Insights from Jason Morwick on challenges, solutions, and best practices for shifting to a remote-first culture. Highlights of the challenges of implementing remote-first in an international organization and how to accommodate needs and circumstances unique to different country cultures and practices.
About our Guest:
Jason Morwick is a remote work advocate, leader, and practitioner from eons ago when we called it telework. He is co-author of Making Telework Work (2009) and Workshift (2013), as well as co-author with Debra A. Dinnocenzo of Remote Leadership: Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams (2021). Jason currently services as Head of Remote-First at Cactus Communications. He has been passionate about helping organizations transition into the remote world since 2010 and is always looking for a better way to work.
About the Host:
Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues. Debra is a co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams.
Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership. Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience Debra brings to her work. As a nationally recognized expert on the virtual workplace, has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University. Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.
Connect with Debra at:
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Welcome to the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm Debra Dinnocenzo and I'll be your host and guide as we explore new challenges and proven keys to success for leaders and teams who must get results from a distance. For more than two decades, I've helped organizations and leaders successfully go virtual. Now that we're all on a trajectory toward the next normal of work from anywhere and hybrid teams, I'm excited to share with you the insights and expertise that 1000s of leaders and teams have acquired through my books, coaching, training, and presentations. Join me to learn tips, techniques and skills that leaders and teams in your organization can implement now to achieve effectiveness in our evolving remote workplaces.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm Debra Dinnocenzo, and I look forward once again to the opportunity to share with you some insights and I am delighted to have with us today my guest, Jason Morwick, who is also the co author of the book we published recently, remote leadership. And so Jason, welcome. Thank you for having me. Well, always a delight, always enjoy chatting with you. And I look forward to this opportunity to talk. So Jason and I have known each other for probably a decade or so. And when the pandemic arrived, we picked up the phone and said, Hey, we probably should write a book. But we had never met. And so we got through the book writing process and publishing process, and proved that you do not have to be in the same place to get anything done to innovate or to get results. And we got the book published mid pandemic, and just had the opportunity to meet face to face in person a few weeks ago. And so but this is our usual way of interacting and sharing information with each other. And so Jason is thrilled that you're here. And I wanted to give you an opportunity to introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about your background and what you're doing now.Jason Morwick:
Thank you, Debra. As you know, I have been remote working for about 16-17 years now. I started around 2005 2006 timeframe. And I made that transition from working in an office five days a week to going fully remote and working for a company that was based in California. And I am based in Orlando, Florida, and I was working out of my house. So the transition that a lot of people had to go through during the pandemic, I made that transition years ago and went through all the same issues that a lot of folks had back that. So from that experience, I started doing consulting and writing and currently I am the head of remote first, for Cactus Communications.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Great. So tell us just real briefly about cactus and how you came to be in the role of head of remote first, and then we'll talk a little bit more about what remote first actually means.Jason Morwick:
Thanks. Cactus Communications, supports academics, researchers and scientists in getting their work published, basically getting science in the hands of regular folks like you and I, the company has about 1200 employees and couple 1000 freelancers and contractors, but for the regular employees, out of those 1200. It's about 85% based in India, we have a small contingent in the US but we also have offices in Korea, Japan, China, Denmark, and in the UK.Debra Dinnocenzo:
So you're dealing with a lot of international issues and challenges. What are the key ones that you're facing? you're relatively new in this position. So what have you found? And was there a remote first person before you? Or is this a new initiative for cactus?Jason Morwick:
This is a new initiative, about six months into the pandemic, our CEO ever shake goal, recognize that remote working was going to be the way of the future even post pandemic. So while others were planning how they were going to go back to the office and thinking that the pandemic was going to be over any day now. They had the foresight to think that this was the way of the future. So they implemented several programs and policies and they created this position for head of remote first to help lead them through this transition.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Well, I'm sure you are the best person for this job based on all of your experience in everything. that, you know, we put pulled together to get the book published as well. So how is it different? Since it is an international organization? How is it different in terms of rolling out remote work around the around the planet?Jason Morwick:
Right, I find that there are kind of layers of challenges. We've talked before about generational challenges, right how different age groups of workers view remote working differently. But there's also now some cultural differences. For example, for most of our India based employees, prior to the pandemic, they were mainly in the office five days a week, the only about 15% Were working remotely prior to the pandemic. And it's a very social culture where people enjoy being around each other, the company is seen as sort of a social hub of activity. So even as the pandemic started to lighten up a little bit, and we started allowing workers to go back into the office, we found that the highest day or the day with the highest footfall was Friday. Now, if you think about that, from a US perspective, most people work from home on Mondays and Fridays, if given a choice, and if they have to come into the office, it's usually Tuesday through Thursday, over in India, it was just the opposite. People wanted to come into the office on Fridays, why? Well, it's primarily younger workforce over there. And they are very social. So when they would come to work on Friday, they would go out afterwards and engage in non work related activity. So work becomes that central meeting location for a lot of folks. Now, that's very different than us based workers, we have about 25 people based in the US, they've been remote all along. So to them, the pandemic really wasn't much of a change in business for them. And they're very used to remote working folks in Europe tend to like the office a little bit more than the US folks. And then when we get over into Asian countries, in China, they come into the office, predominantly most of the week. And Japan and Korea is kind of a mix. So every country kind of approaches remote working a little bit differently.Debra Dinnocenzo:
So in India, it's just the precursor to happy hour.Jason Morwick:
It can be sometimes, but you know, it's a cultural war people they like to meet, they're very used to meeting synchronously and face to face.Debra Dinnocenzo:
So how are you all doing meetings? Are you doing them? Since you're spread all over the globe? Do you need to have meetings with everybody at any point in time? And are? How are you managing communications? When you talk about the synchronous versus asynchronous challenge?Jason Morwick:
Yes, we're still having a lot of meetings. In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, people complained that the number of meetings seemed to increase exponentially. And that's because people were used to walking down the hallway popping their head into someone's office or seeing someone in the line for the cafeteria and saying, Hey, Deborah, what do you think about this? Well, now that they were a remote, they couldn't do that. So what did they do, they would set up time on people's calendars to get in front of them. And that led to a calendar full of meetings all day long. So we've been trying to combat this, over the past several months, to work more asynchronously to really challenge the notion of why you need to meet can we use another tool? Unfortunately, that tool became email. So as we tried to reduce meetings, emails increased exponentially. So we've been looking at other things that we can do other tools, how do we leverage teams and slack more effectively, for example, and get off email, but essentially communicate the same message asynchronously versus having that hold a meeting?Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah, so it's the virtual bulletin board and how to make that happen for things that don't need meetings. So. So but teams is just a kind of another form of meetings, right? Are you talking about locating documents there and shared other shared things as opposed to Yes, mostJason Morwick:
people, most people think of teams as just, you know, a way to do video calls or instant messaging, but there's a lot more capability in teams that you can use to share documents, you know, create a space where people can collaborate, you know, asynchronously and not have to be in real time.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. And so how are you used using slack as a way to, to kind of backfill or supplement on communication without synchronous meetings?Jason Morwick:
Yes, Slack is is not used across the company, but predominantly within certain groups, mainly our tech teams. And they're using it as a as a way to communicate through instant messaging, and, and other ways.Debra Dinnocenzo:
So I'm kind of curious because I'm currently using slack with my podcast production team. And I'm kind of liking it, I get little messages. I'm just, I'm trying to figure out how different is that really then an email? Because it you know, dings and I can see a little reminder. So I'm not sure I think we're still all in many, many ways just trying to sort all this out. And, you know, clearly people do want to connect, they want to be together, they want to share, aside from face to face, we still need to communicate, how best to do that as this evolves, is just, we're still sorting it out. It seems to me soJason Morwick:
I think one of the one of the challenges is that we have too many tools available, right? So we're looking at teams, we look at Slack, they both aim to accomplish the same things. Some people have a preference over one tool over another. But then we have a whole host of other emerging tools that are coming out to market, I get pinged by vendors almost daily, with a new tool wanting me to try something different. And I try to allocate some time just to experimenting with some new tools and technology that comes out just to see where it may fit in. And I think leaders need to actually spend that time I think a lot of leaders get overwhelmed. And they just say, You know what, forget it, I'm tired of using these tools, I just go back to what I know best, versus trying something new. And part of my role is to help them in that process to discover things that may work better for them, and to encourage them to use it, experiment with it and get more familiar.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah, no, I think you raise a good point, because there are so many tools. I mean, almost all of us have email, zoom. Increasingly, I hear people using Slack teams, and other video conferencing platforms. And as well as on top of that, there's more text messaging going on that, you know, people are getting pinged on their on their phones, and using apps on their phones. So it's a lot of stuff to manage. It's what you know, we wrote about when we published the book.com Way back when, you know, there's information overload and access overload, all of which leads to work overload. So we are probably trying to access people in too many ways. And it does feel it does feel like tech overload then.Jason Morwick:
Absolutely. I agree. And you said it best when when you said that, you know, some people feel burnt out because of all this or leads to burnout, because we can always connect to our employees. But that doesn't mean we should always use that capability. Right? Right. And I'm dealing in the company with certain cultures that are very accommodating to others. So they're less likely to say no or decline a meeting. So people working in one timezone will send someone in a different timezone a meeting request. And let's just say it's way outside their normal core work hours, like rather than pushing, right, early morning or late at night. And instead of pushing back and saying no, let's use an alternative means to communicate, they'll just accept the meeting. So we get a little bit of friction that's created by by this and in between teams, that could be avoided, but yet people just feel the need that they have to stay connected.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. Well, that's been a concern of remote workers for a number of years. And I think it's not going to be minimized as we move forward to more remote work and hybrid work. And that is, you know, if I'm, if I'm not engaged, if I'm not present, if I say no, or they have the meeting, and I just don't show up for it, because it's two in the morning, or 11pm where I am, then, you know, will I appear to be not engaged? Will I be forgotten will get passed over for promotion, those concerns are still very real on the part of remote workers, it seems to me.Jason Morwick:
You know, it's funny, I had a conversation earlier today about that very subject. I was talking with a manager. And she described it as guilt, feelings of guilt, because she has scheduled one on one meetings with her manager and just about every leader that I've spoken with has some sort of one on one weekly conversation with their manager in real time. And I've challenged that notion. So why do you need to have that one on one with your boss? If it's to deliver performance feedback, if it's coaching or mentoring, I absolutely agree that it should be done synchronously face to face, or at least on video, if possible. But in most cases, I would even venture to guess about 80 to 90% of the cases. Those one on one meetings are nothing more than updates. Hey, Deborah, what are you working on? Give me an update of what you're working on. You don't need to actually meet in real time to deliver that type of information. But as I talked to this manager, she said you know, I feel guilty that I'm working Remote, and I don't want my boss to think that I'm not doing anything all day long. So this is my opportunity to kind of showcase what I'm doing and tell them that, hey, I'm really working and not slacking off.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Interesting. Because, you know, I have long thought for years decades, perhaps that remote work, it'll be the best thing that ever happened for performance management, because it forces clarity up front. I think the part that we're missing though, is that you know, that managers boss maybe doesn't really know what the what that person is doing unless they have that, that update call, which means there isn't performance tracking results tracking unless there is and they're still trying to supplement. So what's your read on that?Jason Morwick:
years ago, one of the questions I would typically get from organizations that were trying to make the transition to more remote, and we call it telework back then they would say, once my employees are teleworking, how do I know that they're actually working? And I would always respond with a question, how do you know they're working right now when they're in the office? And they will say, Well, I can see when they come in, they come in at 8am, they leave at five or 6pm. And I would say, Okay, well, you're managing through attendance, then you can only tell when they're in the office, you don't really know what they're doing in those hours while they're there. And I think we still suffer from that across the board, to some degree, that many managers really don't have good performance metrics in place and a way to measure performance for their employees. In many cases, if they have done the job of their employees, before becoming a manager, they may have a good feel for what needs to happen. But in many cases, managers take roles where they haven't specifically done the employee's job in the past. So they're really not sure. And they haven't spent the time really investigating what it really takes to get the job done.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. And just be curious about. So the manager that you were talking with, if she didn't have these update calls with her boss, would her boss have other ways of knowing what she's doing? How well she's doing it, and to be able to look at at a glance, some something that that indicated performance results.Jason Morwick:
In most cases, I believe, within Qantas, we do have those performance metrics. But again, this was her feeling, as she called it, it was feelings of guilt, that she wanted to make herself more visible. So in this case, this is why I push back on her because her boss probably did have metrics. And he wasn't asking to meet with her meeting, but she was doing it herself because she was afraid of the perception of being remote.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. Now, the flip side of that is something that I've been thinking about a lot, and I think is a real challenge. And from the leaders perspective, how often and I do hear this from from even senior leaders, you know, how often should we be reaching out and connecting with people? And how should we do it? And, of course, you know, even though we've had this great immersion, and all these new technologies, new for some people, but certainly, they've been using things like zoom and slack and even text chatting more often. There's still a sense that they really miss the managing by wandering around, which, of course, is what you talked about at the beginning of this. The you know, it's just stopping by saying, hey, you know, I really appreciate your input on this, or what do you think of this? Or how's this going? And, you know, we haven't figured that part out yet. The and I'm real big on encouraging leaders and teams to figure out creative ways to replicate and simulate what they would do if they were face to face. But the the, the benefits of the advantages of the power of live communications, real voice to voice synchronous voice to voice even if it's doesn't have video, we're I think we're just trying to still trying to figure out how to make all that work.Jason Morwick:
I would agree, and we're experimenting with different tools. within the company. There's virtual water, cool applications that we're trying out, also, like video messaging, using that as well, just to try to not exactly replicate, but in a sense, just trying to connect with folks in a different format than just what they normally do, which is either meeting or email.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. I, I've used a application called loom, which is short four minute videos, for quick updates, and I find it very efficient. I used it actually for personal reasons when my mother had surgery last year and I needed to throughout the process update Both of my brothers and update my two of my cousins. And I thought, you know, I really after being in the hospital all day, with my mother don't have time to call for people. So I used that technology, did a short little video and said, Okay, here's what's going on, here's where we are. And just shout that out to everyone. So they heard it from me. They got to see me talk about what was going on. And so, you know, so there was the voice, there was the visual without, and I didn't need to have them ask a lot of questions. There wasn't. So I think, you know, figuring out which technologies work without overwhelming people with so many choices, as you say, they just say, to heck the heck with it, you know, we'll just we'll just send email, which, you know, is, is also I think, very overwhelming. Plus, there's so much more spam email that people are having to process. So. So where do you see this? And just to share with us a little bit more about remote first, and what does that mean? Because I think people are still learning about that. And you and I've been playing around with this for a while. But let's kind of wrap up with what is remote first. And what is remote first? Not?Jason Morwick:
Right. I think remote working in general is a spectrum, right? We're seeing on one and fully remote companies, companies that have no physical office place, everybody is working remotely working from home, etc. Then we have companies like Google, Apple, etc, that are remote tolerant to acquiesce to some employee demands and to prevent some further attrition. They're allowing their employees to work from home one or two days a week, for example, but they want people to live around the company headquarter area, so that they can call them back into the office as needed. Remote first is somewhere in the middle, we have company office locations around the globe. But we don't require our employees or cactuses, as we call them. We don't require our cactuses to live around the office, they can live anywhere they want to in their home country. And even if they want to work abroad, we try to make allowances for that as well. But the office then becomes a resource, just like any other physical resource that you would have at your disposal. You use it when you want to or need to, but you're not compelled to use it on any regular basis.Debra Dinnocenzo:
So you're not really acquiring real estate to on the assumption that everybody is there at any point in time. So are you hot desking? In some offices?Jason Morwick:
Yes, we are hot desking, we have right at the beginning of the pandemic reduced some of our real estate footprint in the future, who knows, maybe we'll continue to reevaluate how much office space we really need based upon the footfall and additional analysis that we need to do. We're also leveraging co working spaces in some countries as well. So we can be a little bit more flexible based upon the demand. You know, we'll create space when we need needed, you know, for sure, or rentDebra Dinnocenzo:
space when you need to have a whole group together. Exactly. Yeah, I like to just remind people, you know, remote first is just a mindset in many ways that you just instead of assuming everybody is there, and you know, the old fashioned you post notices on the bulletin board or back in the day, we'd put important notices on the back of doors and on the bathroom stalls, because that was the way to ensure that everybody saw them eventually. But you the the, you have to flip your thinking and realize, first you have to think everybody's not here, and how do we communicate to ensure that everybody who's not here gets the message. And those who are here are going to get that message in that same form. Eventually anyway. So it's just to me, it's like a hologram. AndJason Morwick:
well, you said it best I think when he said that remote first is a mindset. We want people to think like a remote worker, even if they decide to come into an office location and need to think you know, that not everybody is going to be physically present with them. Not everybody's in their same timezone. So they need to think asynchronously versus synchronously, etc.Debra Dinnocenzo:
Yeah. So. Okay, well, Jason, as always, it's a delight to chat with you. And I appreciate your insights. And I hope you'll join us again someday.Jason Morwick:
Be glad to thank you very much. All right. Thanks, Jason.