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Leading remote teams from the ❤️ w/ Mark Crowley

Caring about your team is at the ❤️ of successful remote leadership. It builds empathy, trust, genuine interest in seeing your team succeed. It creates a culture that better supports mental health, growth, & engagement.

In today's episode, we chatted with Mark C Crowley who is a thought leader & influencer in the HR & leadership spaces. This was an all-inclusive conversation covering multiple topics of how to be a great leader. We spoke about topics the hybrid remote model, async communication, how to support your own mental health, communication protocols within a remote company, how to show gratitude, and more. Lots of goodness in this episode....

Full Transcript Below...

Related References

Mark on Linkedin

Mark on Twitter

Mark's Website

Mark's Book


Be flexible in your approach to the office vs remote

The pandemic isn't 100% done yet, and even when it is don't jump the gun on stating a concrete policy. Some people will want to work from home and some won't. Regardless of any 'survey's done, don't declare a return to office policy. Not now or likely ever. Facebook, Google, & Apple have all tried declaring a 3-2 hybrid model for all, and each has already backtracked after employee uproar. Just be fluid. Those that want to come back, let them. Those that don't, shouldn't be forced. Keep checking in with how the team is feeling and be flexible to changes.

Creating rituals is a great way to support your mental health

The world has been locked in the house for way too long. It's increased stress and anxiety, even with long-time remote workers (like myself). Two things that both Mark and I have done over the past year have really helped with our mental health. First, going for a walk every day. Whether it's your new commute, for some fresh air & Vitamin D, or just for some quiet alone time. That walk has done wonders. Second, is meditation. Spending even a few minutes a day focusing on your headspace. It's a great way to clear your head.

Meetings suck. Learn how to turn them down

If you're unable to totally turn off meetings (see our series on asynchronous communication) at least learn how to turn down meetings. A good way to start is setting a meeting capacity per week. So each week, I'll take no more than 7 meetings. Your key 1:1s & team meetings will take up most of those spots. Be strategic on what can take the rest. Don't feel bad for telling someone no, if you're hit your max. It can always be done via email.

Keep topics that attack psychological safety out of the workplace

People are quit passionate about expressing their opinions on hot topics. Like societal events, politics, and religion. Companies like Coinbase & BaseCamp have begun to take a stand to keep those conversations out of company online forums. If both parties are open minded and can respect the other's opposing opinion, there's no issue to have that conversation at lunch. They aren't well placed within a company Slack or email. Simply, there are always people on both sides of the coin, and someone will always be upset by something said. So better to avoid it altogether.

Build authentic relationships

When you do your 1:1s, take a real interest in them. How are they doing? How's their family? Did their kid make the soccer team. Of course follow up on items later on. This is probably the easiest thing you can do as a leader to build trust with your team and create deeper engagement. Then offer genuine praise as often as you can.


Scott: [00:00:00] Hi everyone. Thank you for tuning in today to another episode of Leading from Afar. I'm Scott Markovits. Tevi had to take the night off tonight. He was bogged down with too many meetings. I guess maybe this is an opportunity to use our past series on asynchronous communication to perhaps kill off meanings at InVision.

Today we're happy to be joined by Mark Crowley, who I've been a very big fan of for quite some time. Mark is an author and influencer in the HR and leadership spaces. He regularly speaks and posts about leadership and how it will be affected by the upcoming future of work revolution. So this episode is going to cover a lot of different topics that are very important to remote teams.

Mark, usually the way that we start off is by introducing yourself a little bit more. And in this case, telling us a little bit more about the leadership work that you do.

Mark: [00:00:47] Alright. Thank you, Scott. I think the best way to start is just to say that I'm the author of a book called Lead from the Heart, transformational leadership for the 21st century. And the idea really is that a. The way we've been managing people prior to COVID was fundamentally flawed.

There is science that demonstrates that the heart, feelings, and emotions have a much greater influence over human behavior than anything we can say to them. So when we make a note of intellectual plea to them and say, Hey, our shareholders are going to be happy. If we do this, or our customer service scores are going to do this." It has absolutely zero impact on people.

It's more about how we make them feel day-to-day. And so if you understand that, then we really need to treat people in a very different way. That's a very controversial idea because we've always believed we need to manage with fear and intimidation. Some degree of micromanagement. People don't want to work hard.

I can make them work harder than they will work themselves. All of these kinds of beliefs on blowing up. The word heart is something that honestly has been rejected for a really long time. We think it's soft, sentimental, and weak. And as a result, when people hear me say lead from the heart, they think I'm a spiritualist or religious nut or somebody who doesn't understand business.

So my mission, my aspiration is to say, if you'll just listen and understand the science that I'm talking about, you will actually want to lead the way I'm talking about. Because it's just naturally so much more fulfilling. You're helping other people grow. You're helping other people achieve what they're hoping to achieve in their lives.

Some sort of fulfillment and happiness and growth. But at the same time, you're getting something in return in addition to just hitting goals. So I'm on a mission to change the way we think about leadership across the world. I have a podcast that has an audience in 154 countries. So that tells me that there's a global interest in what I'm talking about. That it's not just American business or even California business. It's universal. We're really talking about how to most effectively manage human beings.

Scott: [00:02:57] You're definitely preaching to the choir here. I'm definitely on board with the idea of treating people with kindness and being fair and wanting the best for them. I think it's short-term versus long-term when you're pushing and forcing and demanding. You're looking at very short-term goals. Need to get this done now. But obviously, in the long term, the relationship wears down and the feeling wears down and eventually falls apart versus the opposite.

The first question I have and something that came up in the news the other day around the idea of many companies moving towards the hybrid remote model. In the last week, we saw an article that went viral about Apple employees pushing back on the decision to return to the office. We similarly saw about two months ago, the same thing coming out of Google. So the question is what should leaders be doing, thinking about right now regarding how and when and where they're going to work in the future?

Mark: [00:03:49] The first thing I would say, Scott, is that declaring that this is our policy. This is the way we're going forward come September, come the fall, or whenever is that line in the sand, I think is a mistake. And the reason I say that is because I don't think COVID was a variable that altered our perspective on work from home.

We forced people to work from home. The universe forced people to work from home. So it's not like companies were saying, "Hey, let's experiment. Let's see how this works." And then it felt a little heroic or hunkering down in our homes. Let's work really hard cause there's nothing else I can do. How much Netflix can I watch? People did a lot of that stuff. But really we saw productivity increase and all of that. And so we got this sense that, Hey, this can work and this makes people happy. What we don't really know is it a really good thing long-term for companies to be allowing people to work from home all the time.

It remains to be seen where this is all going to go. You're going to see some companies that are just going to say, as Chase did or Goldman Sachs. This is a stupid effing idea. We don't need to be doing remote work. We only did it because we had to.

There are some jobs that are so completely focused on individual skills, that don't require a whole lot of human interaction. And in those cases allow people to do that. By the way, if you're a call center person, you're interacting all day long with people. So maybe that's another kind of a job that would allow you to have a lot of connection, even though you're not really seeing people.

But for most people's jobs, I think that where Apple landed in terms of this three two hybrid. I think they want you to go Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. What I like about that is everybody's going to be in the office on the same days and everybody's going to be remote. So the idea of having people together when they're together allows you to script out what will we do for that meeting? Are people just going to go to their offices for work, or are we going to do social activities, creative activities, those kinds of things, which I'm a big fan of. Because when you big bring people together like that, and then you send them off when people are working from home, they're not feeling lonely because they know they're going to see you on Monday.

If you take COVID out of this, we don't really have any legitimate experience with people wholesale working remotely on a permanent basis. Whether it's hybrid or full-time. So I would say experiment, tell people we don't know the answer.

Scott: [00:06:32] It's interesting. As a long-time remote worker, I come from the opposite perspective. One thing that companies’ leadership should have learned over the last year, if there's only one thing, it's that you're simply not going to force people back into the office anymore. Those days are past, and that brings in the idea of flexibility and hybrid. There are questions about if you're going with a hybrid model, do you get everyone in the office the same day or allow more flexibility to the people that choose? If you look pre COVID all the data around remote work, all the companies thousand plus people companies, billion-dollar valuation companies, extremely successful companies, and all the data that comes around it. I think every one of the research reports 99% of the people who worked remotely pre Covid never want to go back to working in her office again.

Where the real miss has been. Companies have no idea how to do this. They went remote overnight. It wasn't planned. So then they didn't know how to use the tools they had. They don't know what new tools to implement and how to do these things correctly. How to do an engagement, how to do team meetings, communication, and all those bits and pieces the right way. Versus many of the companies that went remote overnight said, "Okay, let's just throw in a lot of more meetings. Let's throw in a morning and afternoon checkup because they missed seeing somebody sitting there 'working'. So they tried to compensate by having more check-ins to try to get that same feeling. If you asked somebody remote that's been doing it for a long time, that's obviously the opposite way of how you be doing it.

I think the companies are going to realize that okay, we have to be flexible. People want to come into an office. It becomes like a park. We're going to get rid of the central headquarters. We're going to replace that with more of a hub and spoke type model. More micro spaces that are closer to the employees, giving them the opportunity. If you want to come into the office every day, come in every day. If you want to come in once a week, to have coffees with the people you work with and go to lunch and then go home and work. That's great too.

Mark: [00:08:20] I don't see that as being sustainable the way you just described it. Because if you decide you're going to go into the office and have coffee, what's to say, I'm going to be there.

As a leader, if I was running an organization, I would say, look, this is what our thinking is. This is what we've based our decision on. And we're going to experiment and we don't know how it's gonna work. Nobody knows how it's going to work. So let's just go into this with the understanding that a year ago you were here five days a week, 10 hours a day. Now it's going to be three days a week. By the way, one of the days that you're working at home is Friday. Which to me is a magnificent gift unto itself. I don't have to come home on a freeway on a Friday night when I want to start my weekend. So if you frame it up, as there are some upsides to what we're doing here and then we're going to see over time, then you have people joining you as opposed to fighting you.

Because the other thing that I think is a big problem, Scott is you may say, "Okay, I'm willing to go in the office, but I'm not doing this Monday thing. I'm not going in on Mondays. I've got kids that I want to take to school. And you know what? I'll come in on Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, no, I'm not doing that."

So everybody's got a different variance of when they want to work. You're never going to be able to please everybody that way. You're never because going back to what you were saying, we don't have the skillset to manage people like, oh, Scott's not here today. When's he coming in? I don't know when he's coming in. He's coming in whenever he wants to come in and it's I really would like to talk to him in person.

Scott: [00:10:04] You don't fear people at a company like Facebook can just simply say, "Hey, no problem. I'm going to go to Twitter, a direct competitor because they'll let me work remotely whenever I'd like, or permanently." You see any impact of that being part of the conversation or part of the decision?

Mark: [00:10:18] No. If if you work for me at Facebook and you go, "I'm going to Twitter because they're going to give me full-time remote work." I think I'd probably say, "Okay, good luck." And the reason is because there's more than one reason to work for a company.

Scott: [00:10:36] To change directions on you related to a tweet of yours that I saw around mental health. One of the previous series that we had a couple of months ago was on mental health and startups. Especially on leaders. Leaders obviously have to balance their own mental health while trying to support their team's mental health at the same time. What are some things that leaders can do to help manage their own stress and mental health? Again, while at the same time having to support their teams?

Mark: [00:11:00] Create rituals. I'll just tell you mine. I'm writing a book right now. So my publisher came to me and said, we want you to write a second edition of your book and we're going to give you a hundred days to do it, which is to me ridiculous. But I'm going to try to do it. Today is day 70. I've already got 30 days out. That clock ticking every minute that I'm working on this.

So 4:30 in the morning, I get up every day and I live near a beach. So I go and I walk for an hour and a half every morning on the beach before the sun rises. I used to be somebody that went to the gym. When they closed the gyms, I thought I need to have an alternative. So I started walking on the beach and I'm never going back to five o'clock in the morning with rock and roll music playing in the background and bright lights. That's not the way for me to start my day ever again. So I'm in nature. I get the smells of the salt and the sea air and all that, but I'm with myself in like a walking meditation. Very first thing I do every day.

It centers me. First of all, it takes all that angst out. All that energy you wake up with, "Oh, I gotta do this and all of that." So I do that religiously. On the weekends, it's two hours. So I have a little extra time and I go to an even better place and it's inspiring. It's all of that and I'm just so grateful for it.

So that helps me. Physicality obviously is good for me. Good for my heart. Hearts and mind are connected. So whatever you do for the heart you're doing for the mind. People don't realize that. All the signs of cognitive dysfunction related to heart dysfunction and vice versa. Coincidentally. So that's one.

The last thing I do, turn off the phones everything's off. And then I meditate. I literally meditate for 15, 20 minutes. Just to clear my head and those two rituals have proven to be God-sends for me. Because when I come home 6:15 - 6:30 something like that and have breakfast working from home.

So by 7-7:15, I'm already working. But I've already had this whole time to get myself centered. Think about what I want to accomplish ideas, pop into your head. All sorts of science show this when you're walking, ideas will come to you. So this is a great way. I think of starting people's days that I just I'm advocating for doing something physical, go for a run, ride, a bike, go swim, go hike, whatever.

Do it regularly, do it ritually and add meditation. And if you're up to that into the mix, I think those two things. And then now that COVID is over. Be with people. Because I think we're desperate for that.

Scott: [00:14:02] I love it. I think the biggest impact for me over the last year was that daily walk or run. The first lockdown and around that time I left the house maybe 10 minutes once a week. And my anxiety was just through the roof. I decided I had to make a change. So every day I go for a 5-6K walk or run every day religiously. Just to clear my head and be able to focus on nature and walking in the mountains. It's definitely made a big change for me as well.

So moving in another direction, one of the outcomes of COVID for newly remote teams was to begin over-communicating and scheduling in those meetings.

The infamous zoom fatigue. I'm not a fan of the term zoom fatigue versus meeting fatigue. They were doing that to ensure that nobody missed anything. Because you couldn't see somebody in an office working. One of the things that are become very popular over the last year is asynchronous communication.

The idea of trying to combat this and being much more focused on long-form writing. Getting out of that always-on, that ping pong idea. Is there an ideal solution for leaders to help ensure the team is always in the loop without having endless meetings and check-ins?

Mark: [00:15:12] Do I have the answer? No. Because honestly, I think we have too many meetings. Establish a Scott, you can't be in any more than seven hours of meetings a week. Then you start to say no to meetings. You get an invitation and you say I've already got my seven hours booked and I just can't do this one.

It needs to be, you give people permission to opt-out of meetings. So that if it just is simply not serving them, and then you decide which ones are firewalled. And I think that we're doing way too much email and that we ought to be teaching people a formula. I have a steady client and every once in a while they ask me to coach some of their executives. One of the first things I do is teach them how to send an email.

Tell them the bad news right up front. I'm writing to tell you Bill just died. Not well we've had a little scenario here I want to tell you about. Just get to it. I'm writing to ask you to spend $20,000 to buy X. Here are my bullet issues. If we could get people to communicate like that and not send back smiley faces.

I think managers have to put some rules out and some guidelines in terms of when people are expected to work and when they're not expected to work. So that, I just can't say to you, "Hey Scott, could you just hop on a quick call? I know you're heading to dinner at 6:30 but could you just hop on a call?" To me, that creates unnerving stress. Because people go out to dinner with their wife and they're looking at their phone. They're like, Is he going to call me?"

You have to create a culture where people understand that I'm not expecting you to work past a certain period of time. That's not to say that you won't because you might be the night owl who likes to do things at 10 o'clock at night, but it's not because of me. I think that's what burnout is about. I think that's what well-being is about. Being thoughtful and being fair to people.

Scott: [00:17:28] 100%, a hundred percent. Another topic. Taking the learnings recently from Coinbase and Basecamp, how can remote leaders an official stands on hot button issues, but at the same time still allow their employees to bring their whole selves to work?

Mark: [00:17:47] It still works Scott. I think sometimes Robert Frost said, "Good fences, make good neighbors." There are just certain topics that just really aren't appropriate in the workplace. If we get into a discussion about religion, it's almost guaranteed that at some point somebody is going to say, "Did you just say?" So I look at that and I just think I would just urge employees to steer clear of those conversations at work. If you have a good friend who shares your beliefs and you want to have those conversations with your friend, that's great. But starting up dialogues around religion or politics. Look how polarized, your country is no less polarized.

I was listening to the radio this morning about what's going on in your country and if they didn't say this is what's going on in Israel, I'd be saying, "Oh, this is America." So to me, I look at that and I just think, "Does it help the organization?" If we're allowing people to have these kinds of conversations that we're actually fostering, they can never shut down conversations. Don't use email. Don't use chat. Don't use Slack to have discussions around things that we know are going to polarize people. We want people to come together. That seems simple, but that seems to be the way to go as far. I've never worked in an organization where people were talking about or religion. What do you think?

Scott: [00:19:23] I'm on the same page. Maybe it's the way that I grew up. In the culture of the companies and the experience that I grew up with was the same. You'd never speak about religion and politics in the office. There's always going to be someone on both sides of the page, and there's always someone that's going to take something to an offense.

So if you're on one side, that's great. But there's always going to be someone on the other side that feels differently. I think we've been deep into this cancel culture. Where you're just not open to listening, even accepting that there is another side. It's this side, that's the only side that's right. Don't have any other arguments, no debates. It's this way or the highway. So I'm definitely a believer that you keep these types of conversations out of the workplace. If you want to have it with a friend like you said, or a colleague at the lunch table or over coffee, that's between the two of you. But certainly, on company email or company chat, that's not the place to be having that. There's always going to be a conflict.

Mark: [00:20:22] I'm a big believer we're in psychological safety. Which I from my point of view should be called emotional safety, not psychological. Because we, feel safe. We don't think safe. So I think that's an academic idea, psychological safety. But when it comes down to it, do people feel safe being who they are and their whole self.

So I would argue that opening up the door to have a conversation about whether Trump or Netanyahu are good or bad leaders undermines psychological or emotional safety. Simply because anybody who doesn't think those are good leaders is now going to be threatened by the conversation.

Scott: [00:21:06] Completely agree. So pivoting to the next type of question. Companies historically have used to offer lots of amenities in the office. Like catered meals, daycare, and things like that to attract talent to stay in the office. What types of benefits should remote teams be looking to offer besides the obvious ones of trust and flexibility. Which are the hallmarks of working remotely?

Mark: [00:21:31] Okay. First, give them money to get themselves squared away. I have my former assistant who's helping me edit my book just before I give it to my editor. Just somebody who knows me knows my work, who actually edited my book.

She was telling me that the only downside of working remotely is she's working off of this tiny little computer. And I'm like, "They didn't give you like a computer? Like they didn't give you a laptop?" So outfitting people. If I'm working from home and I'm paying for my internet, if I'm paying for my broadband, but I'm using it now 80% of the time because I'm here. I think the companies have an obligation to do that. Now, this is full-time, right? If I'm going to provide all that stuff in the office, I think this is where we get into this compromise thing. Let's say you work a three, two hybrid, do you want lunch in the office the three days you're there? Or do you want me to give you an allowance so you can buy yourself lunch?

This is a difficult challenge. Because if you come into the office, I'd like to give you lunch. Because if you're having lunch, you're going to be meeting people. And if you're meeting with people, you're sharing ideas and making connections. That's the whole reason I want you in the office. Not because I can see you, but so you have conversations and you build bonds with people and you trust people. . So I would say if you're working remotely all the time, you want to give people some allocation every month to pay for their post-it notes and their printing paper and their ink, whatever. You just give the amount of money and say, spend it whichever way you want to. I also think that companies would be smart to send people swag. Let's say you work for Apple, once a month sends an Apple t-shirt to everybody and an Apple sweatshirt. Because you're not getting those from reminders being in the office as much.

Scott: [00:23:27] Yeah, what's 1 trillion-plus dollars in the bank? Hopefully, they're getting an iWhatever. A new device comes out, they can afford those.

So the last question I have for you will hopefully be an easy layup. This podcast was started understanding that remote becomes more mainstream, there's a huge lack and a big gap in learning. In having the knowledge and wisdom of leading teams remotely available to people as we go forth. I think over the next one to two years, this will be the most critical thing related to whether it's a smooth transition to the future of work or whether it's more of a bumpy ride. Around training and knowledge sharing for managers.

What should companies be doing to up-skill their managers on how to lead remotely?

Mark: [00:24:16] When you said lay up, it really is a layup. We, have to tell people that if you're going to manage people, you have to care about them. And when I say care about them, I don't mean, "Scott, where are you on this project? And what are you going to get this deliverable to me?" It's what's going on in your life. How are you doing? What are the challenges of working from home? What's what are the challenges in your life? Is there anything that I can do to help you right now? But more importantly, just tell me what's going on. How are you feeling? With authenticity. When the boss, you meet the employee every single week. Where the conversation is just about me in this case. You need to call me on a regular basis and have it scheduled.

And we don't talk about, "Mark, where are you on the project?? We take 15-20 minutes. Just how are things going? What can I do to help you? How are things in your family? What would you like to learn? What's missing from your day-to-day right now that I could get for you that would help you feel happier. Those kinds of conversations.

If you don't schedule them, they won't happen. So my belief is something I learned from Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. And what they say is that your span of control is limited by the number of people that you can have a conversation with dedicated to them once a week. So if you say I'm too busy, I've got 12 people and I can only talk to five of them, then you should only be managing five people.

That is a brilliant insight because those other six, seven people that you don't get to, there's harm in that. Scott doesn't think about me. Scott doesn't care about me. Where we give our time, where we give our attention is what we demonstrate to people is what we value.

And so if I have an issue, Scott's going to be there for me to tell him. So the worst-case scenario is I have to go seven days to tell you about something that's upsetting me, concerning me, challenging me no more than seven days. And if you know that's going to happen once a week, it creates stability inside of you.

It creates trust inside of you. Particularly if those conversations are good. You got to lead from the heart. That's really what it's about.

Scott: [00:26:49] Yeah, I couldn't agree more. The episode we published today was around moving those one-on-one, we'll call the work half of the one-on-ones to async. More autopilot. I've been a long believer that the one ones should only be about the person. How you doing, how's your family, what's new with this? Nothing about work and shifting those questions of sharing the company or team updates in the document or something they can read on their own time. What you proud of in the last week? What made you the most unhappy last week? To put those on autopilot and really focus those conversations that can be no more than a week apart.

In the one-on-one relationship between you and me, how's everything? What's new with you? How's your family. I remember this happened last week, what's the latest on that? I completely agree. That's the best thing.

Mark: [00:27:37] Yes. You make a really great point. Remember, last week, Scott, when you told me about what was going on with your son, how's that going then? Did he get into that school? Is he playing on that soccer team? And when I say that to you, what does that make you feel? Mark cares about me. He remembered my son and trying to get onto that team.

I remember I'll give you a great example. So I had a boss who believed recognition was important to a point. He's got a team of people that are managing huge businesses. This is not just rank and file. These are people running huge businesses. And he's going around and saying, "Okay, Bill your team's doing really well over here. And I'm really happy about that. And Suzy, your team's doing really well. And Mary your team, oh, my God, it's already 11 o'clock. We don't have any more time for this."

So we got to transition. I got a lot of other things I want to. I'll never forget it. I was just like, what a colossal mistake you just made. Because basically what you just showed was that recognition for you is an act. You're not really grateful. You're just doing what you think a manager's role is, which is to thank people. It's an act in order to get me to perform. And once you understand that, then it alters you.

Scott: [00:29:02] Yeah, I love it. I've always had the personal point of never going more than 10 days without giving someone an accommodation for something and always finding something. Whether it's major. Somebody closed the sale, somebody released in a new major feature, or the fact that this person consistently does a very good job every single week or every single month.

So that's always been me, especially in the remote world. There have been lots of great tools that can give people virtual high fives, tacos, or money. Hey, thank you so much for this. This was great. Wonderful job on that. Just getting into that habit of gratitude. Seeing the effort. People, they're giving a hundred percent of themselves every day and saying, thank you. Showing appreciation to that person goes a million miles.

Mark: [00:29:49] Just, don't do it in a vacuum. Meaning that if Tom works for you and Tom's doing a great job and you want to send them tacos, part of the joy of getting tacos is that everybody on the team knows that you thought enough about his performance to give him tacos. People want to know what they have to do to get tacos. So by sharing, Tom did X, Y, and Z, and it pleased me because of this, then people can then say, "Oh, then that's the behavior he's looking for." And I'm going to do that behavior.

Scott: [00:30:25] Completely agree. Mark, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your expertise, your knowledge, and your wisdom to the listeners here. We'll be happy to include in the show notes, the links to the upcoming book and the current book, and anything else.

Thank you so much. And everybody until the next episode, have a great day.

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