The Remote Show

Show Notes:

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Tyler Sellhorn (00:02): 
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Tyler Sellhorn (00:23): 
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. 
Tyler Sellhorn (00:40): 
Today we are blessed to be learning out loud with Tariq Rauf. Tariq is founder and CEO of Qatalog, spelled with a Q. Qatalog is a work hub that gives people a radically simpler way to coordinate work across teams and get context on what's happening. Tariq is a trained architect and has previously led product at Amazon and Wise. As he and the Qatalog team are building their software products, they are being very conscious of the idea that the nine to five office is gone, the metaverse won't work for work, and that replicating in-person office conventions is a broken model for working together in a remote environment. Tariq, tell us, what problems are you trying to solve differently at Qatalog? 
Tariq Rauf (01:18): 
Thank you for having me, Tyler. 
Tyler Sellhorn (01:20): 
You're welcome. 
Tariq Rauf (01:20): 
Great question to start with. So Qatalog is a brand new way of using, thinking about, and building software for work. It is essentially a hub for a company to connect the dots between its people, teams, projects, goals, documentation, and processes. Think of it as like a single source of truth for work are the only login that you need for creating, sharing, and updating things across the company. It's worth looking at how software is built today to your question of what's different, and some of the side effects of that approach to appreciate what's different about us. So typically there's a team of five to 10 people that hack away at a better solution of what's out there, and they eventually get some traction, and they keep growing until the market taps out. This is typically how products have been built historically in say Silicon Valley, for instance. Slack is built by a team of five to 10 people. The audience was a team of five to 10 people, and they keep hacking away the solution until it gets broad adoption. 
Tariq Rauf (02:16): 
But the interesting thing is, if you look at the very first version of Slack and the version of Slack that it is today, after 12, 13 years or so, the difference would be fairly marginal compared to the very first instance of it. And if you do the same thing across the first version of Dropbox, the first version of Trello, or even Gmail, yes, they're more stable, they have slicker UI, they're slightly more performant. They obviously have a lot more features that are very specifically tuned for super users, for instance, but the foundational structure of the product hasn't really changed. But what has changed is the scale of customers using the product. It's no longer 10 to 20 person teams using Slack. You have 5,000, 10,000 people organizations using software that was intentionally and initially meant for small teams. The ergonomics don't fit in scale. And so this is where I think my background as an architect intervenes and says, "What are you doing?" 
Tariq Rauf (03:19): 
I'm a trained architect as you mentioned. I was a physical building architect. I specialized in technical and transport buildings. I worked on a 60 million passenger airport terminal, a cancer research center for the city of Lisbon, a cultural center for the Agricon in Toronto, all in the 300 to 500 million dollar building scale, which are pretty huge assets for the city. And I trained under Charles [inaudible 00:03:43], who designed these buildings. And my experience there was, I think, fairly transformational in terms of how I approach problem solving, how we approach software in general. And it's informed quite a lot of my thinking. 
Tariq Rauf (03:53): 
And one of the things we do is start with how many people are going to be in the space you have to work with. So if you're building an airport, you need to know how many passengers are going to flow through the space. A 60 million passenger per annum airport is different from a hundred million passenger per annum airport, is different from a 30 million passenger per annum. You need to have corridor widths of a certain size, the number of check encounters, the number of gates, toilets seats, runways, all come back basically from this final number of how many passengers per annum are you expecting for this airport to support. Now, if you miss out on one of those things, the whole thing falls apart. So these analog native solutions have this wonderful quality of physical constraints driving the design, namely space and people. But we saw in a digital era of solution building the mind cannot natively comprehend the limitations as easily as you can see in analog native problems. 
Tariq Rauf (04:51): 
The economics of software for digital world is new to designers and engineers and product people. So you need to think from first principles as to what are the constraints in a digital world, and what is the solutions to that digital world look like? Tinder, Airbnb, Uber, these are all great examples of digital native solutions. It mainly works by leveraging economies in choice of scale that you just cannot replicate offline. You cannot meet 100 people in 10 minutes as you can do on Tinder offline. Uber, you cannot connect to every cab driver within a mile radius. This is only possible online. You cannot meet or have a friend with a spare room in every city that you visit. That's just only possible because of Airbnb. And these are online digitally native solutions. 
Tariq Rauf (05:37): 
And I think the same shift is happening at work today. We are seeing people building digital whiteboards and it's familiar, but collaboration in the digital era is very different. What does a digitally native collaboration look like? And we're seeing people make virtual spaces that you can walk in, virtual tables that you can sit on. And the idea of skeuomorphically imposing physical attributes to the digital world is a nice little bridge but I think is a long way away from what a native solution looks like. 
Tyler Sellhorn (06:10): 
Let me interrupt you just for a moment there, Tariq. you're using some awesome words that I'd love to go deeper with. You just use the word skeuomorphic, and you've also addressed the idea of ergonomics inside of digital spaces. 
Tariq Rauf (06:24): 
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 
Tyler Sellhorn (06:25): 
And you're encouraging us to be thinking of those digitally native expressions of the workplace and really starting from that question that you asked when you were an architect is, how many people will use this space. 
Tariq Rauf (06:39): 
Tyler Sellhorn (06:40): 
How can we define those ideas in a way that helps us express our workplaces in a more effective way? 
Tariq Rauf (06:47): 
So there's a few things that physical workspaces are really good at. One is it's inherently social. When you see somebody, you know it's Tyler or it's John or it's Hamed, and you can attribute identity to work that's happening. It's inherently collaborative, so when you do something with somebody, you have to communicate, there's physical language, there's unspoken language, there's spoken language. There's also an amount of back and forth and connecting the dots that you do. And there's a way in which you work that is native to the profession or role or title that you have. And I'm speaking specifically within the knowledge working space. It varies from industry to industry, but for the purpose of this conversation, I'd keep it to just knowledge working. And the way you work with somebody who's writing content is very different from the way you work with somebody who's doing design, the way you work with somebody who's doing product, the way somebody's doing accounts and marketing. These are all very different workflows. Some of it requires deep thinking. Some of it requires a lot of idea sharing. Some of it requires a lot of plumbing work, which is a lot foundational boilerplate stuff that needs to happen. So these are all workflows that are native to each specific problem in knowledge work. 
Tariq Rauf (08:07): 
And the last thing I would say is there's an amount of tacit knowledge that's accessible with having people in a specific space. Now to flip your question a little bit, if you use these five characteristics and you assess the existing skeuomorphic solutions... When I say skeuomorphic, I really mean physically native solutions has been adapted to a digital environment. 
Tyler Sellhorn (08:31): 
Let's stay on that for just a second. I loved the analogy that you made in a recent article, that's even what prompted us to talk today, when you were comparing digitally native solutions versus skeuomorphic solutions. When we say skeuomorphic, we're saying the button looks like a real world actual button, or it looks like the television, you're going to watch YouTube. The pre-iOS 7 button was like an old school, tuning dialed, tube television. 
Tariq Rauf (09:02): 
Tyler Sellhorn (09:02): 
In fact, the idea of YouTube, that that being that we're going to have something you watch on a screen. I'm talking to you from Fort Wayne, one of the places that the vacuum tube that created television technology, one of the inventors was from here. But we're moving past that. There's this whole other space that's happening that's not like the real world. And what does it mean for us to be building those digitally native workplaces of the future? 
Tariq Rauf (09:30): 
So skeuomorphism, or leveraging familiar visual language and spoken languages and experiences is very useful for bridging into a new world. So YouTube came along and used the television as a proxy to be like, this is where you watch something. And then over time that moved into you now have shows that are native to YouTube that you just cannot have anywhere else. You cannot have that show on CNN, for instance. 
Tyler Sellhorn (09:58): 
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 
Tariq Rauf (09:59): 
It's completely native to YouTube. But through that journey, they ditch the TVs, they ditch the analog references, they ditch the skeuomorphic references. That bridge is important to go from A to B so that you can take people along on that journey. So digital native is that you are essentially physically, if you want a reference point, to have the analog world in the ether. So you're not limited by the office space that you have. And by extension, you're not limited by where your office is. And by extension, you're not limited to which country you're hiring from. So one, not only is the nine to five dead because the nine to five for somebody in India is different from the nine to five for somebody in Canada. And so the idea of building time-bound specific office environments is now a thing of the past. Time doesn't matter anymore, location doesn't matter anymore. 
Tyler Sellhorn (10:52): 
The thing that I'm hearing you say is that you're rhyming with so many of our other guests that we're saying that not only is work becoming location independent... 
Tariq Rauf (11:00): 
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:00): 
But it's also becoming time independent. 
Tariq Rauf (11:03): 
Yes, absolutely. So if it's becoming time independent, we need to figure out what does working natively without real time interaction look like? How do you get visibility of the work that you do? How do you collaborate with people when you're not synchronously operating anymore? And so you need new solutions that enable that new world, and that new solutions look nothing like what we've had before. So if you think about a digital whiteboard, you need two people at it to collaborate. But what if you can only put one person at it at a time? And if that's the case, is a whiteboard, the idea canvas, so as to speak, to make that happen. 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:41): 
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 
Tariq Rauf (11:43): 
So that's again, the whiteboard is a skeuomorphic solution from the analog world. 
Tyler Sellhorn (11:46): 
Yeah, let me reflect back some thoughts that I'm having as I'm hearing you speak. I'm hearing you say that once we untether our work from a physical location, there's these second and third order effects. We're a little lost. We've tried these skeuomorphic similar to the real world situations, and we're getting to the end of that bridge. And some of us are ready to step right on the new world, right on the other side of the river. But some of us are still like, "No, I'm going to stay right here on this bridge." Does that make sense? What I'm describing to you is that we're taking this journey together in this remote work world, and some of us aren't sure that we want to trust the ground that's on the other side. 
Tariq Rauf (12:28): 
No, that's a fair thing to be worried about or concerned about or not trust because it's unfamiliar. And this place of unfamiliarity is where most new solutions come from. If you had asked somebody, "Hey, you're going to be spending all day, every day in video calls with your colleagues. And this is how you're going to work," that's a bridge nobody would've stepped off of into, but it is reality today. And the second and third order effects, the flexibility, the ability to include multiple people from multiple places in most meetings you're able to have, making it more inclusive, more flexible, and more essentially efficient is making that trade off worthwhile. And people are trusting this new world now. I'm not saying it is the solution, but it is one of the solutions that I think will be in the palette of this new untrusted world that we are heading into. 
Tyler Sellhorn (13:17): 
Yeah, plus 100 to dodging the all day, everyday video conference. I guess the thing that I'm most interested to hear more from you is, what are the specifics? Give us the lay of the land on the other side of the river. 
Tariq Rauf (13:34): 
Yeah, so this is where I think Qatalog comes in. So in order to create digital solutions for the world of work, you need to replicate the entities and the people involved and the relationships digitally. And this is the important piece, not the medium of collaboration, and I'll go into this in a second. And you can see this happen in the form of documents being the basis for digital workspaces. You can see Notion and Google Docs and all of those sorts of things trying to figure out how do you be the control plane for everything happening in a company digitally? And you can see task management companies like Asana and Jira and Monday trying to be, again, another control plane for being the hub for work happening in a company. Interestingly, Slack is trying to do it from a messaging standpoint. 
Tariq Rauf (14:19): 
And then there are these virtual whiteboard and virtual workspace platforms, and they're all mediums of collaboration, and the mediums of collaboration don't scale. This is going back to the ergonomics of a 500 person, 1000 person company. So what we've essentially done is, we've rebuilt what an organization, its people, its work, and how the information flows between them, and made it digitally native. So I'll give you an example. So if Tyler is a part of the content team in a company called Acme, we know that, and we know who Tyler's teammates are. We know what projects Tyler's working on, and we know what updates are happening in all the little tools that Tyler is connected works fare has and the information from that. And so we were able to reconstruct a digital representation of the work that's happening within a company. 
Tariq Rauf (15:13): 
And so when Tyler has an update, we know that there's a connected Slack channel. We call it the Slack channel, "Oh, hey, there's an update on this project." Or if there's a new goal that's moved, we let Tyler's teammates know and people who are interested in the team know this has happened. And so as a consequence, you don't need to have those meetings anymore. You don't need to ping somebody on Slack and say, "Hey, where's this thing?" 
Tyler Sellhorn (15:34): 
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 
Tariq Rauf (15:34): 
Or you don't need to have those check in and status meetings and saying, "Where's stuff at?" All of that in the digital world, needing to ping somebody for information that sits in the digital world, is just a crime. And so we have made that native. And so everything within Qatalog is one, connected, two, collaborative, three, intelligent, because we know where the connections are and what's happening where. It's workflow native, so if you're running a project, there's workflow for a project. If you're doing onboarding, there's a workflow for how you onboard people. If you're doing goal management, you set OKRs, you set check-in cadences, and you do all the things that are native to that specific work problem. 
Tariq Rauf (16:13): 
And it's also social, so everything is connected to people. So if there's an update from somebody, that somebody is a thing on Qatalog, as opposed to just an icon in the top right of the screen. You can go to Tyler and you can explore all the connections to Tyler at work, for instance. And I encourage you to try the product out at qatalog.com, and that should give you a sense of what I'm trying to say. 
Tyler Sellhorn (16:38): 
Really cool. Definitely to those of you that are feeling adrift, as it were, set your course with Tariq's product. But the thing that I'm hearing you say as well, as you describe your product, I think at simultaneous moments that work is expanding. It's becoming bigger and less bound, but then in other ways, it's also shrinking and becoming much more atomized specific to individuals. We can see the pattern of people choosing to become freelancers instead of employees. We can see folks choosing to live where they work best instead of where the headquarters of a large company might happen to be, the expansion of fractional roles that exist in relationship to agencies. There's lots of trends that are happening this way. I'm wondering how you see that behavior happening. We're in the midst of the great reimagination, resignation, any alliterative way of saying R. How are you noticing that kind of thing happening for individuals? Because you're mapping the relationships that are happening in workplaces, what are you seeing there in that space as people are both expanding and shrinking all at once? 
Tariq Rauf (17:59): 
So the world of work is expanding for sure, just by removing physical limitations on where you can hire and who you can work with. But at the same time, that's also expanding the pool of opportunities for everybody around the world. And that pool of opportunities means you should be open to moving to other roles if there's a better fit. Previously, if you had access to 10 jobs, you now have access to 150. So I think in the near term, you'll see a lot of movement, but in the long term, ultimately people want to feel a sense of belonging. People want to do work that's meaningful. People will find their place. I think we're going through an adjustment period of a sudden surge in opportunities, but eventually people will settle in jobs and job types that suit them. 
Tariq Rauf (18:47): 
But this period of rapid expansion and is definitely having its impact. Over the long term, I don't think it's going to lead to shorter tenures. If you have more bad companies, yes, sure, of course. But as companies figure out how to build remote cultures, as companies figure out how to build remote tooling that helps people feel belonging and trust within an organization, as all these problems go away, I think you'll start to see more people settle in for the longer term. 
Tyler Sellhorn (19:14): 
Well, it's good to hear you rhyming with others again, that we're going to see this rebalancing of work relative to the individual. That because you have access to that many more opportunities, you're going to be able to tune where you end up working... 
Tariq Rauf (19:30): 
Tyler Sellhorn (19:30): 
Much closer to what it is that you are best at. 
Tariq Rauf (19:34): 
Tyler Sellhorn (19:35): 
And that's been the story of the internet writ large, is to say niche down, that there is a long tail there for you to grab hold of, to say that the very, very specific self that you are with the skills that you already have or are about to learn for yourself, match up to the exact needs of a company somewhere. 
Tariq Rauf (20:00): 
Tyler Sellhorn (20:01): 
And that somewhere increasingly is the internet. It's not bound to a specific space. And I've been saying this over and over to folks, but the more that we can reside in digital spaces, not only digitally native products and workplaces, but also digitally native individuals, the opportunities that become available to you are really without limit. 
Tyler Sellhorn (20:28): 
Just myself as an example, as recently as May of 2019, I was teaching eighth graders pre-algebra. And as soon as I said, "You know what? I was a technology-oriented teacher. Well now I'm going to be a teaching-oriented technologist." And lo and behold, I'm talking to Tariq. That's a very, very tight window in which my work life has transformed completely just by choosing to reside in the internet. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about that trend of people embracing being an internet person, on the internet doing internet things. What does that mean to you? 
Tariq Rauf (21:10): 
I think we've been doing that for a long time now. So if you think about even social interactions, I can see even me personally, I interact with my family and friends more on WhatsApp than I do in person cumulatively, if you take the amount of time we spend together versus the amount of time we spend WhatsApping. The digital self has been a thing for a really long time now with the advent of Facebook and Instagram and all of that. Digital identities came into being quite some time ago. I think the pandemic turned that up to 11, but the shift has been happening for a while. And I think this broader trend of people finding their home, I think people are inherently tribal. People like to feel a sense of belonging and community and all of that. 
Tariq Rauf (21:53): 
I think the rapid expansion and opportunity does not necessarily mean people are going to keep jumping. I think it just... There's a higher chance of somebody finding a role where they belong, and they feel like they can contribute, and they feel a sense of fulfillment than before. So I think you'll have fewer employees that are stuck in jobs because that's the only job they can do and that's the only job they can meet their needs from the end of the objective of having a job. And so I think ultimately it's good for companies. I think it's good for individuals. I think it's good for managers. I think it's good for mental wellbeing because people don't want to be jumping jobs either, but the increase in opportunities increases the probability that you'll find something that suits you. 
Tyler Sellhorn (22:39): 
Fantastic. I am so excited to be a part of the remote work movement that is producing those kinds of outcomes. Saying that... 
Tariq Rauf (22:49): 
Tyler Sellhorn (22:49): 
It's less and less likely that someone is going to be stuck in an unfulfilling job and much more likely that they will find exactly the place that will give them not only compensation for their labor, but also a sense of belonging and an idea that you are contributing to the world becoming a better place. I think that's really, really cool. Okay, so I want to transition here to my final question and just give you a chance to... You've been talking quite a lot about the future, but I'd like for you to contrast that with these different epochs, these periods of time, right before or earlier than 2019, and then also this time that's in the midst of the pandemic, and then what is going to be the world of work, the world of remote work, especially, broadly 2023 and beyond? Can you give us a bit of compare and contrast between those time periods as you think about remote work? 
Tariq Rauf (23:44): 
So I think the time period before 2019, I think we were doing distributed work, but we were in denial. And we were doing remote work, but we were in denial. If you had a team of 50 people on a floor, they were doing distributed work. They just happened to be in the same building. They were Slacking each other, they were sending each other things. Yeah, sure, they go out for a meal, or they'd go out for a drink or two, but ultimately they were doing distributed work. Even during my time at Amazon, my team had people from Bangalore, New York, Seattle, Copenhagen, there's a couple of people from South Africa. It was distributed, and the tooling and processes, we were in denial that we were in a distributed world. So the sense of comfort of going to the office, opening up your laptop, and then ultimately working with a colleague in Bangalore, it was, I think, a reckoning that was coming one way or the other. I think 2019 forced the hand of all those comforts of going to an office and talking to people and having lunches with folks. 
Tariq Rauf (24:44): 
I think the social aspect of it went away, but the work remained. And one of the reasons why the world was able to transition that quickly is because of the lot of the tooling we built to enable most of that work. So Zoom existed well before the pandemic, and a lot of the tools existed before the pandemic. And so the world was forced to realize that, okay, we are doing distributed work. We now need to be a little bit more intentional about it. And I think 2023 and beyond, we are going to see truly after the denial and after the acceptance and embracing of the aspects and challenges and difficulties of distributed working and very, very fine tuned, very capable solutions, very adaptive mindsets, and processes and policies that will come into play to make that reality 10X better than what it was in 2018. And I think it's inevitable. 
Tyler Sellhorn (25:42): 
Outstanding. Just to say it back, 2019 we were in denial, and there was a reckoning in 2020 and that forced us to be thinking in intentional ways to build for an adaptive future. Thank you so much, Tariq, for coming and talking to us. We appreciate you. 
Tariq Rauf (26:02): 
Absolutely. Thank you very much for having me. 
Tyler Sellhorn (26:07): 
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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