The Remote Show

Show Notes:

This week we were able to speak with Tammy Bjelland, the founder and CEO of Workplaceless – an elearning company that provides training to remote professionals and teams. Tammy began working remotely in EdTech in 2011, and has been helping people learn and grow in distributed environments ever since.

Starting in academia, Tammy shifted to EdTech and began her own business consulting. She then saw the gap in education and training related to remote work, and she has been building Workplaceless to fill that gap.

Tammy is a true pro, and had some quality insights about remote work culture, communication and major pain points related to managing and building remote teams. What I really enjoyed about our conversation, however, was how genuine Tammy is. Her best advice: “Not taking yourself too seriously” is one of my favourites, and I think isn’t heeded as much in business and entrepreneurship.

Check out workplaceless.com and check out their wonderful remote work training options!

Follow Tammy on twitter: @TammyBjelland

Tammy’s book she would make everyone read: “Behold the Dreamers” by Imbolo Mbue


Matt H: 00:07 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.

Matt H: 00:16 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. Tammy, thanks for coming to the podcast. We really appreciate it.

Tammy Bjelland: 00:31 Yeah, thanks for having me, Matt.

Matt H: 00:33 All right. So where I like to start and the listeners might be bored with this jumping off point, but I'm going to do it anyways. Is where are you got your start and what you're doing now. So why don't you tell us a little bit about Workplaceless and then we can talk a little bit about how you came up with the idea, but what is your background in terms of tech and your career?

Tammy Bjelland: 00:49 Yeah. So my background, actually I started out in academia. So I went to school at the University of Virginia and got my BA in Spanish and then continued on with my MA in Spanish and started a PhD. I made it halfway through the PhD, lived in Spain for a little bit. Came back to the states. And when I came back to the states, I wanted a remote job because I didn't want to have to limit where I was going to live based on my job opportunities. And so I found a remote job in Ed tech working for a company that created a language learning app for the middle and high school age groups. And I loved it. I loved the curriculum design and the instructional design part of it, and seeing what it took to develop a product that filled a need in the education market. So I got to continue being in the education space but in a different capacity than I was used to, which was primarily in the classroom.

Tammy Bjelland: 01:47 So that was back in 2011. And in addition to loving the whole curriculum design part of it, I also loved working remotely. And that was a really exciting thing that I hadn't really thought I would explore since primarily academic job tracks are very location dependent. I mean you are limited in the job market to universities that are hiring. So I really loved the fact that I could live wherever I wanted and still have gainful employment in a field that I was really interested in. And from there I worked for a couple other ed tech companies and then started my own business in instructional design. And in 2017, I started Workplaceless, which helps remote workers and teams, and whole companies learn how to work and thrive in remote environments.

Matt H: 02:43 Nice. Nice. So we'll get into the Workplaceless piece cause obviously that's a big one that I want to dive into. But before we do, so you mentioned you were doing a PhD. Was it in Spanish?

Tammy Bjelland: 02:52 It was a Spanish literature. Yeah. So something not really related to what I'm doing now.

Matt H: 02:58 Yeah. Well and that's the norm I think in the people that I've talked to at least is rarely does one go from university degree right into what they're supposed to be learning or the career that they're supposed to go into. So I think that's typical. I myself was a history and political science major. So what was the plan for you when you were doing the Spanish literature? Was it to stay in academia?

Tammy Bjelland: 03:15 Yeah, so I had originally planned to do the whole career track and be a Spanish professor. And I taught Spanish at the University of Virginia as a TA and then at Middlebury Language Schools. I taught in Spain for a few years and I came back to the states and had that ed tech job, but was also teaching still. I taught at Shenandoah University in the town where I live now, Winchester, Virginia. And I was working full time at the university and then I had changed to part-time as a contractor for the ed tech company. And I realized that I no longer wanted to be a professor. And so I quit the PhD because the only real reason that you need a PhD in Spanish literature is to be Spanish professor. And then just went on with my own business. And that was what happened there. But yeah, for my entire twenties practically, the idea was that I was going to be a Spanish professor for my career.

Matt H: 04:10 Wow. That's interesting. So when you came back and you were sort of in the frame of mind of maybe wanting to start your own business, what was it about the remote workspace that spoke to you in a way that you thought that you might be able to get a business out of it or create a business? What was it that you saw that sort of led you to creating the Workplaceless model?

Tammy Bjelland: 04:28 It was my own experience primarily that led me to start thinking about it. So I worked in ed tech remotely and I worked for various different ed tech companies. And I noticed that there was a severe lack of professional development resources for remote workers. It was very, very hard to find what possible career and growth paths were available to me. And the same for my colleagues as well. So not only was it hard to find or even discuss what those possible career paths could be, it was also really challenging to identify the resources that could help me achieve those goals. And anecdotally, that was my experience. But then as I explored this space more, I realized that this lack of professional development resources is a pervasive problem throughout many, many remote or distributed work environments. So that was the genesis of it really was my background in learning experience design and the realization that there really weren't any professional development resources for remote workers.

Matt H: 05:30 How has the model changed since you've started or has it changed at all, and what have you learned since you started about the business and the model that you're in?

Tammy Bjelland: 05:38 Yeah, it has changed. So I'll say in addition to the lack of professional development resources for individuals, I also noticed that it was challenging on the hiring side to really be able to identify workers or candidates that had remote work experience, or that could very quickly integrate themselves into a remote team. And so the start of Workplaceless really was centered around the idea of creating a certification program for workers to be able to demonstrate competency in working in a distributed environment without having to have that remote background. Because many of the people who really want remote jobs and for whom remote work could change their lives, like people who are home-bound or people who have had to live in remote areas because they're taking care of family, etc. Those people for whom remote work could really be life changing, it can be really challenging to enter that space because they don't have that background in remote work.

Tammy Bjelland: 06:36 So the idea was to create a certification program that could help those candidates demonstrate competency in that area. And we created that. We created that certification program. What's changed though is the model that we deliver our learning programs. So instead of having to have basically two marketing models where we try to reach individual workers or a job candidates and then also businesses with whom we want to develop longterm learning and development strategies. Instead, we have shifted to primarily a B2B model where we're serving primarily businesses, organizations and then channel partners. And our channel partners depending on their audience and their mission, they are the ones that are delivering content to individuals.

Tammy Bjelland: 07:26 So we work with channel partners like Utah's Rural Online Initiative who's using our curriculum to deliver remote work certification to individuals who live in rural Utah so that they're able to gain access to additional work opportunities that are remote based.

Tammy Bjelland: 07:43 So the model's changed a little bit because we were trying to do all of the things and speak to individual workers and also speak to companies. And now primarily we're speaking to companies and providing resources to our channel partners so that they can speak to consumers.

Matt H: 08:00 Got you. Got you. When somebody comes to you, what stage of the remote work experience are they in? Because I'm thinking about companies that might need your services, and yet don't either recognize that themselves and so they don't know where to turn. Is that something that you see companies, is it a lot of inbound stuff in terms of your clients? Or is it sort of a company has a remote worker that sees a lot of these flaws in their work environment, and then they come to you and then they sort of refer you? How does that work?

Tammy Bjelland: 08:28 It's both. So you're right that some of these organizations that would really need a lot of learning and development resources, they either don't have the internal mechanisms to track that or even put words to what those problems are. So we have some examples of companies who have just found us by accident because they're just searching for solutions for a very specific problem. Then they see that we offer more comprehensive solutions to dealing with the problem at large as opposed to just a symptom of a problem. And then we also have individuals who are representatives of teams that have seen issues within their own team. And they come to us to see how we can help that team.

Matt H: 09:13 So without getting too far into this sort of the curriculum, and obviously we want people to go and check it out and do it themselves. So I won't get too into it. But what are the key components of what you do to teach people and educate, and maybe allow people to be qualified in working remotely? Because from an outsider looking in, I think there's so many different ways that you can approach that, but I'd be curious to know what's the format of teaching workers to be qualified, competent remote workers?

Tammy Bjelland: 09:39 Yeah, so our approach is a competency based model. So we looked at input from many different subject matter experts. So people who have been in the remote work field for many years and who've led remote teams. And from that input, we identified core competencies at each level.

Tammy Bjelland: 09:57 So currently we have four programs that are out. We have one that is worker centric. We have one that is for leaders. We have one that is for trainers or people who facilitate learning virtually. And then we also have a program for change managers or people who are looking to convert their team to remote.

Tammy Bjelland: 10:17 So for all of those programs, our process involves working with subject matter experts identifying six to seven key competency areas. And all those competency areas, I'll say they build on one another. So it's a cumulative program, it's comprehensive, and all of the programs also are aligned. So a leader going through our leadership program for instance, will experience a similar learning experience than the workers going through the certification program. And so these skills are stackable, and aligned. And that's really important in creating a comprehensive learning and development strategy across a team or across a whole company.

Tammy Bjelland: 10:57 So those basic competency areas, I won't list them all. They're all available on the website and in our program brochure if you're really interested in learning about that. That we're developing a more comprehensive competency model as well to demonstrate in a more visual way how we've identified those competencies and where our programs fit into developing those competencies.

Matt H: 11:23 And we'll link to all that stuff. So if anybody's listening to that, they can go check that out. So one of the things that I've learned about through this podcast, and I think it's relevant to bring it up here, is the fact that all of these companies that I've been able to talk to kind of have different approaches to the remote work style of communication and collaboration, and all that kind of stuff. Is there a way that you accommodate the idea that there's different people? Like me for example, I'm an introvert, so working as an introvert as a remote worker would be different than somebody else that has a different personality type that's more of an extrovert or whatever. Do you accommodate that in your teaching model? And is that something you think about?

Tammy Bjelland: 11:56 It is something that we think about. We don't give like blanket recommendations. So our approach is competency based. So these skills are necessary. So communication for instance, is necessary. Whether you're an introvert or you're an extrovert, that doesn't really change the fact that you need to be proactive in your communication. Does it change perhaps what channels you choose to be proactive in that communication? Maybe, and that depends on your own situation in that context. But those best practices and that skill of being able to number one, identify the channel that you need to send communication. Time that communication in an inappropriate way. And then also confirm understanding. Those are all going to be necessary no matter if you prefer to talk on video or if you prefer to send an email, or if you prefer to send a message through Slack.

Tammy Bjelland: 12:48 So we don't try to give blanket recommendations in that way. Nor do we say you have to use this tool for instance. We're tool agnostic. We do recommend some tools that are representative of a category of tools. So in our curriculum, we cover Slack and Zoom. We can't talk about remote work without talking about some of these tools that have enabled some abuse advances in communication across space. So you have to talk about it, but it's not prescriptive. So we base all of our content on that idea that this isn't prescriptive in terms of how you apply what we provide you, but it is just based on these universal skills that everybody needs to be a productive member of a team.

Matt H: 13:36 So with the model that you have, what do you see as the future of the education space in terms of working remotely? So where do you see your business in, it's a difficult question to answer obviously. But have you put any thought into what this looks like five years from now? Is that something that's more integrated within the companies or within the more typical university structure, or what does that look like to you in five years in terms of your model?

Tammy Bjelland: 14:00 So in five years, what I envision is, what I hope for is a distinct presence of learning and development in each remote company, or distributed company, or hybrid company. And what that means is providing learning and development resources in a clear and consistent, and comprehensive manner to team members no matter where they are. And integrating that learning and development into just the daily work of that individual and the team. And then just making it part of every day and every week, and every month in the organization. So definitely a more integrated approach.

Tammy Bjelland: 14:38 And then in terms of curriculum or experiences in more structured institutions, I absolutely see remote work topics and competencies being integrated into university curricula and even high school, and middle school. All of these concepts are things that if we want to talk about educating the future workforce of the world, then these are topics that they need to understand. And there are already a lot of initiatives in schools and in universities to incorporate that kind of content into the curricula.

Matt H: 15:13 So what do you see right now in terms of educational institutions that are looking to get into the space? Is there a lot of inbound interest in what you're doing right now and what does that look like and how has that evolved?

Tammy Bjelland: 15:25 Yeah, so we do get inbound inquiries about how we can leverage our content to supplement current curricula or integrate completely into a curriculum. So we do get inquiries from that. And then we are actively seeking additional educational partners too because my background is in the K-12 and higher ed space. So I feel very strongly that if we want to educate about topics that are related to the future of work, then we need to start in schools. Because part of what students are learning are the skills that they need to enter the professional world.

Tammy Bjelland: 16:01 So in terms of what the landscape looks like right now for education, I think it's fairly new and there aren't many programs out there that really speak directly to remote work. So Workplaceless is trying to address that.

Matt H: 16:22 So is there, and again, you might not be able to go into this too too much because it might encroach on your material and your content. But is there a specific pain point that people come to you with that they want to solve? Is that something that you see a lot? Is there any consistency with that? So if a company's interested in your services, they come to you and say, "Look, I have this issue with hiring remote workers or this issue with remote work in general." Is that something that you see and what would that be, do you think?

Tammy Bjelland: 16:45 Yeah, so there are some pretty consistent pain points that we hear a lot. So with hybrid teams, it's how can we make sure that our culture is aligned. That cultural alignment actually is relevant question for everybody. So we get a lot of questions about know how can I make sure that the people that are working remotely feel included. So that's a really big pain point because there are lots of negative symptoms that come with misalignment of culture. So that's one really big pain point.

Tammy Bjelland: 17:13 And then another pain point is professionalism. So the lack of really clear expectations or communication about expectations, about what it means to be a professional and how to present yourself professionally. Whether it's internally or whether your role is client facing. So those are a couple of the big pain points that customers come to us with.

Tammy Bjelland: 17:33 And communication. It's the number one skill that everyone needs to have to contribute successfully in a distributed environment. It's the number one skill for leaders to really be able to lead effectively. And it's the one skill that we probably all need to a lot better at. So those are really three of the biggest areas that we see pain points and the trigger that gets people to come to us.

Matt H: 17:59 So I'd love to talk about the professionalism piece because it's not one that I've come across as much in these conversations and just generally speaking. So what specifically is it about the professionalism aspect that's a concern. Is it the writing itself. Professionalism is such a large sort of umbrella term for so many different things. And I'm curious as to where that comes from. Is that just a matter of mindset when it comes to what a typical worker in a larger company looks like? What does that mean exactly?

Tammy Bjelland: 18:28 Yeah. So usually when people come to us with concerns about professionalism or lack of professionalism, really comes down again to communication. And also how you present yourself. So there's a lot of assumptions I think when new people come onto a team, we all just sort of assume that when you join a team, you're going to be professional. And we have that agreement that people are going to be professional. But a lot of times, that's never articulated. So what is professional in one industry and in one organization might look very different to what is professionalism in another organization. So it really just comes down to setting very, very clear expectations and communicating them.

Tammy Bjelland: 19:11 So when I say that people come to us with concerns about professionalism, it might be a concern about somebody's emails. It might be a concern about someone always joining a Zoom call from their car. It might be some concerns that people have had about conversations with customers who have felt that they weren't treated professionally. So it's all these things that are related to professionalism. Many times people don't come to us with a general blanket issue of professionalism, but it's some sort of symptom of a lack of professionalism.

Matt H: 19:44 Got it. And I'm wondering if that's an issue with hiring. You obviously want to be able to weed out people that wouldn't be professional in that way before they came onto your team. This is a good segue into asking about the hiring process in general. Do you provide that as a service, as a coaching point for a company that comes to you?

Tammy Bjelland: 20:04 So we don't. We have a workshop about hiring, but in terms of consulting on hiring, we work with a consulting agency that specializes in distributed team processes. So we're able to work with a company to address those hiring processes, but from a consultant perspective. So we try to stay in our lane and focus on the learning experiences, and then outsource that or help companies identify potential additional resources to help with those kinds of processes. But yeah, I think there has to be an element of filtering in the hiring process. But also, professionalism can be taught. And that's one of those things that when you get a new hire and you've inherited their habits and practices, and you have this assumption that they're going to follow all of the norms of your company. That is problematic when you've never actually expressed what those norms are. So there's a couple of pieces in that.

Matt H: 21:04 Right, that makes sense. And the hiring too is such a unique component of the puzzle because it's not something that I've heard any consistency with when it comes to remote teams. It's just all over the map. And it's interesting because it's again, one of the parts of this podcast which I love is diving into the process of hiring because it's such an important piece of trying to find the right people and you're going to build a great business is try to find these people that are going to fit whatever mission it is that you want to set up for them. And yet, still people are just trying to figure it out honestly. And it's nice in a way that it's refreshing, but it's also a little bit like there really isn't a playbook here.

Tammy Bjelland: 21:39 Yeah, that is really interesting. And I think that that's true for traditional brick and mortar companies as well. It's like there are some playbooks, but as our society and as the workforce and as the economy and our needs are evolving, so to have to evolve the processes that are used to identify people who have the skills we need. So there's some really interesting movement towards primarily skills-based resumes, how to write a skills based job description so you're not precluding people who perhaps don't resonate totally with a fanciful job description.

Tammy Bjelland: 22:19 I read a really interesting article in I think it was the Atlantic. It's about how our job descriptions, they've gone haywire. Like all the fanciful names for jobs and the terms that we use to describe tasks, and makes an interesting point about if you really want a job to be accessible to a really diverse audience, you need to be able to communicate what that job is really about. And sometimes, the descriptions that we use are actually, they're a little bit exclusive because they are speaking to people who speak that language already.

Matt H: 22:54 Right. Yeah, that's interesting. In our business obviously we see a ton of job descriptions, and there are some really bad ones.

Tammy Bjelland: 23:03 So I want to hear what are some of your best practices or things that you've shared with companies? Things to do, things not to do.

Matt H: 23:13 Yeah. It really comes down to what you want to present your company as. And some companies don't know which is interesting because it's such an important piece that gets overlooked. How do you want to be presented to the people that might want to work for you? And I think if you look at it in a way that you are trying to make your business somewhere that people want to work as opposed to just making it so that you are picking from the people that choose you, first of all it should be both. But people put very little thought into presenting their companies in a such a way that people would want to work for you.

Matt H: 23:42 Step number one is think about that because not enough people. So think about how you're presenting your company and whether you're presenting in such a way that it is actually nice and interesting and fun place to work.

Matt H: 23:53 But then again, don't overthink the fun component of it because I see so many of these job descriptions that are just atrocious in the language of like we're looking for a ninja rock star. It's silly. It doesn't seem, you go back to the professional piece. It's not professional. And to people that are looking to get into these positions of especially positions like the engineering jobs and the executive level positions. These are people that could work anywhere essentially. So don't lead people away from your business because you're presenting yourself as unprofessional, and don't waste time on coming up with jargon just to attract people to your business. Whether it's vacation policy or whether it's health benefits, make your company actually an interesting and good place to work before spending time trying to come up with the pretty language to attract people to the actual description itself.

Matt H: 24:40 So again, it's kind of an a long winded answer, but I don't think people really think about that piece of it and come up with a way of communicating their business and their brand to people that might want to work for them. Keep it short and simple. Include the specific requirements that you're looking for. Be really short and to the point about why you would want to work there. Include the things, but don't go overboard. And short and sweet is often the best. And yeah, focus on the real stuff that people care about. Again, I use the example of health benefits and time off, and how you're going to support your employees rather than just coming up with words that make it sound really cool.

Tammy Bjelland: 25:12 Yeah. Well you said that you didn't read the article, but I feel like you could have written it because that was pretty much like, that's a good summary of what the article said. So I'll share it with you so you don't have to search for it.

Matt H: 25:23 Oh yeah, that'd be great. That'd be great. Maybe I should reach out to The Atlantic and see if they want more articles from me. Yeah, it's super interesting. And again, just the thought that it needs to be put into a job description because it's such an essential piece of hiring people. If people are going to not even look at your job description, you're driving away potentially really interesting and really good people that could work for your business. So think hard about that would be my recommendation.

Tammy Bjelland: 25:45 Yeah. And getting more people's input I think than just that initial team that they would join. I would imagine that you need to have maybe marketing's input on messaging, because what those job descriptions are is really a message about building your company. And that messaging should be aligned with the overall marketing messaging.

Matt H: 26:06 For sure. For sure. Yeah, it's an interesting piece. But I think it can be something that there's a resource there for people to ... we actually have a job description template that you can use on our site. And again, it's super straight forward. But if you want to go and check that out, it's a pretty useful resource I think.

Matt H: 26:23 One of the things I love to get into is the culture piece. And because again, culture is such a rabbit hole, I think. And it's one of those things that people have a hard time actually articulating what it really means. And that being said, it's such an important piece of creating a successful place to work and a successful business. What do you to people who want to know more about bettering their company culture? Where's the place to start? Again, without getting too much into the content of your business. Where should they start to maybe get some resources into start thinking about the culture piece?

Tammy Bjelland: 26:56 Yeah. So we do have lots of resources about culture in our curriculum. So that could be one place to start. The leadership program actually starts with a module on culture because all of the skills that you need as a leader really are related back to the culture of your team and the culture of the company as a whole. And the values and behaviors aligned with the mission of the company.

Tammy Bjelland: 27:22 So we have a culture canvas that we work with, that we lead teams through. So that's one of the resources that we use because the first step is really having an inclusive conversation about culture. So culture can't be something that one person in an organization decides on and then sends a memo out, and everybody's just onboard. Culture needs to be actually inclusive and so voices need to be heard. So depending on the size of your organization, a team would need to figure out how to best allow voices to be heard. So depending on the organization, you might pick different channels and different approaches. But that's really the first step is if you're concerned about culture, there needs to be conversations about culture. It can't just be one person or a couple of people doing some research on best practices and then implementing something that other people have no context for.

Matt H: 28:17 Yeah, that makes sense. And also too, I think it's important to have those values and articulate them in a way that's clear, but also to not stop there. Right? I think it's sort of a mistake where you write down a set of values and then you don't really put any more thought into it than that. And then you kind of checked off that culture box or whatever it is that you think about it. But it's sort of like okay, revisiting that thought and revisiting it. Are you building the company that you want to build? Is this the company that you want to be a part of? And are these the values that still are maintained and are consistent within our business? And sort of iterating on that as you go because it's not something that you can just set and forget I don't think . That's from a perspective of not ever really leading a company, but that's kind of what I've heard at least. It's an ongoing process?

Tammy Bjelland: 29:03 Oh yeah. It's continuous work, and it is work. You can't just say we have happy, inclusive, positive culture and just expect it to be so. It takes a lot of work and it also takes consistent reflection. Any decision that a leader makes, any decision that an individual makes, it has the potential to have some sort of ramification on the company culture. So that's why in our leadership program, we start out with culture and you have teams set agreements. And example, expectation matrices. So this is the kind of behavior that we expect. It's aligned with our culture. This is an example of exceptional behavior. This is an example of behavior that doesn't meet our expectations and why. And so we really work through not just describing what the ideal is, but then also providing really clear and concrete examples of what it's not. I think that's a key piece that a lot of people miss. And when you're talking about learning and development and making concepts stick, you need to have both examples and non examples, and then steps to approach expectations as well.

Tammy Bjelland: 30:16 So there are all those pieces that are important, but it all does come down to culture. So all of the additional modules in our leadership program, they all refer back to culture because we can't talk about managing performance without also talking about that culture and what expectations exist for behavior and for work. And then how do you communicate what those expectations are and where people are falling short, etc. So it's always related to culture. So you're right that it is constant work and it touches everything.

Matt H: 30:49 Yeah, it is hard to get, you did a good job there of articulating. It's so hard to call out the actionable items out of a culture conversation. This is our culture, but what does that mean for my day to day? What do I do now that I know what the culture is? What does that look like and what does that mean? So I think that's an important piece that people that are probably getting into remote work don't really know about. So yeah, that's super interesting.

Matt H: 31:13 One of the things that I think is so unique about this podcast, and I'd love to get into with you is your business. And for you personally, what has been the challenges and things that you find satisfying and all that kind of fun stuff about building a business? So I think a good place to start would be what has been the biggest challenge for you over the past couple of years while you grow Workplaceless?

Tammy Bjelland: 31:32 So my background and my passion really lies in creating learning experiences and leveraging the power that we have as human beings to change ourselves through learning and applying what we learned. That's what drives me every day. I would say that personally, my strengths are not necessarily in the realm of focusing on numbers, for instance. Not going to say I'm bad at numbers, but I'll say that it's not usually my focus. My primary focus every day is what learning experiences are we delivering? Are they effective? How can we make them more effective, etc. So I would say that my biggest challenge has been for me personally, making sure that I am cognizant of that because I can't grow a business without really focusing on numbers. Luckily I now have a team. So originally the biggest challenge for me was just trying to do a lot of things myself.

Tammy Bjelland: 32:30 And finally in January of this year, I got to the point where that just wasn't possible. I had always worked with a team of instructional designers to develop content and the curriculum. But I was doing all of the executive things on my own. So I brought on a chief revenue officer. So he's really helping me figure out what my revenue goals need to be, and working together to develop those goals I think was the biggest challenge for me. And I'm now really thankful that I have a team, that they all have their own strengths and together we have a very strong team. So yeah, just realizing that it was time to not do all the things myself. That was probably the biggest challenge.

Tammy Bjelland: 33:11 And then currently, the biggest challenge is reigning it in and not trying to create all the learning experiences for all the pain points that we see. So really identifying which learning experiences are going to be the most impactful or have the widest impact on a population and going from there. So my instinct is always let's create another course. And again, luckily I have a team now to reign me in.

Matt H: 33:40 Yeah, it's interesting what the dynamic is when you go from just thinking about things in your own head to being able to bounce ideas off somebody else. Because at least for me, I ended up going down in these long rabbit holes where I'm like, "Man, this wasn't even a good thing to just begin to think about."

Tammy Bjelland: 33:56 Yeah. My team, so our chief marketing officer, Jacqueline, she presented this concept of idea confetti. As a group, we developed this process for all of the ideas that we have. And you have to go through the process to determine whether we're going to allocate resources to that new idea. And it's been really helpful for me because I do really think of a lot of things that I want to do. And it's helpful for me to just constantly be reminded of the revenue possibilities and then also the resources that are needed to develop that idea. So that process has really helped us.

Matt H: 34:28 Yeah, that's a good one. I was talking to Liam Martin who helps, he runs Time Doctor and Running Remote, the two conferences. And he had this really interesting idea and it sort of related to that, but it's more in the context of the day to day stuff. So he was saying that he tends to focus on things, the thousand dollar items and then delegates that anything less than that to whoever it is that he has around him. So that's how he sort of prioritizes things at least, and makes sure that he's spending time on what is going to affect the business the most and using his own skills. And it sounds similar to that, but probably in a higher level with that process that you're talking about. But it's a good idea I think, especially in an executive role to make sure that you're focused on the right things because it's easy to get bogged down, especially in small teams with so many things going on.

Tammy Bjelland: 35:12 Yeah. And then this particular process that we have, it also functions as a decision ledger, which I think is maybe less important in smaller teams where that institutional knowledge and memory is easily accessible in terms of the people. But as we intend to grow, having a ledger and a process for documenting this is why we made this decision about this, I think is really important. I've worked in teams where decisions were made sort of unilaterally. And I was like what was the thinking behind that? Why are we focusing on this function that doesn't even like affect our learners? Questions like that. And so I wanted to make sure that whatever processes we had internally, transparently showed other members of the team what the decision making process is and why. And then in a year when somebody else has one of the same ideas, they can look through the process and see why we came to those conclusions.

Matt H: 36:10 Yeah, that's a great idea. I could see that working just in life too. Working on being a better decision maker outside of also work. It's not something that everybody knows you can get better at is making better decisions. So that's a big piece too. And there's a lot of articles that I really like that are out there that are focused on better decision making. But yeah, I think it's a good idea. It's not something that I've done myself, but it's a good idea probably to implement a decision making process so then you can go back and review it. That's a really good one.

Matt H: 36:38 One of the questions I'd like to ask too is what have you learned along the way that you wish that you knew when you started your career? It's one of my favorite questions and I have to admit that it's not mine. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. So what have you learned along the way that you wish you knew when you started your career?

Tammy Bjelland: 36:52 So I'll say if I could give myself some advice or something that I wish I knew back when I started my actual professional life in academia or started down that path, I would say no matter how much time you've dedicated to one thing or one track, it's never too late to switch. So I spent way more years in academia than I really should have, and I wish that I had realized back then that it was okay to switch even though I had already invested however many years in the PhD, because I would get a lot of pushback about, "Well you're already this far." I was like, "You should just go a little bit farther." And meanwhile, writing a dissertation is like the worst thing ever. And so like I pushed towards this goal that I like ended up realizing that I didn't really want. So I would say to my younger self, don't think about that. That kind of thinking is really just going to make you waste more years. So that's one thing that I wish I had known.

Tammy Bjelland: 37:51 And then also related to that and something that I still need to remind myself pretty regularly. But people don't care about you as much as you think that they do. And sometimes we get stuck in things or we hang on to past decisions that we've made because we feel some sort of guilt or because we feel like people are going to expect us to do that, or feel one way or the other about a decision that we make. And I've realized through the years that people, they might care in the moment, but they get over it really quickly because most people are just trying to figure out their own decisions and make themselves happy. So yeah, people don't care about you as much as you think they do.

Matt H: 38:32 I love that one, and that's a great one. It reminds me of the same idea that I was thinking about actually earlier today was that just because you want something bad enough or you think that you deserve something because of however many hours you put into it or whatever it is, doesn't mean that that's ever going to happen. Just because you think that this is something that you should be doing or should succeed at, or whatever it is. Until it happens, don't expect anything. There's no assumptions that you can make about your success in any one area of your life. Until it happens, you don't deserve anything and nothing is owed to you until it happens. I don't think it's a pessimistic view, but it's something that I think it's important for people to realize too, is that nothing is owed to you.

Tammy Bjelland: 39:11 Yeah. I like that perspective because that really mitigates those missed expectations, right? Because if you remind yourself that you shouldn't have expectations, then you're not going to be disappointed. You might have other emotions that are probably more productive, like feeling like okay, I haven't achieved this yet, so how can I get over this obstacle, which is more productive than just being sad about not reaching a goal.

Matt H: 39:32 Yeah, that's a good one. So this is one of the more typical remote work questions but I ask people, but I think it's still relevant and I think it's still interesting. What do you do on a daily basis that you maintain consistently? What do you think is important to you on a daily basis in terms of your routine?

Tammy Bjelland: 39:47 So I do three things everyday. I make sure that I move in some way. So I hate working out with a fiery passion, but I make myself do it. So I have a trainer that I go to, and that accountability really helps me actually do the things that I need to do. So either I work out at the gym with a trainer or I go to a yoga class, but I know myself and I know I need that accountability of a class or something that gets me out of my chair, gets me out of my office, and moving. So that's one, I always move.

Tammy Bjelland: 40:19 Number two, I keep a journal and the journal is super, super light. I capture three things. I capture three big things I want to accomplish that day. I write down three things I'm grateful for having accomplished or proud of having accomplished. And then I write down up to three things that are getting in my way. Sometimes I don't need to get to three. Sometimes it's just one big thing that's getting in my way. And it's usually something related to mindset or emotions or something.

Tammy Bjelland: 40:46 So I journal and then I budget my time. So I have a really nerdy spreadsheet where I write down all the things that I need to do that day and also how much time I estimate that it will take. And then I have a countdown of how many hours left I have in the working day. So often, I will see that I have underestimated the amount of time that it will take me to answer all my emails for instance. So either I need to make a sacrifice with another task I have to do or I'm going to respond to all of my emails. But really understanding time as a limited resource and something that you have to budget is something that I have to do every day.

Matt H: 41:25 Yeah, that's a good one. I started using a time tracking program and it shows you exactly what things that you spent your time doing in that day. And I do recommend everybody try that because it's such an eye opener if you haven't done so already. With your weekly routine, is there a mentor that you have? And again, I don't know how to really approach this question cause it's personal in some level, but I've heard a lot about people, especially earlier in their career having mentors and somebody that's helped them out. Is there a community of people that you talk to that are entrepreneurs or do you have somebody that you can bounce ideas off of that have gone through the similar thing as you have?

Tammy Bjelland: 41:59 Yeah, through the years I have had several people that have served in a mentor capacity. Not in a super formal way, but definitely I have a group of entrepreneurs that I really respect and trust and know that they will help me if I have a question. So yes, I do think that it's really important to have a network of people that you can go to for help. In the past, I've also hosted mastermind groups to communicate and share ideas and challenges and solutions with other entrepreneurs. And that has been really, really helpful as well because in those groups, we've all been at different levels of our business. And it was a safe space where you could share challenges. I'm a very open person, maybe too open, but I never seem to have an issue sharing what my challenges are. And to be honest, I think that that has helped me identify more resources that will help me. Because when I am open about sharing challenges or sharing ideas, then other people have perspectives that I don't. So they can suggest or refer resources that can help. So I'm always about being open about that. So I have entrepreneurs who are very advanced in their careers that help. And then I also have a group of people who are at a similar stage where I am and that are willing to share and be open as well.

Matt H: 43:28 Yeah, I think that's so important and it's great to know that those people are out there that I want to help. I think it just comes down to asking for help and that's how I got my job at least. And I think people like to share their thoughts and their views and help people that are eager and have energy and are interested in what they do. So I always recommend sending an email that you have thought about sending for a long time, but haven't. Because worst that could have happened is that they don't.

Tammy Bjelland: 43:48 Yeah. Or they flat out say no. If that's the worst thing, it's still worth the risk.

Matt H: 43:54 Yeah, totally. So you've been so generous with your time, Tammy. I want to be cognizant of it. I have a couple of closing questions here for you and then we'll let people know where they can find you and encourage people to go to Workplaceless. But my first closing question for you is what leadership practice or skill do you think is most important?

Tammy Bjelland: 44:10 Communication. I'm not even going to expand on that, because it goes pretty deep. But yeah, communication.

Matt H: 44:15 We'll leave it at that. And then we'll have people who can go to Workplaceless to learn more about communication. Next one is if you could force everyone to read one book, what would it be and why?

Tammy Bjelland: 44:24 So I read primarily fiction. I read some nonfiction, obviously. I mean, I studied Spanish literature for a long time, so you could imagine how I feel about fiction. But in general, I think that more people should read more fiction. So I would probably recommend a fiction book. And one of the best novels I've read in recent years is Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. And it's a beautiful, beautiful novel about immigrants in the US and the American dream. Also family and relationships. And one of the beautiful things about fiction is you are literally putting yourself in someone else's shoes. And I think in this day and age where it can be hard for us to really truly empathize with other people, fiction is a tool to help us do that.

Matt H: 45:12 Yeah, that's a great one. Yeah, we'll link to that as well. I haven't heard of it, but I will definitely put it on the reading list. There's this idea that reading of fiction book is sort of, you choose that over maybe a business book or a self improvement book or something, and you're choosing one over the other. But I think there's a lot that you can pull out of a lot of the great works of fiction that can teach a lot about your practical day to day life. So that's a good one. I like that a lot.

Tammy Bjelland: 45:35 Thanks. It's a beautiful book and I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read it.

Matt H: 45:38 Yeah, no, I will. I will. I certainly will. So the last question here before I let you go is what is the best advice you've ever been given? And this can be in work or just outside of work in life generally speaking, but what's the best advice you've ever been given?

Tammy Bjelland: 45:53 So when I went off to college, I was really type A person. I still pretty much am. And I just really took everything very, very seriously. And when I went off to college, the thing that my parents said to me was, "Don't take school too seriously. It's just school." And I think that that was really good advice. I didn't really take it, but I reflect back on that often because I should've taken it. I didn't realize until much later how appropriate that advice was. But just don't take things so seriously and don't take yourself so seriously. Relating back to that thing that I said before about people not caring about you as much as you think they do. But there's room for levity and there's room for humor and seeing joy in things even that you think are a big deal. But yeah, don't take yourself too seriously.

Matt H: 46:39 Yeah. And the sort of interesting thing to me is that might be construed as sort of non business advice, but I think if you do that within your business, you'll create that environment that people want to be a part of and then it'll improve everybody's lives and improve yours as well as the business'. So an underrated skill is to not take yourself too seriously in life and in business. I think that's a good one. Tammy, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. Again, I think this was really great. We'll link to everything that we've talked about. Where should people find you other than, is it workplacelesss.com?

Tammy Bjelland: 47:13 That's right. Yup. Workplaceless.com. I'm on Twitter @TammyBjelland. T-A-M-M-Y B-J-E-L-L-A-N-D. And you can find me on LinkedIn too.

Matt H: 47:21 Awesome. I have so many more questions for you, but hopefully we can maybe do a part two at somewhere down the line. But Tammy, thanks again and looking forward to seeing where Workplaceless goes and all the best with it.

Tammy Bjelland: 47:30 Thanks so much, Matt. It's been a pleasure.

Matt H: 47:33 Thanks so much again for listening to the show. Be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. 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 again for listening, and we'll talk to you next time.

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