BJOERN ZINSSMEISTER recently co-founded the startup, Design Inc., which began as a remote company, and is now mostly co-located. We talk about why being colocated during certain company phases is beneficial, how to hire remote rockstars, and productivity tips for all teams.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: And we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. On the line, I have BjoernZinssmeister and, Bjoern, you’re in California. Is that right?
Bjoern: Correct. Yeah. That’s right. Southern California.
Lisette: Southern California. I’m from there but I met you in Heidelberg, Germany, where you gave a talk called Silicon Planet: How The Valley Is Pushing Us Into Globalisation 2.0. So, I had to have you on the podcast after I heard that because you were basically telling us how to tech industry is ignoring borders and delivering global software and I thought, okay, let’s talk about this, especially being from Silicon Valley, I have some questions for you specific to that. So I definitely want to talk about it.
Bjoern: [unintelligible – 00:48].
Lisette: Let’s start with the first question which is what does your virtual office look like?
Bjoern: My virtual office…right now, I’m in the Design Inc. office but I have an office at home that…like many other people that work remotely, I make sure that I have a dedicated space, even if it’s a partial room. The best way to describe it is that you have that corner where you get your work done. It’s usually a really, really nice desk that really…you know, and not like a kitchen table. You have to have a real desk. So I have a real desk. I bought it at IKEA. It’s not very expensive but it makes me feel comfortable and then I have the same equipment that I have in the office which is a Sigma display. I like a big screen because I do some designing every now and again and then areally, really good chair. Usually I have a Herman Miller one that I can use when I sit a lot and not stand a lot and then what is really, really crucial to me that usually is not far from my desk is a whiteboard or even just a really, really poor-looking taped up paper that I can put on the wall and can start writing on it because I think there is these periods of, especially as an engineer, when you walk up and down, you think about a problem, you need to be able to sketch it out and a notebook is great but what is even better is some larger object on a wall that you can walk to, you think out loud, you can write down, you can even use it when you dial in other team members and you can just easily say, hey, let’s look at this whiteboard real quick and see how we can model this data. So that’s very, very key to me but that’s about it. That’s the basic that I need to be very productive.
Lisette: And you said dedicated workspace so I’m curious about this. How…why a dedicated workspace? Why for you? I’ve heard this before but why is it so important for you?
Bjoern: Well, I think when you’re married or you have children, you just need to make sure that you have this place you go to that’s not family, that’s not your kitchen, that’s not…this might be different for people that are not living with other people in the house. I’m not sure but even when I was in college, I just, you know, made sure I have this dedicated space so that when you go to it, it feels like you are starting the routine of getting into work. I think routine is very important when you work remotely that you don’t lose the same type of routine that you would have by going to the office. I actually behave the very same way than I would when I used to drive to the office and the only thing that’s not there is the commute, right? The commute is very short. I walk from one room to the other but everything else is the same. I will go take that shower in the morning, I will go get dressed, and then I will walk over except that I don’t have that long commute. But other than that, it’s all the same.
Lisette: So we’re going to get into a whole bunch of remote stuff but first let’s talk about Design Inc. and what Design Inc. does.
Lisette: So because you’re the co-founder.
Bjoern: Yes. That’s right.
Lisette: And it’s pretty new. It started in March, I think, I saw?
Bjoern: Yeah. It started early this year, February/March. We got together, a friend of mine and I wanted to create a company that brings great design to the world and we are not publicly live yet but we have a [close] beta that we run with a couple of freelance designers, full-time designers, and companies that are looking to get design done, and it is a platform that basically facilitates companies looking to find great product designer or illustrators or graphic designers and that talent, the designer can do their work through this platform and have a very easy way to bill a client, to make sure they get paid, and to just, you know, get started with the work.
Lisette: Okay and I’m assuming are these remote jobs or remote design…
Bjoern: Yeah. We have a lot of remote engagements. There are definitely some people that agree, oh we are in the same city or we are looking for somebody local that we would like to bring in but a lot of the arrangements that are being discussed on Design Inc., they are remote workers. It’s a company in, let’s say, Los Angeles trying to get with a designer that has experience in Silicon Valley and that lives in Silicon Valley and we ourselves have hired a freelance designer remotely through Design Inc. to help us out, for instance.
Lisette: Okay and how does Design Inc. work in terms of a team? So, you mentioned you have a home office where you work.
Lisette: Is that pretty standard with your team?
Bjoern: Right now, everybody’s here but the very interesting angle that we had in the early days, basically the first two quarters of this year almost, I wasn’t in California. I was remotely in Texas and in Germany with family and so building thiscompany happened by one co-founder being in California and one co-founder being remote which was a very, very interesting scenario for some time. We knew this was boxed into a temporary situation because the goal was to get out into California and establish an office and hire people here but to get going without uprooting the families right away, we decided we’re going to do a short period where we do remote work like we’ve both done in the past with larger companies. It is a little bit weird to start a brand new start-up…a [venturebacked] start-up when one founder is remote and it’s not ideal but we were both very skilled at working remotely in larger teams and so we went for it and it went okay. It went great, actually.
Lisette: So why bring everybody together?
Bjoern: We bring everybody together right now because it’s this early core team, right. There’sa lot of discussions that are going on and a lot of things change a lot, like the business model can be one thing and next month, it could be another thing. So we need to really be able to move quickly and define what this company is, right, and once that definition is laid out, it gets a lot easier to communicate the right things into remote areas. But to be quite honest, it’s not something that we made super-mandatory. We just happened to have talked to people that [are either] locally or people that were, like, oh yeah,I want to move to Southern California for sure. So it was more like a…
Lisette: Not a bad place to live.
Bjoern: So there was a lot of natural…it was a natural way for it to happen that people wanted to be in this office.
Lisette: Okay. So I have to ask about the culture of Silicon Valley. I haven’t been back in a very long time and you and I discussed this a little bit together in Heidelberg but I know in terms of start-ups and building companies from the ground up, it’s kind of frowned upon to have remote teams, I hear. That’s the rumour. I don’t if that’s true.
Bjoern: Yeah, I definitely have heard this rumour and I definitely can agree that some people are in that mindset probably because you see a lot of these early stage company development that I just mentioned for us as well which can be really, really difficult to achieve remotely but in my talk in Heidelberg, I did show you some companies that have actually gone the absolute opposite path where they went extreme remote by having nobody even in the same location, no office, everything is just basically digitally connected people in different towns. A great company that I admire a lotis Buffer. Buffer has done this from their early days. They’re also very transparent so you can look up their salaries online. You can see what everybody makes and they have no office. I think in the early days they had an office in San Francisco and both founders were in San Francisco but when they have team [unintelligible – 08:52] meetings, the two founders would actually go into separate rooms and then dial in via Hangout [and do] not have an advantage of being in the same room and level the playing field for everybody else and that’s how they started setting up their company and now they just got rid of an office altogether and so, one, yeah you get to see people talk about this difficulty of hiring remote and not willing to do it as much in Silicon Valley, for whatever reason, but you also see the absoluteopposite where you have very young companies go this route of screw offices and we are going to get the best talent no matter where they are and that happens a lot as well. So, that’s the split in Silicon Valley at the moment, it seems.
Lisette: Yeah and I can imagine, I mean, at the early stage of a company, when you’re just bouncing ideas constantly back and forth and things are changing really fast, it sure is handy when you’re all in the same room, like, hey, [unintelligible – 09:49], can you…I mean, I can imagine that that is a real…yeah, it’s a real advantage to have that. On the other hand, it seems like San Francisco or the whole California, you know, Los Angeles, San Francisco bay area has gotten pretty expensive and to hire people and office space for a new company, that’s got to be killer.
Bjoern: Yeah it is absolutely mind-blowing how expensive it’s gotten to run a company in San Francisco and a lot of the higher up Silicon Valley celebrities will now talk about it not being the best place to start a company when that was the motto for a long time. Now they say it’s the best place to grow a company but go start it somewhere else in another garage in Texas or in Germany maybe and then once you have figured out a businessmodel, you go to Silicon Valley to grow up that company and to scale it and I think that’s kind of how people see it. It’s a little sad to be honest because it used to be that place where a lot of wonky stuff happened in garages and now it’s more…too expensive. Nobody has garages anymore. So there’s not a lot of…
Lisette: They’re all rented out on AirBnB[unintelligible – 10:57].
Bjoern: [unintelligible – 10:57]. Yeah, most people are…they have 16 roommates and it’s just not the same it was 10 years ago.
Lisette: Right, but neither is any city, to be fair.
Bjoern: Correct. Correct. Everything moves on and then it’s just….this is the new world. It’s a lot easier to start a company now so you can start it anywhere in theplanet and when you’re ready, go to Silicon Valley and just scale it.
Lisette: Right. So we talked about…in your talk, you talked about some of the benefits and challenges of doing…of working remotely. Can you go into some of those in terms of what you’ve seen, maybe with the companies that you’ve worked with?
Bjoern: Yeah, absolutely. All the companies that I’ve done, we at least have one guy remote if not multiple or a co-located team. There are definitely different challenges and it always comes down to what framework do you put in place and what framework do you not even put in place. So, some companies, they approach the problem of hiring by trying to find somebody local. Then they usually can’t find someone because that market doesn’t deliver an iOS developer, whatever you’re looking for, and then the next step is to seek out somebody remote because after a couple of months, you don’t find anybody, you get [angsty] and you are opening up tobe more remote. That’s kind of how most remote teams seem to happen at the larger companies and that’s kind of where they end the remote chapter for themselves and it’s up to the team members to facilitate this new resource and to work and manage this new team member and if you have people that are not super-skilled in working with somebody remote, then it gets problematic. There’s no guidelines within the company on what to do and how to handle it. Even when it comes down to tools, it used to be very difficult to land on, hey, we’re using this, this, and this. Now it’s a little bit easier because Slack is so widely distributed that it is very easy for even a Fortune500 employee to get on Slack when before when it was just Skype, sometimes that would be blocked by a firewall. It’s all these little issues like companies. they might say, yeah, we will hire remote and they actually do it but then they don’t necessarily take the next step to figure out how does the framework look like on how to work with this remote resource and to make sure that this is successful.
Lisette: You know, I really like what you said where…because I see it happening too where managers hire and they have to hire remote and then the team is left to figure out, okay [now] how to do it and there’s no framework in place for the team to even follow. It’s like the HR is like, great, here’s your people, good luck.
Bjoern: Yeah, exactly. That’s where you will run into problems and then you hopefully have somebody on the team who has some experience or is just naturally good at managing remotely and then it can succeed or you don’t and then the problems start.
Lisette: What about management techniques for remote teams? What have you used? Like what would make a good virtual team manager in your eyes?
Bjoern: I think you need to be willing to communicate just like the remote worker has to be very over-communicating towards the team. The manager also has to over-communicate towards that remote resource, meaning what works really great for me actually is that you dial in one-to-one. You just jump onto Google Hangouts and you just spend some time with your employee and talk about some stuff and even if it’s not something super important,like a lot of people do this when there’s a fire going on, right?Like, some bug happen and you need to squash it and then you hop on the call but it’s much, much, much more pleasant for that remote resource if you do this more regularly and it’s not always when there’s a fire. So it’s not like oh Hangouts is ringing. Something must be up. No, it’s just me checking in, going over some of the basics that we are trying to tackle this week and how you’re feeling, like, really also consider that it’s a person that you are trying to get work done with and that person has some other needs than just being [fed tickets] to work on.
Lisette: What if you don’t like that person that much?
Bjoern: Then you have to just not that much personally to talk about. I think that’s fine. I think there’s human stuff that are so different that they just don’t want togo grab a beer but, you know, you’re part of the same company so, in some way, you should have enough commonalities that you can have some chitchat and also get along, right?
Lisette: Right, professionally.
Bjoern: Exactly. Exactly.
Bjoern: If you can’t get on a professional level then there’s something else wrong with both team members probably but usually those things solve themselves in the long run on their own.
Lisette: Yeah. It was interesting. I was listening to somebody talk today about how a lot of times managers have not been hired to be as managers. They’ve been really good finance people, they’ve been like good engineers, but they’re actually not good managers and they get promoted into these management positions where actually they really shouldn’t be there.
Bjoern: Yeah. We all…it’s like if you stay long in your career, eventually you’re going to get promoted into a position that you’re not fit for but previously in your job you were great but at some point you will reach a level that you might not be as great and that is very common. So…but you definitely see that a lot, especially among engineering. They start out as great coders and they have somewhat skills to deal with people but, you know, seeingthem in a management role is maybe not a hundred percent great fit for them and they just kind of make-do and figure it out and the best thing to do is just go get help. Like, if you know you’ve got a weakness, go find a coach or go talk to somebody that is a really great manager. You might not like an MBA type person but there is something to learn from these people even if you despise them for whatever reason because you’re an engineer and you don’t want to be as open and chatty and bubbly but there’s stuff to learn from these people that you can cooperate and then you are much more holistic human being and a manager.
Lisette: Yeah. Indeed. I like that answer actually. Go out and find…like, learn from people because…and it’s so much easier than it was 10-15 years ago. We have the internet. We can learn everything we want.
Bjoern: Yeah. Exactly. Just Google it and reach out to people. It’s very easy these days.
Lisette: Yeah. What about introverted people on your team?
Bjoern: Yeah. I…those exist and those are usually very great individual contributors. They are very…they very much like to be in a corner and they like to work on hard problems and solve them and once they do, that’s when they get very extroverted. They have something to tell you. Now, they have something to tell you because they figured something out, something they want to show and that’s when they can have the floor. So you need to support everything they do because your ultimate goal’s to make everybody feel really, reallygood at their job, right? So introverts, they aren’t more difficult than the extroverts. They’re just different. They don’t push them in too many meetings. Give them the space to workon their problems and make sure that they have everything they need just like everybody else with no…
Bjoern: For me there’s no difference. It’s just like there’s different type…like the way they tackle work is just slightly different.
Lisette: It’s so funny because a lot of these things apply, whether you’re co-located or whether you’re remote.
Bjoern: Yeah. Absolutely.
Lisette: It’s like the same principles apply so it’s almost hard to make it specific to remote.
Bjoern: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That’s why those one-on-ones, whether they’re remote via Hangouts or in person, you just, especially with introverted people, they will give you much more valuable information when you talk to them alone or in a really small group rather than in a 10-person meeting where they might get fatigued by the time they could talk because so many other peopleare talking over them. It’s sometimes hard for them to speak up. So, just seek them out and get their feedback. Just be human.
Lisette: Yeah. Just be…that sounds so simple. Just be human and everything will be fine.
Bjoern: Yeah. Just be human.
Lisette: And yet we have all these conflicts.
Lisette: So indeed. So what about productivity in terms of [unintelligible – 19:17]…you said that you have a routine.
Lisette: You have had dedicatedspace. Doyou use any other productivity hacks for yourself, like the pomodoro or anything?
Bjoern: No. I tried this and it was kind on funky but it added too much to worry about. Like, I like to just worry about work. I do like lists so keeping a list of the most important thing that Iwant to tackle and then two three medium ones and maybe a small one and I try to tackle the big one first when I’m fresh enough to pay attention and then just kind of knock it off and it’s very satisfying even if it’s a real list [unintelligible – 19:54] sticky note, it’s very satisfying to just cross it off and it also helps you refocus when, you know, it’s 3 p.m. and you know you got like 2-3 more hours in the day and your list is not kind of done. So it sits there and it looks at you so…obviously we also use JIRA to generally manage the team and that’s [unintelligible – 20:16]but, you know, having a small personal list for the day actually kind of helps and…
Lisette: What do you use amongst your team for getting things? How do guys know what each other are doing? I mean, at the moment, you’re in the office but…
Bjoern: Yeah. Right now, we’re in the office but when we work remotely, we rely on Slack and we have a little tool that allows you to give a quick status update into Slack and this sounds kind of funny because you could just write some text, right? And that will be astatus update but we use this tool. It’s called [unintelligible – 20:48] and then you just type in what you’re tackling today and it actually records this on a site so you can go back and see what happened last week and so on and so forth. Another great tool I’ve used in thepast is something that emails you every morning and asks you what you want to get done and then you….every member writes back, just hit the reply button, and then you type in an email what you want to get done and that kind of gets collected on another centralised website where you can just browse through it and it’s kind of fun to see two or three weeks from now what we tackled, you know, last month and then it just kind of keeps everybody kind of honest and lets them think about, okay, what do I want to actually do today and thencommunicate that through Slack and then we get going.
Lisette: Yeah, it sounds very similar. I’ve used a tool called I Done This which is very similar where you just post…
Bjoern: Yeah, that’s the email one, yeah.
Lisette: Ok okay. So guys…I always go to the website and what’s really weird about what’s happened with me is I’m kind of addicted to seeing what people worked on even if they’re doing something completely different than what I’ve done. It’s weird. I just want to know like what’s going on.
Bjoern: Yeah, exactly. That’s…yeah, some people are that way, usually manager type people who want to know, oh…it’s not about micromanaging, for me anyways. It’s more like oh I want to see that the trains are somewhat moving, that everything in the train station is where it needs to beso that I can feel at peace and go about my tasks and mostly so I can see stuff that gets stuck so I can jump there and help it get unstuck. That’s usually what I look for.
Bjoern: And in order to look for it, you need to know what everybody’s trying to accomplish so that you can go jump there and help them out if you have some cycles or you just feel like they’re stuck.
Lisette: Yeah. I want to move to talking about hiring.
Bjoern: Yeah. Sure.
Lisette: In terms of hiring for your staff because you talked about this a bit in the talk and some of the hiring techniques that you use. So I’d love to know…I mean, if you’relooking for a remote worker, what are you looking for?
Bjoern: Yeah. The key attributes to me for a remote worker is somebody that you can tell doesn’t need a lot of motivation to go do work and some people call this like people that like to learn, maybe. Some people call this, you know, self-motivated people. Essentially, you’re trying to find someone that you can give a little bit more responsibility that, you know, will get up and find work when he ran out of work, you know, raises his hand and says, hey, how aboutI tackle this next? I’m about to be done with this. So, you know, that is a huge help. It’s almost like they’re a mini-manager of themselves and that’s what really, really helps for me, especially when you work remotely.
Lisette: How can you tell?
Bjoern: You have to basically kind of talk about how they’ve done some projects and a really great indicator is if they have side projects orthey try to launch something on their own while they were also full-time employee. Like,somebody that worked a 9-5 job but still was able to run a blog or write an app on the weekends and at nights. That’s a huge indicator, even if they haven’t done it in the last year but maybe the yearbefore, it just shows you that there’s some DNA in them that really gets them going even though they just worked 8 hours. So, that’s usually a good, good, good indicator.
Lisette: Side projects.
Bjoern: Side projects, yeah.
Lisette: Don’t be too judgmental if they haven’t done anything in the last year. Everybody needs a break.
Bjoern: Everybody, you know, like it busy…maybehad a child, maybe he moved, maybe he was doing a hobby for once that, you know, it doesn’t have to be that you just done this side project last weekend but that you have seeked out extracurricular activity basically.
Lisette: Yeah, that makes sense and what about…this is another thing that actually I hear a lot in Silicon Valley, which is very different than Europe, which is burnout and working too much and…
Bjoern: Yeah, absolutely.
Lisette: …I hear a lot about people just, you know, 80-hour weeks, 90-hour weeks and, to Europeans, that sounds crazy.
Lisette: Because everybody…like it’s July now when we’re recording this. There…nobody’s working July and August. It’s like people just take 2 months off somehow. I don’t know how it works but somehow their company keeps functioning but what about that culture in Silicon Valley? I mean…
Bjoern: It definitely is true Silicon Valley works…I think America in general works a lot harder or pretends to work a lot harder than Europeans. I can only speak for Germans because I’ve seen the German work culture a little bit in my career but mostly spent my adult life in America. So, America and Germany is definitely different in that Americans like to work more hours, like they’re proud of putting in more than 40 hours where in Germany they would feel ashamed that they had to work more than 40 hours because it sounds like, oh, I messed up, I had to work longer, where they Americans are more about, hey, look at me I worked so much this week and I provide for my family. And in Silicon Valley, I like to say Silicon Valley is the America of the America. So it’s…
Lisette: I love it.
Bjoern: It’s a very amplified place within America so there’s a lot ofyoung people that are very focused at accomplishing goals professionally. So they almost feed on each other and that gives it that other push like that other 10% where they work long and when they done working, they go seek out meet-ups where they learn about new technologies and then they go have drinks with friends and they still talk about the industry and they still talk about work. I assume it’s similar at Wall Street where bankers just are never leaving their cycle of talking about work as soon as they wake up until they go to bed and it’s the same way in the valley where you don’t talk about much else other than your work. All your friends talk about work and you go to meet-ups and then you go home and you’rejust jazzed up to work on something. So you work on some more stuff andthen you work a lot in the office for the company that you work for because it’s kind of expected to do that extra hour a day or so.
Lisette: Yeah. You kind of get rewarded for all the, I mean…
Lisette: …you get the bonus points in the background but I can imagine it’s very difficult because you’re probably working on something cool, you’re probablyworking on a start-up. It’s very competitive so you want to be able to show that you have value to people and yeah when you love what to do, it’s hard to turn off.
Bjoern: Yeah it’s true but so we don’t like this behaviour at all at Design Inc.[unintelligible – 27:26]. We try to…
Lisette: I was just going to ask like how do you guys do it?
Bjoern: Yeah.Probably because I burned out myself before. It wasn’t a huge burnout but it was definitely…you could tell you were producing at a subpar level quality because you were just working too much and then when everything becomes a fire, Monday to Friday, everything is a fire and then there’s an actual fire on a Sunday that you have to go in and fix, you’re just not fresh enough, right. So I try at Design Inc. we try together to create a work life balance that is hard enough to push the start-up forward but to also keep the employees fresh so that when they come in on Monday, they really have the great ideas, you know. They really have the drive to push the ideas forward and the quality is just been much, much better than previous start-ups where you work the 10 extra hours all the time. We do have weeks where we push hard and it goes over 40 hours but they are very special scenarios where we push out a beta launch or something similar but then we go back to a more sane level and make sure that you’re rested for that next sprint and that you bring the creativity. The creativity is the most important thing for me personally that you just lose that if you’re…all your people are just mainly complaining about how bad it is to work at this place.
Lisette: Right. Or how tired they are and…
Bjoern: Or how tired they are or how they didn’t get to go to the doctor or they…or I really have to change my tires. All these things that make life life get put on the backburner and eventually catch up on you and I don’t want them to be preoccupied with that kind of stuff. I want them to be fresh and creative and producing at a hundred percent.
Lisette: So somebody needed to just take an afternoon off and that’s the kind of thing in your culture that it’s okay. Go get your tires changed, I mean [unintelligible – 29:16].
Bjoern: Yeah. Yeah, actually, tires I got done yesterday on my car and so I had to leaveat 4 and that wasn’t a big issue. You just…but it’s expected that you take care of your…of your to-do list and we all clock in a little bit over 40 hours for sure but it is a very relaxed, you know, take care of what you have to take care of but don’t kill yourself and we have told some people, hey, look, I think we overdid it a little bit. We need to come back down because we’re starting to be fatigued so it’s kind of like running a sports team this early stage and I hate when people always talk about sports and start-ups as they are the same thing but in this case when you [unintelligible – 29:57], it is similar to that. You just got to make sure you know you’re rested and you’re doing stuff that makes sense.
Lisette: Right. I have noticed it myself. I mean,I love my work and t’s hard for me to turn off because I’m like if only I just…just that one hour, like, I don’t have to go running today because if I could just get that extra hour but I notice that I now have a rule where I don’t give up the physical exercise for work.
Bjoern: Yeah. That’s very smart.
Lisette: Like I don’t…yeah because that run, really, you know, you’re thinking during the run and I’ve constantly got the phone, yeah remember when you get home, don’t forget…
Bjoern: Yeah. That’s a very good point actually. Exercise, physical exercise is a great, great productivity tool. I use his myself. I run a lot and you have these meetings with yourself while you run. It’s kind of how it starts, right? You run that first mile and you have this meeting with yourself and then all of a sudden it gets really quite and you ran another 2 miles and you realised I actually wasn’t thinking about anything and that helps.
Lisette: I didn’t even feel that pain.
Bjoern: Exactly and then it’s like it was this pause, this quiet in your brain and then you come back to work a little bit more refreshed.
Lisette: Yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of people skip that, at least I hear of a lot of people skipping that. I was just very curious about the Silicon Valley culture because it just seems like people are on overdrive.
Lisette: And part of it I understand and part of it I think, ah, it can’t be that healthy. Come on, America. Like, we can do better.
Bjoern: Yeah, exactly. To give you a little bit of a secret about Silicon Valley, a lot of this overdrive, a lot of these hours, they are fake. A lot of people come into the office and then they spend an hour eating breakfast and playing foosball or catching up. So, there is sometimes not enough focus at least in larger tech companies, let’s say 50+ employees. They screw around a little bit and then it takes a long time for them to actually sit down and do the work. Not at all companies surely but I’ve seen this a lot and it’s…that’s the hour or two that you are over-doing later and it just…usually that kind of starts to stop once you bring in people that have some family and they have to get out at 5-5:30 because they have to do a pick-up at daycare and then the younger employees will start to adjust as well a little bit because, you know, you’re going to have a little bit more focus from the senior people coming in, like, hey, let’s get this done right now, not after the foosball. Like, let’s play foosball on Friday or something.
Lisette: Right, I can see that. If the leadership actually has a really good balance and is really focused onthat, then, yeah, I can imagine that’s easier for everybody. So, I have…I could go one and on but I just have a couple more questions that I want to ask about. One is what is virtualrockstarts.com? I saw it in your LinkedIn profile and I thought, oh man, this I got to know about.
Bjoern: That’s actually funny that we’re talking about this. This was one of my very firstprojects that started in college. It had a different name then and then after I moved to Texas to America, I rebranded it as virtualrockstars.com. It was a site back in 2008 or so that basically was a giant job [port] for remote workers. You would basically log in and you find remote work that was interesting. It would source it from Craigslist. It would source it from a bunch of job [ports]that at the time you could go and find work but most of them are not around anymore. Craigslist is, surprisingly. And it was called Virtual Rockstars and people would go and create a profile, find work, could apply to work. It was a lot easier to find jobs that way than having 8 tabs open at the same time.
Bjoern: And then another step it created another community based approach to sharing what you work on so kind of similar to the tool that we talked about earlier, I Done This, but in a public way. So you were a freelancer from Sweden, let’s say, and there’s another freelancer from LA. Everybody came together in this kind of Twitter looking stream andyou could clock into what you’re doing. You would clock into a project and you could say, hey, I am working on this and this, and people could leave comments. It was a very small community but it was very interesting to see, hey, there’s a guy in Florida working on the graphic design project and he just clocked in so he’s at work. It was like kind of like having a remote office with everybody in the world.
Lisette: I was going to say it sounds like virtual co…like, global virtual co-working somehow.
Bjoern: Yeah. Exactly.
Lisette: Except, somehow, you’re like…with random people [unintelligible – 34:34].
Bjoern: That’s kind of how it was and that’s a really good analogy.
Lisette: So what prompted you to build this?
Bjoern: I was doing a lot of freelance projects on the side of working for an agency at the time and so I felt like it’s really…it’s kind of need to do these projects remotely. It was kind of still a newer thing to work remotely but it was really painful to go and get new work and you would have to go to all these sites and then make sure you see new [broad]projects coming in because a lot people would try to snag them. So I thought it would be kindof a need to aggregate what you’re looking at anyway. So that’s kind of how it started but then in the second step, I really was seeing more people on that site using this tool and then I thought, man, I really would like to know what they actually work on even though I don’t work with them and that’s when I cameup with this idea to clock them in and that was kind of really interesting.
Lisette: Yeah, I bet. It sounds awesome. It’s…I work with avirtual co-working group and we just cameup with a way of doing that ourselves. So it’s really…
Lisette: …fortuitous that I’m actually talking with you about this. So, very interesting.Virtual Rockstars. So what did…two last questions. Last one’s super easy but this one is if you’re going to give advice to a team just starting out…
Lisette: …and they were wondering do we go remote, do we not go remote, what advice do you give them?
Bjoern: Yeah. I would say if you’re within a more defined environment, let’s say a bigger company or you already have established your business, let’s say you are a solo entrepreneur and you’re making money and you have figured out what the business is doing, then sure, go ahead, go remote, get the best people that you can, and…but make sure that when you step that up that you really set it up. Like, define what work tools to use, define the expectations that, hey, let’s be on between these hours in that time zone. Even if you’re in Europe let’s define that you’re on 3-4 hours in our time zone over here so that we can collaborate. It is really not that hard but you need to talk about it and you need to set expectations among the team and then really don’t be so shy about communicating. We have all these great tools, even if you just pick up the phone and call someone old school, we used to…we used to do this at Design Inc. It sounds so low-tech but I would do a lot of phone calls with my co-founder and I would do a lot ofphone calls with the tech lead that I have on my team just to catch up and talk about mostly business, 80% business, 20% personal. It was just a great way to very quickly,while you’re driving somewhereeven, just give them a call or record a video of yourself talking like a selfie video and send it to a person or the group via text message. We did that a lot in early days as well, just giving an update of what’s going on your end and you see that person’s facial expression. It just helps you be closer. You need to bond very, very quickly in a lot of remote ways and that’s how you establish that team culture, even if you’re not in the same room.
Lisette: You know, I love this idea of recording a selfie video because I’ve been giving people the advice of hey record your team meetings when you’re doing it remotely for those people that couldn’t attend because I’ve noticed when I’m watching those meetings that I wasn’t able to attend, I still feel like I’m part of the team.
Bjoern: Yeah. Exactly.
Lisette: Even just watching it is enough to bond me a bit and [unintelligible – 38:06] team.
Bjoern: Yeah and it’s great to do these things early on because then it becomes habit and that’s what we always done. When you introduced these things later, it’s a little bit more…it’s a lot easier to say not to them. So doing all these things upfront more often is a lot more helpful.
Lisette: Great advice. Start early so that it becomes ahabit and it’s not weird lateron.
Lisette: Love it.
Bjoern: Yeah. You really need to define these habits and then it gets a lot easier.
Lisette: Awesome. So, last question and that is if people want to contact you…
Lisette: …about Design Inc., about your experience, what’s the best way? There’s of course the website designinc.com of course.
Bjoern: Exactly. They can go to designinc.com. They can find me on Twitter. That’s where I do all my stuff. I am on LinkedIn. I do check that sometimes but Twitter is the place where you can reach me. My username is zinssmeister. Z-i-n-s-s-m-e-i-s-t-e-r, kind of like Jagermeister.
Lisette: That’ll make it easier to remember. I’ll also put it in the show notes so that people can have easy access. Yeah it’s kind of like Jagermeister but better.
Bjoern: Yeah but better.
Lisette: You don’t get a headache from it.
Bjoern: Yeah. Jagermeister is a terrible drink. I don’t know how they came up with this.
Lisette: It’s true and then also, yeah, it’s you know that things are going downhill when somebody brings out the Jager shots. You just think I should go home.
Lisette: Or this…I should go home but yeah.
Bjoern: Yeah. When it’s Jager or [unintelligible – 39:34], I think it’s time to go.
Lisette: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I won’t go into my experiences. That’s a whole other podcast so…but thanks. I really appreciate that you took the time to talk to me today.
Lisette: I found your advice very valuable.
Bjoern: Sure. Thank you for having me.
Lisette: Thanks so much.
Bjoern: Yeah, thank you so much.
Lisette: Alright, everybody. Until next time, be powerful.