episode 101 cover art how to build a fun vibrant remote work culture

I’m excited to be chatting with Matt Blizek in this episode. We discuss what makes a fun, vibrant remote work culture and how to create this environment.

Matt has been designing and implementing organizing and training programs for over 20 years for progressive organizations and campaigns. He has been working remotely consistently since 2012 and was an early evangelist of the benefits of remote work. He believes that the remote work revolution taking place today has the potential to create more equitable, fun, and productive workplaces for workers across the world. He’s traveled to over 25 countries and usually splits his time between Iowa, Chicago, and Puerto Rico. You can follow him at mattblizek on Twitter and Instagram or mblizek on LinkedIn.

He’s going to be launching a new remote management training course. So if you’re a manager, you should visit his site at flipthescript.io/epic-remote-work to learn more about the training for managers in remote work environments and to sign up if you’re interested in this program.

We recorded this episode on Jan 21, 2022.

The key thing that makes a quality remote work culture, and what makes it fun, is fully embracing it and being remote first.

Matt Blizek

Your Challenge Invitation

First, get out of your space. This could mean getting out of your house, even if it’s just going for a walk once a day. This kind of movement supports having a better mental headspace than if you’re just stuck and confined inside all day.

Second, look for other hobbies or passions. Is there a local club or something that you can join? If you’re interested in something, find an online or in-person community where you can meet other people who share your interests. Being part of a community with people is going to help you feel more centered and more fulfilled.

Three, think about who were your good friends in the past few years that you haven’t had a conversation with recently. Are you interested in rekindling any of those old relationships? If so, reach out to one person from that list and set up a recurring check-in, conversation, or other activity with them.

You can connect with Damianne on the Changes BIG and small website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You’re also invited to join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community.

You just got to get better at communicating that and giving feedback and giving support along the way and less about just worrying about attendance.

Timeline of the Chat

[01:27] Defining the Terms
[06:28] Concerns About Remote Work
[11:30] A Fun Check-in Question
[13:05] How Remote work can Create More Fun Workspaces
[17:36] Defining a Strong, Vibrant Remote Work Culture
[21:08] How to Build Team Culture in Remote Work Environments
[25:35] The Importance of Setting and Communicating Expectations
[26:54] The Importance of Close Relationships with Coworkers
[30:43] Key Relationships in Remote Work Environments
[33:23] Making Friends in New Environments
[34:33] Invitation/Challenge from Matt
[35:48] Why You Should Say Yes to Invitations
[37:54] Training for Remote Managers
[40:17] Book Recommendation

Vibrant remote work culture is going to have employees that are really engaged and fulfilled.

A good, quality remote work setting is far better than forcing people to work together in person.

Transcript of the Episode

[01:27] Defining the Terms

[01:27] Damianne President: There are a few different terms that kind of float around nowadays. And so there is the whole idea of distributed workspaces versus remote workspaces. Do you distinguish between those two terms or are they pretty much the same to you?

[01:38] Matt Blizek: Yeah. It’s a great, a great question. Cause you’re absolutely right. Like what is remote? What is hybrid? What has worked from home? I tend to use the word remote instead of work from home, just because, you know, one thing that I’ve learned, I don’t always work well from home. Sometimes I can do work at home, but sometimes I want to work from, you know, a cafe down the street, or sometimes I want to rent out a coworking space and work with some other folks. Maybe they’re not from my organization, but you know, they share the same space with me. This gets some physical interaction.

 I think distributed to me, I’ve seen people use the term distributed, but distributed hybrid, which to me just seems contradictory. For me, when I think distributed, I think very much geographically spread out, kind of across, if not the entire world, at least like the entire country. I think that a distributed workforce, that’s one of the other, just massive advantages, obviously, for remote work. And I think that’s why companies and organizations are going to end up embracing that. And if not by choice, then eventually there’ll be forced to if they want to be able to recruit the most talented people, that’s what people are going to want. And you want to be able to recruit from an entire national audience instead of just people that live within commuting distance of whoever your office is.

And for me, remote is, just any, any workspace that is, you know, there’s the term metaverse now, right? Which I think is going to ultimately take over remote. But I think if you want to broadly count metaverse as Slack and Zoom and email, then fine. But for me remote means we do all of our work through the computer, through digital. We still get together, but it’s for mainly for team building purposes and that’s not our default kind of mode of communication. That’s usually how I think about it.

[03:20] Damianne President: I really hope that the metaverse is more than Zoom, Teams, Slack, and those things. Like if that is it…Yeah.

[03:29] Matt Blizek: Yeah.

Yeah. I’ve tried some VR headsets and they, it’s hard to imagine working a full day in some sort of virtual reality like that. There’s one new thing I did just try out this gathered, gathered.town and it’s more of like, kind of like an old school video game, like where you’re kind of looking top down and you’ve got a little character and there’s a whole office and you can go around. And once you get close to another character, you start talking to them and it just pops up a little video screen and you can talk. It’s kind of cheesy a little bit, but we were playing around with it and it does add a little bit, just like you’re sharing a physical space, or you’re sharing a space a digital space now, but it’s a defined space with other people and you can kind of eavesdrop on conversations and hear background chatter, and some of those little things that, you know, that you mess from the office, or maybe that you didn’t know that you miss, but you still kinda missed.

[04:18] Damianne President: I think it’s really interesting because I did attend one of those workshops or sessions for meet and greets for podcasters one time a few months ago. And I don’t know, I don’t remember what the app was, but it was one of those apps where you walk around and do you happen across people and you strike up a conversation. It was a little bit buggy, but it was the same concept as what you’re talking about. And it was interesting because everybody was just kind of like, what is this? You mean somebody is not going to introduce the activity and welcome us. And we were all just kind of laughing because we were like sure, put a bunch of podcasters who are used to talking to people all the time in a room, and probably a bunch of us are introverts and then see what happens. We all look for people that we already know. So that was a little bit funny. But anyway.

I work for Automattic, which is a remote-first, distributed organization. And I’ve been. Kind of processing some of what you were saying about what it means to be remote and what kind of culture shifts are necessary in order for remote to be successful, and kind of filtering it through, okay, what do we do well, and I think it’s very interesting when we look at organizations and the conversation that’s happening now about remote work too, is who can participate in this? Like, what are the industries? What are the jobs? What are the fields? What levels of an organization are able to participate in this.

So for example, I’m in customer support in IT. And so customer support tends to be an area where we want to provide all the time support. That puts a different level of flexibility if you want to balance between the needs of customers or users, and then the needs of employees. Navigating that tension can be a little bit of a struggle for companies in terms of deciding how to build that schedule and what needs to be fixed and what can be a bit more flexible.

[06:22] Matt Blizek: Yeah, and how to do so in a way that feels fair to all the employees and it feels equitable to them.

[06:28] Concerns About Remote Work

[06:28] Matt Blizek: One big concern I have about the kind of explosion in remote work now is that it is at the risk, I think, of becoming very stratified. This question of who gets to work from home or who gets to work remotely versus who has to work in an office. And obviously, it already is still stratified cause there are lots and lots of jobs, obviously, that just can’t be done remote, if you’re doing manual labor or if you’re doing food service. Anything like that, obviously it’s not going to be eligible for this.

But I think even within information jobs and office jobs, there’s an emerging kind of stratification where I think people that are on the higher end of their careers, people that have more marketable skills are more in demand. They are all working remotely because they basically can. They’re at that point in their career where they say, Hey, I’m working remote. I’m only going to work with places that are remote and they’re the ones, you know, really making it happen, whereas a lot more entry-level office workers really don’t have that option at all.

If you’re doing more entry type things or customer service calls, government employees, especially is the massive kind of bureaucracy of government employees, almost all of them have been forced to come back in to work in offices, every, you know, municipal buildings, county seats, all of that. I think that is in the long run, going to be a big, big problem going forward of just, again, who gets to have this kind of new perk of being able to control their own time, and who still has to commute two hours every day and like put up with all the indignity of working under fluorescent lights from a cubicle.

 As I said, one of the worst, worst ways you can do a hybrid setup is to have it where like, just anybody can do what they want, because what happens then some people choose to work remotely and other people, maybe they feel like, well, I want to work remotely, but the boss is in the office, and if I’m not getting FaceTime with the boss or the manager, then I’m going to be left over for promotions; I’m not gonna be able to get as good a performance reviews. So I feel like I have to work in the office. So there’s that kind of tension again, that gets built.

That’s why I say it’s the best thing organizations can do is just say, Hey, we’re remote first. We’re going to change our culture for it and kind of break out of everything really happens in andrevolves around the office, that physical space. And instead, everything kind of revolves around the virtual space and people can enjoy the physical space that they want, but that’s not the, that’s not the necessary thing. That’s not the focal point of it all.

[08:50] Damianne President: That is something that comes up a lot in terms of people being concerned that if they not bumping into somebody in the office, they might not get an opportunity that they would otherwise get. And I guess the same thing may come up in startups where. Oh, a lot of the reason why some people like working in startups is you notice something needs doing, you do it, you get that experience. You’re able to have a much wider portfolio of things that you’re competent with, or even have exposure to in a startup.

 Do you lose some of that when you go remote? I think you don’t have to, and I think you would agree that you don’t have to. So what I thought, some of the culture changes that are needed in order to ensure people still have opportunities for growth and variety of experiences and all of those things that we value from being able to be in the same space with each

[09:40] Matt Blizek: Absolutely. I think the key word here, this is a word that you hear a lot from folks that have done, remote work successfully is his intention. It just takes intention. You have to put forth like an intentional effort to try to do things that happen just incidentally in an office place. You can just incidentally bump into somebody or, you know, just happen to have like a fun conversation about something not related to work with some of your other colleagues by the water cooler or whatever, right?

These kind of incidental things happen too spontaneously at an office place. They won’t happen that way in a virtual space, but you can recreate them with some intention. You can recreate new systems that are going to recreate some of those opportunities.

So a few examples of that, the places that I’ve worked, some places will have just like random, like coffee. We’re just like, you can just program a thing and two people randomly are like matched up and it’s like, Hey, get together, have a 30-minute chat about whatever. Just get to know each other. You’re just randomly paired up with somebody from not your team. You can go and do that. One of the other things that I’ve found, that’s a really a simple thing, but really makes a big impact is just taking time at the beginning of every meeting, just take five minutes or even 10 to check in and have some questions that’s not about work, that’s not about anything else that gives people an opportunity just to chat and get to know each other, about something that’s not work-related because what that’s doing is that’s creating trust. That’s building emotional trust between people when I’m getting to know, you know, how my coworker’s son is playing in his baseball league over the weekend or whatever. And they get to hear what the awesome wave that I caught surfing, right? We’re just by exchanging that information, we’re building trust with each other, and then therefore we’re going to be better coworkers.

But again, it’s a process that you’ve got to think about and then build, build over kind of a recurring system for it, and just make sure that everybody kind of has bought into that process going forward.

[11:30] A Fun Check-in Question

[11:30] Damianne President: Speaking about check-ins, I have a question for you, Matt? Would you prefer to be fluorescent green and only be fluorescent at night, or would you prefer to have a one-meter tail?

[11:43] Matt Blizek: Oh, wow. Hm. I think I would go with the tail, actually. I could see, you know, the tail, it might stand out a little bit. I mean, being fluorescent green would also stand out, so I’m going to stand out either way. I think the tail would be more functional than being fluorescent green. So I definitely, definitely would go for the tail, but that’s a great check-in question. That’s like the perfect type of thing that you want to talk about before the meeting starts, I think.

[12:07] Damianne President: Here’s a free question for your listeners, because that was one of the questions that we discussed in one of the recent team meetings at my workplace. I thought it was kind of a fun one.

[12:18] Matt Blizek: Wait, did more people pick the tail or did more people pick the fluorescent green.

[12:21] Damianne President: It’s interesting because I switched it a little bit. In the original version of the question, it’s glow at night, not be fluorescent green, and some people were really concerned about the fact that it would affect their sleep if they were glowing at night and then some people just wanted to be able to hide in the day, which you can’t really hide a tail, so they prefer to be glow in the dark. It was really mixed. It was interesting what people would focus on. For me, I wanted to know how glow in the dark are you at night? Is it like seeing those ceiling stars that have a lovely glow, is it like a bright light, 6000K glow? 

[13:05] How Remote work can Create More Fun Workspaces

[13:05] Damianne President: How do you envision remote work creating more fun workspaces.

[13:09] Matt Blizek: I think there’s a lot of ways for that. I think, first and foremost, an organization that really embraces remote work first, and I think that’s an important distinction. I think what has been happening a lot is everyone was working remotely during the pandemic, except they really weren’t.

 I’ll borrow this line from a really good book that recently came out called Out of Office that was just really all about remote work, but one of the great lines that sits with me from that book is you weren’t working at home in the pandemic, you were laboring in confinement and under duress for most of that time. Like it wasn’t fun.

It was incredibly stressful and obviously with everything else going on in the world, just adding to all of the stress. And I think a lot of people because of that just really overworked themselves, which is a really common thing that can happen when people start working remotely for the first time.

You don’t know where you’re kind of setting your own, your own boundaries. And from the organization’s point of view, from a corporation’s point of view, if they can get you to work more than, Hey, great, like we want you to work more. But that’s definitely not fun, right. For me, myself, I’m lucky enough to have worked in all real remote work environment for most of the last 10 years at a few different organizations, but that all kind of had the similar style. And I think that the key thing that makes a quality remote work culture and what makes it fun, is fully embracing it and being remote first, and not being office first. And I think a lot of places they went remote, but they’re still relating to each other like they would back in the office. They didn’t make any of the other bigger culture changes. And if they’re going now hybrid, like a lot of organizations, they’re really insisting on getting people in for some of the time hybrid, that can often oftentimes be the worst of both worlds because while you do get some more human to human connection, now people have to relate to each other in two totally different ways, one that’s in this virtual space that we’re building that’s, you know, on Zoom and Slack and any other number of kind of software or project management tools, and then also interacting face to face and in a physical environment, which is a whole different skill set, a whole different kind of mode of communicating for folks. That tends to be really challenging. And then you get people that are working remotely all the time, and some people working face-to-face all the time. And that creates really, you know, bad hierarchies in organizations as well, too. So I think the first real key is really embrace being remote work first and you can still have people get together. That’s actually really, really essential and really important, but staff to get together when there’s a purpose for it, either for like a specific team building retreat or to sprint on a specific project, something like that. Not just getting everyone together because it’s it’s Thursday and we, you know, we work in person on Thursday, which is what a lot of organizations, I think.

But what can be really fun in a really good remote workplace, I think there’s a few things. First is like having a full, like flexible schedule where everyone really working can really control their own time and have that really built into the culture, so that if, you know, if I have a couple hours between calls or projects, I can run to the grocery store or I can go to the gym, or I can go and pick my kids up from school and I don’t have to feel bad about that. I don’t have to like, you know, message five people at work and be like, Hey, is it okay if I like to step out and do this?

It’s fine. I control my time. I know I have these deliverables that people are expecting, but I can easily do both of these things. That definitely adds to a lot of the fun for it. And I think that’s the biggest thing that people now have like tasted a little bit in the last year and a half and don’t want to give up. They don’t want to give up that kind of control that they’ve got over their own lives. And then I think the other final thing is creating an alternative culture than the kind of monocultures that usually exist in our office spaces.

Most office spaces are like, the culture that’s kind of built there is almost entirely designed by white men that are older, usually, and have like certain kind of rigid ways, what’s professional, what people are supposed to dress like, how people are supposed to talk or behave. All of that is somewhat constricting, particularly to work as a power and to women in the office space. So being able to like jettison and that old culture and create new cultures that are much more inclusive and allow people to really bring their whole selves to work, that to me is what I’ve seen in really great work environments. And that’s what I’m working to try to do now and try to bring some of those best practices to anywhere.

Cause I truly believe that when done right, a good, quality remote work setting is far better than forcing people to work together in person. 

[17:36] Defining a Strong, Vibrant Remote Work Culture

[17:36] Damianne President: So one of the things that you mentioned is that with just a bit of effort and intention, any team can have a strong, vibrant work culture that’s a hundred percent remote. What stood out for me from that statement was how do you define a strong, vibrant culture? So can you paint a picture for me?

[17:54] Matt Blizek: Yeah, absolutely. I think a good, strong, vibrant remote work culture is going to have employees that are really engaged and fulfilled. They’re going to enjoy the work that they do and the job that they have, because they are going to have more flexibility in their life. They’re going to be hopefully managed better.

When you are, again, able to the escape some of the trappings of the old monocultures of the office, it allows you to create new traditions, new cultures in your work, some of which again are going to be all remote. So that might be simple things like, you know, on Fridays we do an appreciation thread where everybody can go in and say they appreciate something that somebody else from work did that week. I think those types of practices, again, where people are celebrating each other are really great.

And then I think having a culture of really honesty and transparency is one of the other really important things in remote work. In an office space, oftentimes, information or knowledge decisions tend to bottleneck with certain individual people; that’s a lot harder to do again, remotely. It seems like nothing’s happening.

So a good remote team is going to have transparency when decisions are made, they’re going to be communicated clearly with everyone on the team. They’ll have open door policies. So if somebody wants to meet with somebody a few levels up from them in the bureaucracy, they’re able to do that.

The other kind of key thing I think about remote work in addition to intention, is being explicit. Things are explicit and things are documented clearly and written down. So that’s true of basic work policies and things, but it’s also true of processes, so like how jobs are supposed to be done. Have that clearly written down so anybody can go to it and they don’t have to go to their manager, the one person in the corner office who knows how this one piece of the work gets done.

And then finally, also this documentation of meetings and calls, like having open note docs where anybody can go and see what was discussed at this meeting and what was decided. That kind of transparency, I think, is really essential because again, it makes people feel like they’re, really bought in. That kind of engagement and fulfillment, I think, tends to make really positive, strong, vibrant workplaces.

And then I guess the last thing that I’ll say, and I’ve mentioned some before, and this has obviously been made harder with COVID, but it really does help to get folks together in person, for some periods of time. But I think that the way you need to think about those are like exceptions. And when you do schedule that in person time, it really is about building trust, building the team, building a team culture, and you’re not getting together to do work, because you’re going to do work better when you’re working distributed or remotely. But you can really use that face to face time just to build the team connections and team culture. That’s going to make everyone work stronger when you get back into the all remote setting.

So those are some of the thing that I would see and then obviously, as I said, good management, managers that feel empowered to be good remote managers and have got that kind of support and training they need.

[20:43] Damianne President: Yeah, and I definitely have experienced this because we would meet every year for a whole company meet up and then we would meet once a year or so for a team meetup and we haven’t been able to do that. We’re doing some things virtually, but I don’t get excited about virtual team meetups in the same way that I get excited in-person meetups. 

[21:08] How to Build Team Culture in Remote Work Environments

[21:08] Damianne President: So when we look at remote work environments, are there any other good cornerstones of relationships and teams, setting up your work culture in a remote work environment?

[21:23] Matt Blizek: Yeah, I think the other one that it really is important is just having good management. This is something that’s important for all work, in all teams and, and for when you’re face to face as well, too.

What tends to happen with management, if you’ve got managing that have some like poor practices, all of those get accentuated and just like doubled and tripled when it goes to remote work. In a lot of ways going remote tends to really make people become better managers. One example of this is, a bad practice is that many managers micromanage.

Now when micromanaging is done in an in person environment; it’s unpleasant. It’s not a good experience for the direct report that’s being managed. But when micromanaging is done remotely, it can be far worse. It’s way more invasive. Now, I’m being micromanaged in my own home, in my own space. Like I’m sharing this screen of my own space here with somebody else for long periods of time. Or even worse, what a lot of companies are doing that’s an awful practice, is having people download like spyware software, where they can literally track everything that’s on your screen and like how many keystrokes you made and those kinds of things. That obviously is incredibly abusive as well. And I think just the zero trust involved there really.

So what a good manager will do, though, and what you are forced to do as a manager remotely is you’re no longer really able to measure inputs. You’re no longer able to see when somebody is sitting at the chair and it looks like they’re working.

I don’t know if they’re actually doing work, but they’re sitting at their desk, so they’re there. So I feel like I’m doing my job as a manager because I made sure that they’re at their desk. That’s bad management though. That’s managing based off of the inputs that people are doing, when better managers are going to manage based off of outcomes and outputs. What is the end product of the work that you’re producing?

When you’re managing remotely, that end product is really all you’re gonna see. And so really, as a good remote manager, just a good manager generally is going to work with an employee, they’re going to make clear the expectations of what the end product should look like, how we’re going to measure the success of the product in the end, when it’s going to be due by, all the smart goals and things like that. And then let them go and do it and ask them what support they need. Ask them what obstacles they might have and support them in doing so. That’s just good management practice regardless of your environment, but it’s essential management practice when you’re managing remotely. Because again, that’s really all you’re going to see.

And the best managers, the best system that I’ve found is it takes some trusts, extending trust both ways. So me as a manager, I extend trust to the person I managing that they can control their own time. If they need to take a break in the middle of the day and go for a run or whatever, like if that helps them produce better work, then great. I want them to do that. And so that’s the trust I’m giving to them.

The trust they’re giving back to me is that I’m going to hold them to account to what the outcomes are going to be that we talked about. And their end of the responsibility is to get the work done on time. That, that tends to just be a much, much better way of management. And that’s really one of the biggest leaps that you have to make to manage remotely.

You can’t manage based off of inputs and presenteeism and butts in chairs anymore. It’s really on like what does the end product look like? And so you just got to get better at communicating that and giving feedback and giving support along the way and less about just worrying about attendance basically.

[24:46] Damianne President: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve found to be so important is about agreements. I’ve heard some horror stories, for example, with one friend where if he didn’t reply to an email within five minutes, then he’d get a call from his manager. And this is like, wow, you’re supposed to be instant. Even if you’re working well, if you’re working well, you shouldn’t be replying to email immediately, right?

You should be able to have periods of deep work and in and out. And we know how email can make it look as if you’re doing work when you’re not really accomplishing very much. And so I find it very interesting that with the move to working from home, because of COVID where organizations have not been set up for that, for some managers, their go to strategy’s to manage the employee by going and checking on them. 

[25:35] The Importance of Setting and Communicating Expectations

[25:35] Matt Blizek: Yeah, and that’s really essential to have just like having good boundaries around asynchronous work and asynchronous communication. A good organization or company would have a clear, written expectation for when, how long it should take you to respond to an email or to respond to a Slack message. And ideally, it’s not going to be within five minutes, but it might be like for us, if you get a Slack message, you are expected to respond, but it’s at least like three or four hours before anyone really would think about to escalate it or to try to call you. That’s really important and especially that’s important just to create boundaries around the hours that people are expected to be online and responding too. Because one of the biggest pitfalls of working remotely, working at home, is that you just never stop working, and you’re just always on.

And even when you’ve like gone home for the day or checked out, you’re still on your phone. Your boss is still sending you messages and you’re still replying to them. So like, you tend to just dissolve these boundaries between your home life, work life. And that can be really destructive and burn a lot of people out really quick. But it’s on managers, it’s on organizations to set those boundaries and not force individuals to have to decide like, hey, should I respond to my boss after hours or not, because that obviously puts them in a really impossible place.

[26:52] Damianne President: Yes, definitely. 

[26:54] The Importance of Close Relationships with Coworkers

[26:54] Damianne President: How important is it to build a close relationship with the people that you work with?

[27:00] Matt Blizek: Yeah, I love that question cause I’ve been thinking about that a lot more of late, particularly as I’ve thought a lot more about remote workers. Early in my career, I did a lot of electoral work and political campaigns, and those are very intense experiences where you are living and breathing and working on top of people. You’re just confined face-to-face for long periods of time. You develop very, very strong bonds and relationships. I very much considered a lot of the folks that I met on this campaigns, almost like family, like we were so close.

But as I’ve kind of gotten older in my career, I tend to think that’s just not very healthy actually to develop that strong of bonds with professional co-worker type relationships, cause like the work is just really traumatic. It was really intense and I think that one of the things that really is great about remote work and, you know, it goes both ways I suppose, but when you’re working remotely, your coworkers are no longer your main social circle. I think for so many people, and I think this is a fairly new phenomenon in America, and I think it’s mostly an American phenomenon, but the last several decades, work has just taken up so much of our lives. It’s just kind of gradually expanded and expanded and some of that is due to people wanting to work more and just being kind of obsessed with the hustle culture and bragging about 70 hour weeks that they put in. But a lot of it’s also just due to necessity.

People have to work long, crazy hours just to get by in this country (USA) a lot. And the result of that is that you don’t have time to make other friends, like you don’t have time to go and join the neighborhood association. We don’t have time to take up that other hobby. We don’t have time to talk to your neighbors or even catch up with maybe old friends you haven’t talked to in a long time. So everyone just tends to default and make their friends their coworkers, because so much of their life revolves around their work anyway, that this is just the, you know, the natural way to do it.

And I think, some companies encourage that too. That’s why you’ve got like big companies, like you know, like Apple building entire campuses,

[29:00] Damianne President: Stay there. We never have to go home.

[29:03] Matt Blizek: Exactly. You can work all the time, right? Why would you need to leave? And that’s just not healthy. I don’t think that is healthy for ’em. I don’t think that’s a positive thing. I think that one of the things that I’m really hopeful for in this remote work revolution, if it becomes more widespread, is that it really does have the potential to free up more people’s times, free up more people’s lives, so people can become more socially and civically engaged again. They can like, you know, join up with neighborhood associations.

 It’s hard, much harder for people to find time, to really be engaged that way now. So I think that when you’re working remotely, you have to find new friends. It forces you, again, to have some intention about how you’re going out and building a social life for yourself.

 So again, it’s a bit harder to do when you’re working remotely, but I do think it’s a lot healthier. Great to still have worked friends. I’m still very close and good friends with people that I work with, but I don’t feel like I have to be. I don’t feel like that’s my only or my first, second, and third circle of friends, the people I work with. That can be a group of friends that I have, but it’s not like the center of my life. That’s something I hope that more and more people can take advantage of going forward if they’re working remotely.

[30:10] Damianne President: Yeah, it’s interesting. I was listening to a podcast earlier today, Beginning Balance and the topic of the show was your team isn’t your family. And it was all about how to say, oh, we’re just like family here and how damaging…

[30:25] Matt Blizek: Red flag, red flag.

[30:27] Damianne President:…how damaging that can be to a culture. And they were kind of exploring different types of relationships that can occur at work and how it may not be helpful to create that expectation of we’re family because we work together. 

[30:43] Key Relationships in Remote Work Environments

[30:43] Damianne President: What do you think are some of the important or the key relationships to cultivate in a remote work environment? Maybe it’s the same as in a face-to-face environment or maybe it’s different.

[30:56] Matt Blizek: I think a lot of them are obviously the same. This is what I’ve observed happening. I think you’re going to still have strong relationships with your immediate team, the people that you’re immediately working with, that you’re seeing on Zoom all the time, that you may be doing mini retreats with; you’re going to have some usually pretty strong relationships with them already.

 Where you tend to lose some of those is in other teams, other parts of your organization that you don’t work with on a regular basis. Again, in an office space, you might meet those people in the elevator and in the break room or something, and have a conversation. That’s probably not going to happen spontaneously remotely.

 Ideally, a good culture would have systems in place to kind of mitigate that and connect people in different ways. But I think if where you work doesn’t, then yeah, I think it’s something that’s really smart and on you to do, or as a manager to help empower your team to do is to build relationships, cross-departmentally, like who are your peers?

Other departments may have totally different jobs, but you’re kind of like on a similar level organizationally, that you can like get to know, even if that’s just like randomly sending them a Slack message, like, Hey, I want to meet more people. Can we just chat for 30 minutes? How you doing? Little things like that can go a long ways and you don’t know when that’s going to pay off down the road. Having that relationship there might give me some insight to something that our team is doing, that I can then share and just help improve our work overall.

[32:14] Damianne President: One thing that I found really helpful is just chatting with people who are in similar roles to me, but who are in other divisions that I may not come across their work on a day-to-day basis. And some of the things we do is intentionally create some cross-divisional groups for conversations around

[32:32] Matt Blizek: Great.

[32:33] Damianne President: whatever it is that I might be wondering about or might need help with. And it’s interesting because there’s a lot of information. So there isn’t a lack of information, but information is not the be-all and end-all, like we need something on top of that information. And I think the relationships do come in there in terms of, if I need a little bit of…

[32:56] Matt Blizek: that’s the trust, right? You need the trust. It’s like otherwise information is just information. Information and trust, then you can start to really build on it.

[33:05] Damianne President: Yeah. And I think there was something that happens too, when you’re in conversation with people where there is that responsiveness that you don’t get by just,reading information, that engages a different level of cognition and metacognition that we may not be able to access otherwise,

[33:22] Matt Blizek: Yeah, absolutely. 

[33:23] Making Friends in New Environments

[33:23] Damianne President: As somebody who works remotely and you’ve done this for a long time and you’ve also traveled a lot, do you consider yourself to be successful with making friends in new environments?

[33:35] Matt Blizek: I definitely do. I’m probably gonna make a couple of new friends tomorrow. I don’t know who they are yet, but I’m sure that I’ll meet somebody. I think there are a few things that really helped me do that.

 Early on in my career, I was as an organizer, and as an organizer, that’s basically your job is to just go out and talk to lots of people and strike up those conversations. So I think, it was kinda primed and trained for that when I was in my early twenties. And then, I think that kind of built with the travel as well too. You’re going to be constantly kind of meeting folks. And I think the other skill that’s like harder to do that, I say I’m probably not as good at, but I try to be better at is just staying in touch and staying connected.

As your friend group tends to expand, you’ve got more and more people to kind of figure out how to stay in touch with folks. Just passively following them on social media is one thing. But really getting to reconnect with someone is great. So I try to do that at least once or twice a week, like find some old or some person I’ve not seen in a while and try to reconnect with them too. So it’s not just a constant churning of new relationships in life, but you’re deepening some of those ones that you’ve made along the way too.

[34:33] Invitation/Challenge from Matt

[34:33] Damianne President: If people are feeling a little bit more isolated than usual, do you have an invitation or a challenge of something they could do?

[34:39] Matt Blizek: Yeah. Yeah. I think first to say it’s like totally normal. I think everyone’s kind of stealing that to some degree, the sense of the pandemic. So I think that a few things that I suggest for that.

 First, you’ve got to just get out of your space, like get out of your house sometimes, even if it’s just going for a walk once a day, kind of just gets you in a better mental head space than if you’re just like stuck and confined inside all day.

I think the other things though, like looking for other hobbies or passions. Is there like a local club or something that they can join? If you’re interested in something, going and looking online for other similar people that you can join, even if it’s a virtual community. Being part of community with people is going to help you feel more centered and more fulfilled.

 And then, I think a lot of it is, you know, it’s like, hey, who was your good friend eight years ago that you haven’t had a good conversation with the item. It’s rekindling maybe some of those old relationships. I played a lot of Zoom poker was old friends during the pandemic, which was just like a good way for a bunch of us to get together. We would normally get together and have some beers and play a poker game, but that wasn’t possible. So, hey, we’re just going to recreate this space. It’s not the same, but it still gives us a little bit of that connection when we can’t, you know, can’t physically share the same space.

[35:48] Why You Should Say Yes to Invitations

[35:48] Damianne President: One suggestion that a friend of mine made some time ago was about saying yes, that if somebody invites you to try something where your first, your default response might be no to pause and maybe say yes instead. Or even just the maybe can be a little bit easier, and even invite your friends to encourage you.

So, Hey, friend, I really want to go out and do more stuff but you know that I’m kind of a homebody and I struggle with that. So please invite me, even though I may say no a few times. That kind of thing, I think can also go a long way because it’s really easy, and I know I have definitely fallen into that trap where if you say no enough, people think that you’re just never interested, and so just being a little bit clear around what you’re aiming for, what your goals are, getting your friends to help you with that.

[36:39] Matt Blizek: Yeah. I mean, it can be, you know, self-reinforcing, right. If you’re this feeling kind of depressed, you don’t want to go out and then it just makes you feel more depressed and then you don’t want to go out more. So, yeah, I think that’s really great advice, like pushing yourself to pass that initial no. Wait, no, actually yes. Yes. Let’s let’s that.

[36:54] Damianne President: Yeah, well for me, sometimes I plan a lot of stuff, but sometimes I can just be happy to stay at home. And I find that if I commit, if I say yes, like I’ll say yes if the event is a week from now, and then I have to tell myself you’re not allowed to cancel, you know, because I will have that temptation.

You’re allowed to be happy if your friend cancels, you don’t get to cancel. And I’m generally very happy to have gone out and met with people, but sometimes it’s just getting myself out of the house that can be a bit of a barrier.

[37:29] Matt Blizek: Yeah. And I’m the same way. I very much love my time. So sometimes I’m hesitant to give that up and give that to other folks, but like you said, after you do you usually feel better and glad you did. So afterwards…

[37:40] Damianne President: It’s the same with exercise. I just think if I could somehow like bottle that feeling that you get afterwards to just give myself a little bit of a, of a taste before and be like, don’t you want more of these Damianne

[37:52] Matt Blizek: Yeah. 

[37:54] Training Opportunity for Remote Managers

[37:54] Damianne President: You mentioned that you’re launching a new remote managed mentoring course this April and people can go to flipthescript.io/epic-remote-work [link will be in the show notes]. Tell us about that program. And what’s the most exciting part of it for you?

[38:11] Matt Blizek: Yeah. So this is a program I’ve been designing with a friend of mine, Matt Ley, who’s the founder of the company Flip The Script. He had been working on management training based on some of the early work that he did. This is where he felt like a lot of managers were coming up short. People don’t get trained to be managers. We take people that are really good at doing a job and then the only real way to be promoted and to move up is to then take on this role of being a manager. But being a manager is a very different job than being an individual contributor.

 Management is that kind of middle, what we call a tactical layer. So managers don’t produce value for your organization directly, but you multiply the value of others. A good manager might take the value of their teammates and multiply it by three. And a really bad manager might take the value of their teammates and like cut it in half with management. So he had put together a really great program, called Epic Management, that talks about four essential pieces of environment, performance, identity, communication. He’d been running this training for a number of years.

 I joined up with the team about a year ago and have been just adding extra supplementary materials and working with him to really update the course specifically for remote managers because it’s one of the biggest needs that we’re kind of seeing out there now is so many organizations have gone remote now but they’ve not really had any kind of extra training or support for their managers. They’re basically saying, hey, just do the same thing that you did when you were in and as we’ve talked about on this discussion, there’s a lot of, kind of important, nuance in different ways, that you’ve got to go about kind of changing your approach when you’re managing folks remotely. So that’s really what we’re trying to impart for folks in the course.

It’s a full 12 week course, got a bunch of videos to watch. We have bi-weekly sessions where we get everyone together and we talked through, and a number of kind of handouts and workbooks and things as well. We’re really excited to be rolling this out. This is really the biggest thing that organizations need in order to succeed in a remote environment. Good managers are gonna make the whole remote work process work for you.

[40:11] Damianne President: If you’re interested, definitely go and check out flipthescript.io.

[40:17] Book Recommendation

At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned the book Out Of Office. Is that a book you recommend?

[40:21] Matt Blizek: I highly recommend Out Of Office. We actually did a bit of a book talk about it. If you go to flip the script and just go to our blog there, you’ll see an article that actually wrote about it and what I think were some of the main takeaways from the book. It’s a book by Anne Helen Peterson and Charlie Warzel. They both started working remotely about a decade ago and really did, I think, a great job in this book, just spelling out some best practices like we’ve talked about, but I think also really just looking ahead to the potential of how this can really improve so many people’s lives if remote work becomes really widespread, but on the other hand, the peril of remote work and how, if it’s not done well, it could lead to workplaces being even worse than they are now.

If we end up having like spyware on computers and people working all hours of the day and things like that, remote work could go really wrong or really poorly. Or it could be a way that people really kind of reclaim control over their lives, and not have work to be the kind of, you know, first, second, third, and fourth thing in their life all the time. It’s a fairly short book to read to you. It’s like 500 pages, but definitely put it on your list.

It just takes intention. You have to put forth like an intentional effort to try to do things that happen just incidentally in an office place.


I tend to use the word remote instead of work from home, just because, you know, one thing that I’ve learned, I don’t always work well from home.

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