to help a lot of people.

Jevin:

Are we going to put your results in there too?

Keith:

Dear lord, no. (laughs). It’s just the poop emoji, we all know what’s happening there.

Jevin:

Thanks a lot for having me on the show Keith.

Keith:

All right, Jevin, thank you so much.



Keith Perhac