“It’s not just the right technology but the right technology thoughtfully applied”
PHIL MONTERO is a systems engineer at the Garam Group and a virtual office expert. His interest in telework started when he was a child watching his dad commute back and forth between New Jersey and New York. Even then he thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” Phil is passionate about enabling companies and the people he works with to work remotely and have more work-life balance. He also devised the “ICC workflow” approach to crafting team agreements, focusing on information, communication, and collaboration.
His tips for working remotely:
- When introducing a new tool, give people time to learn it.
- Tools need to make people’s lives easier, not get in the way.
- Set up guidelines for your team [such as with a team agreement].
- Be a good communicator.
- Invest in training managers to become good remote team leaders.
- Focus on work-life balance.
Phil has been keeping up with the collaboration tools and various technologies to make remote work happen. He has developed impressive processes for both teams who are working remotely as well as specific training for managers who are working with remote teams. In this interview, we discuss management, trust, tools (of course), leadership, and more.
Please note: there were some sound issues halfway through the video.
What does your “Anywhere Office” look like?
My anywhere office is mainly my home. I’m a stay-at-home dad with two kids. So the beauty of my work anywhere situation is that I get to spend a lot of time with my kids. But I can also work from almost anywhere so I just work from wherever I want to or wherever I need to.
What do you like about working remotely?
For me, it’s work-life integration. I love that I don’t have to compartmentalize my life. There are so many options for how to get work done because technology is ubiquitous and can be everywhere. And of course, the other side of that is that sometimes it’s not easy to draw a line in the sand.
I’m certainly not a fan of working all the time. And while I may have to answer some emails and do a few things while I’m on vacation, that’s a vacation that, in the past, I wouldn’t have been able to take because I had to be in the office to be able to handle that work.
What is the main resistance?
I find that the biggest resistance to remote work is management.
It’s the fear of trusting your employees. Managers still think they need to micromanage. There are so many old school managers in the world that think that because they can’t see you, how do they know you’re working? And it’s ridiculous because it should all be based on deliverables and clear objectives, and doing what you say you’re going to do. That’s how you build trust.
When you go to a college, nobody micromanages you. You have a report that’s due. You have class work that’s due, and you’re told what’s expected of you (“Here’s how you get an A”). There are certain milestones along the way. You work in the library, you pull an all-nighter, you do whatever you want – as long as the work gets done. Then you leave college and go into an office and are told, “You can’t possibly work without me watching you. I need you at this desk from 9 to 5 because clearly, that’s the only way work is going to get done”. And it’s ridiculous, backward thinking. I understand that it’s the way we’ve always done it, but that mentality doesn’t work for me.
Eventually, those dinosaurs are going to sink into the tar pit as all dinosaurs do, and the smart companies, the ones that are embracing remote work (because it’s unavoidable) are going to excel. We’re already working this way so they might as well admit that, and learn how to do it well, rather than trying to decide whether it’s something you should do – because that’s really not the question here.
Every day, people on Facebook are communicating and collaborating with people that many have never seen or met. The same goes for Twitter and LinkedIn. People are getting used to working on their Smartphones, and they’re getting used to working in multiple locations. Everybody’s becoming more entrepreneurial. And as the workforce gets infused with the younger generations that are accustomed to that, the less remote work is going to be an issue.
Unfortunately, a lot of managers don’t know how to manage remote employees so there’s fear there. There’s fear that they’re going to lose control. There’s fear that deadlines are going to be missed or that your product or deliverable is going to suffer.
Managers need to overcome that fear and learn that in today’s world, you can trust people remotely. People are generally not looking to scam the system. Most people just want to be able to have a life and work. And if they want to take an hour off in the middle of the day and go have lunch with a friend or run some errands… who cares? As long as the work gets done and the client is happy.
“I think you have to become more of a leader and less of a manager.”
I recommend that managers be trained for working with remote staff. It’s not a whole new way of managing, but there are important shifts that are involved. My on demand workshop called The Art of Virtual Leadership walks managers through the shifts that are important to becoming more of a leader.
How do you know what technology to use?
If you’re working in larger teams, I’m a big believer in online shared workspaces. There are a number of tools, but things like Basecamp or Teamwork are great tools because within them they have shared calendars, task lists, files and collaboration spaces. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google and all of their tools: Gmail and Google calendar, and Hangouts. All of those tools together are invaluable for me in allowing myself and the clients that I work with to be able to really work from anywhere.
If you’re a solo professional or a small group, then plugging together a bunch of tools like Evernote or Dropbox is a great option. Wunderlist is another tool that I love. It’s a list sharing app for to-do lists and tasks
My personal favorite tool is my Smartphone: talk about the anywhere office all the time! I can respond to emails, I can have video chats, I can get access to documents, even update websites.
After working with a number of different sized clients across various industries, I realized that there were some common denominators when it came to working outside the office. You have to look at your work style and the kind of projects you do and break it down into three categories: information, communication, and collaboration. I call it the “ICC Workflow Audit”. Think of it as a lens you can look at your work through to help you narrow down the technology choices.
Whether you’re a solo professional or you’re a team of some sort, ask yourself “What kind of information do you need to have with you to do the projects you do?” Are there certain kinds of documents? Sales flyers, reports, databases that you need access to?
What kinds of communication do you need to engage in for your projects and to get your work done? Do you need to fax or make phone calls? When you communicate with people, is it usually one on one, or do you need multiple people? Do you need video? Do you need to see people?
Do you mostly collaborate asynchronously? Do you need to edit a document at the same time? Do you need to see each other? Are there time zone differences?
There are a number of questions I have people work their way through. And then we have the information needed to choose the best technology. One thing that’s extremely important to remember is “It’s not just the right technology, but the right technology thoughtfully applied.”
A lot of technology is unfortunately implemented with a sink or swim mentality. Employees get the tools thrown on them and managers say, “Okay, now work and collaborate remotely.” If there’s no training involved and people don’t have time to play with the tool, then adoption is really going to suffer.
One of the things I suggest is what I call “sandbox time”: find a way to use the tool for a non-work related task. So if it’s a collaboration space, maybe you have everybody go in and write a story together. Something fun they can do where it’s building the team unity and it’s bringing the team together. The idea is to use the technology without the pressure of a work project being there. And teams are more likely to explore and play with it if it’s more like playing in the sandbox.
Remember, there’s a learning curve for the team: some people will take to working remotely quicker than others. That learning curve is an important part of the process. The technology needs to be embraced. If people don’t see the value in it for themselves or how it’s going to make what they do easier, then they’re going to ignore it.
Another thing I’m seeing becoming more prevalent these days is that employees are finding technology that they’re excited about and bringing it to the company and saying, “Hey look, I’m using this already. Is there some way we can use it as a team?” The great thing about that is that not only are people already coming in excited about it, but you’ve also got a champion on the team that will help teach other people.
What personality traits are important for working remotely?
“Not every job and not every personality type is right for remote work.”
If you can’t manage yourself, if you don’t have the basic grasp of your technology, if you’re not a good communicator, if you can’t communicate well in the office, you’re not going to communicate well when you’re out of the office. So anything that is an issue when you’re co-located gets magnified when you’re not.
From a personal standpoint, it’s always good to turn off distractions or change perspective: go to a coffee shop, go to the library, travel somewhere.
From the management standpoint, it’s important to create a culture where people are not afraid to admit mistakes and let you know where they are struggling. This can be done by regularly asking about what’s working and not working, and why. In addition, set up communication guidelines. You’ve got a bunch of people and they’re all using different communication styles and that can get very confusing, so I think you need to set up some ground rules. Things like ‘how often should I be checking email?’ or ‘what’s an expected response time for a phone call or email?’, or ‘what is our hierarchy?’ Some people might send text messages. Others are checking email all day.
From the team standpoint, look at the ICC needs in your own situation. Start slowly and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Start with one project and as you get more comfortable expand it from there.
Lisette: So now we’re live. Welcome everybody to this Hangout on Air. My name is Lisette Sutherland and I am collecting stories from early adopters of remote working for the Collaboration Superpowers Field Guide. And today, I am thrilled to be interviewing Phil Montero, a mobile work and virtual office expert. And the interesting thing about Phil, I think, is that Phil, you’ve been doing this for 15 years or I mean since 1995 so over 20 years, actually.
Phil: Yes, it’s been a long time, long time.
Lisette: Indeed. So please tell us a little bit about yourself and how did this journey start.
Phil: Sure, Lisette. Well, I came at the mobile work in my consulting aspect from it really from a technical side. It really started back when my dad was working in IT and I saw that he had to commute and spend a lot of time commuting back and forth. We lived in New Jersey at the time, had to go to New York City a lot, and I kept thinking there’s got to be a better way. I mean since the 70’s, they’ve been talking about telecommuting taking off and everyone’s going to be working from home and the Alvin Toffler book and the wave of the future sort of waved all these things and it didn’t seem like it was changing and I saw what he sacrificed in order to have that job and commute there. So when I got into the work world and I enjoyed technology as well, I really wanted to try to enable people, the companies, and the departments, and people that I worked with to be able to work remotely so that they can have a life and their job at the same time. So that was really the passion for me. And over time and as technology changed, it was just something I was always interested in and I kept learning more about collaboration tools and remote work and different technologies to make that happen. And I started learning more about managing remote workers and how that works but the management side really came after the tech. And even to this day, the tech really drives it. I mean it’s not the only part of it but the technology is very big part of it.
Lisette: Yeah, I can imagine. And the technology’s really developed a lot over the last 20 years. I mean there are now literally hundreds of tools to choose from or when you want to work remotely, there are online project management tools and instant messaging and all kinds of different things that you can use. And so let’s talk about that for a bit because tools is an interesting question because there are so many, how do people know what is the right tool to use. I know you developed something for this.
Phil: Yeah, yeah. I have developed, after working with a number of different clients in both sized clients, different sizes, large companies and small companies and across industries, in finance and real estate, what I realized was there was kind of a common denominator when it came to working outside the office. And it’s kind of a lens you can look at your work through that will help you narrow down the technology to make the right choices and I call it the ICC workflow auditor or kind of workflow process. And what that ICC stands for is information communication and collaboration. And so when I talk with people when I work with clients, they ask me, “Well, how do I know what tech to use?” I say, “You have to look at your work style and the kind of projects you do and break it down into those three.” So what kind of information do I need to have with me to do my job and to do the projects I do? And again, this is something you can ask yourself. You might be a solo professional and you’re wondering this for yourself or you might be looking at this for your department or organization or virtual team. So what kind of information do I need? Are there certain kind of documents I need? Are there sales flyers, are there reports, are there databases that I need information to? And once you find out what that is, then you can look at the tools that are available to make that information available from anywhere. Just as an example, we had a real estate client that I worked with and there is a proprietary database that they needed in order to look up properties and get certain specs on that. And one of the reasons they all came into the office was because they needed to use that database that lived on one computer system. Well, once we found out that that was why they were all trucking their butts into the office, I was able to set up something like go to my PC or some kind of remote access to that computer. Now, people that needed to use that database could get that information remotely and not spend an hour or two hours each way coming into the office and increase the time they could deliver those reports. So there’s an example of what information do I need then what tool…
Lisette: [Inaudible 4:43] pause for me. Let’s see how this…
Phil: Myself and my employees [inaudible 4:52]. What kind of communication do I need to do? Do I need to fax, do I need to make phone calls? And then when I communicate with people, is it usually one on one or do I need multiple people? Do I need video? Do I need to see people? What kinds of communication do I need to do and do I need to engage in to complete my projects and get my work done? And then again, once you know that, once you’ve asked yourself these series of questions about that, then you can look at the communication tools available and choose the right ones. And then again, the same thing with collaboration, do I mostly work collaboration asynchronously or maybe I work on a document and then someone else edits it and looks at it and then someone else does, or do we need to often need to all look at and edit the document at the same time because very different tools would be involved for that collaboration. Do we need to see each other? Are there time zone differences where asynchronous is more important? We need to have something where we can each chime in at our own time do we want it like we’re all together sitting across the table that way? So there’s a number of questions you can work your way through and once you’ve done that, then you have that information to choose the best technology. And then I’m also saying a kind of a caveat that I have is that it’s not just the right technology but the right technology thoughtfully applied. It’s not just a matter of choosing the right tools but then applying them correctly and appropriately for your group or your work style.
Lisette: Right because I can imagine that there’s a learning curve of course for the team. Some people will take to it quicker than others and maybe you want to use a simpler tool based on the type of team member that you have. I can see that there’s a lot of variables in picking a tool I think.
Phil: Yeah, there really is. And that learning curve is an important part of it. You need to really embrace the technology and if people don’t see the value in it for themselves, they don’t see how that technology is going to make what they do easier, then they’re going to ignore it. I have seen a lot of companies try to put in like a shared online workspace and then everyone just sends everything back and forth of the email regardless of the fact that maybe there’s a great discussion board tool or they can collaborate in new and energizing ways and sometimes it’s because people just don’t see the value in it or because they didn’t spend any time getting training or getting trained in the tools. A lot of technology is unfortunately done with a sink or swim mentality. They get thrown the technology on them and they say, “Okay, now work remotely and collaborate remotely.” Well, if there’s no training involved and people don’t have time to play with the tool, then adoption is really going to suffer. And so one of the things I suggest is what I call sandbox time and that’s to find a way to use the tool for a non-work related task. So if it’s a collaboration space, maybe you have everybody go in and post a story or write a story together, something fun that they can do where it’s kind of building the team unity and it’s bringing the team together so it’s like a team building exercise but it’s also using the technology. If there’s a way to have a shared workspace where you have a photo and some text, well then maybe each person writes a little bio, puts a photo of themselves and answers three questions or five questions about themselves. But there’s ways to use the technology without the pressure of a work project being there. And you’re more likely to explore and play with it if it’s more like playing in the sandbox that is.
Lisette: Right, right. I can imagine, and yeah, the engagement process. I’ve done a lot of work setting up private social networks for people and the number of times that clients came to me and said, “Well, we’ve bought this private social network. It cost a lot of money. And now we’ll like to set it up.” And my first question is, “Okay, what is your goal with the private social network?” and 95% of the time, they actually couldn’t answer the question. They just knew they needed it but they didn’t know exactly what they were going to use it for. And so it’s almost like you break down the process from there. So another question that I have on this situation is in terms of getting the team to use it, it sounds like a lot of companies, it’s kind of a top-down approach: management chooses the tool and then the employees are then instructed to make use of the tools. Do you see that a lot or is it more employees choosing the tool knowing that they need something better than what they’ve got?
Phil: I think that depends on the corporate culture and the company’s culture. Again, I’ve worked with some large companies but now I tend to gravitate toward work with a lot of smaller companies where there might be 25 people max, 30 people in the group, or some of them are 5 people. So in a larger more formal organization, a lot of the times, if it doesn’t come from IT and they don’t sanction it, then it’s always a top-down approach. But what I think you’re seeing these days particularly with the bring your own device and mobile devices becoming more prevalent is that employees are finding technology that they’re excited about and they’re bringing it to the company and saying, “Hey look, I’m using this already. Is there some way we can use it as a team?” and I see that happening more often and I think the great thing about that is that not only are people already coming in excited about it so you’ve got a champion on the team or in the company that’s going to help push that tech and might be the go-to person to teach other people that technology but again, as you said, sometimes when the tech comes from the top down, they don’t understand what the need is or what it can do for them. But when someone’s bringing that tech in, I’ve seen companies where somebody’s like, “I use Dropbox. It’s a great way to share files and I’ve used it with my son’s soccer team. And we use it that way, why can’t we just use that here and share our documents that way?” And then they already know what it can do and how it can be used and they’re already thinking about that thoughtfully applying it, the right tool thoughtfully apply dimension of how it could be applied in their work group or their workflow or their work style. So I think more of that’s happening especially with the prevalence of mobile devices like you said: people are bringing more tech into the companies now and then IT is just being forced to deal with it.
Lisette: Right. I mean the joke is “Hey, is there an app for that?”
Phil: Yeah, exactly.
Lisette: [Inaudible 11:09] are already using, yeah, which I like because there’s already a champion and then they’re finding the need and they’re filling the need themselves so that of course makes sense. So do you have a favorite tool? Is there one that you love or a couple that you love more than others?
Phil: Yeah, there are a number of them. I mean obviously, my iPhone or Smartphone. I talk about the anywhere office all the time. Well that is my anywhere office because with that, there’s really nothing I can’t do. I can respond to emails, I can have video chats. I mean there’s Google Hangouts we’re doing on our laptops but I could be doing that from my phone.
Phil: I can get access to documents. There’s update websites, there’s really nothing I can’t do with the Smartphones. But I think that’s kind of the obvious choice. I think things like Dropbox when I talk about tools to expand the office, Dropbox for the ability to make files available anywhere or to share large files with people and have those, it’s seemless, you don’t think about it, you just put the files in there and they’re available. Evernote is something that I’ve started to use extensively because again, like being like a digital grain or digital filing cabinet, I used to have documents some on Google drives, some on my drives, some on Dropbox, some here, and then I have to remember “Well, where was that file? Was it in email, was it here, was it there?” and I just started throwing everything into Evernote. And once I did that then it just became much easier because I can look in that one place. The search for it is so rich that even if I don’t categorize it really well, I can find what I want really quickly so I think that’s a great tool. Wonderlist is another tool that I love to use. It’s a list making list sharing app so for to-do lits, share to-do list, and tasks, things like that, I think those are ideal. I’m also a big believer in online shared workspaces if you’re working in larger teams. I think if you’re a smaller, again, solo professional, small group, then plugging together a bunch of tools like Evernote or Dropbox is a great way to go. But if you have a larger organization, things like Basecamp or Teamworkpm are great tools because they within them have shared calendars, shared task lists, collaboration spaces where you can have document collaboration. So I think there’s a number of tools like those are just two of them. There’s a lot of tools in that space but I think those are two really great ones. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google and all of their tools. I mean if it wasn’t for Gmail and Google calendar, and Hangouts and Skype, or things like that, not that Skype’s a Google tool but video chat tools like this. I mean I think all of those tools together are invaluable for me in allowing myself and the clients that I work with to be able to really work from anywhere.
Lisette: One of the concerns that comes up and I wonder how often it comes up for you is security of course, security of files, security of people’s information, and Dropbox of course three years ago when they changed their terms of service, everybody was up in arms, how do you address the issue of security?
Phil: That is a big issue and most of these services have been forced to address that issue so a lot of them use encryption or you can use them on a secure server. Some of times, you have to pay for that. There is a lot of the tools that I recommend and one of the reasons why people adopt them is they are often free and paid versions of these tools. So the beauty is that there are these free low cost and I’m not saying they’re not secure: they are but sometimes, if you need enhanced security, you may need to upgrade from a free version to a pro version or the business version of it because there are some enhanced security with it. A lot of its education too which is teaching your employees how to be more secure themselves when they’re using the tools. So be careful if you’re in a coffee shop and you’re logging on to an open wifi network versus using a VPN or some kind of a secure network and something as simple as peering eyes over your shoulder when you’re working on documents and things. So I think with anything, you want to set up guidelines and I think when you set up teamwork guidelines and I’m a firm believer in communication guidelines, I think you also need to set up guidelines for security and the kind of tools that you’re going to use in the organization too.
Lisette: Okay, interesting. So then onto it, a different question then which is I’m curious about so you’ve got this work anywhere and do you mostly work from home or are you on the road? What does your work anywhere look like?
Phil: Yeah, my anywhere office is I work here out of my home quite a bit but I’m also a stay-at-home dad. I have two kids. So the beauty of my work anywhere situation is that I get to spend a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to get the work done when you’re doing that but again, the beauty is that I can work here out of my house but I can also work from almost anywhere I am so if I [inaudible 16:20-30] some website or go there but most of my work, I’ve worked for clients that I’ve never physically met. We just have chats like this or we just talk over the phone. I do a lot of remote whether I’m getting their computers remotely to help them set up or configure technology, or we’re just collaborating via email or some of the tools I mentioned so I don’t have a formal office at all. I just work from wherever I want to or wherever I need to.
Lisette: Well yeah and one of the things that’s coming up these days or I’m reading a lot these days and really where I gravitate towards is work is not somewhere you go of course. Work is something that you do and I think a lot more people are making that switch slowly but definitely we’re making that switch.
Phil: Yes, too slowly if you ask me from someone who’s been doing this for 20 years like you say. I keep expecting companies to embrace it more fully than they are and it’s still taking the companies a long time to do that. In fact, I used to be much more of an evangelist. I used to get out and spend a lot of my time trying to convince companies why they should telework. I didn’t even use the word telework. I used more virtual teamwork and collaboration these days because telework I think kind of has a stigma behind it that word. But I would try to get them to embrace this and see the value in it and I got so tired of just talking to deaf ears that instead, I kind of shifted my own business model and I just started working with people who knew they were doing this and wanted to do it better. They said, “We realized that our employees aren’t here. They’re already out working on the roads. They’re our salespeople and our tech people and they’re not here. And because of that, we’re not communicating well and we don’t know what’s the right version of the document. How do we do that better? And that’s a very different conversation than to be talking with someone trying to convince them why you should be letting your employees work out of the office and why that’s important. So eventually, those dinosaurs are going to sink into the tar pit like all dinosaurs do and the smart companies, the ones that are embracing this because it’s unavoidable. I mean we’re working this way already so you might as well admit that and learn how to do it well rather than trying to decide whether it’s something you should do or not because that’s really not the question in here.
Lisette: And what I keep trying to figure out is what is the resistance? What is it that people are resisting because given the benefits, I mean I know that there are certain situations where the personalities don’t right or the type of work is not suited for remote work. I mean if you work in parliament, we have to be there for instance. Some things, you just have to be there and I understand that. But for these companies that could work remotely, why aren’t they doing it? What do you hear?
Phil: I’ll tell you and you’re right about that. Just to be clear on that, not every job and not every personality type is right for remote work.
Phil: If you can’t manage yourself and you don’t have the basic grasp of your technology and you’re not a good communicator, if you can’t communicate well in the office, I’ll tell you what, you’re really not going to communicate well when you’re out of the office. So anything that is an issue when you’re colocated gets magnified when you’re not. But I find that the biggest resistance to remote work and telework, whatever you want to call it, is management. It’s the fear of trusting your employees. You still think you need to micromanage. There are so many micromanagers in the world and people that are old school management that think that they can’t see you, how do they know you’re working.
Phil: And so ridiculous because I should all be based on deliverables and clear objectives. It blows my mind that people go to a college situation, a college or university and nobody micromanages them. You have a report that’s due. You have class work that’s due and you’re told here’s what’s expected, here’s how you get an A. This is the kind of work that gets an A. This is what gets this grade at this. This is what I expect of you. There are certain milestones. Maybe I need to see an outline here and need to have this one done by this, this done by this. And then you’re left. You work in the library, you pull an all nighter, you do whatever you want. Nobody manages you there. And we all learn to work that way and we all work very successfully that way. But then suddenly, you leave college and you go into an office and they say, “You can’t possibly work without me watching you and seeing what you’re doing all the time so I need you at this desk from 9 to 5 because clearly that’s the only way work’s going to get done. And it’s ridiculous thinking and it’s backwards thinking. And I understand that it’s the way we’ve always done it but that mentality really doesn’t really have a place into…
Lisette: Right, no excuse.
Phil: Yeah. And part of it again is that managers don’t get like I said I mentioned about technology training. It’s not a whole new way of managing but there are important shifts that are involved. And a lot of managers the same way that it’s a sink or swim mentality with technology, they take these managers and say, “Okay, guess what? Your team is working remotely now. How are you supposed to get them to collaborate and how are you supposed to have them know they can trust each other when they’re not together?” and no one bothers to teach the managers or train them in how to do that and because of that challenge, I have developed a workshop that I used to deliver live. Now, I deliver it on demand called the Art of Virtual Leadership.
Lisette: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that actually.
Phil: It walks managers through those shifts that are important that to becoming more of a leader, I think you have to become more of a leader and less of a manager. And there’s a big difference between those two things. And instead of micromanaging, you have to kind of set your team up for success. And that has to do with asking the right questions and making sure they have the right technology and letting them know it’s okay to struggle because unless you know about the struggles, then you’re not going to be able to address them and find out the right paths or the right changes or the right tech to address those things so it needs to be this open-minded open conversation with you and your team but unfortunately, a lot of managers don’t know how to manage remote employees so there’s fear there. There’s fear that they’re going to lose control. There’s fear that deadlines are going to be missed and the clients are going to be upset about it that your product whatever your deliverable is is going to suffer. And you need to overcome that and you need to learn in today’s world again to manage and to collaborate and to learn to know that I can trust people remotely. And I think with the younger generation coming in who uses social media as much as they do, I mean every day, people on Facebok are communicating, collaborating with people, a lot of them that they never see or that they have never met and they do the same thing on Twitter and the same thing on LinkedIn. And the more the workforce gets infused with people that are accustomed to that, the less that’s going to be an issue because they’re used to working on their Smartphones and they’re used to working to multiple locations, and are working in collaborating, communicating with people that they don’t see and that they’re not colocated with. And I think that’s going to become less of an issue as we go forward with it.
Lisette: Yeah, it reminds me actually. There’s, I think I probably mentioned this concept in every interview that I do because I love it, it’s John Stepper’s writing a book called Working Out Loud which talks about how we can work out loud and make our work observable to our colleagues so that we’re narrating our work as we go so people can see what we’re doing much like you would post a status on Facebook for example like what we’re doing all day and people can see what we’re doing.
Lisette: And to me, that’s really a critical piece of this remote working because I think from that, we build trust and people build reliability and responsiveness, and people know what you’re doing and they know what you’re working on. And so it really reminds me of that. And the other thing that reminds me of is I work closely with someone named Jurgen Appelo who wrote the book Management 3.0 and his tagline which is management is too important to leave to the managers.
Phil: I love it.
Lisette: We all need to manage ourselves. We all need to be a part of it and to be responsible and take charge. And I think the days when people come into work and somebody tells you what to do all day, they’re ending not as fast as I would like but everybody’s becoming a little more entrepreneurial I think and working a little more out loud with each other.
Phil: I completely agree with that and I think that’s necessary. I mean it’s accountability, it’s deliverables. I mean that’s how you build trust. People always say, “Well how am I going to learn to trust somebody and how am I going to get to know that person if I’m not in the office with them?” And a lot of that is by doing what you say you’re going to do. And like you said that working out loud, that’s one of the reasons why I like, and I mentioned before when working in an organization with larger groups, those online office spaces are collaboration spaces because then you don’t like if people are just working and it’s just via email, I could be working really hard all day but unless I emailed you about it, you don’t know that. But if that document is being posted to an online space and there’s a common thread happening, and people are seeing the updates and chiming in, and you’re seeing things on the counter, you’re seeing things get ticked off on a shared to-do list, well then there’s no question that we all know that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. And if someone’s falling behind or has a question or problem, well, we’ll address that before it becomes putting out a fire because we all see that and it’s in clear.
Phil: We all have a shared objective. We’re all sharing that task list and that is critical like you said because we’re not in the office. We’re not all physically seeing it happen all the time. But again, there’s no excuse for it. There’s a number of ways to do it now. That’s where that thoughtfully applying again comes in so if we’re having trouble with that, well then what tool can we apply that would help us do that. It might be something simple as a shared Google doc that we all see. It could be a document that we all update in Dropbox that gets shared around. But there’s no excuse, there’s no reason you can’t do it today. Like you said, there’s an app, there’s a tool, there’s a workflow for it. You just have to think of it. You need to be more conscious about the way that you do your work and the way you collaborate and communicate with people.
Lisette: And it seems like the main problem, it’s funny that the issue always, is trust for managers because what I see or at least what I read in the data, maybe it’s because I’m biased I must admit, I have a huge bias for remote work. I can’t help it. I’m totally enthusiastic about it but what you see is that people work too much. And when I’ve asked people what is the gain for remote working, what is the biggest challenge, the answer that comes up more often than expected is “I can’t turn off. I don’t know when to stop. I’m working all the time.”
Lisette: So that’s a weird dichotomy.
Phil: It really is. It is a challenge because that line got crossed a while ago. That line of like you said, the Smartphone, I love it but if every time I get a work email it pings, well when am I not in work? And if I don’t have that commute, a lot of times, that commute served as a buffer where you kind of shut off, you close your computer, you were done at the end of the day, you went home and that was family time. And I think it depends on the kind of job you do. I’m certainly not a fan of working all the time, I mean work-life balance, or what I like to talk about is work-life integration because I think balance in today’s life with the kind of technology we have because it’s ubiquitous and it can be everywhere, it’s not easy to draw that line in the sand. But one of the things I always talk about is I may have to answer some emails and do a few things while I’m on vacation but that’s a vacation in the past I wouldn’t have been able to take because I had to be in the office or at home to be able to handle that work. But the fact that I can bring my phone or my laptop or my tablet and in the midst of that vacation take a little bit of time out and bang out some work, respond to a client, or do something, then that allows me to have that life that maybe I could have compartmentalized more before that I don’t have to now. But it’s a slippery slope because you can get stuck in this point where you’re always on and you never unplug and I think again, that’s a matter of self-management as you said, we have to manage ourselves. Well, part of the managing ourselves is setting strict boundaries and guidelines for what’s okay and what’s not okay. And sometimes it changes like there’s a crunch time at work or a crunch time for this project. Well, I’m going to work like crazy because you need me to and we need to if we want to make this project a success so we’re going to do that but on another time, maybe I’m not going to work as hard. I think you got to be flexible that way. Again, that’s where that 9 to 5, come to this place, work from this time to this time. Maybe there’s some jobs where that’s important but so much to do is information work to do these days that you need to learn to be more flexible. And if you trust your employees and you trust them to do that, then they’re going to act like they get treated like adults. They’re going to act like adults. And they’re not really looking to scam the system. They just want to be able to have a life and work. And if they want to take an hour off in the middle of the day and go have lunch with a friend or go do something else, do some stuff, run some errands, who cares as long as you get the work done and it’s done and the client’s happy and the project’s done on time, does it really matter whether it was done between 1 and 4 or whether I did it from 4 to 8 at night after my kids are home from school or asleep.
Phil: I mean it shouldn’t matter but for a lot of companies, it matters. Unfortunately, it still does.
Lisette: Yes, surprisingly now. I mean for me, I have to say, I work a few hours. My schedule in the morning is I work a few hours and then I go for a run. It’s often during my runs that I have my best ideas. I mean I have my Smartphone with me and I’m constantly like, “Note to self: when you get home, make sure that you add this to the report. [Inaudible 30:35].”
Phil: That’s right. That’s what Siri is great for. I’m always telling her to remind me things later when I get home. And it’s interesting there’s some people that have done some really interesting work with that with what’s called, I’m sure you probably heard of it, Rowe, R-O-W-E, Results Only Work Environment. And there’s some companies that have really embraced that which the employees don’t really have a set schedule at all. It’s pretty much as long as you get the work done, then you come and go as you please and you do what you need to. And that’s been very successful for other companies. For companies, that [inaudible 31:09] too aggressive or too [inaudible 31:11] but I think there’s a [31:14] in there.
Lisette: Yeah, so it’s really going to result oriented instead of “Are you here from 9 to 5?” which always seems a bit [inaudible 31:23].
Lisette: So it’s a matter then of managers outlining the constraints, outlining the proper constraints, giving the team the autonomy to then get it done on whatever terms that they need to get it done but actually, one thing that you said in this conversation is in college, we are treated this way. You’re right, this is how things are done and it didn’t occur to me that there was such a difference. But it’s true. In college, we’re treated like autonomous adults. Submit this report at the end of the semester and this is what it needs to contain and however you do it is how you do it. Then we get into the workforce and it changes.
Phil: We just did. We totally had a work tell us that we need to work differently.
Lisette: Yeah, it’s strange. We start out in the right foot. So in your home office, what are the kinds of things, I’m curious about what your home office looks like. I mean we’re getting a little bit of a glimpse right now. Do you have a certain ritual or work-life integration? You said yourself a work-life integration aspect of it all. I’m particularly curious about that.
Phil: Yeah well something I have is more than I could chew.
Lisette: [Inaudible 32:40] with kids.
Phil: Who would want to play with Daddy all the time when he’s home. Sometimes, I close that door and I can focus and get the work done [inaudible 32:49] and sometimes I have to do this like turn off [inaudible 32:54-59] like some of those things [inaudible 33:01] certain technologies and we need to focus that way, I think is really important. Sometimes, I like being in the office even though it’s a home office, even if it’s as simple as [inaudible 33:17] work. I think it’s important to [inaudible 33:24] because sometimes it helps you buckle down and get [inaudible 33:29]. There are lines in the home itself. So sometimes it’s [inaudible 33:33].
Lisette: Right. So turn off the distractions or sometimes just the perspective. Go to a coffee shop, go to the library, travel somewhere.
Phil: That’s right, that’s right.
Lisette: So in terms of the companies then that you’ve coached, what are the biggest challenges that they’re coming up with? Some people have a tool and they’re learning how to communicate. What do you see are some of the big hurdles? Are there common hurdles that everybody’s overcoming or does it vary a lot?
Phil: I think there are certain things that come up more is that people having all these mobiles to use like Smartphones and tablets but I think one thing that often come up with [inaudible 34:18] we’ve got all these, how do we [inaudible 34:21] seamlessly together? I don’t want to have to like calendar here and [inaudible 34:28] follow me because people aren’t working [inaudible 34:33] devices so you want to be able to keep up with your tablet or your phone and just be [inaudible 34:39] and have access to the same things that you have access to them. So I think from a technological standpoint, using the right tool is a big one and what tool is a big thing, and then how do I collaborate across devices [inaudible 34:55] my laptop and when I’m home, I’m working on the same [inaudible 34:59] at home but now, it’s different because I might start a project on my laptop, do part of that on my tablet, and then [inaudible 35:09]. I need to do a little bit of ability to kind of synchronize it or sometimes you just work on the same document because it’s in the cloud but you [inaudible 35:21] from multiple places.
Lisette: Oh yeah.
Phil: And then I think also I talked about [inaudible 35:28] aspect of it [inaudible 35:30] and I think it’s important to set up communication guidelines whether you are working together or you’re working apart. But that’s because guidelines things like how often should I be checking email or what’s the time in response, and phone call or email, which is our hierarchy? For some people, they might send text messages. For some people, [inaudible 35:59] are email people checking all day. You’ve got a bunch of people and they’re all using all different communication styles that can get very [inaudible 36:08] so I think you need to set up some ground rules. I always said, if you [inaudible 36:12], how are you going to [inaudible 36:14] so [inaudible 36:16] that [inaudible 36:20] that I know if I sent an email, that I would expect. If I’m somebody that [inaudible 36:26] every time it pings on my phone, and another teammate of mine only checks emails twice a day, and I send him an email, and after 20 minutes, he doesn’t respond, now our trust is eroding. I would think, “Is he working? Why isn’t he replying? Maybe he didn’t get my email?” and I’m wasting all this time in waiting when it’s just that we both have different communication styles. I think he’s [inaudible 36:52] ground rules based on [inaudible 36:54]. If they can wait at least two hours timeliness that we decide to responding to emails and then we use emails. If it’s something that everyone [inaudible 37:08-13] or if you put it somewhere else but I think we need to have those guidelines thought out and decided upon together as a group at the beginning. It makes it much easier.
Lisette: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean I’ve run into the situation myself sort of in a different way which is I had somebody that I worked with who used email like an instant messaging system. And for me, I hate email. It just gets so many. It’s like I’m constantly fighting inbox 0. And so I would just get these constant ramblings like ten emails in a row when it could have been in one email or just use an instant messaging system.
Lisette: That would be much better for me but for her, she couldn’t not do it for some reason and so I had to adapt and learn. Okay, I’m going get ten emails in a row. It’s going to be okay that I just have to adapt with our communication style. So I think you’re right: agreeing up front.
Phil: Yeah, I think [inaudible 38:07] far too [inaudible 38:11] are group [inaudible 38:12] instant messenger preferably. They still think it would [inaudible 38:15] platform but that one thing that helps [inaudible 38:19] working remote virtual teams is that sense of [inaudible 38:24] and you lose that when you’re not working in the office or like you said, “How do we know [inaudible 38:29]. How do we know that they’re there?” [Inaudible 38:31]. I am a chat [inaudible 38:35] then I know that I can ask him those questions just like I would if I was going to go over your desk or lean up over you. And also [inaudible 38:47] is that and it’s [inaudible 38:50] with communication because I think communication is a critical part of them is when you escalate the level of communication. So maybe we start [inaudible 39:01] and then we need images or something so we can share our desktop or do something like that from there. And then from there, if we really need [inaudible 39:12] escalate it to a video chat so that it becomes this kind of escalation of [inaudible 39:20] based on [inaudible 39:21] and you can also have [inaudible 39:23] than I am with [inaudible 39:26] where [inaudible 39:28] an impromptu meeting, we’re all typing, or we’re all video chatting like hangout, or text [inaudible 39:35] so I think that’s a very effective tool to extend the physical office and [inaudible 39:41] we feel like we’re all in the same place even though it’s virtual.
Lisette: Well I have to say I work at home by myself quite a lot but I have my instant message open and I also have Skype open so I have both these tools and I see faces of my colleagues all day long. They’re here. It’s almost as if I’m in an office because I can see when they go on and offline. I can see when their status changes. And a friend of mine when Skype used to have [inaudible 40:07] so you could see the status very clearly, we used to share our music so you could share your iTunes status on your Skype and we have the same taste in music but it served as sort of an all day conversation. He was in Phoenix and I am here in the Netherlands so we just talked about music all day long as we saw different songs come up. And it was actually a very nice feeling. At the end of the work day, I close down my Skype and all my friends leave. And then again, I’m alone in my room. It was brilliant.
Phil: [Inaudible 40:34] they feel isolate when they work alone.
Phil: They feel like their own island. You mentioned using Skype or IM, you can feel like you’re more like a team and [inaudible 40:49] which is again, “How do I build a close team when we’re all apart?” so you need to [inaudible 40:56]. So by knowing that you love music or [inaudible 41:00] or there was somebody I worked with [inaudible 41:03] my kids would sit on my lap and we would have this Skype chat. He would see my kid, I’d see their kid. Suddenly, those people that I know better after just a few Skype chats than people that I’ve worked next to in an office for years because we’re constantly sharing things and sharing information and do things like that. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen in the office. Sometimes, when things happen organically, they don’t happen as much. And by [inaudible 41:32], I was talking about, sometimes, virtual communication can be stronger more than onsite because you’re conscious about or could be more conscious about sharing information and getting people to know you. And anything that is more conscious approach to you is going to [inaudible 41:52] and grow that way.
Lisette: So I think that the video is more powerful than people realize that real bonds can be formed using just simply working together via the video.
Lisette: I have a woman that I work with in California. We started working together for a client writing a book together and we started every conversation of 5 minutes of just “Hey, how are you?” via video and then we would off and collaborate together in the Google document. And when that client work ended, we continued to this day years later after doing this work, we’re still collaborating remotely because we became such good friends that work so well that we just continued. And we work on our own stuff but we still just like working together. And I think she’s one of my closest friends but I’ve never met her in person.
Phil: Good. There’s people [inaudible 42:44] and I like to see it when someone on Twitter or LinkedIn and things that we have a lot in common. I usually see that as some kind of Skype video chat and there’s people that [inaudible 42:55] great guy in the Philippines and we’d talk like great buds but I’ve never met him ever. Every once in a while, he [inaudible 43:05], we’re going to have a blues jazz and things together but this is a guy that I only met through social media but like I said, I escalated it [inaudible 43:16] and we seem to have a lot in common and tried this set up [inaudible 43:21] twice, sometimes Skype. We [inaudible 43:42] video because I just feel like after that, all of our conversations, all of our interactions going on are already at a much [inaudible 43:34] because we see each other face to face. Also, [inaudible 43:38] as simple as putting your photo in your email. When you and I exchanged emails, I have my little photo at the bottom because just to have a face attached to that name just makes a big difference in realizing that’s a real person not just words or [inaudible 43:53] text going there.
Lisette: I agree. When I set up private social networks, one of the things I always recommended was you must use a picture of yourself for the icon because people will treat you differently when they’re communicating with you if they can see your face. Yeah, I think one of the things that also comes up a lot in interviews is how to humanize the virtual workforce. I mean that’s a big issue and I think video is one very, very powerful way to humanize the virtual workforce even if you just say hello for 5 minutes and then turn off the video then continue the conversation. A lot can happen with that.
Phil: Yeah, [Inaudible 44:32] a little uncomfortable with the video thing but then get over it because it’s just [inaudible 44:38]. We’re not as [inaudible 44:39] guts in this level and [inaudible 44:42] close to it. With my iPhone, I can have video chat anywhere and it’s great because [inaudible 44:49]. Sometimes when I’m traveling, if I’m somewhere and [inaudible 44:53] even the stories [inaudible 44:59] and that ability to collaborate like that or just to share. My friend and I, we used to watch a lot of football games together when I used to live in the New York area. And now I’m here in Florida, every once in a while, we’ll watch a game and we have the Skype channel open and it’s like he’s sitting in the couch next to me. Keep the laptop there and we will be watching the game [inaudible 45:24] and talk. We raise our glasses to the couch and we have fun together. Our living room [inaudible 45:32]. He’s in his living room and this is mine [inaudible 45:36]. It’s pretty amazing [inaudible 45:39].
Lisette: Yeah, and it’s simple I think. It’s just people can start and experiment a little and just even the simple things can really go a long way which brings me to one of my last question which is how do you advice people to start. I mean if there’s a team that wants to start working remotely, where do you start with them?
Phil: Yeah, if it’s [inaudible 46:03], I suggest [inaudible 46:06] like I mentioned, looking at that communication collaboration because you don’t want to go out there without [inaudible 46:12] and then suddenly you’re struggling [inaudible 46:16] so I think it’s [inaudible 46:18] take a step back and looking at the work that you do and maybe take one project which you’re working on and kind of work your way up there [inaudible 46:28]. Okay, let’s take this project and put it out in Dropbox. [Inaudible 46:33] use discussions space or use IM, or maybe you do it if you like to go [inaudible 46:40] a couple of days. [Inaudible 46:43] Wednesday or every Wednesday and Friday, people are going to work from home. If everything’s [inaudible 46:54], you know the next day [inaudible 46:56] and you can talk about what went wrong and deal with it and figure out what you need to do better. So instead of saying, “Okay, next month, we’re going to be working offsite,” start slowly. Some companies don’t need to do that [inaudible 47:13] but I think choosing those right tools [inaudible 47:18] tools and then just starting slowly [inaudible 47:22] and escalating it from there.
Lisette: So starting slowly and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.
Phil: Exactly. And then [inaudible 47:33] you need to know that. Sometimes, people want to work remotely [inaudible 47:38] that if something goes wrong, they don’t want to tell the company or the manager because they’re afraid that [inaudible 47:44] is going to be up and [inaudible 47:45]. For me, it doesn’t work and [inaudible 47:51] what you need to do from the management standpoint of always running the team or the company [inaudible 47:58] upfront the we want an [inaudible 48:02] what’s not working, not just what is working but what’s not working because [inaudible 48:09]. “Let’s come up with some guidelines or new [inaudible 48:14] or workflow that’s going to work” or [inaudible 48:17] what’s great for somebody else, well then that person can explain to us how they made it work and we can all [inaudible 48:24]. And then we [inaudible 48:26]. There’s always going to be challenge but hopefully, the challenge is different from project to project year after year so that you’re developing. The technology’s going to change. There’s going to be new tech [inaudible 48:38] or broadband to get this faster. Video wasn’t an option because we didn’t have faster internet connection so that wasn’t an option. And now, we got enough broadband [inaudible 48:52] so that changes everything and it changes [inaudible 48:56] available to us and what we can [inaudible 48:59]. So you need to have [inaudible 49:01] and expect to be constantly revisiting this thing. The tools that [inaudible 49:07] now isn’t necessarily [inaudible 49:11] in the years coming by. So I always suggest redoing that [inaudible 49:16] and looking at the things you need and what’s working and what’s not on an ongoing [inaudible 49:21], quarterly, twice a year, or just [inaudible 49:24] but revisit that and be open to change.
Lisette: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s something that I’ve noticed also. It’s that things just need to be massaged as you go that there is no one fixed golden process that will always work. Really, because technology changes because new personalities come on the team or leave the team, everything is going to have to shift all the time and so really, doing regular check-ins about what’s working and what’s not working and being allowed to talk about what’s not working which is a surprising one because you’d think that managers would want to know. You’d think they’d want to know but somehow, there are atmospheres I’m noticing in companies where employees are afraid to say things.
Lisette: So, yeah, there really is a shift in culture that’s needed. Hopefully, this is the time. We don’t have to wait another 20 years before we see it.
Phil: [Inaudible 50:17].
Lisette: So the final question then, Phil, is what is the best way to get in touch with you if peole want to learn more, they want to take your ICC, and apply it to themselves? How do they find you? How do they learn more?
Phil: Yup. The best place to go [inaudible 50:32] my website TheAnywhereOffice.com and I’ve got lots of [inaudible 50:38] some videos [inaudible 50:43]. They can sign up for my [inaudible 50:47] as well or my email and [inaudible 50:51] sharing information or having [inaudible 50:53] things like that. And also, you can find me on Twitter. That’s one of my favorite [inaudible 50:58] social media. That’s @PhilMontero or just [inaudible 51:01] website [inaudible 51:03]. And then right now, I have [inaudible 51:06] website at YouCanWorkFromAnywhere.com but in the very year [inaudible 51:11] information about the [inaudible 51:14] my workshop [inaudible 51:18] anywhere office and because I got tired of [inaudible 51:24].
Lisette: Okay, great, great. Well thanks so much. This has been a fabulous conversation. I’ve actually learned quite a lot of new things that it’s given me some room to think about. The one thing in particular that you said that I really am going to need to think about is the management issue, the [inaudible 51:48]. I think that’s something that comes up with every single interview: trust.
Lisette: Trust seems to be the core of what’s happening so that’s something I need to go back and chew on a little bit more. So thank you again. I really appreciate the time. If there’s anything, last things, maybe I missed something, if there’s anything else that you wanted to add…
Phil: No, I think the conversation [inaudible 52:10]. I really enjoyed discussing these topics and probably go on for hours.
Lisette: Oh, yeah, I could totally. Unfortunately, nobody will watch a several hour long video.
Phil: That’s right. That’s right. [Inaudible 52:22] we’re having video chats like this [inaudible 52:23] colleagues [inaudible 52:25].
Lisette: Great, great. And I will definitely. I noticed that every time I write an article when I’m summarizing these Hangouts is that I want to have follow-up conversations because there’s always more questions that come out when you really start to think about some of the deeper issues. So I definitely will be in touch with you with that.
Phil: Great! I look forward to it.
Lisette: Alright, everybody! Well thanks again. This has been another remote interview and until the next time, be powerful.