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Hello and welcome to the Virtual Frontier, the Podcast about Virtual Teams created by a virtual team. Disclaimer, all of our interviews are conducted virtually. I'm Daniel your host and I'm part of the team here to Virtual Frontier. In this episode, we welcome David Burkus as our guest. Two years ago, I started to take my LinkedIN activities more seriously and back then I was looking for intelligent ways to do so. I do not recall exactly how I landed on the site and to talk how to heck networking from David. Well, after watching the TED talk, I took the initiative and with less than one hundred connections on LinkedIN, I reached out to David with a connect request. Even he's a best selling author with more than fifteen thousand followers and LinkedIN alone, he walked his talk and accepted and it felt great. I invited him over to our Podcast. He agreed. But shortly after we lost contact, this could be the end of the story. And again, one more of those loose connections on social media. But it went a different way. Just a couple of months ago. We reconnected when I found out about his new upcoming book. And on today's episode, we are going to talk about his new book, Leading from Anywhere, how he managed to write and published this book, Fully Remote and at record speed and what Mindset we need to lead successfully in uncertain times. If you like the show or subscribe on YouTube. review on Apple Podcast follow us on Sticher, Spotify Simplecast or any other platform you use for podcasting. You can also take the next step and get involved in our growing community activities. To do so, you can support the creators work on Patreon and get to hear episodes in advance of an exclusive live sessions and help us select guests and topics. You can also engage with our community, underscore all the links you can find below in the description. A quick mention of our sponsor Flash Hub. Virtuell Virtual Teams. Systematically and methodically schervish your business at any time and make work better. You want to expand your knowledge of how Virtual Teams work and learn how to build your own team. Join the next Virtual Teams team challenge and get all the tools and frameworks to do so. If you want to learn more about the next challenge, visit Flash Hub that I. Oh, so without further ado, let's dive into Episode 31 of the Virtual Frontier. Enjoy the conversation.


So, hey, it's welcome to Virtual Frontier Podcast, thank you very much for joining us today. I'm really happy we got the chance to talk to each other. I had you almost got some like last year in October with a different topic and talking more about your book, a friend of a friend. And then you came up just in the last couple of months of the pandemic with the idea to write a new book. And that fits so greatly to our whole story.


And Virtual Frontier, when we talk about Remote work and your new book is called Leading from Anywhere. So we're going to talk today about that. But for the people that maybe don't know you yet, from more German speaking part, would you like to introduce yourself a little bit from where coming, what's what you're doing, where you're heading?


Yeah. Yeah. So my name is Remote work. I'm an organizational psychologist by training and a writer by passion. I actually was a writer beforehand. I was an undergraduate as a university student, was an English major and went to graduate school of organizational psychology.


The whole goal in my whole career has always been to tell stories that blend what is cutting edge behavioral research and what is good practice inside of organizations to make people have a better experience of work, to make them work on their teams better, I would say, to try and help people do their best work ever. But the real sort of internal motivation behind all of it is that work is too central to everyone's life not to be terrible. Right. It's too big a part.


It's 40 plus hours a week of your life. It's where a lot of people draw their identity from. And unfortunately, across the globe, in most especially in the West, but in most industrialized countries, the experience of work is not optimal. It's not something people enjoy. Right. There's a reason television shows like the Office are popular across the world. Right. In cartoons like Dilbert are translated into hundreds of different languages for people to read and laugh at because it resonates with the crappy experience a lot of people are having.


So my life's mission has always been to make that better. And I do that through blending some of the best stories that I can find with the most up to date and proven. That's another kind of important element, but proven research around behavioral science, around how we form teams, how motivated, how we can think more creatively, all of that. And so, yeah, that that led to a bunch of different things. But when the pandemic started, that meant that my focus had to move into how do we make the experience of work remotely a lot better for people.


It was it was a sudden sort of pivot. But, you know, the world was ending. So we needed to do something and we need to do it fast. And especially, as we just mentioned in the intro, a lot of things from the traditional work force and violence and companies were not optimal and then shifting, not things that are not optimal to Remote could be more and more difficult ones.


Yeah, I mean, that's exactly right. I mean, we had ironically, a lot of the the way I describe it a lot of times is that covid and the pandemic and our response to the pandemic, none of that really changed things. It just accelerated trends that were already happening. So there was already an increasing demand for people to have a sense of autonomy, have a sense of feeling trusted. The more we shifted from industrial work to knowledge work, the more we need to just trust the people.


We're asking to do tasks that they know how to accomplish the best. And we need to take our sort of surveillance off of them. But unfortunately, the other thing that happened is that a lot of people's terrible Management got worse as well. A lot of a lot of bosses out there in the world before the pandemic were still associating presence with productivity. Right. They were still assuming that if you were at the office, you're working. Right, which is just not true.


Ask any information technology department at any major corporation how much time is spent on Facebook and Netflix and YouTube. And you know that just because people are at work, they're not necessarily working. Right. And unfortunately, the trend that got worse there is an IT Remote work environment that turned into endless Zoom meetings that turned into being judged based on how quickly you respond to emails so bad. Management got a whole lot worse in in during this this whole work from home experiment.


But the trend towards IT, the trend towards giving people the freedom to work from anywhere and good leadership got a whole lot better. And so the place where we're at now, we're recording this early twenty, twenty one. And my prediction is that by the end of the twenty, twenty one, it'll be it'll be safe in quotes to go back to the office. But we're not all going back. Not all of us. Not all of the time.


Because a lot of people first of all, a lot of people are going to feel safe at the office on a different schedule. But I'm not even talking about that. I just mean a good percentage of people like the freedom that they've been experimenting with over the last year. They liked that they had the opportunity to rebuild their entire schedule and have work integrated with their life. They liked the ability to work undistracted for multiple hours a day. Not everybody wasn't distracted.


We were chatting before this about how you deal with the distractions of other people in your home, but other people love it, right? So everybody's a little bit different. A year in, it took some growing pains, but a decent percentage of people really enjoy where we're at now and they're not going back. And so my message for a lot of people right now is if you're leading a team, you need to be using this time to learn how to lead a Remote team.


Even if most of your team comes back to the office, the likelihood that your team will always be there and we'll always be together is slim to nothing moving forward. There will always be somebody choosing to work from some other place, at least one person on your team at different times. So you got to be ready for that. And you've got to pull the lessons of what it means to lead a great Remote team from what we know from behavioral science, from companies that have been doing it for a number of years, and then also from what you've been learning over the past year and put that all together and really focus on being a great Remote leader at this point, because there really isn't any type any other type of leader, at least in a knowledge economy.


And then I could notice I was reading several articles from from big companies where the CEOs and I won't mention any names right now, but big company owners and CEOs were just like saying they are so tired of all the small meetings and this nothing is getting productive and it's not efficient. And when you look deeper than you can see, it's what you just mentioned before, that they were just hanging around Zoom meetings all day and trying to manage the old style with the old style of managing and getting things Remote.


And that doesn't work really well.


Yeah, I mean, that's the grand irony, right? The complaint is that we're spending too much time in Zoom meetings. I don't remember as many people complaining that we were spending too many time in meetings, meetings in person or Zoom doesn't matter most. Your people are spending too much time. And we know that. We look at the research. We look at whether it's survey research or experimental research. And we know that a lot of the most productive people in organizations really loathe how much time they didn't get to focus on the job that they actually got hired to do the value that they actually created because they were sucked into all of these different meetings.


Right. And so it is a little bit ironic to me to hear people say, oh, I don't really think this is working. I need to see my people et cetera like you don't realize you might have actually been the production blocking problem here, right? You might have actually been the reason they don't want to come back. And for the record, I don't think we are when it's all over. I don't think we're going to be in an environment where a lot of people are as Remote as they are right now, working the entire week in the office.


Right. I think it'll be much more like, hey, you can expect to see them two or three days out of the week and then two or three days that work from wherever they want or other people will go. Well, I know we do meetings between ten and two, so I'll always be on campus, then I'll be in the office then. But I won't I won't be in until 10:00 because I've got to do get my kids ready for school or I will be just they'll be they'll be blending their working life a whole lot better.


Right. And I and my argument is, let them write because we've had a year to experiment. Your top talent has had a year to experiment around and find a rhythm for how to blend work and life in a way that works for them. And not a lot of them are going to give it up because a lot of the research suggests it's working really well for them. No, I was talking just yesterday for another Podcast, which is going to be published in a few days of a photo of a person that works in the signs of future and he's predicting the Facilities Institute more or based on German data.


But I assume this is globally more or less going in the same direction that the diversifier for indeed is decreasing and so on. Of all the optimization and the future and everything, you could expect that we are going to lose work and we're going to maybe there are less work than before. But he predicts the complete difference is telling that in a few years, employers have to hunt their employees and and not the other way around that you have to look for jobs, know they're going to ask you every two weeks before then.


You have to wonder if you probably want to join the great company and so on while telling us we're so talking already about culture in the company and how you work with your company employees is really crucial because in a few years, the top 10, instead of going to just say, OK, if there's a company where I can work from anywhere and the company give me all the things I need to be a great talent and provide excellent work, then the companies who doesn't own the company, which doesn't apply to that, are going to have really big problems.


Yeah, that's exactly right. I mean, the way that I describe it and this is this has been true historically. And so I think it's right in line with what Futuris was predicting is that top talent has always needed organizations less. Right than organizations need top talent. The power dynamic has always been as soon as we flip from an industrial economy to a knowledge work economy, as soon as the decisions that were being made, not the brute force labor that was being executed, as soon as the mental decisions that were being made was what created more value, good decisions were ten times more valuable than bad decisions et cetera as soon as those differences started piling up, the power dynamic shifted to talent and talent is always needed.


Organizations far less than organizations need to find top talent and flexibility is going to be a huge demand for top talent moving forward. The other thing, like you said, the other thing that will be a big one is culture. We know from several different studies that people will willingly take a job that pays less to work in a company that's known for their company culture to work around peers that actually exhilarate them and engage them and that sort of thing. And so this isn't just that, you know, at least in the United States in the nineteen nineties and a little bit a little bit afterwards, we talked about the war for talent.


Right. This idea that companies were laying out all of these different things. But we were primarily talking about monetary things to to compete for the war, for talent. We're talking about salaries and benefits and little office perks. Right. And not actually paying attention to the most important thing, which is that culture. Right. A foosball table and a keg of beer is not a great company culture. Those are just little perks, company culture, something entirely different.


And it takes it's not monetary to sculpt, but it does take a lot of deliberate attention. And ironically, you would think it it's less important in a Remote environment, but it actually becomes more important. Right, because it's really, really easy to feel like you're out, you're working alone when you're working remotely. And it takes a strong company culture and a strong team to make sure people still feel that sense of engagement with the organization, with the mission, et cetera.


And then if you are working on a team to to collaborate on a project that is bigger than just what you can produce, Remote, teamwork, collaboration, all of that is more important in a Remote environment because you don't have the in person ability to just walk down the hall and smooth things over or get it get it figured out right away. You need to be very intentional, very deliberate in your communication that affects your teamwork, that usually makes for a good company culture.


So again, we're at the same situation, right. All that's happened over the past year is the same trends have been accelerated. And now the things that we know like culture are far more important.


How you go inside a company that was pushed into last you into a Remote environment, maybe not voluntarily, and they are willing to say, OK, we need to build up a culture that didn't exist before, but what are the first steps going into and how maybe you can advance with that in the near future so you get results and see a change in the behavior and and the company how to present themselves.


Yeah. So so I look for three things. Right. So I look for and this comes from a fascinating study, pre pandemic. Right. B.S. before Corona on Virtual Teams and the team culture of teams that operated well and teams that did. And the the big things that they found, the research study I'm referring to found two big things which was shared understanding and shared identity. And I'll talk about those both in turn, but I pair those with because there's a lot of overlap between that and a study that Google undertook globally.


So I like this one, too, because, again, Calls from all different cultures and found five different elements. The two from this study and the five from this study overlap except for a phenomenon known as psychological safety. So when I mix these two studies together, when I arrive at is three things. The easy way, ways to remember three is easier to remember than five. So we'll go with it. And that is shared understanding, shared identity and psychological safety.


Shared understanding is the level to which everybody on the team understands each other's knowledge, skills, abilities. They know who is talented, where. They also know how to work with that person in their strengths and to give that person feedback when they're not in their strengths to make requests for help. And the big one for going Remote right is that I understand the context that that person works in. Like I was talking about earlier, we've spent a year building an integration between work and life that is working for most people, but it doesn't look like it used to, you know, prepend in mind.


This is an irony, right? Pre pandemic before it affected sort of my kids and their school schedules. I worked from home before that.


But as soon as that happened, my schedule had to be rearranged. And so now good luck getting a hold of me between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and noon my time. Right. Because I've got a lot of other things life wise I need to focus. Then I come back on Online and work for a little bit longer. Right. So everybody's in that situation. And then also everybody's working in a different physical environment. To you and I. I'm judging by your video, we look to be lucky enough to be in our own room where we can close the door and be uninterrupted.


And some people are working from the dining room table. Right, while their kids are playing in the other room or watching a Zoom video class. So shared understanding means all of that because we're witnessing the context that people are working in, we can collaborate better with them. We have more empathy for them, and that just makes us communicate and collaborate better. That's shared identity. I like to think of shared understanding as the twenty twenty problem we all needed to figure out without being able to be co-located, needed to figure out the shared understanding, piece the context piece, the knowledge, skills and abilities, piece the shared identity, I think is the twenty twenty one problem, which is that as people start trickling back into an office environment, not everyone's going to want to go.


And it can be really easy to think about the people that you see more frequently or the people that occupy the same office space with you, or if you're in a fully distributed company, the people in the same time zones or similar time zones as you, there's always this weird us versus them that can creep up inside of one team where the people who live on one continent feel like they're the real team and the them as people in a different content.


And those people feel differently. Right. And it takes a leader to help build up a strong sense of shared identity. We are one team collaborating together. We're working on one purpose et cetera. It takes a strong leader to build that so that people don't feel that inter competitive rivalry in a team. So that shared identity and the last piece of psychological safety, and this is one this is true actually of any organization, I don't know, a single organization that doesn't need psychological safety as part of their culture.


But in a Remote organization or Remote team, it again becomes more important because psychological safety is the level of trust and respect that people feel. Do they feel trusted enough that they can take risks, that they can experiment, that they can fail and not be punished so long as there was a learning that came out of that failure? And also, do they feel that they can speak up? Do they feel that they can voice dissent? My number one test for psychological safety, when I work with team leaders, as I say, when was the last time somebody on your team disagreed with you vocally in IT in a team meeting?


When was the last time that happened? Was it a couple of days ago? Great. Was it six months ago? We have a problem, right? Because presumably you're hiring the top talent you can find and you're saying do do your best, right? You we hired you for these skills and abilities. And here's the things we need you to do if they don't. Feel safe enough to speak up, to push back, to do the work the way they want to do it, then you're actually putting a dampener on their potential.


And we obviously don't want that. There's a bunch of other ethical and moral issues that go along with psychological safety. But I'll just I'll make the straight capitalistic business case, which is that if people don't feel psychological safety, you are not harnessing their full potential. And as an employee, so you are losing money because you're paying them a salary and you're not getting the full benefits of that salary. All the more reason to make sure that they feel that sense of psychological safety.


Now and catching up with the ones that you mentioned as well and understanding part like my full respect to all the parents out there who are working this year with like the kids in the kitchen and dining room in the living room, having them like shirts, devices and whatever. We can feel really fortunate that that we are work in good space and a lot of lot of parents and people that work employees are struggling with that and just keep keep improving like the little below your workspace.


I could mention that. And what you said about the cycle of safety in the work environment is also very interesting from our own history in the Flash Hub and Bright Solutions where we had this transition from a hybrid company, more or less, where we had our head offices and there were like 40 people working in the office and a huge chunk of project workers and freelancers outside. And we had this also in the beginning, in the first couple of months or a year where there was this feeling of of needing different rights and having not the same access to information, maybe.


And this is also a Prozesse not that that you have to take into account. This is nothing that is going to disappear from one day to another. You just have to keep improving day by day and then decreasing those those inequalities, let's say, in general. Right. And getting like everything more included. And that's one big step that happened there was when our CEO took the decision to say, OK, I'm going to work remotely full time and I'm not going to be the head office anymore, just for maybe some legal stuff.


And then a couple of months later, I got a huge improvement and sons sense of punting started. We actually don't have any more people working in the office, just like going for some unavoidable things or legal stuff that they have to do in the offices. But in general, everyone is working right now. Last year, also the from the employees inside the company, everyone is working Remote. And this was also a huge shift again. And so what I want to point out is the relationship you have to go for and keep keep improving that one one by one.




I mean, ironically, if I could if we could go back and not have this sudden pandemic that forced what I jokingly call the great work from home experiment, I would have preferred a slower roll out experiment. Like I really like the way that you did Prozesse you just described. The interesting thing is that now we have to do that process in reverse. Right now, the knowledge work organizations, I mean, there's still a huge percentage of the workforce that has been working in person all the time beyond just essential workers.


Right. But in the office environments that we're talking about that have been Remote for a year are are slow phased transition is actually happening in reverse. Right. Feeling out, who wants to come back to the office? And that's what I fear, is that because we're working in the in the reverse, we're almost going to start looking at the people will come back to the office as as the ones who are. That's the goal. Right. And it shouldn't be the goal.


The goal should be. And I'm not talking about your organization. Right. I just mean, in general, with all different organizations, the goal should be to let people feel that the office is a space where everyone is welcome and everyone has a place. But no one feels obligated. Right. That it's a space where if you feel like you need in-person collaboration. Yes. Or legal situations where you want to have certain things done in person cetera.


But unless you say you want a space to collaborate, we have one for you. Right? Let's just say you have an office in our home environment where you would rather escape from and go somewhere to get work done just so that you don't have to be doing it alongside everybody. Right. Great. We'll have the space for you. And that may not be a corporate office. That may be that we pay we work membership for you or some other coworking space membership for you.


Right. But that's that's sort of my goal in working with organizations is as we experiment back, I don't think that the goal is to slowly bring everyone back because they're not coming back. The goal is to create a space where everyone feels welcomed and no one feels obligated. Just imagine that in the near future, just like coworking spaces, one one option to the future of the office, more like a lounge club idea where you just go some days per week and enjoy the time where you spent to get some things that you might don't have in your in your home office from where you work.


But in general, I completely agree with you. That's the Calls. You should go there to enable people to work literally from anywhere they really like. Yeah.


Yeah, totally. And I think the investments I don't think everybody is going to give up their home office or either their corporate office space. But I do think that there's a lot of real estate investments that need to be made transforming those office spaces. We need a lot less desks and a lot more meeting rooms. We need a lot we need a lot less coffee makers and perks and little coffee shops and and gyms in the in the first floor of the office suite.


And that's where stuff and a lot more technology. Right. So there's a lot of changes that are going to be made to that physical space. And that's good, right? Because that will encourage some people to be there a bit more often. And there are certain scenarios. You know, I'm still there's a whole chapter in the book around how do you create a problem solver remotely, because that's the number one. That's how the number one complaint that I get.


But it's the number one complaint that I get that I go, yeah, you're probably right there. This is better in person, but we'll we'll deal with what we can. And so we're going to need to be making a lot of a lot of collaborative technology investments and that sort of thing. So a lot less desk's a lot less, a lot more meeting rooms, a lot less copy machines, lot more webcams. What idea do you have for departments that are working cross-functional because of the culture wars?


I would like to get your idea on that. Let's talk about our own marketing department, which I'm working with there. We have a really good understanding what what is happening. Everyone is really engaged and we are working together. But how you build those cultures between different departments, let's say in software development. Right. Which I'm not working really to you, but I would like to get better connections inside those teams. So that's the funding between those teams and so on.


The company is getting stronger. Do you have any ideas on the. Yeah, so.


So what are the things that I found before? I'll share a less sort of organizational structure way and they'll share a larger way. But one of the things I found that a lot of fully distributed companies were doing pre pandemic that was very quickly adopted by a lot of other companies, was the concept that a lot of them use the Swedish word figure. Right, which is just coffee and cake. Right. So the idea of going out for coffee with somebody or or getting a beer with somebody, but you could do it in the middle of the day, said at the end of the day.


Right. And so what they would do is basically have these virtual 30 minute connection meetings with people. Just usually they started doing them with our team. Right. So Daniel and I haven't talked in a while, just about nothing. Right. The idea is to have this nonwork conversation that lets us build bonds. And a lot of companies that that had started that at the team level found that the most successful way to implement it was actually to do it cross-functional so that you were building that connection to software.


Because if you're waiting for a project to be the reason that you're building that connection to a person that may or may never come up. Right. But if you're if you're saying we have a company wide practice of doing this, do you want in and you'll be exposed to a diversity of people et cetera that you're much more likely to make those connections. And then this, by the way, aligns with a lot of research that I talked about in front of a friend.


There was a great study about, they call them the organizational misfits, the people who would join like a large organization and would actually bounce around inside departments and not really find a specific leg of the corporate ladder to climb up. They would just sort of bounce around laterally for a while. But then whenever they did get settled in a department, let's say, marketing, they shot up the corporate ladder a lot faster because they had connections to everybody. Right.


So this idea, it's a really cool not it doesn't it doesn't require any changes to the org chart or any changes to anything other than letting people opt in to get paired up with people to have these get to know you conversations. So I'm a big fan of that. And there's other ways you could do it to you with multiple people, not just one on one. You can do a bunch of of other things. I don't think it's the Zoom happy hour thing where we all just gather and bring your own drink and we just sort of hang out.


I think everybody's a little hung over from the Zoom happy hours, but there is so there's a structure to it. Right, that the point is to have these exploratory conversations where we get to know people et cetera you can even see them with specific questions to ask and all that. So that's my unofficial way, the official way I think of cross-functional teams, matrixx organizations, all of that sort of stuff. I think we're a little too attached to the org chart.


And that creates a big problem. Right. I think most and I wrote about this actually five years ago, and under new management, most organizations think of the job still as the building block of the organization instead of the project. And what I see when I look at it, especially resilient organizations, organizations that handle the pandemic, but also organizations that are handled all sorts of economic downturns, etc.. What they would do more often is look at hiring like building a portfolio of talent, and then when a client project would come in, they would go to the portfolio and go, who do we have?


Whose knowledge, skills and abilities match this project? And you could end up serving on three or four different projects. That doesn't mean you have three or four different bosses, which is what we did when we went from single hierarchy to Matrix organizations. Everybody just felt like the answer to five or six different bosses. It's the understanding that you're actually an internal freelancer and one team is using thirty percent of your time and another is 40 percent et cetera and you have multiple different customers.


And then there's team leaders whose job is to lead the project. But you don't necessarily have that sort of formal command and control hierarchy. Right? I called this inventory management. I called this writing the org chart in pencil. And I think it's a structure that a lot more organizations in this Remote world need to play with. And we're already seeing we're seeing it done internally, but we're seeing massive increases in Tools or services like up work, for example, which allow you to keep up work.


Used to be I used to think of it as like Fiverr. Right. I need a logo designed for my coffee shop.


So I go to to to oDesk Greater L.A. Now they've merged and they're going after corporate clients and they're saying, do you need a team of twenty coders? Do you need a financial analyst team to to audit you? Like we have those you can hire just the team. So we're going to see this mix of. And external teams all coming together, the building block of organizations is going to be the project, we might as well start thinking of it that way instead of thinking of the building block as the job.


Right on IT, when working in those teams, when when you, for example, let's pick up developers or on the software projects to sort of project whatever whatever background you have always like, this created a creative part in included. And a lot of people or managers think creativity can be done in a Remote environment. Well, what do you respond to those people?


Yeah, well, they're right in some capacity, right? I mean, if we define creativity as the act of brainstorming, getting people together and generating a lot of ideas, there are not we don't have the collaborative technologies that I think can be replicated in person ideation session. But the other thing I would tell them is that's not the entire process of solving a problem. Right. Creative creativity is a process. Innovation is a process. Problem solving is a process.


And unfortunately, in a lot of organizations, people assumed we have a problem. They assumed that they knew the problem, which is a dangerous assumption. Right. And then they would call a meeting, get everybody together and just start generating ideas. And, yeah, I don't I don't have a tool, a hack and anything that will be better than that. But that's not the right way to do it anyway. What we should have been doing is, oh, we have a problem.


Let's spend some time going backwards, researching it, make sure we understand what's the actual root cause organizations. And this is true of for profits. Nonprofits, governments, et cetera organizations and bureaucracies are famous for trying to cure symptoms instead of treat diseases. And so the first thing we need to do is step back and do some research. And that can be done collaboratively. That can also be done individually, which is again what we can leverage in a Remote work environment.


So that's like phase one. And that might mean you're doing a meeting in the book. I talk about how you should have a minimum of three meetings. One of them is the problem meeting, but there's even phases before the problem meeting where your people are just doing research. And the point of the problem meeting is to come together and go. Here's what we discovered as we looked into the problem. And at the end of that meeting you arrive at, we know what the actual problem is and you arrive at the statement of how might we resolve this issue?


And then you can head into the second meeting, the brainstorming meeting. Ideally, like I said, by the end of hopefully by the end of twenty twenty one, this is something that we can get back to doing in person, because I do think the right I think this phase of the meeting works better in person, but we'll do the best we can. Right. And that means that we have in my opinion, that means that we have a video chat going on and we also on the same screen have a collaborative whiteboard style document that can be a fancy app.


Like there's a lot like Blue SCAP and Mirro and a couple of other technologies that are really great from that. It can also be a Google doc. I don't care. Right. But what it needs to be is something that everyone has access to edit and everyone can see changes to in real time. So we're replicating both elements, the in-person discussion and the way to capture ideas in that ideation session. And again, the point of that meeting is not to make a decision either, just like it isn't to find the problem.


The point of that meeting is just to generate ideas. One of the other big problems with assuming that creativity is just a brainstorming meeting is that about 30 minutes in give or take, ten minutes, people start trying to get to consensus and we don't need them to get to consensus. We especially don't need them to get consensus around a bad idea. Right. But if we start a meeting and we know that we're just going to generate ideas for forty five minutes or so and then a different team or maybe the same team is going to come back a little bit later and look at those ideas again, unemotionally unattached to who generated what idea et cetera and make a decision.


It usually works better. So then there's that third meeting, the decision meeting, where we're actually going to look at all of the ideas that were generated ahead of time, compare them to the problem statement and everything we know about the issue that we generate in the meeting and then we can make a decision.


So that's a really long way of saying, what would I say to that person? I would say that they're right, that that middle meeting is not better remotely, but remotely provides them a much better opportunity to hold all three meetings in the proper sequence and end up arriving at a better solution, even though it felt weirder and different and it felt like you weren't generating as many ideas, you're probably going to end up implementing a better idea. No, exactly, um.


Where do you see, like the. How you I say that when you when you work in the Remote environment and you have like this creative processes on. What is the advantage in getting things done? Asynchron in reverse, too, to have what you just mentioned, getting after 20 minutes of brainstorming already to conclusions and of trying to bring things forward. Is there anything else you wish you would mention?


Yeah. Yeah. So might my personal opinion, which is driven by the data, but also has to fill in some gaps in the data. Right. Is that you can have a better ideation or brainstorming meeting if people are doing work asynchronously ahead of time. And you can steer that meeting into being discussion about people presenting their ideas. But that only really works in a team culture that especially has psychological safety, but a team culture that's already clicking, that already has shared understanding and shared identity.


Right. Because what tends to happen when you ask people to prepare their ideas ahead of time and you focus the in-person synchronous meeting on discussing those ideas, is the collisions and the friction and all sorts of great stuff happens as brains conspire together and make everybody's ideas better. It's an amazing thing when it's well facilitated, when it's not. What happens is that three or four of the strongest personalities in the team start dominating and start making the case for why their idea is the best one.


And the Meeker, possibly folks from marginalized communities, et cetera, end up self censoring and holding back. Or they think their ideas too similar to one that so-and-so already said until they self censor and we don't we don't want that. So it really depends on where where you think your team is. If you think you've got that level of psychological safety. Right, then yeah, try it. And the problem, the scheduled IT-Problem meeting days before you're going to schedule the idea or brainstorming meetings so that you can send the problem sketch to everybody.


The brief. Right. Here's our problem statement. Here's the background on Et cetera. I'd love for you to come to the meeting ahead of time with three or four ideas to discuss that can work great in the right culture. But if you feel like that's not your culture, if you're still working on that shared identity, shared understanding, psychological safety thing, I wouldn't necessarily do that because you're going to end up having people self censor and not actually present everything that's on their list.


And that's a problem as well. So, yeah, and they said that's that's based on the data. There are studies that really do suggest that people generate better ideas when they do them in isolation and then we add them all up. The problem is those studies are always done in a lab where the researcher gets to read every idea.


And my experience has been working with a lot of teams is that that self-censorship piece actually puts it puts us backwards compared to doing everything in the room the same time. I think in my own experience, I would also have liked this time to think about really about the problem and then put it together and then present it more or less over to the to the team and then start discussing that with the different team members and getting them to the best solution in general.


I think it's important to to get rid of a lot of the hierarchy. We already talked about that and structure in general and the planning and really try to be like solution focused where we get the best solution out of the problem, how we could tackle a situation or a difficult situation and then work really on the on the solutions side of the of the problem.


Yeah. Yeah. I agree. Know I'm. I would like to go back a little bit to the beginning of our discussions, because you wrote a new book leading from anywhere during the pandemic in a really short time. And I really want to get to this story a little bit, if you could explain how it all evolved. And that's all a teaser for the Virtual Frontier like the announcement that you'll recall speech also. And I would like to get a little bit the story about that and especially also the remote parts of this story that that you have written in the last couple of months.


Yeah, yeah. So I don't know if we set a world record for the fastest time from idea to print in a book, but I'll bet you we came close. So, I mean, the way it all works. So I started twenty twenty with a project with Audible actually. So I started this audio book called Pick a Fight, which was all about how you inspire and motivate a team, not by picking fights against competitors, but by elevating the fight to something larger, a bigger cause, a bigger purpose and injustice in the world that needs to be removed.


And I thought I was just spend the next three or four years of my life talking about just that idea. Right. And then, of course, the world ended. Right. So this virus spreads across everything shut down. And it was it was an interesting, interesting attempt to Malad one thing really quickly, which is that when you're betting on audiobook only because the world is going to be commuting all the time and that's how they consume books now and then the world ends and everybody works from home, your sales plummet.


Right. And I'm sure you saw it with the Podcast as well. Like people just stopped downloading for like eight weeks because they weren't traveling anywhere. So why download the next episode of the Podcast? Gradually that is picked up, which has been great to see. But one of the weird things that happened was in May, my publisher of Friend of a Friend and under new management, the two books before that, they they emailed me out of the blue and they said we were talking about everything.


We as a company have been having to work remotely for two months now. We were talking about how this is looks like it's going to be a long term trend et cetera. And we'd love to get something out there in a book about how people can cope with this. And we started we started kicking around ideas of companies that we could maybe reach out to. And then Rick Zoom and my editor for long time is now retired. Rick spoke up and realized and he said, well, you know, Dave Berkus has already interviewed most of those companies we just mentioned for his book Under New Management.


Right. Maybe we should email him. So I got this email out of the blue that was like, would you be interested in this project? And I spent the weekend to think about it. And I actually came back to them and I said no, but yes, because I said what? What I don't think the world needs is another book about how to run an entirely distributed company. I think there are going to be more of those than there ever were, but it's not going to be most people.


What I think the world needs is a book written for somebody a little bit lower, not the senior level of the organization, but that middle manager who is I didn't make the decision to go Remote, but now we're Remote. Right. Or or our company has been gradually moving towards it. And I want to be prepared or and this is where leading from anywhere came from. Or I realized that the future of work is working from anywhere. And so I want to be prepared to lead that team.


I said I'd be interested in writing that book, so they said yes. And on June 2nd of twenty twenty, we signed a contract with a manuscript deadline of July thirty first. So the eight weeks to write the book. So I didn't like people asked me how my summer was and I told them, I don't know, like that was my response. How was your summer? I don't know. I'm sure it was great, but I wasn't a part of it.


And I mean, we were lucky in the sense that a lot of the companies that we wanted to profile and share the stories of I already had relationships with and that sort of thing, and was are fairly familiar with with the data. But there were also areas we really needed to explore and learn a ton about creative problem solving in a virtual environment being one of them. For example, we wrote the whole book July thirty first then. Then we did our own Remote team experiment because the publisher is based in New York City and the marketing team was still living there.


My editor had chosen to flee the city when Corona was running rampant and she was living in California. I was living in the middle of the country. Right. Coordinating, which is people all over the world to bring this project together. And somehow we did. So I submitted to them a manuscript on July thirty. First we we spent the month of August editing it. We sent it off to the printer and asked if they could get it done by the end of the year.


They printed up copies by the end of the year. I got my first copies in my hand like late December, just before Christmas. It's a really cool Christmas present. And then it launched on January 5th. So from from idea or contract, I should say, to publication with six, six months and three days, which is insane. That's one quarter of the time that it normally takes to collaborate with a publisher, come up with an idea, research the idea, write the book, do all the editing, get it printed et cetera.


It's normally about a two year process and this whole thing was six months, so most of the editors are really not known for being like the fast working environments. They probably take the two years. And when you publish your book most or a lot of things, maybe already outdated or you just would have to go back to them, write them. Now, you have like this is almost like a live version of what happened, like a couple of months ago.


Yeah, no, I agree.


So so normally when you work, especially with the traditional publisher, you send them a proposal, you don't send them a book. You say, here's the book I want to write. Are you interested? And and it's almost like a business plan. And you take it to a venture capital firm. Right. And they go, yeah, we're interested. And they sign on and they give you an advance and they tell you and have the manuscript. And then as you're writing it, what normally happens is when you finish the first two or three chapters, as you finish the chapter, you send it to the editor.


But two or three chapters in once the editor has a sense of your style and you've talked about these chapters enough, he or she just sort of disappears. Right, and says, OK, send the rest to me when you're all done and then you're out on your own for like six months writing a book, and then you send the whole manuscript back to them and then you've got to go back and forth through edit what we had to do this at a much faster pace.


So I did about a chapter every four days and I would send it to Olivia. Olivia is the name of the person who edited this book. She's brilliant, mostly her idea. She talked me into it and I said, yeah, you're probably right. This is where the future of work is going, so let's get prepared. And I would send it to her like I would spend Monday through Thursday writing a chapter and I would send it to her Friday morning.


And then I would start thinking about the next chapter so that I could write it on Monday. But by like Tuesday of the following week, she'd have edits back. Right. So we were just in this constant like, I'll be writing a chapter, she'll be editing it. Then we'd flip and I would respond to her comments. While she's editing the next chapter I wrote, We Flip and it was just this. It was a crazy rhythm that we had to get into because we had not only that, I submit a manuscript on July 30.


First she had edited at least on the first drafts of editing every chapter before July thirty first. So the only editing we had to do in August was copy editing, fact checking, all of that sort of stuff.


I mean, this is this is so interesting because you wrote a book about leading from anywhere, experimenting in the same time in the Remote, in the Remote environment and getting things done, which would take a traditional editor maybe two years in six months with this special focus on getting things done right. Yeah, there was there was this, like deadline. And I think the big advantage when I see this right from outside is that that you editors and all the people are that are involved were in the same in the same situation as you write.


That's when the whole story started with the editorial saying maybe you should write a book about that, because we are right now in the same situation. And I think this would was a great chance also for you. How did it last year changed your your.


Your way of work and probably also the the writing story have like written several books, is it will this affect how you work in the future, writing books?


Yeah, I mean, it will and it won't. I think so, to be candid. I mean, the life of a writer is a Remote job mostly. Right. Like, I don't I didn't write other books from a cubicle at the publisher's office. Right. I did it out of my house. I've been I've been I was a professor before. I was a full time writer. And so I had an office at one point, but I was never there.


But since about twenty sixteen, I've been working from home most of my time, collaborating remotely with project teams around publishing different books.


The hard part here was that I had to teach them how to do it right. So I'm writing a book about how we do this while teaching the very team that I'm working on how to do this, because I'm what I'm used to is being the only person Remote and they're all in the same office in New York City together. Right. So that was a little interesting. So I am I would say I'm less curious in how I was affected and what changed for me than I am.


What happens in publishing. Right. Because they now know how to do it remotely. And publishers are a weird bunch, at least in the United States. All of them clamor for a very similar location in New York City. Crazy expensive office space. Right. It's a very sort of pride driven business in traditional publishing. And now you don't need that office space right now.


There is literally no reason to pay that exorbitant rent to have an office space on Fifth Avenue in New York City. So I'm going to be really interested to see I don't know, I'll tell you in the next book, because hopefully it'll end up being with the same team, the same publisher. We'll see how many of them have gone back to the office and how many have not. But I'm willing to bet a lot of them have not. No.


Great point of culture for me. What is your outlook to things to wrap up things for? For our conversation, to the outlook for for twenty twenty one, twenty twenty two, maybe what should stay and what we should my my Change or of time or where you see what is just coming. Yeah.


So I think, I think meeting in person matters and it matters more than it ever has and I think it matters, it will be huge when we can do it safely and I don't know if that will be fall. Twenty, twenty one spring twenty, twenty two.


I'm, I'm, it seems like everybody has negative news about vaccine rollouts in different countries, which I don't understand because my wife works in medicine. The idea that we had a vaccine within a year is insane. Can we still just celebrate that. Right. Right. And that leaves me optimistic to say that I don't know if it'll be fall twenty, twenty one or spring twenty twenty two, but those meetings will matter. And so if I were if I were advising any sort of organization, what I would say is recognize that the the the false equivalence between presence and productivity on a day to day basis has been disproven by the last year.


But the importance of bonding people together in person has been strengthened all the more so.


So start using some of the money that you're saving on having less office space to plan situations where those Remote teams can get together in person again for deep bonding experiences. Right. Increase your budget for people to go to conferences and collaborative network et cetera. Increase your budget for company all hands meetings and decrease your budget for office space and focus on making that a collaborative place because meet ups do matter, but people are going to be working from anywhere. The future of work is people wanting to work from anywhere, and part of leading them from anywhere is knowing when that means in person and when it doesn't.


And it's going to mean in person in a different way than it ever has before and a better way than it ever has before. David, thank you very much for the conversation today with you was a real pleasure talking and getting a lot of new insights and perspectives on exactly what we want to get for listeners. And. Yeah. Have a great day. Yeah, well, thank you so much for having me. It was always, always fun to chat.


Thanks for your email. You emailed me out of the blue with, like, an oh, my gosh, you have a new book that means we need to chat again. And I was like, yeah, I loved it. The first time was do it again. Yes, yes, yes. Let's do it in. Your next book is coming out now.


Well, that will be after a very long nap after the pace that we had to do it. Just one.


But for sure. For sure. Take your time. You're welcome. Always OK Zoom. Yeah. See you. Thank you.


I want to thank our guests, David Birkerts, for joining us today. You can learn more about David, his writings and causes visiting his website, David Birkerts dot com, or follow him on LinkedIN. And you should definitely get a copy of his new book, Leading from Anywhere. You can subscribe to the Virtual Frontier on Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube or whatever, Podcast can be found. And while you're there, you can give us a review. These reviews help others to find our Podcast. Please support us on Patrón so we can keep improving the show and your experience. On behalf of the team here to Virtual Frontier, I want to say thank you for listening. So until next episode, keep exploring new frontiers.