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A day in the life of a remote leader: Scott Markovits
The No. 1 most important thing about remote work is the idea of intentionality.
Everything you do as a remote leader or company has to be intentional.
Whether it’s onboarding a new team member, engagement, or L&D.
Join Scott Markovits to learn more about remote leadership.
You learn more about:
- Skills of a remote leader
- Counterexamples of remote leadership
- Remote vs hybrid vs in-person
- Why remote leadership is important
And all these in less than 15 min.
Scott Markovits: Hi everybody, I’m Scott Markovits. I’ve been building startups for the last 10-plus years. I’ve built and led multiple startups, first hire, and early hire, I’ve coached and mentored over 1200 startups globally over the last 10 years, and have been building remote teams and remote companies for a very long time, very passionate about the future of work and remote work.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Scott, welcome to the Growth Mentor Podcast. Being a digital nomad, I’m excited to talk about remote leadership. Let’s go straight to the topic. Could you tell us something we don’t know about remote leadership and leaders?
Scott Markovits: I mean, I would say it’s something that’s definitely known to people who’ve been doing this pre-pandemic, but it still seems to be a mystery for people who’ve pivoted during the pandemic is the number one most important thing about remote work is the idea of intentionality, where you as a remote leader, and as a remote company, everything that you do, whether it’s engagement, onboarding, learning, development, whatever it is as to be very intentional. So, if you’re not taking the opportunity to be with call it as a leader of that first specific team, intentionally reach out to your team. Checking on how they’re doing, how’s everything going, how’s your family, what’s new? Checking in again to have a process for understanding what work is going on, and having those. You can totally be lost, you’re not gonna be able to build that relationship with your team, there’s gonna be a lot of disconnects, there’s gonna be a lot of friction. So, the biggest thing is intentionality. Again, three years later, I’ve coached God knows how many managers that are pivoted to remote during the pandemic, many of them still not doing this, and many are still not upskilling, on how to be a leader remotely, because it’s totally different from being a leader in the office. And hopefully, the idea of the podcast that I have is specific to this to help leaders upskill and be able to understand what they need to do differently in a remote environment.
Spyros Tsoukalas: So if we try to define what remote leadership entails, could you help us like, describe, and elaborate more on the topic?
Scott Markovits: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if there, in theory, is much different from being a leader in the office. I think outside of that intentionality. The biggest thing is any leader, right, if another foundation book called Remote. But it should be evolved there is trust in the office, if I hired you, Spyros to do whatever. In theory, I hired you, because I trusted you enough during that interview process to build my team, build my company, and build my product. That shouldn’t only be the fact that I trust you only if I can physically see you, sitting in an office somewhere. So again, that means that in theory, it shouldn’t be the same in an office, but it tends to be much more upfront in a remote environment. So again, I think really the main difference is just understanding that intentionality that nothing is going to happen for a long time on its own. Mentoring is not going to happen on its own, learning development is not going to happen on its own, and onboarding in a successful way, it’s not going to happen on its own. The little water cooler moments that you had at the coffee machine, or you hadn’t hallway, or you went for lunch, or beers afterward, like those moments aren’t going to happen is easily and as frequently as they did in the office, in a remote environment unless the company in the leadership is very intentional to create those opportunities. So I think, in essence, if that’s the true difference between a remote leader and a regular leader, again, because everything else, like empathy, and trust and know, productivity based on output and contribution versus presence like that shouldn’t work the same way in an office, whether it does or doesn’t, is another story.
Spyros Tsoukalas: And regarding startups, because most of our people are in the startup world, like what’s the difference there? How does remote there obtain if we apply to startups compared to larger companies?
Scott Markovits: Again, I would say there isn’t so much of a difference. Office or not, big leaders, and small leaders are supposed to have empathy. They’re supposed to be understanding that the success of their business, whether large, huge corporations, or small companies are based on happy employees. You make your employees happy, and they will make your customers happy. If you make your employees unhappy, they will make your customers unhappy. Again, I don’t see any difference between the size of the company, really outside of maybe just resources, right? A small startup doesn’t have millions of dollars in revenue or millions of dollars in the bank to do some of those things, then maybe they want to do what a larger company can do. So they may need to get creative, right? They can’t maybe let’s say one of the crucial points of remote work is getting everyone together. It kind of sounds counterintuitive. If you’re a huge, large corporate, you may have 10s of millions of dollars that you could spend on getting the whole team together. Once a month, once a quarter has a big party, big no company retreat often. But if you’re a small startup, like maybe you can’t afford to do that once so that you need to kind of figure out okay, how else do we do that? How else do we promote people getting together to see each other and work together, and spent time together in real life, and intentionally getting create those opportunities? So, again, between big companies and little companies, it’s probably just funding and just available resource to be able to do all those things that no you should be doing regardless of the size of the company.
Spyros Tsoukalas: My personal experience says that in smaller companies, startups, people get closure, there are fewer, and they get closure like altogether, while in larger companies, it’s a matter between teams and the different functions within the organization, which is maybe different talents as the company grows. So, I’m very interested, like, given your experience and the hundreds of people that you have coached on the matter, I’m very interested to understand like, what skills does a remote leader have or should have?
Scott Markovits: The biggest one is empathy. It’s just really understanding, again, people on my team are human beings, right? They have lives that are outside the office, those lives are far more important than the life that they have in the office. And I need to understand that so if people need to take care of their family, they need time off, they need to they’re having a tough day, I need to be empathetic to that and saying, okay, you know, they have lives. And that kind of takes priority. As a remote leader, I need to be able to understand that productivity is based on output and contribution. It’s not based on presidents in the office who know, for the last 70, 80 years, for some reason that that was the way it worked. We’re thankfully moving away from that idea where I don’t care how much time you’re in the office, I don’t care how much time you work during the day. I just care about I need this specific deliverable at this specific time. And what you do between point A and point B is really up to you. And I think that’s certainly where the future remote is moving towards, like asynchronous by default, and changing that mentality where I don’t need to see you sitting there eight hours. If you’re sitting there coming in at eight o’clock, and leaving at six o’clock, I’m not gonna see you, oh, you’re the superstar employee, because you’re spending extra time with the office, especially since there’s so much research out there that says that most of the day people aren’t actually working. I just cared about the contract about the contribution. And I want to support you and live the life that you want to live in those times in between the work that you’re getting done. And then again, I think the last piece is what I’ve said countless times already. So far, these few minutes are intentional, right? I need to be intentional as a leader in checking in, right? Especially during the pandemic issues with burnout and quiet quitting, and all those different things. If I’m not intentional in setting up tools and processes and ways to be able to kind of check on you in a remote environment, I’m in the office, I could kind of see you, you’re kind of like bent over and I could see it on your face that you were depressed. Okay, it’s kind of a flag. But in a remote environment. I’m not I might not see you every day or reminder you, however often. So I need other ways to be very intentional to be able to pick up on those things to say that this could be pulse surveys, that’s what I do with my team. Like a daily standup when those questions are like how are you feeling today? Right? But like kind of smiley emojis. And if somebody has a sad face, that’s like an alarm for me automatically. I gotta jump on that and guess what’s going on? How’s the person doing? What’s wrong? How could it be helpful? Same thing, if somebody has a flat face, like a neutral face, they’d have like, three, four days in a row. Again, to me, that’s like, hey, you need to kind of check-in and see what’s going on with this person, right? Because I don’t want to get to the point of burnout. I don’t want the person to be, no, I want them to be supportive of that person. And again, again, those I think are the biggest essence pieces of being a true remote leader.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Do you have any examples of bad remote leadership? Like? Have you seen people messing up with their games and the practices they apply? And if yes, could you bring some examples?
Scott Markovits: They’re probably the easiest examples, the whole big return to the office, the movement of these companies who, in essence, just don’t trust their employees. And they’re trying to force them back into the office, which makes no sense because we’ve clearly seen in the last three years that people are as productive or more productive in a remote environment than they are in the office. So why people and company leaders are trying to push people back into the office is absolutely baffling. So that’s definitely number one. Number two, again, is basing still basing productivity on hours, right? I want you to be here at certain set hours. And depending on how many hours you’re online, or I see your Slack status is online. I’m going to base your productivity and your success based on that makes absolutely no sense. The idea, especially I think, is more hybrid environments, where proximity bias comes along. And I think this is something that we’re going to see more and more as many companies are trying hybrid, that the people in that are coming to the office space or coming to the shared space are going to be the ones who are promoted and get the better opportunities than people who are remote because, I, is a bad manager. See those people I spend more time with those people so I have more of a connection relationship with those people. So I’m basing that promotion just based on that relationship and again, not the contribution or the actual work that somebody is doing. So again, that’s a big mistake that people are making. And again, that lack of intentionality. So I had a company that I’ve been working with, who had a manager, who was, had been an office based manager was an excellent manager on one side of very supportive and like, whatever you need, whatever I can do to give you whatever resources you need, let me know, whatever obstacles, I’ll get them out of the way. But because of that sense of only having the office mentality, they were used to getting an understanding of what was going on with the employee personally, productivity-wise, by bumping into them at the coffee machine and eating lunch with them and seeing around the office. Now, when you take away that office, they haven’t transitioned to the point of again, checking in so this person with their team would have one on ones. And half the time, there was one on one to one happen. So from the manager’s perspective, how does that manager know what impact the employees make when they only speak to them once a week, once a month? The employee, how does the employee feel? How does the employee know that their manager understands the impact they’re making? Another big issue and then obviously, have you built a relationship and trust between those two parties when they only speak once a month? Just doesn’t work that way. So these are, I think, a lot of the kind of common, or the biggest issues that I continue to see. And they’re still being made on a regular basis, again, because most managers and most companies haven’t invested the time and the money in upskilling managers how to do this remotely the right way.
Spyros Tsoukalas: I think that these details, influence directly the culture that’s being built around companies, and I’m curious to learn if like, how do you distinguish? I mean, it’s confusing for me, but I guess you have worked with all types of remote versus hybrid versus in-person, in person, it’s pretty obvious what it means and what it is. But like, what’s the difference between remote and hybrid environments like, and that doesn’t mean theoretically, like, some people go to the office for some days, or they work or not at all, but like in terms of the culture, all the advantages and disadvantages that each of those models brings in the company?
Scott Markovits: Absolutely. So in theory, both company both types of companies should operate the same way, both of them need to operate a new remote first basis, when they have an office space, when they don’t have an office space, it doesn’t matter if you need to operate under remote first spaces. Why? Because not especially in a hybrid environment. If you have a mix, and you don’t operate everything remotely first, your remote employees are going to end up being second-class citizens. Again, you’re gonna have the proximity bias that I just mentioned. So there’s going to be a clear difference between the engagement and the way that remote employees are treated and the way that hybrid employees are treated. So you’re gonna have kind of two different cultures the within the single company. Hybrid for me, I think now is going to merge into a few different ways until eventually what hybrid model will work in the end will be two things number one, the central headquarters has gone alright, you can offer as many amenities and massages and chef cooking whatever it is a 60-minute commute as a 60-minute commute. And of story, nobody wants a 16-minute commute. The second thing is that office space, and the central headquarters be replaced by micro spaces, so much more hyperlocal spaces, we can see that happening in the UK where Standard Chartered moved away from their central headquarters and replace that with workspaces much closer to the employees. And number two becomes a benefit. Right? It’s like free lunches or free Kindle books or whatever no benefits a company may offer. Here’s a pass to an office space or a co-working space or what have you. Use it if you want to why you want it when you want it how you want it, you don’t want to use it, no problem, you do want to use it., that’s great too. But even like those events and kind of cultural pieces engagement and, and team fun and different things that you do have to be designed in a remote-first way to ensure again, that there are no second class citizens that there is no difference in the impact that that engagement or that fund is having on a people that may be in a central office or an office place in ones that are remote.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Perfect. Scott, you clarified various questions that I have been thinking about around remote leadership, and thanks for joining and taking the time to share them with us and our listeners.
Scott Markovits: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I greatly appreciate the opportunity then to share some thoughts and some wisdom.
Spyros Tsoukalas: Thanks a lot. Have a great day.
In this episode
I build startups. I’ve helped build & scale multiple startups as a first/early hire and 1200+ startups as a coach. Including a couple of 🦄
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