This week were were fortunate enough to chat with Sarah Park! Sarah is the President of MeetEdgar, a popular social media scheduling tool. Sarah was an absolute pleasure to chat with; we were able to dive into her career, how the company has evolved and what "culture" means at MeetEdgar!
I found Sarah's career particularly interesting to learn about; she is a great example of what can happen when you take advantage of opportunities, and you can't help but be inspired by her story. We spoke about what it means to grow culture within a company and what that looks like on a daily basis, how she continues to refine her decision making skills and the importance of being able to have productive difficult conversations. I learned a lot from Sarah, and I'm sure you will too.
MeetEdgar is a leader software tool for scheduling social media posts that enables you to focus your time and energy on more important aspects of your business. Check out https://meetedgar.com/ for more information.
Also, follow Sarah on twitter at @itsmesarahp
Sarah's book everyone should read: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Other things mentioned on the show: The Knowledge Project, a podcast by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street: https://fs.blog/
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
Matt H: 00:06 Hello everyone, my name is Matt Hollingsworth, 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 for remote workers in the world, with over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. My guest on today's show is Sarah Park. Sarah is the president of MeetEdgar, a social media scheduling tool that eliminates the tedious busy work of always writing and rewriting social media updates so you can spend more of your time on social media interacting directly with your audience in real time. Sarah has been working remotely for many years and has seen MeetEdgar grow from a side project to a dominant player in the social media scheduling business. Follow her on Twitter @itsmesarahp and check out MeetEdgar.com to save time and money on your social media marketing.
Matt H: 01:00 Sarah, thanks for coming on the podcast. We really appreciate it.
Sarah Park: 01:03 Thanks for having me.
Matt H: 01:05 All right, I'm really looking forward to talking with you, I'm a big fan of MeetEdgar and what you've been up to. So yeah, we're excited. Why don't we start with a little bit about you and how you got involved with MeetEdgar and then what you were doing beforehand, and maybe sort of what you came on to do with MeetEdgar, and then we can go from there.
Sarah Park: 01:19 All right, sounds good. I kind of think talking a little bit about how I got into working remotely is kind of a fun sort of segue into how I came to work at MeetEdgar. Prior to working with MeetEdgar I was living and working a corporatey resort job in the mountains in California. It was like a big ski resort town out there, and I really loved living in the mountains and I loved the lifestyle out there, but I was pretty unhappy with my job and was really looking for a change in my work life. So I wanted to shift into something that was a little bit more creative, maybe a little bit more tech focused, but there's just no local opportunity for anything like that out there, and I did not really want to move at all. So I kind of thought starting my own business was going to be my only option at the point to get the experience that I wanted.
Sarah Park: 02:06 So I made the jump to doing that, it was, felt like a really big scary thing at the time, and then in doing that I kind of discovered that there is this big world of businesses that are based online and I started thinking like, "Oh okay, hey, there might be some real opportunities here and some of them hopefully maybe have health insurance and things like that." So that's how I came across Laura Roeder, she's the founder at MeetEdgar. At the time her business, it was an info product business for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and so I joined her team as a project manager for that business and got into working remotely that way. So yeah, since then we kind of figured out how to get our team health insurance and 401(k)s and kind of turned it into like a real proper remote software company.
Matt H: 02:50 Yeah, awesome. Can you go into a little bit about sort of how you came on at the time, and sort of what the product revolved around just to give us a little bit of detail about how the product of MeetEdgar actually has evolved. So what was it that you came on to do and help with?
Sarah Park: 03:01 Yeah, okay so I came on as a project manager. The team was really small at the time that I joined. Honestly I think it was like maybe three people total. We were creating info products that were providing entrepreneurs and small businesses with social media marketing training. So one of the flagship products that we had close to sort of the end of the info product part of our business was a course called Social Brilliant. It pretty much taught a really simple and accessible social media automation strategy that was designed for content marketers and small businesses that were writing a lot of content to promote their products and services, and it really helped them just come up with this automation strategy that could massively amplify your existing content and get it out there in front of audiences via social media, and then automate it so that you would have more time to actually be working on your business and not obsessing over when to post and what to post and things like that. At some point in the life span of that course, we realized that this actually could be a lot more useful to our customers if we could create software that just did this for you. So it was really that course that let to us building MeetEdgar, and yeah, it was really exciting.
Sarah Park: 04:12 I think we kind of figured early on that if customers didn't really respond to it, it would at least be a really useful tool for us to use internally, but luckily our customers really liked it and content marketers out there kind of saw the value of what we did and really has taken off from there.
Matt H: 04:27 Yeah, it's a common narrative that I hear quite often, is companies will make products or make a tool that they themselves would use, and again, with the downside of creating that tool being that hey, at least we're going to be using it ourselves, and hopefully that will add some value to our team and make things more effective within our team, and then that becomes a more public product and that maybe sometimes even becomes the product that is the success of the business. It's always something that I find it fascinating. So that's very cool. Around what time was that approximately?
Sarah Park: 04:55 That was back in 2014. So yeah, it's been several years since then that we did that and we actually ran the info product side of the business alongside the software product for I want to say maybe about a year before we decided we wanted to go all in on Edgar.
Matt H: 05:11 Nice, that's a good segue into a little bit of the product that MeetEdgar is now. Can you talk a little bit about what makes your product different from maybe other tools that are out there for social media and content scheduling, and maybe what the future holds?
Sarah Park: 05:23 Yeah, so MeetEdgar, for anybody who has not heard of us, we're a social media app that is all about automatically distributing your content across your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn accounts. I think Edgar has kind of a baked-in strategy alongside the tool as opposed to be like a road automation machine. We have a library where you can store all of the stuff that you want to post and share and organize everything by category, and then for businesses who want to take a little bit more of an active role in the mix of content that's going out, we have scheduling based on those categories, and the ability to kind of repeat your posts for you, recycle your posts for you, help you create some variations on that content so that you know you're not going to run out of stuff to share and that everything is just going to be handled for you automatically.
Matt H: 06:08 Nice. I'm guessing part of the business and part of just the awareness piece of social media, the value of social media scheduling comes from blog posting, things like that, but when did you transition away from the info product that you had originally, and is that sort of a key piece still, the education piece of it for content marketers out there?
Sarah Park: 06:26 Yeah, so actually that course does still exist somewhere out there online, and it has actually been pretty much the backbone of all of the customer education that we do. I guess when you think about small businesses who are just kind of coming up, a lot of them do struggle with a little bit of that like, "I'm not exactly sure what I want to share or what I want to post." I think a lot of small business owners also struggle a little bit with knowing that they have something valuable to share with their audiences. So a lot of the work that we do as well, in addition to just kind of giving a really simple and basic strategy and helping people understand what is worth worrying about and what is not really worth their time obsession over. We also really like to just uplift businesses and entrepreneurs and help people understand that there's a niche out there for them, and there's a market out there, and they're going to be able to find a good audience for themselves on social media if they just get really comfortable with being themselves and being human online.
Matt H: 07:22 Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. So you have obviously been there for quite a long time and have seen probably a lot of the life cycle or just the evolution of the product itself, and also obviously a piece of that is the creation of the team. So how large is your team now and are you fully remote or is there an office anywhere that people can go to?
Sarah Park: 07:41 We're fully remote. So we've been fully remote since day one and we're about 13 people on the team right now. Everybody is spread out across North America, mostly in the US but also in Canada.
Matt H: 07:53 Nice, we're up in Victoria, BC, or at least I am. I always like to hear that there's Canadians out there that are working remotely too. One of the question I like to ask, especially for people in situations like yours where you've been a part of the team for so long and you've sort of seen the progress and building of the team. Is there one thing that you can point to that was sort of a real pain point in the building of the team and hiring of, and sort of trying to figure it out as you go piece of hiring and building a remote team? Is there something that you can point to as being a specifically difficult issue there?
Sarah Park: 08:23 Just creating the entire hiring process that we have, it was just like a huge bear. So our hiring process at MeetEdgar is definitely a little bit intense. We really feel like when you're joining a remote company it's a little bit different because you have to have a lot of trust in the people that you are bringing on board right away from day one. There's not really any practical way to have somebody on like a trial period with the company. You're pretty much given all of the passwords and the keys to the kingdom right then and there from day one, so we really wanted to create a process that allowed us to feel that level of trust and that level of confidence in people as we brought them on board, just starting from the point when we extended the offer. So we spent a lot of time experimenting and coming up with kind of how our hiring process is right now, and it's been that way for a while, but it is always still work in progress and we're always still trying to figure out better ways to do things. But the process itself is quite intense, admittedly quite intense I guess I should say.
Sarah Park: 09:23 So we have a fairly long application form. It has a lot of open-ended questions, lots of opportunities for people to be talking to us in writing. As a remote team, I'm sure you've heard from other remote team members how big of a deal it is to just be really good at communicating in writing. So we have that as just sort of the first step in the process, and then our interview process is just all about trying to expose people to as many people on the team as humanly possible. It's so important to us to make sure candidates can talk to people in the department that they're interviewing for, outside of that department. People who are in leadership roles, non-leadership roles, and then we're also trying to be really mindful of making sure that we are exposing people to, people who are living in maybe different areas of the country that they're living in, different educational or economic backgrounds. Because we're a software company, we always want to be having developers talking to non-developers, things like that just so that we're giving candidates a really well-rounded sense of the company and what it's actually going to be like to be working with people in this environment.
Sarah Park: 10:26 So that kind of thing, it takes a bit of time. It definitely is not the fastest way we could be bringing people on to the team, but it has really been worth it for us and has really helped us create a team that works really well together and helps each other create the best work that they can possibly be creating in the day-to-day. Spent a lot of time figuring out how to best do that.
Matt H: 10:45 Yeah, I think the hiring piece of it is such an important piece. I think everybody would point to the hiring component of building a team as the most critical and the most potentially expensive endeavor that can go wrong. If it does go wrong it can be very, very expensive and it can drain a lot of resources. In your case, there is just so many sort of steps in the process to be able to weed down potential candidates, but have you ever had any problem with the sort of sourcing aspect of it? Is there lots of people sort of wanting to be a part of it, and how do you sort of cultivate that image of a company that you would want to work for? How do you that or is there a deliberate thing that you do in that case?
Sarah Park: 11:21 Yeah, so because we're a remote company we get a huge number of applicants for every job that we post. It's not just restricted to the 20 mile radius from a certain place, so we get tons, and tons of applicants for every job, and we found early on that what worked really well for us was to just to be as upfront and transparent about every job that we're hiring for as humanly possible. Number one, we don't want to trick anybody about the job that we're hiring for. We really want to set applicants up for success and to give them the opportunity to show us exactly why they think they're the perfect fit for this job and that works really well, when we can tell people very clearly what the job is going to entail and what the success metrics are going to be for you in this role, who specifically you'll be working with, what the day-to-day looks like. Basically giving applicants as much information upfront as possible has been really helpful with having people just straight up tell us why they're the perfect fit.
Sarah Park: 12:17 Recently we hired a new marketing director, and along with the job listing that we sent out, we also published our internal work agreement for the role. So one of the things that we do in our company is every person on the team has what we call our work agreement, and it's basically just an overview of what their job expectations are, what success metrics we're going to use to evaluate their performance, you know your manager's expectations are of the output that you're producing, and it's like everybody has one of those and it gets updated ever year at a minimum. So we published what the work agreement was going to be like for that role and it really allowed people to number one, understand the role better because just the title, marketing director, it can mean so many different things in so many different companies, so the people really got to see what was going to make up the day-to-day of that. People got to understand how we were going to basically be reviewing people, reviewing your performance in the future and it started a lot of really interesting conversations and really helped us find the right fit for the job.
Matt H: 13:20 Yeah, so your title at MeetEdgar is president. What does that mean exactly? It's not something that I see very often, so what does it mean to be the president of MeetEdgar?
Sarah Park: 13:29 So the president, basically what it means in general is that I'm just looking over sort of the day-to-day harmony and operations of the company. So I work with the leaders in every department of the business to pretty much just make sure that our big picture vision of the company is something that's going to be executable for the team and also is cohesive across the full business. So a lot of times the directors in all of our different departments, they're thinking about their priorities within their departments, and what you kind of see happen sometimes when people kind of have their heads down is there are parts of those plans that fall a little bit out of step with each other. So a big part of my role is just kind of pulling everybody together, zooming out when we need to zoom out and just make sure that what we're working on is going to be cohesive for the full business and is building positively on the work that's happening in other areas. In a more practical sense I also fully run all of the business operations and the people side of the business. So just making sure the company is profitable and making sure that we have the right systems in place that are supporting our team.
Matt H: 14:29 Interesting. So the people component is an interesting one for me. So is your role to cultivate the culture side of the puzzle for MeetEdgar or is that someone that's a different role altogether, is people ops kind of piece of it. Is that something you do?
Sarah Park: 14:41 Yeah, so I've been trying to build the culture at MeetEdgar since the very beginning. It was something that from the start, from day one of me working at this company was just a really important part of the work I wanted to create and the work environment that I wanted for the company. So yeah, I spend a lot of time with that. I have one other person on our sort of people ops team that kind of helps with the day-to-day of all of that. There's a lot of day-to-day sort of maintenance and manicuring that has to happen in support of that as well.
Matt H: 15:09 Yeah, totally, and the culture piece is such an interesting one, because it seems to be a buzzword in the sense that it gets talked about a lot, and at least for me, in part, I don't really sometimes know what that means exactly, and I think it's a hard thing to kind of pin down as to whether you're doing a good job, or not you specifically, but just in general whether that is something that is successful. So what is the practical reality of building culture mean for you and maybe MeetEdgar more generally?
Sarah Park: 15:34 Yeah, it is something that has become really buzzwordy, but honestly it's as fundamental as the air that is the room pretty much. So even if you have a company where you think maybe you're not building culture, even the decision to do that is something that is building the culture in the company. So for me the way I like to view it is just, it's a way of thinking about your priorities, and for MeetEdgar one of our biggest priorities is just making sure that the environment is set up so that people on our team don't have to worry about a lot of the non-work parts of their jobs, like they just need to be worried about the outcomes that they're creating and be able to produce great results for the company, and then let me, let us worry about the sort of boring bits of it or the bureaucratic bits of it. There's examples ranging from stuff that is so small like nobody on our team has to spend a lot of time filling out expense reports or anything like that. We just give everybody a credit card and tell them that it's fine and we're going to review them, and we trust them, and here's the guidelines for how you could spend stuff, and don't worry about anything else. Like stuff that's really small like that, I think plays a part in making sure that your work environment doesn't suck.
Matt H: 16:49 Nice. It sounds like there's a lot of trust there too and again, when it comes back to the hiring piece too, that you mention that you, especially in a smaller remote team, that you have to trust people and you hire people that you trust. Again, I always, I get different answers for that question and it's always something that I'm interested in learning about because it is something that I don't think a lot of people can pin down in their own company what the culture is, or what the value systems are and [inaudible 00:17:14] that's probably a big piece that a lot of people are missing. For you, does it have to do with the mission of the company more generally speaking? Is there something that you all are working towards as a business, as a company, that you'd like to see change or you'd like to see in five years from now when you look back that MeetEdgar did X or contributed to a certain thing, or a certain phenomenon or something like that? Is there anything there that you can discuss?
Sarah Park: 17:39 Yeah, I mean, I think even when you think back of the history of MeetEdgar and sort of our info product roots. The one thing that we've always really held very close to us and it's just a core part of how we do business is just, it's all about supporting small businesses and just really enabling great work to be produced out into the world and putting a spotlight on people who are just doing amazing things. That's just, it's basically just kind of always been the core of everything that we do, and then I think one of the things that we were really mindful of early on as well was we did establish and write out what we thought our company values were really early on.
Sarah Park: 18:13 A lot of times you think you have to have a much bigger team to do that. I mean, even if you're just like a team of five people, it's still really important for you guys to sit down and identify these are the things that are going to drive all of the decisions that we're going to make in the company, and then especially when you're remote and you're not spending a ton of time physically in the same room together every day, you have to account for the fact that when people are sort of in their own environments and kind of looking at their own work or doing their own thing, there's going to be some drift before you guys meet again, or before you guys are all able to get on a video call all together again, and having really clear values that are going to guide all of the decisions you're making, it's one way to sort of shortcut into helping people make good independent decisions when they're by themselves. So that was something that we really prioritized very, very early on.
Sarah Park: 19:07 We set values for ourselves and work really hard as well to just reinforce those in the day-to-day of the business too, because it's one thing to just write your values on the wall and call it a day, but we're also actively looking for like okay, here's a great example, or here is exactly what it means to be living our values in this way. I mentioned earlier about the work agreements that we have for everybody on the team. One section of the work agreements that we have for people is in what way are you going to be given the opportunity to live out your values in this role? So for example with that marketing director position that we recently hired for, one of our companies values is making new mistakes. So we might say in the work agreement, like these are the kinds of mistakes that we're expecting you might make, and these are the types of areas where we're expecting you to be able to live that value out. So we'll give people some pretty just straight up examples of what that looks like in your role, and that's been really helpful for us.
Matt H: 20:09 Interesting, and I think an added benefit of writing out a value system for especially small teams that are founder led is that all of the employees have the responsibility to abide by those values and to make sure decisions are made based on those values, but it also includes the founder too, right? It kind of keeps everybody on the same playing field in terms of what the mission is, and it can sometimes hold founders and CEOs of smaller companies accountable for the decisions that they make, because people can say, "Hey look, you're not abiding by your own value structure." So that might be something that I think it probably is a valuable thing, and it's not something that I've heard before, so it's an interesting take.
Sarah Park: 20:42 Yeah, especially on a small team where saying something like that to the founder or the president of the company is a lot easier, it's a lot less intimidating and that kind of stuff actually does come up for us, you know, so.
Matt H: 20:54 Yeah, interesting. Is there a framework for remote work that you, not force, that you give to your employees to do the best work they can? So for example if somebody was coming on that hasn't worked remotely or hasn't a lot of experience working remotely. Do you give them a playbook and a set of expectations as to what your remote day looks like or do you let them sort of independently come up with structure of their day that works best for them?
Sarah Park: 21:17 Kind of a mix of the two. A lot of people who are just brand new especially to working remotely, there's a lot of very small details that you're not really thinking about. So we have something that we call our day one document. We send it out to all of our new hires before they start, and it answers basically kind of the dumbest questions that you might have about remote work, which is like what time do I show up? And how do you know I'm here? And things like that. So we treat Slack as sort of our office base. We kind of explain this to new hires in our day one document. This is what it means to quote, unquote be at work and then we also will highlight exactly what it means when you need time away from your desk or you're spending time away from your keyboard, or you're location changing from your home office to a coffee shop or something like that. So we'll kind of lay out some ground rules and just explain to people what is okay for them to do in those instances, because I think a lot of times people try to be a little bit more conservative than actually what we think is okay, especially if you're newer to working remotely I think there is this baggage a little bit around just trying to make sure you're proving that you're here and showing up.
Sarah Park: 22:23 So we definitely do outline exactly what the day-to-day of that looks like for us, but outside of that we don't have a lot of very specific frameworks or absolutely you must follow this structure in order to get the basics of your job done. I would say the work that happens across our company, it's just quite different depending on the role that you're in. So we really do like to give everybody just sort of the freedom to figure out what's going to work really well for them. Do they really like to be on video calls with other people? Do they really prefer having chunks of time as sort of heads down time where they're not going to be interrupted, maybe they're somebody who just kind of likes to be chatting with people throughout the day. So we kind of let people to sort of figure out what the rhythm of that is going to look like for them and then really clearly identify what our ground rules are.
Matt H: 23:10 Right. Is there a certain time of day that you, again, force is the wrong word, but strongly encourage people to not be online and not check their emails and/or Slack?
Sarah Park: 23:21 Oh, absolutely. We're really actually huge about just sort of separating your work life from your home life, which I think is so difficult when you're working remotely. So one of the things that we do that I think might be a little bit of a departure from other remote companies or from what you might be thinking in your head when you think about a remote company is we actually all keep set work hours. So most people are working maybe 9:00 to 5:00, some people are doing like 8:00 to 4:00 in their home timezone, and then when your work day is over, that's it. So it doesn't matter if you're on the East Coast or on the West Coast and the company is actually still working. When your work day is over, that's it, you're done for the day. That's one thing that we really try to do our best to enforce quite heavily actually.
Sarah Park: 24:09 I'm on the West Coast so I'm usually one of the last people online, and I've made it a habit in the past to kind of nudge people and be like, "Shouldn't you be gone now?" And try to get people out the door. I think just when you're working remotely, you're working from home, it's so easy to just maybe not pay attention to the time or to just think, "Oh, I'm just going to get this one thing done and it'll be okay." But we'd really rather have everybody's attention during their work hours as opposed to just sort of kind of half having people's attention 24 hours a day. So we do keep pretty strict work hours and we have really nice overlap in the middle of the day where the East Coast and the West Coast can come together and everybody is online, and then outside of that we're, we actually have a rule about it. No Slack on your cellphone, no work email on your cellphone. We celebrate it when people are deleting Slack off their phones and things like that, so.
Matt H: 25:00 Yeah, that's really cool. I think that piece of it is definitely, I don't want to say misunderstood, but it's a piece that I think everybody should be paying attention to more intensely is the idea that you as a manager, and again, this is a general you, but as a manager of people, especially the manager of people, the idea of sending an email late at night because you just want to do it before you forget or you want to make sure that's on their radar in the morning or whatever is sort of putting the other person in a difficult position because if they get that on their phone or if they see that email, they feel that they should be responding to it if it's their direct manager. So just being aware of the fact that you're setting the wrong example when you do send those emails late at night or you send a Slack message early in the morning or whatever, and being aware of it is really important.
Matt H: 25:38 The reason I bring it up is because I found this article that you shared on LinkedIn, This Is The Most Powerful Way To Make Your Life Fantastic is what's called. I think it was on your LinkedIn profile and it just talks about the idea of separating, more on a personal level, but it's separating your online presence and making sure that you value things that are offline, and making that a priority and giving yourself a break from a lot of the social media stuff as well, but I think that can lend itself to work life, especially when in remote teams, so I think it's a really important idea to make sure that you are getting the face-to-face time and you have that as a big piece of your life.
Sarah Park: 26:08 Yeah, absolutely. It's definitely one of the things that I think at our company it helps us stay sustainable, it helps our team stay engaged. For a lot of people working in a sort of start up environment is not that accessible. If you have outside of work obligations like family obligations or anything like that. I think you commonly hear about people having to work crazy hours or getting burned-out, and we really try to keep our team as protected from that as possible.
Matt H: 26:36 Yeah, and we will link to this article because I think it's really good and I think it aligns with both of our businesses and what the message we're tying to send to people. So I will make sure we include that. Just on that note a little bit too. So does MeetEdgar, the team itself get together in person, and what does that look like? Is there a annual get-together or something like that you guys do?
Sarah Park: 26:55 Yeah, actually we do like to get together once or twice a year. We actually just had a company retreat a couple of weeks ago. We all flew out to Phoenix and hung out for the week, and had some meetings all together, had some co-working time and then just had some opportunity as well to just sort of hang out as well as spend time with each other. That's not something that we really get to do very frequently. I find that when we get together in person the energy is just so different. I think when you're working remotely, we try to make sure we're always doing video calls. We're really in very, very close touch with each other throughout the day. Our Slack is extremely active. So we're really trying to keep in touch as much as possible, but at the same time it can be easy to forget that oh, you're working with real other human beings. So to kind of have the opportunity to see each other in person and to just all sit in the same room together and talk about something is always really energizing for the team. So we really prioritize doing that at least one or two weeks a year.
Matt H: 27:57 Okay, so you get together for one or two weeks a year and then work together? Because I think that there's some people that get together and they just do a team retreat and then see each other, and then sort of go back to regular work life, but it's interesting that you get together and work together as well.
Sarah Park: 28:07 Yeah, there are some things that I think are like the type of work that's actually a lot more difficult to do when we're remote. So there are some opportunities where we can actually just sort of all sit together in a room and whiteboard something out together. That's something that we almost never get to do as a team remotely, so we try to take little advantage of different things like that or different exercises we might want to try together during the physical time that we have to spend with each other.
Matt H: 28:31 Yeah, it's really interesting. I guess there are down sides to remote work and having the inability to whiteboard something is definitely one of them I would say as well, because I love writing things down, especially for some reason for me on a whiteboard, it's just something about it.
Sarah Park: 28:44 Yes, something is very tactical about being able to do that and the energy is just different. When we were in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago we did an exercise where we had these Post-it notes up on the wall, which I can imagine we can try to recreate that maybe using Trello or using some online tool, but it was just kind of fun to just use markers and write things down, and it has like a definite different energy to it.
Matt H: 29:08 Yeah, for sure. Yeah, especially the writing thing too, it's come up at a number of other podcasts, and the physical writing of things, just a skill that I think is going so far, at least for myself, is getting worse and worse it seems that I can't write something that looks half decent anymore. It takes me so long. It's absurd, but anyways, that's a tangent. One of my favorite pieces of this podcast is I get to learn a little bit about people that are very successful, things about them that they feel like have allowed them to get to where they are. So one of the questions that I like to ask is what's the most important skill or attribute that you feel that has allowed you to get to where you are? Is there something that, or maybe a few things that you would suggest as really important keys to your own success and maybe you want to share?
Sarah Park: 29:45 Yeah, that's such a good question. It's kind of hard to look back and think about what was the one thing. I think honestly for me there's probably a couple of things, but one of the things I think for me that stands out is being really willing to just be wrong about things. I have opinions and sometimes I do have really strong opinions, but I get really excited about trying to prove them right or wrong. It's really great to start out with just sort of a hypothesis, or start out with a point of view, but when you really start trying to prove these things out in practice, it makes it so quick and easy to see how this needs to be adjusted, or how this can be improved, and a big part of that is just being willing to say like, "Oh okay, well that was a total fail. Now what are we going to do instead?" And it's been I think the fastest way for me to learn and gain a lot of personal experience in a much shorter period of time.
Sarah Park: 30:36 I mentioned earlier that I was working in a completely different industry and I really wanted to make that switch, and I mean, I really felt like I didn't have the experience to be able to jump right into the career that I wanted, and little techniques like this, just trying to prove things wrong, or trying to put things into action, or trying to create an outcome that you want, it's a really rapid way to just build up a huge library of experiences. So that's definitely something that I think is really useful to have as a tool. Then secondly related to that is just knowing that you do actually have to take action to create an outcome. It's not always going to be really obvious what the next step of something is going to be, but it will always require some sort of change or some sort of action on your part. I kind of feel like I've got nothing out of just sitting and waiting for something to happen. You really have to get out there and put your idea to work to see if it's a good one.
Matt H: 31:26 Yeah, yeah, and especially in the startup community or at any business I think complacency is never a good thing. That's really interesting, and I think being wrong about stuff is really good too because the negative component of that is sort of is confusing to me because if you put something out there and if you're wrong about it, then at least hey, you know that there's something that doesn't work. So maybe there's some piece of that puzzle that you can sort of iterate on and try something new, and you're just getting closer and closer and refining whatever it is that you're trying to do into something that maybe will work and you're giving yourself a higher probability of getting to success if you keep trying and keep iterating.
Sarah Park: 32:00 Yeah, I think it can be easy to just sort of look at what somebody else is going and kind of just think like, "Oh well, I would do it in a totally different way." But it's like you actually have to try it to see if that's actually true. It's pretty easy to sit on the outskirts and imagine the grand scenario or the grand result that you're going to get some day, but until you actually put that stuff to work you never know, and wouldn't you rather know if the idea that you have in your head is the wrong one, you know?
Matt H: 32:26 Yeah. Yeah, step one is always do something rather than nothing. The other pieces that I like to ask people is, and I'm always curious about it is your daily routine. Is there something that you have come to realize that's really important to you on a daily basis, and what does that look like on a weekly basis as well? But we'll start with the daily routine.
Sarah Park: 32:45 Yeah, I didn't think I was a person, but I have been reflecting a lot on that, and I realized that there are a couple of core things that I just cannot skip. So my day-to-day is really different every single day, but there's just a couple things that I like to keep consistent. The first one is one that I actually just discovered for myself just this past year, is if I just take 10 or 15 minutes out of my day, especially when it's a really busy day, to just go outside and sit in the sun, I just feel so much better throughout the day. I'm able to get a lot more done, my mood is better, my thoughts kind of blow a little bit better, just kind of clears the cobwebs for me. So I always try to do that every single day. Just sit in the sun, don't do anything, don't bring a notebook, don't bring a pen, just go outside and breath some fresh air for a little bit.
Sarah Park: 33:32 I also have a practice of just sort of adding in what I call my commute at the end of the day. I just fake a commute. I work from home in my home office, most of the time I'm not really doing coworking spaces or coffee shops very frequently. So I like to have a little bit of time at the end of my work day where I'm doing something that is not fully work anymore but I'm also not quite home yet. So sometimes it'll be something like I'll go for a jog or I'll go for a hike, or I'll just read a book in my backyard. Even if it's like washing the dishes, or just something like that. Just something where I can kind of decompress and unwind before I fully get into my home routine.
Sarah Park: 34:12 So that's actually something that's really, really useful for me, and then another thing that I try to do every day, I'm not always able to do it every single day, but usually every couple of days is I try to write something down in a work journal and do a little bit of reflection. I find that it really helps me track some larger themes that are going on in the company. It kind of helps me get some distance from the thoughts and reactions that I'm having throughout the course of the day and it just organizes my brain a little bit.
Matt H: 34:40 Nice. Is there something that you see amongst people that you admire, maybe a skill or an attribute that you wish you had? Is there something that you can think of that people that you admire have and that you wish that you had?
Sarah Park: 34:54 That's a really juicy question. One of the things that I would really like to be working on for myself this year and into the future is feeling more confident and trusting my own judgment a little bit more, and I see that a lot with people who I admire, people who are doing really amazing things in their businesses. They really at least project just sort of a confidence about the decisions that they're making, even when they end up being wrong or whatever happens. I really like to see people just kind of fully commit to like, "Okay, I'm going to give this a try and see what happens." And I read somewhere, I can't remember exactly where I read this anymore, but I was reading something about how decision making is actually, it's a practice, and one of the things that you can think about is you can really divorce decision making from the end result, and you can really be thinking about your scale at making a decision.
Sarah Park: 35:50 So one of the things I've been actually trying to do in my work journal that I usually keep is just sort of doing a little bit of decision tracking and saying like, "Okay, this was a decision that came to me today. These are the reasons to tackle it this way. Here are some reasons and data backing this other way." And you can kind of look and see what's going into all of those decisions and really divorce it and really be able to more objectively say like, "That was a good decision. It was a measured decision that was based on something that was real." Or you could say, "That was kind of more of like an impulsive decision or a gut decision." And really separate that out from the end result, because if you make kind of a bad decision but you get a good result out of it, it's pretty easy to fall into the trap of thinking like, "Oh, I'm going to make decisions like that all the time." When really maybe you just got lucky, you know? So I've been trying to practice that a good bit.
Matt H: 36:38 That's a really good one, and two things come in mind there. One, there's a resource that I love that's the Knowledge Project by the Shane Parrish website that he talks a lot about decision making, and he talks a lot about the idea that you can learn to be a better decision maker, and there's lots of resources there that are really good, and he's got a great podcast as well. So that's a highly recommended one, and the other one is Claire Lew over at Know Your Team, who runs a software tool, and it's more than just a software tool, but it's a way that managers can be better managers, and part of that is obviously decision making as well. So there's two resources that I think are super valuable there and are doing great work, and I encourage people to listening to check it out because that's a great point. I think decision making itself is not taught and it's not really thought about very often, but there is ways that you can make better decisions, and that there's a framework for making better decisions across a lot of different variables. So interestingly it's not something that's taught in schools. People assume that leaders have, and yet as it is always the case that you can get better at these things and you can grow.
Sarah Park: 37:35 Yeah.
Matt H: 37:35 So it's a really good one. I have a couple of more questions here for you Sarah, and you've been so generous with your time that I won't keep you for too much longer, but I do have a couple of closing questions. The first one is what's the part of your job that you enjoy the most? What brings you the most satisfaction in your job?
Sarah Park: 37:51 Cop out answer to say I love everything about my job, but I really love actually the way that we've set this company up and just the things I'm able to prioritize in my day-to-day. I have a lot of freedom with what we can pick and choose to be a part of our company and a part of our work environment, and really getting a chance to sort of experiment with and pay attention to the environment that exists around people that helps them produce better work or helps them just feel a little bit more in tune with and aligned with what we're tying to create for our customers. That's a really fun part of my job, so I love getting a chance to pay attention to that.
Matt H: 38:34 Yeah, interesting, yeah. It's a great one. So my next question is the, and you've kind of touched on this a little bit, but we'll hopefully get into it a little bit more, but what leadership practice or skill do you think is most important, and you can either take that at a general approach or you specifically, but is there a specific leadership practice that you think is the most important?
Sarah Park: 38:54 I think listening is a pretty underrated practice. I think truly listening is really difficult for a lot of reasons, and not all of those reasons are because you're being selfish, or you're being rude, or anything like that. Sometimes listening to people is just really hard because you're just trying to be good at being in a conversation with them, I think especially for managers, you're thinking a lot about the outcome that you want out of a conversation while you're in that conversation.
Sarah Park: 39:24 A lot of times also you're thinking about I don't want to make this person uncomfortable, or you're really aware that there is a power dynamic that you have to be mindful of, and so all of that stuff just gets in the way of actually listening to the thing that somebody is trying to tell you, and so I think that's definitely something that more people should pay attention to and maybe be okay with the fact that you just need maybe a second to process what somebody is saying, and it's okay to say that in the conversation to just say, "Okay, I'm just going to take a minute here to just kind of process what you just said." Or, "Let me write that down." Or something like that, and I think that's just, it's a practice that people tend to skip not because they're trying to be rude about it or trying to get their point across, but just because it's just not really normal to do that.
Matt H: 40:09 Yeah. I wonder if that's getting more difficult to practice because of the remote phenomenon. Actually in the article that you shared out, it was talking about the skill of a conversation and how there is this certain rhythm that goes along with talking [inaudible 00:40:23] else and there's a skill that you can sort of acquire and you have to maintain in order to be able to be good at it. I think those in remote situations that don't have the opportunity to sit down and really talk with somebody in physical space that you do tend to sometimes lose the ability and it doesn't come as naturally to you maybe in the next time you do it. So I wonder if the listening piece of it is a big part of that as a remote team, and I wonder is there something that you do to encourage better listening with yourself and amongst your team?
Sarah Park: 40:51 Yeah, I think it can be uncomfortable, but I have had to learn to just be really okay with there being a lull in the conversation or just there being a quiet part of the conversation and not rush to fill that gap or put pressure on the other person in the conversation to do the same, and just say like, "Okay, you know what? Maybe we need to take just like a two minute break here so I can really let that sink in." A thing that I think is unique to a remote conversation is listening in a verbal conversation is one thing, but there's also listening when people are typing, like when you're in a chat conversation as well you kind of are reading through stuff pretty quickly. You're also pretty eager to get your response in at times as well, and I find it's really useful to just read and reread and try to give yourself distance from things that are happening and being said. I've also found that you mentioned earlier, I've been mentioning a lot about this work journal practice that I've been keeping, but that's actually something that has been really helpful for me to listen, even if it's not necessarily something that is happening for me in real time.
Sarah Park: 41:58 For me to be able to later reflect on like, "Oh, I had this reaction when somebody said this thing to me." To just kind of be able to think about that reaction and to write it down, and then maybe two days from now to go back and revisit it when sort of the emotional piece of that has faded away a little bit. You can kind of see what somebody was saying in a different light in that sense and then it's always nice at that point to be able to circle back and kind of revisit that conversation. So I think just sort of not being afraid to go back to that uncomfortable conversation or that uncomfortable place again if you need to. It's a practice and a habit that I've been trying to keep as well.
Matt H: 42:37 Mm-hmm (affirmative). And do you talk with your employees about that? Is that something that comes up? Just the practice of listening better?
Sarah Park: 42:44 It's definitely something that has a role into sort of how we communicate across the team with each other. We really do encourage people to allow our communication to be asynchronous when it needs to be so that you're not pulled into something when you're not really quite ready to have a longer more productive conversation about it. We also encourage people to just communicate with each other using different channels for the type of communication that you want to do. Like a lot of times when there's something that's like a bigger or a harder issue, sometimes people like to have the opportunity to maybe write their thoughts out in something that's a little bit longer form that just a chat channel on Slack. We always really do try to create a lot of different avenues for people to be communicating with each other, ones that will allow for people to formulate their thoughts better but also ones that are different for the people who are reading the feedback or who are on the receiving end of that communication. So yeah, I mean, I think we have experimented with that quite a bit and tried to figure out what's going to work best for the team and the end result is like it's always a little bit different for everybody, and each relationship kind of has its own unique sort of preferences and dynamics.
Matt H: 43:53 Yeah, it's interesting too because it's something that I think is valuable for me too, is when I find that a conversation is an important one or my point isn't getting across, to be able to say, "Look, this medium of communication isn't working and we need to shift to a call, or we need to shift to a face-to-face call." Or even whatever it is, but just being able to say, "Look, this isn't working for me, I need to shift."
Sarah Park: 44:15 Yeah, sometimes it's just that let's just shift to video, and suddenly that issue, you just took care of it in 15 seconds, something that maybe you had been going back and forth on for 20 minutes in writing. Sometimes just that channel shift really makes a big difference.
Matt H: 44:29 Yeah, that's a great one. So my next question is one of my favorites. It's if you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be and why?
Sarah Park: 44:37 That's an easy one for me because there is one book that I constantly buy for people all the time and promote a lot and it's called Difficult Conversations. It's by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone, and Bruce Patton. It's a really good book for work, for life. I mean, kind of along the theme of what we're talking about here. It just gives you a good framework for when you need to have like kind of a difficult or a contentious conversation. It just helps you understand where assumptions are at play, or maybe when you're focusing on some aspect of the conversation that actually is not really pertinent to understanding the situation, and it's just, it's so useful. I feel like everybody in the whole entire world needs to read this book.
Matt H: 45:19 That's a good place to start. So we'll link to that as well. It's not one that I have read so I'm glad that I was able to talk to you about it today. The whole difficult conversation piece is a really important one too. I was reading on Twitter the other day where there was somebody, it was a thread about it and one person out there has made a practice of asking what is the conversation that I'm avoiding today, because I think that leads to some pretty interesting and reflective, and productive conversations with people.
Sarah Park: 45:44 Yeah, that would be a great manager question to be asking. As a manager, what thing have I not said? Always with those situations in a management scenario it's always just because you're avoiding some kind of difficult conversation or you're avoiding some kind of discomfort.
Matt H: 46:01 Yeah, and being good at that skill is something that I think everybody can pay attention to, because if it's something that's uncomfortable, there's a reason it's uncomfortable for both parties. If you are good at that, and good at presenting that, and good at making that other person feel comfortable and even though maybe your objective is the same, it can lead to two very different situations afterwards.
Sarah Park: 46:22 Oh yeah, totally.
Matt H: 46:23 Yeah, that's a good one. So we'll make sure that we can, we'll link to that as well. The last question I have for you before I let you go here Sarah is, what is the best advice you've ever been given?
Sarah Park: 46:32 The best advice I've ever been given it's from Laura Roeder, the founder of MeetEdgar. Something that she tells me when she and I are talking all the time, she says, "No amount of thinking is ever going to make you psychic." And that has become the short hand for her to basically tell me like okay, you've been thinking about this problem long enough. It's time to just stop doing that and go out and try some things. So it really is the switch in my head for me to just remember that you're not going to think yourself out of this problem right now. You have to start putting some solutions into action.
Matt H: 47:03 Yeah, that's a great one. Sarah, thanks again and hopefully we can do this again soon.
Sarah Park: 47:07 Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun.
Matt H: 47:11 Thanks so much again for listening to the show. Be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs, and if you're looking to hire a remote worker, weworkremotely.com 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 in the podcast, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. Thanks so much again for listening and we'll talk to you next time.