The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Today's guest is Chris Herd, the CEO and founder of FirstbaseHQ. And of course, you already know him from his thought leadership on Twitter, LinkedIn, sending out those fire tweets, the massive threads about the future of living, future of remote working here in our world.

Follow Chris Herd on Twitter

Connect with Chris Herd on LinkedIn

Learn more about FirstBaseHQ at firstbasehq.com


Tyler Sellhorn (00:02): 
Hello everyone, my name is Tyler Sellhorn and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique visitors per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. 
Tyler Sellhorn (00:24): 
We are visited today with Chris Herd, the CEO and founder of Firstbase HQ. And of course, you already know him from his thought leadership on Twitter, LinkedIn, sending out those fire tweets, the massive threads about the future of living, future of remote working here in our world. Chris, I'm curious, what else do we want to tack on to the bio, there? 
Chris Herd (00:46): 
I mean, there's a lot that we can cover and I'm sure that we'll get into it. But yeah, I'll just generally give you a synopsis of what Firstbase does. We help companies of all sizes, from small startups to global enterprises, set up, manage, maintain and retrieve all the physical equipment that remote workers need at home. 
Tyler Sellhorn (01:04): 
Awesome, awesome. Well, I know I appreciate all the work and set up that I've done for myself in my working space here at home. And, I know that our company would benefit from your services. What was it about provisioning in home offices that really made you all connect the dots, say, "Okay, this is the problem we're going to solve?" 
Chris Herd (01:27): 
Yeah, I'll actually start back at a step before that, and give you why we actually became a remote team in the first place. Which is we founded a financial technology company in March 2018, and became a remote workforce because I missed my daughter walking, talking and laughing for the first time. I thought, "Well if I'm going to found a business, I want to be there to see my kids grow up, I want them to know their dad. I want to spend more time with my partner, my friends, my family." As we got that remote team set up for ourselves, we quickly realized how expensive it was to get a remote team set up, how time consuming it was. And then you start doing that and things don't turn up, people leave, it's almost impossible to get this stuff back. We thought, "Okay look, before we go and hire 15, 20, 30, 100 more remote workers, let's solve this problem because it sucks and it's a bad experience for our team." 
Chris Herd (02:16): 
It just turned out we had the right combination of pain, which obviously I've touched upon, but we also had the skillset to solve that. So when I was missing my daughter walking, and talking and that stuff, I'd been working in the oil and gas industry internationally. I'd literally been putting the same equipment we were trying to put in people's homes in oil and gas platforms in the most remote places on the planet. It was this obvious thing that we knew was a problem that needed solved. We didn't immediately realize that every other remote team was struggling with it, so we go back to building the fintech business for a while before eventually pivoting to it full-time. 
Tyler Sellhorn (02:48): 
Okay, so you've already leaned into it. I'm curious about the story of you getting hired for the first time in a remote job, or if you feel like we've covered that base already right there. I'm curious, tell me the story of making your first hire remotely. 
Chris Herd (03:06): 
Yeah, I can probably speak more generally on how we make hires remotely. The thing is, it's different but there's a lot of things that are the same. We're still a super small team. There's me, my co-founder, so how we typically manage that is whichever party is the hiring party, they have an initial screening conversation, assume that some stuff has happened in the background. If it's someone that's writing code, there's some test to finally reach that point. So first party has that conversation, second party has that conversation. We don't really share notes at that point, because we think it's better to get an independent opinion. Don't color the perception before you've had the conversation. 
Chris Herd (03:45): 
And then, after that we typically introduce people to the wider team. If it's someone that's writing code, can they speak to a couple on the team that they're going to be working with directly. If it's someone that's selling, speak to account executives. And then finally, we have a hiring committee meeting where we bring everyone together. It's more of a formal thing where we're going to dig on specifics, we've already captured references at that point, which I think is actually super important in a remote world and I think a lot of people skip over that. 
Chris Herd (04:13): 
I would say that ... This is probably a question that you're going to get onto, so I would expand too much. What we also look for in people that we're hiring is interests outside of work. 
Tyler Sellhorn (04:22): 
Okay, so tell me more about that. What are the signals that say to you, "Okay, I'm really interested in this person?" Because the usual body language, and appearance, how do you demonstrate readiness for remote work? Or for your organization, when you're doing that through a screen? What are the things that you're paying attention to, what are the "There's some marks in their favor?" What are you marking off when you look at that? 
Chris Herd (04:52): 
Yeah, I would say generally, and this is a massive generalization and it's obviously not true in an individual basis, but generally great remote workers aren't just workers. By that, we take a zoom out a little bit and we say, "Okay, what else do you guys do outside of work?" You know what my fundamental view is. Everyone loves talking about the future of work, nobody gives a shit about the future of work. Let's start talking about the future of living. 
Chris Herd (05:17): 
So what you're looking at is what do people do outside of that, because that's the real thing that gives them meaning in their lives, that's typically where they're going to find happiness rather than who are you spending most time with, dictated by your hiring manager, and the deepest common bond is that you've got a shared reliance on the economic success of that business, where if that ends, relationships end. The people we see being super successful typically have outside interests, and that can be anything. That could be I love to read, I love to travel, I love to play soccer, whatever it is. But, we see that as a direct correlation, if people have a deep interest outside of work being better remote workers, for lack of a better phrase. 
Tyler Sellhorn (05:57): 
Okay, so I want to turn it back to you just for a second, Chris. What does remote working enable for you? What does working in a fully distributed organization, what are those outside interests that you show up with, as CEO of Firstbase HQ? 
Chris Herd (06:11): 
Yeah. Little known fact, I was actually a semi-professional soccer player until 12 months ago, so that was something I focused on. I played in the lower leagues in Scotland. Yeah, I'm aging myself here, but I've played for 24 years. That was something that I got away. I read a lot, I spoke about my kids already. I like to clearly spend time with my kids, I like to travel a lot. Work has always just been a facet of that. That's a pillar of my life, but it's a thing that enables me to do everything else. 
Chris Herd (06:41): 
When we started designing the business we were really focused on, "Okay, how can we provide and create a business that's not just focused on being the best place to work?" I'll caveat this with I love my dad, I don't just want to build a business that's the best place in the world for my dad to work. You know what I mean by that, offices are great for a certain demographic. If you're older, you're more gregarious, you can go into meetings and dominate the room, you're going to be the beneficiary of being promoted quicker and performance isn't really factored into. And who are you drinking with after work, which is a nonsensical reason to drive performance inside businesses. 
Chris Herd (07:18): 
So something that was incredibly important to me was how can we build the best place in the world for every single person to work out? How can we create an organization that's inclusive, it's accessible and it's diverse? How can we be somewhere that's a great place for single parents to work, people who are potentially caring for family members who are sick, people who have health conditions or impairments that make it difficult. Those are, I think, all the things that coalesced together and paint this picture of why it's so important to me. 
Tyler Sellhorn (07:46): 
That's awesome, thank you for sharing all of those things. I wanted to come back to the beginning of that answer. For you, you mentioned that you're a team sports person, football was your thing there in Scotland. How do you bring those experiences back to your experience of leading your team and coaching people to be successful remote workers? I'm a team sports person, too, so I'm really interested in the answer to this question. But, how do you bring those things back to your organization? 
Chris Herd (08:15): 
Yeah, I would say there's a couple of things and we definitely view it through the prism of it being comparable. The first is being open to coaching. Management largely has been this command and control base thing, and actually the best managers in sports are the most empathetic people. That's really what's necessary in remote organizations. It's less how can I tell you to do this thing, it's how can I help you do this thing, how can I hop you improve. What are the skills that we noticed you need to improve upon, and how can we empower you to do that and become a better worker? That's, I think, the direct thing that's relatable to sport. 
Chris Herd (08:48): 
And then, the second part is ... Some people are uncomfortable with this, and most people wouldn't admit to it, but they're not comfortable hiring people that are far better than they are. That's always been something that I've been super comfortable with. I was not the most talented soccer player in the world, but I knew that I worked harder than anyone else, and I was going to be fitter than everyone else. And what I knew that I was good at was, if I had the ball, I could give it to my teammates who are far better than me and they're going to score goals. I would say that's carried into the business, where we are very comfortable hiring people that are far better than we'll ever be at skills. 
Chris Herd (09:23): 
And really, I see that stuff as my job, is how can I replace myself in everything that I'm doing, even if it's things I enjoy. Everyone in the team likes scoring goals, or scoring the touchdown or hitting the home run, but if that's not your role then let someone else do it whose better than you. 
Tyler Sellhorn (09:39): 
Well, thank you for translating the scoring goals into my American home runs and touchdowns. 
Tyler Sellhorn (09:46): 
So Chris, I'm really curious, you've touched on a lot of different things that are, you mentioned pillars of your life, and it also sounds like you've got a really great framework for pillars of what Firstbase HQ is as well. How do you demonstrate that kind of culture in your hiring? How do you demonstrate that in the ways that you've mentioned before, about being considered? How do you express that being inclusive, having a workspace that allows for the contribution of all different kinds of people? What are the ways that you show that to people? 
Chris Herd (10:23): 
Yeah. I would say we're still figuring it out, would be my first concession there. The second part is we're doing a pretty good job here, we're a pretty diverse organization if you zoom out and you look at where we are. I think that's a product of how open and transparent we've been about the type of business that we're trying to build. I think it's pretty clear from the outside looking in, if you've consumed anything that I've pushed out, that if you're someone that can only work, I don't know, after 10 o'clock in the morning because you need to drop your kids at school, and you need to take an hour off in the afternoon because you cycle up some mountain or something like that, or you can only work on Pacific time because you live in Hawaii and you like to surf every morning, these things don't matter to me. What I really care about is output, and ultimately the contribution that you can make for us to reach the goals that we need to get to. 
Chris Herd (11:15): 
There's no color to that, there's no age to that, there's no demographic to that and there's no location to that. It doesn't matter to me if you're someone that's just graduated from college, or someone that's been retired for three years and is living with their sister, or brother, or kids wherever in the world. It's just not something that's ever occupied my mind. I think the key is just being able to convey that externally is something that's super powerful. I think that's what we've tried to do, capture the essence of Firstbase is that we're just trying to build something that other people are going to be happy to come and work with us on. But yeah, we're trying to improve every day as well. 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:50): 
Yeah. I'm curious what it is about your public facing internet persona. When you think about how you show up in those spaces, what are the things that you're thinking about in terms of okay, whose going to see this? You're selling the business, of course, you're also going to be recruiting and hiring as well. Even in a job advertisement, what are the things that you think about okay, I need to make sure that these are the things that I communicate so that the right people see the information that I'm trying to convey? 
Chris Herd (12:24): 
Yeah. I think, honestly, I get too much credit for my social media. A lot of people are like, "Oh, do you use software to plan it?" It's just spontaneous. It's what comes to me, it's what's happening at the time. If there's an article, I'm going to respond to it. Even the tweet threads that I push out, I think everyone's expectation is that I sit there and agonize over them for hours, where it's just not true. Obviously, there's a lot in the background that happens. If we're speaking to thousands of people, there's a lot that happens there and we compile it. But the actual writing of it is just I'm going to write this, this is what we're capturing, this is the zeitgeist, this is what we're hearing. I think that's what's interesting. 
Chris Herd (13:02): 
I think we occupy a very fortunate position right now, where we're incredibly lucky to be having conversations with such a wide spectrum of people. I think it would be selfish not to share that, and I think we get a lot of pushback on that where people are like, "Oh, well that's not what I'm hearing." And you're like, "Well, the statistics are the statistics. 90% of people don't want to work in an office ever again, full-time. And if you're not hearing that, then that's part of the echo chamber that you're in. I'm just telling you what I'm hearing." 
Chris Herd (13:31): 
We speak to a lot of people, and I think this is what people misunderestimate. They say, "Oh, how is it possible for you to have spoken to 2000 place in the last 12 months?" We had 10,000 people sign up to learn more about Firstbase, so that's just a snapshot of those conversations. We also speak externally to a lot of large organizations that pull us in. We've had national presidential advisory people reach out to us and say, "Can you teach us a little bit on this?" It's hard to capture that and really deliver that in a way that's easily accessible. I think the way that I try to do that is by spurring conversation. 
Chris Herd (14:05): 
I think some people read my stuff as too forthright, but that's by design. It's about if it's just gray, nobody cares. It's got to be black and white for people to question it, and I think that's ultimately what I try to achieve. How can we create a conversation which inspires people to ask questions, which enables us to progress more rapidly than we are? Ultimately, the implication of that is how can we end up in a better future than the one we're experiencing today. The way I see that is by improving the quality of life that we have outside work, we then pull work up alongside it as well. 
Tyler Sellhorn (14:39): 
Yeah, that's awesome. You know, it really is about the work that you've done before, before you start sharing back what you've learned. That's really cool, I appreciate that. 
Tyler Sellhorn (14:49): 
Okay, one of the things that's true about your bio, Chris, is that you are straddling the Atlantic. You're in Scotland, but you have connections in New York, and you're doing the multi-nationality residents type of lifestyle. What are the things that you've learned from working remotely in that way? And even doing CEO things, such as fundraising or not fundraising, or whatever it is. How do you think about working in a cross-border, global company? 
Chris Herd (15:20): 
Yeah, I would say the first part is we've got a lot of privilege there. I'm incredibly fortunate that my partner's American and can enable me to do that. I'm incredibly fortunate for the position that I've been in, to have the opportunity to build a business, and raise investment from interesting people, and really champion the cause for increasing the quality of life that we're seeing. I think that's absolutely true. 
Chris Herd (15:44): 
I think in terms of what that's enabled me to appreciate, I guess, is asynchronous work is where we should be heading. Everyone talks about, and I mentioned it before, the future of work. The future of living isn't the future of work, those two things are completely detached. What we really need to do is how can we get in a position where individuals aren't sacrificing life for work, and people can begin to organize work around living. You come from this situation which is the industrial revolution standard of work, which is mass produced workplace that suits nobody. But, it suits everyone as equally unequally, if that makes sense. And then, you want to get to this position which is you cater to the individual. 
Chris Herd (16:31): 
The way that you do that is you use remote work as a bridge to asynchronous work, you empower individuals to do deep focused work without distraction. And, the key thing to acknowledge there is it doesn't mean you never come together physically, it means that you come together physically. Being able to cross-borders for those meetups, be it on a monthly basis, a quarterly basis, a bi-yearly basis, a yearly basis, it's really about understanding the needs of the organizations and the wants of your people, and designing and organization that caters to their preferences. There's still a lot of exploration to happen there. I think it's easy to think that we've got all the answers today. I think we know the direction we're heading in, IE asynchronous work is the direction we should be going, but we don't actually know where the destination is, if that translates. 
Tyler Sellhorn (17:20): 
It does translate. Especially when we think about cross-borders, there is going to be that translation that's happening. I know I'm very grateful for the aspect of English being the [langua Englisha 00:17:38] of business today. The unfortunate colonization of empire back in 1800s has an impact on me today and my ability to do work across borders. 
Tyler Sellhorn (17:50): 
I wanted to return to something that you mentioned about the fact that you're privileged to be able to go back and forth between Scotland and the United States because of your relationship to your partner. I'm wondering, what are the things that you're thinking about when you say ... We're speaking together, of course, in February 2021. And, as you think about a post-pandemic world, what are the types of things that you see ... The tweet threads that you've sent are really more so a snapshot in time of right now, right? 
Chris Herd (18:26): 
Tyler Sellhorn (18:26): 
As you zoom out from that information that you're sharing back to the community, what do you think is on the other side of that? Because you're mentioning getting together, it's not an either or. It isn't black and white as it relates to us being together, it's that gray of what works for your company and how often do you need to be together. What does that look like in the future? What is the next version of remote work? There's some amount of us that continue on, and some of us that maybe don't. What do you think? 
Chris Herd (18:57): 
Yeah, I think the wider expectation is we're going to have some blended mode of hybrid working. What I think is unclear at this point is what hybrid working actually is. When you ask someone, "What's hybrid work," you're going to get a million different answers based on what their perspective is, and actually nobody's wrong. Someone will talk you, "Well, hybrid working is half the week in the office, half the week at home," whereas someone else's hybrid work is once a month in the office, or once a quarter in the office. I think it's binary to describe it as hybrid. I think the deeper question is where is leadership and where is management? That's the thing that dictates culture. 
Chris Herd (19:40): 
If you're an organization where leadership is always in the office, it benefits you personally if you want to progress rapidly to be where they are as frequently as possible. In that instance, if management and leadership is in the office, that is an office first culture so discard hybrid entirely. The other side of that is where management and leadership are remote first, it's a remote first culture. So the news you've seen amount Coinbase in the last few days, they're a good example of that. The other side would be what Goldman are saying, where they're like, "Everyone's coming back into the office." 
Tyler Sellhorn (20:19): 
Just a little context for everyone. Coinbase has declared that their headquarters is not going to house any of their upper level management people. Their office level folks are going to be working from a distributed environment that they may come in occasionally. But on the flip side, Goldman Sachs' CEO declared remote working as an aberration and as soon as possible, everyone's going back to the office. 
Chris Herd (20:42): 
Right. It's funny because you think, "What was the immediate response of Goldman employees?" The stats are clear, 90% of people never want to work in an office again, full-time. That doesn't mean they never want to go in, it means they don't want to go in, nine til five, Monday to Friday, which is what the Goldman CEO basically said was going to happen. So I'm a Goldman employee, my immediate reaction is, "Who are our biggest competitors? Who can I leave and work remotely with, as quickly as possible?" 
Chris Herd (21:12): 
What we're generally talking about there is what I like to refer to as a remote work dilemma, which is any company who isn't as remote as their biggest competitor is dead. That happens pretty quickly. The way I like to rephrase that, and provide a metaphor, is look at what happened with eCommerce, eCommerce versus bricks-and-mortar retail. Go back to 1999, Amazon's just coming on the block, internet's really just proliferating. We don't have super fast internet, so it's dial up and this sort of nonsense. The initial response to eCommerce was everyone sniggering at it, "Whose going to buy stuff on the internet? Whose going to trust putting their details on the internet?" Within two or three years it's okay, some people are going to buy some stuff on the internet. Yeah, I'm going to buy a book on the internet, but nobody's going to buy everything on the internet. Whereas fast forward to today, and you've got almost everyone's buying almost everything online. 
Chris Herd (22:10): 
Now, stores have transformed from being this ubiquitous thing to an experiential offering that people still go to occasionally. But for the most part, there's no benefit to it because they've got smaller inventories, they're more expensive, you need to travel to them. And you say, "Well, that's the office." Smaller inventories, well actually our access to talent's smaller. It's convenient, we need to commute for two hours a day. So the direct comparison is eCommerce versus bricks-and-mortar retail is remote working versus the office. 
Chris Herd (22:43): 
And then you extend that and you say, "Okay, well if Goldman isn't remote and HSBC's more remote," HSBC steals all their most talented people while simultaneously becoming more cost efficient because they're slashing office costs. And Goldman, then, can't compete. So what you see happen is office first companies die slowly, and then all at once and they disappear like the same way as physical retail did. 
Tyler Sellhorn (23:07): 
Well, I hope Apple rethinks whose going to back their credit card. 
Tyler Sellhorn (23:13): 
Okay so Chris, I'm wanting to transition and say okay, thank you very much for all the information that you've shared today. And, I want to close with an opportunity for you to just remind everyone where they can find you, what are the most important things that you want people to leave with today. We're so grateful for you being out in front as one of the leading lights, the leading voices, a really fine point on the experience of remote workers and what's coming next for us in this space. Yeah, tell us where we can find you and what you're up to. 
Chris Herd (23:47): 
Yeah, I'll start with the first part which was what can we say is the key part, and actually I know my public persona on remote working is super optimistic, but actually I think we're in this really precarious position. 
Chris Herd (24:00): 
Where people think that remote work as normal, it is COVID enforced, lockdown work from home, and they think this is remote work as normal. I think it's important to acknowledge that this is remote work in the most difficult possible circumstances, during a global pandemic lockdown and home schooling. I think the way I like to speak about that is if you loved remote working before COVID, you'll love it after COVID. If you like it now, wait until you get all the intangible benefits after it and you're going to love it. And if you dislike it now, give it a chance because actually there's a real quality of life benefit that comes when your kids are back in school, you can go to coffee shops and work in the morning, you can go to a coworking space, you can travel, you can do all that other stuff. I think that's the first important thing that I'd like to touch on. 
Chris Herd (24:48): 
The second is that there's a real danger in organizations reacting to this and doing the wrong thing. I think it's easy to just replicate what we've got in the office remotely, continue this synchronous working, and actually potentially that ends up in a worse situation that we've got now because you end up with people in their homes who feel like they're living at work and it's just a really bad situation. I like to implore organizations to be more, I think, generous in their trust for their people and really empower them to do the best work that they've ever done. As everyone knows, and the studies I've seen, happier workers are better workers, and that's ultimately the future we want to get to. 
Chris Herd (25:27): 
In terms of where I am, @Chris_Herd on Twitter, I'm sure you can find me there, and firstbasehq.com. 
Tyler Sellhorn (25:35): 
Awesome, Chris. Thank you again, so much, for your time. Chris Herd, the Firstbase HQ founder and CEO. Thank you for listening to The Remote Show from weworkremotely.com, the best place on the internet to post your job advert to find the very best remote workers. 

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