trust in remote teams is a 2-way street w/ tom willmot, ceo @ human made
Trust for leaders means having confidence in your team to get stuff done without surveillance & micro-managing. Trust for your team means leaders are transparent & honest.
Here's the recap...In today's episode, I chatted with Tom Willmot, CEO & Co-founder @Human Made. I came across Human Made's publicly available employee handbook a number of weeks back. It was pretty awesome (you can find it below). Its effort was to ensure all important and relevant employee information was centralized and available to everyone. Including folks outside of Human Made. The last. year plus there's been a major push in the build-in public idea. At the same time, young startups I putting a deeper focus on building world-class cultures and creating public-facing documents for everyone's value. This episode was all about how can company leaders develop more and deeper trust in their teams. Especially when they don't see them 'working.' We dive into specific ways and changes every leader can make today to improve.
We also spoke about how that trust is a two-way street. As a leader, you want to build that trust but that can only be done if your team trusts you as much. This is where transparency comes to play in examples like their employee handbook. Providing deep insights into the health, vision, and workings of the company provides confidence in your team that they're always in the loop. Better helping them understand the impact they can make with their work.
If you're a leader who went remote during the pandemic and was (and still is) struggling with trust and transparency within your organization, this episode is for you...
How using data can solve trust issues
I remember how many conversations about building a remote organization turned into a comment that went something like this.."I need to see my people do this [see Gif below] all day."
Meaning productivity was based on perceived versus real output. If you arrived in the office early, stayed late, or were always at your desk looking busy you were perceived as a superstar. Perhaps this should be the definition of 'fake it till you make it.' It was pretty clear. People came into the office to do work. So the more you saw an employee in the office or at their desk the more you perceived they were getting done. Yet research after research seems to prove people are capable (or at least only doing) 4 hours of deep or real work a day. So most of the time you saw an employee in the office, they were really not working.
When the world went remote bosses couldn't see their employees in the office or typing away. Without seeing it, bosses couldn't believe it. They weren't able to perceive work was getting done any longer. So in came never-ending Zoom calls, morning and afternoon status updates, and similar wastes of time. Two years in, this is still a problem. But there is a solution...
For a couple of years now, I've been saying productive is a simple math equation.
D + T = P. Deliveralbe + Time = Productivity. Meaning doing a clearly defined and scoped task or assignment by a clearly defined time and that equals productivity. Fix the bug, launch the new blog post or answer 20 Support tickets by 5 pm today. If the deliverable was provided on time the person was productive and you didn't even need to see them do the work. This brings up a whole other conversation (and podcast) about work schedules or the lack of needing one.
As a leader, if you're able to make this pivot the world opens in front of you. No longer do you need to perceive productivity as you'll be able to see it in front of your eyes. This is one of the biggest unlock steps for remote being successful for everyone. Once you're able to successfully switch from perceived to the real output you can start thinking of the next step. Feel free to stay at this stage as long as you need. The ultimate step is moving from output to impact. This could mean rather than doing 50 sales calls a week with non-qualified leads, switch the focus. Only do calls with qualified leads, where the impact is 3 closed sales. Money in the bank is more valuable than time spent on the phone. Similar can be said for a developer. Spend every 6-week sprint working on a single large feature. Or, work on and release 2 minor features or fixes each week. Clearing out a product backlog and more importantly showing your users dedication to improving the product continuously.
It's the end of the 9-5 schedule as we know it
Ok, I had to. I know I teased you earlier. We're at the beginning of the greatest renaissance in work for the past 150 years. Finally switching from living to work to working to live. Remote work and my math equation above will be that historical unlock. How so you may be asking?
It's pretty simple. It's Monday morning. I assign you those 2 features that need to be released this week. By the time I leave Friday to start my weekend, I'll have expected to receive 2 notifications that your assignments have gone from in-progress to launched. I won't go into wanting more defined insights here. But let's use this case. I either notice the notifications during the week or Friday before I leave I check to confirm those 2 notifications were delivered. So what have I purposely skipped over? .....
You probably guess it but the actual work that was done from the point Monday when I assigned the 2 items to the point on Friday where I checked that they were done. Why did I skip over this? Duh! Because I don't care what you did in between the 2 points in time. I've had this debate with 10s of founders and after digging into this idea have never lost. As a leader, I got what I wanted. 2 feature launches this week. So the amount of hours of work you did is irrelevant because you completed your mission. Before you try asking me, "Can't someone cheat the system? If they can get the work done in 4 hours what are they doing the rest of the time?" This is a much longer answer but in short, it comes down to trust. The topic of this episode. If you build a culture of trust, the likelihood of this happening is quite low.
How you can be more transparent?
As a company or CEO the easiest way to do this is by sharing information. I've coached a number of early-stage companies where on every All-Hands meeting, all relevant metrics were shared. New leads, MRR, churn, cash in the bank, and more. The point was every employee played a major role in the success of the business. So every employee should have specific insight into what that impact was exactly. This can drive engagement and motivation within your team.
Another way as a leader is by being truthful. Whether it's sharing tough news about a major client loss or opening up about mental health challenges you've been facing. The second is extremely important in creating a culture of openness. By you being transparent and by you sharing, you create an environment where your team feels more comfortable sharing. There's no shame or penalty in sharing something tough. It's only an opportunity to grow together.
Though hasn't happened often to date, Human Made spends quite a bit of effort into exit interviews. Trying to gather as much feedback as to why someone decides to leave the team. This is simply the idea of pushing for radical candor and receiving honest feedback. For more about this topic check out our episodes with Jarron Tate and Jeff Epstein where we dive into this more.
The most important aspect of the feedback loop is providing your team transparency into what you'll do with it and keeping them regularly updated with progress. By doing so you'll build that culture where people always want to share feedback to help the team. Not doing so, will prevent you from ever hearing the honest truth.
[Scott] Hey, Tom. Thanks for joining today. How are you?
[Tom] I’m good. I'm good. It's good to be here, Scott.
[Scott] I appreciate you taking the time to, to join us. You're where are you calling in from, from today?
[Tom] I’m in Brittany. which is in, I guess kind of a Northwest coast of France near a town called compare. If you want to listen to want to pull up a map and work out where that is. it is raining today, allowance, and I'm about a kilometer from the coast. So you can imagine kind of French countryside and, wild Atlantic coastline.
[Scott] I tried to take my geography of north, Western France from my historical world war II. I'm not a big world war two fan. So I always tried to look for the names of the well-known battles there.
[Tom] Yeah, there are actually some, there's some bunkers and things on some of the beaches, some old concrete bunkers. So yeah, that's still, you can still kind of walk around those and imagine what it must have been like. It's very different today. Mostly surfing.
[Scott] I think that's one of my dream vacations is to do a tour through Europe, all the major and minor on a battle areas. But, none of it, none of a topic today, to sort of conversation again, what we've been doing this season is just bringing up something that's non-related to the conversation. I've read it a couple of articles. I don't know if you've seen similar to the last couple of weeks where there's a thought of the real remote revolution is still the cotton. That what we're in now, again, this move to hybrid or companies going in on all remote and office, what have you is not the actual revolution? that revolution will be forthcoming and assuming after the pandemic ends, once people start getting into remote and hybrid and probably in hybrid, seeing that it doesn't really work in most cases and all that kind of chaotic things are going to happen. Thoughts, are we really now in that revolution of moving to remote work, or this is just kind of a, a false start?
[Tom] Ah, super interesting. It's funny. Cause like those of us who've been doing rope for a long time, you know, perhaps feel like it's, we're fairly far along, you know, it's fairly mature, but actually I think we're right. We're right at the beginning of it. and yeah, I definitely see, you know, to some degree the remote that we've been doing, kind of in response to the pandemic is like not the remote I'm sure. that we would, we would be designing a hundred percent post pandemic or, or, you know, kind of whatever the world looks like. So I think there's that. Yeah, there's definitely hybrid. You know, I think a lot of companies are perhaps hoping to have their cake and eat it where they allow for some of this flexibility, that, that I think employees are now, you know, requiring, but, but still, still maintain kind of the old, the old, the old ways of working. Yeah. It's an interesting, see how that plays out. I also like recently I've just been reflecting on, particularly with this whole kind of, of, conversation with what are doing like to some degree we've taught, we framed remote as being about working from home. And I wonder whether the larger shift here is actually a shift from work being something that is done like in the real world to work that's being done online. Right. Actually the shift here is that we're moving to working online. we're moving to working digitally. and, yeah, I think perhaps that's actually the biggest shift.
[Scott] It's an interesting point that I'm one of the conversations I think we spoke about, or maybe outside of the podcast, the whole metaverse, I'm personally not bullish on this area. I don't see this becoming no the future of remote work of seeing people remotely through goggles. I think there's so many logistical issues outside of that, but the one thing I do, like what you said, something that I been saying and trying to push that what we're seeing now, and again, there's a huge revolution in workouts being done. It's not the idea of remote work. It's not the idea of location. I think we're, it's a much deeper level. It's getting finally from that point where historically we have lived to work, unfortunately, and we're now finally scripting that and switching that over to finally getting to the point where we're working to live. And I think we see it it's location, right? So the location independence allows me to live the life. I want to live instead of commuting and spending an hour on a train in the morning, in the evening, my life being kind of bookmarked outside of work, which is in the middle. I get to take my kids to school. I get to do things with my spouse. I get to do hikes surfing or whatever it may be. I get to live my life and work just kind of in a nicely, in no interacts with that. And I think what we're seeing at least in the U S I'm not sure about Europe, there's lots of issues with just sticks and being able to, I know there's a thing with like Tesla cars that you have to wait like a year plus because the dock workers aren't working and trains and things like that, that was okay. That person was working at a dock, was making $15 an hour doing very difficult, hard, hard, laborious work. But instead during the pandemic, they could drive an Uber like three hours in the morning, live their life, spend time with their family, kids, doing what they want and spend a few hours in the evening, driving Uber and make maybe 3, 4, 5 times as much. And yes, again, the money, but it really comes down to, they had the opportunity to live again, the life that they wanted to do, what made them happy, what made them most successful and productive. And I think that for me, that's, that's the future of work. It's not specifically the location. It's not really any of these other know whether you pay people globally, people it's, each individual would get to live their life, how they want to see it, what's happier and most successful and things like that most productive. And I think that's, that's the, the brightest part of the future that at least that I see.
[Tom] Yeah. I share a share, kind of a lot of that. And that's some of the stuff that gets me most excited. It's like, there's a big opportunity whilst all of this stuff is being redesigned to some degree and the constraints are different in a, in a, in a digital world than they are in the physical world. And so, we can, I think design something that works much better, you know, for, for businesses and for, economically, but also, just works much better for people. that's really exciting. Yeah. And, you know, I think that's the magic of, you know, some of that magic. I think some of the things that, you know, as early adopters of remote work, we started to see, and, you know, and as I've kind of kept that, that, that passion, you know, amongst remote worker kind of leaders, certainly what excites me. Yeah, totally agree.
[Scott] so the way we usually start these episodes, maybe Tom, tell us a little bit more about yourself and tell us a little bit more about the origin story of Human Made.
[Tom] Yeah. So I'm a kind of self-taught, web developer, to begin with. That's kind of how I started out, I guess online, you know, at a pretty young age, beginning of the kind of indie web movement, I guess the kind of web standards movements, in the UK and, and, more broadly, that was kind of, I kind of grew up, grew up online in that environment and that let yeah, led to me kind of self self-teaching as a web developer and becoming quite kind of invested in that, in, in those movements. that happened to be around the time WordPress as an open source project was, was starting. and so, kind of early on in, in, WordPress's life, I discovered WordPress and was working as like a freelance WordPress developer, building websites for, you know, initially friends of friends and then for then for real companies. And, and then, for, you know, particularly at that time, there weren't actually many WordPress developers around who were for hire. So, and there were some big companies who actually worked, were looking to work with WordPress, even in that early time when it was mostly blocking software. and so that led to me, quite fortuitously, I think, getting the opportunity to work on some fairly large WordPress projects early on. and really that, you know, I think that then just snowballed into, into more and more of those projects, more and more people using WordPress, but the kind of WordPress, project and, and its usage, really, you know, has been, has been on a growth, growth trajectory ever since. And, you know, it's still growing to this day kind of incredibly, I think, you know, up to, 40, 40 something percent of the web now, you know, is, is, is on WordPress. and so, Human Made which was the kind of WordPress agency that I founded, about 12 years ago now. you know, I think at the core the, I was in then with, I was quite close to the WordPress project, and I knew a lot of people, particularly a lot of the core WordPress developers who were like contributing to this open source project and knew the WordPress software very well. and a lot of them were volunteers, you know, none of them were volunteering around that day jobs in order to do this work. and then on the other hand, I was freelancing for some of these large companies who I really could see needed like WordPress expertise. They were trying to push WordPress, you know, beyond its limitations and use it for things that, were acquired a lot more advanced than, than it had been designed for. and so that, you know, that was quite an obvious kind of, marrying of those two worlds, I suppose, that there's these like expert WordPress developers who were volunteering their time. There are these companies who really, really want to hire some expert WordPress developers. And so Human Made really was formed around that if we can hire these, these people and we can, they can then help us deliver these, these kind of complicated, WordPress based projects. and that, you know, that, that worked and went very well, I would say. And, you know, the first six or seven years of Human Made as an agency was really following that growth to check tree of WordPress, it being used for ever larger and more complicated things. and us just continuing to hire and scale into that. So today we're about 80 people. We're very globally distributed. you know, w we are, w with a team spread across, the whole world, or, you know, the whole time zone spread from New Zealand, all the way to the west coast of the U S on the other south America, Africa, Asia, that really grew out of the opensource, you know, again, the open source software projects, WordPress, the community around it is incredibly geographically diverse. and the way that those projects just, you know, the work is very akin to how you, you, you, I mean, it's, they're working together remotely and very effectively. And so we were able to just adopt a lot of those practices straight in basic, you know, really we, we grew the company almost as if it was an open source project in the early days. and a lot of those practices informed what, what, what we now do today, over the past few years, we've, we've been kind of diversifying beyond being a pure, agency working with clients to, to build their kind of WordPress based websites. and we've been building a platform of our own, really taking a lot of the learnings that we had from, from our time, building those sites and kind of baking them into a product that then, you know, bring them to more people for, for, and they don't have to build them every time, which, is, is cheaper for them. so that's been quite exciting, you know, that that's been a real, there's been a lot for us to learn that just didn't just in terms of, kind of, and platform all of that.
[Scott] Yeah. Amazing. when we look at remote and thinking about how we got here, what the feedback has been for the last two years where we're going, especially with hybrid, I've spoken, I don't know, countless times over this time, about why remote works and how it works and things like that. And if you kind of boil down whether remote will be successful with an organization, or won't find like the one core value, the one core thing that sits on is trust. I before anything else before there's culture and there's engagement and all these other pieces, there has to be trust within the organization, but many leaders don't trust their employees remotely, which was kind of baffling. And especially as so much more after they hire them working in their office, they trusted them there. They're doing a great job. And all of a sudden now, like when they went remote, all of a sudden that trust dissipated, how's that possible? Like what, what, what what's going on here?
[Tom] Yeah, that's really interesting. I mean, I do remember even as I was coming into hiring people and I would, I remember debating this with other kind of, founders that I knew even locally, you know, or who were doing similar things who, yeah. Couldn't quite believe that I was hiring people on the other side of the world and couldn't see, didn't know when they were working. In fact, wasn't even tracking, you know, it wasn't even tracking the hours they were doing. and I, I do remember being somewhat confused by that, you know, that it, it felt like what they were telling me is that they didn't, yeah. They didn't trust their employees. And if you don't trust your employees, whether they're in the office or not, it doesn't really feel like, you know, that, that feels like a, quite a serious problem. Right. I think what I've come to see over time though, is that, like, I think a lot of this is that, is that in office, the signals that we're looking for as leaders that like build that trust, you know, then a lot of those signals are not going to be there when you are, when you are remote, you're not gonna be able to rely on those same factors, particularly just presence, you know, being able to see where people are is, is reassuring. and, and I can definitely understand that and that when that goes, and you haven't put in place the things you need to put in place to be able to like, yeah. Re replace that, those signals, that then you can feel like you're, you're, you really don't know what people do. And, you know, the truth is I always knew what people were doing. and I had plenty of signals that I could use. and so, you know, I was confident that if someone was joining, and was, you know, not performing, not delivering that, that I wasn't going to be taken advantage of. and so, yeah, I think, I think it's, I think it's really about, figuring out what, what signals you need in order to be able to be confident, you know, as a leader, and, and, where the gaps are and putting those in place and that the, and recognizing that those are just going to be different. They're going to need to be different now that you're working remotely. Yeah.
[Scott] so before I dive into the question, how do you measure them? you've been doing this for a long time long before the pandemic came around. Like, I have been what makes, I guess, your outlook different? Like, what did you upskill? Did you do training? Like, what is it that you've done or that, that value, then you can share with other leaders who are now in the position where like, you know, they, they, they don't maybe have necessarily so much trust or they have so much trust, but now they're looking for a hybrid. Like what, what is it again maybe that you, or that you've learned over the years that you can share with other people who are listening that will help them move more into that direction of, Hey, yes, I, from the start can hire somebody where they never even meet in person and have full trust in them that they're here to build my company, to build my product, to build my team.
[Tom] I think I've got like, oh, almost, yeah. Two answers to that to kind of come at it from different directions. I think one is that just like, because I had spent quite a lot of time in the open source community, I think that was really powerful. Like I really saw there how a group of people from all over the world who are not even being paid, but they're just volunteering the spare time they've got, and often there really isn't much leadership actually, they're even, self-organizing, we're able to achieve just, really amazing things. You know, the, the, and that's still true today. Like just a significant portion of the, particularly the foundational software. The internet is open source. And it's developed by volunteers who are working in this way. and, by a lot of measures outperforming, or certainly outlasting, companies that perhaps are working in more traditional ways. And so I think I came into this, seeing that, and knowing that was something there, that perhaps gave me the confidence to push through then the discomfort, because I think the other thing I learned was that it is really uncomfortable and scary at times. and I just learned to like repeatedly challenge myself to be pushed into discomfort, you know, that wherever my sense of where the line is, that's probably heavily influenced by this, in this, societal, biased towards, command and control and, and, and, make a ring presence rather than outcome and all of that. And that I should, I should be feeling uncomfortable. and if I'm not, that's probably a sign we're not going too far. And actually as a leader, I can always pull things back, if they don't. and there's definitely been know plenty of times where we have gone too far and pulled back. and so, yeah, I think that, that, that, expect to be uncomfortable, even embrace that and, you know, let yourself be pushed, perhaps further than it feels comfortable without, without feeling like you're giving up control, I suppose, or, or, you know, ultimately you can still, yeah, you can still roll that back. Yeah.
[Scott] Yeah. It makes perfect sense for a while, at least a year. Now, I've been saying that the circle of remote is now coming back around that it beginning a member. It did 10 years ago. It was the first hired envision. Nope. We were maybe the third or so all remote company at that time, probably behind automatic and base camp. And you can never put in a job description, you know, a nice to have remote work experience because nobody had a remote work experience, but we found that the most successful hires early on were freelancers, right. Someone who sat not an office, didn't have somebody looking over their shoulder and was able to prioritize their time, get stuff done. And they knew how to do these things without having the pressures. And they were the most successful that we had no of the years remote work. And it seems like, again, the entire remote model is moving toward that, whether it's the four day weekend or it's moving towards getting rid of time altogether and ACE and communication and all this stuff like that. So I definitely, no kind of agree with that point and kind of to take it further, the, go off the idea of measurement. Nope. Historically, productivity used to be measured. And I think a lot of cases really faked, by the time that you were in the office or the time that your boss saw you sitting at a desk, and that's certainly going to be replaced by what I like to have is just a simple math question. You have a deliverable plus a timeframe and that equals productivity. And again, I think it's a heart for the future, but why should, and how can more leaders transition their definition of productivity to be actual output versus presence as you've mentioned it?
[Tom] yeah, I think it's, it's, it's actually a fairly deep question, I think, because I think actually what that, what that requires is, quite a revolution in, in leadership and management, right? That, if, as a manager, you are in a position where as long as your team are present, you're succeeding. Like that is also not a definition of success for management or leadership. That is, that is, that is, acceptable. Right? That, that, that, and so, in reality, right, as a leader, you should be accountable for outcomes. and, you know, you, present shouldn't be enough, because that is not leading to those. Yeah. So I think it, I think it requires almost an yeah, an organizational shift towards ownership of outcomes and then transparency of the outputs that are, that are like driving towards those outcomes. And I think the more that you can, the, the, the more that you can spread kind of ownership of those outcomes and that transparency the bad day, you know, that, that, at a minimum leadership need to be clear what the outcomes are, and they need to have visibility of the, of the outputs of everybody. I think much better actually, if everybody, understands what, why outcomes we're driving towards like ultimately even output, is not a great measure, the better measure is outcome even, right. That we're all actually trying to do something. And like, even if you have written loads of code that might look like a lot of output, have we actually achieved the goal is even even more important question. and so, yeah, I think, you know, there are, there are positive stats you can take away from just being present. but I think ultimately that it, Lee, I think that leads ultimately to quite a revolutionary place in terms of, in terms of leadership, or yeah, asks for quite a lot of change, particularly if that's, you know, if that's like not how you've worked as an organization, that's probably quite a large change program to go through. you know, which again, if you're a middle manager or something, again, that's pretty, quite challenging to, to, to, to drive all of that change, you know, just from where you are.
[Scott] Yeah. Interesting. I thinking about that idea.
Have you run into, have you run into that, that kind of, I guess the, the difference between outputs and outcomes, you know, I, I hear a lot of talk about measuring output in, in, in remote work and that that's better than measuring time and, but then a lot of, yeah, a lot of the kind of leadership work we've done is all that, that's all about outcomes, right? Output is not enough. So I wonder whether that's something you've run into and how you've kind of thought about that.
[Tom] I think, just to, like, as you said, I think the output is a great first step know, giving people away from the presence, because again, presence now, I would always argue when I would especially meet founders here in Israel and, you know, I go through this whole idea of remote work and they're fascinated it and they would come like why I need to see my people doing this all day long. So, I mean, if you're in the office for eight hours, who knows four hours are spending on Facebook or YouTube, or what have you. So the fact that they're sitting there on YouTube half the day, that means they're productive. Obviously it doesn't so a much better way to measure that it's actually output, like, what are they putting out at the end of the day, but then I think, yes, as you said, the next generation past that is the outcome now out of a bad output, how much outcome, what positive growth to the company, to the revenue, to whatever the culture is that output happening. and I think it's, it's definitely steps. I probably certainly once say for any company that's been using the presence even now in a remote environment, okay. When you get in the morning, check in on slack, we need to get out of, and the end of the day, check out in slack and have your schedule, your status and all that stuff. Like, please, no, let, let let's move past that. And it's like, take that first step of, okay, let's just focus on the output. Okay. Here's what you need to do by this time. And if you can do that, right, let's get that solidified. Let's become successful at that. And we've gotten away from that mentality of presence. And then hopefully as a next step, we can move on. which I think kind of like that to your point about the impact and the revolution for me, I think this is really the biggest part of where the revolution comes. and I know I've hinted before talking about like the four day work weeks. I know there's lots of companies that are moving towards that I had Natalie from. Wildbit done, even though we didn't talk about that, in this conversation, but if we let's just even going and kind of step number two of changing the definition of productivity from presence to the deliverable, do you think that really means the end of work schedules as we know them? Because again, if it's, Hey, I really need this code. I need this blog post. I need this sale done by Tuesday at four o'clock. And it's crystal clear exactly what you have to deliver and you know, exactly four o'clock, it's four o'clock GMT. It's not four o'clock my time or your time or west coast or something like that. Does that mean for me? I think this the most exciting opportunity does that really fully get us towards like that freelance model and that idea of trust that, okay, Tom, if I need this thing by Thursday at 12 o'clock and today is no Monday, Monday morning, then I probably really don't care what you do between now and Thursday at noon. Right? Because all I care about is Thursday noon that you give me, give me that. And if potentially we do that, I mean, what impact does it have for companies and what, what impact does that potentially have for society as a whole, where getting people to just kind of we'll call it like a free for all, but people have the time to do everything that they want to do instead of being stuck in work between these blocks of time. Yeah.
Yeah. I, I mean, I, I think that's, that's a huge side of the benefits that particularly, I mean, I think both, both the individuals doing the work and the managers who are, who, who, who are managing the work could really benefit from that, right? That as the individual, the benefits of perhaps more obvious you, as long as the request is clear, you can then design how you're going to do it, your environment around it. and you can just, inevitably you're going to do a better job of, of, of designing an environment that is conducive to you delivering that effectively than the company is going to be able to, if they're, if they're providing the same environment from F for everyone. and so, you know, you can, work at the time of day, you know, you're most productive, not the time that the company has decided arbitrarily you can work in the way that, you know, you're most productive. You can stop and go for a run halfway through because, you know, you know, all of that I think is just like, actually has a huge, a huge positive effect. and, you know, it certainly, you're just gaining actually, there's, there's lots of gains in productivity from that. And, you know, I think a lot of people find that in reality, when they stop tracking everyone's time and forcing everybody to just sit at a computer all day, P people's productivity goes up when they do, when they do less, because actually, having it being in an environment that suits your life, you know, make makes you happier and more productive. and so, you know, and like, similarly, I think most leaders it's scary to let go of those things, but actually it's like much better not having to like, constantly check on it all the time and to like work in an environment where you do have that trust, you know, that people are going to deliver because you've got the transparency and because they've, they've done so repeatedly before, that's actually a much, so much more fun place to be as a leader. and so I think, you know, all sides can can gain from that. I do, you know, I think that there is a, I guess just playing that forward, the, like everyone's a freelancer and we're just being very clear with what the requests are. And, and ultimately as long as people are delivering on those requests, they have, you know, flexibility elsewhere. And you, you know, you could imagine taking that even to the extreme, to an end point where, you know, people, if they have got the capability can be doing tasks for more than one company, right. Who cares one, you know, really everyone is just a freelancer, and everyone is, is, is doing the work. And, you know, I think that that model can work in some areas. You know, I think the thing I w I think that misses is, is like the, the opportunity to form a really strong company culture, I suppose, a hundred percent. And so that's something I definitely thought about a lot as we were building human Made and was, tried really hard to make sure that we weren't just a group of freelancers who, who happens to be all working together, that there was more to, more, to the experience of being here than that. and perhaps the, another aspect of that, which I think bears, thinking about as a leader is that that can be, you know, some of the, some of that tracking around presence and, hours worked can have some value on the other side, in terms of like, maybe the requests that you're asking people to deliver are unreasonable. And actually people are having to work 15 as an eight to deliver them. And you don't know, you know, and they dance or something. those kinds of, you know, they come some, there can be some upsides to everyone being in the office and you can see them, you can see if someone's struggling, you, you, you can miss some of those things. and so actually making sure that you do have some tracking and you're taking kind of responsibility for the people, that, that, that are working for you. I think some of that still important on that side, to make sure that yet you've got those protections in place, I suppose.
[Scott] Yeah, the point about the culture, I think really resonates with me. There were, I recorded a couple of episodes that are hopefully coming soon on the topic of asynchronous hiring. it came originally from south hill, from, their podcast. I heard, with him talking about how he's moved towards async hiring, where he, from what I understood from the podcast and what got me was you just doesn't really have the interest to speak with the people synchronously saying, yeah, if you want to speak with me synchronously, no problem book some time in the calendar. But I personally, before he personally preferred not to have it to synchronous interaction, and I felt especially being no longterm remote leaders versus kind of new ones that facing, I think without a doubt, is it hard to the future of where remote work is going and like the long form writing related to deliverables and what you're doing so forth, but when you're doing the async hiring and you're not putting the emphasis on having those relationships in those conversations, right? Most of the people I've ever hired in my life were hired based on the culture fit, was this person that could fit for me, good fit for the team, good fit for the company, because I know I can always upskill their, their work, but potentially like, right. The async, it could be a slippery slope that people maybe without the long-term remote experience can kind of take it the wrong way and say, Hey, yes, maybe as an introvert or maybe as a freelancer, Hey, let's go this model, let's be individual cogs in the machine that have no interaction with each other. We just come in, we do our cask, we leave, we don't have the community. We're not trying to achieve the same mission. We're not trying to no hands and shoulders together having a United front. And I fear for that. And I fear for that for the future of remote, that, as you said, like a core success to any organization, whether remote or not is the culture is the camaraderie. And if we move towards, okay, just I do a job, I kind of not even check in, check out, but I do some tasks and that's like the only interaction I'm afraid of where that may lead. And I don't think it's going to be a good thing.
[Tom] Yeah, it's almost a gig economy kind of, vibe to that or something, you know, where, which you can see that you wouldn't say that Uber drivers feel like they're a part of the Uber company culture, I imagine. Right. And so I can see it. And I, you know, I think that that's probably, that's going to be an appropriate and valid way for some people to want to work for some companies to want to work. but that, that's probably quite different to, yeah. To building that very, well-defined kind of company culture and experience, I suppose, which, which certainly was what we are going for. Yeah.
[Scott] to kind of pivot the conversation back around our focus so far has been kind of leadership down towards the employee, but trust is obviously a two way street. so trust has to be from obviously leaders trusting their employees, but vice versa of employees trusting your leaders. And I've known Nope. When I came across a Human made and we have no conversations before that the culture is very embedded with transparency. And this is kind of the big idea. I know buffer was very big with transparency. No, for many years, that's seemingly kind of hard to that back around, idea of trends of trust. So maybe you can tell us a little bit more about how transparent you are a company is to the employees.
[Tom] yeah, I mean, we're, we're very transparent. you know, I think, we are very transparent in terms of just all the work everybody's doing is as much as possible, done in public. you know, so that is simple things like everybody is in the get hub and sees all of the work that happens with all of the projects. And you're encouraged to, as you are coding, push your work up to be, to be public as much as possible even before it's done. as you're writing things, you know, share things as early as possible, basically, and, and try and like act, work in public as much as possible. all of the conversation in slack is public. Like we really try to default to, to public and transparent in everything, you know, less there is like a really good reason to not sure, you know, usually that's because we're discussing, an individual and they've got, you know, then you run into, I think, transparency to like individual privacy rights. and so we are with all of the company's financials are transparent internally. We're really transparent about those, you know, I think for us, the F ha the factors that led us here, I think in the first instance, because you are trusting everybody and because people are on other sides of the world, B just, just, just having everything be in the open, it's like a lot easier, then you can, everyone just can see everything. You have to spend less time reporting because the thing itself is visible. so I think a lot of it was just like, it was more efficient to begin with more efficient, to just all have access to everything and tools, see everything. and, that w w w you know, that I think is still, is still true today. I think also, you know, as your growing and you're delegating, decision-making people ultimately need access to the information. They need to be able to make the decision. And especially in, like, if you distributed across lots of times zones, the latency that, that, that, that can add into things like decision-making, if, if someone's got to go and check, you know, they can't see the financials because they need to go and ask the head of finance for that. And there's a 24 hour turn around on asking that person a question because on the inside of the world. And so again, there's like a, just a, it's, it's more efficient, you know, and it gives people access, like they should have access to everything they need in order to make the decisions they've got to make during the day. And I really approached that transparency from, from that perspective. you know, I think typically even now when people join, they are shocked by the level of transparency internally. it has some obvious downsides it's overwhelming, you know, there is an overwhelming amount of information, and it can take time to figure out, what's relevant to me and what's not, you know, and so I think that's one of the downsides, another perhaps interesting one, particularly from the employee's point of view, w w which you kind of frame this question from is that, we trust is kind of continuously reinforced by beat by working in the open. Yeah. Certainly within Cuban made, that's how you, demonstrate, that you're trustworthy. and for some people coming in that can feel a little bit like they're constantly having to prove, you know, the concept to show everything they're doing just that people are, and it takes take a while for us to kind of, you know, I think people get used to that and to become comfortable with it and kind of understand the, the subtle cultural difference there. It's not that everyone's constantly checking everything. it, you know, it's just that, we work in the open, we work in the open as much as possible, and trust is like a natural byproduct of that.
I think, That's a fantastic point. of that idea of somebody coming in, who didn't come from that type of culture, who comes in and it's very know, play the cards close to the chest, and you don't have that confidence of, if I share something, maybe it's going to be taken the wrong way. Maybe it's going to be taken, maybe it's going to be put down on and having to go through that process of getting over it and understanding, okay, this is for the benefit of everybody. and by me sharing that allows people to understand what I'm doing and allows people to give me honest feedback. It allows me to get better because by me getting in that process of sharing that openness, I really like that. I said, it's an interesting point. I wasn't thinking about, of how somebody new, that doesn't come from that culture, how, how that transition looks like, anything that you would think with it, or that you have in your organization that shouldn't be shared, obviously if it's something like personal, if you need to give someone constructive feedback, obviously that's no, I think a no brainer, but is there anything, cause I remember like buffer again, they were very transparent publicly about everyone's salaries and they kind of, you know, had a bit of, no unhappiness about that. anything you think is like off, off limits that you just shouldn't be sharing.
Yeah. We don't, we, you know, individual salaries are not transparency internally, although, the, you know, the, the, the system we use to, to, to set salaries, it is transparent, but, but, but in individual people's pay isn't, I think we've just not mostly, we've just not seen great, a great reason to do so. And, and, you know, particularly I think culturally, that's very on, that would be very unusual in quite a lot of parts, you know, a lot, a lot of the world. and so, I think being aware we're very culturally diverse and a very spread out, you know, we're, we're, we're not like a, you, a remote company. That's mostly, US-based, we're really very, very spread out. And so yeah, that, that that's felt like, you know, a step that we've not, not taken yet. I'm not sure whether we necessarily have a will. other than that, yeah. I mean, anything to do with kind of individual performance, performance improvement plans, that's again, that's another, yeah. W w area of, of, well, where we don't have as much transparency and it, you know, it's one of the challenges, I think when you are so transparent, it's like anything that's not transparent, really sticks out. And the interaction between, you know, between this transparent world and the, the rest of the company, which is very open, can be challenging. So, we run into that perhaps another, a third one, which, we're facing more now, actually that we're building out a, Altis, this, this platform, is really around, I guess, kind of security, privacy, principles, a lot of which come from the perspective of like, you only have access to things you need. and so that's been an interesting, that's been playing out kind of interest in internally for us that like in the beginning, we actually, we would have just given everybody access to every tool, to all of the code across all of our client projects, because they can learn from that they can learn from each other, they can see what's happening and cross-pollinate ideas, as we're, you know, as we're now, yeah, I think, I think, I think just even the perceptions are, and, and, the kind of shift we're seeing and kind of, even in, in like people's privacy expectations and things, I think some of that starting to shift, and we're now starting to see actually we really should only be sharing, you know, some of these things, we should be respecting either the client's privacy or the users of that software. You know, for example, if one of our clients has a database, with a million, users in it, I think, you know, five years ago that database would have just been, it would have just been internally, access now that that definitely wouldn't be the character that we would be. and so, yeah, I think that there, again, there's an interesting kind of security and privacy considerations. it's not just as simple as like, give everybody a super admin account on everything, you know, anymore at least. Yeah.
[Scott] Interesting perspective For the private security piece. we talked about transparency. I came across your employee handbook maybe about six weeks ago, which is obviously publicly available. I'm not working at the company who was able to with the track it down. fantastic things in there. talking about things like reimbursing employees for expenses that are occurred when one wanting to try to meet up in a work with, another employee, things around like mental health programs and so much more, why do you think, is it so important that this com this company information be available to the world? Obviously the employee is okay, but to the employees, I mean, to the world itself. Yeah. And maybe kind of a secondary point, what are maybe your three favorite items from the handbook?
[Tom] Okay. yeah, I mean, I think we have just had, there's been some really great benefits from having that be public. I think too, you know, to begin with it just felt natural. You know, one of our values is this like work in the open, again, coming from open source where you just share a lot of what you do publicly in case it's helpful. and so I think it was formed from those kinds of values that we already had in play. I think in practice, we've seen two huge advantages. Like one is, the amount that people who are perhaps interested in working at Human Made, self serve, before they apply people, arrive for a job interview, a made, like knowing everything about how we work, already, and that, enables them to answer a lot of questions. It also, is often referenced as being like a significant factor in them deciding to, to apply the, it gave them an insight into what it must be like here. what our culture must be like, it kind of backs up, perhaps some of the things we're saying in, in some of our more marketing speak and makes that, kind of evidences that, it's harder to fake, I suppose, that, you know, and, so yeah, I think it's like, done, been really important for us actually, in terms of just selling what it must be like to be you were made, which is very valuable given how, competitive it is in terms of hiring, particularly these days. the, the other, area that it's been really helpful is just like, people will constantly send us, improvements to it. You know, people will read it, maybe they'll copy some of it into their company handbook, and then over time they'll run into limitations of the approach and they'll send those, you know, they'll make changes and send those back. So we'd like benefited from kind of crowdsourcing how to improve, you know, a bunch of those, policies, or whatnot. which, yeah, that's been really nice. Like I just, I love seeing that love, love seeing even just typos nature, you know, that's really helpful. yeah, almost to some degree the benefits that, you know, the benefits we would, tell people internally that they will get if they work in the open. I think we've those, you know, from a handbook. Okay. All three of our fate, my favorite things that you were actually undergoing, like a pretty large, redo, I guess, of, of the handbook where we're rebuilding, rebuilding it from the ground up. And re-evaluating a lot of the content in there and ending in scope to kind of be more of a complete company playbook, perhaps taking quite a lot of inspiration from get lab actually, who I think just, you know, they're the people I look up. So when it comes to a public company handbook, and so, mostly my mind is in all the ways that the handbook needs to be better. so I guess I'll just prefacing with that. The, I think things that stand out for me, like, I think our, maternity, paternity, policies have always been, they're often referenced, you know, as, as really standing out to people where, when they join them were particularly generous, in those areas, probably quite heavily informed by the fact that we're, have come from Europe, kind of culturally as a company. that's an area, I think the remote, the remote work allowance, I really liked just from the point that you just, from my kind of point of view of like trust, you know, trusting people to just make all of the decisions around that. And, you know, just saying, we want, we want you to have a remote work experience that like agile has the edges smoothed off, you know? And, and so, you should just use this money to do that way. Would that means getting better internet at home, or, work. Yeah. You need to go and work from the coffee shop every afternoon, every Wednesday afternoon, because the kids are off school or something like what, what, just, whatever it is, there's going to be a million versions of that. you know, we trust, so yeah, I like that. third one, No pressure, No pressure. I think what I think, and this is an area I think we, we, I, I want us, we could go much further, but, I think, like being clear about kind of company values and, some of the kind of more philosophical underpinnings of things like our openness and our transparency and our, and how we communicate. I think we have some of that in there. And actually, I I'm often surprised how much that is referenced when people join us as being important to them. Cause I think it could go way further. but yeah, quite, you know, quite a lot of this stuff, like you'd said earlier with the outputs and then outcomes, there is like a practical step, but then there is a, there's a larger kind of more Mindshift level step beyond that. I'd love for us to get more of that in there. I know being A mentor, what jumped out to you when you discovered it a few weeks ago? Yeah.
[Scott] I think the things you mentioned into the one that I mentioned about paying, and this is something that I've, I've mentored probably about a thousand early-stage companies over the years and a whole bunch of remote ones, especially the past few years. And especially when we talk about arguments, office and hybrid and different things like that. I said, well, good, well, you need to redesign the way you create interactions because everything has to be, created. It's not gonna happen by itself, has to, everything has to be intentional. So if everyone didn't happen to live in the Paris Paris region. So instead of having an office where everyone comes three days a week, or whatever it is, do we to rent a Villa once a month where you get together, have everyone there, that's kind of like your kickoff, flattened, whiteboarding barbecues, and chefs and the pool and things, and have like the team reactions or the thing that I really like is that idea of, Hey, again, I've lived here in Israel and maybe there's someone that lives in closer to Tel Aviv. And I want to meet that person. You'll pay for me for the expense of the Buster, trained to go into Tel Aviv, to go work with that person, maybe to go to lunch, like again, not saying, Hey, this is only going to happen by having an office three days a week or by hybrid, but really thinking, okay, how do we incentivize and how do we create this little interaction? So if you live in a city or somewhere close to somebody that will pay for you to go meet them and go work with them for the day, this is something that I had spoken about for years that I think is a fantastic thing to do. cause I think that really jumped out at me probably more than anything else. but I, I love the idea. I mean, I'm in currently, I guess in, in job search mode myself and I usually put my mentor hat on and when I have these conversations and one of the points, it's the worst question that should never ever happen again. It's what, what salary range are you expecting everyone to tell that too? I said, I'm putting my mentor hat on. I said, if this conversation goes no further, that's fine. Every job description should have the salary range in there right up front. I mean, that should be included. But beyond that, it's also, and then you have, oh no, and a great culture. And we do like this, but what does that culture look like? I mean, every one of the interview rounds I go through, from your perspective at your level, tell me about your culture. So having that handbook is exactly what you've said. It really gives me that flavor. It gives me that, okay. If I have, if I have a child in my getting time off, am I getting equal time off? What's that looking like if I want to meet up or if I want to have, no mental health and my mental health for me means going for a run. So it's not, you're going to give me no money to be able to buy running sneakers every couple of months and to get her Strava account and really give a sense, okay, this is what life is. And this is what culture actually means here versus just putting on a job description. Oh yeah. Fantastic culture and this and that. You can actually see what the company lives by and what the ethics of the company is. So I, I absolutely love it. Nice, nice. Thanks. yeah, a couple more questions. you wouldn't shootings. I actually also liked, and I would love there maybe dig into this and if we have the time, it's you encourage the people who leave your company to share that transparency, why they're leaving, assuming they're leaving, not because they're being forced out, but they're leaving maybe for promotion or for what, what have you, what has been some of the feedback that you've gotten of, why people are leaving and what have you done to implement that feedback, to improve things for everybody else and people that come in in the future?
[Tom] Great question. you know, that's a good example. I think actually if something where, you know, that pushes pushed me as a leader into a place of discomfort, but was, was really required of me if, if we were going to live, I think up to the values that, that, that, that we espouse, and that we hold everybody to, you know, ultimately people are leaving or leaving for a reason and we work in the open and part of my role is to create an environment that people, want to work in, and are going to thrive in. and so when that hasn't been the case, you know, I want to do the work in the open. I want to work in the open, you know, even there. and so, yeah, we, we, you know, we urge people to, to, to, to share, you know, they just write internally, we have like an internal, blog network, quite similar to automatics P two. if, if listeners have heard others talk of that, it it's really the, the kind of source of truth, I guess, for everything that's going on. and so people are encouraged to write their own, write their own posts in there, and, you know, they don't need to get those signed off by a manager or something first. the pans that come up, like, I think that the, a big one for us has been, as we've shifted from being a pure agency to also having a product, you know, that's kind of shifted the, the vision of the company to some degree. And so, you know, being really transparent about this is what we're trying to do here. I think allows people in kind of a non, contentious way of possible allows people to decide whether that's something they, they are motivated to be a part of or, you know, or not, especially like as a young company, often you don't have that stuff very well worked out yet, or, or very well communicated. And so actually people's idea of what they think it is that you're doing, you know, it might, there might be lots of different ideas. and, as you mature as a company, you probably are going to, settle in on like one clear direction, or a couple of clear directions. and so I think you, you know, you should expect, and we certainly have seen, you know, that some people that clarifies to some people at that's actually not something that they want to do. so I think that's, you know, that's kind of scary, but also, like, I think you would have to get yourself to a place where that's, that's also totally fine and reasonable. you know, I think like, you know, we, the, the most useful and perhaps toughest feedback has, is, is when it's around leadership. you know, I think that is the, that's the, and particularly, I'd say about 12 months ago, maybe 18 months ago. you know, I think we had grown to a place where at the kind of leadership team that we had in place was needed to level up. and we were seeing that reflected, you know, in some of this feedback. and so that was, again kind of, I guess, another value of just having that all happen transparently transparently is then like the work that I'm doing, the work we're doing as a leadership team, we can really concretely tie to these things and then demonstrate progress. And again, that kind of demonstrates, that, that, that van is really authentic and, and kind of creates trust. and so, you know, we've definitely seen Ram with, with the pandemic and just like, you know, a lot of it's got a lot of people evaluating their lives. you know, and, so we've, we've had a bunch of people who have just like had great opportunities come up or decided on a change in direction. you know, those have been, just, just great to see, you know, and, you know, not, not, not so much for us to take from that other than be happy for people there, going on something that's ultimately going to make them happier. Definitely.
[Scott] last question I have for you and for people like us leaders, school leaders were listening to this episode who are now inspired and fired up and charged to make the changes within their organization. And looking to now go in and dive deep into transparency. You have a couple of maybe a few recommendations of things that these companies and these leaders can do to add in some transparency within the, within their companies.
[Tom] I think one of the easiest things is to just start sharing up, you know, updates, like one of the, one of the earliest things we did is we asked everyone in the company to share an update every week, a weekly update, we called it. And it was a, it was an opportunity to talk about what you'd done that week, how, what that had been like, you know, what your experience bring a bit of your personal self into that, a bit of vulnerability. I think a lot of, a lot of that, the level to which you bring in your whole self to work and being vulnerable, that's a big part of transparency. and so I think that's actually can be quite particularly that I think if there's like a cultural shift that needs to happen, then, I think that can be quite a powerful thing to start doing as a leader is to start carrying those updates and encouraging others around you to share those updates. cause that will just start to get people comfortable with sharing. and it gives someone like one place where they could just put everything. and then I think you can build on that then with the more practical steps to transparency or just starting to work, you know, work out well, where's that the work happening? How can we, bring transparency to that work? How w how can we make it so that, that work is happening in the open, whether that's, encouraging people to demo that stuff more, or, opening up systems or tools to, to anybody who's interested. you know, one of the things that we really try to do is, as leaders we're, through our kind of updates and communications, giving people a clear overview of what's happening with it with a narrative as to why that's happening and how that connects, where we're going and how the progress we're making towards our goals. and so, you've got that kind of summary level view. but if you want to, you can click into any of those and you can click into, oh, we we've just launched this new, release of Altus, and that helps us work towards this goal, but I can click in at release and I can see, I can read the tickets where we discuss, which features we're going to go in. I can jump to the recording of the call, where it was decided that we wouldn't ship this feature. And so anyone who wants to like dig down, they can, self-served some degree they can self-service and work that out for themselves. and, but they're not just being provided that we're not just saying here's the keys to everything have at it, you know, that's too much, it's overwhelming, there's no context, you know, that's when people are looking at your financials and they don't understand them, they're worrying or, you know, or, or they're seeing things that don't make sense. and so I think it's really important to be providing that context and that summary, but then yeah, allowing people to drill in if, if they want to. and of course for most people, they weren't there. They were just happy to read the summary. but for some, it will be really useful to be able to, and it's, even if people aren't, I think it's still, it's still really good to just kind of hold yourself to account, to work in the open and have everything transparent, you know? anyway, I love it That I really loved.
[Scott] I really resonate with the point about explaining the why, very much will be beaver in all the things you do. You have to explain that why, whether it's up to up the chain or down the chain of, Hey, we've made this change in here, how this is why and how it impacts the company impacts your team impacts you directly. And you really, as an individual get to understand, okay, what does it really mean for me, or how does it really affect me? So I really love that point.
We need to get, you know, I still think we can make progress on that. We're very transparent in the detail. and we still mistake sometimes that that is not enough that the detail giving everybody access to, to every spreadsheet, doesn't explain our financial strategies for example, and that we need to, we need to also be doing that.
[Scott] yeah, a cognizant on time. obviously we want to thank you, for, for the time and amazing insights that you shared for people who are listening, who want to get ahold of you find out more about you find more about you and made, I'm obviously going to include the, the employee handbook in the show notes related, but what's the best way to get ahold of you get ahold of the company and find out more.
[Tom] Yeah, I mean, I think two ways we want to find out about the company, the handbooks, a great place to start. I mean, I particularly love hearing from people about that. So if you, if you do have look at, have a look at that off the back of listening to this podcast and have thoughts or feedback, I'd love to receive those. you can also just check out HumanMade.com, to find out more about the company itself, and then find me on Twitter. at Tom Willmot, which has, yeah, feel free to, to reach out there. My DMS are open to anybody. So, again, I love, love hearing from people, especially if you're trying out remote, like it's, there's a lot of steps. There's a lot scary steps. So, I love like helping people out and sharing what's worked for us. And, something I'm really excited about, I think is that, perhaps which I'll, I'll, I'll just end on there is that this, this with so many companies now are trying out remote in all the various ways. They are like, I think there's just going to be a Cambrian explosion of innovation and remote. and that's like for someone who's been doing remote for so long and like often running into the, the ways in which that doesn't really fit with the rest of the world, that's really exciting. Like I'm really excited to see now, all of the stuff we're doing, but, you know, quickly become out of date because actually there's so much more innovation I think, going to be happening. and so, yeah, also if you are just getting started, don't feel like it's all been worked out yet. You know, don't feel like you're behind. we're, we're, we're still right at the beginning. I think.
[Scott] So, Tom, thank you so much again for joining us today and until the next episode, everybody have a great.