JAY HYETT and RUMA DAK are Delivery Coaches at Envato, a collection of themed marketplaces where creatives sell digital assets. Envato allows their employees to work from wherever they are most productive, and even encourages them to travel for 3 months of the year. In this interview, we discuss how they stay aligned, profitable and connected with a workforce that works from anywhere. (https://envato.com/)
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Their tips for working remotely:
- Reach out for help when you need it.
- Use emoji’s as reactions in Slack instead of words to keep the signal to noise level down.
- Use great microphones to have an excellent sound experience on calls.
- If you are working from home, consider wearing special footwear to let family know you are in work-mode.
- Envato has a company policy that everyone is allowed to work from anywhere for up to 3 months per year. But you can’t just take off and leave without notifying anyone. Before someone goes on a trip, they need to submit a plan that outlines what they are going to do and how they will communicate with the team.
- Setup your office to optimize for the remote experience: at Envato, there are lots of small conference rooms with video capability.
- Meet face to face occasionally.
- With online meetings, take time for the tech, and make a plan for when things go wrong.
- When hiring people for remote working, having a growth mindset is key. Meaning, someone who is open to trying new things, curious and adaptable.
- Remember that behind the screen, there is always another human. Make an effort to build rapport.
- In a hybrid meeting, let the remote people speak first. And let the remote people hang out up the call first, before people leave the room.
- Each team has their own working agreements. Team agreements are a common practice, but they are not mandatory. The agreements are available to everyone at the company. Agreements are reviewed regularly.
- Many teams have a daily stand-up meeting and will check-in with each other through-out the day.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great and we are live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview my name is Lissette and we are interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely, and today on the line all the way from Australia. So its morning here in [inaudible 00:15] today and that’s evening in Australia. So I hope that the day is good but on the line today I have Jay Hyett and Ruma Dak from Envato and I am super excited to have you guys here. When I was in Australia I got to visit your company and take a tour, amazing stuff going on there and I am excited to share it with the others. Let us start with the first question though which is what does your virtual office look like and what do you need to get your work done?
Jay: Hi Lisette, hi everyone. I am super excited to be on the podcast, I what does our virtual office look like, we’ve got a very unique way and a very distributed workforce, a unique way of working in. So I kind of look at it as like a mixing bowl of all things. So we’ve got an outsourced help desk, we’ve got distributed people and teams working across Australia and the world. We have people working at our headquarters, we have people working from home and we have people working from anywhere up to three months of a year. So at any point at any time people could be working at any location and the people in the teams in Envato do a pretty good job at adapting to that.
Lisette: Okay we’re going to dive into some of those things but Ruma, what does your virtual office look like?
Ruma: Hi everyone, so I will be talking about some of the individual virtual offices that I have observed while at Envato in the last four months, and I will start with my own. So my virtual office is basically just my contact desk in my living room, and right now I just have one screen which I am using. Other than that I like to have no clutter at my workplace, I like to reduce the noise so I keep my door shut when I am working, and one important thing for me to have around is a lot of books. My side shelves are full of books, I just love books they make me happy. But some people at Envato are some sessions I have observed they use special microphone setups, like the ones from Blue Snowball or Blue Yeti and they do it for a very good audio experience so that any information is not missed, that’s something I might try in near future. There is an interesting example which I like to share with the audience, there is someone who wears special footwear to let the family know this is a work time I am working so.
Ruma: We find that quite interesting and yeah every day through the screens we see some garages and basements being converted into beautiful work stations. So people are doing all these kinds of creative things to make the place work for them and make it a pleasant experience.
Lisette: Now are these people creating those offices from home? Or is this in the Envato office itself?
Ruma: Home as well.
Ruma: Envato we have got hold desking Lissette, so we don’t usually keep our belongings on the desk, we have hold desk thing but these things that I am talking about mostly are from people who are working remotely.
Lisette: Okay so it’s a super interesting way that the company runs, and I want to dive into that for a second in a second. But the first thing I want to ask is what does Envato do or those who don’t know. It’s a pretty significant resource out there and I don’t know if many people even know.
Jay: Cool, so Envato was formed in two thousand and six in a garage in Sidney and Envato is a two sided market place and so we have got people, digital creatives online that want to make a living online, and they’ve got some amazing creative assets, they put them on our market place and we’ve got people that need to get creative projects done and we bring those two together, creating a platform for them to either buy and buy and sell and get things done.
Lisette: Can you give an example of somebody who comes onto the market place and then somebody who wants to buy that, like just to make it tangible for the folks?
Jay: Yeah so an example of a creative you might have someone that’s making music, making audio files, making video files and they’re making those and it’s something they are passionate about and they will put that on our market place and we’ve got people that, you know, say it’s the credits for the end of a movie, that they are looking for some music to go with those credits and they might come on to Envato and buy their credits and help get that project done. It could be anything, it could be stock footage that you are going to use in that powerpoint presentation that you want to deliver. Our model is when the community succeeds we succeed, and so we are all about bringing everyone together to get things done.
Lisette: Wow, so interesting, supper interesting business and one of the interesting things that I learnt about Envato while I was there, is that you have this sort of three month work from anywhere policy and I think that’s a… and it also goes to show, it speaks to how the company was formed and why the company was formed. I remember it’s really unique. So I would love to dive into what is this three-month work anywhere policy that you guys have?
Jay: Our founders, when I started the company there was something they were still passionate about was the ability to be able to travel when they did it, and that is kind of maintained, that flexibility is maintained in the heart of Envato still today. We’ve got a policy in there that like you said for up to three months you can go and travel or you can go and work from another location. The three months part is usually part, more than three months we start to get into some tax issues and so we cut things at three months. But the great benefit of it is you know say for example you lived in the UK, and you are living in Australia it’s the ability to go home and spend time with your family, add on to a holiday or just go and be with those people or you know you want to escape say a Melbourne winter, a Melbourne winter probably not as cold as some other places in the world but you know aspects of Melbourne still think it’s cold. And so you have got the ability to go work somewhere warm in the winter months for example.
Lisette: So that is pretty unique. I want to dive into how you guys make this work because this is a pretty I mean you have got people traveling everywhere, you have got people hot desking, people working from home, it’s a super open flexible policy how are you guys getting work done?
Jay: Well whether we make that work happen from anywhere policy work, in particular, is you can’t just wake up and say ‘hey team I’m just going to go and head off to the Bahamas,’ for example. When someone decides that they want to work from anywhere we like them to put a plan in place and tell us how that’s going to work, what they might be doing, what locations they might be in, how the time zone differences is going to work, and what they roughly plan to do during that time to make it feel like the experience of being in the office or being with the team or yeah being connected to the team. Other than that our office is pretty set up, we’ve invested a lot to make the remote experience a really good one. So when you go into a meeting room in Envato you will see a TV, big TV screen in all of our meeting rooms with some really nice cameras, and really simple way of jumping in the room, pressing the button and connecting people wherever they are. So try to work really hard, we worked hard to make that experience as good as it possibly can be so that people can just get on with their job rather than working around with a tech setup.
Lisette: And one of the things that I noticed when I was there is you have a lot of different video conferencing rooms. So that’s one of the things that I hear at a lot of companies is that there is just isn’t enough space to take a video conferencing call. In fact most people aren’t even doing video conferencing calls, you know they’ve got the old spider phones sitting on the conference room table and you have to lean over it and so you guys have actually made a concerted effort to put in a number of these different rooms so that nobody ever has to really search for something or yeah you just don’t run out of space. Do you ever run out of space?
Jay: Uh, yes sometimes, yeah you can have one of the challenges we have is that people will book a main room and they may not actually be in the office at that time and so you can often find the need to find a space to collaborate with someone but no meeting room is available. So that’s one of the challenges and something that we are trying to work through at the moment. We’ve actually got something interesting happening next week in Envato it’s called back to base and we are inviting and bringing all of our mostly our workforce back to HQ, and so it’s going to kind of test the limit on desks and places to sit but we’re working hard to make sure it’s a good experience.
Lisette: And why this back to base?
Jay: Just we can get an opportunity to connect face to face, in particular if someone is working full time from another location. It’s the ability for them to come in and, and get a fee for HQ and just meet face to face with people they work with closely on a daily basis and spend a week with them.
Ruma: Yeah like I have been at Envato for four months and I have been working closely with few people and have never seen them, and for me it is a very good opportunity to see them in person just to make those connections even stronger.
Lissette: Okay, yeah I mean it seems like you know a great like most companies have some sort of retreat that they invite people to come on. So this is sort of yeah home-based retreat, and yeah it’s like retreat is the default and then people come back to base to connect.
Ruma: Yeah it is like an offsite which happens onsite.
Lisette: Yeah love it, love it. So it can’t all be roses, right? You’ve got this very unique set up, people are all over the world traveling what’s hard? What’s difficult? What do you guys struggle with? And I don’t know who to address the question to, so hey Ruma, hey I’ll address it to you. I can’t look somebody in the eye and be like…
Ruma: Yeah because I am fairly new at Envato it’s been four months for me, I’ll start with some of the struggles and challenges that I thought I would face. I was initially very skeptical of someone being remote in almost every meeting session or workshop that I would be a part of and to be honest it was I got a bit scary, but I guess I joined Envato when they were quite mature and remote working was the norm. So that struggle was not a big deal, but one of the common things that we face as a challenge is internet issues and one or more people participating in the meeting will always have those issues, and it is near a good experience being on either side of these issues but there is not much we can do about it. If we talk about our role as coaches there are some workshops where we need to use physical props like cards that have been a real struggle for… I can’t talk on behalf of Jay but yeah we have spoken about it and showing cards in a meeting room where the camera is still far from you and then expecting people to read it out and respond, that is a bit of struggle. Also there is a lot more effort that goes toward prepping for the session like having familiarity and access to the tools that you are going to use in the workshop or the session, having a backup plan because things might go wrong that is one of the things that always scares me out when we are planning for the session and workshop, what if this goes wrong, what if it doesn’t work, what if the tune goes offline things like that.
Jay: As delivery coaches, it could be quite interesting because normally if everyone is core located normally it is not right, but if everyone is core located you can read the room and you can get the sense of the energy in the room and how people are feeling. As a coach in Envato, you might be the only person in the room and so you need to adapt and work with that. You might only get the size of the video screen to work with and so it’s encouraging people to turn their cameras on so you can have that human connection with them through the video camera. It is also what Ruma touched on just a little bit extra prep, so thinking about how you are going to adapt to a digital way of working. So less post-it notes, less [inaudible 13:12] more tool based things. We use a lot of tools, we use tools like [inaudible 03:17] which is a digital whiteboard and collaboration tools for a lot of our workshops. The workshops that we do around planning at a piece of work or inspecting a piece of work and inside of team-level stuff from a tool perspective we use things like Trello for collaboration and we are very scram based you know in the way in which we work. So using things like Trello to show daily reap boards and backlogs. I mean we use tools like GroupMap, GroupMap is a retrospective tool or another workshop tool to how teams inspect and adapt and reflect at the end of their sprints, and heavy uses of the G-suits. So the G-suits for us really works, we’ve got our hangouts, we use Google hangouts in the way in which we interact face to face and every document is a live working document, so no need for paper, we collaborate in all the docs that we use.
Lisette: So is it a completely paperless office?
Jay: I would say it’s pretty close to that. You’d still see you know a bit of paper shuffled around here and there but it is very rarely that you’d see someone standing at photocopier or printer. We don’t really have very big photocopies and printers, they’re pretty small, they do the job but yeah you know having that sort of whole way conversation of the printer is not really a thing in Envato
Lisette: Good it’s like, it’s like it feels the nineteen eighties but I mean I see the need, I still have my paper notebooks and I like to write things down, and yeah I’m very tactile so but you’re right when you are talking to other people virtually then the paper is not necessarily going to cut it, so you do have to use other visualization tools. Now I can imagine that this is a new way of working for many, many people in the world how do you hire people to work in this way? What do you look for when you are hiring, and I know this time I’m sort of going off the standard but I am standard list but I’m really curious about like you need to find people with particular skills that are able to work in this way that can sort of embrace this. So what do you look for in the hiring process that you find people?
Jay: I think the growth mindset is key to that. Someone that’s open to exploring and trying different things. Someone that’s flexible, people generally are pretty keen to sort of lean into this, I haven’t come across too many people that aren’t excited about the prospect of disconnecting from their desk and inside of an office and the ability to be able to work from anywhere. There’s a few things that people probably struggle with initially when they do arrive. You know if your used to having the family photos and stuff on the desk and whatnot, but you know they quickly adapt to that but looking for people, yeah, looking for growth mindset curious and you don’t need to be you know perfect at it, I don’t think we are perfect at it, it’s just looking for people that want to try and explore.
Ruma: If I can add to it from the other side of the fence because I did not hire, but I was hired. So even if you are working remotely your intention is the same right, you have to collaborate with people to achieve a common, a shared outcome and that’s what we all do. Whether you are from behind the screen or whether you are located in the same workplace. So for me, it is making connections, if I have to make connections I can do it in any way and I always try to remember that behind the screen is always a human. They are just like you, if I’m remote for someone, the person is remote from me we are both remote for each other. So just put in that extra effort and try not to limit your conversations to work-related conversations. Try to build that rapport and have those chats where you can just grab a coffee in front of the screen and talk to the person.
Lisette: So when you were hired was it intimidating to come into an environment that was so yeah, it’s pretty advanced for most companies. I mean I really haven’t seen a company that is set up like you guys are, that encourages people to go and travel for three months and stay with… ‘go home and visit your family, have a good time.’
Ruma: Yeah when you talk about intimidating Lissette I’ll share my experience. On my second day at Envato, I ran a retro because Jay and other coaches were busy at that time and I was free and I said ‘okay I will run it,’ and you wouldn’t believe on my second day where I don’t know, I hardly know anyone I went to a room and I was the only one in the room facilitating a retro, and there were seven people on the computer screen in front of me.
Ruma: But it was okay because remote working is a norm at Envato. Everyone is doing it so everyone supports you. You are not the only one there, so that really helped.
Lisette: Wow that sounds intimidating indeed. It’s retrospective remotely with seven remote participants and you are alone in person in the room and on day two, that’s jumping in with both feet I should say.
Ruma: That’s the real story.
Jay: Its sounds like a story in the deep end hey Lissette?
Lisette: Yeah, I am like well you clearly hired a confident person that you knew that could handle it yeah.
Ruma: Thank you.
Jay: I have absolutely no doubt about that.
Lisette: Okay so I am really serious about how do you, do you have particular trainings that you put people through when they come in, or do you just throw them in feet first and see what happens? But is there any sort of training that you put people through for this kind of work, or do people just start and find their way? Maybe there is not even a need for it.
Jay: I would say it’s probably there is probably more weekly to what people find in their way. As Ruma sort of touched on people at Envato are generally there to help one another, and because we all experienced this you know if someone is there first time in the room generally what will happen is ‘oh it’s your first time, oh this is how Jabra works, this is how you jump into the hangout, and people will take that moment to induct the new person into that way of working at that point. We don’t host any sort of like formal training on the remote tech side of things. Having said that we do have a regular induction that the company runs, it sort of gives you not just the company but how we work.
Ruma: And at Envato we’re really good at two things, calling out and reaching out for help. If we think we’re struggling we know we are not alone, we just call out and the help is three.
Lisette: Amazing, so it’s like I want to work there. I am tired of all these hustling as a freelancer, this sounds great. So I want to talk about the management though in terms of how you manage virtual collogues and not just the working with because its’ a different style of management I am assuming. What are sort of the, yeah sort of the pain points or sort of the, or maybe not even the pain points but some of the things you have to keep in mind when you are doing management of virtual colleagues?
Jay: I think like Ruma touched on earlier its building trust with the people and building raptor with them, and sort of having those conversations like you would in the office and checking in with them quite frequently, and not letting them feel like they are isolated and alone. I think our managers at Envato do a great job at this. I know with the ones that I work closely with they’ve got regular one on ones with their people.
Jay: Virtually, yeah virtually they will jump in and hang out and regardless of where it is. It’s just like just like if we were core-located and we were going to meet regularly to talk about goals, and how you are going or just that regular checking they will do that virtually in a rhythm, like it were in the office and there is no sort of boundaries of you are treated differently because you are remote or you are treated differently because you are in the office, its one for all. So however we work it’s how we all sort of agreed to work and be that one to one as a manager or as a team. So when teams set work agreements to how they are going to work together, they often take that lens of how do we work remote together or work with collogues that are remote and that could be that you know for example when we’re in a session remotes go first, and remotes are the first people to speak.
Lisette: Oh wow that’s a great tip for these hybrid meetings, let the remote people speak first.
Ruma: And we wait till remote people have like gone away from the meeting, they have dropped out and then we leave the room so it’s not disrespectful.
Lisette: Oh interesting that is a great etiquette. So all the remote people have to hang up first and then you guys leave the room?
Ruma: Yeah we always stay to say bye to them.
Jay: Yeah we got some feedback in one of the retro I was in around. Someone said that it felt like they were being hung up on the phone or the phone was being slammed down when the team is leaving the room, and so the team acknowledged that and put in work agreement around the fact that remotes exits first, we let them exit first and let them say goodbye before the people in the room leave.
Lisette: Great etiquette tip that’s, going in the notes for sure. So let the remotes leave first. I want to ask about your working agreements. So does every team have their own work agreements or is it a companywide work agreement, do you have both? How does that work in your company because not many people have working agreements like this.
Ruma: It’s mostly the teams that have work agreements. So most teams would have working agreement sessions and they review them every three months, that is the guidance and it is up to the team. We have seen like different things being agreed on by different teams depending on how many people Are working remotely, how many are core-located, some are around Slack communication, some are around like the example that we talked about that the remote people will be the first ones to exit the meeting, anything that the team comes up with we give them the flexibility and they choose their working agreements.
Jay: Working agreements aren’t, they are not mandatory at Envato but what I’d find is that I’d say that most teams have them in place even now even a single leadership team have a set of working agreements that you can see, just so you can get an understanding of how they work and how they might make decisions, and then you will see like leadership teams, I know leadership teams in Envato other leadership teams have a set of work agreements done and then down into like the team level so how they are going to work together. So it’s sort of a common practice but not a mandatory practice.
Lisette: Yeah a wise practice if you ask me it seems like. Now are these work agreements, they’re open for everybody, so anybody like I am assuming you have them in your G-suits, so it’s a Google doc or some sort of a file that people keep, that anybody can access anybody else’s working agreement?
Jay: Yeah the network limits are transparent and anyone can see anyone else’s. We use the really good ones as an example in particular when Ruma arrived facilitating work agreement sessions for the team, you know some people need a little bit of inspiration or a little bit of guidance. We use them as like here are some examples that other teams are doing that you might want to consider.
Lisette: Wow brilliant and so is there ever any issues with individual working agreements? Say for instance I am working on three or four different teams would that mean I have three or four different work agreements depending on the team that I am working with at the moment or do are you pretty much on one team how would that work?
Jay: I would say we work pretty hard to get it down to one team but there may be people say you are in a leadership role, for example, you may have three teams underneath you, and so it’s probably just being mindful of those, the agreements that are in those other teams and it is also your opportunity, if you don’t believe that that’s right or you can’t accommodate, you can’t you know bend to that or you can’t work in that way then you are having that conversation. That’s at the heart of these agreements, is actually when as the last time you used them when was the last time you called them out, so that they are not just something that you write down on a, on a piece of paper or on a Google docs or Trello board and stick away somewhere, they are actually living and breathing things that you are practicing.
Ruma: And we also try to restrict the number of working agreements that we have for any given team so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming. It’s not that you’re just concentrating on following some working agreements, they are guidelines.
Lisette: Right so not the supper strict rules and the yeah, yeah. So how do you know what each other are doing on your teams? How do people, how do you keep track of that?
Jay: Do you want us to talk about how we keep track of it as coaches or how Ruma I know what each other are doing?
Lisette: Yeah let’s start there, let’s start there. Like yeah how do you guys know what each other, I mean I am just you know when you are working remotely you can’t see other people, and so it’s often and you know when we’re in the office we can be like ‘oh okay Sue is there and I can see that she is doing this, and oh so and so is there,’ and you can you know you kind of you think you know people are doing because you can see them of course but you know you never know what they are actually doing, so it’s a bit of a trick question but as a remote teams you are out of sight and sometimes out of mind and so it can be really hard to know what’s going on and so I am just curious how does the company, yeah we can start with like how you guys know what each other are doing but let’s move in to how do people of the company know each other? How do you stay aligned is really the question.
Jay: So we start our day with a daily stand up, similar to the teams that we coach would and we visualize our work as coaches about what we are working on, and we will talk through that what we are focused on yesterday, what we are focused on today, do we need any help or any support and then we will jump into if we’re remote in particular will jump into our day. Will make sure that we check in throughout the day on using Slack. So if we are working on a document, for example, we will share the link if we’ve have been working on it for review just so that we’ve got a presence, people know we are working through stuff. One thing that we have adopted recently is in Slack when it is time for lunch.
Ruma: I knew you would say that.
Jay: So the lunch lady from the Simpsons we’ve have got an emoji of her in Slack and so we throw the lunch lady in, and that lets the team know that we’re out to lunch and we will be back soon. And at the end of our day, we have a gratitude retro and that comes up at 4:30 pm every day and that tells us to it tells us to begin to sort of slow down and wind up on our day. One of the challenges with remote working sometimes and I have experienced this first hand where you can just keep going and going and going and going and going because there is no que to leave. In the office like watching someone get up and go you can start going and so having something like the gratuity retro pop up in Slack telling you what went well today, at least two things that went well is that sort of reminder that alright now it’s time to slow down and sort of end the day. Did I miss anything Ruma on the way which we work?
Ruma: No you covered pretty much everything but if I can summarize it in one sentence for you Lissette and for our audience. When it comes to communication and collaboration it is not exaggerating if I say that you can say we are on steroids, we just communicate as much as we can. Use every platform out there, we just abuse or exploit our tools to our maximum benefit.
Jay: Absolutely and so for just quickly from a team perspective what you’ll see happen in the team is around that sort of morning time, the Slack channels will light up with hands waving and different things to let people know that people are online, or they are in the office, or they are working from this location and then you sort of see that that pattern happen in the Slack channels during the day and towards the end of the day you will begin to see that noise. I’d say communication wise like you touched on Ruma is very noisy in our Slack channels.
Ruma: Yeah like for just today’s example Lissette I had a headache in the afternoon, and I wanted to have a nap. I just put it on the channel and everyone had a thumbs up emoji there. So we like to let everyone know this is what we are working on, this is what we are doing and this is the time we will be away from our MacBook’s and when I was back I just posted that I am back.
Lisette: Wow so you just said hey I am going to take a nap, I’ll be back and basically a bunch of people give you a thumbs up, that’s not normal at a company.
Ruma: It is just like, it’s like I am working and people know when I am not at my desk that I will be absent from my desk they can’t see me physically, and we did the same using Slack today.
Lisette: Love it. So is there ever two, I mean so one of the problems that people come up with is that there is too much communication, you know that it can be Slack overload like you open Slack and there is like a million messages and things are going on and people are just quickly like ‘oh my God I feel flustered and a bit scrambled and how do you guys manage that sort of yeah overload, so we say or does it not feel like overload?
Ruma: It does, some teams have complained about it and a lot of it is covered in their working agreements. One thing that usually a lot of teams do is carry out their Slack conversations in a thread so that it is not clutter. If it is a specific conversation take it to a separate Slack thread or maybe a channel, yeah do you have anything else to add Jay?
Jay: Yeah I would think about the work that you are doing and what type of either environment or tools that you need to use. So if you need to do some deep focus work having Slack on may not be the best thing. So just calling out, like if that’s me I’d be calling out to the team on Slack ‘hey folks I am just about to deep dive into something,’ its ready the focused time emoji up in my status and that would actually it turns like off or put it into do not disturb for that period. And you will see people putting their Slack into do not disturb for example just to make sure that you know I am focused, and I will be back in an hour or two just to make sure that you are getting it done to cut off that noise.
Lisette: Yeah because you can sit in front of Slack and just watch messages come in if you want so.
Jay: Yeah I was having this conversation with someone today, it’s like the virtual way of someone coming to you and tapping you on the shoulder right? You will be working ad say ‘hey, hey, hey,’ and so turning it off is also a good thing.
Lisette: It sounds like also that people need to have control of their own, we have to be in control of our own notifications, you know our own boundaries and so that is really sort of a personal responsibility there for people to say like ‘hey I need a nap or I need three hours of focus time you know if you really need me then tap me on the shoulder or WhatsApp or something but in that time I really need to focus.’ So it sounds like it’s sort of an individual responsibility there.
Lisette: Okay so how do you guys handle conflict on the team, because that must come up. So are there standard procedures or does everybody just love each other? I know you have conflict everybody’s got conflict, how does that get dealt with remote colleagues?
Jay: That is an interesting one and you are right it is not always all roses, one of the ways in which handling conflict in particular in person is to you know use techniques like get people to stand shoulder to shoulder and talk about something which is hard to do, which would be hard to do. So what I am describing there is standing shoulder to shoulder and say having a whiteboard and brainstorming something there or talking at something rather than at each other.
Lisette: But that is in person, so like…
Jay: Yeah so, I haven’t actually done this yet it may be something you should try but there could be a way in which you would need to sort of adapt that for people that may be in conflict or teams that may be in conflict. I am going to throw you in the deep end Ruma, do you have any ideas.
Lisette: She is used to it.
Ruma: To be honest I haven’t had any conflict as of now, I have been very fortunate but I would like to say that why do you, why do you put in the remote equation there? If you have a conflict it’s the same whether you are remote or not, you just need to have that conversation with empathy. You can do it from behind the screen, I understand reading emotions is a bit difficult but it is doable, you just have to put in a little more efforts just make the effort to have a chat with the person you have conflict with or get help, get some help. It shouldn’t be that difficult.
Jay: And doing it a point easy, so doing it sooner rather than letting something build up.
Lisette: Yeah so I asked about the remote aspect of it because one it is very easy to hide behind our screens. You know you can be like ‘oh man you know John just annoyed me and I am just going to close the laptop and go for a walk,’ instead of actually confronting the person that was annoying. You know a lot of people just close the laptop and let it go and that builds up over time. And the other weird aspect about remote I am finding as I am learning also in dealing with conflict it is really confronting to sit across like the table from somebody and online we can’t stand shoulder to shoulder. And so then you know we are really, we are really face-to-face and not only face to face like we are really close face to face in this way. So it can be really I think intimidating to have those conversations online and so I was just curious if there is a technique that you guys use, but it sounds like it is a pretty solid team.
Ruma: I guess it is also because of the culture that we have at Envato, we are so used to doing it and we do it for every kind of session that we have. Like even though Jay and I are in Melbourne we have had our one on ones remote from behind the screen so you get used to it. So having those conversations is not that challenging, if I can put it that way.
Lisette: Yeah I mean and actually it makes a lot of sense, it’s funny that we focus so much on like oh it’s remote and it’s going to be a lot harder but actually it’s just a screen in between you instead of air and it’s not that different. So it sounds like it is weird until you get used to it and once you are used to it, it is totally not weird anymore so it’s just a really a matter of people getting used to this type of behavior, this way of working.
Ruma: Yeah and call it out that it feels a bit awkward to me, what is it like for you? It just opens up that conversation.
Lisette: Do you have people that can’t adopt to this way of working? Like they come on they come into Envato and they just they don’t like it, they want nine to five in the office every day?
Jay: We have people that will come into the office every day and their preference is in the office, and you will see them in the office all the time. It very much a personal preference and that doesn’t mean you can’t work in Envato because that environment, that office environment is actually amazing and it is a place that you truly want to go to and they have done an amazing job to make that experience the way it is. So it’s very much a personal preference and those people that they want to work in the office they have actually adapted to their team could be anywhere.
Lisette: So they just have a personal preference for coming into the office for whatever reason, maybe they don’t have a proper set up at home or they don’t like to travel everything is there at the office. Do you have people who have a problem with the hot desking, because I know that there are some people that really like their desk you know I want my plants and I want my family pictures and whatever, and you know that is the sort of comment complaints that you hear but for people have trouble with that?
Jay: Yeah we do, we do and some and everyone is different, people have so sort of horn in on the same place. Not every desk is a hot desk in Envato so we do have some places where teams just generally congregate and that is where they are, but it is very much again a personal preference. For me I would like the ability to change my environment up and work with the people that I need to, that’s the nature of my role I may need to work with different people in different teams and so being with those people is important, if you just need to focus you may need a quiet space in the office regularly with your, your staff set up, so it about creating an environment that caters to all.
Ruma: I used to kind of dislike it in the beginning but I am used to it now.
Lisette: So again another, another maybe it’s weird to begin with and then you get used to it and it’s okay
Ruma: Yeah it’s actually fun now sitting with different people, sitting on different floors sometimes going to the basement to have that quiet corner yeah. It is like you have to embrace it like you embrace any other tool or technique or a way of working it is just one of those things.
Lisette: Okay, so Ruma I want to go back to something that you mentioned in the very beginning I thought that was very interesting and this is the question of the footwear. So somebody will put on a different footwear to let their family know whether they are working or not can we dive into that really quickly because I thought, I didn’t want to skip over that want to make sure…
Ruma: Okay, I am pretty sure that person would listen to this podcast.
Jay: We will share it with him otherwise.
Ruma: Yeah, it’s just a way of showing to their family that we are working and it is better not to disturb us at this point.
Jay: He has got, this person has got a setup he was in New South Wales which is you know a different state in Australia. He’s got a set up I think it’s outside or I think it is like in a basement type set up.
Ruma: It is in the basement.
Jay: Yeah it is in the basement and so he was telling us he puts his shoes on and during the day if he needs to go like go up, and his kids come in that room they know that dads got the shoes on, that he is working and they know not to disturb him but if his shoes are off they can [inaudible40:55].
Lisette: Wow that’s a great technique, most people have like doors or sign or yeah something but footwear that is a new one, I am going to have to test that one out and try that with my husband and be like ‘oh look my shoes my working shoes are on like don’t interrupt.’
Jay: Footwear is an interesting ice breaker for people out there too, if you are looking to do an ice breaker, get people to take a photo on their smartphone of their shoes and Slack it to or email it or put it somewhere that people can see what people are wearing, you will uncover amazing things. You will see people with bare feet and shoes and maybe moccasins and all sorts of things.
Lisette: Yeah, I am like oh I don’t want to be doing that right now I’ve got the… I am not going to show it but I will describe it, so you know when I flew to Australia from Europe using Air Emirates they give you these little bags and inside the bags you get a toothbrush, and like a little you know the eye thing and they also give you these little slippers that you can wear on the plane you know. So and I and I didn’t use them and I thought oh okay I am going to an Air BnB and so I brought these orange air emirates slippers that I am not going to show anybody. You would find interesting things just doing such an ice breaker something like that, yeah it’s not just barefoot and shoes its random stories. So oh we are reaching the end of our time it’s just crazy it went really fast and I still have okay I still have a couple of questions one is what advice would you give for people who are just starting out? If they know they want to work in sort of this way here where would you advise people to start? Like what do they need or what should they be thinking about?
Jay: I don’t think it has ever been easier to actually lean into this, so you think about most all laptops have cameras now, smartphones have cameras so the ability and the tech is actually easily accessible, so it and you can get a Google hangout for free as part of your Google account, that sort of stuff. So that technology base is there, it’s probably the biggest thing is the trust and the ability to actually begin to lean in. My advice when people ask this question is start small, is start small maybe start with everyone a day at home and testing it out and try a little experiment to see how it might work and then sort of retro those or get some feedback and see how you are going to make it better.
Ruma: If I can add few more things to that, like Jay said, connect with people and by connecting I mean just don’t have formal work-related meetings with people catch up with them one on one informally have that coffee with them. If you are new to remote working, do some reading talk to people who have been doing it and use the tools and embrace it, like I said earlier it is like any other tool or technique or way of working. So just try little experiments and have a work station like if you are working remotely don’t just work from your bed or couch, and just be remote working is a privilege so use it to maximize the benefits for yourself and for your organization, so be a little professional and use it to your benefit.
Lisette: Oh I love it remote work is a privilege and indeed it is, it is a luxurious privilege.
Ruma: Yeah, it can make a lot of difference to your work-life balance.
Lisette: How has it affected your work balance? I know, I said it was the last question but I have to ask.
Ruma: For me, it is more about flexibility, like I can finish my meetings and my workday at three o’clock, hit the gym come back come by dinner and then work a couple of hours after having my dinner. So that flexibility I love it, I can do the things that I want to do, in Australia, everything closes at five. So if I want to do something before five I can do that. If I want some quiet time, thinking time to do my work I can do that later from home when I am at home and just came back home on time, so things like that they make a lot of difference.
Jay: For me, it’s about adapting to the environment to the type of work that I am doing. So if I need a quiet space with deep thinking I can go and find that space and be in that space. If I want to be around a lot of people then I can go to that space and find that space. On a personal level, I’ve got a young family and so the flexibility provides to be there and support them when I need to and till get my work done. It’s great I coach I help coach my son’s basketball team, and so the ability to work remotely from time to time for me helps me do things that I am super passionate about.
Lisette: Yeah I start the question when I hear these kinds of answers. I start to question when I hear these kinds of answers I start to question like why wouldn’t a company, put this in place, like clearly seeing how happy it makes people and the loyalty that I think probably it gives for employees that you have there. I mean who would go back to the old style of ninety-five in the same location every single day the same desk when you could have this sort of work-life flexibility it starts to bugle my mind a little bit like why wouldn’t you do this. So yeah could you ever go back to the other, I would say the normal but it’s not normal but the other way of working could you ever go back?
Ruma: I would always want to have some flexibility because work-life balance is really important to me. I cannot work for a place where they require me to be at work for a certain number of hours every single day.
Jay: The topic of remote is actually becoming a hotter topic. I am finding it being discussed at more meetups and more conferences and on social media platforms more often and I think that’s largely also thanks to people like yourself Lissette and the great work you do with this podcast and your amazing book. So I actually think that it is properly going to evolve to something that is going to become the norm in the very near future.
Lisette: Yeah I would agree, I am biased that is hard to say but yeah I totally agree. Like this and who would go back, you know who why would give up any sort of flexibility I think freedom is a supper strong motivator for people to center into this world and it is nice to see companies like Envato who are actually encouraging it. Okay one more question and then I promise will go, where do you guys take the three month the it’s not a holiday the three month work from anywhere do you guys use that yourself? Ruma, I will start with you.
Ruma: You want me to say something?
Ruma: So, I am going away to Adelaide it is not work from like I am not going overseas but I will be in Adelaide for eleven days and out of those eleven days I am going to work for five days. So that would be my first you know like being away from headquarters for that long and because my parents, my family are back in India maybe later this year I will be doing some remote work from India.
Ruma: But it also depends on the role, given our roles it is not that easy to work remotely for three months at a stretch. Yes, I will take it as an experiment start with like a few days and see how we go, yeah.
Jay: I haven’t actually haven’t made use of it just yet, but another coach that used to work in Envato had and just leveraging a little bit what Ruma said it can be difficult for our role in particular. We had a really solid plan in place this person went to Thailand he went to Brazil as well and western Australia, he was quite remote and quite in very different locations, one of the biggest challenges was time zone and needing to shift so much and he was working in the night and just doing that over a really long period wasn’t sustainable and so probably for our role, we just need to adjust what that looks like.
Lisette: Yeah time zones are tricky I mean yours tart to get into physics there, so there is nothing I mean with the tools and the technology that’s great we can talk to each other but once it starts to be two AM at someplace and somebody has got to be up in the middle of the night or you know or even or worse than it starts to become yeah there is just physics in the way at that point.
Jay: Yeah if you are doing like say you are working six to seven hours in a day and you are doing that you know from eleven PM up until wee hours of the morning, and then you want, want to actually also experience the place you are traveling in you know that is not really sustainable over a long period of time.
Lisette: Right, right yeah time Zones I think are just going to be an ongoing challenge for everybody, it’s just sort of the nature of the beast. Okay, so I said that we are going to do twenty-five minutes and here we are almost an hour and I apologize but I think everyone needs to hear this story. It is such a unique company set up and such a great way of working that I really loved it. Thanks for letting me deep dive so much into that and then the very last question is if people want to get in touch with you to ask more questions or to talk a little bit more about that what is the best way to find you and we will start with Jay.
Jay: Best way to find me I am on twitter handle is Jay Hyett just the letter J or you can reach out to me on Linked In. If you are in Melbourne and you want to come out to Envato for a tour you are interested with that hit us up and we can have a conversation about coming and checking it out, Ruma?
Ruma: Yeah, I am on twitter but I am not a twitter bird-like Jay, so don’t contact me on twitter please contact me on Linked in my name is Ruma Dak it should be easy to find me there.
Lisette: And I will put in in the show notes too so people can just click on the show notes so they can find you.
Lisette: And I highly and for people that are listening if you are in Melbourne I really recommend going and seeing the office, it is a beautiful office and it is great to see how it is set up so that you can get an idea of how you are communicating with people so I got to take a tour thankfully and I highly recommend it. Thank you both for your time today and allowing me to take such a deep dive, I really appreciate it
Ruma: It was a pleasure being here Lissette, thank you.
Jay: Pleasure Lissette that was awesome.
Lisette: Alright everybody until next time be powerful.