Episode #
081

Remote-How Tips for Making Remote & Hybrid Work Thrive with Iwo Szapar | TNN81

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Episode Summary

As we emerge on the other side of the Covid crisis, one thing is clear: remote work is here to stay. Employers were finally awakened to the advantages of enabling work-from-anywhere for knowledge workers, which includes access to a global talent pool without the hassles of relocation; the flexibility afforded employees directly translates to productivity and job satisfaction, and the reduced need for corporate real estate. Technology has made it easier for employees and employers to interact, and there are also many benefits for both parties.

In this episode of The New Nomad, Iwo Szapar, Co-founder of Remote-how, joins Andrew Jernigan and Allen Koski in discussing remote and hybrid work and why it's here to stay. They also talked about why businesses need to listen up and look beyond today to build more progressive workplace policies that will help employees thrive. Given that so much of the working population is now acclimated to remote work, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever return to the way things used to be. Tune in to this week’s episode and pick up useful tips for adapting to this not-so-new work set up.

From the episode

What You'll Learn

  • Transparency leads to accountability
  • The four-day workweek
  • Setting your boundaries to prevent burnout

Timestamps

[3:03] Change is inevitable

[6:10] The advantage of having a globally-located team

[15:49] Transparency leads to accountability

[18:38] The four-day workweek

[21:46] Setting your boundaries to prevent burnout

[24:26] Northern Vietnam: a biker’s paradise

Show Transcript

Allen

Welcome to another episode of The New Nomad podcast. Iwo Szapar will join us today CEO of Remote How, somebody who is a big leader in the remote work movement, wrote a book Remote Work is the Way it's been a slow mad. I've got some really interesting findings, actually, I was really interested, I looked at his LinkedIn, he posted something interesting, I also thought was, like 87% of employees find themselves as productive, and only 12% of leaders believe that fact. So we're gonna have some great conversations today. Yes, that's quite a big divergence in perspective. Andrew, you know, you've been a big purveyor of remote work, travel, exploring the world, hearing those type of numbers, does that surprise you that people, perhaps maybe who are have not been working remotely would look at kind of productivity level and kind of think it's less productive than it actually is?

Andrew

I believe that statement is very true. In many cultures, many corporate cultures, I recall a time when I was the first remote worker for a company. And the leadership felt that far against it, when I requested to work remotely. And still all throughout my time there felt that, you know, there's a big mistrust factor, except for my direct report, who saw the results, you know, and I was like, No, you are productive, you are bringing it in. So I believe in that statement, for sure, this is gonna be fun, because I know that the leadership of the Remote First Institute is something that he'll be able to talk about, and so much more that's happening in this movement around the world. It's not new, but it's in the spotlight for many people. So this is going to be a great conversation to see what he gets to bring to our audience. Thanks for listening. And be sure and subscribe, share it, write a review, all that kind of stuff. But it's great to have this guest with us today.

Allen

So let's bring Iwo in. And Iwo, you've run distributed teams in 120 countries, you've written a book, you've done studies. And you know, it's interesting, I talked to people, it always seems to be the focus is on productivity. But, you know, as I talked to leaders, also, there has to be something to happiness of your employees, you know, people wanting to work for your company, and then I'll even get into the monetary issues is, you know, having big office buildings in expensive cities, is also a cost that needs to be brought into the picture to not just, you know, the the other things of, you know, I don't see my people every day, you kind of got to trust your workers. So you're, you know more about this than we do. What's your thoughts on what's going on with people's perspectives here?

Iwo

Yeah. So first of all, thank you so much for having me. And what we see today is a couple of things. So first of all, people are afraid of change, just in general, no matter your work life. And this is what's kind of what happens out of the blue in 2020. So there was no more discussion, should we be working remotely or not? It just happened, right? But right now, because it's might become permanent people are afraid, and especially leaders, why leaders are afraid, because first of all, they're afraid that they will lose control. Why? Because in most cases, they don't trust their employees that they're actually working. Why this is happening, because a man, unfortunately, many team leaders are simply bad managers. They're not mentors. They don't know how to organise day-to-day work. This work is very synchronous, it's hard to define goals. And the list goes on and on. Right? They know don't know how to build the culture, etc, etc. Right? So, if you look at the perspective of like, Hey, let's go back to the old good times, were just coming to one place, and in theory, the work was happening. This is kind of this feeling that right now we see, but there is a huge mistake with this thinking because we are assuming that in the office, the work was happening, and we were super productive, efficient. And that was the paradise right? And because we've been doing this for so long with Remote How how since 2017, one of the themes that we kept hearing before 2010 was like this sentence, I need to get stuff done. I will work from home today. So and it was insane when I keep hearing and hearing is because the office was supposed to be the place where you work right. So it's a huge shift. People are afraid of change. People in control are afraid that they will lose that control. On the other side that the study that you mentioned showing that people are productive. This is the study by Microsoft over 20,000 people serving. So this is legit data. Because employees are still dictating terms. And this is, this is a good thing. And they learned that there is a huge positive impact on their life if they can work remotely. And they can do other things before work during work after work, that there's a better work-life blend and the list goes on. And on the benefits, there is a clash. And this is what we see now. And that's also one of the reasons why we decided to launch Remote First Institute because the world needs us that the remote community, the experts and practitioners to come together and really to help the market overcome these challenges.

Allen

Iwo I even think about it today. So here in the United States as a hurricane going through Florida. And if everybody worked at a centralised location in let's say, for instance, Naples, you'd be out of business. And then, you know, if you work if you have a distributed team that works remotely, it gives you redundancies, it gives you backups, it gives you safety. And when I see a study like that, to your point, I think there are certain managers who like to manage by the old fashioned by walking around. And you know, even in this remote work area you can manage by walking around by virtually checking in with people, right? I mean, isn't that different? Other than bringing people to a centralised location, we're actually I think, even during the pandemic, you bring 400 people together in a building, and one of them has COVID. All of a sudden you have 100 people with COVID. I mean, I just don't understand. Yeah, how people can say centralized is better.

Iwo

Yeah. So a lot of the things we are past the mindset phase, right? So if it's okay, let's do it, let's learn how to do it. It's it's actually about relearning how you're working. The legacy of inefficiencies that existed for years, for decades, they're still with us. And of course, leadership part is one of them, internal processes, how we communicate, how we, how we build the documentation inside the company, and the list goes on and on. Those are all the things where the location doesn't matter. It's simply we need to know how we should be working, and this is the time to relearn, right. So there is this huge experiment that happened within the last two and a half years that we can work remotely. And right now, we just need to understand that it's there will be time, that is needed resources, to relearn and location, teams that are still looking to meet in person or employees, this is totally fine. We're not saying that the office is should be gone. And we should be, we should forget about this concept. No, no, absolutely not. What we're saying is that you should have a freedom of choice. And if you're choosing the office, that's amazing. If you're choosing a co-working space, beach, woods, mountains, that's also great, right? Or if you're choosing your own home, right, because at the end of the day, you have a goal or multiple goals to hit throughout your month, or quarter. And this is what you should focus on. And the managers should build an environment where you feel happy, where you feel supported, and you're focusing on your outcome. Those are the basics. And those are the things that are completely unrelated to remote work itself. Those are the things that we should be doing anyway. But because of this shift, and because of this pushback, when we're talking about best practices, they're like, Okay, yeah, that makes sense. But yes, it completely makes sense. It doesn't matter where you are, this is how you should be working. So when you look at companies like Do It, like GitLab, who are extremely proficient in how they're working, this is the work culture or work culture examples that we should be looking at, and being inspired and then start implementing things rather than having the discussion where people are and how we're tracking them, etc. And one of the things to your point about checking in, I would actually argue that we should change the way how you're managing and communicating from a very synchronous way. So checking in, messaging, calling, having unexpected meetings, etc, into a more async way where we are sending thoughtful messages that can be written messages, it can be video, right? We have an internal policy around communication. There is an SLA service level agreement that if it's urgent, you need to respond within five minutes but if it's about Workshop that is happening in a month, you can respond tomorrow or even in three days, right? But because this is a behavioral change, and a lot of people need to relearn or learn completely new habits, new rituals, it simply will take time. It doesn't happen just with a kick, right? So it's a process and some of the things.

Andrew

It is. yeah, I've attended some events that you've coordinated you and your team at Remote First Institute. And it's interesting that you get in that atmosphere and your mind shifts, you realized some things, some behaviors that need to be changed. And I've got plenty of those. So getting into those environments, we get fertilizer for our mind, for our hands to shift how we operate. Can you tell us a bit more about Remote First Institute, what the goal is? You know, I've seen it, the founding members are outstanding, there. They are voices to be listened to. Dive into that a little bit, if you will.

Iwo

Yes. So a couple of months ago, when more and more reports start to come out with a predefined thesis that we should be going back to the office, this is the only option moving forward. We were like, hey, hey, so the office lobby is pushing their narrative, they're spending millions of dollars on PR. While on the other side, the remote work community is doing a lot, but it's not super coordinated. And a lot of the projects are driven on the from the commercial side, because those are the tech companies, they're of course offering certain products, etc. So we decided that we need to come together, build something that is not for profit, with a couple of goals in mind. So first of all, the big picture counter attic, that the global back-to-the-office movement, because the work can be done from anywhere. And we should be thinking about optimizing how we work and not where we work. Creating global standards on remote work that are Remote First, we have a lot of knowledge out there. And in many cases, those are pretty vague blocks where it's like top 10 tricks on doing ABC, right? But if you then dive deeper and look into tactical aspects, like okay, like how this process should look like? How should it communicate it within the company, how it should be run, what kind of tools etc, etc, then it becomes tricky. So building this building this kind of Bible is kind of a playbook right handbook. There's kind of another aspect. And then of course, around all of this, bringing people together from all over the world through that the events that you Andrew mentioned that the workshops, keynotes, networking sessions, deep working sessions, roundtables, to enable people to share the ones that are experienced and been doing this for years, and enabled the ones that want to ask questions directly and discuss and then implement something and then come back together, hey, this work, but this didn't, what can I improve, et cetera, right? The era of watching videos and then saying, Okay, I've watched the video on how to run a meeting, that means I know how to run a meeting is over, and that people are sick of watching instructional videos, people prefer to have a live interaction, and to be able to, to ask questions, and then implement and then come back, etc. So we are building this environment where companies can meet with experts and actually go remote first. Super early days we just launched not even three weeks ago, but the response is amazing. And we're looking to produce also, researchers around remote work, host summits, build a lot of the tools that will be out open source to the community. Because the power that the community had before pandemic that said that the remote work community was amazing. And right now we want to bring this power, bring this knowledge and share it with that as large community as possible all over the world.

Allen

So you keynoted something that ties into your comments is recently you know how to successfully implement remote first rituals for your company. Now Andrew and I work at a remote company. We have our people all around the world and we do a period of gratitude often before we start into business. We do some virtual events where we get together in our offices and we all come together in the virtual conference room and enjoy each other. Do you have a couple of tips for folks who were starting off on some of the rituals that you think helped bring teams together based upon your keynote and in some of your findings?

Iwo

Yes, there are a couple of them. Really simple. So one thing that they're really like is a ritual called the daily check-in and checkout. Which means that when you're starting your day, either you're using slack and as teams, no matter the communication system, you're posting a message, this is my check-in, this is what I'm planning to do. On this specific day, you can link it to your product from a product project management tool, you can list your meetings, etc. But it needs to be super specific, right? And then at the end of the day, you're sending git checkout, this is what I've done that, this is what I haven't done because of some problems, right? It's super simple. But it creates a transparency of work for everyone on your team, if it's a company for the whole company depends on how you want to structure this. It builds trust because people are committing. So it feels also accountability. This is a plan for today. But then at the end of the day, I maybe I've done everything, maybe not. But at least I'm transparent about this, right. So it's super simple teams are starting to implement it and they see results immediately. And especially, it's really good for the manager, who has some challenges with the things that I that I've mentioned. So this will be a super easy ritual to implement. Another one they really like, is called deep working session. So people are coming together for 55 minutes, 55 minutes to an hour, they're sharing it the beginning of the call what they plan to achieve, you're putting their phones away, you're muting notifications, and I will write 10 slides, I will reply to 20 minutes, it's like super, super specific. If there are more than like five to 10 people, so it doesn't get to like so much time in the beginning for sure. You can also write it on chat, you turn off your video, you turn off your microphone, you're putting the music in the background, and then people are just working working working at the end, you're sharing what you've managed to do and what were the results. So super easy to rituals on productivity, and then maybe another one more general around communication. So because companies need to switch to more async communication. And there are a lot of small best practices and kind of rules that you need to follow, we encourage companies to have to enable people to give direct feedback if someone is not following the rules, right? My favorite way of doing this, so I will give you an example, you should be writing messages in the same thread, right? So I'm sending the message. And then we should continue in a thread. And if someone is not responding in a thread, then I'm sending my gif with as harsh slack police. And those are like the two cops that are looking at you. Right. So it's a super simple way everyday to remind people that, hey, we agreed on doing something in a specific way, and then enable anyone to just remind each other that we should be doing this. So kind of like a small ritual for everyone. Because at the end of the day, there are a lot of things that we should be doing. But everyone should be the ambassador of the change. You should be doing things but you also should be supporting others in these tiny, tiny rituals. So yeah, the list is super, super long. We don't have time, but I hope that these examples are helpful.

Allen

Very helpful. What's the position of the institute or the findings on the four-day workweek, versus the five-day workweek?

Iwo

Yeah. So to be honest, it's currently a bit out of our scope. But I'm personally a huge believer in the four-day workweek. And you can see studies all over the place, proving that people are same productive, productivity is the same, the happiness goes up and engagement goes up, etc. So I totally believe that this is the future. It's kind of another shift that needs to happen. So companies might feel overwhelmed, like remote work, and now working less and what's next not working at all or so it will be a slow revolution. But looking at the experiment that is happening right now with like, I guess 80 different companies in US and UK. And it's growing and the first results are super promising. This is the future and companies, management that understands that this is the way to go will benefit a lot when it comes to talent attraction and talent retention. Same as CEOs of remote companies were doing before March 2020. It's kind of a similar approach here.

Andrew

Yeah, this is interesting. I've noticed myself on weeks where there's a holiday and in some area of the world where I end up taking that day as a holiday and it's a four-day week versus a seven-day week for me. It's a six-day week. You know, sometimes it's when you're running movements and different enterprises, you end up working seven days. But holiday brings it down to where you have a six day week. No boundaries.

Iwo

Yes, yes, yeah. And to your point, this is kind of like, we're talking a lot about that. The positive sides of remote work. But we also need to be aware that there are pitfalls or potential pitfalls, and the one that you mentioned, like overworking, working too much and then burning out. This is something that also needs to be taken into consideration and the end, and the company needs to build an environment that monitors that and supports if there's such a need for an intervention.

Allen

Well, you know, it's easy, interesting, because I worked for a period of time in a test project have the four day work week except what we did our company was, it was four days, a 10 hours, so we didn't change the hours at all, you know, and I'm hearing more people saying about the four-day workweek, it's, yeah, so it's kind of like what really changed other than the folks that have really long commutes, this was back in the city. They appreciated it. Because if you're driving an hour, you don't mind working 10 hours and then having a Monday or Friday off. But to me that and I think we all live this is even on our days off, even on our vacation, like Andrew described, he probably is checking the computer and taking care of issues for an hour or two. It never stops.

Iwo

I'm deleting my so I started to say this thing, I think it was like two years ago or something. So I delete all my work-related apps from my phone completely deleting them when I'm going on vacation. And then this year, I started to do it also on Fridays. So Friday afternoon, I'm deleting four or five apps, and then reinstalling them on Monday. Yes, I know that I can snooze notifications, etc, etc. But sometimes it's too tempting. I'm just deleting, and then coming back to this on Monday.

Allen

So that's wild. So this podcast is also not always about remote work, but about visiting and going to different locations. So you've lived remotely in 17 or 18 different countries. For our audience, do you have a couple of suggested locations that people would want to consider if they were to follow this lifestyle that you felt of those 17 countries were really good. And maybe even a couple that you might say hey, this might be a little harder than you expect to work remotely?

Iwo

Yes, so we lived for one and a half year in Vietnam. So this will be my number one recommendation. Especially Hoi An, so in central Vietnam everything is amazing. Starting from weather, landscape, people, and food of course, the internet is super fast, there are co-working spaces there is actually also an expat community in the Hoi An so everything clicks there. Big big fan of the culture that is in Vietnam, which is about community first so it's completely different than our western culture it's about me me me me me. So that's also a big change in the perspective when you live there, so that would be number one. Very close to Vietnam a place that I wouldn't recommend Cambodia. I wouldn't recommend it because of the issues with electricity which then impacts internet so if you're not actually about to work and also that the government there that a bit big mistake that Chinese companies are allowed to buy land and then they buy land and then be built casinos and there's this one place where they are building currently over 150 casinos, which was a very calm and charming Fisher fisherman's village right. So Vietnam as smoothly as Cambodia not so much places that I would also recommend obviously Bali but here you need to be careful because this is like a go-to place for digital nomads so you can it can get crowded and can get crazy. But they're still at this is an amazing culture. Amazing place to go. Thailand, but specifically one island, big fan of Ko Phangan. So it's next to next to Koh Samui, great coworking places, a chilled vibes on the west side of the islands. Yoga, beautiful beaches, and then on the east side's crazy Moon Party so you can choose whatever you want. Then, I think also coming back to Europe, Portugal, big one, not just Lisbon, but there are more and more, more and more places also including Madeira, their islands. Everyone knows Canary Islands. But there are many, many islands. So that which one, so I would suggest Tenerife, because it's both green, you can also serve and there's community, also a very interesting community that is happening in Gran Canaria, that nature built around. Around there real people. What else? I'm a big fan of Italy, but because of food and the vibe.

Andrew

Rather, with you there. But if there is an overlooked person or place, you know, even experience that you feel like our audience should know about?

Iwo

Yes, experience.

Andrew

What would you think that would be?

Iwo

Yes. 200%, northern Vietnam at the border with China on motorbikes, basically, we spent a month there, working and traveling. You can go from Hanoi to Sapa. And then you can travel around Sapa. And then you should do the Ha-Giang Loop, which is basically like a loop that it can take you from three days to three weeks, depending how many stops you take. Amazing views, basically, like every day, it looks like you're in a different planet. People in Vietnam are amazing everywhere, super welcoming. The food is amazing everywhere, as well. And the internet connection is also good. So it's not maybe a place where you will be working eight hours a day. I mean, you can I was doing this because I was waking up at 5:30. And then our whole crew because were like 10 or 12 people were still sleeping. I was doing the stuff. We're hitting the road later on as well. But it's totally doable. The time when to go there. We were there in October, November. And that's actually the time when there are typhoons hitting central Vietnam so also with Vietnam, it's really good to look up the weather because it's for most of the year it's it's hot. But then there's a rainy season that differs depending if it's South, North or central Vietnam, but definitely Ha-Giang Loop, Sapa northern Vietnam, close to the border with China. Outstanding experience on motorbikes. So I strongly encourage everyone to check this out.

Allen

Iwo, that sounds great, because I'm going to be in Hanoi in January and heading on to Cambodia. So I was taking copious notes on your comments there.

Iwo

Still please do connect with me later on. And I will send you the full info.

Allen

That would be fantastic. So for folks that want to connect with you, and the remote and Remote How please share with us how they can get in touch with you and also perhaps get a copy of your book Remote Work is the Way.

Iwo

Yes, probably the best way is LinkedIn. So just find me Iwo Szapar on LinkedIn or you can go to our website, remote-how.com. If you're interested in joining the community of the Remote First Institute, it's remote-first.Institute. The book remote work is always available on Amazon and millions of other places you can track. Yeah, and if you have any questions or maybe challenges within your team within the company, I'm always more than happy to help or connect you with one of our experts to help you make remote work, work.

Allen

Iwo, thank you very much. Very enlightening. So Andrew as we always tie together what did we learn today?

Andrew

There were some good points on techniques for the check-in checkout that I took note off because that is you know, the element of transparency and trust at because some people don't trust by nature because they're still apprehensive of are people actually doing anything because I can't see them. So that's a big factor when you know people are working hard, but yeah, others on the team are kind of curious of what are they doing? That stood out to me. This has been so much fun hearing some of the nuggets of experience that had been brought out. How about you, Allen, what was one of the takeaways that you had?

Allen

Well, I love that too, because what but Iwo mentioned also about the check-in and check-out is, every day, I do a little list, you know, technology, I write down on my little pad, here's the things I need to do today, and you cross it off, and you often carry it on to the next day. So I think it's good to have your own ritual of checking in and checking out and from a group setting. Well, we trust the people we work with, it's also nice to kind of verify what's going on. But what I really appreciate also is what Remote How in the institute in general is doing which is bringing to people's attention that this makes a lot of sense. And there, there are there times that you know, remote work doesn't make sense. If I worked on a production line, I got to be there. But frankly, if I worked for an insurance company, and I've remote work remotely now for over nine years between Insured Nomads and my previous employer, I felt I was much more productive. I felt I could maintain a level of sanity that you really can't, if you're always going in the office. And then I think with COVID you learn that you bring people to a centralized location, you bring people to a place that can be either a vector for getting sick, or like we see with some of these natural disasters, if everybody has to come into the same geographic area. Your business continuity plans don't make a lot of sense, because we're all tied in so I really appreciate what they're doing. So I learned quite a bit today. I hope members of our audience did too. Please, if you enjoy this podcast tell others about The New Nomad podcast. People tend to find us through word of mouth. So once again, please continue to travel safely. Please continue to work remotely safely. And we look forward to hearing you again on another episode of The New Nomad podcast. Thank you very much.

Remote-How Tips for Making Remote & Hybrid Work Thrive with Iwo Szapar | TNN81

About the Guest

Iwo Szapar

Iwo Szapar is a Remote Work Advocate & Co-founder of Remote-how, the world’s leading platform for distributed management powered by and for the community from 128 countries. Iwo is a relentless doer – the kind of self-proclaimed workaholic every team needs. Driven by a love for travel and a desire to be as productive as possible, anytime, anywhere, Iwo is passionate about helping companies everywhere successfully implement remote workforces. In his downtime, Iwo is a football and dog lover.