The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Tammy's links:




Workplaceless Blog


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 per month. We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire. Today we are blessed to be learning out loud with Tammy Bjelland. Tammy is the Founder and CEO of Workplaceless, the world's leading provider of training on remote, virtual, digital work skills. She's a learning professional with 16 years experience in higher education, ed-tech, publishing, and corporate training, who works at the intersection of the future of learning and the future of work. Tammy, welcome to The Remote Show. Tell us, what problems are you trying to solve with Workplaceless?
Tammy Bjelland (00:46):
Hi, Tyler. Thanks so much for having me. So, at Workplaceless we are trying to solve the problem of bad remote work. So, we are trying to solve for the problem of remote or hybrid work that just isn't going well. So, we want to make remote work better, and we believe in making remote work better by helping individuals, leaders, and teams, and organizations as a whole work better remotely. So, we do that by providing really comprehensive and targeted skills training on what it takes to be effective at remote work.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:28):
Outstanding. One of the things that you said in there and it's been the hot topic of late, is talking about hybrid work. You guys at Workplaceless are working at making remote and hybrid work better. How do you all at Workplaceless define the word hybrid?
Tammy Bjelland (01:45):
We define hybrid as a work structure that involves one or more people who work remotely some or all of the time. So, it is a very wide range of organizations and setups. So, if you have one person who's working remotely in a team of 1,000, you are still hybrid. If you have 999 people working remotely and just one sole person in those headquarters, that is also a hybrid organization. And we use remote work to describe the actual work of working separately, as in not in the same space as other people. So, the work and the skills are the same for remote or hybrid teams, because you're describing that same kind of work. You're not working alongside your colleagues.
Tyler Sellhorn (02:44):
Okay. I'm hearing you saying something that rhymes with so many of our other guests of saying that there is a spectrum. You've got your zeros, you've got your all remotes, and then you got your only office, you got your thousands. But then all the way in between, one to 99, either direction is that full spectrum of remote working or hybrid working as you describe it, right?
Tammy Bjelland (03:07):
For sure.
Tyler Sellhorn (03:08):
And I think that's really interesting to hear you define it that way in the way that you guys have been helping individuals, teams, leaders, organizations. When you think about being that one, you think about being that one that's not with the rest of the office team, how do you think about helping that person when you're thinking about training that person to be effective? What do they need to be able to do as the non-normative inside of their team or organization? What do they need to know about being effective as a remote worker?
Tammy Bjelland (03:39):
Yeah. So, that's a great question. And actually, when people ask us that it is never just about the individual that's working remotely, because really, all of that person's coworkers also need to know how to work separate from their colleagues. So, they also need to learn the skills to properly engage, as well as get work done in that hybrid environment. So, it's never just about training or upskilling just one individual, because you won't have really positive outcomes for the entire team in that way. But you can have the very best, the expert in remote work and if their team doesn't know how to incorporate a remote team member into that team, they don't know how to manage their performance, they don't know how to connect with that individual if they're not in the office, that individual will never succeed.
Tammy Bjelland (04:36):
So, it is about providing that skills training to each individual, but it is most important to provide that training to the team at large, because one individual can only make so many changes. But the group, if everyone commits to that mindset shift to incorporating the infrastructure that's needed and to developing the capability, then you're going to see those results and you're going to see a more effective workforce.
Tyler Sellhorn (05:07):
Okay. That gives me a segue into one of my very favorite questions right now is to say, back in 2019 or earlier, that was much more common was to have that one individual that was maybe part of a larger team that was in office, that one individual might have been remote. And then we've got this pandemic happening and everybody's gone remote, but now we've got some people going back to the office and there's a future waiting for us on the other side of this pandemic. And I'm curious, as you observe it, as CEO of Workplaceless, who's training teams that are doing this or attempting to do it well or trying to do it better, as you say, what are those different time periods looking like to you? Give us that compare and contrast of what happened before and what's happening now and what's going to happen in the future.
Tammy Bjelland (05:53):
Ooh, okay. So, in terms of skills and in terms of what we're focusing on when we help organizations, I'll talk about what we're doing right now in the future, and then compare that to the past. So, thanks to the pandemic and everyone, not everyone, but a really large number of people working remotely, we finally came to this realization, I think, as a society or at least within certain sectors, that work can be accomplished remotely. And so, there was this mindset shift in terms of accepting that businesses can continue with remote work. So, that was a really pivotal moment.
Tammy Bjelland (06:37):
But one of the issues that happened with that was that people were working remotely under very extreme circumstances and in situations that are not normal remote working situations. And so, the big concern for us as remote work enablement, we provide remote work enablement services, we are really concerned about the negative experiences that people were bound to have and have had because of that very quick, massive shift to remote work under super extreme circumstances of a pandemic. So, people were already isolated from friends and family. They experienced shift back and forth between isolation, as well as burnout from being online and in front of a camera all day. There was a lot of ambiguity in terms of what was going to happen next.
Tammy Bjelland (07:29):
Companies were shifting their plans. I mean, understandably, they were shifting plans, not making plans, not committing to any kind of concrete future. And so, when you have that amount of ambiguity, you have that amount of stress, you're going to have overall a negative experience at work. And so, it was really concerning for us and it still is that this is what people think of when they think of remote work now. And so, we are still committed to enabling more effective remote work, but because of the pandemic and what's happened and what will continue to happen, we've distilled how we work with clients in a more simplified framework. So, we talk about mindset, infrastructure, and capability.
Tammy Bjelland (08:20):
And mindset, even though we did have that sort of grand realization that work can continue, mindset still needs to be that first hurdle that we overcome when we talk about long term remote and hybrid work. So, shifting the mindset away from remote work is terrible because I've just been in front of my camera all day and I can't get my work done, shifting that mindset to invite people to think about different ways of working. So, more async work, getting a better balance of async, really leveraging the power of remote work to access that flexibility, that is the promise of remote. And so, the biggest shift for us has really been focusing on mindset, but in a different way. We had so many people finally realize that remote work can work, but that didn't magically make everybody pro-remote. And we're seeing that now, and so that's my prediction for the future is that we're going to continue to see executives specifically.
Tammy Bjelland (09:28):
There was just a study and I forget exactly where it was, but this really big disconnect between executives wanting people back in the office and then everybody else wanting to be able to work from anywhere. I think that tension is going to continue to exist. So, that's my prediction for the future is that mindset is still going to be that primary hurdle that we need to overcome. And then comparing to the past, we were still dealing with mindset, but in a very elementary kind of way. Yes, work can be done. This is how you can get work done. And when people were forced into the situation, they figured it out and they got the work done and they were productive, but it was at the expense of wellbeing. And it was also at the expense of a lot of other components of positive work environment.
Tyler Sellhorn (10:25):
Okay. I'm going to say some things back to you. So many nuggets, Tammy, thank you so much. So, we were forced into this new situation that came along inside of a very dire global situation and there was going to be some negative experiences associated with that. Isolation, burnout, decision making is unclear, ambiguous, our mindsets are having to shift. Even those that are helping enable that thing are having to talk about different things and then they'd talked about before. You even use the word async in there and I think we're still drawing out. And maybe this is the thing that I'd ask to learn from you next is we're shifting away from this idea that work has to happen in a place.
Tyler Sellhorn (11:11):
We've accepted that there can be some amount of, at least for knowledge workers now, there's going to be some location independence, some flexibility about where work is happening. And obviously, we will link to the future forum post, thank you, Slack, for funding all of that awesome research. We will make sure to include that here. But what is this idea that we're not just location independent, but we're also seeking a certain amount of time independence to the work as well? What do you mean when you say async?
Tammy Bjelland (11:40):
I love this segue because it really is the next frontier of flexibility. We've achieved maybe not fully, but this idea of location independence. And so, you're totally right that now schedule flexibility is this next challenge. And so, remote first practices, incorporating a heavy emphasis on async practices is going to enable that flexibility. Even if we're working away from the office, if we are tied to being in front of our desks from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM in whatever our time zone is, that is not true flexibility. And async powers that flexibility, async is what allows people to be flexible in their schedules. So, working parents, who might want to work early in the morning before their kids get up or after their kids go to bed, and that works for them.
Tammy Bjelland (12:42):
Async enables each individual to get the work done when it works best for them and it works around their other priorities and other responsibilities. And so, async is really one of the things that we are focusing heavily on now, because as employees are demanding, not only location flexibility, but also schedule flexibility, that is going to be how teams are able to continue doing work without having to stop every time they can't find somebody in the exact moment that they need to find them.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:20):
Yeah. I think it's really important that we zoom in on the thing that you're saying there is that remote first best practices are not necessarily asynchronous first best practices. There is something to be said for providing location flexibility, but then there's also this other thing that's waiting for us on the other side. And this is maybe going back to our comparison to the different moments of time where it's like, okay, we're locked into the kitchen table in 2020, but we're hoping to enable the opportunity for people to go and live in a different time zone, not just in a different space, near a geographic location.
Tammy Bjelland (14:06):
Yeah. The time zones, I mean that right there. I mean, if you have anybody in multiple time zones, I mean, this is your call to action to embrace more async because that used to be really the primary question that people would ask. I remember giving webinars back in 2017 and people really being like, how do we handle this multiple time zone issue? And so, it was always a huge concern. And what they were doing was having some calls at 6:00 AM, having some calls at 9:00 PM, and that was the solution, as opposed to thinking about is a live synchronous call the only way to get this work done.
Tammy Bjelland (14:51):
And so, 2017, wasn't the early days of remote work by any stretch. But certainly, there was less of an awareness of the power of async in a really concrete way than there is now. And so, I'm very appreciative of so many remote first companies that have adopted async and are very open and willing to share their practices. Because I think in order for other teams to recognize that async can work, they need to see real life examples. And so, I'm just forever grateful for every single team that has ever published anything on how they get work done, because it's so illuminating to see all the different ways that organizations can get work done. And it doesn't have to look like you expect it to look.
Tyler Sellhorn (15:44):
Really cool. You asked a question in the middle of there where you said, does this call, does this session of collaboration have to be a video conference? Help us answer that question. What things should be a video call, which things should be something else? What are those something elses?
Tammy Bjelland (16:06):
Yeah. So, in our programs at Workplaceless, we talk about balancing synchronous and asynchronous. So, because every organization, every team is going to be different and everyone has different needs, we don't necessarily prescribe async only for every team. Having a blanket universal approach just is not going to work. So, we talk about balancing async and sync so that you have the appropriate amount of time to connect with team members, but also giving enough time for people to actually get their work done. So, like I said, that balance is going to be different for everyone. But if your team is struggling with too many meetings, you're struggling with getting interrupted all the time, you can't ever get work done because you're always trying to put out fires that need to be addressed immediately, those are indications that your team relies too much on synchronous communication and not enough on asynchronous.
Tammy Bjelland (17:08):
So, how you can change some of those video meetings and not have so many is look at the purpose of what each of those meetings is. So, we have a framework called the placeless taxonomy and it categorizes communication types according to how difficult they are to achieve asynchronously. So, at the bottom is informing or updating. So, that is a type of communication task that is very easily accomplished asynchronously. All the way at the top, you have connecting. And so, developing social capital, actually really that's like the crux of it is developing deeper connections with your team, as well as developing those different types of social capital so that you can continue to grow in your career. That is very challenging to accomplish asynchronously.
Tammy Bjelland (18:00):
You can do some components of that asynchronously, for instance, keeping in touch with a mentor that you had in a previous job, you can keep in touch with them by email, for instance and that is part of that connecting. However, to really develop those deep relationships, you really do need to spend time talking with people synchronously. And so, in a team that is spending too much time on synchronous communication, you can do a little audit of all of the meetings that you have and any meeting that has a purpose that falls into one of those lower order communication types, like informing or problem solving. You can look at switching that meeting to an asynchronous process and then reserving synchronous time for those higher order tasks, like connecting. So, that way you can manage burnout, manage that increasing demand on synchronous time, but you're also allowing team members to actually connect with one another so that you don't get into that issue where people start feeling isolated because they never get to see anybody. So, it's all about striking that balance.
Tammy Bjelland (19:12):
And really, in any given week, in a given month, a given season, you may need to adjust that balance. So, just because this is the balance that you have this week doesn't necessarily mean that's right for you every week. I'll give an example of just in our team, we are very much an async first team. So, we try to get things done asynchronously, but we are also not totally averse to hopping on a call if it solves something quickly. In the winter of this year, before we had widespread access to vaccines, people were still at home, couldn't really go anywhere. We had some team members who were feeling really isolated and that was affecting just them in general, both at work and also in their personal lives. And that was because we had so much focus on async and they wanted more opportunities to connect with team members.
Tammy Bjelland (20:10):
So, we at added a few more sync conversations to the mix and made sure to incorporate processes for identifying those moments when people are feeling isolated or they're feeling burned out. Because we have a heavy focus on async, we have time in our schedules to add in those moments of connection that people need. So, that was a very long explanation, but I think that gives you a little bit of a picture of how you can shift some meetings. And by doing that, you're saving time so that you can spend that time together, really accomplishing those higher order tasks.
Tyler Sellhorn (20:48):
Plus one to reflection, plus one to revisiting priorities, plus one to iterating, plus one to taking a specific season and balancing, rebalancing, returning to frameworks like the placeless taxonomy. We've referenced before, Matt Mullenweg's hierarchy of asynchronous, right?
Tammy Bjelland (21:09):
Tyler Sellhorn (21:09):
I mean, those are things that we've talked about here on the podcast and it's so great to hear us rhyming with your team and the teams that you work with's experience. So, I want to transition here for a moment, Tammy, and invite you to come back to a thought that you had earlier when we were talking about having synchronous calls at weird times because of time zone differences. As we move on into this potential future, people are starting to hire people in a much broader range of geographies, including across borders, including across all kinds of time zones, continents, what have you. What are the things that you're are going to maybe see as problems on down the road for those organizations that have been meeting heavy, synchronous heavy, that are saying, "Okay, we want to spend time together?"
Tyler Sellhorn (21:59):
How can they rebalance their things and shift away from that? Because we've talked about how Workplaceless has seen their seasons matching up with what is going to be our balance of sync versus async. How do we transition away from these organizations? In my day job, we hear a lot from some really bad meeting cultures that have some really broad ranges of times that people are meeting. How can we move away from that?
Tammy Bjelland (22:25):
Yeah. So, I think that self-reflection is really key and especially leaders. So, leaders have to look inward and see how they are contributing to that meeting-heavy culture. And I'm not saying that teams can never ever have a strange time for a conference call ever again, that's not what I'm saying. I'm not saying any kind of extreme thing like that. What I'm saying is that leaders and those who drive that culture, they really do need to rethink what it means to get work done. And also, they need to think about the different rituals that can be implemented in an async way to achieve some of the objectives that some of those meetings have. So, for instance, if you are trying to learn a little bit about each other, you can have an async, you can call them like a water cooler question, or like a get to know you question to do that in an asynchronous channel.
Tammy Bjelland (23:27):
And then you can allow team members within the same time zone to connect with one another if they need that connection. I think some of the biggest challenges that may come from that is when you have one team member in a very different time zone than the rest of the team. So, that's a big challenge I think that teams should proactively solve for. And so, identifying ways to make sure that that individual feels included and is able to attend events that are planned. We're coming up on the holiday season, so making sure that people in every time zone have an opportunity to celebrate in whatever way the company is celebrating. And sometimes that means it's going to be not as efficient or not as streamlined as you're used to.
Tammy Bjelland (24:15):
So, you can't just have one corporate holiday party and just make sure that everybody comes, if you really want to make sure that people are included. So, leaders, especially, but also just team members really need to practice empathy in putting themselves in somebody else's shoes to think about how they might be feeling excluded or potentially not actively excluded, but those opportunities to connect are not as accessible. And that's really what you want to come up with alternative rituals or alternative ways that you can include people.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:52):
I'm so grateful for the opportunity that is given to us as we work remotely, to be invited, to reflect that leaders need to ask themselves that question, how are we contribute meeting to the meeting culture, to the celebration culture, to this new way of working for so many? Obviously, you and I were working remotely in 2019 and you much sooner than I was. But I think it's one of those things that we need to say to ourselves, okay, what is the best way for us to go forward? This is how we're working now and what are we going to do about it to be invited, to say to ourselves that age old question, how shall we live and work? How are we going to do this? And to be intentional with that answer and not be scattered and just wondering and ambiguous.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:48):
What was those negative phrases you used earlier? We don't want to increase isolation or burnout or cause confusion. We want to set the vision for what we can do together as a working culture, as people. I guess, maybe that's what I want to ask you, Tammy, as we close here is, what is the vision for what you hope to achieve with organizations at Workplaceless? What is the type of meeting culture, working culture, living culture? What do you hope to achieve with those organizations and even inside of your own organization? What is it that you hope to see happen as we work together in this way?
Tammy Bjelland (26:26):
Yeah. I hope to see equitable outcomes for all employees, regardless of where they're located, their schedules. What we're doing is I hope that we are contributing to developing the processes and developing the capabilities in teams and organizations to make sure that any employee is supported and is able to be successful, no matter where they're working or when they're working. And that's really the goal. And in any organization, again, that's going to look a little bit different in terms of what the meeting culture exactly looks like. But overall, what you see in effective remote teams is that mindset that accepts remote work as a possibility, as well as doesn't block resources to making that happen.
Tammy Bjelland (27:27):
So, you don't have to be completely on the remote work bandwagon. You don't have to think it's the best thing since sliced bread. But if the vision for your organization is to enable remote work or hybrid work, then every leader, every single stakeholder needs to be committed to that vision and make that vision possible. So, that mindset is needed. Finding the resources needed to be able to provide the infrastructure that you need to get work done wherever you are, and then developing those capabilities to make that happen. So, those are the things that organizations need, and we are thrilled to be able to work with our clients on developing the most effective remote and hybrid structure that they possibly can.
Tyler Sellhorn (28:18):
Well, I just want to echo that I am so excited to be working alongside you all. We are excited to be working alongside you all in helping to develop the mindsets and the capabilities that will produce the equitable outcomes that we are hoping to achieve together. Thank you so much for all that you are doing. Thank you for coming here on The Remote Show. Thanks for learning out loud with us, Tammy.
Tammy Bjelland (28:40):
Thanks so much for having me, Tyler.
Tyler Sellhorn (28:43):
Blessings. Thanks so much again for listening to 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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