The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Tsedal's links:


Remote Work Revolution book

Digital Mindset






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 remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.

Today we are blessed to be learned out loud with Tsedal Neeley. Tsedal Neeley is the Naylor Fitzhugh professor of business administration and senior associate dean of faculty development and research strategy at the Harvard Business School. Recognized as one of the 100 people transforming business who are innovating, sparking trends, and tackling global challenges by Business Insider. Her work focuses on how leaders can scale their organizations by developing and implementing global and digital strategies. She regularly advises top leaders who are embarking on virtual work and large scale change that involves global expansion, digital transformation, and becoming more agile.

Her book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, provides remote workers and leaders with the best practices necessary to perform at the highest levels in their organizations. Her award-winning book, The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations, chronicles the behind the scenes globalization process of a company over the course of five years. Most recently Tsedal co-wrote The Digital Mindset with Paul Leonardi.

Tsedal, I must say, it is an absolute privilege to be speaking with you here today. Thank you so much for choosing to learn out loud with us here today.

Tsedal Neeley (01:27):
Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be with you today.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:30):
Okay. First idea that I wanted to suggest to us is to say, you've got these awesome artifacts of knowledge that you've produced in your books, and I'd really like to let those guide us in terms of buckets of conversation today.

And one of the ideas that most intrigues me from remote work revolution is this idea of launching and relaunching. And this idea that there is a regathering of sorts that happens for remote teams, and flexible teams, and hybrid teams, and whichever definition of team that we're rolling with today. I'm curious, could you tell us some more about this idea?

Tsedal Neeley (02:10):
Relaunching, launching and relaunching, are actually such fundamentals when it comes to how you set up your team for success. And it's even more important when you have a distributed group who are not co-located, who don't share time and space. What you end up doing during these relaunches is you first ensure that everyone is clear about our shared goals. So you reaffirm those or you update them as necessary.

The other thing that you do in these relaunches is to ensure that everyone is very clear about the shared resources that are available, people's individual constraints that we all need to know and understand so we can fill gaps wherever we can. And importantly, we together develop or discuss or update our shared norms. How do we work together? What technologies do we use to communicate? How often do we need to communicate? How do we ensure that we are personally and professionally connected? And the research on this, pioneered by Richard Hackman, who is the father of all things related to groups and teams, suggests that if we do regular relaunches we increase the success factor of our group by about 30%. So it's a very, very big deal.

Tyler Sellhorn (03:34):
Well, shout-out to Richard Hackman, OG on the relaunch. Okay, so I'm super curious to pull apart a couple of those ideas that you've outlined there. And this idea of coworkers that we don't share time and space with, and relaunching for something that we're going to do together but we don't share time and space.

I think this is what the whole idea of revolution occurring in our workspace is, is to say that our workspaces now span multiple times and spaces. And Richard's work is being highlighted here, but this idea that we need to share time and space periodically but then separate as well. Put those two ideas next to each other and make them agree or disagree, or how does that interact between one another?

Tsedal Neeley (04:30):
The thing about this is that when we are out of sight it's easy for us to become out of sync and out of touch. And so when we don't share time and space, we don't see one another on a regular basis to be clear about our interpersonal connection, to be clear about work and work tasks and questions. We don't have the opportunity for water cooler conversations, or as some would say, tea kettle conversations or cappuccino conversations. So we don't have the informal and formal contact in-person to be able to fully achieve mutual understanding.

What the relaunch does is it's an intentional activity that forces us to align along all sorts of dimensions. Now relaunches can be done virtually, they can be done in-person. So you don't have to do them only in-person. You just spend about 90 minutes together, sometimes two hours, and say, "Let's talk about how we work together and ensure that everyone feels heard and seen and that we are on the right page." This is what this is. And the reason why you do it periodically is that teams, particularly virtual teams, need this intentional time together to talk about their process because it's very easy to feel like we're losing touch and we're losing connection.

Tyler Sellhorn (06:02):
Thank you so much for going deep on relaunches. One of the things that I think is interesting to hear you talking, is to even say, "Hey, let's gather around the tea kettle. Let's gather around the water cooler. Let's gather around the cappuccino. Let's gather around the coffee pot. Let's gather around the snack bar. Let's gather around," whatever it happens to be that is we're consuming.

And I think that's so interesting to hear us talk about that as a thing that we might take in. And I think it's so interesting to think about how different cultures and different work communities do their relaunching. And you mentioned it being virtual, you mentioned it being co-located. What is the research saying? What is the recommended cadence and location for relaunches with remote teams? Or is that yet to emerge as we're doing these things together in this experiment?

Tsedal Neeley (07:00):
Yes, yes, yes. Actually, every couple of months is a good cadence, or once a quarter, depending on the level of interdependence and the level of communication that you need with your group. If you are not in a highly interdependent group, you can do it every quarter and that's perfectly fine. But if you need to make sure that you're constantly aligned around client work, customer work, or some deliverable with a deadline that's around the corner, it's really important to ensure that our efforts as a group are going to be effective, based on how we're operating as a group.

My work has identified six to eight weeks to be a great way and a great time to do this. And it doesn't have to be a big deal. You can absolutely do this remotely, virtually. You just need to be communicating about these topics, and often led by a manager or leader or a team member to make sure that everyone is operating in sync. This is what this is about, it's about getting in sync. And relationship and work process maintenance, that's how you want to think about these.

Tyler Sellhorn (08:17):
Well, Prof Neeley, thank you for telling us. It depends, but then giving us a definitive answer as well, so thank you very much for that.

Okay, so we're letting these buckets of information from your work artifacts, of these books, guiding us. One of the things we mentioned there a second ago was about the different types of consumables that might happen to gather people together in a workplace. Tell us more about your research around working cross-culturally in global teams. I've recently joined a new team that has large cohorts of people from lots of different cultures. And I'm so curious to hear you talk some more about how we can build a common language together as a workplace, even if we aren't in the same workspaces.

Tsedal Neeley (09:07):
Global teams are very interesting, in that they can help us achieve the types of goals that are difficult to achieve if we don't have the right people, in the right jobs, in the right markets, advancing our collective endeavors. They really, really are terrific if our context is increasingly global, or if we want to access talent that are specific and helpful for us.

Global teams are also more difficult to manage than domestic teams because you're doing cross boundary work. You're working across geographies, you're working across time zones, you're working across cultures, you're working across local context and practices and differences. For global teams to work, and in fact, I do have an HBR article with the title Making Global Teams That Work, you should check it out.

Tyler Sellhorn (10:07):
We will link to the books, the articles, tsedal.com.

Tsedal Neeley (10:10):

Tyler Sellhorn (10:14):
Yes. All of the things we will be sharing, all the ways that you can stay ... Just like I've been, I've been following Tsedal around the internet and handing her a handkerchief every time she sneezes. But if you happen to not be as a remote work obsessive as I am, we will include links in the notes for you to find all the things to learn more from Tsedal.

Tsedal Neeley (10:36):
Thank you. Thank you, Tyler. In that article, Global Teams That work, there's actually a framework to help us understand what are the key and critical factors that we need to tend to and to address with global teams so that they works smoothly on a regular basis.

The first one is around understanding the design of our teams. Where are they geographically distributed, and how many geographies, and how do we make sure that we don't get into an us-versus-them situation? Or how do we make sure that we honor the differences in time zones, such that we are sharing the inconveniences of our live conversations and not privileging certain groups.

Another thing to understand is language. Do we have a common language? Do we need a common language? And how do we make sure that everyone understands the rules of engagement, so that if we have native and non-native speakers of our common language, that we are accommodating and inclusive in our behaviors as individuals and of course as leaders.

The other thing that's important about global teams is that communication is often digitally enabled or computer mediated. We need to be very clear about how do we use technology to connect with one another. What type of depositories do we need to engage. Do we need to use Slack and other real time platforms to communicate with one another, and how do we understand people's access to broadband so that we're not disadvantaging any groups based on broadband access. And so we really need to understand those things and design them quite thoughtfully.

And then finally, culture. We have cultural differences when we come from different countries. It could be such an asset for us, but we need to make sure that we're constantly adapting, mutually adapting. And there's a framework on how you do that. Gone are the days where you give someone a list of dos and don'ts and say, "Okay, this is how you do culture, do this and don't do that." It's not really about that, especially when you are part of a global team with many countries represented. It's more important to ask questions and to listen intently, and to make sure that you're being culturally competent through communication.

Tyler Sellhorn (13:04):
Well, plus one to treating culture as more than a checkbox or a list of dos and don'ts. Thank you for going deep on that. And I really think it's interesting to hear you even describing cultural context within the subset of which tools are we using and how are we using them. I think that's so interesting to hear that what is going to be our lingua franca, so to speak, our common language. I know for myself, as a North American white male, I am very privileged that English is the primary business language of the 21st century. I would be completely lost and stuck in my own localities if it weren't for that centering of even the North American expression of English.

And I think that that's such an important thing to remember, that we are not necessarily always working together with this exact same cultural norms and references. I know for myself, I work with a lot of South Asians in my new work experience, and I have to do some translating for in-jokes. It's like, I'm on the outside of some of those jokes. And it's fine, I'm happy to be included with a little bit of Google Translate. So thank you so much for thinking about that out loud.

I guess maybe the thing that I want to pull a little further on is, what do you think of when you are saying how we express ourselves cross-culturally within the digital tool space?

Tsedal Neeley (14:45):
The research on this is quite interesting. And when I say digital tools and cross-cultural competence and communication, it's important to understand that there are differences in terms of what communication tools people are more or less comfortable with when it comes to remote or virtual communication. And so we tend to often think about our own preferences when we invite our colleagues, our coworkers, to engage with us, and say, "Hey, let's do a video conference call." When in fact for our peers, an asynchronous mode might be the best approach because of linguistic differences, for example, or just preferences overall.

So to ask questions, back to the launch, relaunch, when you're in a global team, it's also incredibly important to make sure we understand people's preferences and constraints that they may have in their respective localities. It's important to talk about what digital tools are preferable, depending on the type of work that we are trying to do together. That's what I mean. There's no one-size-fits-all, and certain things we may prefer in one country may not translate in another country. That's important to understand.

Tyler Sellhorn (16:09):
Plus one to thinking thoughtfully and intentionally. And that seems to be a theme that runs throughout our conversations here on The Remote Show. But I think it's also one of those things that's interesting to even just leave space for individual variation. We can generalize, we can make guesses based on things. But even in my own experience, some people have idiosyncratic preferences as it relates. And I think it's so important for us to be explicit about our preferences, whether they are culturally informed or not.

I think it's so interesting to even just layer on this idea that more and more of our work, collective work, is happening inside of digital spaces.

Tsedal Neeley (16:52):

Tyler Sellhorn (16:53):
And your most recent book, co-authored with Paul Leonardi as we said off the top, is called The Digital Mindset. And I think it's so interesting to see this multiple layering up of your work, whereas, okay, first we're going to say, all right, globally. Okay, so we're going to say that that work is less constrained to a particular geography, even though we might still be working in an office, but we're now we're working cross-culturally. And then we've got this next layer up that's saying, "Okay. Well, actually, primarily we're not going to be in an office anymore. There's this revolution of remote work."

And then now there's this whole other layer that's saying, "Okay, what if we are primarily working inside of digital spaces," and we're really fully decoupling our work from physical, put our hands on it, "I just painted a wall. Now it's a different color," sort of work, to now saying, "Okay, I'm going to work inside of a digital environment, where I'm going to choose this hex code and now this digital representation on a screen is a different color." Help us graduate into that digital mindset level.

Tsedal Neeley (18:03):
I've always believed that remote work and hybrid work is digital work. And when people reject hybrid work or they celebrate that they're in-person and in-person only, it worries me because what remote work and hybrid work have done is they further accelerated the digitization of work, just like COVID accelerated the virtualization of work, The digitization of work has also just showed up quite forcefully.

The digital mindset is, in my mind, the continuation of the path that work or the new world of work is taking. And we need to be thinking of work that is data-enabled or data-intensive or data-informed. We need to think differently about technology and devices. And we need to think differently about organizing not only our work, but our teams and our entire organization.

So it's a real shift of how work happens. It's the new world of work. And with the digital mindset we introduce the idea of the 30% rule, which says, what is the baseline knowledge that everyone needs so that we not only have the common language and move in the same direction collectively, but have the baseline knowledge or competency for us to begin to participate in this digital world, which is at the intersection of data, technology and organize, or design is another way of saying it. And it is the next important step.

Tyler Sellhorn (19:51):
I guess maybe what I'm hearing you say, and maybe correct me if I'm wrong here, that what's happened, as we have decoupled our vocations from our locations, is that we've also had this transformation that's come along for the ride, that all of a sudden that common language that used to be a part of just even like, "Okay, what language are going to use when we're on the phone together," is now including things that are data-informed, and involve maybe even a computer teammate or a robot.

There is some sort of teammate that isn't only flesh and blood, and that we're starting to work more and more with computers. That we're going to have to, as a part of that common language that we're going to be able to be successful with working with teammates, is going to be able to speak with and interact with digital teammates that maybe are not flesh and blood in the first place.

Tsedal Neeley (20:51):
And when we do, we have to be very precise and narrow in our communication, so not to confuse our digital teammate or bot or the AI agent who we are engaged with. And we need to figure out how to be effective working with machines. That's part of what this is about. I'll give you an example. An example I like because I find it quite logical, is how Spotify, in their finance group, within five days they actually teach their non-technical employees how to use robotic process automation tools in order to drive out recurrent work that's less helpful, but really focus on the types of things that they want to focus on. And within five days they can use these tools to sharpen their work area, the focus that they want to enhance at work.

And it doesn't take long to figure out how to learn using these tools, but these become important tools to optimize work, to increase efficiency at work. And so you can't use these tools and treat these tools like they're human, these are machines. And understanding these differences guide us in how precise we need to be and narrow we need to be in our instructions. That's kind of the difference, but it's also just a mindset shift. It's how do we use tools and technologies in order to be better at what we do, is the big idea here.

Tyler Sellhorn (22:36):
Well, let me RSVP yes to the invitation to let the robots do the robotic things, and making it possible for the humans to do their work even better.

Tsedal Neeley (22:49):
That's it.

Tyler Sellhorn (22:49):
I am so on board for that. Let's embrace that mindset together. One of my very favorite questions that I really enjoy asking people who are deeply embedded in the remote work advocacy community, is this idea of doing a compare and contrast of epochs. Let's take a look back to 2019 and earlier, and then let's look at the pandemic time, and then the post-pandemic time. Well, let's say that there is a moment in time where we have found a way to live with this new state of things in a better way.

How would you describe and compare and contrast those different periods of time to say, "Okay, this is what it was like before. This is what it's been like during. And then here's happening in the future. Here's what I see on the horizon." And things that are similar and things that are different in those different spaces.

Tsedal Neeley (23:40):
What COVID has done, and here I'm talking about the pre-COVID, 2019 and earlier era, is there was a lot of remote work taking place, but what COVID did is it brought it very much into the mainstream. So the remote work, the virtual work, the hybrid work that was taking place before, was playing out in tech companies. It was playing out across various industries in small pockets.

But post-2019 around March 2020, what we saw is that remote work very forcefully entered the mainstream, where most of us knowledge workers had no choice but to migrate into our homes and begin work from home most of us. And discovered that in fact, you can achieve much more working from home. And many people also achieved the best work-life integration or flexibility of their entire careers. So productivity went up for on average 70% of the people who were working remotely, and work-life integration was achieved for the very first time. So spending more time with family, with friends, being able to spend more time with loved ones, became a new idea. Or even how time was used, segmenting time in ways that worked for folks.

Now, we sit at a point now, two and a half years post-COVID, where many workers are actually very actively asking for hybrid work, meaning they want to have some kind of remote work arrangement in their future repertoire or in their new world of work, while going into the office every once in a while. People don't want to continue to go to a place or an office to work in perpetuity. They want to use some of these new contextual opportunities, like remote, work moving forward. That's what hybrid is.

And when you look at data on this in the US, the numbers are staggering. Well over 80%, sometimes 85, 86, 87% of US employees want to retain some kind of remote work in their future arrangement. When you take this globally we're in the 70% range, where people want to retain some form of remote work and their repertoire. in Their hybrid work arrangements. So we are kind of that pivotal place where companies are thinking and rethinking what the future of work will look like, given the staggering requests that they're seeing among their workers. That's where we are.

Tyler Sellhorn (26:45):
Fantastic. Well, Doctor Tsedal Neeley, it has been our extreme pleasure to be learning out loud with you today. Thank you for the reminders, launching and relaunching and updating and revisiting our shared goals. Thank you so much for inviting us to be more intentional, as it relates to interacting across cultures and how we're considering the different impacts that are different shared values impact our work.

And thank you again for inviting us to be thinking with a digital mindset. And also just for being a person on the very front lines of this research of how is this done well, how is this being done? What is the impact to our businesses? It's just been so fun to follow along and learn from you. I just want to say an expression of gratitude from me on behalf of the community. I'm just going to be bold and say it for everybody here, whether or not you agree with me. Thank you so much for being an advocate on television, being an advocate on podcasts, and all the different ways that you are expressing the ways to do this well. Thank you so much.

Tsedal Neeley (27:55):
Thank you so, so much, Tyler. It is such an honor to be with you.

Tyler Sellhorn (28:01):
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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