The Future of Work is Fully Remote with Chris Herd

05/27/2020 20 min read
The Future of Work is Fully Remote with Chris Herd

While some organizations are anxiously waiting to reopen their office doors, many have fully embraced remote work. With the Rise of Remote comes the rise of remote team support - for example, how can you level the playing field for your teams and provide the same supplies that we’ve become accustomed to in the office? On the other hand, how can you enhance their remote work experience - should perks only be available to those on site? Tune in to learn how Chris Herd and his company, Firstbase, are helping organizations both support and elevate the remote work experience.

Transcript:

Paul Estes:

Welcome to Rise of Remote Live. I'm Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast. Current events have completely reshaped the way we work and live overnight. In-person meetings turned into video conferences, and team happy hours went virtual. While we're all adjusting to the new normal, questions about distributed teams and the future of work are still being raised. Every Wednesday, we'll bring key insights and direct experiences from talent executives and remote work experts. The show is aimed to keep you informed and up to speed with the ever-changing workforce as we navigate these times together. At this time, I'd like to welcome Dean Bosche, my partner in crime and head of partnerships at Toptal, to talk about an article we found on the web this week.

Dean Bosche:

Dandy. Indeed… We did… Paul and greetings. CNN business, JT McCormick, CEO of Scribe Media, says it's a bad idea to let your employees work from home permanently. And so, this is kind of what I'll call the drastic side where 100% of the time an employee is working from home. And perhaps there is no office. So before going on, Paul, what do you... what's your general reaction to that concept?

Paul Estes:

I think one of the things that's been really interesting Dean is, and I'm doing an article that's looking at 20 Fortune 500 CEOs and their opinion of what 20, 21, and beyond will look like. Are people falling one side or the other? You know, there are some people that are saying, Hey, everybody's coming back and you know, it's just a matter of time, and the offices have been cleaned and let's get back to work. And there are others that are saying, Hey, no, I'm going to go fully remote. I mean, the best example is, is what Twitter and some others are doing. I liked that article, and the reason I slacked it over to you was that it was such a specific opinion on not letting people work from home. You know, constantly and the things that are brought up in the article, if you want to put it in the chat, I encourage everyone to look at it as that spontaneous social interaction is essential.

Dean Bosche:

Yeah. So I read that as it creates trust. So that's the net of… it's like if we don't have spontaneous social interaction, we won't trust each other.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. And it's, it's, it's this experience that, you know, I worked in big tech in office environments for 20 years and I… you know, as I started to learn to work remotely, I don't trust the people I work with, you know, in a fully distributed team any less than the people I work with constantly. And if anything, I trust them a little more because the office water-cooler concept is not always the most productive place in an organization. And so there are a lot of things, you know, in the article that I think people should look at. The other one I thought was interesting is that he posits that a great remote culture just doesn't exist if you do not share an office. You don't have a good corporate culture or a good company.

Dean Bosche:

Sure. And the reason for that is interesting. It's a, we grow paranoid without constant coworker buzz. You know, so you're paranoid that people talk behind your back. So now, there's some actually interesting credit to this one. You know, I work remotely 100% of the time, but with a little input, sometimes, your mind wanders and you're like, you know, does, does Paul really… you know, support what I'm doing here? Is he trying to make me go away and like in your, in your spiral off. So I mean, I could see a little bit of that where you can't really get past that and until you've had some quality time, face to face.

Paul Estes:

That's an interesting comment, and I actually talked to my wife, who's now working from home, you know, remotely, and they've had to adopt. And it's one of the things that when you start working in tools like Slack and, and asynchronously in a lot more transparent way, and we'll talk to Chris Herd in a bit that has some really interesting ideas that he's implementing in his company that I think are fascinating, but you start working transparently. And so while that exists remotely, it existed when I was living in the office. It was just done behind closed doors. And you walk by somebody's office and you see them talking. And so I think a lot of these challenges exist both ways and it's, it's one of the arguments for changing the way you work as you start working remotely, which is exciting while we have both of these guests on the show. So I look forward to interacting with folks in the chat, Dean, and we'll bring you back on a couple of times to see what's going on. I'd like to check in with the founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting and Forbes remote careers contributor, Laurel Farrer, with the weekly state of the workforce. Laurel, welcome to the show.

Laurel Farrer:

I think to me, as always, it's great to be here. And I love that we're kind of done diving into the darker side of remote work that today and this week because it is such an important side to explore. That is not all sunshine and rainbows. So often we hear about the evangelism and the front very, very enthusiastic advocates about how work is perfect. And it's not perfect. It is far from perfect. It's new and it's young and it's under constant innovation and ideation, just like work, work is still work and management in general and operations in general, everything is under constant improvement. And so remote work is no exception to that. And that's something that I think we should dig deeper into today, which is, not only is remote work itself imperfect but even bigger and broader than that is that the environment of support for remote work doesn't really exist at scale yet. And so even if remote work within itself was perfect, if we, even if we had just absolutely impeccable work-from-home models for every single organization, a bigger problem is that government and public policy has not caught up to this style of working yet, and therefore, it can't exist very flawlessly in the world.

In fact, in a lot of ways, remote work is illegal. Employment laws haven't caught up. Information security regulations, workplace safety regulations, international tourism, structures, and taxation. I mean the list goes on and on and about, different regulations, different structures that need to be updated in order to support mobile workforces at scale. And until we do that, until we have that support from the public sector, a lot of these links can't be worked out. Unfortunately, due to a lot of factors—mostly our public sector being completely overwhelmed and focused on healthcare right now, which is where their attention should be—we are left to our own devices, and the private sector is really needing to step up to the plate in order to save the day and discuss how can we create this environment of support in our communities and in our public sector in order for remote work to be adopted more seamlessly at scale through the various communities and countries throughout the world.

So that's my list for today - how can private institutions and organizations help influence the future of remote work in the public sector? What do we need to do in order to blend these two worlds to create a hybrid model? The comprehensive support of remote work from both government as well as the community. So the first point is that we need to proactively troubleshoot noncompliance. If you have a concern in your company such as employment laws or information security breaches or industry regulations that need to be complied with, don't just hide and think, okay, we'll ask forgiveness later. Note, be proactive about your solution. Take note, take record about the gaps that exist and, and how you fill them because you are the standard and making a prototype for other companies to follow your example. So be proactive and innovative in your solutions and don't just wait for the law to catch up with you.

The second is to participate in a regional ecosystem. Economic development using virtual jobs as a solution is a specialty of me and my team at Distribute Consulting. We work with governments all over the world in order to design and create ecosystems that support remote work, and the ecosystems of employers and governments and workers and tools all come together in order to stimulate economic development and in various places around the world. And it is absolutely essential that we have the participation and the support of every type of organization, both government, employer, worker, that everybody comes together in order to inspire effective change management in a region. So if that's a conversation that you feel passionately about, please contact me or contact a local remote work thought leader in your area to participate in that ecosystem because it's absolutely needed, your, your leadership is needed.

And then, the third is to start the conversation in your network and find out what other people are doing. If you have questions about compliance, ask, talk to other people, let them ask you questions. Let's not just hide and keep secrets and pretend like this isn't happening. It is happening. Remote work is illegal right now. Until we help the laws progress and help create the infrastructure and support in our communities, it will continue to be an incompatible model. So we have a lot of work to do, and it's going to take all of us from both the public side and the private side in order to catch up. Now, Dean, I know that government is again a very unsexy topic that seems to be my, my specialty in the past few weeks. So what, what kind of end sexy comments do we have in the chat box today?

Dean Bosche:

Hey there, Laurel. Well first, Tracy, a registered nurse gives you a big thumbs up to what you said there. By the way, Tracy, thank you very much for your hard work during this period. Samantha agrees to take in a leadership stance. For sure. Dean. Thanks. You know, you say be proactive, but you know, I… you know, I'm the CEO of a large company. Do I really want to be proactive, or do you want to want to be a fast follower instead and not stick my head out there and like, what do you say to folks out there, Laurel, who are kind of in that mindset right now?

Laurel Farrer:

Well, I'll say that there are eight skills that are academically proven to be critical, and remote work and proactivity is one of them. So if you are a fast follower, that's safe, but… but remote work in general as an industry was not built on safety, it was built on innovation and it was built on creativity and experimentation. So if you are truly wanting to be a thought leader and innovator, a pioneer, then you know that you need to be proactive. However, if you are just wanting to ride the wave and be part of the remote work revolution, then you know that you can take a step back.

Dean Bosche:

I mean, riding the wave sounds pretty fun, but like being proactive and taking advantage per se or like making this an opportunity for my business is what sounds sexy to me. So, I'll take that. Okay, well, I'll be watching the comments, and please chat back and forth with me on LinkedIn. Uh, let's head on back to Paul right now. Thank you, Laurel.

Paul Estes:

Of course. Thank you, Dean. Thank you, Laurel. At the onset of this pandemic, many of us thought that we'd be at home for a few weeks initially setting up shop in our kitchens, living rooms. And even our kids' rooms as weeks have turned into months. Now, many companies - just like Laurel was talking about - are increasingly accelerating change in their policies as it relates to remote work. This includes the physical products, the desks, the chairs, the headsets, and other perks that are automatically incorporated in onsite offices - office experiences. Today, I'm really excited to talk with Chris Herd about how his company Firstbase is addressing this need. As founder and CEO of Firstbase, Chris Herd is committed to empowering people to work their lives, not live their work. Chris has led and managed remote teams while working in renovation and construction and also founded a company in fintech. What was initially an internal product to help his company manage those logistics soon evolved into Firstbase, the only all-in-one provisioning platform that allows companies to provide the best possible at-home remark, kind of remote working experience at the touch of a button.

Chris, welcome to the show. Very cool. So first, I want to talk to you, we were talking a little bit, you know, prior to this, you know, you are an advocate of remote work and an evangelist. And so is Laurel, and when I look at Laurel, how she talks about remote work, you know, she does a lot of consulting with people and really helping a lot of change management. The work that you do, or at least the way I see you on social media, is that you're really passionate and, and sort of pull back the veil and talk truth and, and try to, to really ignite a conversation. Help me understand what led you to be so passionate about remote work. And we'll get into the company and the other work that you're doing.

Chris Herd:

Yeah. I think it started with just experiencing it ourselves as a team when we were founding that fintech businesses, you mentioned them. Yeah. Just realizing the quality of life increase that came from that. Not having to live in a high-cost-of-living city, having more time with family, being able to do things that we really cared about, and that just came as a byproduct of working remotely. And I think a lot of people have trouble believing that the benefits of remote can be as large as I think many people may make out. And I think it's, it's something that's difficult to appreciate until you've really experienced that yourself.

Paul Estes:

Now you're really public out in, in social media and in many other places. What sort of feedback are you getting from people that that say, Hey look, we're, we're going back to the way things were before this remote work thing is, is interesting, but what kind of feedback are you getting when you, when you do your posts?

Chris Herd:

Yeah, I think it varies. I think it's, it certainly goes back three months ago, and there were a lot of skeptics who just fundamentally never believed that remote work was going to happen as quickly as it has. So, yeah, certainly there was an element of projection that I think everyone in this space has made, and obviously, the virus has accelerated that by 10 years. So I think across the last two months or so, people's opinion has changed now that they've experienced that. They know remote work works and that it was really difficult to dispute that when companies have experienced such scale like they have.

Paul Estes:

Yeah, we often talk about when we talk about remote work, we often talk about the ROI and the productivity increase. But there was a post today that you said something that really resonated with the Hobby read Renaissance, and it reminded me of a book I just finished called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community where Robert Putnam talks about how disconnected we are and it is at the central crisis of society. Help me understand how you think of the non-productivity, the non-ROI aspects of remote work in business.

Chris Herd:

Yeah, I think we hear two real pushback elements from companies that are saying remote work will work for us. So the first part is well by the people that get their main social contact that works at work. And I just have a fundamental issue that actually your boss picking your friends is a good thing for society. I think actually that's a terrible thing for society. And the other part is, well actually we solve all our problems running the water-cooler. And they say that like it's a good thing. Like if you're solving problems around the work, who are, your processes are broken.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. But how have your hobbies, I look, one of the things that is really interesting about you is you bootstrapped Firstbase while you were still playing semi-pro football and, and maybe people know from your accent, I'll say soccer. For those in the US, how important has that community outside of the work you're doing inspired and been helpful to the work that you do today?

Chris Herd:

Yeah, I think certainly for remote workers, it's about having those relationships and really being able to cultivate deep, meaningful relationships with people you share things in common with rather than just by that contract. We're trying to win inside work. And yeah, I think the way that I certainly look at it is that sitting with someone and really talking about inane stuff that's happening with the microcosm of work doesn't really lead to that. So yeah, I certainly think the big benefit of remote was having more time to do the things that you care about, whether that's being on your own or playing soccer or fishing. I think those external hobbies detach you from work and actually can help you build deeper, more meaningful relationships with people, which is more than the superficial relationships you can create in an office.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. And I've also found that a lot of times, the things I've done outside of, you know, traditional work have given me ideas and have actually fed the professional work that I do. Let's talk a little bit about Firstbase. Tell me the moment when you realize that the way you had started working in the company and the internal processes that you were putting in place could solve a problem.

Chris Herd:

Yeah. It started with what we really cared about, which was providing a great experience and culture to our teams. And I think what we realized super early on was that that started with the foundation on which you've done your work, and if you didn't have the right tools and equipment, it was incredibly difficult to do the best work you've ever done in your life. So, as our first employees joined that business, we tried to solve that for ourselves. We found out how expensive it was, time-consuming. We were just concerned about people getting injured because they'd never had the right stuff. Then we were just, I think, uniquely placed to solve that. We'd experienced the problem. My background was in putting literally the same equipment that we were putting in our, our workers' homes and places like oil rigs off the coast of Africa, floating production vessels in the Middle East. Then we solved that problem, and then probably far too longer than we should have to realize the external utility of that for other people.

Paul Estes:

What's been the response as you've made this platform and an offering available?

Chris Herd:

I think it's obviously been something that's resonated even more deeply as this virus has taken hold, and companies have realized that actually, they don't have any great solutions for what, to, to tackle this problem. But I think even more so before that we were having conversations with companies where they knew they were going in this direction, but they were doing it more slowly. Now we're hearing that they're going to cut commercial real estate by up to 50%. And the implication of that is that everyone's going to work from home and they need to professionalize that remote work from home, set up an order, ensure people are safe and productive there.

Paul Estes:

Give me a scenario of a, like one of your major customers are the early adopters of the platform and the, and the specific problem that they were trying to solve. If there's someone out there who might be grappling with this new idea of being asked to put it in a remote policy for their company, how should I think of the value of Firstbase and what specific problem it solves?

Chris Herd:

Yeah, so we really help companies both supply and manage all the physical equipment and the remote workers need at home and that, and what we really mean by that is we provide a full-stack solution or a turnkey solution that takes care of every need that a company could have. So from the desks and chairs to the hardware and provisioning through to the ongoing perks that they may need, whether that's coffee machines, coffee beans, subscriptions, everything else. And I think there's probably three profiles where companies need us. If it's the chief people officer, it's about culture and experience. If it's the CIO, it's about its deployment. And if it's the VP of finance, they're interested in redistributing office space, the workers' homes, and cutting that expense at the touch of a button.

Paul Estes:

You know, when we were talking earlier, and if you don't want to share, that's fine, but, but there are other things that you're working on as you deploy Firstbase with, with customers that, that you think could solve problems. Do you want to talk about any of those? Because one of them was my favorite.

Chris Herd:

Yeah. I think we look at a lot of remote products being created today, and we just see them as replicating the bad parts of office working. So the instantaneous gratification of available AI, which you experienced in the office where someone taps you on the shoulder and really disrupts and distracts you from what you're doing. So a waffle we focus on doing is creating the processes around making asynchronous flow better. And one part of that is an asynchronous meeting. So yeah, we're almost spitballing this in real time, but certainly, something we spent a lot of time thinking about is how can we ensure that our teams are more accountable. They've done the requisite educational piece prior at Coleman annual meetings and really productizing that in a similar way to how Amazon runs meetings but creating that system that really works. And yeah, that's about kind of like Dobson times type form where you can create this thing, you can measure who's read it, and then you can have an asynchronous feedback on that which is anonymous and then you can feed in a more synchronous flow where you really get the decision made which is better than getting 15 people sitting in an office for an hour and nobody really does anything.

Paul Estes:

Yeah, that was one of the things I really enjoyed when I worked at Amazon is that there was value in writing things down, and I do that a lot more now that I work at a fully distributed team cause we don't have a lot of time to sit and go back and forth. But also, there was an expectation that before you had a meeting, everybody would have read and commented on something. And so that even the first 15 minutes was you collecting your thoughts. When you look to customers going over the next 18 months or let's just look into 2021, how do you think companies will adopt homeworking as it relates to providing for the people? I know a lot of my friends, when they, you know, were suddenly remote, had to buy their own standup desks and, and you know, got card tables and kind of really, you know, put some stuff together. How do you think companies will be able to support people from a logistical standpoint as it relates to the things that, that you need to get your job done?

Chris Herd:

Yeah, and I think this is largely the problem in the arena that we're playing, and it's just actually super difficult for companies to do that. From the tracking of the materials to the delivery of it, to the ongoing maintenance to the collections when a worker leaves and yeah, really abstracting that complex AOA from the company and letting them just almost up like AWS does with the virtual world we let them do in the physical world. So they just add someone. We take care of all that complexity on the back end. And I think, I think everyone knows that the right tools and equipment are table stakes for doing great work. It's what you need to be to your point is safe, comfortable, and productive at home as you would be in the office, and I think really in my eyes, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the companies to provide that and yeah, it's probably going to be a real piece of differentiation where companies can show how much they care about their workers by taking care of their needs from that perspective.

Paul Estes:

And there's also some cost savings because they don't have to go to a physical office. One of the things that Dean and I were talking about at the beginning of the show was, you know, the world is not going to be binary in a lot of ways. There's still going to be places that have some offices and maybe 50% are remote. How do you think the role of the onsite office changes as everything you know, kind of finds its new resting place?

Chris Herd:

Yeah, I think the reality is that people are going to spend time between both those areas. I think largely, you look, there are 255 million desk jobs globally. I would say by 2030, a majority of them are going to be done remotely, and majority of the time. But the reality is for two days a week, people are still probably going to go into some form of office where I suspect that probably becomes more of a destination. People go there with a specific reason in mind, whether that's collaboration, whether it's other things that become more obvious as we start to work remotely, and not really fewer people leverage the benefits of both to maximize productivity in both areas. You can do your deep work at home, you can do that collaborative piece when you're in the office.

Paul Estes:

That's great. Chris, thanks so much for joining us today. If anybody out there wants to be inspired or wants to be ignited about what's going on with remote work, Chris is full of facts, figures, and you know, talking some truth. So Chris, thanks so much and I look forward to talking to you again.

Chris Herd:

That's cool.

Paul Estes:

So welcome back, Dean. We've talked to two amazing people who are not only advocates for remote work but you know, have their sleeves rolled up and they're, they're getting their hands into the change management and solving some of the tough problems. I just wanted to see what was going on in chat and get your thoughts.

Dean Bosche:

Miguel says hello from Spain. He's glad we're having this discussion. Stacy, Sarah Clinton, Annie Gea, and Sophie give Chris a big thumbs up for the chat. I think kind of the dichotomy of the conversations we had there is, is what was inspiring to folks, but speaking to the economy, the winner for the intellectual comment on chat is our own Eric Stettler, Toptal’s Chief Economist, Paul, and get your comment on this in a second. He says, remote or not remote is a false dichotomy in reality and, that the pet endemic, has pet put the pandemic aside. And in reality, you know, we're not going to be talking about like 100% remote, 100% out remote.

There's always some sort of interaction outside of it. Even if you're a company [that] doesn't have any offices... For example, I work at Toptal currently, and I've met plenty of my colleagues via trips and other occasions. And so, the dichotomy that's put together there is really not a real one. And then, he gives a plus, a plus one to reading the book Bowling Alone, which was referred to in the article, which is the collapse of the revival of the American community by Robert Putnam. Have you read that book?

Paul Estes:

I have, it's, it's an amazing study of how they looked at all of the organizations that we used to participate in, whether it was PTH or you know, bowling alley, bowling leagues, and all sorts of things and have watched the deterioration of that participation of that sort of social activism or community-building start to go to zero in... in many cases. And you know, they make the argument that that is one of the things that is driving a lot of the isolation we see today. And it's, it's a really good book cause it, it gives you a historical perspective of how things used to be. And to where we are now.

Dean Bosche:

Interesting. I'll pick it up and give it a read and bring back my thoughts next time.

Paul Estes:

Thanks so much, Dean. Next week, we have Kerry Brown, VP of workforce adoption at SAP. I want to thank Laurel and Chris so much for taking their time and sharing their thoughts with us. Thank you so much and we'll see you next week.Thank you for taking the time to listen to Rise of Remote brought to you by Staffing.com by Toptal, a brand new industry site that's leading the conversation around the future of staffing. Join us back here every Wednesday at 4:30 Eastern for a new episode of Rise of Remote.