The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Links to Tony's Internet things:





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. We are joined today by Tony Jamous. Tony is the CEO and founder of Oyster. The company that believes anything is possible remotely, as a distributed talent enablement platform, they're making remote work a reality for everyone. Tony, thank you so much for coming on The Remote Show today and learning out loud with us. We're so curious, tell us the story of remote working for you and why you've made it the center of what you're doing at Oyster.
Tony Jamous (00:50):
First, hi Tyler, and hi everyone, and thank you for having me here on the show. I'm very excited to be here today. So to understand why the impact of remote work on what we do here at Oyster, we need to go back and understand a bit of where I come from. I was born in Lebanon in 1980, and I had this amazing chance to go to France when I was 17 and study computer science. And then I started my first company 11 years ago that became successful. Now it's public on the NASDAQ and that company hired people in 45 different countries. And then when I left this company and I wanted to decide what I'm going to do, I realized that if I build a platform that makes it as easy to hire somebody on the other side of the world then hiring your neighbor, we can reduce brain drain. We can reduce wealth inequalities and people like me that had to leave their home country 22 years ago. Now with the availability of knowledge work, they can stay home, stay in their communities and have access to great job opportunities.
Tony Jamous (01:59):
So it was clear to me, this is what I have to do. This is what I want to do in my life. And that's why we started Oyster in January 2020 with that mission to remove the barrier of the cross-border employment. And at the core of removing these barriers, it's not only about compliance and payroll and understanding this kind of complex employment regulation on a country by country basis. It's about also empowering comp organization to adopt remote talent acquisition. And that means that we need to be the role model for them. That's why at the core of who we are, we want to be this best distributed company in the world. And that's why we're building this company. We're putting all this expertise in house to come and help us achieve that and inspire other companies. That's actually, yes, they can deliver higher performance and higher wellbeing by being fully or partially distributed.
Tyler Sellhorn (02:54):
That is awesome. Thank you for sharing your journey to remote work and then expanding that to enabling that for others. I'm really interested, when you think about that example, the model that you're suggesting that you want Oyster to be the Paragon, the example of working remotely really well. What are the things that you're thinking about doing? What are the behaviors for Oyster as a company that demonstrates what we ought to be doing?
Tony Jamous (03:22):
Yep. Very good question. And actually, it's a very complicated answer because you need to think about it not only around the remote employee life cycle, from how to hire, how to assess, how to employ, how to pay, how to give great benefits, how to train and up skill on remote work. But it also has to think about it around organization structure, leadership style. And let's just talk about leadership style for a moment because it's what I do, right? I'm the leader of this organization. And if you want to just click down on that leadership challenge, it's actually much harder to be a leader of a distributed organization, a C level person individual organization. But if you do it right, you can unlock some treasures and some super powers that enable you to actually deliver higher performance than in office organization.
Tony Jamous (04:14):
So just to give you challenges. The challenges are really around how to build trust in relationship, without being in the same place, how to create a strong culture, how to get stuff done. And then as you do that, as you're saying deliberately, actually you owe it to your people to be deliberate and to spend a lot of time, I'd say like three, four times more than in office organization, thinking about not only what to do, but as importantly, how you're going to do it and how are you going to enable others to do it? Then you can go a long way to achieve equal performance in office organization. Now, if you're going to go beyond that, and that's also, my obsession is how can I prove the world that you can deliver higher performance by being distributed and being in the office?
Tony Jamous (04:58):
And there are some super powers. And let me give you a few of them. One is about the best idea wins in a distributed environment because we've all been there in a meeting room where the loudest voice wins or the person with the highest hierarchy position wins here as synchronous work, give us an opportunity of making every idea count and that lead to better decision-making that's number one, superpower. Number two, super power is along this way is less group think because since in a synchronous collaboration, you're having multiple conversation at the same time, but if you're in the office, you're having one conversation at the same time. And usually people start building on that idea and that idea starts becoming more and more prevalent and suddenly [crosstalk 00:05:43] idea won, but then all the other great ideas we cannot forget about them. And that's actually been human nature, right?
Tony Jamous (05:50):
Another super power is about developing the next generation of leaders. So let me tell you about this. I'm actually very into [inaudible 00:05:56] because that in a distributed environment, at least for me, what I find it really hard to be a great distributed CEO. Therefore, then I have more to do. I have not only to think about what to do, but also how to do it. And therefore what I do is I empower my teams, my [inaudible 00:06:14] reports to own a bigger portion of the strategy and be exposed to higher level of [inaudible 00:06:20] concept of business. And that becomes a great way to develop the next generation of leaders in organization. And we're just beginning right now to understand and cover and identify these super powers of distributed teams. And I can tell you, I'm convinced that in 10 years from now, the best companies in the world is going to be distributed companies.
Tyler Sellhorn (06:40):
Well, hear, hear to that. One of the things that I want to pull on just a little bit more, you said that as a CEO in a distributed team, one of the things that is a challenge is setting the culture of your organization. And I'm curious to learn more about what are the activities that you're doing as a distributed leader, as a distributed company CEO, what are the things that you feel like you've been successful in doing to set the culture of your organization?
Tony Jamous (07:10):
Yeah, so the other day I was in London and I saw this coffee machine, a B2B Coffee provider van, and it's what's written on the van, We Make Business Culture as a slogan. And I laughed because I knew there was some truth to that. So the issue with the challenge, and why it's hard to build strong culture in a distributed company, that's always a challenge. And it's hard because when people used to commute to the office and have this ritual wake up in the morning, commute, spend eight hours in the office, their identity was overtaken by work identity. There's a huge overlap between their personal identity and their work identity. But when people start working from anywhere, then they have their work identity, they have their community, they have their family, they have much more, I would say diversifying identities. And that makes it hard for leaders like me to build a strong culture, defined as the norms and the habits, the shared norms and how's of an organization.
Tony Jamous (08:08):
That's the challenge. The challenge is that we are... there is the presence and therefore it's harder for a leader to build a strong culture. Now, one of the things we've been doing at Oyster is to go beyond what a great culture should be. So what are the foundation, the values of defining probably a culture? You have trust and transparency. You cannot build a great company without trust and transparency. You cannot build a great company without customer transparency. You cannot build a great company without integrity, but I think what we're doing here at Oyster, we are adding another essential value to our company, which is a result driven culture.
Tony Jamous (08:41):
And why this is important in a distributed environment, because you want to actually judge people on the output that they are doing and not how many hours, not on the inputs they're putting it because you don't see people. There's no presence. There's no concept of presence. And that shift in mentality is very empowering for people, but not every organization is ready to do so. So you have to have infrastructure around having clear roles and it's supposed to be easy, clear goals and expectations. You have to have a great process of setting up these objectives. We use the OKR process objectives, key results. It's used a lot in many organization and we use it as an opportunity to connect the team, to build trust, to build relationship. So we really, from a cultural standpoint, I would say many distributed company can have many, many values, but there's one value that should be shared among successful distributing company, which is a result driven culture.
Tyler Sellhorn (09:35):
So what I'm hearing you say is that company culture is a bit more than a coffee cup near somebody else. As you said, with the coffee truck that was outside of an office. Yeah. Thank you for going deep on culture setting as a CEO in a distributed organization. One of the things that is true about our podcast is there's lots of remote job seekers and hiring managers that listened to our podcast. And I'm curious if you have something to say to those hiring managers that are inside of their job advertisements or inside of their careers page. They're trying to communicate to candidates. Hey, we really are a distributed organization. We're really trying to do a remote first best practices kind of way of going about our business. What would you say to them as they're trying to communicate that through the internet or through their social media presence, all those different places, what are the things that are signals to you that say, yes, we're legit. We really are talking about doing the next version of working that we're going to be ready for the location independent future of work?
Tony Jamous (10:40):
Yeah. Very good question. Because employee branding is really on the rise right now. It's becoming really critical to market to prospective employees and candidates, as well as your market to your customers. And as a distributed organization, partially or fully, it doesn't matter because at the end of the day, it's really about enabling the employee to be successful in the matter where they are. So you have to demonstrate to them that you have clear guidelines around how the work gets done. We call them the tools and the rules at Oyster, and you need to provide them examples in the company of how other employees in the company were able to succeed and grow, even though they are not in the headquarters. I think these are the two areas that you want to kind of showcase in your candidate branding. And it goes beyond branding because again, as a CEO or as a leader of any team at a distributed team fully or partially, you owe it to every member of your team to create that environment that can make them successful no matter where they are.
Tyler Sellhorn (11:46):
Really, really good. Okay. So let's flip that around, right? We're talking to remote job seekers too. And what are the things that they can do to demonstrate and show to potential employers that yes, I'm ready for remote work, I'm ready for location independent work. I'm ready to be able to be successful inside of a distributed company. When you're doing hiring, what do you say, hmm, that's someone I want to double-click on, or I want to zoom into this candidate, what are those things that you look for?
Tony Jamous (12:14):
Yeah, there's what you say and then what you prove. So what you say is you want to say that you are versed with all the latest remote work tools of asynchronous communication and collaboration. And you want to give examples around how you're able to deliver results in a fully or partially distributed team. So you want to specifically be descriptive around your behavior, how you behave to get the job done and to be successful. And lastly, you can prove by the way you communicate. So you can actually default to written communication to make sure you follow up with some examples of... For the communication.
Tony Jamous (12:52):
Let me give you an example. We have a guy in our company called Bruno. He's been working remotely for three years and he wanted to be joined as partner manager, wanted to build partnership at Oyster. Before his interview process, he wrote a notion document where he showcased how he was thinking about structuring our partner program. Obviously, half of it was wrong because he wasn't in the company and we weren't expecting him to know how to do it before joining, but at least he demonstrated to us that he can collaborate and communicate using great written language. He could structure a document, and he could enable that collaboration and then boom, he was hired the next day. So yeah, I think there is what you need to tell around tools and examples of success in a distributed teams, but also how you can show through your communication style and collaboration style throughout the interview process.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:44):
It's really good. I'm definitely going to take Bruno's story with me as I'm going back to my day job and as I think about how to do things best is to really document well the things that I intend to do, whether they be for an organization or just for myself, like these are the things that I'm expecting to have happen, and I'm going to build it out and then start acting on it. That's really, really great. Yeah. And I just want to add, Tyler, here. There's also another tip that I provide to our listener here is that you need to realize that actually it's also your job as an individual contributor or a manager that's being hired the company to co-create together this remote work culture. It's not only the responsibility of one person in the company, it's the responsibility of everybody in the company. And at Oyster, we hire people that think that way. I think it's also, they want to always progress. So you want to also show your excitement to be a part of the journey of defining how this company is going to operate remotely, because it's in your best interest as a remote worker to make sure that the organization you're joining is enabling you and everybody else that is remote to be successful.
Tyler Sellhorn (14:55):
Yeah. I have a background in team sports. And so, one of the phrases that I've carried with me is, we us ours over I me mine.
Tony Jamous (15:03):
Tyler Sellhorn (15:03):
Right. And I'm hearing you say a version of that that happens inside of Oyster of the way that you guys are thinking about organizing work and even just initiating work together is to think of it in the collective and to think of it as what are we producing together? That's really cool.
Tyler Sellhorn (15:19):
Okay. So I can't be a legitimate podcast host without mentioning this idea and kind of getting your thoughts on this, but you're in that space where you're interacting with governmental entities and how they are organizing remote work. I just want to give you the floor. What do we need to be saying to our localities, our municipalities, our county governments, state governments, national governments, provincial governments? How do we need to update our working regulations to match what we're doing today? What needs to change, or what do we need to adapt as companies to fit into the existing structures? Give us the high level, right? Take us down that route. I mean, this is the life and the company that you're building. Tell us about what we need to be doing.
Tony Jamous (16:06):
The higher level message I sent to these folks is that focused on the people instead of focusing on corporations. Okay. So it starts with moving your incentives from incentivizing companies to come put offices in your cities... Look what they did with Amazon, right? Every state in the US dropped their pants to give them free taxes for 10 years or so. Okay. Shift your focus from corporation to incentivizing people to come and live in your area. And I've seen some very exciting development in this throughout the pandemic in the US and in other countries where some states are offering people even $10,000 check to come and relocate into their states. And that's number one. Number two is also focused on enabling the people to get jobs no matter who are their employer, even if they are an employer from a different country.
Tony Jamous (17:04):
The Western world doesn't need that. Actually, the emerging countries need that a lot. And I was talking recently to somebody in the government of Jordan. Jordan has a very young population, highly educated in technology jobs. They have no jobs. So how can you get these people to work for companies abroad and facilitate that and create incentive for them to do so? And that's going to lower their unemployment rate. That's going to keep these people in the country. They're going to increase their wages, and they're going to spend that excess money into their community, and they're going to grow the country overall. So, really focus on the people is what I'm telling these guys instead of focusing on corporation.
Tony Jamous (17:46):
And by the way, I mean like why this is important, philosophically, why is it important? It's important because we cannot keep to pour concrete in the ground and build cities. I mean, we're building the equivalent of four New York cities in the world every year. And I don't know where you live if you live in a city or not, but I mean, if you live in a city and let's say, take for instance, a Delhi in India, you lose eight years of your life expectancy from air pollutions. So if we imagine how the distribution of people on this planet could be, we can solve a lot of issues, environmental and health issues and poverty issue that we're facing today. So that's really important to move into a more distributed economy and a more distributed demographics, I would say.
Tyler Sellhorn (18:34):
We're seeing the first fruits of that journey, that progression right, is happening now as we speak. But we're kind of in that space where it's like, how much more of that are we going to be able to have? And I'm excited to be partnering with you and other organizations like yours that are looking to help distribute opportunity beyond where it currently resides, right? One of the things that I've heard people saying in the remote advocacy space, I'm thinking most of all, Matt Mullenweg, talent is equally dispersed around the world, but opportunity is not. And I'm excited that you guys are a part of the effort to do more of that, of dispersing that opportunity.
Tyler Sellhorn (19:14):
One of the things that I think is really interesting, one of the ways that we've connected, Tony, is that I am internet friends with your head of remote Rhys Black. And we're seeing this role, job title increasing far and wide, and what is it that you've decided say that Oyster is going to hire a head of remote? What do you see this role doing at Oyster? And what does it mean to kind of be that example that you mentioned before to say to other organizations that are choosing to be distributed organizations? Why should they have a head of remote? What is Rhys doing there at Oyster?
Tony Jamous (19:53):
Hmm. That's a very good question. So the head of remote is a new role and the people operation function has been created since the remote became much more prevalent in the world. And the role is really about enabling the organization to be effective as a remote organization and enable people to also be effective as remote workers, and also take care of themselves. Because we know that as we shift from having this routine to go to the office, to working from anywhere, then we run into areas of challenges, personal challenges that we need to rethink it and rebuild it, rebuild the new habits to enable us to be successful and happy in our life. And actually it's really about the concept of that is instead of the employees work for Oyster is that Oyster needs to work for the employees.
Tony Jamous (20:40):
So how could you make Oyster replace it with any organization work for the people and other people work for the company? And that means that we need to innovate across layers in the organization. So we can innovate on how do we work together? We call them tools and the rules. So he's in charge of developing the tools and the rules around that. It's also around the wellbeing of the individuals. So we have programs around ensuring that people can take care of themselves and detect early signs of burning out. And we work with them to help them keep that balance in their life. And it's also around developing a leadership that can be the best leadership for the distributed organization and can deliver high performance in that city. So that's kind of why he's here and he has a team of a few people that works with him on enabling him to do so. And it's been a great journey and a great learning because we're co-creating together a new model of work that is going to define the next generation as we shift from this office era into the knowledge work era.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:42):
Thank you for explaining what Rhys is doing. Saying hello to you out there, Rhys. Appreciate your influence at Oyster and in my life. Okay. So I want to zoom out on the timeline, right? And I'm starting to ask this question and I feel like it's getting some really thoughtful responses, but when you think about 2019, Tony, right? 2020, 2021, Tony, and then let's zoom out and look ahead out on the horizon to 2022 and beyond, give us some contrasting and some comparing, what are things that you're bringing forward with you from the past and what are things that are going to carry on with you into the future? When you're thinking about this working style of location independence, what are the things that you know were always a part of this and what's going to be new going forward?
Tony Jamous (22:33):
What I like to see is the world moving to more equality when it comes to pay distribution, that's one of the wishes that we were working towards. We also would like to see that extra degree of freedom of location for remote workers and knowledge workers becomes something that every great company offer. And that means that we expect that great companies in the future are fully or partially distributed companies. And I think it's going to happen. I believe it's going to happen. Obviously I'm biased, but let me give you kind of the variables of that. The best talent in the world today knows that wherever they want to live, they got to find a great job, okay. The best sign in the world now that they've tasted that they can be effective from anywhere, they're going to go and work for companies that enable them to be successful as a remote worker.
Tony Jamous (23:30):
So you're going to have this kind of virtuous cycle. The best talent needs flexibility who go to work for companies that provide that flexibility and would go for companies that actually enable them to be even more successful. Okay. And therefore the next generation of great companies in the future are not going to be the Goldman Sachs of the world, but it's going to be the companies that actually can attract this best talent. The core of that is offering them opportunity to work from anywhere.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:01):
Awesome. Awesome. Well, Tony, I want to give you an opportunity to share where people can stay up to date with what you're up to and what you're sharing. I know you've got a lot of thought leadership out there on the internet. What's the best places for us to stay connected to you and your ideas?
Tony Jamous (24:16):
You can follow me on LinkedIn, Tony Jamous or on Twitter as well. And you can also follow us on Oyster. Oysterhr.com.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:26):
Fantastic. Thank you again, Tony, for coming and sharing your learning out loud with us. We're very grateful to be a part of the remote distributed work movement together and blessings to you and Oyster as you guys are working on that as an organization.
Tony Jamous (24:41):
Tyler, this was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me here and I look forward to talking more about this subject.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:47):
Fantastic. 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 podcast@wework remotely.com. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time. 

← Back