The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Kyle's Links:



Company Website


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 users a month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:23):
Today, we are blessed to be learning out loud with Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan. Kyle is the Co-founder and CEO at scales.ai. Kyle is an expatriate, currently living in Norway with a background in molecular biology and technology management. After working with startups in the United States and European Union for the past five years, Kyle started scales.ai with his two co-founders at the beginning of 2021. Kyle, tell us what problems are you trying to solve with Scale?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (00:52):
Hi, Tyler. Thanks for inviting me. We're really looking to help companies transition to hybrid work by bringing automation into the people domain. Some of the problem sets that we're really looking to tackle are based on the transition out of a physical paradigm and into the digital. What this has resulted in is a lot of new frictions between people, process, and knowledge across the organization, how they interact and what outcomes are in the context of daily life at work. In context of average employee these days, let's take a new hire, for example, we've spoken with dozens who are feeling like they're essentially islands. They don't have any understanding of the company, of community, or of opportunities outside of their immediate team. That's one example of what we're looking to solve for in the concrete.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:46):
Really interesting. I want to draw some things out of that. When you all are thinking about the hybrid environment at Scale, what are you thinking about when you describe that word? Because we're in this space and right now where people are considering returning to the office or not, or some version of hybrid, or remote first, office first. For you all, when you think about hybrid work, how do you define that for yourselves?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (02:14):
Well, I think what's most interesting with hybrid is that what we're really talking about is an unbundling of a person and their role from the physical location. So we're still going to be using offices to meet in person and do high-value work together, but the thing that's really going to connect us in that space is actually our values, our shared values and our shared goals. That unbundling means that we can start building teams across geographies that are maybe more effective at solving the problems we're trying to collectively at organizations.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (02:51):
One of the things that I think is really interesting is how we have built our corporate structures, our systems, and our processes around a physical paradigm. And those physicalities, let's say, were facilitating a lot of high-value interaction between individuals. This idea of an employee as an island in the remote context, if they were showing up for their first day of work, they were going to be having conversations where they're learning from veterans in their domain. They were going to be meeting with others who they find out also love Dungeons & Dragons. The physical space was facilitating a wealth of value creation and not having that in the digital means that you almost need to turn it into a process to be able to structure this in a way that facilitates or enables high-value interaction to occur in a new way in this noble context.
Tyler Sellhorn (03:47):
Okay. You're saying that the physical infrastructure that all of a sudden is missing now in this hybrid environment. Is promoting some of this isolation, a feeling of being on an island. How do you think organizations can fix this problem? Because it seems like, I don't know for myself, I've been a part of some really tight-knit remote teams, but obviously those teams that I've joined were remote working back in 2019. So I'm wondering the experience of that hybrid team. What are you guys learning as you think about processes and now is distribution and people connection with those hybrid teams that maybe were office first or office only before they shifted to this new way of working? What are those specific things? Like when you think about physical infrastructure, what are the things that are missing when we say goodbye to the office or are doing that even on a part-time basis? What's there that we really need to build for?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (04:46):
Yeah. One of the maybe non-intuitive ways to look at this problem is from the psychological. So if you're in a physical space, you can't help but have a certain amount of exchange with those around you. Maybe you had multidisciplinary teams on the same floor in the office building, what have you. In the digital first context, the first problem to solve for is actually behavioral. It's not so much that you're going to be bumping into people. You actually have to have the intention or make an intentional decision to go out and engage with your colleagues. Then you run into these problems related to the people you don't know, you don't know. How do you meet organically in novel ways when you are in this digital first context?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (05:32):
I think a lot of it has been generalized over the past months and year or two as water cooler conversations or coffee machine conversations, but I think it goes much deeper than that when you consider what an organization actually is. It is this collective of individuals, the people and the knowledge being leveraged to solve problems. This is an organism and the ways in which people are interacting are fundamentally determining success for that company. You're not just having nice interactions. You're actually building a fabric to carry the company over the line, whatever your collective goals might be.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (06:15):
With a biology background, I always end up coming back to this idea that organizations are complex adaptive systems. And one of the most challenging things for any organization is to adapt. Previously, adaptation was so difficult because it was tied to this physical paradigm. And when we're looking to solve for the behavioral or the psychological move into remote, that ability to re-engineer how people are working across boundaries, you really have to first address the psychological. And part of that is reducing friction. Just making it as simple as possible for the end user to say yes to an engagement, whatever that may be. That's a really hard challenge.
Tyler Sellhorn (06:58):
Yeah. What I'm hearing you say, Kyle, is that the physical limitations of person-to-person interaction, physics matter, biology matters, psychology matters. These are the things that are the constraints on our ability to collaborate. We think about time zones. We think about physical co-location. We think about just even the way that our brains work. We've got to do these things that have... This has been a theme throughout our conversations with experts here on The Remote Show. Is that when we are not located in the same space, it increases the need for decision-making that is intentional and purposeful to say, "Okay, if we're not going to be left on our own islands, we have to go and build the behaviors that will promote the connections and the organizational framework for us to be able to collaborate well together." Am I correct in saying back to you that way?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (07:58):
Yeah. Was it my Mark Twain who said, "If I had more time, I would've written a shorter letter"? I think you hit the nail on the head. The problem is that it's about people. Fundamentally organizations are people, whether we call it engagement or productivity or any other word that tries to disconnect it from what it actually is. It's a group of people who are self identifying around a common purpose. Some of them might be really emotionally involved, others might just be there for the paycheck, but at the end of the day, people are complex.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (08:30):
I think one of the things that's really interesting to look at is how we can use technology to bridge some of these gaps. I think if we look at how historically people have been valued within an organization, pretty low on the totem pole. I mean, the history of the industrial revolution kind of transition to where we are today has been a long and arduous one, where people as an asset historically been underappreciated and undervalued. I think we're fortunate to be living in a time where more and more companies are recognizing human capital, not so much as capital, but as assets, individuals, real people who they want to take care of and they want to help do their best work. That is a prerequisite for succeeding in remote. But beyond that, you still need to design an architecture around enablement and that is certainly not an easy task.
Tyler Sellhorn (09:27):
Okay. I want to come back to something you said, kind of giving a case study of onboarding. You said, well, how do does somebody find out that there are other D&D players at their place of work, that they can have some of those informal connections that form the basis of deeper collaboration across teams or within a team? What is the way that we can rebundle those types of connections while we are still unbundling our location from our work? It's not easy to start connecting there. Or maybe the better question is, should we be depending on work to be the place that we find those connections? Lots of thoughts and wonderings there as you kind of describe that onboarding example.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (10:13):
Yeah, no, I think your final point there about the unbundling of work and school from community or life and personal identity, that's the whole other direction we could go in. To take the onboarding example, our product allows companies to design programs. Each program is essentially the who, the when, and the why of engagement. But unlike many of the matchmaking tools on the market, we're not saying, "Give us your data and we'll put the best people together." We're giving a very flexible framework to company leaders to say, "Okay, who would we want to bring together with this new cohort?" So they could say, we want new hires in the last six months engineering to be meeting with senior domain peers. And then they would be able to structure a frequency routine and associated facilitative content around that engagement so it's structured.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (11:10):
And most importantly, relevance isn't being defined by data. So despite having AI in our name, we're very aware of the fact that a cold start problem is going to exist in the people domain for a long time, because it is nascent for all intents and purposes. So we're saying, "Okay, what employee hard facts can we use to create automated routines to bring people together within a context or purpose?" So there are generally three out-of-the-box ways that this is being used at Scales.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (11:42):
The first is peer cohorts. So bringing together new hires within the peer cohort across geographies, and that's where we use algorithms to prioritize introductions based on personal interests, where we can identify that someone liking Dungeon & Dragons has a minority interest. So someone else with that minority interest is actually going to be weighted more heavily because it is an uncommon similarity between the two.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (12:07):
The next is that example previously given where you want new hires to be exposed to experienced leaders in their domain. And that's really about unlocking generational knowledge transfer, which paradigm of physical or remote. This is not something that's been solved for in a meaningful way and companies have struggled with for a long time, independent of the pandemic.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (12:30):
And the third is really about bringing frontline and new hire perspective to the leadership while also giving leaders a platform to dialogue around topics important to the company. So I had a conversation about a month ago with someone who had been hired for a mid-level management position at a pretty well-known company in the Nordics. And he had never really met his leader, but maybe more tellingly, he wasn't really able to clearly communicate the overarching mission or values of the company. I think those sorts of dialogues can be turned into a process and be made to be collaborative and bring people together for conversations that matter. And those sorts of conversations are not happening by chance anymore. They need to be facilitated and that's where we're trying to help.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:20):
Really cool. I'm going to make a silly joke, but I'm curious, which is weighted higher: Dungeons & Dragons, Pokemon, or Magic the Gathering inside of the minor interests field for you all?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (13:35):
Well, you just gave me a great reason to hit up our tech team and get them to add Magic The Gathering. I, myself, collected them and played a bit as a kid, but that is not in our ontology as it were.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:48):
Okay. Well, we need to step our game up in terms... Well, very intentional pun there. We need to step our game up. I want to zoom out to like you, as someone who has left their home country and is living abroad, tell us what prompted you to pursue that route and what brought you to where you are today?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (14:11):
Oh, you know that question never gets easier. When I was young, I was really in love with history and I think that was the first thing that exposed me to other cultures. And so as I got older, I was a early adopter of the internet, playing StarCraft in '96, '97, when I was a wee lad. That exposure to people from other places just made me want to go out and experience it myself. I think one of the most interesting thing that it has done to change who I am is actually forced me to be someone that I am not inherently.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (14:43):
When I came to Norway, I really had to force myself to go out and find community. I had to be proactive. I had to explore. I had to face disappointment and rejection, and it was only through trial and error that I found technology entrepreneurship. It changed my path from molecular biology, but what it also did was make me comfortable with being an extrovert. So if it were up to me, I would be in a cabin with a book and a cup of tea, and I would say sayonara, but it's really forced me outside of my comfort zone time and again and the outcome has been irreplaceable, rewarding, truly meaningful and impactful in my life.
Tyler Sellhorn (15:28):
Interesting. Just a fun fact for you that the CEO of Shopify is also a StarCraft player and I am as well. So that very interesting to hear that as a common thread of similarly aged video game players that are also inside of the technology space. So very cool to hear about that. Maybe the thing that I'm curious to draw out from your experience of living abroad was why was it Norway? I'm wondering about that.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (15:55):
Ah, well, I think this is where my nerdiness begins to come out. On the surface, I tell people that I love nature, I love to hike and ski. We grew up going to Mammoth and Tahoe for basically every holiday. So a real outdoorsy family, but I've mentioned this love of history. It was also a fascination with political science and there was a year, I must have been 15, where the combination of puberty and US history, European history, and that general angst made me begin questioning things that I guess teenagers can question. And what that led me to was this almost macabre research into the future of the world. So I was concerned about climate change. I was looking at countries that had domestic energy security, fresh water resource per capita numbers, strong forms of governance, and Norway checked all of these boxes in a very peculiar way.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (17:09):
Looking back, I think I'm in some ways more concerned and some ways less concerned about the future of the planet, but the honest answer, Tyler, is I was an angsty teenager, a total nerd, and driven to find a place that I perceived as safe and hospitable for my progeny, which is a bizarre answer.
Tyler Sellhorn (17:32):
Okay. Shout out to Scandinavian socialism. All right. Very good. We've got those bases covered there. I'm curious. When you're thinking about prioritizing where you chose to live, what were the must haves versus the nice to haves?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (17:48):
Well, I think my initial assumption is different from what it ended up being, and I'm just going to focus on the latter. Scandinavia is not as socialist as most people would think. I think capitalism is very much alive and well in Norway.
Tyler Sellhorn (18:00):
I stand corrected. Thank you for that pushback.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (18:03):
But they are collaborative, and I think that's the real nuance. Is that despite being very much a free market country in many respects, they are a collaborative people by nature. There is a Norwegian term that made Western news outlets over the course of the last year, and that word is [dugnad 00:18:20]. A dugnad is basically the Norwegian equivalent to the Amish barn raising. It's people coming together for a shared purpose and just getting shit done quickly and effectively. And Scandinavians have had to build that interdependence, that collective reliance on one another, just by virtue of how difficult it was to live here over the centuries. I mean, it is cold, it is dark and things do not grow. So that is really what kept me here beyond what brought me here. The collaborative nature of the people has definitely kept me because it shines through in many aspects of daily life.
Tyler Sellhorn (18:59):
Thanks for sharing that deeply with us. I'm curious, we have a lot of people who choose to listen to us that are remote job seekers. I'm wondering what you might have to say to them as they are considering the possibility of the remote dream of even living abroad while working remotely. What are the things that you might say to them to help them be successful?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (19:18):
Yeah. Maybe a little different if they already have a role versus they're starting from scratch, but I'm currently at a lodge. It's called the Arctic Coworking Lodge north of the Arctic Circle in a place called Lofoten, surrounded by people working remotely between the ages of 25 and 35. Some even as high as 40, 45, and it's their first time. They saw an opportunity, they heard about the dream and they thought, "You know what, I'm going to go try to live it for two weeks, for a month, and see how it goes." It can seem like a really big leap, especially when you're used to pursuing work within that physical context. You don't want to be an island. You want to be surrounded by people with the same values and same goals as you, but just take that first step and understand that there are other opportunities to find that community both in and outside of work. And it's only going to get easier from here. I don't think it's going to be harder in six to 12 months. So go out and take that first step.
Tyler Sellhorn (20:25):
Interesting. You mentioned what might be here in the near future. That's one of my favorite questions to be asking right now. Is to say, when you think about remote work in 2019 and earlier, versus remote work right now in the midst of our efforts to end the pandemic. We're kind of still in the midst of it. And then 2022 and beyond when we hope to be well beyond the struggles and troubles of public health right now, what do you think about as you do the compare and contrast to those different epochs? What comes to mind for you for those different time periods?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (21:03):
Yeah. If we're talking the last five to 10 years, I've been working remotely now for about six or seven years, and people would expect you to be face to face for basic things and now we're in this context where we don't have to be transacting. Is essentially a leap of faith at this point, but we are learning the behaviors to trust the person on the other side of the video screen, rather than building rapport in person.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (21:32):
I think from a trend's perspective, one of the most impactful things is going to be being the gig economy as it moves up market. We've started with marketplaces for services, and I think that's going to increasingly impact the higher skilled services in many respects. And so I think we're going to increasingly be losing this sense of relationship to the companies that we're working for as we begin being rented out to other projects or working in between as independent consultants. Specifically one group that we work a lot with are IT and services firms whose consultants are embedded in external relationships. I think the ties that bind us are going to be increasingly loosened and it's going to be up to individuals as much as organizations in the macro industries to try to define what remains at the end. But to say that I can read into that future would be a little presumptuous. I think, however, cliche to this it's to say, the only constant is change and we seem to be increasingly accelerating.
Tyler Sellhorn (22:40):
Yeah. I definitely can accept it depends answer as you look into the future. We all have our crystal balls cloudy at best. So yes, it's been really fun to ask that question of the experts we've had here on the show.
Tyler Sellhorn (22:53):
Okay, let's flip it around. We've talked about you as an individual and what you might say to other individuals that are seeking the same remote dream that you've achieved. Let's flip it around. Let's think of ourselves as remote hiring managers, as remote employers. What are the things that we need to know to be able to be successful in this current state and what might be to come?
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (23:15):
One thing that companies can do, I believe to get out ahead is to over-communicate. Some of the early leaders in remote, including [inaudible 00:23:24] and Zapier, they do an incredible job of over-communicating. And I think this is important because we can't decide what piece of content gets out there first, but we need our culture and our purpose in this world to be at the forefront, no matter where that starting point is. And so I think we're actually entering a golden era of engagement if you think of company to the external. I think we're opening our doors. We're sharing more about what makes us tick both good and bad. I think is important to put out there for prospective hire, because in the same way as a romantic relationship, if you're going to hide the truth, it comes out eventually. In the corporate context, we call that churn. So being overly communicative, sharing profusely, engaging in webinars, AMAs, being on Core and Reddit. I think these are table stakes at this point.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (24:25):
Next step would be really to find new ways to increase engagement with groups that are not necessarily going to be full-time hires right off the bat, but who are attracted to the brand, attracted to the company and maybe represent good consultants part-time or over longer period. Within this idea of looser affiliations, we do have an opportunity to begin engaging earlier at lower thresholds and in different ways. And so the hiring equation really shouldn't be binary anymore. We can come up with new ways to engage with those who are interested in engaging with us. And I think by doing so, we'll create a much broader base for community and ultimately to the benefit of the organization's success and longevity.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:14):
Well, Kyle, I think that's an outstanding way to conclude. Just to say, "Hey, let's be sincere. Let's build in public. Let's do it in engaging ways, including with engaging people that aren't necessarily employees already of our organization." That there's an invitational way to bring people along that isn't an all or nothing sort of proposition. So thank you so much for those reminders and the things that you've said to us today. Blessings.
Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan (25:39):
I appreciate your thoughts as well and the great questions. It's been a pleasure, Tyler,
Tyler Sellhorn (25:45):
Thanks so much again for listening into the show and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. And if you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time. 

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