PILAR ORTI runs the Virtual not Distant consulting firm in the U.K. Her specialty is coaching teams through the transition of going remote.



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Her tips for working remotely:

  • Find opportunities to talk to each other.
  • Find ways to be spontaneous and make space for informal learning.
  • Focus on hiring the right people. Make sure the fit is right.
  • Set some rules for your remote team.
  • Experiment and change things in small steps.
  • Stop making assumptions and start asking questions. Be curious.

Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland


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Original transcript

Lisette:  Great, now we’re live.  So welcome everybody to this Hangouts On Air. My name is Lisette Sutherland.  And today, I’m thrilled to be interviewing Pilar Orti who is in the UK and is working on a project that really caught my eye called Virtual Not Distant which, love the name, I must say I love the name.  And Pilar, I met you because I noticed that you also reviewed Hassan Osman’s book Influencing Virtual Teams.  So it’s great to see there.  And then I of course started looking at your website and said, “Oh, I must speak with you.”  So thanks for taking the time today to talk to me.  And let’s just start with a quick introduction in your background and how you got started with this project Virtual Not Distant.

Pilar: Hello, Lisette, great to meet you!  Good morning from London, very sunny London today.  It’s just really nice in the summer.  Yeah, Virtual Not Distant actually, it was the name of a book at first.  So I really like writing.  I’ve got a couple of books out there that I’ve self-published.  You can look for me on Amazon.  Pilar Orti, there’s books on Spain theater, etc., a bit of leadership stuff.  And to be honest, I was thinking about this this morning and I can’t quite remember when I said, “Oh, I want to write about virtual teams.”  But there was a moment when I was looking at the leadership training and I still am, I’m working for our company where I run a forum and run webinars for the management and leadership training.  And there was a point where I was coming across articles on virtual teams.  I was coming across tools like Base Camp and then I started working with a company for the first time or started training with them who are based in Brighton in another city.  And there I started to use, to really get my hands on some of these tools.  And I wanted actually to tap into the community at the Hub with is a coworking space which is all over the world at the moment and I’m part of the Kings Cross Hub.  And I thought, “Yeah” and actually this is probably where it all started.  And I thought, “What could be of interest when we’re looking at running teams or leading teams for this community?” and I thought, “Well, startups and entrepreneurs, they are bound to be in that space.  It’s the way of setting up now.”  And if you’re based on the Hub where you just have a space for your desk, you are bound to be working with people virtually if you want to grow your business.”  So I talked to the girl who was running the events program and I said, “Can I do something on virtual teams?”  She said, “That sounds really interesting!”  So I did a little talk.  It only really covered virtual distance.  So the fact that we’re separated physically but there’s also distance on operations, that’s usually where the problems are how we are operating.  And of course, there’s distance around how we behave and how we act as human beings.  So that was really nice for that talk and I thought, “Yes, there is a lot more to that.”  This is not about just physical distance, obviously.  And from that, I started looking and the book was just too hard because it was so vast so I decided, “Let’s start blogging. Let’s see what happens.”  And I noticed that when I was sharing my post on Twitter as opposed to when I’m sharing whereas sharing more general leadership stuff, I was getting quite a lot of reaction so people were retweeting, they were interested, they were looking at my profile and saying, “Oh, your site looks interesting” which is a reaction that I hadn’t had when I was blogging in the unusual connections site which is a company where I was delivering more traditional leadership and team development programs.

Lisette:  Oh, interesting!

Pilar: Yeah, so it was actually Twitter that said, “Look, there’s a space there, something that people are becoming interested in but there’s not a vast amount of knowledge about it yet.  Just you wait in two year’s time, it will be everywhere.  It will be the norm.”  I was talking to someone yesterday who was saying, “We’re not going to talk about virtual teams anymore.  We’re just going to talk about teams.”

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: Because it’s going to be the norm very soon.  So yes, so it was a book idea.  I saw a space and I thought, “This is interesting.”  And the more I look into it, the more it interests me because it is less about technology and it is more about changing our attitudes towards work.

Lisette: Right.  And I think you’re absolutely right in that it will become the new, it is the new way of work.  And when you see, we’ll call them “millennials” or people that are working in this coworking spaces, this is of course how work will get done in the future starting now.  So I guess what I’m wondering is, I guess, tell me more about the Virtual Not Distant because that is something that I find pretty fascinating which is how do we create closeness even though we’re far apart.  And that’s something that I think everybody has to answer because that’s not really a question of remote working, it’s more a question of how to become human through the screens, how do teams work together.

Pilar: One very strong thing I think is the voice.  It’s interesting that when I started working with the small enterprise, IME, I was working with a lady who’s based in France who I’ve never met and I didn’t meet for ages but just talking over the phone and just by emailing.  We found our rapport.  It actually worked.  By the time we met, it was nice and of course it’s nice when you meet in person but actually, there wasn’t a big difference.  The rapport had already been established.  So I think even you go onto video, I think, it’s quite nice.  I think there’s something about that phone that’s why I’ve got the headset because I like your voice when you’re in my ears.  And I work as a voice over also so I really, really like the voice.  So the main thing is to find opportunities to talk to each other and have real conversations.  Sometimes it’s difficult because of time zones maybe and because we’re all busy but I really find that if I don’t have those conversations relatively often and by often, I mean once a month, I start to lose that connection.  So I think that in order to be virtual but not distant, real conversation are a must where you can agree and disagree really quickly where you can be spontaneous because that’s one of the things that email is taking out of us.  If you only have conversations on email or if you’re writing, a lot more thoughts rightly goes into it but then you lose that spontaneity.  And spontaneity is part of communication.  So that is one thing I think.  And the other is making space for informal learning because one thing that we do when we’re together is we learn from each other.  And that again is spontaneous.  But when we’re not together and if we’re communicating only at different times, then we’re not learning from each other, we’re not learning about not just other people experiences but our own because we’re not reflecting, we’re not sharing.  So I think making space for that informal learning and that’s difficult because it requires a level of trust.

Lisette: Right.  Yeah.

Pilar: It requires having the space of doing things that might seem not that productive at the time.  That’s really difficult.

Lisette: A lot of people are setting up things like virtual coffee, some place to replace the virtual water cooler area where people are talking.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: So what you’re saying right now really resonates with me in terms of, yes, we’re virtual but we still need to connect with each other.  And you’re right, even just the voice is more powerful than email.  I mean email is more efficient.  You can answer at your own time but it does take longer.  And you’re right: it takes the spontaneity out of that.  I’ve never really thought of it that way.   Even just connecting via voice instead of instant messaging even is, I think, a step up.  And what I noticed is that when I started doing video, I was really against video in the beginning.  I thought, “Oh, I’m working from home, I’m in my pajamas sometimes.  I don’t want people to see me,” but I had a collaborator colleague who said, “I want to start every conversation, the first ten minutes or five minutes, I just want to check in via video and then we can turn the video off and get to work and do what we’re going to be doing.”

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: And we worked together and I have to say, she turned into one of my best friends.  I’ve never met her still to this day but that five minute video connection, it really did something.  It changed everything.

Pilar: I think it’s really interesting because from opening up from the point of view of trust and opening up your world also to that other person because if you think of a colocated space, your typical office, people have stuff that represents their personality and their stories on their desk.

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: Or even your screensaver, it says something about you.  And these are clues that you are not aware of but you’re allowing people into your world.  So by doing what you’re saying, and actually by being there in your pajamas is a great way to allow yourself.  But I think that also shows how much our attitude to work is working and is changing.  Attitude to work is changing.  We’re allowed to bring these things in.  And as I was saying, I work as a voice over sometimes and I was working for a toy company.  And we had one client in Barcelona so they were just in my ears and there was the project manager of that project was in the UK but it was half term so he was working from home because his children were at home.  So he had his Skype or whatever open and he was like, “Yeah, just carry on talking.  I’m just here making the breakfast for my kids.”  And you could hear the dog in the background and all of that was acceptable.  It was acceptable at that point and I remember that session because of that so yeah.

Lisette: Right.  It’s an opportunity to really personalize the workplace.  And I think that maybe the virtual team or the virtual working is not just personalizing the workplace virtually but I think maybe it’s helping to personalize the workplace even if you’re working in an office for somebody because these are the things that we didn’t do before.  It was really you come into the office, you’re in your suit or in your more formal clothing, and you sort of put on an office face.  And now, we’re starting to realize that personalizing that makes it much more powerful.

Pilar: And I’m also… Sorry.

Lisette: No, go ahead.

Pilar: And I’m also interested in exactly what you’re saying is that we try to take what we have in the “normal,” in the colocated workplace into the virtual setting but I think there’s a lot we can learn from the virtual setting that we can apply back in more traditional settings.  And the other day for example, I had a conversation with someone who works for a housing company in the UK and they’re using Yammer which is a—you know, in fact who doesn’t—social enterprise collaboration tool which I suppose has been setup for virtual teams but he was using it in a colocated space because they found that they were spending so much time catching up in meetings that they needed a spaces to do a lot of catching up every day.  And so they now use this online platform even though they are all on the same building but they share stories, they tell each other anecdotes, and it’s really strengthening their communication so it’s really interesting. I’m also interested in that crossover: bringing back what we are changing because we’re working virtually and bringing that back into how we’re operating in more traditional settings.

Lisette: Indeed it sounds to me that’s one of the concepts that I’ve been really interested in lately.  It’s the concept that John Stepper’s writing a book about called Working Out Loud which is narrating your work to those that you work with and making it more observable to others.  And in remote teams, it tends to be a necessity.  We have to know what each other is doing because when you’re in an office, you can kind of see and hear.  You have all the different senses.  But what I think I’m finding or what I’m learning is that this concept of working out loud is helpful to everybody not just remote workers.  So it sounds just like in this office example setting example that you’re saying that people are narrating their work and making it more observable and it’s helping them collaborate even though they’re in the same office together.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: So it sounds to me when I listen to what you’re saying, it sounds to me that trust, this issue of trust in personality and humanizing the workplace is a really big issue and then indeed amongst remote workers, I think trust is probably one of the number one issues that comes up.  How do we know that they’re getting their work done?  How do we know people are working?  Do you have other things in this area of trust that you’re learning about or examples of companies that are struggling with this or things that we can do to advance trust on virtual teams?

Pilar: I think I was talking again to a company.  It’s a small business and she’s really grown but it’s a little bit different because she’s grown from a home-based business and then is just growing.  So she just started working remotely well from her bedroom 14 years ago so she’s used to working like that but how she starts recruiting people at a junior level and then she continues them, brings them up to project management level and she’s paying a lot of attention to recruitment and recruiting the people who can work in this setting, and taking a lot of time in that and then training the people that are working out with her so that they can continue working in the company.  So I think that’s one thing about trust is being very conscious that you need to bring people who are right for your way of work in and for the team if you’re creating a new team or sometimes this just happens and you got to get on with it. But I mean that it’s not different from any other team.  You have to bring the right people in or you have to make sure that the culture is strong enough so that everyone knows what their behaviors are in working in this way or that you either provide training or whatever so like with any business or any kind of work.  You just have to make sure that the fit is right or your arrange ways of making that.  From the point of view of teams or companies where they are just gradually moving into this area because of what’s happening and we never set up to be a virtual team.

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: I think, yes, which is happening.  I think one is if you’re running it, making sure that you’re leading by example showing that it doesn’t matter where you’re working from.  You’re still expected to do your work and we still know you’re going to be doing your work because something I was reading a lot was some of the problems are not with the people who are working away from the office.  The problem is back in the office that people think you’re slacking.  So it’s still not so acceptable that it’s absolutely fine.  So in some places, it won’t be a problem but when it is new, it’s not just people who are away who might be having difficulty adapting.  So that’s one thing is just making sure that it’s acceptable and that you see that’s acceptable and that it becomes acceptable like you’re saying checking in, being very clear about the times for example that we need to get on the phone.

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: So one of the nice things about working from home is that you can maybe set your own schedule so if we’re doing that, is that possible, at what times is it possible so that when I pick up the phone because I need you, I know you’re going to answer.  So I think there’s two ways of it.  On is seeing what happens and letting these norms happen organically but the other one is just setting some rules at the beginning so that we know where we are because there can be so much freedom about working away from the office that sometimes we’re not sure what’s acceptable and what’s we should be doing.

Lisette: Right.  So really outlining the acceptable behaviors, maybe what are the core hours, how are you going to be able to get in contact, how do we know where you are.  And indeed, when there is one article that I read that says trust on remote teams is based on reliability, responsiveness, and consistency.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: Can you be relied on to be where you’re going to be or deliver what you say you’re going to deliver and then the responsiveness also I find an extremely important part.  I worked with a woman in California doing technical support for a product and she needed to know am I there.  She’s on the phone with a customer right now and she has a question.  She needs to know are you available.  So we had a practice of keeping our Skype status accurate so if I went for a 10-minute walk, it would say, “I’m on a 10-minute walk.  Be back.”

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: [Inaudible 17:26] She knew like, “Oh, Lisette’s not there.  I need to do something else.  But it was that real time in the moment knowing that I’m there that was really important and built camaraderie between us.

Pilar: Yes.  And this lady I was talking to who’s really happy with her business that’s one of the things they do.  And their Skype is open all day mainly the chat but if someone is doing something like when she was talking to me for the podcast, she would have had it in her status, “Back at, whatever, 10:30.”  And she was saying that by having this open, if somebody has a problem, they know they can come onto Skype, communicate, and everyone will drop whatever they’re doing to come and help them.  So if you can do that, if you’re all working in the same time zone or more or less, then why not keep Skype open or some sort of chat like you say so that you know the other person’s there.

Lisette: Right.  Then there are plenty of instant messaging tools, plenty of chat tools.  There’s HipChat, I mean there’s all kinds of it.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: Technology doesn’t seem to be the issue.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: The technology seems to be it’s more a matter of just choosing something that works for your team.

Pilar: Exactly.

Lisette: So the challenge is that we really are humanizing the workplace, creating spontaneity.  And then the benefits of doing this, what are you seeing in terms of benefits?  What are people getting out of the remote work?  And of course, it’s lovely to be able to work from home but some people aren’t cut out for it, I would say.  There’s personality that don’t like it.  I run into that all the time actually but other benefits of what you see in your team collaboration in this space.

Pilar: Well I think the main benefit is that hopefully your mind is freer, hopefully.  These are all ideal scenarios so if you’ve got more control of your time, you might be able to be doing other stuff that interests you.  And for me, that’s always good because creativity comes from crossing ideas and concepts, etc.  So I think if you can find either a team that really makes you happier, actually, or if you don’t have to do that routine that you’ve been forced to do because you have to go to the office, I think that’s a real benefit.  The other thing of course is the sense of autonomy that you get which helps motivation.  I think it’s self determination theory which is autonomy, competence, and relatedness.  So you’ve got that autonomy when you’re not always in the same workspace, relatedness like we’ve seen could suffer if you don’t have this connection but I think the point that you make about it’s not for everyone is completely right. And I think this is very important.  This is very, very important.  It’s difficult to work from home unless you have a setup.  And even if you have a good setup, you need to do things like I read somewhere someone who every morning at 8:30, they leave the house, they go for a walk around the block and then come back and start working because you know that is also something that maybe we need and maybe you don’t realize until then.  So yeah, I think the benefits are autonomy, creativity, and especially if you’re a freelancing or your teams are composed of people who work for other people, that’s a real benefit because then you’re benefitting from the development they’re getting elsewhere.

Lisette: Right.  The cross promotion, cross fertilization of ideas.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: And indeed, the ability to work with your energy levels are I mean for everybody who have their own pattern that they like to go through the day.  I know that I like to work for a few hours and then I go running.  I like to go for a long run sometimes and some of my best ideas come from when I’m running.  I’m constantly pulling out my phone and making like notes to self: don’t forget this idea when you get home where you solve something.  And of course, indeed, in an office situation, you have the ability to leave but there’s something about when you arrive at the office, most people don’t.  Most people stay at the office and it’s not really conducive.  Some people really like it.  They like it that at 9 o’clock, they come in and at 5 o’clock that they leave and that’s their work time but there are others that are really trying to create a more of a work-life fusion.  And I think that those people that remote working is ideal. Go ahead.

Pilar: Again, what you are saying is so if we have people who are working from home and are used to going for a walk in the middle of the day to clear their heads and they come back and find “that really helped me.  I’ve now got loads of ideas.”  Maybe that’s something that becomes acceptable in an office.  Maybe it’s alright not to say, “Look, here’s my mobile.  If it’s urgent, call me but I’m going for a walk for a coffee for 40 minutes to think.”  Wow!  Or I hear of these companies that have these meditation rooms so these break up rooms where you can go and take a nap or relax and no one uses it because it’s not acceptable.

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: So again, this is something we can bring back to the fact that we’re allowed to go for a think.  A lot of us have [inaudible 22:51] to think.

Lisette: Yeah.  It’s a healthy thing to do and it’s healthy to rest and it’s healthy to take a nap sometimes when you haven’t slept overnight before for whatever reason.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: It’s interesting.  And the way that you say this it makes me think that remote working is actually going to revolutionize the in-office experience at some point because it’s going to just make it more, I mean to me, but I’ve been doing this for so long I have very strong opinions of course, but for me, it’s not human to work from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday.  It just doesn’t feel human.  I feel boxed in somehow and it’s not that I don’t want to work.  I want to work when I have the energy levels and I know that this must be the case for many, many other freelancers and entrepreneurs out there.  It’s funny to hear you say, I really feel like we’re going to revolutionize the office.

Pilar: Oh it’s the beginning, Lisette.  It is only the beginning.  We’re actually just at the beginning of a big revolution.  Have you read The Future of Work?

Lisette: Yes.  Yeah.

Pilar: I think I exchanged a couple of tweets with him.  I think it’s David Copeland.  And yeah, he’s saying it’s just not quite happening yet.  And I really feel it’s just the beginning.  We’re just at the beginning, yeah.  It’s a bigger revolution.

Lisette: What do you see as the main resistance to people doing this?  When you and I are talking, I think why isn’t everybody doing this?  It’s so great, it’s so useful what teams can do together when you get the best minds from all over the world, what we’ve been doing together.  What do you think is the resistance of it?  Is it trust?  Is it that how do we know if people are working?

Pilar: No, I think it starts with the individual and our attitudes of work.  So we are freelance, we pursue work we like to do.  Obviously, we’re of a mindset where we want to enjoy work.  But I think this is not the case for everyone so there’s still a separation for whatever reason of work and life.  And I come to work to earn a living, and you do it well, and then I’ve got my life where I really enjoy myself.  There’s still a bit of that and I think then there’s not much incentive to really change how I’m approaching work if that’s the case.  The other thing is that what we see as work is still a bit fixed generally.  In Western society here, at least in the UK and especially in Spain, so again, being at work is being at the computer but it’s not having a chat with a colleague.  So I think it’s all about changing how we view stuff.  There is the thing that we still have to earn a living so sometimes some work requires certain mindset.  I mean it does mean that we have to have very tight structures and very tight processes.  And when you’re in a job that requires you to do that, there is not much room to be left for thinking of “How could I do this in another way that would be better?” But that’s why I think it’s the beginning.  And because of the crisis, the nice thing I think was that a lot of people while they were made redundant or people had a choice all of a sudden and I did see people who might have never thought, “Is this the right job for me?” they start to think that “Okay, what do I want to do?”  So again from the crisis, there was this opportunity especially in the UK social enterprises just boomed.  The small business, places like the Hub which meant that you don’t have to work at home.  You can go somewhere else.  You don’t need your office.  And so we’ve gone from that.  We’ve gone from before we thought if we want to have a business, we need an office.  Now we don’t.  Okay, step 1. What else don’t we need?

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: Maybe we don’t need such a tight schedule.  Okay, what else don’t we need?  And I think it’s little by little like any change program, very small steps.  Not like any change programs; sometimes you need a bold thing but I think in this case, it’s small steps yeah.

Lisette: And what I’m noticing actually from the teams that I worked with and people that I interviewed that lots of people say experiment with small things before you do something radical.  So if you’re working in an office with employees for example, maybe have your meeting on Skype from your office even though you’re in the same office but just simulate what it might be like if you were all working from home together.  But just take small steps and experiment and don’t forget to do the retrospective to the experiment. It really needs to be discussed.

Pilar: Well yeah.  You’re introducing an innovation, risks, time.  Oh my God, Lisette, that’s already too much.

Lisette: Right.  Right.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: It is.  Yeah.

Pilar: But also if a team looks like it might be moving virtually or whatever, then take one day off, take two days off.  Work from another part of the building and see what it’s like to spend three hours in the meeting room on your own thinking and scheduling instead of I don’t know.  It’s about like you say, I think it’s completely about small experiments and then learning from them.

Lisette: Interesting when you say work from another part of the building. It reminds me of an experiment that I did and I called it a “work holiday” where I travel somewhere and I work from there.  So during the week, I’m working and then on the evenings or the weekends, I’m off hiking or just exploring where I am.  And so because I can work from anywhere, I thought, “Well why don’t I take advantage of it?”  But I didn’t want to be on the road all the time but I noticed that I ended up coming up with a list of things that I needed even though I was working remotely.  And I think that if you’re working in another building and if you’re working in another location in the same building, you will also come up with an interesting list of what do you actually need to get your work done when you’re not at your desk, when you’re not in your comfortable setting.  What do you get rid of and what do you use?  I think that would be a very interesting experiment actually.

Pilar: That is.  Yeah, yeah, I think so.  That’s another thing because when we think remote working, I think we’re still thinking from home.

Lisette: Yes.

Pilar: But actually, it might be that home is not the best place and actually what we might need is just to have flexibility in our schedule.

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: I don’t know, yeah, yeah.

Lisette: Right.  Like maybe working core hours, 10 to 4 and then doing the rest some other time or noon to 4 and doing the rest some other time.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: Right.  No, go ahead.

Pilar: I was going to say that many years ago, my father used to have a flexible schedule in Spain.  He used to work for an American company so his schedule was more flexible than the norm and that was really important that he could go into the office just a bit later than you’d expect.  And then he’d just do his hours and just come back later than you would expect.  So to be honest, a lot of what we’re looking at is not new.  It’s just that technologies make it possible for lots more people.  So I think we can learn also from some of the stuff that’s happened before and just think like you say, “What works, what doesn’t?”

Lisette: Right, small experiments.  Now one of the things you mentioned before we started recording was that you were working on a book about Spain and I found that very interesting so I’d like to learn a little bit about that but also what it brings up for me is maybe the cross cultural aspects of working remotely.  If you’re working with a team in different countries, what are the issues that you see coming up for cross cultural frames.  How can people learn more about that?

Pilar: The book was written already, The A-Z of Spanish Culture, plug, plug.  I’ve just finished the audio book version which I hope will come out in a couple of weeks.  And what I have started which is very interesting project is a podcast about Spain called Spain Uncovered.  So that should be out mid August.  And what I’m doing through that is I’m talking to people mainly Brits actually and some of my friends who are based in Spain and they’re entrepreneurs and what they’re doing and the differences between what you would expect when you’re there and what you expect when you are maybe in the UK.  I think from the point of view of working with people from other countries, I think you have to go back to your working with a person.  So you need to understand, okay, we have things like time zones, what are the time zones like, but then you need to know do they have children.  That’s going to impact a lot in the hours they are going to work.  Do they see work as work that I do from 9 to 5 or do they see that it is something more holistic?  So that’s really going to change how you work with them.  How do they like working?  How do they like communicating?  Etc.  I think all of that should come first.  The other stuff about, yeah, you’ve got what are the national holidays.  If it’s a very religious country, what [inaudible 31:48]. You can find all that out but you can’t assume also that that is going to be true for that person.  I find that very interesting always especially I’ve been here now for more than 20 years and I always find there were assumptions about who I am because I come from Spain.  And I think that’s where this comes from.  It’s quite personal also.  And it’s well, yeah, the general picture there but I am Pilar.  I’ve always been me.  And I think that’s very, very important when you’re working with people from other cultures is that you have an understanding of what work is like there so hierarchy.  Is it a country where we tend to look up to people who are older or who’ve been in the company for longer?  [Inaudible 32:35] then you’ve really take time to understand the person and just make sure that you’re not assuming stuff about them just because they speak a different language or just because they were born somewhere different.  That would be my advice.  Sorry, and in the same way, don’t assume that people from your country are the same as you.  So it’s both ways.

Lisette: So really, stop making assumptions and just ask lots of questions and be very curious.

Pilar: Yes.

Lisette: Yes, indeed, I found I’m an American.  I lived in the US and then I came to The Netherlands and you’re right.  The holidays is always an issue whereas 4th of July, it’s just nobody even thinks about 4th of July in The Netherlands.  It’s just not a holiday.

Pilar: Yes, of course.

Lisette: And of course, there are Dutch holidays which I’ve never heard of and “Oh, I didn’t know that existed. Okay.”  And then of course, if you’re working with US clients or they’re still working even though everybody else in The Netherlands is out on a terrace so.

Pilar: Yes, so queen’s day, or king’s day, sorry.

Lisette: Exactly, exactly, exactly, perfect example, things that in the US, they’re just not even aware that it’s happening.

Pilar: Yeah.

Lisette: That’s true so interesting in terms of the cross cultural connection; thinking of people as people.  So this is the conversation which I’ve focused on the humanizing and the personalizing of the remote work experience which I really enjoy and it’s come up more in the conversation with you than in with any of the other interviews that I’ve done.  So I’m really [inaudible 34:01] in terms of how there are the human connection of it.  And indeed, we’ve come up with the webinar series called Punch Through the Screen which is how to make online presentations more engaging.  But I think for the remote work space which is How to we punch through screen and really engage and converse with each other and make the experience more human.  So I see on your website there that also, there’s coaching and consultancy and trainings, and interviews that you’re doing.  Do you want to talk a little bit about the kind of services that you’re offering for remote teams?

Pilar: Yes.  I’m in the beginning of defining because I think that in my head it’s quite clear at the moment but I need to communicate this obviously.  And it’s a mixture of everything you said.  It’s a mixture of coaching, consulting, training, and it very much depends on where the team is at.  So what I’m looking for my ideal client would be someone who’s got a team where not everyone is located in the same office, maybe in a bigger company.   And there are some issues, some things that are happening and they don’t quite know how to deal with it.  So it’s a question of coming in and seeing where they’re at now, what is working, what isn’t working, what they think the barriers are, and then seeing where they want to be.  So okay, you’re not quite happy, you can’t maybe put your finger on what’s not working.  What would the ideal situation look like?  So that’s the coaching piece.  And then we start to look at right so do you think we need to change the old process? Do we need to change your behavior?  Do you need a tool made of technology?  So I think my instinct is that a lot of the time it’s going to be about behavior and a lot of coaching with the team leader to make sure that they’re not sending the wrong signals.  So I’ve started piloting this with a couple of small enterprises where we were setting up a collaboration tool online, an online platform for people to talk to each other to get more sense of a team, of the team leader to continue communicate via email all the time.  So part of following that up is looking why are you doing that?  What was your workflow like?  Why aren’t you picking up the phone, etc.  And really I’m picking what the issues are, and then helping you also to monitor those processes.  Well, what kind of conversations are we having on this using this tool?  Is this what we want to be doing?  Or have we gone the other side and now all we do is having formal conversations and let me see that lines?

Lisette: Right.

Pilar: So it’s like any team development and any team coaching.  You start with where you are.  You want pink and then you find a way of learning to get there.  So it could be that I come to a team that doesn’t have a shared history and they’re finding it difficult for example to get to know each other as people. So then it might be about sharing some stories.  So the first piece of work I do with them might be about, “Okay, how do we do this or how do we share the stories that have happened to us within the team that we never talk about because we don’t see each other in the corridor?”  How would that look?  And then once that project is finished, they’ve learned through it and then we can see what are we going to take from that and what are we consolidating, or what do we need to change?  So it’s so tailor-made but it pretty much depends but that’s what I’m looking for.

Lisette: It seems like it has to be tailor-made just like any solution.  Every company has its own set of personalities, cultures, and that any sort of remote working or virtual teams solution would need to be, I mean there are some standard truths but the techniques vary from team to team.  There is a virtual team leadership training, training for leaders on how to manage virtual teams because it’s not the same as in an office.  There are similarities but there’s going to be some serious differences and strong differences that leaders need to take into account in terms of doing this.  So I know we’re coming close to the end of the time that we have.  And I want to ask just one final question which is if people want to learn more about you and contact you, what’s the best way and where should they go?

Pilar: If they want to have a look at the stuff I’m doing with virtual teams, it’s virtualteamleadership.co.uk.  That’s the Virtual Not Distant website.  And you can find my email address there but @pilarorti, my Twitter handle.  I’m loving Twitter so do connect via Twitter.  Say hello.

Lisette: It is.  You know I used to not love Twitter but I must say that it is a fabulous tool for meeting people and for connecting people that are the same thing in the space.  There has been nothing better so far.

Pilar: Yes, I agree.  Yeah.

Lisette: Pilar, I really enjoyed speaking with you today.  I’ve learned a lot.  Actually, lots of some great tips and so I definitely will ask you for a follow up interview just to talk more and I want to hear more about how Virtual Not Distant in theory.  So maybe what we’ll do is in 3 to 6 months, talk again and see how things are going and see what you’ve learned and what’s changed.  I would love that if that was possible.

Pilar: Excellent!  That would be great.  I’m sure we’ll talk before that also.

Lisette: Sure.

Pilar: Formally.

Lisette: Sure, sure, so thanks again for your time and I’ll make sure that this gets online and with all your contact information.  And until then everybody, be powerful.

Pilar: Bye-bye!


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