TODD WERTH: Hi, I’m Todd Werth, the CEO and one of the founders of Infinite Red, and I’m located in a very sunny Las Vegas, Nevada.
KEN MILLER: I’m Ken Miller, I’m CTO of Infinite Red, and I am based in the east bay, the bay area.
JAMON HOLMGREN: I’m Jamon Holmgren, and I am just north of Portland, Oregon in Washington state in Vancouver, Washington, and I am the Chief Operating Officer here at Infinite Red.
CHRIS MARTIN: Excellent, so let’s start with just defining from each of your perspectives what remote work is.
JAMON: For me, a lot of people think remote work is like working in your spare bedroom, or something like that. Which it often is, it can be. But remote work is really more about the ability to be able to do your work at full capacity kind of in a place other than one centralized office. A lot of companies are built around having an office in an office building. I had a company like that before, where everybody is in physical proximity. But remote work is about being elsewhere, and distributed.
TODD: Remote work is not, as Jamon said, working from home. Although, I work from my studio here in my house in Las Vegas. Really remote work is working on whatever you’re particularly working on at this time in the most efficient place that is efficient for you. For example, some of our team members work in co-location places, because they enjoy being around other people. They work maybe in coffee shop, or that kind of stuff. Personally, I need pretty quiet environment.
KEN: I would actually shift the rhetorical frame around this slightly, and say that for us, work needs to happen someplace where you have the resources you need. And what we’re calling remote work is just an acknowledgement that for certain kinds of work, a growing segment that I would say is kind of centered around the tech industry, where being next to the people you’re working with physically just doesn’t matter. Not that it can’t be helpful, but that it’s no longer required. To the point that we have started referring to non-remote work as commute work.
JAMON: Yeah, I love that term.
KEN: Meaning instead of saying well there’s this normal kind of work where you drive into an office, which we’ve come to accept as normal. And recognizing that that’s actually a phenomenon that’s less than 100 years old. It’s saying that like there is this thing that developed when you have a car, and before that, the train, where you could live some place that’s relatively far away from where you work. Move yourself physically into that office during the day, and then move yourself physically back.
And we’re saying let’s move the office out to where the people are, instead of moving the people to where the office is. That’s really the core for me, right? That it’s more to do with do you have the resources you need? Meaning do you have a good internet connection, do you have someplace quiet to work that is conducive to the way that you think? And less about where your body is.
JAMON: Ken’s exactly right. And what we found is that people sort of gravitate to where they work best. One of the things that’s a little challenging is this perception that people just kind of slack off, and things like that. But really, people want to work efficiently. They want to find a place where they feel comfortable, like Todd said before, it’s quiet. It’s not a lot of interruptions.
CHRIS:So when Infinite Red started out, was it a remote company to a certain degree?
KEN: It depends on where you start counting. It depends on which of us you’re asking-
TODD: Yeah, because-
KEN: Because we were two companies before we started.
TODD: Yes, there was Jamon’s company, which he ran for 10 years. They were not remote. Infinite Red, the previous Infinite Red before the merge, and we became the new Infinite Red, we started out as 100% remote company on purpose, and our intention was to remain that way for the life of the company.
JAMON: Yeah, and it was kind of an interesting transition for us. Because we were not remote for sure, and we were all working in an office here in Vancouver, Washington. It was right about the time that I met Todd, and I don’t remember exactly to be honest, whether it was influence from Infinite Red that kind of moved us toward remote, or whether we were … I know that I had some employees asking about it already, so that was certainly a factor. But the other Infinite Red, the original Infinite Red being a model was really helpful to us, for ClearSight, because Todd and I shared a lot of information, and he would tell me about things that he was passionate about, and one of them was obviously remote work. And we were able to start transitioning that way, and by the time the merger happened, we were pretty much all remote, except for me. Because I was building a home, and living with my in-laws. So I didn’t really have a great spot to work, so I ended up staying in the office for another year.
TODD: Yep. Ken and I originally discussed, I’ve worked throughout my 20 years of being a software engineer, I’ve worked in the office full-time. I’ve worked partially remote, and I’ve worked 100% remote. I personally feel that in the office full-time, or 100% remote are the two superior options. I don’t like the hybrid view for many reasons. So we were very specifically going to be 100% not 99, not 98%, but 100% remote for everyone for all time.
KEN: I feel like I should mention something ironic, which actually proves the point a little bit, which is that as we speak, I am in the same room as Todd, which is in his house, and we are here because it’s my daughter’s spring break, and we just decided to come and visit. But as far as the team is concerned, there’s zero difference. They don’t care, it doesn’t matter, the only hassle is that we had to set up fancy microphones set up in order to make this work. Right?
Which kind of proves the point, right? Which is that when everybody’s in their own room, there’s actually a lot of things are much simpler.
Yes. We don’t discount the benefits that can come from being in the same room sometimes, it’s just we don’t value it so highly that we’re willing to sacrifice everything else on that altar, which is what tends to end up happening in commute-oriented companies.
JAMON: Ken wrote a really great article on our blog, The Day They Invented Offices. It’s a hypothetical conversation between a real estate developer, and a knowledge worker, like an engineer.
KEN: It’s satire.
JAMON: And it talks about a world where basically if offices were not invented, people worked remotely by default. But the real estate developer’s trying to convince the knowledge worker that they need to change to a commute company. And all of the benefits that that would entail, and all of the costs as well.
TODD: Yeah, it’s interesting, because when you do that thought experiment, you realize how ridiculous it would be to go from default remote working situation into a commute working situation, because you’d have to build trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure to make it work. So it was fascinating. I do want to say one thing, Ken mentioned that he was sitting in my office, which he is. I feel him breathing down my neck at the moment. Even if, and we actually have a physical office in Vancouver, Washington, which is in the Portland area. Very few people go there.
KEN: It’s a mailbox with a couple chairs attached.
TODD: But sometimes people will go there and work, and anyone on the team is welcome to do that. Or Ken is in a situation. But we have a basic rule where even if you’re physically next to someone, we still work the same way. Meaning we don’t have a meeting where Ken and I are talking to each other in person, and everyone … All the remote people are second class citizens where they’re not seeing our conversation. We’re looking at each other, and we’re making body motion, that kind of stuff. So we still work as if we’re remote, even if we’re physically in the same location.
CHRIS: That’s really interesting too, I mean what kind of discipline goes into keeping things where everyone can be a part of it, not just defaulting to that person to person conversation when you’re in the same room?
TODD: I’m in charge of discipline. We tried writing things on the chalkboard many times, it did not work. Detention seemed a little juvenile. So we went to the old classic of cat of nine tails.
KEN: Yeah. As an escalation.
TODD: To answer your question seriously, which I have difficulty doing, there are a lot of difficulties. Fundamentally, they come from the fact that a lot of people have not only never experienced remote work, have never seen it. We’re too many generations removed from the 1800’s, when almost everyone worked at their house, basically, and their house was downtown. Your parents didn’t work that way, your grandparents didn’t work … they’ve never seen it in existence. So they really don’t know how it works. Not only they don’t know how it works, their family definitely doesn’t know how it works. And probably the number one problem we have is family, and friends, local family and friends not respecting that the person’s actually working.
One of the tricks I tell people, and it works pretty well, is just tell your family member that your boss is getting mad at you, or your boss wants you to do something. Because even if you’re remote, everyone understands the boss. And just throw me under the bus, it’s totally fine, and that seems to work. But that’s part of the biggest challenge, is family not respecting your space.
JAMON: I think Todd touched on something really important, and that’s that this is actually not that new. That was the default way to work. People didn’t commute to work. They worked on a farm.
KEN: Maybe they walked down the street, but in most cases, not.
JAMON: This idea that we have gigantic super highways, and huge transit systems and stuff, just to move people from one location that they could work to another location that they could work for no apparent other reason, it’s a little bit mind boggling. Now I understand, I understand why it came to be. Remote tools, which we’re not going to talk about much in this episode, but remote tools have not historically been that great, and the experience has been pretty bad. But that’s changing, it very much is changing.
TODD: The industrial revolution when people started working at factories, and started commuting, and the transportation revolution that facilitated a lot of that. Most of human history, work was not separated from life. Their work life didn’t make sense, because you’re either relaxing and drinking lemonade, or you’re making dinner, or you’re sweeping your house, or you’re pulling out the potatoes in your backyard, if you’re a farmer. The reason we have work life balance now, is because work can be fairly distressing, and you need a break from it.
But typically back then, let’s say you’re a blacksmith, your shop would be on main street, and your house would be behind your shop, or above your shop. So your children would live within feet of where you worked, and where your spouse worked. Whether your spouse worked in the home, or did other things. So your children would eat all your meals with you, they would go to school, school is probably pretty close if they were older. If they were younger, they would eat your meals with you. They’d be around your work, they would see work going on all the time.
It just wouldn’t be work, it would just be normal, for instance, if you’re done with your particular task today, and there’s a customer coming in who wants something built for their wagon at two, you might hang out with your children, do some housework, or just play games, or whatever. And then when your customer comes in, you go into the shop, and you service that customer. The industrial revolution made it where adults had to start to pretend to work so they didn’t get in trouble.
JAMON: So my six year old daughter had an assignment at school, and one of the questions was where does your parent or guardian go to work? And she wrote, “The gym.” Because to her, that’s when I left the house, was to go work out at the gym.
TODD: That’s so awesome.
KEN: The phenomenon that you’re talking about Todd, where the industrial revolution began this process where people started working out of the home, there was a really good reason for that, which is that it was the beginning of humans having to collaborate in a large scale way on bigger problems than they had had in the past, right? Before that, the only place where you would see really large scale collaboration like that would have been I suppose-
KEN: Warfare, yeah. That’s the place where people would leave the house, and collaborate in large numbers, that was really it.
KEN: Maybe large farms, I don’t know, you could kind of consider that. But culminating in the 20th century, where that was the norm for people to go and collaborate in relatively large numbers some place away from their home. It enabled them to solve problems that you couldn’t solve without involving that many people. And of course, we don’t want to give that up, and so that’s what the modern remote telecommuting company does, is it creates this new kind of collaboration layer, and we’ve been very deliberate about how we construct that.
And I think that’s one of the places where companies that kind of dabble with remote tend to fall down, which is that they have all these inherited ways of collaborating that you do when you’re in an office together, and some of them don’t work anymore. You can’t just tap your coworker on the shoulder, you can’t just go and like sit next to their screen. You can’t all pile into an office on an impromptu basis. So you have to reconstruct habits, technologies, whatever, that can replace those things, and augment them.
And we think that, overall, you end up with a better result having gone through that effort of being deliberate about that. And that in a generation, no one will think about these things anymore, because they will simply be the inherited defaults that people who work in an office together enjoy today. And we sometimes meet in person, right? Once a year we get the whole team together, the executive team comes together more often than that. It’s not that we don’t value that, but we think of it is as a luxury.
TODD: Well, it’s not necessarily a luxury perhaps, it’s important socialization. So Ken and I actually discussed, we went over a pros and cons, like what’s good about working in an office? Or in a cubicle, or in hell? What’s good about that? Well, you’re around other people, and every answer we came up with that was good was all social. It had nothing to do with actually producing any kind of work product.
And I basically tell people I commute to socialize, as opposed to commuting to work. So instead of commuting to work five days a week, and socializing one of those days in the office at an office party or something, I work remotely, and I commute to the office party once a week. Not our office, but just local friends, and that kind of stuff.
JAMON: It’s kind of a funny thing, but yeah, you want to hang out with your friends, not necessarily just with your coworkers. And that may sound kind of weird, and the environment we are now, where often you do make friends with coworkers, and that’s all great. But your social life can be something that is a little more deliberate outside of work.
KEN: It’s not like we discount the social value of people working together in an office, like I enjoyed that when I did it. But I think you’re seeing with the rise of WeWork, and similar places, like just in the last five years I’ve seen the number of co-working facilities explode. And I think that that’s part of the same trend, which is that you can have that experience without having to drive for an hour each way, every day.
One of our team members, Darin Wilson, he works every day out of a co-location place, and he walks for 10 minutes to the co-location area. That for him is the most efficient, he enjoys that, and that works out well. It’s a great example of what works for one person doesn’t work for others. I would not like that personally. I also don’t like listening to music when I work, other people do. When you remote work, if you like to listen to death metal at extremely high volumes, well have at it. It’s great, it’s wonderful.
KEN: Just turn it off before you get on Zoom please.
TODD: Yes. So one of the things I think we shouldn’t overlook is some of the great benefits of working say in a cubicle. I would probably estimate 99% of all the funny videos, cool things you find on the internet, were created by extremely bored people sitting in a gray cube. I call them employee fattening pins. So the zombies will appreciate this lifestyle. Not that I dislike commute working, I hope I haven’t given off that vibe.
JAMON: Not at all.
CHRIS: How does remote work make a more engaged worker?
JAMON: You know, you have to work at it. There isn’t just this appearance of working, right? The only thing that really surfaces is what you actually do, not what it looks like you’re doing in your cubicle, right? And because of that, the only way to tell that you are working is to actually work.
TODD: Well to actually produce work product, to be more specific.
JAMON: Actually produce work product, exactly. And we go to great lengths to try to not tie work specifically to time. Because while an eight hour work day is pretty normal, and generally okay, if there are ways to accomplish your work more efficiently, you should be rewarded for that, and not penalized for that by having to sit in your seat for another two hours. It’s more about stripping away the appearance of work, and turning to the actual product.
TODD: One of our team members moved from Reno, Nevada, to San Diego, California. She moved over a weekend, Friday she worked, and Monday she worked. From the team’s perspective, absolutely nothing had changed. Although, she moved I don’t know how many miles that is. Hundreds, tens of miles. So that kind of stuff is uber cool. One of our new team members said, “I’m going to New York for a week, can I still work?” And I said, “I assume you can still work in New York. I haven’t been there in a few years, but I imagine they still allow that.”
Turns out they do. Strangely. So I’ll tell you a personal story of mine. After I eat at lunch, I don’t know if it’s my digestive system, or whatever, it sucks the energy out of me so bad. When I worked in a smaller place where people trusted me, I would just kind of take a little nap in my chair. When I worked for bigger companies where such things were frowned upon, I would sit there for two hours from say 1 o’clock to 3 o’clock, trying my best to keep my eyes open pretending to work, and sort of reading Facebook. It’s just stupid, and I did that when I was 34 years old. It’s just stupid to have adults behave in this way, it really is.
JAMON: Yeah, we don’t look at that as some sort of a weakness.
TODD: Nowadays, I did made a little bit of fun, that’s fine. I really enjoy the siesta. I’ll go take literally an hour nap after I eat, and then I come back refreshed, and I get lots of work done. And I tell people, I’m going to take siesta, there’s no shame in that whatsoever.
JAMON: And I think that’s important, when the CEO’s doing it, it kind of gives people permission to work in the way that is most efficient for them.
TODD: Exactly. I personally believe it’s super important to have 100% of people remote. The CEO on down. A lot of companies out there that claim to be remote, they’re partially remote, and that’s fine. I’m glad it works for them. But when you’re CEO, and your other executive team have to use all the same tools, remote tools and everything that everyone does, it’s not fair, but it’s true. Those tools get a lot better. It’s true. So if you have the CO sitting in an office, and they don’t have to experience the horribleness that is a poly comm conference call, then it’s never going to improve.
CHRIS: What are some of the common misconceptions of remote work that you often have to explain, or even defend?
TODD: Oh, there’s lots. One, you’re not really working. That’s the biggest thing. Two is that you’re probably doing your laundry, playing video games, and other such things that people imagine. Those are the kinds of-
KEN: Sometimes you are, I’ll get to that.
TODD: Well sure, sometimes you are and that’s fine. But the biggest one if you’re at home, people can bother you. Like my mother, which I love very much, she’s funny. She comes to visit, and I’ve worked remote off and on for a long time, so she should understand this by now. But she’ll be like, she’ll come in and talk to me. And she’ll say, “Oh I know you’re working,” and I have a separate office, so it’s very apparent that you’re walking into my office.
And she goes, “I know you’re working so that’s fine. Finish your work up, and then we’ll talk in an hour or so.” And I’m like, “Mom, remember,” my mom’s retired. I go, “Remember when you worked? You had to go there for eight hours? It was like from 9 AM to 5 PM? It’s the same for me, it’s not exactly the hours, but it’s not like one hour.” And so bless her heart, she’s going to give me an hour to get my work done, and then we can talk about whatever she wants to talk about.
KEN: I think one of the misconceptions that’s not a misconception is that it can tend to blur your work time and your personal time. Then one of the things that people say that they like about having a commute and an office to go is that their work time is over there, and their personal time is over here. And I wish I could say that that’s not an issue with remote work. It is kind of an issue for the reasons that Todd mentions. Right, it takes a certain amount of discipline to set that boundary.
I’m going to make the case that that’s not a problem. It is a problem if you hate your work. If you need to like recover from the boiler room that is your work, or the boredom room, or whatever it is that makes your work uncomfortable. That is a problem. I think of this as a feature of remote work, and it echoes what Todd said about it needing to be the CEO on down. Because if it is the CEO on down, the CEO is going to have the same problems that you are. Right? The three of us have the same pressure about when does work begin and end? Are we kind of always working, are we never working? What is that boundary?
And it forces the company to either become a good enough place to work that people want to work, and they’re not bothered by the fact that it kind of mixes in with their personal life, or die. Like as the evolutionary pressure on the remote work niche, is that you have to be good communicators. You have to be respectful, and you have more ways that you can be respectful, because you’re not having to share as much space with people. You don’t have fights over what people put in the damn refrigerator. You don’t have fights over who’s playing what music, and who put up what offensive poster, or all of these things that come when you’re forced into this little box together.
TODD: The one I really miss is when someone leaves the company, and everyone kind of looks at each other and says, “Is two minutes too soon to go raid everything out of their office?”
TODD: And you see these 50 year old people scrambling around like the hunger games, trying to get the better stapler.
KEN: The chair, it’s always the chairs and monitors. Those are the real prizes.
TODD: Yes, and I’ve worked for places, like I like a very nice monitor. And I always bring my own, because companies never provide that, typically. I’ve been told, “Oh, we can’t have that because if you have a big monitor, other people will be jealous, and so you can’t have that.” And I’m like, “Well, okay, I’m going to have it. So either this conversation’s escalating, or you have a wonderful lunch.”
JAMON: I think that’s something really insightful about this that we’ll probably touch on a lot in our podcast, but that is that we’re purposely putting these constraints on ourselves that require that we become a better company. That we become a better, we continue to work on culture. We don’t have the easy outs that many companies do. And people will look at that and say, “Well, but you can’t do that easy out thing that we all do.” And we say, “Exactly, we have to do it differently, we have to do it better. We have to work on it.” Remote tools are terrible, exactly. We have to go find better remote tools, we have to work on that.
Those constraints are good. They’re very good. They’re healthy. There’s something that forces us to continue to innovate, and to self reflect, and look at how we work. I mean the blurring of the lines between personal and work as Ken said, I totally agree. It’s about loving your work. And it brings up some positives too, I mean I just spent two weeks in California. We’re not at the stage right now where I necessarily want to take two weeks completely offline. I still want to be somewhat available for Todd and Ken.
But I was able to be on Slack on my phone at various times. Let’s say waiting in line at Disneyland, or something like that. And that may sound terrible to some people, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. It was totally fine, and I loved that I could actually take two weeks for my family to be away, and enjoying the sun, which we don’t get a lot of here.
KEN: In a way, it also makes your vacations more enjoyable, if you know that you’re not coming back to two weeks of email.
KEN: Or things that have fallen apart, or who knows, right, where … yeah.
TODD: I love that spin, that’s fantastic.
JAMON: I don’t see it as spin-
KEN: Not for me, anyway. I think some people might not feel that way.
JAMON: I understand that.
JAMON: A lot of people don’t, and I am speaking personally here. This is not for everybody, some people totally on the uninstall Slack when they go on vacation, that’s fine. For me though, I was on the plane, and I was basically archiving a bunch of emails, and I get into work this morning, and I could hit the ground running, and I’m good to go. What is the real cost of totally disconnecting? The real cost would have been I couldn’t take two weeks. I couldn’t be away that long. That’s what it would have been. I was able to benefit from that, you may only see the downsides, but there’s positives there.
KEN: And to be clear, this is how it is for us as founders. Right? When it comes to our employees, we pretty much encourage them to mute, or uninstall Slack while they’re away.
JAMON: That’s right, that’s right.
KEN: They don’t have as much need to be sort of always on that we do. Yeah, but for us, it’s actually … I mean from my point of view, it’s a benefit.
JAMON: But even that, we have some employees that want to travel, and they want to be gone for a couple months. Three months, even. Taking a three month vacation, that’s pretty tough, that’s pretty tough to do. So with some of them, they may work in the early mornings, or they may work in the late evenings to coincide with their time zone, and then they can be out on a trip for three months. So they are able to continue to be productive during that time.
KEN: And that’s a perk that Google cannot match, period. That is just something that you cannot do if you work for Google.
TODD: Yeah, screw you Google.
KEN: Or whomever, right? Any of these companies that expect a physical presence.
TODD: We’re coming for you, Google.
KEN: The point is, so we have one person who doesn’t have a permanent home. Right? He moves around pursuing his hobbies, and makes it work. We have other employees who have done exactly what Jamon has said, and they’ve gone on extended workcations, right? Where they’re able to get their work done, and they have the experience of frankly, actually living in another country, as opposed to just being a tourist. And we have high standards for how they get their work done while they’re doing that, but because we’ve had to develop standards that really measure people’s impact rather than their face time, it works.
TODD: Copyright Apple.
KEN: There was a space, you couldn’t really hear it when I said it-
KEN: So there was a face, space time. Yeah, right, anyway.
TODD: Yeah, we talked about people who want to take longer physical trips around, whether it’s around the US, around the world, what not, the benefits. But there’s a benefit for another set of people, and I would probably consider myself in that group, as well as some of our other team members, and that’s people who choose to live rurally.
TODD: We have one person who lives really rurally, and he has a lot of land and stuff, and he can have the lifestyle that he enjoys, and still have a very productive and successful career. Myself, I do live in Las Vegas, but I live in rural Las Vegas. I have a little bit of land. It allows me to live in this way, when I used to have to live in San Francisco, which I enjoyed for a long time, but as I got older I wanted to go back to living on the land and stuff. So for people who want to live rurally, or not just the typical urban or suburban lifestyle, it’s fantastic.
CHRIS: So when it comes to the client experience of working with a 100% remote company, how do they respond to this way of work?
TODD: That’s a great question, Chris. Various ways depending on the client. Some clients, that’s the way they work, and they love it. Like they see us kindred spirits, that’s the way they like to work. Other clients especially if maybe they’re more enterprise city type clients and stuff, maybe aren’t as familiar with it. We kind of insist on it to be honest, even if the client’s local to some or many of our employees, our team. And we just explain it, and we are very articulate in the way we describe how we work.
And sometimes they have to have a little faith in us, but after they work through our process, they probably never seen a remote company that works well. I think our company works as well as I’ve seen. We work with a few companies who are both I think do a good job like we do. A lot of them do not, and I’m very proud to say that quite a few customers who maybe have part-time remote work started opting our procedures, which is a fantastic compliment, and it makes me proud. Because we do spend a huge amount of time thinking about this stuff, and working on it.
JAMON: That’s actually more common than you think, that we influence our clients in the way that they work.
TODD: Can you expand on that Jamon?
JAMON: When clients come in, and they experience the Infinite Red way of working, and they see the thought and care that we put into it, and how we’re all kind of bought into it, and how we also iterate on it, because it’s an ongoing process. We don’t have it perfect yet, we’re continuing to work on it. They see that things get done, that it can be done well, and that they have the flexibility that remote work affords. It’s a pretty neat thing to see them working the way that we love to work.
TODD: I don’t want to digress, but we use Slack quite a bit for chat communication, that sort of thing. We use email next to nothing. But we have a channel we call rollcall, and the channel is very simple. It’s just kind of describe where you are, and if you’re working or not. It’s analogous to walking in the office and saying, “Good morning everyone, gosh my back hurts, I’ve been at the gym.” And it works really, really well, because it’s not forced on people, and people really enjoy the back and forth. So let me just go through this morning’s rollcall.
One of our team members signed on at 3 AM, and then she went out for breakfast at 6 o’clock. Other people started signing in, one person signed in. It said they laptop issues that they fixed, they explained why. People gave some reactions. Other people just signed in, I said, “Good morning.” One person said, “Short break,” this is at 9 AM, “Picking up the car from the mechanic.” We won’t have exactly specific times people have to be working, or available, we want people to be so many hours a day where they can coordinate with other people, have meetings, have work sessions, that kind of stuff. But it’s not uncommon people say, “My daughter’s having a recital, I’m going to leave after lunch, I’ll be back and probably work some this evening.”
No client meetings, no one’s being impacted by that, great, we all give him thumbs up, we say, “Hope it goes well.” No one asked if they can do that, no one says, “Hey Todd, can I go to that?” And then around lunchtime, everyone says they’re lunching. They might talk about what they ate, some sort of friendly conversation, and you just kind of get a feeling of your team going about their day. And I will finish this long story up by saying it’s kind of fascinating. So one of the people I work a lot with is Gant Laborde, who lives in New Orleans. And we work a lot during the day. And when he comes and visits me physically, or I go to New Orleans and visit him, it doesn’t feel like I’m visiting a friend I haven’t seen in a while. There isn’t a lot of chat about how things have been going, it’s nice to see you again.
Because I’ve seen him every day for hours, and I just saw him this morning. And by see him, I mean interacted with him either in a video call, or on Slack, or whatever. It doesn’t feel like I’m just finally meeting him, it’s like we’re just continuing what we were doing this morning, it’s just we happen to physically be in the same space. It’s very interesting phenomena.
JAMON: I find it kind of flabbergasting in a way that companies would care about someone taking a break, or going to pickup their daughter, or having to go pickup the car from the mechanic.
TODD: Lazy leadership.
JAMON: That’s exactly right.
TODD: I recommend if you’re a lazy … for the lazy leaders out there, or the bad leaders, yeah, don’t do remote work. Stick with cubicles, make the cubicles as comfortable as possible to get the worst employees so the rest come to us.
KEN: It’s probably worth talking about people for whom it wouldn’t be a good fit. Obviously there’s still plenty of jobs out there where physical presence is implicitly required. Anybody who works in retail, anybody who works with their hands, has to actually physically manipulate things. I think our point has always been that there’s just not as many of those as people think.
And to be honest, I suspect that over the next 20, 30 years, as robotics and telepresence, and that sort of thing start to really come into their own, that even those sorts of jobs will start to diminish. You already have that even with like medical, the medical field, legal field, things that used to be sort of a high, high physical presence will become more low physical presence.
TODD: Surgeons right now are doing surgery with a DaVinci system, both physically, and I think they can do it remotely now. Like they’re standing next to it typically, but I think they can do it remotely at the moment.
JAMON: What’s kind of funny about that is my dad owned an excavation company, and he was one of the first people to get a cell phone, because for him, everything was remote. Like he had to be remote, because he was driving his dump truck to the job site, he had to be there working, and he had to do his office work, because he was like the only guy. He didn’t have an office, he didn’t have someone handling the paperwork, he had to create invoices on the fly and stuff. So in some ways, some of those blue collar jobs had some of these things figured out way before we did.
TODD: That’s actually a super interesting point. Logistic companies, or shipping, truck drivers and stuff. They’ve had to deal with this, I don’t know how old you all are out there in listening land, but if you remember Nextel phones, with the automatic walkie talkie feature-
TODD: They’re useful, very useful. Kind of like an analog Slack, really. So yeah, it’s fascinating. A lot of the so called blue collar work has had to deal with this for a very long time.
KEN: And it’s worth mentioning that even for the core of jobs that will always be physical in person, if you took every office out there that didn’t need to be an office, and you converted that to a remote job where people can live anywhere, the reduction in pressure on the real estate market, on the transportation system that would ensue, would make life better for everybody.
KEN: Right? The people who have to commute can commute, because I mean you have this phenomenon as cities grow, where they’ll build a new highway, and for five, 10 years if you’re lucky, things are great. Because there’s all this extra capacity, but what happens in the meantime, is that further down that highway, developers start cramming new houses in, because suddenly it’s a doable commute. And then within that five, 10, maybe 20 years, it’s back to the way it was, maybe worse than it was, because now there’s even more people trying to cram into this road.
But if you just snap your fingers, and moved all of those offices out so that that knowledge workers, the people who are working with their brains, and with words, and with digital images, and that sort of thing. And they all scatter to the winds, and live where they want to live, and not in Fremont, or wherever it is that they’re living to commute to San Francisco. I feel like, right, maybe like I don’t think I’ve ever seen a study like this, but it seems like it would stand to reason at least that the pressure on transportation would reduce to the point that everybody’s quality of life would improve. I don’t know, we’ll see I guess.
JAMON: Yeah, even when you look at something like a dentist office, which is probably extremely resistant to this sort of thing, there’s just the robotics are not there yet. And maybe even if they were the trust isn’t there yet, with the general public. But how many other people are in that office that don’t need to be drilling on teeth? They could be elsewhere. And you’re exactly right, the infrastructure, and it’s actually kind of happening in some ways.
You look at some of the high rises in downtown Portland and stuff, people are coming and living in the city because they want to live in the city, and not because it’s next to their office. And a lot of these offices are now being converted into apartments and condos, and being kind of near offices, where you can work from your house. And what would cities look like if every job that could be remote was remote?
KEN: I mean yeah, can you imagine a world where the city center is the bedroom community, right?
TODD: That would be awesome.
KEN: Where people live because they want to be next to the cultural opportunities in the city. And the minority of people who actually have to physically work at some job in the city, can live next to their work, because there’s just more housing, because like much less of the city is taken over by the kind of white collar workplaces that have been traditional for city centers.
TODD: That’s actually really interesting to think about.
TODD: I imagine somewhere in hell, there is an eight hour bumper to bumper commute, and you’re not in a car, but you’re literally in a cubicle with a steering wheel.
CHRIS: One of the things that I want to go back and touch on is this idea of leadership, and how remote work isn’t for the lazy leader. So let me ask the question of the three of you, how has being 100% remote made you a better leader?
JAMON: Well, I can speak to my experience going from ClearSight not being remote to being remote. I’m kind of in some ways a forceful personality. I’m kind of a person who likes to move fast, and bring everybody along with him. And in an office, there’s actually a sort of almost like a physical component to that. Like the leader’s right there, and he’s enthusiastic about something. He’s moving fast, and he’s doing his thing, and he’s talking about it where everybody can hear. When I look back at it now, that was sort of lazy leadership. It was. It wasn’t necessarily the type of leadership that was people coming along because they were enthusiastic about it, it was more that they were just kind of following the force of nature that was moving that direction.
Now that I’m remote, I don’t have those physical cues, verbal cues, things like that, to bring everybody along. And it requires a lot more thought and planning around how to get people on board with concepts, and how to get people moving in the right direction. It’s a really interesting thing, and it’s not something I’ve totally figured out yet, but it’s something I’m moving toward.
KEN: I would say that it has forced me to be more explicit about expectations, since you don’t have this inherited set of defaults. You have to say, “This is what we expect from you.” It’s not, “We expect you to come in the office at nine,” it’s, “You need to be available to clients during an agreed upon window,” for example. Or as we had mentioned before, “Here’s our productivity benchmark, and this is what we’re looking at.” You might have to develop some of those in any kind of company, and you should. But our setup, it exposes any fault lines in your expectations, and you have to address them. As Todd said, like if you want to be a lazy leader, don’t do it.
TODD: I would pile on what Ken said, you have to be able to measure what people, their work output, their work product. That is not easy, even in industries where it’s obvious what their work product is. Say they paint paintings, you can see that they painted a painting. That is probably the most challenging thing, and then there’s the emotional part. Where if you can’t measure their work product, and you can’t see them sitting in a seat, you’re just going to have to have faith in them, and get over yourself worrying about it. But it is challenging to make sure that you have a semi-accurate view of who’s actually being efficient, and who’s not. And just not 100% thing.
JAMON: That’s more on the management side of things. Leadership side of things too is difficult, because getting people to see a vision is much easier when you can just say, “Okay,” kind of the Michael Scott thing. “Everybody in the conference room in five minutes.” That’s a very different thing than what we do.
TODD: I think it’s challenging, but to be honest, I’m not staying awake at night worrying about those challenges. I find them fairly straightforward, you just have to put effort into it. Keep on walking down that road, and I think it works out really well to be honest. It’s not a big deal to me.
JAMON: You just have to strike the right balance.
TODD: There was a tweet last week where basically it said, “During any meeting, you don’t have to listen, just at one point you have to comment and say, ‘I think the solution to this problem is just striking the right balance’, and then everyone in the meeting nods, and you were involved.”
KEN: Because it’s always true.
JAMON: It’s always true.
TODD: Yes, so that’s a running joke here at Infinite Red, where in the meeting at some point someone says, “We just need to strike the right balance.” We all laugh.
CHRIS: Looking into the future, do you see more and more companies adopting remote work?
TODD: It’s one of our missions, our side missions as a company, to make it more. It’s probably other than software engineering, and software design, which is obviously our main focus of our company. Other than that, probably the number one thing that we’re interested in promoting in the world is remote work. So I hope the answer is, it’s more I don’t know, I’m sure Ken and Jamon have some good insight in what they predict.
JAMON: I think that one of the factors that will influence this is I look at my kids, like generation Z. And they don’t know what it’s like not to be connected, and they don’t know what it’s like not to be able to just talk to their cousin via FaceTime, no space, and who lives in South Carolina. This is normal to them, this is a normal thing to them, this is a normal way to live and to work. Well, they don’t really work, but just to do things.
KEN: We’ll fix that.
JAMON: Obviously for my kids, they’re around remote work all the time. But it is a way of life, and I think that you’ll also see other things like there are more ways to learn online, versus going to a university and sitting in a classroom. There are plenty of other opportunities for them to get used to this way of doing life. And I think that will have an impact. It may not be moving as quickly as we would like, we would like to see a lot more industries move into being remote work for a variety of reasons. But I think that that is a factor.
KEN: I will echo that and say that both my wife and I work from home. And my daughter makes the same face when you say that some people have to like drive to a special place, as when you say that you used to have to come to the TV at a particular time to watch your show. Right? But even before the generational shift, I think it is happening more and more. Ironically, Silicon Valley, which should be at the vanguard of this, is one of the most resistant to the idea.
I think that’s partly because they’ve had so much money flowing through, that they’ve been able to afford the enormous luxury of moving everybody to this expensive place, and then putting them in an expensive office. And to be honest, for a company that is chasing a multi billion dollar idea, and trying to beat their competitors over the next six months, there’s a case to be made for doing that. But I think way, way more of those companies think that they are doing that than actually are.
JAMON: I actually have a question for you Ken, do you think that this will … you know you said Silicon Valley is resistant to this, and that’s a very location based geo fence there. Do you think that the revolution of remote work will happen irrespective of where people are located, but maybe in a different cohort? A different type of people will bring remote work to the forefront more so than a specific place. Let’s say for example Detroit, or something, decided it all of a sudden is all remote. That’s probably less likely to happen then-
KEN: I think that that’s one of the key pieces of this, is like it’s like it’s creating it’s own virtual location. That there’s a set of people who don’t have the same relationship with place, and that sounds really pretentious kind of. But like they just don’t think about physical locations in the same way. The cost aspect of it has caused it to grow in more cost sensitive industries than venture backed startups. And it’s not that they don’t have those, but I think it’s also a certain amount of bias on the part of the venture capitalists themselves, and the kind of people that appeal to them. This is my guess, they will crack eventually.
TODD: Having worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years, I do love Silicon Valley, and love San Francisco for sure. But when it comes to remote work, they have an inherent bias against it, because when you endure the heavy cost of relocating to Silicon Valley, and you’ve got your foot into that door, and you’re part of that community, anything that would diminish the rewards from that suffering diminishes you. In other words, it’s wonderful being there as an engineer. Everyone you meet is engineers, they’re all working on interesting projects. There’s a real benefit, I think there’s other cities too. Especially some secondary cities like Portland, Oregon, or-
TODD: Seattle yeah, and Texas.
TODD: Thank you. Austin, Texas. I think these are up and coming and stuff. And there’s still benefits socially to it, but I think a lot of times they resist it because it diminishes their specialness in many ways.
TODD: And really when we started Infinite Red, and we decided that this will be a remote company forever, and that this is my third and hopefully last company I build, it allowed me to move back to my home state of Nevada without worrying about my career, and that is an incredibly powerful thing.