BRYAN MILES is CEO & Co-founder of BELAY, alongside his wife Shannon. A leading US-based, virtual solutions company, BELAY has over six hundred team members, all working from home, remotely. Bryan is also the author of Virtual Culture – The Way We Work Doesn’t Work Anymore.
Without an office, BELAY has graced the Inc. 5000 list three times and was awarded the number one spot in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Best Company Culture. BELAY provides virtual assistants, bookkeeping, copywriting, and webmaster services to leaders and fast-paced organizations. BELAY’s services equip leaders and organizations with the ability to climb higher when and where they need it most.
Bryan and Shannon live with their two children, Harper and Rainey, in Atlanta. Practicing what he preaches, Bryan spends his days virtually running his company from his porch in Georgia, from the mountains in Jackson Hole, or from the beaches in the panhandle of Florida.
His tips for working remotely:
- Visualize what success looks like for your team. Outline your OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Answer the following statement: “When you’re successful, it looks like <this>.”
- You’ve got to be a leader worth following.
- Put systems and processes in place as your business grows. Change and adapt.
- Leaders need to pre-decide to trust people to do the job that’s expected. Default to trusting people.
- Delegate a result, not a task: tell people the expected results and then set them up for success. Don’t tell them what to do.
- Treat people like adults.
- Conflict is ok. Embrace it. Teach your team to have courageous conversations.
- When you see something, say something.
- Verbalize the elephant in the room.
- Welcome the contrarian. Value your great ideas.
- Teach your team how to trust. Assume the best. Trust and verify.
- The quickest way to scale is without an office.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: And we are live so welcome everybody to this remote interview my name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Today on the line all the way from Atlanta Georgia I have got Bryan Miles, hello Bryan.
Bryan Miles: Hello.
Lisette: Bryan you are the cofounder of a company called BELAY it’s a premium staffing company that pairs virtual assistance with executives that’s sort of my short version of, I will let you explain it later. You have grown your company from two people to over sixty people without an office space and you are the author of a book which is on my list right now called Virtual Culture, The Way We Work Doesn’t Work Anymore, sounds like something that people definitely need to get. So we are going to dive into that but let’s start with the first question, what does your virtual office look like, what do you need to get your work done?
Bryan Miles: Well I mean I’m talking to you from my virtual office it’s our house where you know which you mentioned earlier about our business we have grown our company to a sixty fulltime employees that are based here in Metro Atlanta and all of them work from their homes as well, we don’t have an actual headquarters office like an actual physical office and those sixty people that are kind of our headquarters team we manage about another five hundred and fifty people that do the work of our business everyday so our team collectively to include our employees and the contractors we are around six hundred and six hundred and twenty five, six hundred and thirty people right now all working in remote and it’s no easy chore but what we figured out is an office is only a place you go to it really doesn’t define the thing you do in terms of work and so we have just constantly pushed back the naysayer to say that when you get to a certain size of a business you need to have an office we just said no that’s not true, in fact we think that you can scale quicker without one and we have proven that at least for our business and we haven’t missed a deed we’ve actually, to kind of prove the point that we think you can you know scale and grow a business we went and applied for an award where a third party had to basically interview you an entrepreneur magazine ranked us as the number one company culture through third party testing it was nothing that we could do to impact that and we won over fifty different companies based in the US. So we are really excited about the fact that our culture was very much intact without an actual physical office.
Lisette: Indeed and I would love to just show people that hey I know there are sceptics about scaling remote companies but here is proof right here, so it is possible it can be done and we are going to hopefully learn the secrets of your success today to share with people. So tell me a little bit about BELAY and your company you said you have sixty employees all based in Atlanta, why Atlanta?
Bryan Miles: Well early on as we were growing and we were developing our team we had… my wife and I her name is Shannon we started our business with our money so we bootstrapped our business and felt like in the early days our team needed to be in Atlanta so if we needed the circle the wagons really quick they would at least be here in Atlanta, I wouldn’t have to put people on airplanes, I wouldn’t have to put them up in hotels they could just go home a night and so what we said was okay you can work from home but you just have got to be in Metro Atlanta and we are blessed with eight million people that live here in Metro Atlanta, it’s a nice workforce of you know white-collar folks that have done account management, sales the things we needed as we scale our business. Now if you are a contractor which are the ones that are actually doing the work with our clients and you can be anywhere in the United States. Currently we are entertaining ideas of how we can start to become a bit more global as other markets have approached us with our services but as of today currently we work in the United States and Canada and our contractors are really just all of them are based in the US today and a lot of this is just because we understand labor law in the US and we want to be compliant and all those good things. To answer your question the specific the sixty people are kind of non-client facing corporate roles, HR, sales, marketing and account management, myself and we are all here in Metro Atlanta so we need to meet face to face we can do that but most days it’s like this it’s over a zoom call.
Lisette: So why did you decide to do it all remote?
Bryan Miles: Well when I started this business with my wife I valued my autonomy, I value my freedom and I didn’t want to create a business that I was going to become a slave to and nor did my wife and she came from a fortune ten company where she went into an office every day. I was in sales and I traveled a lot so I kind of worked remote already but I just didn’t want to become a slave to the business that I fell in love with as we started it and we realized that you can have maximum impact and create a meaningful company and you just don’t need an office to do that, you just have got to be good at communicating the things that matter to your employees and making sure that your leaders are equipped and resourced and then that everybody is pointing to a singular big hairy why for why the business exist and people feel like every day they are connected to that and they are pointing in that direction and we have been able to do that.
Lisette: So how do you communicate with each other throughout the day what are the tools that you use, what are the loops that you use?
Bryan Miles: Yeah so we use various ones and we’ve you know now we standardize all of that so it’s kind of like if you are going to use a project management tool it’s going to be basecamp, so we have an enterprise application, we use Dropbox for file management, we use Infusionsoft for all of our sales pipeline management, our account management some accounting functions, our sales team uses Slack to communicate, I think those are… of course we use Zoom we have an enterprise account with Zoom in terms of communication and then we use the Google ads platform for the things that we do in terms of email and calendar that type of you know communication and that’s it, and it’s pretty straight forward, it’s all web based –
Lisette: You know it’s funny, it’s funny that you say that’s it because for some people that’s a lot of tools but you know because back in the day it was Microsoft Office and everybody just used the Microsoft Office Toolkit and now we’ve really ventured out-
Bryan Miles: That’s right yeah you know what, you know as your business grows and we have dealt with this too as you know you would have people go on I want to use my application I want to use mine or and if you are going to grow and scale you have to put systems and processes in place and we just said look and we have an IT manager now inside of our business and you know we are fortunate to have positions like that now where they can test things and make sure that it makes sense and there are administrators of the application so, but in the early days it’s kind of a wild west we are all trying to scale and grow our businesses we are selling our service and we just said okay we are going to be grownups now we have all got to use the same application, we have all got to learn together and we did that probably five years ago in our business.
Lisette: Yeah I know it only makes sense I mean you have to have you have to have systems in processes in place I think that’s sort of the number one advice everybody gives for scaling, yeah don’t have it be the wild west and scale.
Bryan Miles: That’s right and at some point you know you have to basically say goodbye to being a startup you know, you have to you know put your you know big boy panties on and do the things you need to do throughout the company and the things that you did in the early days don’t necessarily translate to the way you need to grow and be a business in its future and so you have to change and adapt and that’s what we did.
Lisette: How did you find your employees and how did you know that they would be good at working remotely?
Bryan Miles: Yeah well in the early days and even still just to some extent today and we classify our employees as our folks here in Atlanta our W-2 employees but our contractors we also get them very similar and it’s really through referral. Its people that have found a job of meaning and they also get to do that from home and they have workplace flexibility. They get to be a successful career person but they also get to be a successful mom or they get to be a successful dad and they we just we found people that value work life integration you know it’s, you know it’s quite okay for us to know that you know as long as you are producing the results that are expected of you it’s okay that you go and get in the car pool line at your kids school and pick them up, or you’ve got to take them to a dentist appointment or you want to have a cool great lunch with your spouse you know like that’s life and to rob employees of that just seems silly to us and so we basically what we have found is when we create an environment like that we would, I jokingly tell my team I’m ruining them for life there is no way they are going to go work somewhere else because they have something really special they have got great benefits they have got you know like great things and they get to work at home and when you give somebody that it’s really hard for them once they taste that freedom and then autonomy it’s really hard for them to go backwards and to subject themselves to an office or a cubicle where they are kind of punching in and out with the time clock and just that’s a bad soul-sucking thing to do to adults.
Lisette: Its true it’s amazing though how much resistance there is from managers in order to do that and so maybe we can dive a little bit into that, what resistance we were talking a little bit before that there is a lot of senior managers out there that are not open to remote working and I’m curious why do you think that is, what is it about, what is it about the senior managers why are they so hesitant?
Bryan Miles: I think-
Lisette: I mean they are people too right like they want to go out for lunch and-
Bryan Miles: Yeah well yeah and they are but I think that they also feel like they have earned that right every time you know they have done the things necessary to the position where they can do that and everybody has got to kind of earn their key, and I think that that’s just old school thinking, me personally I think that and here is why, I believe this is true and now you know I have been doing this now for eight years having a company with people that work remote and before that led sales teams that were remote as well so I kind of have… I’ve worked remote for a really long time, a couple of decades now and it’s this notion that people in our office they won’t admit it but this is what they are thinking, if I can’t see you I can’t control you and that drives people nuts, that they can’t see you so they can’t control you, and so the opposite of that is that a leader has to decide to give up trust to decide to pre-decide to trust people to do the job that is expected and that’s really hard for leaders to do, because what you are doing is you are telling them I trust you with the result and I’m going to be here to help you but I trust you with the result versus where it is I can see you and I can control you and I can tell you every single thing to do and all the task that equal the result, that’s a big difference. So I just see that… I mean I talk to enough leaders and businesses struggling right now because they are work force is demanding that they get the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week and they are scratching their head like I don’t like this is going to change us and it is and they can either proactively address it or they can reactively lose great people.
Lisette: Right yeah indeed it seems like the younger generations are not going to stand for you know sitting in a cubicle firm from nine to five I mean I certainly put in my time there and I didn’t like it at all. Yeah I quit a really great job to work in a restaurant because I hated the cubicle firm and I think I’m not alone I wasn’t so wild like my dad thought I was.
Bryan Miles: For me I worked in the cubicle right out of college and what it felt like to me as I was putting a play pen for an adult and I hated that feeling because you know it was just like you sit here and it just did not sit well with me and again it kind of goes to that I think the deeper workings of this are company industrial age because if you think about the way things were built during the industrial age and the boom of manufacturing what would happen is you would put your workers in the middle and then you put your managers around them, so there would be the factory floor of workers and then there would be managers kind of circle around them making sure they are squeezing productivity and efficiency out of them. Well if you go right now you think about every corporate office space anywhere in the world what do you do, you put people in cubicles in the middle and you put managers on the outside around them. It’s a holdout of industrial age thinking where if I can see you I can control you and virtual says I have to trust you to execute on a result and it is a mind shift that’s occurring.
Lisette: Indeed so how do you keep your team aligned then? What are the I mean what systems and processes have you put in place in order to… I mean and do you have core hours like how does it work?
Bryan Miles: We do that’s a great question I will address the core hours its really just business hours Monday through Friday about eight about five you know in some roles maybe they have to take a sales call at seven o’clock at night occasionally, but I think that the bigger answer that is it starts with the leaders. I have to be worth following as a leader which means that if I say that we need to have normal business hours and you need to stop emailing and be a mom or a dad or a husband or a wife or a friend whatever then I can’t be emailing people at eight o’clock at night and expecting them to reply to me. So it starts with me as the leader and so I have worked really hard with our leaders to be a leader worth following and coaching that in our business down. So the things that we do to kind of connect people to result is we have we start with the company’s this whole year defining objectives and we have four key objectives that we go through and everybody then our leadership team is responsible for aspects of those objectives and then we communicate those objectives consistently through the course of the year how we are doing. So our team is a wholeness where we are headed this year from our four core objectives but they also know the kind of the specific component parts to equal that, then on top of that we layer on with what we call our key result areas, our KRAs and it is that is our equivalent of a job description. So what we found most people that I know that are adults they like to be delegated to a result not delegated to a task. So when I work with our teams we say hey this is the results expected you know feel free to fill in the blank as you see fit, if you need my help come get me but this is the result that is expected of you not here is the eighty seven things you have to do to get to the result. So I have find that adults just love that, they feel empowered and free to do it and then they know they come to us when they need help and we do that and resource equip them. But the KRA then becomes a really simple document it says you are winning in your role when it looks like this and so we paint a picture for them what winning looks like in their job and so they know an image of what they are aiming for in their role inside of our business and its one page, if you are a senior leader in our business its maybe a page and a half even our CFO its two pages, you know a very complex role we just trying to make it really clear this is the image or the vision for what their role looks like you are an adult so we are going to treat you like one and this is the result that is expected of you and what we find is people they are able to more specifically identify say yes I’m hitting the mark or not versus here is the fifty two things you have to do to be great at this job.
Lisette: Plus you get the creativity of whatever the person brings to that role I mean they will solve the problem probably in a totally different way and maybe better, then you would have if you had outlined the specific tasks, you might as well get a robot then if you can outline the tasks. What happens when results are not met?
Bryan Miles: Well we have conversations you know we coach our leaders and our team to have courageous conversations. Inside of our company we have taught our team and we have developed what we call three conflict norms in our business that we train employees on, and we just teach that conflict is okay that when you need to have a courageous conversation you can have that in our business and that’s you know it goes to back to the baseline that we believe our employees are adults you know we are not raising kids here we are raising adults to go do great things on behalf of our business. I kind of I use that a lot but when I’m around corporate America in other capacities it’s like they, they kind of dumb it down where adults are treated like kids and I just I don’t want to work in an environment like that. So that’s why we say that adults versus you know kids but when thing, our three conflict norms are the first is TSA rule which is when you see something you have to say something. If there is something that is impacting you, that you see in the business that could jeopardize or hurt our business you have a responsibility to say something and to take that up, to bring it up to the manager, to take it to somebody in senior leadership or whatever, the TSA rule is you see something you say something. The next one is we say you can hunt elephants, so like if there is just the obvious thing in the room that no one is saying but everybody knows the elephant is in the room you have the right to verbalize it and say the reason why we are not doing this is because of that or you know the reason why we are struggling with this is because of this huge elephant in the room and this is what it is. So we embrace the conflict because it becomes a conflict norm we all accept that people have permission to say what the elephant is then that’s okay and then the final one that we talk about is we welcome the contrarian. So we value good healthy debate in our company, the best ideas are ones that are generally beat up not told to and so we’ve just decided that even if everybody in the room agrees that this is the best thing since sliced bread we are going to have somebody basically take on the contrarian role to beat it up so that the best idea comes out of that conversation or that decision and so forth. So when you put these conflict norms in place and you say look we welcome appropriate conflict because it makes a better company and so that’s how we handle like tough things in our conversations with our team when they are not missing the, when they are missing the mark or when the result is not what you know expected or what happening we do that and one of the big thing I [Inaudible 19:00] how to trust. Trust is a very important factor I think in the growth of a remote organization but I think it is true any company really rather they have a physical presence or not. We decided early on in our business that we were going to teach people how to be trusted and how that we as leaders we are going to trust them we had to also teach them kind of the method for how that happens so we just say it we train this in our employee handbook we train this when we are together but it’s this when there is a gap and what expected and versus what I have experienced and there is a gap I’m going to automatically decide to fill that gap of trust. Then I’m going to come to you and I’m going to verify it. So for example let’s say that I owe you something, I promised something to you by Friday five o’clock, I didn’t get to it, I didn’t get it to you on time well what’s Brian doing you know he is always slacking off for you know whatever or maybe Brian had to take this kid to a doctor’s appointment, maybe there is a really legitimate reason why I didn’t do it and or maybe I’m waiting on some other intel and I just didn’t communicate that to you and that’s my fault, but we just decided that if we are going to work together in a remote capacity and we can’t see everybody every day we need to fill the gap of trust and then verify and that has helped our organization and its culture in ways that I can’t fully articulate because people feel like there is no one out to get them.
Lisette: Right, that’s you?
Bryan Miles: Yeah and so-