MAGDA FERRETTI is a business trainer and organizational psychologist helping Polish companies introduce home office policies. Her Ph.D. research focused on leadership in virtual teams and she uses that knowledge to help managers transition to leading from a distance. In this interview, we discuss why managers are hesitant to go remote and what they need to do to develop new competencies for leading remote teams.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great and we are live welcome everybody to this remote interview, my name is Lisette, and I am interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely and today all the way from I forgot to even verify this from Warshawa Poland great, I have Magda Ferretti, and Magda, you are a business trainer and coach and organizational psychologist and you have done your Ph.D. research on leadership and virtual teams is that right?
Magda: Thanks for having me and I am really super delighted and super excited to share some tips and tricks in my own experience, and some research-based results with the audience of yours, grateful Lisette.
Lisette: Oh thanks and when I saw your background, I just had to have you on the podcast so let us start with the first question which is what does your virtual office look like what do you need to get your work done?
Magda: So I was thinking whether I can show you something, but what I need is laptop so I am just holding it now I love to work with the flip chart because I run workshops and I also write down my ideas, and so the preparation for the workshops I have with the clients then I would move the camera because I’m running some individual coaching sessions and also sometimes online on-demand training, and the quality I need most is silence and that is why I wouldn’t go to coffee shops or restaurants. I would rather go to the library for some creative work or just stay at home. So currently I am in my empty bedroom and that is how I use the bed.
Lisette: Those are the podcast listeners, there are a lot of sticky notes on that mattress.
Magda: Exactly so and another thing I want to mention is they really love the paper, the colorful sticky notes, the Post-its, the colorful paper like the printer paper and I like to write down many things. So that is why some times my office and even the virtual office may seem a little bit messy, but it is all that I really need to have my work done and I write lots of things and if I need to share them with people I will take picture or store them through Google docs or through things such as [Inaudible 02:33] and just show what I am working on, and the also I will need to think about by the way to share my ideas with others and I will be more motivated to just select the most important points that were in my mind. So basically silence is the first condition, then the laptop then high internet connection and flip chart and papers.
Lisette: I love it I am also a very tactile person. I have to write things down I really like having paper to write, yeah.
Magda: Yes I do and my biggest thing is, biggest discovery is this sticky just these electric static papers, I don’t know what they use them but I love them and they can be stuck to anywhere.
Lisette: Oh so for those who are listening she is sticking these, I think they are statives they are called and they with static electricity they stick to everything she stuck them to herself, and also on paper so yeah, yeah indeed because you want to move things around and like…yeah.
Magda: Then we do is sometimes in the remote space but I think starting because I am working most of the time on my own, I can do the way I really prefer it to be done so it’s my office.
Lisette: So let’s dive into a little bit about what you do. I have that so you have gotten your PhD research in leadership and virtual teams, we are totally going to dive into that you have also managed distributed teams for multinational clients and now it says you are training polish companies on how to introduce home office policy and you are also training the managers around that, so tell and you are writing an e-book e will get into that as well but first tell us about these trainings that you are giving over home office policies and why is Poland going more towards working from the home office?
Magda: Sure so maybe just one step back, like why I love this topic so much it’s not only because I like listening to the podcast you have and other people and the topic is now very popular, but I really have this personal experience that we can have valuable long lasting personal relationship, notwithstanding the distance, so why would because of the current technology, so I am a kind of a father hat works on the sea on the tankers and we were able to stay as a loving family, first through fax… first through letters then fax, then the emails then the face time finally connections because of the internet. So I experienced this myself then I had this long relationship with my current husband Jovani, who and we were also two countries apart because he was in Italy and I was in Poland and we made it last or I think two years and before he moved here so when I was thinking impossible about some friendship relations, if we are able to keep them at the long distance while we think that working across different country zones it just would be such a problem. So that is my personal stake at this, why I am interested in this topic and why I talked about it both from the professional experience, what I shared was also communicating always with teams that are far away from my office and clients as well and then that is why I decided to combine the research and find topics that would add word to this personal interest and this professional experience, and now this had been done for the last ten years. I decided maybe it’s a good moment to open my own small training and coaching company, and share some of this knowledge experience and best practices from the market so that is the short story behind it.
Lisette: That is really, that is really interesting especially you say your father has worked in these tanker ships.
Magda: Yes and key engineer now, so it used to be really long contracts like six months, even eight months in the past and the only way to communicate would be to send letters that would go three ways, one way and its only help you could stay updated with what’s going on. So I personally experienced the whole development of the technology that allows for communication between the people, I remember us with my mommy and my sisters standing in the post office waiting for the fax, like to discuss whether it would be successful or not.
Magda: So I think it’s good to see that anyway we will bring this in a short time span and so much has changed.
Lisette: Right, indeed we now have video communication, holograms are around the corner like it is really it’s more overwhelming now than anything, it’s how much information we can get and how much contact we can have as people but I love, I love the back story.
Magda: To mention still there is such a deep resistance in the companies and it is not that easy like I felt working there, like you researching the topic I felt that everyone is working online like it’s so popular, everyone is talking about working online because I was so interested in the topic and remote working myself. But then when I go to the market and I talk to organizations, to managers it seems there is still a long way to go. When I look at the Euro start report like in twenty thousand and eighteen about how many people worked from home in the European Union, it seems that in Poland it’s four and six percent and the average European Union will be five percent of people working sometimes from home being fully employed. So still it would not be a big group of people but I think the change is there to come, and interest is there because basically majority of candidates to work ask for these flexible options and look for some more freedom in deciding from where they work.
Lisette: Indeed and what do you think it is that people are, why are people hesitating in allowing people to work from home so much? What’s the main resistance that you are seeing from managers and organizations from doing it?
Magda: So, the sad thing is when I look back like when IBN was in seventy-nine what’s supporting this work from home solution the arguments were the same like now, which is quite sad because forty years and people mindset didn’t change, so I think there will be exactly this psychology [inaudible 09:33] of thinking like if I don’t see this person, I don’t observe this person, how can I know she works or how can I support her? People and I think like knowledge about the solutions available at hand, like you many times mentioned in your discussions there is so much technology trend but it is overwhelming so that you don’t even try to set and find better solutions. Sometimes there is policy of the company and simply easy to go to the desk and ask for something, so as humans generally we are a little bit lazy. So we like the way we work and it used to work well, so why to change, why to bother. So I think the resistance comes from this, then there is another challenge I don’t think it’s only foreign but I see quite regularly especially in some government organization I worked with recently. They have this concern about work security, how to assure the same conditions of work from the perspective of security of their modes of how comfortable should be the chair, the economics of their workplace and so on or if accidents at work happen and when you are at home what about the insurance, what about the responsibilities of the employer versus employee and such kind of challenges. So I think the legislation in Poland is getting changed but we are waiting for a clearer and less strong rules about telecommuting full time. So what many companies do is that they start with flexible hours first when to start and then they go for home office few days per month or one day per week and then start slowly the process of the change, and I think this makes sense these small steps that you need to be well prepared too because there could be also resistance, what kind of an office talking with my client, even from the worker unions that they are afraid that if you leave this benefit of working from home it will mean that you cannot take medical week any longer, because why wouldn’t you work from home or that taking… so even if you are sick you need to stick to work because you have conditions at home or sometimes people don’t have really conditions in their flats. I worked recently with some very anti remote article that says that flats are so small, there is not a comfortable space, so it could be another challenge but then it’s also again mindset because you are working remotely doesn’t mean that you must work from home, you could work from the library, you could work from some other office I have about such government solutions in UK that they would rent parts of libraries which are empty. These local ones, the local government workers could work from there instead of going in the whole city and commuting for one hour to get the work done. So sometimes being creative with creative could resolve the problem.
Lisette: I love that I love the idea of just using these empty spaces that may not be getting very much use anymore and turning them into something else.
Magda: Yes. I have this [inaudible 13:18], that’s what they do in London.
Lisette: Yeah, totally makes sense, I mean yeah totally makes sense there is lobbies of hotels I have noticed have started turning to more co-working spaces. So co-working spaces during the day and they can use more as lobbies in the evening when people are coming back from their business meetings, trips or you know that is when they are there and why not open it up to co-workers during the day.
Magda: Okay not only now, I think about I also saw there is a big a boom in construction industry in Warshawa at least and in Poland and I see already offers of you can buy apartments where they guarantee you, not only like a gym common for the for the I have people who buy the flat but also this co-working space within the apartments and…
Magda: There…down the building, so there is people like neighbors can work together and share the experience so it’s, it’s really kind of I think it’s kind of actually just a trend but at least it speaks to me I am convinced I would buy a flat there.
Lisette: Yeah what a great feature absolutely, because when my husband and I were looking for our house one of the requirements was that it had to have a separate office space that was separate for not necessarily… I mean a separate house separate from the house would be good but a place where if I could close the door then he wouldn’t have to hear any of my business stuff going on and you know at the end of the day I could lose the door and the office was left behind that was the main requirement. So having an apartment building that had that built-in, it seems like a great feature for or people who want to work from home or from the building next door maybe.
Magda: Exactly, so it is a bit the advantages are exactly this, so that you don’t waste time commuting and you are not isolated and it is easier to separate work life as your supplier of life. So I think it is a really nice solution and you don’t need to spend so much money on coffees when you walk from coffee shops between the neighbors and I think it’s good for people, so this is where you meet your neighbor your local community and get values.
Lissette: Great idea I really like it. So yeah indeed there seems to be a lot of reasons that companies are resisting and some of them are really good reasons, we do need to have the security things in place and I think also the ergonomics of where people work hose responsibility is that. In some like in the US people get their health care through their companies. So then you would think that the companies would have some responsibility terms of setting up ergonomically correct home offices as well, you know as having that option available in the office. So yeah again probably there is a cross-culture in how things are set up but those things do need to be taken into consideration I can imagine before you just sort of let people work from anywhere that they want amongst all of the other things that come up when we let people work from wherever they want. But there is, I really want to make sure that we dive into the leadership aspect of working remotely because this is your specialty is working with leaders on virtual teams. Oh and I also want to talk about more about the home office policies but we will get there let’s talk about leadership first. What are the main differences you see in leadership in leading a team in person versus virtually, what is the style of leadership that needs to change there?
Magda: Okay it could be like it is already difficult to manage people in the same place and it is even more difficult they say when they your team is far away but I wouldn’t, exactly, I would say it is actually more difficult it’s just different. So I think the biggest difference is that you need to get used to these new ways, and when I did my research back in two thousand… from two thousand and twelve or even earlier. It seems that the majority of the literature and then the research was concentrated on benefits and throwbacks of this comparing both works and seeing the technology change so much and I think it depends for whom its different ,because when you think about young people that are used to the technology in their private lives is not that difficult the technology that need to be introduced in the remote teams, but when I think about one difference between leading remote teams and traditional face to face teams is I think we need the technology. I mean you need to be aware that without this technology you leading, the leader of this thing wouldn’t be possible and the best test to this is like when people lose internet connection or if the electricity is down you know that if you cannot accomplish your work, you cannot reach your team, you cannot pass the results of your work and instead when you are in the same office it happened to me when I worked for a city bank even if the electricity is gone or the internet connection is gone you can collect the people around one table, you can still brainstorm, you can use the paper instead of writing emails. So the communication on the distance with the proper technology is I think a key and then the processes around, how to communicate with these people who are not sitting in the same room as you are the key differentiators.
Lisette: So yeah indeed having the awareness that you are relying on technology that that is a component of working virtually. So there’s a certain amount of tech-savviness that is needed to be able to navigate the technologies I think and to really use them correctly that I think managers and leadership needs to take into account. But you also mentioned that there are different processes for communication what are some of those this processes can you dive into that a little?
Magda: Sure so I think first of all just to be more intentional about how we plan the communication because it is not that by default I would go to a desk, I will disturb you and we would just talk. So one is to set an agreement, how certain communication will be used and then another thing is that I think managers really miss when they lead remote teams is how to be an example, how to lead as a role model if they don’t see. So this is another thing like not only I don’t see them, I can’t observe anything whether they work or not but also they cannot see me. So how can I be their role model? And in these terms it’s again full communication because it is the only way to observe your employees, your team members are by how they communicate, how they use the platforms available. The same is also true for the leader. So how I communicate about me, for instance, being out or out from my desk, whether I put some status out the date on the communicator or whether I underneath that because we have these flexible circumstances it’s good that maybe I am going to take a nap or I am going to take jogging session. If I underneath about this then the other people will do the same. So there is no need for control because this control is used less [inaudible 21:07] about communication is what you share, not only how but also how you share and how you use the examples to others, what’s acceptable, basically what norms, what rules what behaviors are standard and normal because of course observation is how we learn lots of things, how kids learn lots of things, how new employees learn the rules in a given company. So you need to create this observation moment not only while and by using the gift conference with the camera on but because of course I know that you love it and I love it too, but also just to let your behaviors be more observable and also be vulnerable. I have just recently come across this CEO of Git Lab great website when he is speaking about him as CEO, what he likes, what are his errors, why he points and doesn’t smile that much as he could and the feedback he got about himself and he’s shared like publicly with everyone which may have already made me feel really he is so great, he’s so open, he’s so honest. He mentioned the people who work with him and could reach him any time and he’s available. So another thing about communication, make yourself available and present yourself in this personal context don’t hesitate to talk about your weak points and also your strengths, that is like be open and communicate as much as possible because your communication people really cannot see you like you cannot see them.
Lisette: Indeed I really like that but I can imagine that is very scary for a lot of managers, is to show them their vulnerable sides. Like ‘hey I am not so secure, I am not so confident about all these different things, I am insecure about…’ yeah I can only imagine I mean even for myself I am pretty open in that way but you know people use your weaknesses against you sometimes, so we also have to be really careful what we show and how we do it. And I think it is really brave of the… it was Gitlab or Github that you mentioned?
Magda: Gitlab, Gitlab.
Lisette: Gitlab, yeah it is really brave of him to show this weakness to the world I mean.
Magda: Yeah like I think if you consider sometimes these weaknesses are in our head or we are scared that someone will follow them to us, that I mean if you were to show them I know about my weakness like versus it could be for me my English and also here it’s going to be, because I’m sure they say ‘weakness I make mistakes in English,’ and if I say this to myself I relax because I don’t expect someone to shoot on me this argument because I am ready I’m aware of this, I am working on it and it’s the end. So when we think about anonymous haters in the internet they are strong only if you are scared of them, and they come to your weak points that maybe you didn’t… that you were not aware of and if it is already done you admit ‘okay I have this kind of problem, challenge I am working on,’ but they have no reason to point it because it becomes no valid to surprise news or a talking fact.
Lisette: That’s true you disarm it before it can really do anything indeed, indeed a great argument I love that. We also were discussing a little bit before we started recording the idea of shared leadership and how that was a different model for how managers are leading remote teams. So I would love to dive more into what you mean by shared leadership and why it is so important on teams.
Magda: Sure so that is what I dedicated my literature review research so this was the topic so shared leadership inbuilt work teams which means remote teams. So analyzing different types of leadership is not my way to go whether it is charismatic transform-tic and so on. I concentrated more about the behaviors that are inside the leadership concept so which means the leader is someone that leads you or leads the group towards some goals, towards some aim and that’s how I understand. So I talk more about leadership behaviors and it seems when we define first leadership behaviors as something that allows the team because let’s concentrate on the team level, like will see the team leader and let’s say a group of people of eighteen members. Leadership is to make these people achieve the team goals on one hand, so bring the results and on the other hand to satisfy the needs of the team members, so more like the relationship side. So we have results and relations, so that if we keep both the organization, the team goals satisfied and the team members satisfied identify it with the team we will have our final end of this team and this leadership was if we look at what it means, it could be for instance first identifying what is the goal then I think how to achieve it planning over some barriers that will make this achievement more difficult and implementing some changes, implementing the actions to achieve the goals it could be the leadership roles and the function that the leadership performs and as we mentioned in the modern organizations it’s already very difficult to be this superhero and to be the only leader in the remote and it’s even more difficult to be the only source of leadership for the team. So in this way if we share this among the team members it makes more sense, it makes them feel more engaged to identify more with the team and to bring higher results. So I verified this by checking what is the impact of this shared leadership on the team performance, on the results of the teams, how well they think they perform and it seems that it the influence as much stronger when we talk about virtual teams. So that people who met face to face less frequently, so it didn’t hold true at this time that match for the collocated teams but indeed when people were not sharing this face to face experience this was like a [inaudible 28:11] reason to link the team to the team results through this shared leadership. So this was the finding and when I read like now the recent of the research the shared leadership in teams really makes sense, it could be part of the training [inaudible 28:36] also because of course, it is difficult for the managers to agree yeah the leadership could be shared, I can share this with you because its again mindset and traditional understanding of leadership is some fear of becoming irrelevant for the team, but this is not true because the leader should become the source of leadership and should encourage team members who take this leadership roles to see their potential because blocking their autonomy and hindering decision-making process just can jeopardize the whole team effectiveness and in the end the team leader that doesn’t allow the team members to be involved in some leadership decisions doesn’t allow for autonomy couldn’t make the results lower and disturb the ream. It will develop and not especially in this remote context lots of members and as much experts in their field that it is impossible to be micromanaged, they could just and even, even if you want you are not able to check exactly what they are doing, you can just see the results you can or even just to see whether the results work for the clients because it is impossible to have the competences of all the individual team members. Only together in this very narrow field of expertise, they would be adding each person they would create a beautiful picture together.
Lisette: I think it is very interesting that your research showed that the shared leadership model was less effective in person than it was remote. Like when you go remote you almost have to do it in order to or it really helps if you do it because you are right having the sort of hero leader on a remote team doesn’t exactly work, people need to make decisions independently.
Magda: Independently yeah exactly.
Lisette: Yeah so that’s really interesting so it is actually quite a transition or leaders to go remote because they have to learn a new style of behavior and of making their own person more observable to sort of lead by example and they have to share their leader’s responsibilities with other people on their team. So that is actually some really major hafts that need to be done. How do you, how do people start with the shifting mindset? How do you help them I don’t know how do you help them with awareness and what will a leader do how would you advise them to start down this trail?
Magda: Sure so I think first it is just to think about leadership first, and distance second. So that you think what is exactly needed to build good leadership despite where people are located and you just try to find the real important roles of managers. When I think about this big Google oxygen project they prove that indeed managers are useful for the company first they try to eliminate them in two thousand and two and then two thousand and eight there was idea just to check so these great managers and these bad managers and you can apply their ideas to both remote and collocated team managers, what do you need to do. So they need to be good coaches and it’s Google saying this not me as a coach and they need to empower people and not micromanage and then you need to create this environment in which people are inclusive, in which they care about their well-being and their support. So when we think about this like typical Google or like developer team people that don’t sit in the same place we need to first be aware of the differences how to complete the same task, not in the distance, we again think about communication and meet our own weaknesses just to create the plan what I need to do to be there, to be able to be a great leader as I am in the same place but on the distance. I recently worked with the lady that leads successfully the team that is collocated in Warshaw. Now her new responsibility is to manage the team that is in India. So now she’s totally excited but also she fears simply how she will manage this because all she did so far was to do many things face to face with the whiteboard and now how to pass all these great practices that you are used to doing with this distance in mind. So just to think about this analysis like why as a leader for a collocated team and who I want to be the leader of a remote team. And then of course the knowledge because we don’t want people just to make the research we did or you did for your book and doing like to search on the internet all the books, there are a few tips we could apply depending on the context by first searching the knowledge from outside or getting individual sessions about their particular situations and to consider what is to be done and what re the next steps like workshops like introducing, implementing ideas checking whether they work and then deciding whether to continue or not and just to experiment in this but definitely first the awareness, but there’s the difference, the vision how I want to be perceived, how I want to behave as a remote leader and then the implementation of some practices. The best would be not to learn from your own mistakes but also to check first what other people did and then to learn from your own mistakes.
Lisette: I really love it, so one is get training on how to be a good leader and how to be a good coach and get training on how to lead remotely both, there are two aspects of that and what I like is a lot of people think that going remote is really easy they have these visions of people working on beaches and in their pajamas and its really misleading, because yes remote work gives us all this freedom but it doesn’t mean that that’s easy and it doesn’t mean that we are all sitting around in our pajamas it is just a totally different style of leading and I do think that that the whole digital nomad vision sort of hurts because it makes it look easy when in actuality there are real skills that people need to train for in order to be really good at this.
Magda: Exactly and to ask I think if you ask the majority of people whether they were trained, whether anyone gave them any kind of advice, the majority would say no because like I was working for ten years from home office on an irregular basis but did anyone tell me how to do it, no. Did my manager have any training, was instructed on how to lead the people who are working from home, no. So I think it is missing we already mentioned this before, academia like the standard universities are introducing the programmers now but so many people on the market are already working and practicing but they imply don’t know it could be done in a better more effective way. So this is simply a scheme we could learn and of course, we would love to help others learn it.
Lisette: Indeed, and man, we are totally running out of time but I don’t want to end before mentioning that you are working on an e-book about polish companies and entrepreneurs and how they are leading from a distance. So that is a project that is still ongoing and no deadline yet we won’t give any if I have learned anything from writing my book is don’t give deadlines because people hold you to them. So but it is in the work so it should be really interesting actually but I guess what we should end with is if people want to learn more about you and about the book and about the research that you have done what is the best way to find you?
Magda: Yes so I have my website www.magdaferretti.pr, I can be found on LinkedIn under my empowerment business owner and on Facebook fun page empowerment Magda Ferretti.
Lisette: Great and I will link all of those in the show notes so that the listeners have an easy way just go to the show notes and link to t and you can find Magda there. Magda thank you so much for your time and information today I took a tone of notes so I learned a lot I really am excited to share this with other people, and thank you for taking the time today.
Magda: Thanks a lot Lissette, thank you.
Lisette: Alright everybody until next time be powerful.
Interview, Managers, Podcast, Teams