PILAR ORTI and MAYA MIDDLEMISS of Virtual, Not Distant have written a book called “Thinking Remote. Inspiration for Leaders of Distributed Teams.” In this interview, we talk about why they wrote the book and we dive into the content of 5 of the 13 chapters.

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Their tips for leaders of distributed teams:

  • When thinking about working out loud, think about “How much information is too much information? At what point are we just feeding the ‘look what I’ve done’ mentality?”
  • Be deliberate about how we’re using technology to construct something that will actually help our teams. Ask yourself how your team interacts and design your space for those interactions.
  • Experiment with holding the silence when there are awkward pauses in online meetings.
  • To show frustrations, you first have to show that you care. In order to build those close relationships, we have to work at it and put the attention and resources in.
  • Don’t just think about our day to day tasks on teams, but also how we can structure the work to help people get to know each other better.


Podcast production by Podcast Monster

Graphic design by Alfred Boland

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Original transcript

Lisette:  And we’re live and welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette, and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And man, if I got a surprise for you guys today on the line, I have Pilar Orti and Maya Middelmiss. You guys know both of them probably from the past, I was a guest on Pilar’s show the 21st Century Work Life Podcast for ages. I’ve worked with them both at Happy Melly one or management 3.0 as colleagues. And now Pilar and Maya have written a book together. And the book is called Thinking Remote Inspiration for Leaders of Distributed Teams. So we’re not going to start with what your virtual office looks like because people will have to listen to Pilar’s interview way back, in the beginning, to hear about that. And also, what I really want to know is, why did you write this book? Your competition to my book? No, I’m kidding. No. Totally joking, totally different styles and formats and everything. So, but it is a great, it is a great book, lots of really good things in there. So let’s start with a why you wrote it?

Maya:  You wrote the book, Pilar.

Pilar:  Well because we had lots of blog posts that is why we put the book together. So we’ve got lots of content on our blog. However, people who buy books, sometimes are not looking for blog posts. And there are some people who prefer to read a book, rather than to go online and have a look at blog posts. So the reason for putting it together and giving it some sense of whole also was to look for I will say new audience, new readership to put our stuff out there on a different platform. So and also to say, this is what we’re about, and also the format of it. This is the format we’re about which is a long, long form stuff. We’re different you can dip in and out. It covers lots of different topics. And yeah, so that that was the reason anything else Maya that was behind you saying? Yeah, let’s do it.

Maya:  Well, I think I agree with what you said about it being this is what we’re about. And I think the process of actually compiling it and curating our existing material really helped us think through that and draw out the themes. Because a lot of those, it was written mostly from existing blog posts that we put together in a new way. But once we do have some kind of strategy with the blog, we don’t tend to go through and think, you know, we’re going to have a specific amount of content or post a year about x or y. And actually reviewing it all made us really realized what we were about where, what our strengths lay in where we were getting the best feedback from the people who were interacting it and those are the things that we want to do more of where we feel we can best value. So that’s what made sense to pull together. As Pilar said into a format that people can all in one place can reference, can flick through that’s indexed and I can defend ourselves and find those little chunks of inspiration when they need them to solve an immediate problem.

Pilar:  And we did write some extra, we did write there was one extra blog post so when extra chapter that went in when we look actually, we haven’t covered that. And also Maya wrote some leadership reflection questions that went to the end of each article, which are not on the web. So it is a complete object, complete work of art on its own.

Lisette:  Yeah, I can imagine it’s really handy because as I go to my website, sometimes to search for different topics. It’s true, they’re scattered throughout 240 something blog posts and only I really remember like, ‘Oh, yeah, I did this one like four years ago on this thing.’ So yeah, putting all the essential stuff in one place, in one well-organized place whereas like you said, flip through, you can index it like oh, yeah, what do they got on team building and I all that stuff. So it’s called inspiration for leaders of distributed team, so I’m assuming it’s written for leaders of distributed teams. Why did you pick leaders? Why focus on the management?

Maya:  We’re really all about change. So I think we were trying, I think we were interpreting the idea of leadership quite broadly, as in people who are change-makers within their teams or organizations, and the idea that anyone can be inspirational, and anyone can make things happen. But obviously, the book is about changes. So hopefully, it’s the people it’s going to inspire most of those who are in a position either professionally through their role or authority or just because of the effect that they have on other people that they can say to others. Let’s do it. Let’s try this. Let’s put this into practice and see if it improves things. So this is the practice we want to move towards. So leaders Yes, but the aspirational leaders as well.

Lisette:  Because managers and leaders are totally different things, and one of the quotes or one of the things you said that the book was in the book, you said it’s a handy tool for informal learning within management teams. And I thought so too, as I read through the reflections a lot of the book is, you should be thinking about these kinds of things. You know, you need to be thinking about your virtual space, you need to be thinking and then giving the pointed questions for people to really dive in, and not saying how to, but more saying, keep these things in mind, which I really enjoyed. Because it’s true, every team is different. So there’s no silver bullet for any team. So indeed, it’s exactly the point.

Pilar:  If I can pick up on your point early said about the managers and leaders not the same thing. However, most managers are being asked to lead their teams and especially when we are in the, I’m going to retract myself very quickly. When we are in the virtual remote space. We are asking managers to be less hands to provide more the ecosystem for the teams to be self-organized. Of course, there are, you can also do it in a different way in the online space, you can also be more hands-on and more controlling if you really want to. But for us, it’s the fact that those people who do half that managerial role, they need to see more as a leadership role. And also then like Maya saying, there are actually people who might not have the official management role, but sometimes they have been tasked officially with change. So we’re also asking for, we’re also wanting to provide for those people

Lisette:  Really like it, really like it. So what I’ve done is I’ve gone through and read the book and wrote down things from most of the chapters that I really enjoyed about the chapter. And one thing that I really liked about your book, in particular, was the, was actually the first chapter about designing the digital workspace because that’s something that I think very few people put a lot of thought into. I hear it here and there people talking about it. But that’s not something that I hear very often. And one of the things, one of the things that you guys focused on as well one, what can we learn from the physical space that we can transfer into the digital space and then what needs to be different? And I really liked that you are thinking about how people should feel when they’re entering the digital space. And then you’ve given some questions to ask when designing why did you include this in the book? What was important to you guys about this? And I don’t know who to ask first, I don’t want to pick somebody that hasn’t been like actually my as the one so I’m going to just ask him to the group and answer something.

Maya:  Pilar wrote that section, so I think it’s you should respond.

Pilar:  I will answer in that the whole concept of designing the space seems to go out of the window sometimes because we just adopted a tool and many times we adopt that tool we don’t customize it. We don’t think about whether the stuff it’s asking us to do fits our own workflow, our own work process, our own team identity, sometimes our own culture. So it’s about being very deliberate about how we’re using technology and this concept of designing so that it fits so that we construct something that’s going to help us. So a lot of thought, nobody. You hear it all the time, I was having a conversation the other day in a bar with someone who said, ‘yeah, I’ve heard of how open-plan offices, you know, they’re not conducive to that and that,’ so what we do sometimes we put a clear wall so that people can have a private conversation, but see who’s across and to give that sense of openness but also privacy. Those conversations rarely happen when a company or a team is adopting the digital workspace. You don’t have those conversations. I would never dream of going into an office and not thinking about how and why you’re going to design it. So it’s to get into that mindset the first thing is when you are moving to different environment for your team to work in, yeah, design it.

Lisette:  Yeah and where would you suggest people start? If you’ve never thought about like, what, what kind of questions would you ask them to start with just to go down this path?

Pilar:  So what does your team, how does your team interact? What kind of interactions because this is the digital workspace from our point of view, we help teams to collaborate to work digitally online. And a lot of that is transferring their practices in the co-located office to something that is more office optional to the remote space. So it all needs to be built around interactions. If all your interactions are very task-based. You will need to use one kind of environment, if your interactions are more about long conversations, making lots of decisions that would require a different kind of space. So what kind of interactions does the team have?

Maya:  And what kind of culture do you want to reflect? Do you want people collaborating? Do you want them competing? How visible? Do they need to be to one another in terms of their output in their activities? What do people need to see to inspire them to do their best work and be motivated when they come into the workspace? And it’s funny what Pilar was saying about how much thought goes into designing the physical workspace and people talk about it in the pub after it’s like that, I think maybe it’s just a lack of awareness of what choices they really are in the digital space. Now there is the choices that people have to make between different tools or different hubs, different sets of apps, there’s so much to decide. And if you don’t have some guiding principle on to that, then it can all become a bit of an opportunity mess and somebody likes to look at this thing and you bolt that on to the other. Whereas if you start with an idea of this is what we want to reflect about how we work with each other, then you can come from that first principle and see what fits with that or what doesn’t suit there’s a better alternative.

Lisette:  Yeah, indeed, oftentimes, we’re sort of just thrown together and said, ‘okay, here’s the goal of the project now go,’ and everybody’s like, okay, cool, but it’s always good to take a step back. I mean, there’s a number of cases in a number of ways to take a step back. But I really liked this idea of designing the digital workspace for your working needs, like what fits that so kudos on the kudos already on chapter one, and there’s still many chapters to go. So one of the other things that actually this transitions nicely is in chapters three, we’ve got the dangers of working out loud. And I really love to be you know, because we’ve talked about this before numerous times. I think we still we even have a working out loud episode on the 21st-century work-life podcast, and we were like, ‘yeah, we got to make our work visible,’ but in this chapter, you guys ask the question, like how much info is too much info like how loudly Do we really need to be working? And then I especially liked the question where you said, we need to really think about how we don’t want to feed the ‘look what I’ve done’ mindset that really struck me in particular, because, you know, as I read on the management 302, we use I done this. Everybody writes down what they’ve done that day. And really, when my list is short, I’m really sitting there, like, ‘what else can I add?’ I mean, that, you know, and I’m like, wait a second, what I did was totally valid. I track my time. You know, I’m an honest worker, and like, my list was short, I just did these two big tasks today. That’s the only thing I did, but it’s still compared to like everybody else’s list. It’s like really short. So I agree, this is a really important point to make and so I want to just bring up the topic of working out loud, and your views on visibility on remote teams, and how visible do we need to be with each other. So I know this is sort of a broad question that isn’t even really a question. But I would like to open up the floor to talk about working out loud because I know that this is, there is stuff here that needs to come out. So stuff.

Maya:  Stuff, I suppose really, this is almost the same question as the last one, because how visible you need to be and in what form depends on the work, and how people are going to interact over the work. And it might well be that somebody is working on a big like a single written project or week and all that they’re able to be visible on is by saying, ‘hi, I’m going to be head down in this all day. Please don’t speak to me,’ in fact, because I’m going to be and I remember using that item, this app when I was working with you, Alyssa and I was working on long research projects at the time and often getting to the end of the day thinking what do I put six hours of something, but it’s not a list of tasks and like you casting around for what to make visible. So the app shouldn’t drive that expectation and we certainly on the teams that we’ve worked with him on the podcast recently, we were talking to somebody who live streams, they’re coding on a twitch broadcast and you can’t get more visibly working out loud than that and every thought he has he then types on the screen and get help, and people can see it in real-time. Now, I couldn’t imagine working that out loud.

Lisette:  There’s a difference between out loud and surveillance. You know, like, we also don’t want to go into surveillance, either.

Pilar:  Yeah. Well, I think it goes back to also what Maya was saying it goes back to why are you doing it? Why do you decide that in your team, you want to work out loud? What is the point? Is the point to share our work process, is the point to know where we’re at, is it progress, and is it accountability, because they all those are required also different processes. So if it’s more about accountability or progress or of the work, then you want something maybe like I done this or Trello but if it’s about thinking process, then maybe you want to blog post in automatic and other places, or maybe it’s actually a case of working on your work in the cloud. And then you don’t even have to tell anyone what you’re working on because the work is there. And if someone wants to see what you’re working on and where you’re at, they look at that. And that is a mist, this is something that not many teams who are making the transition are ready to adopt is truly making the work visible before this complete. Because it said you were not used to it, we’re not used to sharing something until we’re ready for feedback. Sometimes it’s just good to have the stuff out there and then someone wants to know where you’re at with it, they can go in. It does, it can create problems, because if you’re someone like me who makes stuff very messy until it’s ready if someone goes in and sees it messy, you know, ‘oh it’s never going to be ready.’ However, that’s where knowing the team comes in, that is where trust that is where knowing how people work, I’m saying so it’s really hard work actually.

Lisette:  Yeah.

Maya:  It all depends on the point of view of whoever needs to see it as well because often all that information is there. We’re all using cloud-based apps. So actually, it’s probably perfectly possible within your suite of software to know exactly what’s happening with everything at any given time. If you’re probably more of a manager than a leader, if you spend your whole time just watching what everybody else was doing, instead of actually leading them or doing any work yourself. But also, it might be a case of designing specific data visualization tools of dashboards or something so that the project manager can see the state of every project or so that the finance manager can see the state of all the budgets or whatever without having to actually go and ask people to report on what they’re doing just to make what’s already out there visible. And certainly, that making that work visible shouldn’t be wok, it shouldn’t add anything. I mean that I done this was a good example of something pretty frictionless that pings you at the end of the day and just said, How have you spent your time today and it took thirty seconds if you were reasonably in the zone to do it, but you know, when it organizations try to implement timesheets and things like that, that people have them, try and remember what they did, at the end of the day, with the weeks and ways of making the work visible, they’ll actually create work, or a bit of a disaster.

Lisette:  Now, what I really like about what you guys are writing about is not the how-to the specific how-to, but you’re taking a step back and asking why. Why are you doing this, and I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. It’s refreshing and it’s important because I think that all these questions, we’re really quick to dive in and just go and we don’t often take the step back to talk about these things. So I really like that

Pilar:  Can I add something, Lisette? Sorry.

Lisette:  Of course.

Pilar:  So and what’s interesting of course is just to see how we are continuing revisiting these principles and how we talk about them. So when we put the book together, we had this chapter like you say, the dangers of working out loud. We talked about working out loud. Since then, we’ve changed what we use working out loud for and actually, what we now talk about is visible teamwork, for the stuff that happens within the team. Because I’m in particularly, I was thinking that working out loud seems a little bit like we’re doing lots of being very noisy when maybe not listening enough. So it’s a term that sometimes it’s difficult to grasp. So we’ve come back to that, but it also now we can talk about working out loud when we’re talking outside of our organization, outside of our team. So now, we can have two different terms for making our work visible, but we will have very different purposes also within the team and outside team.

Lisette:  And actually, I really prefer your use of the word visibility because you’re right working out loud does conjure up like, I don’t know, like the stock market exchange, where everybody’s just like yelling and screaming, that’s the last place I’d want to work, that kind of thing. So indeed, and, and when you talk about working out loud, you sort of have to intuitively add-in without spamming people, you know, because you’re working out. So I love your focus on visibility because that is the idea, is how are we visible to each other? Not necessarily, how are we spamming each other and that visibility comes in all kinds of different forms? So, yeah, great. Well done, well done. So, okay, I guess I did every other chapter looks like in terms of writing notes down but in chapter five, you talk about psychological safety on teams, super important on the teams. And one thing actually that stood out for me is actually something that I learned from you Pilar about a year ago, maybe two years ago, I don’t know time flies, it could have been a lot longer ago, but the idea of holding the silence. So there was one time Pilar we were on a call together and we had you asked a question or somebody asked a question into the group and it was really silent and I’d like jumped in. And, and sort of like in this awkward pauses sort of jumped in and started something else and you feel like hold on, hold on. I think it’s okay to have these awkward silences to let people think without as a facilitator without jumping in. So I wanted to just open up the space a little bit to talk a little bit about psychological safety on teams, and this whole idea of what you meant by holding the silence.

Pilar:  Maya you want to say something about psychological safety in teams.

Maya:  Yeah, I think again, all these chapters that are interconnected, or you’re just asking the questions in a really well thought out order because this having the courage to share your work in an incomplete state is very much related to that idea of just feeling really safe and the people around you going to add and support to your work, rather than knock it down, or look for problems with it. And it’s certainly something during the course of this book, we went backwards and forwards over what content to include what things to evolve in the way we work together on blog posts that sometimes become really collaborative. And sometimes you need to take a bit of extra time from it, step away from it and let somebody else hold it for a little while and see if they’re ready to contribute and so on. And you can’t do that unless you have a quite intense level of safety and cooperation within that team. And a lot of awareness about what drives the other people great confidence of your shared goals and objectives and that there are no hidden agendas and so on. And it’s something that’s very difficult to write a book about somebody, we’ve got no idea what’s going on in their heads or in the teams or the people who are reading it and it’s difficult for one person that could be a frustrated change agent or even a frustrated team leader who’s aware that there are problems within their team. And I suppose what we were trying to do was give them some vocabulary, some toolkit for opening it up as something to talk about, and look at ways to make changes if changes needed on that front.

Maya:  I think that the concept of psychological safety, of course, has become really, it’s now a well-known term in the space of people who are looking after teams, groups, etc. I think I’m just going to have a look because I just want to look at what the title of that is psychological safety and online meeting. So I think that’s really important that this particular chapter looks at that. So what is psychological safety meetings, and it’s the only chapter that is specifically about meetings. So that is one of the reasons why it’s included in there is we wanted something about meetings and this is the broadest, most concept-based, we need to start talking about psychological safety all the way through. Also, we’ve got meetings where we create a lot of team norms. And whereas, especially as leaders, or especially as hierarchical managers, our behavior is going to then ripple throughout into the team, our behavior can become a team norm very easily in meetings. So it changes the focus of how am I going to run this effectively as to how am I going to run this safely so that people are safe and safe doesn’t mean that we all love each other because we don’t. I mean, sometimes you were really lucky you love everyone in your team, but sometimes you don’t But that’s okay. All you need to do is to feel safe with them, to challenge them to take their criticism and to say and to disagree with them, especially with the manager. So that is really important and of course, in an online team. That becomes even more important because as soon as we don’t feel safe, we need to, it’s very easy to detach.

Lisette:  Yeah, it’s so easy to detach online. I mean, you just close the laptop and stop responding to messages. And yeah, you’re gone.

Pilar:  Yeah and on silence, again, it’s very interesting that constantly meetings, it’s any non-online meetings all the time with a group, if you ask a question, and if you hold the silence, you very likely get an answer. And you very often get the answer of a very quiet person. Because you’re opening it up and you’re actually and you also say, ‘look it’s okay not to have anything to say we’re just going to wait. If no one has anything to say we move on but here’s the space.’ And often when we are running, when we’re leading a meeting, or if we’re running a workshop, for example, we have that thing that we’ve got to be going we have to be going. It’s all about moving forward and actually, there’s moments that if you can hold the silence is a group also. So a bit uncomfortable, but also it says, ‘you know what? It’s okay just to stop and listen and you can then take that into how you work together a little bit, a little bit more holistically that can be quite interesting. I’m going to go very quickly that the concept of silence in the online space is very interesting because asynchronously silence has a very different connotation in the asynchronous space when you’re having conversations and you hear nothing back.

Lisette:  Or you get a drive-by somebody like says hello, and then you say hello back and then they don’t respond that’s strange.

Pilar:  Or you throw out an idea and you get nothing. So silencing meetings is very powerful but silence in a synchronous community and communication needs to be clarified.

Lisette:  Really good point, really good point.

Pilar:  More to look into.

Lisette:   More to look into indeed, indeed okay, so on to I don’t want to just blaze through all the chapters, but we’re going to run out of time if I don’t pay attention to and there’s some really good things here. Let me see ah, so I can’t think I don’t remember what chapter I think its chapter nine. But it’s there’s a quote here that I really liked it said, to show frustration first you need to show that you care. So I think this is the chapter of Pilar where the woman said to you, ‘I am really frustrated with you.’ And I think this maybe is part of the psychological safety chapter. I’m not really sure, sorry my notes are a bit more disorganized than I expected them out. But it says a one of the things that I took away from this so one of the things is, in order to show frustration, one it has to be a psychologically safe environment. And we need to be able to show that it comes from a place of caring, like its okay to tell somebody you’re really frustrated when they know that you truly care about, right because that’s, that’s a different way of just, I’m frustrated with you and I don’t really care. And one of the quotes that I really liked was, ‘in order to build that kind of relationship, we need to work at it.’ And it sounds really simple to say that but I, personally, in particular, have a very difficult time maintaining relationships as it is, it sounds probably strange because it’s unlike really public and blah, you know, it’s all cheery on the podcast. But I do have a really difficult time keeping up with people. And I’ve tried to come up with systems in fact, like, I have a stack of note cards with all the names of my friends on it every day, I pick a new card, and that’s the person I pay attention to, I do something for them that day in an effort because maintaining relationships is work. I mean, not maybe not work, but it is effort. And I think that that is a point that we miss a lot on teams is we need to actually put the effort in. So even when you say Pilar that we don’t love each other. That’s Often on teams, we don’t love everybody that we work with. Sometimes it’s a professional relationship, and it’s totally okay. Sometimes there’s people I’ve worked with that I don’t like at all, but we still have a fine professional relationship. But still building that relationship is work or is effort. And that’s something that gets really fun, I really enjoyed. It sounded like a really simple tip that I really enjoyed that reminder that it does take effort. So I guess I’m not going to ask a question, I’m going to just leave an awkward silence to see if you have anything to say about that.

Maya:  I’ll just say I really like that idea of what you just explained that you did of actually making it something systematic to check in with people as part of your team and that you have a tool and a system for doing that. Whatever works for you, and I think it’s something that we could be a little bit embarrassed about talking about because we think that people with the greatest social skills somehow have that all in their heads at all times, and they’re just constantly giving their emotions to other people and it’s all completely top of their mind the whole time. But actually, most of us have quite busy minds. And it doesn’t mean we don’t care about people. But we have to actually allocate some attention and resources to that building of relationships and maintaining them, not when there’s a problem, but in a way, without sounding really cynical about it to build capital against when there are issues with the work and so on. And when you do have to tell somebody, some feedback that might not be comfortable for either a view or the particular problem together, because you built that relationship and invested in it over the long term.

Lisette:  Yeah, it’s true people that you’ve put time in with, they’ll understand, like, I have friends back in the US they like they’ve known me for years now. But our friendship is so solid that they know that if I don’t respond for a little while that I’ll be back. It’s just that I’m too overwhelmed to respond. They know that about me and they don’t hold it against me. They love me anyway, despite all my flaws, despite all my flaws. So how then, what do you tell leaders and to think about in terms of team building on their teams? In terms of putting in the effort? What are things that people need to be thinking about in this space?

Pilar:  One of them is, what you’ve said is you need to have that in your schedule to make sure that you’ve got your connection with the individuals. And especially I’m thinking now more of management because if you don’t do that in the online space, it will not happen. So make sure that you are building consciously those relationships with the individual. And it’s everything we’ve been talking about is having that ecosystem that allows for interactions that don’t involve you. This is where it gets really tricky is that where we have great teams, teams should be able to operate without the managers or the leaders. It doesn’t matter even you can put a team together and you may lead the team towards a goal or you lead them through change. But actually a team, it’s not, a team needs to be strong enough to stand on its own. And then especially when we’re making the transition as managers to the online space, we need to be pulling back and our role becomes more of a facilitator. And by that I don’t mean a neutral party, but I mean, someone who enables other people to do stuff. But this is really difficult because they always say it’s lonely at the top. And sometimes management is a very lonely position in every time because sometimes you are the one making decisions, and probably the one making unpopular decisions. And then if you add the fact that actually you need to be constructing your team communication systems and brokering relationships between your team members if they’re not strong enough yet so that they can survive without you. That is really the future.

Maya:  That’s an awful lot to ask and I think it all compounds by the fact that remote communications are qualitatively different from face to face relationships. And often they can be incomplete and that we might not, it’s harder to really relate to a whole person and get to know a whole person to bring up conversations that aren’t about the work to find things in common that are completely unrelated. I know management 3.0 has some tools for their second happen and formerly on smaller teams with different kinds of interaction. But I mean, we all present different faces to the world, in the physical spaces, but particularly in the online space, we might be very different people at work or on Facebook or in a local group or and that can happen that you end up with a quite a superficial knowledge of somebody. And actually what counts if you are trying to solve problems or resolve conflict or something further down the line is knowing that whole person, and that doesn’t always come easily in the online space. It takes quite a lot of time and a lot of quite deliberate attention and effort I think to really get to know people well.

Lisette:  Yeah, it’s about spending time together and Pilar.

Pilar:  Yes, I’m going to add something. So something I’ve been talking to recently with Teresa [inaudible 33:13], she’s an intercultural global team, global virtual team specialists. So also when you’re building the team or building the team actually strengthening the team development, team strengthening, I prefer that to team building, it’s not just about those relationships. That’s what we need to focus in the online world because it’ll get forgotten if not, but it’s also how we structure the work. And Teresa talks about interdependent tasks that if we can do that within the team to get people to be working together as much as possible, and of course if we are working with different schedules or in different time zones, that can be difficult. So then what else can we do in the team that gets us to work interdependently and for that, I always remember when I was still working with Happy Melly that, for example, I didn’t work at all with [inaudible 34: 09] and Sam and so yeah, we were part of this twelve-person team or task force driving organization, but I rarely got to work with them. So we work together on a feedback process for the team and that got us to strength a little bit more and if I’d stayed longer, I’m sure I would have worked with him at some point already, we would have experienced that working together. So I think let’s not just think about things that are as well as our day to day tasks that we can do to get stronger. But let’s think about how we can structure the work to help us strengthen those relationships too.

Lisette:  Love it, these are all really great things to be thinking about. That’s why you should get their book again. It’s called Thinking Remote Inspiration for Leaders of Distributed Teams. And I’ve got one more question but I’m trying to look at my notes. Oh, this is a kind of a very odd travel tips. That’s what I wrote, it’s very I did this like late last night as I was writing my notes and I can tell it’s because my handwriting. So the last chapter is called remote work anytime, anyplace anywhere. And so I have to just say what I find personally funny about that is so my book, of course, is called work together anywhere and my husband Florian always makes fun of me. And he said, ‘your book should be called work together anyplace anytime, all the time everywhere.’ So when I saw this chapter. I’m like, ‘yeah, work together anytime, anyplace anyway. Sorry for interjecting my first… but in that chapter you have a bunch of I wrote down here, travel types. Travel types, is that ringing a bell?

Maya:  Well that is the chapter that I wrote and it had some slightly tongue in cheek reflections about the assumptions that we can do all our work anytime, anyplace anywhere. And what I found by testing that to destruction was that some kinds of work are very well suited to being done on your phone was running for a train, or held up somewhere or trying to respond to a deadline when you’re not in your traditional work environment. And obviously, certain kinds of work as I really should have known are definitely not best done under those circumstances. So the chapter was really about yes, it’s wonderful to have this flexibility. Yes, you can respond to changes and situations outside your control, like travel delays or problems, but actually in an ideal world, you’re going to really try and plan a little bit more proactively so you’re not trying to edit copy on your phone while struggling or trying to do interviews with people whilst you’re in a shared space and all sorts of things. Last summer, I had a very complicated domestic routine going on and things I had to get done. I was I had lots of work I wanted to do and then there were imagined events that I’m going to be there, I can do this and basically massively over-scheduled and nearly got myself into an epic mess, and created a lot of stress, not just for me, but for people around me, and trying to do that. So it was some interesting lessons learned about how to work while traveling. I really admire people who literally can do all of their work anytime, anyplace anywhere. It was self-education for me that if I’m going to write and create and concentrate, I do have certain conditions in my environment that I can recreate in different places, but I certainly need a certain amount of silence and concentration and so on. So the idea of this sort of digital nomad sitting on the beach, under a palm tree with your mat or whatever, it doesn’t work for me. I know what I need, I know where to find it and I love the freedom and flexibility to be able to create my work around those circumstances with as much discretion as possible. And that’s the only thing that kept me saying less sometimes I could choose to a certain extent what to do where?

Lisette:  Yeah, indeed I myself have a lot of trouble of getting certain kinds of work done while I’m traveling. I can’t focus, I get frazzled, I’m overwhelmed easily and then when there’s you know, travel stuff in the mix, it just sort of makes things chaotic and I end up starting every email with apologies for the delayed response. It’s like a macro keyboard at the moment, you know, some point I’m just like, screw it. I’m not apologizing anymore. It’s busy, I can’t you know, I don’t know how people do it, I just can’t, but a really good reminder for if you’re going to work in various places. I mean, I think we even talked about this on the work holiday. I think that was our first one on the virtual not distance podcast years ago, on the work holidays that you do have to take into account like is the work that you need to do? Is it private? Or can you do it in a public space? It doesn’t need to be a closed space because the temperature, lighting, you know, like, internet can all these weird things that happen when you’re on the road that you don’t always have control over and then really planning.

Maya:  And you’ve spent years optimizing at home because you do video from your home office so you know exactly where your light is, and everything else and all of that you’ve got it right. And then you go to work at somebody else’s house. So yes, the internet’s great.

Lisette:   Yeah, use this.

Maya:  Yeah, that’s where we know what we’re used to and we might have taken quite a while getting that set up right for us. And there’s a whole load of assumptions baked into that, that don’t necessarily come in every remote space. They don’t even come in every co-working. I went to a co-working in the summer that had really horrible seating and the way I could sit here and write here for a day. This is really un-ergonomic, and I don’t know if I’ve just got a weird shape body but it didn’t work for me. So should be home with my nice comfy chair.

Pilar:  I think also it’s going back to the kind of work we’re doing and even So what kind of work can we do? So for example, when I go on a plane I read, that’s what I do, if I’m going to do any kind of work on a plane I’m going to read because I can’t physically sit with my laptop or anything. And it goes back I came across a concept some time ago. Let me see if I remember the four different kinds of work that require four different states four C’s, contemplation, concentration, collaboration, and one I want to like on to remember-

Lisette:  Communication?

Pilar:  Communication, sure, probably communication, sorry Maya.

Maya:  Was it consumption because reading-

Pilar:  No….we have five C’s now and these were more applied to teamwork, which actually goes back to right the very beginning of this conversation about designing the online space is we need different things for different types of work. So sometimes it might be worth thinking about that, ‘okay, if I’m traveling, what are the kinds of tasks that require, for example, concentration will maybe I don’t want to do this, or maybe I do, because actually on a plane, I can concentrate more than I can.’ So and knowing your personal preferences is very important.

Maya:  You know, it’s interesting. I know a lot of people talk about how they really like travel to get concentrated work done, maybe slightly less so now that it’s becoming more common to have Wi-Fi access in flight. But before it might have been a time where you could literally just switch off for six hours and have no emails. So yeah, people would use that time to write or study or something. Whereas I tend to, but I tend to take shorter flights. And I do think of it’s time to read, I just, I might be able to make notes and highlights on my kindle or something if it’s business reading, but I think of it as time to consume information rather than try and create anything new. So different sort of concentration and it is just that self-knowledge combined with an understanding of the work and putting that together with the circumstances and that’s what real flexibility is. And if people can take that take responsibility for that it’s incredibly liberating but it’s a very different way to which most of the world works and making that transition is huge. And we can easily take for granted that ‘oh yes, working abroad or just to adjust to that and people who work where, where they work best and everyone to be happy.’ But discovering where you do what kind of work best when, and under what circumstances is a complex journey, I’ve been on it for nearly two decades now and I don’t feel I’ve got it now at all. There’s still things that can throw me like a family holiday last month where I literally had one bar of 3g to work with took my laptop, you know, a complete waste of time. I should have just said ‘right, I’m going to unplug completely,’ but oh yeah, there’s internet yeah, yeah, I’m sure there is, that was in the UK.

Lisette:  Indeed, I think that’s a that’s a really good way to wrap up is, it’s a combination of self-knowledge, the kind of work that you have to do and the location where you do it best. And I think that your book, the book that you guys have written in particular gives people a lot of really good things to think about that you would not have normally thought about when leading a remote team or really working with remote colleagues. So really, really well done. I hope people will get a copy. Again, it’s called Thinking Remote Inspiration for leaders of Distributed Teams and Pilar and Maya, where can you get this book?

Pilar:  Anywhere, anytime, anywhere.

Maya:  From our website, virtualnotdistant.com, there’s a big menu tab at the top thing books and that’s got a link to all the different online stores, you can get it from a well-known bookstore in paperback format. It’s available if you prefer to have something to literally make notes on should go in in physical form, but it’s available on loads of different platforms. So it’s been a learning journey for me. That Pilar on you much better that process of self-publishing. And we tried to make it as widely available as possible so people can have it how they like, and there’s an audio version coming soon.

Lisette:  Oh, awesome, awesome. So unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, you should be able to find this book. And if you’re living in the cave, you’re probably not listening to this podcast. So unless circumstances are totally weird, you should be able to find this book. I’ll be linking to it in the show notes. But Pilar and Maya, it is so good to talk with you both. Again. Thank you for taking the time to be here today and for talking about your book. The questions I had to not give it justice. I think that everybody should pick up a copy, especially if you’re leading a virtual team. So thank you both.

Maya:  Thank you.

Pilar:  Thank you.

Lisette:  All right, everybody. Until next time, be powerful.


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