JACK BERGLUND is the Chief Product Officer at Doodle, an app that helps you decide on meeting times and places. Doodle works with team in four different offices. Jack dives into what they struggle with, the skills needed for remote leadership, tips for dealing with culture, and advice for remote team building.
His tips for working remotely:
- To build relationships with remote colleagues, try reaching out for no reason at all… just to say hello.
- If you’re working in a place with a lot of background noise, use a noise canceling headset (and cancel out the background noise).
- If you work from home and find yourself getting lonely, try meeting up with someone else in the same situation and share/trade a home office space.
- With teams who are in very different time zones, share the pain of working early or late.
- It’s good to meet your team mates in person at least once (early in the project if possible).
- In a hybrid meeting, when a remote person and an in person start speaking at the same time, favor the remote person.
- Remember to communicate accidental “bump into each other” decisions back to your remote colleagues.
- Be transparent and open in your communication to keep everyone in the loop with what’s going on (e.g., keep Slack channels public instead of private).
- If you are managing people who are located in various offices, travel to meet them in person occasionally (Doodle employees are encouraged to work in another office one week per year).
- Treat people well and be curious about them. Don’t overstate the differences on your remote team.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers Podcast, my name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people in companies doing great things remotely. Hello everybody and welcome to episode number two hundred and eight. Happy September! In this interview I’m speaking with Jack Berglund who is the chief product officer at Doodle, one of the best scheduling tools around I’m a big fan but before we get into the interview I want to give you guys this week’s one minute tip. As usual this week’s tip is coming straight from the interview and that is when you’re trying to build relationships with remote colleagues one of the things you can do is reach out for no reason at all. I was telling Jack in the interview that I had a boss who was in California while I was living in the Netherlands and he would call me on his way into work every morning at 6 AM which was in the afternoon for me, and in the beginning I kept thinking ‘hey boss what do you want,’ but he was actually just calling to say hi and to see how my day was going and it really made a difference we actually became friends partly because of that. So if you’re looking for some relationship building advice for remote colleagues on your team try reaching out just to say hello. Alright that’s been this week’s one minute tip, now let’s get on to the interview. Like I said before I’m speaking with Jack Berglund who is the chief product officer at Doodle. So if you’ve got more than two people that you’d like to have attend a meeting and you want to find a time that is good for everybody Doodle is the tool for you. Now I actually got to meet Jack in person when I was in Zürich a couple of months ago. We were both speaking at a meet up and I was so impressed with the tips that he gave and so impressed with him in general that I invited him to be on the podcast. So if you’re looking for some good tips about time zones, about how to run meetings, about how to be a good remote manager culture and advice for relationship building this is the interview for you, sit back, relax and enjoy this conversation with Jack Berglund. Well we’ll start with question number one it’s always the same which is what does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Jack Berglund: So here are Doodle we spin across four offices sort of dotted around Europe headquartered in Switzerland and I think one of the interesting challenges we have at the moment is we have more and more projects as the company grows that a kind of split across two, three of even four of those offices. So although we don’t see ourselves as a remote working company we definitely have many of the challenges of having a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations that are spread across lots of different locations. For me personally I think you know, all I really need to get my work done is a laptop, my phone and some headphones. Here I’m using sort of apple airpods, I actually find that very good just from the perspective super small, I always have them in my pocket. One problem I do have with them and I have this with a lot of headphones is if you are in a noisy place and pick up the background noise louder than the voices so that’s a bit of a challenge. If anyone does know I’m looking for the sort of the holy grail of headphones where not only are they noise cancelling but also with a microphone cancels the background noise as well.
Lissette: Amen for any listening please write in, I’m sorry to interrupt.
Jack Berglund: No, no of course, so yeah that would be but I’m pretty basic, I can what sort of anywhere I think the main thing is just to have a semi silent space to work in, but I’m really not fussy whether it’s a beach, a coffee shop, a couch whatever it is. One of the challenges I see actually working in an office every day we have a lot of you know engineers in the office who like a very kind of quiet and focused environment. So in order to take phone calls to do things like this I actually have to find a space somewhere outside of the office not to annoy everyone. So we’re definitely thinking about getting some little telephone booths, soundproof booths to have in the office as well.
Lissette: That is a major issue that people in offices talk about, which is one the noise. When I went to Ikea they had quiet areas where it was really a decibel meters so that you could measure the level of noise that was in those areas but in a lot of places they do… there is a problem with finding a conference room or finding a quiet space to go to. So you’re not alone there but before we get into some of that I want to talk about before you worked at Doodle you had four years of remote working experience where you said you were the only person in Europe working with a team that was elsewhere and I’m curious about your work spaces that you used then, what kind of places did you have or did you go to?
Jack Berglund: Yeah definitely, the sort of headquarters were New York so there’s a certain amount of traveling back and forth but most of my time I was actually in my home office, and I think the 1st year it felt really nice you know it’s convenient, I don’t lose any time commuting but the longer and longer you spend in that sort of relatively small space and you know sort of ability to take a break and get out of that becomes more important. So I discovered thankfully after about a year there was a really nice coffee shop at the bottom of the hill with very good coffee. So that was a good escape. One thing I did try that worked quite well is I had a friend who’s also working from home a lot and we would actually swap offices, so I would go work from his home and he would work from mine just to kind of get that separation of home and space even though you’re actually in someone else’s home and yeah that worked kind of nicely from just a mental separation and the other up side was we would try and sort of cross over. So if someone came to my house we would sit and have coffee, a bit of a chat and then you know I would leave for his home. So kind of a slightly an orthodox solution but it worked pretty well.
Lissette: I think that’s a great solution, it kills two birds with one stone though I don’t like that expression because who wants to kill birds right, but one is the loneliness and the other is the mental separation which indeed is quite an issue for people who are working from their home offices. When you made the switch from going to working from home offices or coffee shops to working from an office every day did you have any trouble transitioning or were you like ‘oh no I miss this, I’m ready for it,’ what was your experience with that?
Jack Berglund: Yeah I was surprised, I hadn’t anticipated it. It was actually quite hard to be in an environment where you will constantly surrounded by people. When I was working at home I spoke to a lot of people you know Skype and so on throughout the day but really you know if I wanted an hour of eleven times so to say it was very easy right I just don’t pick up the phone, I don’t call people. So yeah it was kind of interesting, I assume. Some of my colleagues may listen to this they may have a chuckle but I definitely when I first arrived at the office found it a little bit of an adjustment to sort of you know have a little bit of small talk with everyone and kind of be surrounded by people all day long. The solution was really just time and it happens quite quickly within a few weeks you get very used to it again, but I guess it made me realize that I had been a little bit isolated when I was working at home.
Lissette: And was it ever an issue for you watching at home the isolation or was it…? I mean for me when I worked in my home office alone I loved it, I did not have the ‘I feel too lonely or I feel isolated issue,’ at all but a lot of remote workers do talk about that.
Jack Berglund: I think I’m sort of the way I work in my personality is reasonably well suited to it, so I didn’t have a huge problem. I think you know I like a decent amount of time in the day by myself, I’m totally fine with that but it was more I think over a sustained period of three or four years where you noticed that your less used to just kind of chatting with people where it’s not directly kind of on a topic or you know you phone them for a reason.
Lissette: Yeah, I lost some social skills myself in that process.
Jack Berglund: That’s basically it yeah.
Lissette: Parties were a lot more difficult somehow yeah.
Jack Berglund: That’s exactly it yeah.
Lissette: Okay I’d like to go back to Doodle and talk about how you guys are working there, you say you have four offices spread out. Are they in very different time zones or are they in relatively the same time zones, where are the offices?
Jack Berglund: Yeah it’s not too bad, we’re in Zürich, Berlin in same time zone. We have Belgrade and then Tel Aviv. So we’re all within two hours of each other which is a very good thing and earlier in my career I worked on a long project where we had a large team in Bangkok and I was working in New York with a team there and we were about fifty, fifty split. Trouble with those two locations is they happened to be twelve hours apart which with hindsight was not so smart and I think in some ways that’s more important than the physical distance. So you could be a long way apart but in a similar time zone and it would be less problematic. Yeah I mean twelve hours wouldn’t really think about it until it was too late but it’s actually worse than you know New York, Australia is 16 hours.
Jack Berglund: Which sounds worse but actually it means you’re only a hours away going around the clock the other way. Twelve, twelve you’ve got no good way of setting it up.
Lisette: What did you guys do for your time zone issues? What were some of the tricks or some of the things that you did?
Jack Berglund: Yeah it was quite brutal I think for both sides. We were quite determined on the New York and not to force you know a one way kind of street where we dictated the times and let kind of colleagues in Thailand just work late every day. So we tried to be fair and sort of make sure you know one team worked late one evening, we would sort of reciprocate the next time, so it wasn’t just one way. But I think you know it’s tricky to be honest.
Jack Berglund: And then one general observation and you know from that time forward I always kind of maintained this where it’s really, really important just to meet people once somewhere at the beginning so that you kind of every other conversation point forward is much easier.
Lissette: Yeah I’ve really been an advocate for virtual teams and remote working of course like over the top but there is nothing like meeting somebody in person. It’s just, it’s just different and I think as humans I think were programmed to respond to each other in person, so I really like that advice I’ve really taken to it.
Jack Berglund: Yeah definitely I think I can remember, it was while working on this very split project we had a meeting to discuss you know why things weren’t working and how the last year hadn’t gone so well and we realized it was the first time we’d all been in the same and that was perhaps the main reason as it turned out.
Lissette: Interesting, so let’s talk a little bit about, I want to first talk about what Doodle does for anybody whom who’s been living in a cave for the last three years and has never heard of Doodle. What is Doodle and what do you guys do?
Jack Berglund: So yeah Doodle is a scheduling tool, I think sometimes people don’t recognize the name but then you talk to them and they realize they’ve used it. Essentially you put in the times when you think you might be able to meet, you send it around and you can have your colleagues or your friends put in the times that they can make and it’s actually really quick an easy way to find a mutual time when everyone’s available. We have users all across the spectrum you know one end people organizing board meetings and you know team of sights and these kind of things and the work setting all the way through to kind of bachelor party and weekend away from the personal side. Our focus right now is really on the sort of business end of things so to say because one thing we hear and one thing we know from working with our customers is that although we have all these digital tools to help with calendaring quite often scheduling a meeting is this kind of endless back and forth where there is email, chat sometimes you end up just having to pick up the phone, maybe have to phone multiple people to kind of results these conflicts. Doodle is a really nice solution to getting to that kind of time much, much quicker. The other thing we see which makes some ways of scheduling difficult and where Doodle is actually very effective is when I don’t, for those listening who work perhaps in sort of medium and large companies what we see a lot is people’s calendars no longer kind of truly reflect their availability. I’m going to put a blocker in that morning because I know I have to prepare for this or you know I kind of had so many meetings I want to block out my Friday afternoon and the only way then is to kind of negotiate a time is each as each person has to come and say ‘yes I’m actually available even if my calendar says I’m not. So we’re building on what we already have but we’re really trying to sell some of the slightly more knowledge problems where you have a large group of people trying to meet or its people across different companies. So you know perhaps it’s you and some colleagues trying to meet with a client and actually figuring out an optimal time without it spending, taking on an enormous amount of time. We did do a survey recently with some business folks in the US and discovered that for the sort of power Palace scheduler if you like for the average sort of managerial team lead that they spend more than a day a week scheduling. So I think there’s some work to do and hopefully moving towards minimizing the time and making it much easier.
Lissette: Oh yeah, absolutely and yeah indeed scheduling if you’ve got more than two or three people that you’re scheduling for a meeting it is rough to try or more than two or three time zones it is rough trying to find a mutual time. Yeah I use Doodle all the time on my virtual team with Happy Melly and Managements 3.0. We use it all the time because we’re you know we’ve got like fifteen people spanning from Canada to India and it’s just impossible to get everybody to meet at the same time, so yeah Doodle has been helpful there. Now you said you’ve got people in four different offices, I want to talk about that, that is a very common scenario for companies out there where you have offices in different places, so you’re not necessarily working remotely but you are working with colleagues in different offices and so I’d like to hear a little bit about some of the challenges that you guys face in terms of working with you know different groups, yeah I’ll start there and then dive into part two.
Jack Berglund: Yeah definitely, I think because two challenges that need help most immediately. One is just the process of running a meeting and I know that’s something that you deal with and talk about a lot. You know the five minutes we seem to lose setting up the video conferencing, we use Google hangouts here it’s getting better all the time and we’re getting better at using it but there’s still some challenges there, and then throughout the course of the meeting just I think it’s some facet of human nature I’m sure there have been studies done but when you’re on the phone and it’s that much harder to stay engaged. I always feel guilty when I’m the remote person and I find my mind wandering but people of assured me that’s not uncommon and it’s you know and your not physically there it’s kind of inevitably happens. One tip that I actually picked up from you Lisette that we started using, it’s just to start the meeting and say ‘hey look if someone on the remote end start speaking let’s give them priority, let’s just stop speaking in the room.’ Very, very simple is something I heard you talking about when you were in Zürich and just that little thing I think it’s both an effective trick if you like but also it’s sort of seeds in people’s minds just saying at the start of the meeting that ‘oh yes we do have to be aware that these guys are there on the phone.’ So that was actually very effective. So there’s the meetings themselves which is one challenge and I think you know technology helps and some sort of etiquette there as well. The flip side is I don’t know if there’s a term for this but just sometimes you know a couple of you are in one location you have a conversation and you don’t realize that you made a decision. So you talked about something and it could have been x or y and you sort of made a decision and sometimes it’s not super early it’s not like you got together to decide x. Is just you’re talking about something now that. That’s clear and because you didn’t feel like it was a decision being made strongly the tendency is to sort of not. Communicate It regulates to it sort of own Will way so I think it requires some discipline and a little bit of self-awareness to say ‘okay you know while we were standing by the white board we did actually make a decision and it’s maybe small and maybe doesn’t directly impact you know everyone else but we need to tell them because they’ll make another decision that might depend on this and so on and so forth. So those are the two kind of main things.
Lissette: And what tools do you use to communicate with each other across offices?
Jack Berglund: We use Slack a lot, so we have e-mail but we don’t use it, I’d say I probably will see two emails a day, most of them are automated but we’ve hoped that instead of an avalanche of emails we have an avalanche of Slacks instead. I did have a quick look Slack does send you statistics on the usage and Doodles is a very transparent company. So we generally like our communications to be you know in a place where everyone can see what’s going on, so the vast majority of our Slack channels in the group communication is actually done kind of out in the open source. That was 92% of messages sent in channels are done in public channels and that kind of relates back to wanting to be quite kind of transparent and open just in sense of what’s going on. In terms of other tools we use Google hangouts for the kind of remote meetings, we have our own set up so Doodle exists… we have our office but it exists inside a larger building that belongs to our parent company which is Tamedia Swiss company and when it’s our own set up we have our own little crumb box devices that are not expensive and very easy to kind of set up and get going and it works pretty well, it does require someone who kind of knows how it works just to set it up a minute or two ahead of time. We’ve been through a really interesting problem with our parent company because they have their own Google have a kind of more managed version of hangouts we named it to meet and of course if you’re not part of their system it can be a little bit troublesome. So we’re getting there, we now have actually I don’t know people know the company Robin but they have a little tablets in the meeting rooms and we check in and it’s slowly getting better but we’ve definitely had a period where every time they start a meeting there’s the ‘where’s the link, I’m wondering…’ so getting better at that. That’s really the main tool sets.
Lissette: And for tracking tasks, what do you use for that?
Jack Berglund: We’re mostly Jira shop, I think Jira is a very popular tool especially around software development. It definitely has expands, it definitely has its people who are slightly allergic to using it. My own view is while it’s not always you know the most optimal tool for every single task or you know task tracking that you want to do, what I personally really love about it is you can start off using Jira knowing that you’ll never hit a scenario where it can’t do what you want. You might have to jump through some hoops to get it to do it but you know it can ultimately do it. So you’ll never be limited by the tool, there are a lot of other great tools around we do use Trello of a sort of light weight task tracking, we’re trying out Asana which is another kind of project management tool but the risk is always there well may be stronger in some areas, you get to a point you say ‘now we want to do this or integrate with that and it’s not possible, so I’m kind of a big fan of Jira for that reason as I say it’s a bit of a polarizing tool. Some people love it, some people hate it but yeah.
Lissette: It can do everything.
Jack Berglund: Exactly.
Lissette: So and I want to talk a little bit about management and virtual team management. I don’t know if you are… you’re the chief product officer so that probably means you do a lot of everything but in terms of managing projects and tasks and people across these four offices because you mentioned that you started that the projects were sort of in each individual office, but now it’s growing so that there are there dividing a bit the between offices. What are some of the tips or advice or things that you’ve noticed about managing people across different offices like this? I know it’s a broad question so whatever first comes to mind.
Jack Berglund: Yeah definitely I mean I think being mindful of it, so just to give you a very quick example we sort of spend a bit of time drawing out a user journey for one of our products. It’s a very productive exercise, you know how do they get activated and start using it, how to they get retained and so on kind of a big flow chart on a white board. This is a complete tangent but we have these little cards, they’re sort of re-usable posters by a company called Memox, actually very, very cool, they’re sort of magnetic cards you can write on with a whiteboard marker but that is tangent. We then you know very quickly realized well of course one of the team members is not in the office having this whiteboard was not especially useful. So another tool I would actually recommend back to the tools thing is real time board which is kind of you can collaborate in real time. Put sticky notes on a board, link them up with a flag chart. In terms of management of people I think perhaps the best way to sum it up is there’s a tendency to kind of lose common sense when people are remote. So you might have a team all in one place and you’d be you know naturally inclined to meet with everyone on a regular basis, get together as a team, do some social events, you know it happens quite naturally and so when you have people remote that same sort of common sense should apply but I think there’s a tendency ‘oh the meeting are more difficult because we’re remote, so maybe will have less meetings.’ obviously getting together is more difficult in person so we have to kind of manage that side of things as well. I do travel around quite a bit which is a sort of nice to be able to do and actually meet people in person. One rule Doodle has it’s actually really, really nice piece of basically every employee every year can a go and work for a week in any of the locations where we have an office. They don’t need a business reason, they just go and sort to hang out in the other office and that’s a way of trying and bring people in the offices closer together.
Lissette: That’s a great rule, I mean who wouldn’t want to go to Tel Aviv or Belgrade or Berlin or Zürich for that matter I mean I’m a Switzerland lover, so any excuse to go to Zürich I’d be like ‘heck yeah,’ but that is a great idea and it’s good also just switch up your workspace every once in a while and just see but meeting your colleagues and their work environment that doesn’t get more valuable than that great policy.
Jack Berglund: Yes it’s nice, the other thing that springs to mind is we had an effort we were sort of trying to say okay we want our offices to be close together and obviously that was part of it, where things started to naturally I would say become more integrated was when we started having projects expand multiple offices. So on the one hand it’s a challenge but it’s actually a nice way of knitting the offices together. If you have a work reason to talk to a colleague in another office every single day you kind of naturally shorten the distance as well.
Lissette: Yeah that’s a great point, if you have to talk somebody you get to know them whether you want to or not. Are there are any cultural differences that you find between you know Berlin and Zürich or Belgrade or Tel Aviv e that you’ve had to deal with?
Jack Berglund: There are and we sort of do try and be mindful of them. My own personal experience having worked kind of in Asia, in the US and in Europe it’s actually you can overstate the cultural difference it’s hard because you know different culture whatever. I think people are kind of fundamentally the same on some level and if you treat people a certain way they will respond a certain way it’s reasonably consistent. I think some of the challenges are you know varies by culture and by language how sort of proactive people are in terms of sort of giving information and how direct people are in terms of explaining what they mean. I’m personally not the most direct, I’m British I’m sort of I like to talk around and get to the point eventually which I think for some of my German colleagues is a little bit strange, they would just like me to say what the point is, that’s the point of the conversation. I definitely do see some differences there.
Lissette: I like that, don’t overstate the differences because indeed people are generally people everywhere there are fundamental. I believe that they’re fundamentally the same and it’s just our behaviors that are slightly different and when we get curious and ask more why then we can go a long way in terms of resolving cultural differences I think. Being serious instead of judgmental, a very easier said than done, easier said than done. So darn we are reaching the end of our time but I have so many more questions. I guess what I would ask is, what I would end with is any advice for people who are working in these four different offices or in multiple offices? I think that’s such a common scenario sort of your personal advice if you’re working with many different colleagues what would you recommend to make that a smooth experience for people so that it doesn’t become us versus them because that seems to be what happens.
Jack Berglund: Yeah I mean there’s a very long answer to that, I think if I were to hone in on one thing I would say you know just feel free to reach out to someone who might not be in the same office for absolutely no reason at all because I think that’s where the relationships get built. So it definitely helps that you have a reason to talk to each other and that’s kind of helpful but then it becomes kind of a very transactional work conversation if you just sort of message someone that you know you might have to work with in the future just sort of have a chat as you would if they were just sitting next to you, that can help a lot and that small thing I think changes the nature of all those relationships.
Lissette: That is a great that is a great piece of advice reach out for no reason at all. I used to have a boss who would call me, he was in California and I was in the Netherlands and he would call me on the way to work just to say hi and to see how I was doing and at first it was really like “hey boss what do you want like get to the point, get to the point,” nit there was no point he was just checking in and I must say it made a huge difference in terms of our relationship. I felt like we were more friends than we were a boss employee, it sort of became a like ‘hey this guy has my back, he actually cares about how my day was and how I’m doing,’ and it definitely did make a difference, so yeah great advice. So last question, very last question is with people want to learn more about you or Doodle what’s the best place to go? You personally and then also Doodle.
Jack Berglund: Yeah for me personally probably the best place is LinkedIn, you just search for my name Jack Berglund and Doodle and it should come up. I’m also on Twitter @itsontheroadmap on Twitter and then for Doodle It’s very simple just go to doodle.com you can check out tools that we have there.
Lissette: Indeed so @itsontheroadmap.
Jack Berglund: Exactly yes.
Lissette: That is a great Twitter handle for a chief product officer I must say, well done.
Jack Berglund: It’s always the answer, it’s on the road map.
Lissette: Jack thank you so much for your time today, it’s really been a great conversation I really appreciate it.
Jack Berglund: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
Lissette: Thank you for listening everyone I hope you found that information useful. If you like what you hear and if this podcast was useful for you then please leave us a review. We’re on both ITunes and Stitcher. If you want to get this information delivered straight to the inbox of wherever you are well then sign up on our newsletter. We send out great tips, tricks, best practices and tools every other week. That’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/newsletter and if you want to get all the information all in one place well then get the work together anywhere handbook, its four hundred pages packed with all the best information on how to make remote working successful for you, whether you’re an individual, a manager or a team member, that’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/book and then if you want something a little hands on well then try Work Together Anywhere workshop offered online, in person or a hybrid version of a little bit of in person and a little bit online, that’s collaborationsuperpowers.com/anywhereworkshop. A huge thanks to our amazing podcast producer Nick Jaworski, he’s the reason we sound so pro, you can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com and another big thanks to our dazzling designer Alfred Boland, and he’s the one that makes us shine so bright. You can hire him to make you look cool at bolandan.nl. Alright everybody until next time be powerful.