The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Links to Lance's internet things:







Tyler Sellhorn (00:01):
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 per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. Today, we are joined by Lance Robbins, founder of RemotelyConnected. Lance is all in on the remote work revolution. He believes so strongly in the far-reaching benefits of working remotely that he's created RemotelyConnected to help organizations around the world build thriving teams and effective operations.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:37):
He's here to help companies leverage an exceptional remote work experience as a competitive advantage in the talent acquisition, engagement, and retention arenas. Building lasting partnerships with brilliant brands has been the highlight of his work. He's currently leading the global talent program across XWP, and supporting the team at Distribute as a subject matter expert and senior consultant. He's highly interested in connecting with leaders in the remote tech space and all members of cross-functional software development teams. His family, his faith, and his values are an integral part of how he approaches his work, while leading with care, kindness, and character. So Lance, tell us, what problems are you trying to solve with the businesses you're serving?
Lance Robbins (01:15):
Hey, Tyler, thanks so much. Just like you said there in the intro, creating exceptional experiences in the remote environment is really what we're working on here. So it's not just enough to be remote anymore. Everybody's doing it. It's the cool thing. So helping teams be able to create that stand-out, excellent experience, whether that's through a hiring process or through building a culture, policy, things of that nature, it's all about making it really awesome. Because if it's just like, "Hey, we're going to offer you some flexibility," well, so does everybody else now. It's got to be better.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:59):
Awesome. That's really interesting to hear you kind of shifting the message past just working remotely and past working flexibly. When you think about what is next for recruiting and employee engagement and retention, what is the next step that companies need to do to be attractive to 2021 and beyond job seekers?
Lance Robbins (02:31):
Yeah, and it's a huge problem right now for people that are hiring. I drive through my little rural town here, and Burger King, Wendy's, McDonald's all have signs on the door, "$15 an hour, sign-on bonuses," and it's not happening. So for those even harder to fill and special expert roles, you've got to be really competitive. And that's in terms of... Speed to hire is a huge one. So if you've got multiple, multiple rounds of conversation that's going on, which is a translation from the in-office experience... Why don't you come in for the day? We'll fly you in. We'll spend half a day shooting the breeze. We'll have lunch. You're losing so much ground to your competitors out there. So creating a thorough process that can be facilitated quickly is a huge need right now in the talent marketplace.
Lance Robbins (03:39):
And then, like I was saying before, used to be that I can reach out and say, "Hey, I'm working with a remote organization. Are you interested?" And people were saying, "Yes, I get a hundred emails from recruiters every day. I only open the ones that say remote." But now, it's like, okay, that's not moving the needle anymore. So how is it that organizations are creating that separation from the noise, the Johnny-come-latelies? All of a sudden we're here, and we want to compete as well. Yeah, got to do it really well. You got to do it really intentionally. I would say intentionality is like the key thing for organizations that are going to try to be successful for the future in the remote industry. You can't just wing it.
Tyler Sellhorn (04:31):
That is a theme that we keep hearing with all kinds of guests, whether it's in the remote communication and culture-building space, in the how we employ people, but gosh, it really does feel like... Darren Murph, one of the leading lights of our, of our remote working community, he has declared it long ago, back in before 2020, that remote working is a forcing function for intentionality. And it really, really is helpful to even see all different aspects of the ways that we are engaging one another and working, especially in that recruiting and retention space that you're working in. Okay, so I'm curious. What was your first remote role, and how did you find and land that role?
Lance Robbins (05:22):
Hmm, cool. So this is actually with an organization that I'm working with today, XWP. I was, believe it or not, in one of the most old school industries. I mean, paper invoices, paper checks, handwritten stuff. This was forestry and agriculture, and I managed a reforestation organization for almost 10 years, and I was creating more work-life harmony and more flexibility. And I got connected with a good friend of mine, Arlen Byrd at XWP, and we started talking about remote opportunities and how my work translated to this other environment. And I'm really a self-taught guy, so all these principles of remote work, I thought that was just work. I didn't realize this is something different. And it's really kind of neat, because in forestry, even though it's just so not tech, so much of what we did though is so related to this remote way of working in that team members were in the field, hundreds of miles away from the central office where I was working, and we worked on production.
Lance Robbins (06:41):
How many trees did somebody plant per day? And that had to be reported and visible, and constant communication. Where are we going to now? Do we have the map? Are we planning ahead? We're being so proactive about it, because you might be out of cell signal. So asynchronously, we had to be thinking ahead of... What is this team member going to need when they're a hundred miles from cell service? I got to make sure I supplied that to them beforehand. And so just all these skills translated really well that I picked up over the years. So I came in and I started doing some project management at XWP, a web development firm, which I didn't know anything about web development. Super grateful to this day that they took a major flyer on a guy like me, put me in web development. In fact, my very first project was a discovery project with Google, and I was just so far in over my head. But I knew the essential skills to succeed in a remote environment, and it just took me a while to catch up on the subject matter.
Tyler Sellhorn (07:42):
That's really cool. So many things I want to dive deeper into right there, but the first thing that you said that I want to kind of pull out from that comment that you just made was the part where you said there were skills and behaviors from a field operations kind of project management thing that-
Tyler Sellhorn (08:03):
... field operations kind of project management thing that you translated and analogized to your work with XWP. Tell me some more about how you've done that kind of like taking previous experiences and bringing them into the remote environment that made them kind of come alive for you because my favorite metaphor for remote working is sailing because I grew up sailing on Lake Michigan with my grandparents on summer vacation. And so, there's lots of little kind of like analog, real world, touch and feel kind of ideas that I've brought into the space of working inside of our screens and working in a fully distributed organization. Tell us some more about those things that you brought forward with you from your forestry experience.
Lance Robbins (08:51):
Yeah. Okay. Sticking with that theme then, the tree planting world, right? I think one thing that I'll pull out is that you have to have a lot of empathy for the person on the other end. So in a remote work world, like it's easy to think of everyone as they're in their office, their home office, like they're just like me. We all work at a screen. We all work at a desk, but reality is people are having very different experiences. And so, for me sitting in that office in Ringgold, Georgia, but I've got 15 team members whose van is stuck in the mud in rural North Carolina with trees in the trailer that are going to not be usable if they're exposed to the heat for too long, like this is a real world problem for them.
Lance Robbins (09:37):
And like not just seeing like here's the numbers I need to see and here's when they need to be reported by. It's just this... We have such a tendency towards the face value of the text only communication in a remote environment that we might lose touch with who's really on the other end of that. And I think you could probably appreciate that, your customer experience mindset that you're approaching things with. Like I have to think about what is my team really going through and really meaning and what are they facing? And what is the political climate of the place where my team members might be working? Are they facing a natural disaster that I don't even think about because it's not on my newsfeed here? Like what are the factors that just are hidden at face value, texts only communication?
Tyler Sellhorn (10:35):
Yeah. When we pull apart location from the work environment and when we pull apart time from the work environment, there are those things that you really do need to zoom out past your own experience, into the experience of others to be able to work together well. Thank you for that analogy into the forestry world. When you think about removing blockers, right? Let's zoom into the project management stuff with XWP where you started with them. You kind of talked about how you imagined somebody who's stuck on a road in rural North Carolina, getting ready to plant some trees. What are the types of things that you see that are common problems in that project management space that happened in a remote environment? How do we enable others to be as successful as they can be, even at the organizational level, right? What are those things that you see being the removal of friction and the enablement of success being really great stuff for remote organizations?
Lance Robbins (11:48):
I don't want to be too reiterative because I think just about everybody says this, but the first one is absolutely communication. So go back to this van that's stuck in the mud, right? So the team members there can get out, they can dig around the tires, they can push, they can pull. But if the van is stuck and they can't get it out, they may have spent two hours trying to unstick that van before they decided to call me and say, "Hey, we're stuck." It's so helpful when you're able to say, "Hey, I'm stuck. We're going to work on this. I'll let you know if we get it solved." But you can already be thinking about how am I going to support them, right? So I can be tracking down a wrecker, who's going to come and pull them out and they can be back on the road and back to work.
Lance Robbins (12:34):
So within a project management or any kind of operational program, as a contributor or as a leader, you start to see problem, like immediately sharing that information, right? Rather than saying, like let me see if I can solve this. And then three days later, when you realize you can't solve it, the rest of your team is behind. So I mean, there's really a balance between autonomous problem solving and what I'm talking about here, but creating visibility and transparency into like what's going on, that's a huge need for teams to be successful. I think we talk about it a lot in the remote workspace, but the proactive communication, over-communicating, making things, pulling things out of the private chats, private channels, like exposing problems and find ways to work on them together. It's not like it's a mark of being a bad team member or a bad leader if you have a problem to solve.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:40):
Yeah. So what I'm hearing you say in there is that communication needs to happen more often. It needs to be more visible, right? It needs to be asynchronous, right? I'm hearing all of those things being really, really powerful in any kind of team, but especially in a remote team. That's really cool. Thank you for sharing those ideas.
Lance Robbins (14:04):
Yeah. I'll just tack onto that. And this is just with a client I've been working with recently, they've got problems in management and they've got problems in culture. And as we're working through them through some of these problems, the reality is, is these aren't problems because they're working remotely now. They were problems before, but they were able to work around them. But now the magnifying glass is on, and that's what remote work is doing is it's just putting this like a microscope even on problems that you can just push under the rug a lot of times when you're dependent on proximity or your brute force and ignorance. Right? Yeah. But now the magnifying glass is on.
Tyler Sellhorn (14:51):
Yeah. That's interesting to kind of hear you saying that sometimes co-location can gloss over some of those problems that might've existed, but weren't visible until we weren't together. That's also a theme that I'm hearing people saying in these conversations. Okay. So I wanted to transition to your work with XWP and how you work inside of the recruitment process. What do you do when you are trying to express to a candidate that XWP really is a remote first, distributed team, culture working environment? How do you communicate that to candidates?
Lance Robbins (15:40):
Well, I think for one talk is cheap. So you can say what you want to say. Everybody thinks they've got a great remote culture, a great remote place to work. So the proof is really in the growth of the team, the way that we talk about each other, our values, the way that we talk about our work, the way that we talk about our clients. I think we do a pretty good job-
Lance Robbins (16:03):
Work the way that we talk about our clients. I think we do a pretty good job of communicating that through our website. But it's a point of sharing as much real life contact with existing team members as we can through the course of the candidate's journey. So we don't try to have them meet with only the same person over and over again. We want to have exposure to a variety of team members and not just leadership, peers. And have some hands-on experience, which we do for all of our roles, where they get a chance to work alongside somebody who's going to be a peer if they get the job. And get some real world feedback and have a chance to express their communication style and find out if this works well or not. And coming out of that, people know a lot more about XWP than they would having five, six, seven rounds of interviews. And I heard horror stories of places that are doing seven, eight rounds of conversations. I think we have three interviews and an exercise that we work together on.
Lance Robbins (17:22):
So we learn a lot more about somebody through that, than we can in just talk, because like I said, talk is just talk.
Tyler Sellhorn (17:31):
Yeah. I agree with you that the proof is in the actual work culture. What are the ways you mentioned, like having candidates, having experience with people other than just their hiring manager or just a recruiter. But what are the things that you're hoping that those people, that they get a chance to meet end up communicating? What are the things that do prove a healthy, remote working culture? When you think about helping, this touches on your consulting work as well. But I'm curious to hear, what are the things that really stand out as things that candidates resonate with? You know what I heard this from so-and-so, and so-and-so said this and they showed me this other thing. And that was the way that I knew for sure that I wanted to work here, or at XWP, or wherever it happened to be that you're helping out with.
Lance Robbins (18:35):
Yeah. So I think this is important to establish for an organization in their core values to start with. So I used to say, well, every company has got their mission, their vision, and their core values, but I've talked to enough companies to realize that there are plenty out there that don't even have those documented. So if you're listening and you're one of those, your homework today is sit down and write it down, and start to find ways that you can measure that and live it out. So, first of all, it's establishing that really well. So teamwork, mastery, and service are the values at XWP. So we're thinking about, okay, how are we demonstrating those items through whether it's interview conversations or interactive projects we're working together with candidates. So one example is we'll create... Automatic is famous for their in-Slack interviews, we do something that's a little similar at XWP where we have a private Slack channel and it's open for the candidate to join.
Lance Robbins (19:46):
We have our hiring team there. And then we also have somebody who would just be their peer in the future and like, okay, here's some instructions on a test project, ask questions, you're going to work this out. And so being able to ask questions to your future team member, and get their support, and get their help, and realize like, okay, if I'm going to work here and I get stuck, this is what it's going to feel like when I ask for help. So we're establishing that teamwork. And also if I'm going to work here and I get stuck, the folks that I work with really do have mastery of their subject matters, their skills. They have the answers, they can help me, I'm going to have an opportunity to learn and grow as a professional and as a person here. So that's being communicated through that experience.
Lance Robbins (20:43):
And of course service, which is making sure... This is really something that I feel like I own piloting this whole experience for candidates coming through. It's like are we being courteous and proactive about making sure they have information they need? Are we asking the question? Do you have any questions? How can we help you? Thinking about, like I said earlier, what's going on in their personal world that might make it hard for them to do this over a certain timeline, what do we need to adapt to match somebody's individual needs here? So it's not just a machine of, you're a candidate, we're the power players here. You need to follow our process the way it is. Yeah, of course we have a process and and we will follow it, but we've designed our process to take into account, individuals are people and have specific individual needs, and schedules, and variables in their lives. Yeah. So I think those are all experiences that people coming through are having, and it's always a work in progress. So we're excited about what we're learning about what we're doing, but yeah, I can't imagine that we're done.
Tyler Sellhorn (22:06):
Thanks for going deep on that. And I love that you even just ended there by saying that this is a draft. We're still figuring it out. We're still learning as we grow. And yeah. Speaking of learning as we grow, let's flip that around. Let's say, okay, you're learning about a candidate. And you're trying to find out, does this person fit, XWP, or fit on another space? What are the signals that you get from candidates that you know that they're going to be great at XWP or any of the organizations you help?
Lance Robbins (22:43):
Yeah. So first of all, I'd say success at demonstrating some of those values that we were talking about earlier anyway, like whether it's successfully serving another software development team somewhere else. But I would kind of want to hear the things that we care about a lot here. Have you cared about those things in the past? So that's one area that we're looking for. And we hear this term all the time, culture match. And I was even referring to values as part of your culture. And I get the concept and I like the idea, but reality is, we don't want everyone to have the exact same culture, but we do want everyone to agree on values. So my preference is to look for a values match more than a culture match, because we get people who are all very different and different roles are okay to have different types of personalities. And we're a team across almost 30 countries. So why do we expect we're going to have such similarities in terms of culture. We're going to have a really diverse experience, but if we can resonate on those values-
Lance Robbins (24:02):
If we can resonate on those values, we feel really strong.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:08):
I'm curious to pull apart the idea of values and culture, because it sounds like you have a clear idea that those are separate ideas. And I'd be curious for you to talk some more about how culture and values maybe are distinct for you in the recruiting process and how candidates can demonstrate that they are a value fit and not necessarily a cultural fit. Put those into some separate boxes for us.
Lance Robbins (24:33):
Sure. So just unpacking this as we go. The way I see cultures, it's made up of values, mission, and vision. You take those things and the way that lives out, whether that's we're going to meet frequently, or we're going to meet in infrequently, we're synchronous or we're asynchronous. Those things all kind of play out and that all together kind of makes up a culture. But when I think specifically about values, to me, values is kind of that subset of a culture, where they're overarching principles that are going to be true in present, like in all of our interactions. So your nation of origin culture might mean that you communicate differently, or you get excited about different things. But values, we're always going to align on. And so, leaning into a values match versus a culture match is where my head is at when we're talking about this kind of thing.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:39):
Yeah. That's so exciting. I get charged up when I start thinking about people that don't necessarily live in the same places, but have the same ideas about how best to go to work. And so often, we've limited the opportunity for those people to connect and meet one another and work together. But now that we've decoupled work from a co-located environment, those people can find each other in the internet. I'm so excited to be connected to all these people that we've had a chance to talk to here on The Remote Show, that really do align on the values of what remote working is about. The themes have been repeating over and over again. And the very principles that you're describing are the ones that matter to me and matter to us. And it's very, very cool to be connecting on those things.
Tyler Sellhorn (26:32):
Okay. So I want to kind of close with a chance to kind of really spotlight some things that you're working on right now. My wondering right now is, what are some things that you're working on, say today or tomorrow or next week or this quarter, that are the things that are really kind of drawing out the contrast between what remote working was in 2019, what it kind of is here, while we're still kind of finishing the pandemic. Vaccines are becoming more widely available across the world. And we're kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. So there's this moment as well to kind of compare and contrast to. But then let's think about, hopefully, 2022 and beyond for remote working, what are those different epochs, those periods of time saying to you about what remote working was, is and is to come?
Lance Robbins (27:30):
So starting with the first time chunk, pre-2019, or early 2020, this is when remote work is looked at as innovative. This is where not a lot of folks are doing this, it's under the scrutinizing eye of the larger business world, kind of unique outliers are doing this. So this was where it was kind of cool and flashy, but not sure if it's the real deal. Then obviously, where we are now, and hopefully we're starting to draw out of it, this is crisis aversion as much as possible. And I know I'm not the first person probably on this podcast to say this, but what we're experiencing now is just not a representation of what remote work can be or what it had been in the past.
Lance Robbins (28:27):
And I think organizations that were doing this well before the pandemic began, probably did a pretty good job of things not changing too much. And actually, seeing a lot of success in terms of team stability and growth, and hopefully surviving in their marketplace. But now, it's almost like we kind of are going to get a fresh start, out the back end of this for 2022 and beyond. A lot of data is there. A lot of information is on the table. People have tried this, they've tried that, this is what did work, this is what didn't work. The tools are there, the infrastructure is there. There's not really a good reason to not embrace it. And so, you asked for my prediction for the future. And again, I don't think I'm unique in saying this, but if you, as an employer or an organization cannot keep pace with it, your competitors will, and your best people will be working there in 2022.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:35):
Look out co-located teams. Obviously, we're very biased here on The Remote Show, but we're excited to be working alongside you, Lance, on the future of working, especially in those location independent ways, that XWP and Distribute and RemotelyConnected are working on.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:55):
Thank you so much for appearing today and sharing your learning and your knowledge. I want to give you a chance to kind of say anything else here at the end, that you want to say. And then we'll conclude.
Lance Robbins (30:08):
Well, thanks. I mean, awesome to be here. We Work Remotely is a great resource. They didn't even pay any to say that. I use it all the time. So really, really excited to be able to chat here. Tyler, it's a cool example of how just because we're not co-located doesn't mean that we can't make friends and have meaningful connections in a remote environment. So super happy about that. And excited about where this is headed and feeling really privileged to be a part of it.
Tyler Sellhorn (30:41):
Co-signed on the remote work is work and internet friends are friends movement. We are out here in these internet streets connecting and becoming friends and working on the remote work revolution, as you described, together. So thanks again, Lance, and blessings.
Lance Robbins (31:02):
Thank you, Tyler.

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