Just because your team wants more remote options doesn’t make it easy to pull off. In fact, a lot of remote work takes a complete rewiring of the mind.
Sahin Boydas has been in the remote space for a long time and has a lot of great tips for leaders who are in the midst of the transition.
Start with the why. A lot of the transition to remote work is hard. If you don’t keep the benefits in mind from the start, you will start to wonder if it’s worth the effort. Sahin centers on the elimination of the commute and the ability to connect with people from around the world.
Trust people. If you start remote work skeptical if people are actually going to be working, you’ll never succeed. You must start with complete trust that everyone wants to do a great job.
Experiment with tools and communication. In-office replicas like Zoom and Slack work well, but you also need to get comfortable with asynchronous tools. All communication problems aren’t solved by better tools. Sometimes you need better agreements on how you will use the tools.
Using time tracking for personal productivity, not to monitor employees. Time tracking tools give you a lot of insight on how you are spending your time online, and lead to a lot of self-awareness. But don’t use them to force people to prove that they are working.
Embrace cultural differences. Sahin works with people from all around the world. They have a time when each person gets to explain a unique holiday from their home to learn to appreciate differences.
Take written communication seriously. Remote workers must be great at processing in text and writing clearly. So much of work happens outside of synchronous communication in remote teams and you must be able to document it and share with others.
Sahin on LinkedIn
Sahin on Twitter
Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. Today, I’m very excited. We have a great guest. We have Sahin Boydas on the show. He is the CEO of RemoteTeam.com. Sahin, how are you today?
I’m very good. How are you? Thank you for inviting me.
Well, I’m excited that you said yes and you’re on the show. You got a lot of cool stuff to talk about. RemoteTeam.com is a great site, lots of good resources there but let’s be sure. You run this Remote Team. You might be some kind of bot or some kind of AI thing that’s out there. So, I want to prove that you’re human. Your check-in question is, what’s something you are thankful for today?
I’m really thankful for my human experience. I really like it. With all the ups and downs working in a tech company your life changes every day. There can be five things going on or there’s one thing going great, but at the same time there are five things going horrible and you have to have this roller coaster effect that you need to have a good stomach for. Suit yourself out there and don’t take it seriously. But it’s insanely difficult not to take it seriously, but I do it. I was an entrepreneur in my family. I’m a third-generation entrepreneur. I’m not used to it or immune to it. But it seems difficult.
Yeah. I was just talking to somebody yesterday who was a former guest on the show and it’s the same thing. It’s ups and downs. You have to get used to that kind of lifestyle if that’s what you want.
You’re always on a roller coaster. Think about being on a roller coaster for eight hours and no one is stopping it.
That is a good analogy. I like that a lot.
There are super cool people raising hundreds of million dollars in the backyard in the back, but their bodies are rotting. So, you need to be really thankful for the experience. Otherwise, there’s no way to survive in a high-competitive tech environment. It’s very difficult.
Well, lead us into a little bit about your company, RemoteTeam.com. Tell us a bit about the background of it and what it is.
So, I will tell you something, maybe I’m telling it for the first time for you this way. I will tell you how I bought the domain name. Is it okay?
Okay. Yeah. Because that’s a great domain.
Yeah, it’s a great domain. So, I moved to Silicon Valley 10 years ago. In 10 years, I had a great chance to get great investors, work with great people, have great co-founders, and I always had a remote team. Like always. I never had an office. We had an office that’s now Uber’s driver center in San Francisco, but it was a shared office, and we went there time-to-time with my cofounder but all of our team and employees were all over the world – Europe, Russia, India, Turkey, Israel, Mexico. All over, always.
And I always believed in remote work. Because before that in a very short time in my life, I had an office one hour away, and I was one hour in traffic. And I like what Elon Musk says about this – it’s a soul killing experience. You’re really wasting your one hour. And it’s not one hour because we have to relax the whole hormonal system, like you’re avoiding the traffic in the head, right? It’s so crazy.
And I remember really clearly, when I was talking with investors 10 years ago, when I was telling them I had a remote team, they always told me, ‘Remote team will not work.’ ‘Don’t have a remote team.’ ‘People will hire you for your local talent.’ And now, it has changed a lot.
Now, the first thing is like, ‘Oh, you have a remote team.’ It is now a cool thing. And because of that, I had a lot of amazing operational experience on this. And I was in August summer 2018-19, before COVID, and I went to Costa Rica. And I loved the experience there. And I really saw a future of the world that was working remotely. Empty streets of San Francisco, California. I didn’t know it was COVID or something. I saw some regions.
And then I was in Stanford StartX as an accelerator there, I was part of them. And there were 20 founders there and nearly all of them are hiring remotely and they have the same questions, ‘How can I hire someone in Germany?’ ‘How can I hire a contractor?’ ‘How can I send money?’ ‘Is there Gusto for remote teams?’ like a payroll for remote teams, right? And I said, ‘Okay, well.’ I had the domain name for five years. I was just waiting for the right time. And I said, ‘Okay, the time has arrived.’ And just before COVID, I was able to co-operate in October, and it has been a great journey since then.
Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that story about how you just were in the right place at the right time, and you’d been doing it for long enough that you had the experience behind it.
Remote Team is my third company and my second company sort of divided into two sites, so I will say it’s my fourth company in Silicon Valley. I realize it’s all about timing. In Silicon Valley, you get the amplification effect when you have great timing. Because the wind blows you behind. If you’re one off the top, you can really get a lot of funding. You can get a lot of people. A lot of people want to work with a good timing product. I didn’t realize this in the last 10 years but after Remote Team I sort of realized that it needs to be a perfect timing product. That ‘why now’ is really important.
That’s a great perspective. When it comes to the idea of ‘the now’ that we’re in, a lot of companies, like you said, they’re all looking at how do we do this remote thing? How do we do this hybrid thing? What do you find are some of those typical fears that people have about remote work that really are unfounded, that are very easy to get across?
Yeah. There are two types of companies. There are traditional companies, and there are, let’s say, future, Gen Z, remote first companies, right? They have a feeling that you need to see the person near you to have a connection. And they have a very weird tendency, but that is also true. I think it has some valid points that if you are not in office, you don’t work. These are, I think, two very basic stereotypes, I don’t think which exist. And if you have a great culture, if you hire great people, if you have team members who love their work, they actually work more at home than the offices.
And then we saw it in COVID. When I was telling this to people before COVID, they were like, ‘No way. People will not work.’ But now in COVID or after COVID, in the new normal, we start to see that, right? People are working way more hours at home than the office and are way happier in their home. Some people with their family, some people with their loved ones. So, I think these are the two basic fears. Because we have a weird idea that, 400 years, right, since the Industrial Revolution, you need to go somewhere and because of that you sit somewhere, and you’re getting paid, right? So, you have to be in the office, right? So, we have had a social construct, like an ideal construct around this for 50 years, since the 19s, right.
So, with all the live tools we have, it is changing. And of course, the human element is a little bit less, but we are building teams and there will be companies and there will be new kinds of methods to bring that human element into the picture. But I really believe that going to the office is a soul killing experience. Like in San Francisco 101 roads, you’re wasting one hour, one and a half hours of your life if you’re coming from San Jose.
And it happens everywhere, right? Two hours of your life, one tenth, one twelfth of your life is wasted in a car, which most cars don’t even have a filter. So, you just smell all the gas from the street, and it makes your IQ lower. It’s proven by studies. It’s horrible. So, I tell the people who have these two fears. Don’t worry about this. Even if you have it, just keep it. Doesn’t matter. You will see the efficiency when you really hire great people because people will be happier in a remote environment and they will even work more efficiently and might work more hours. Also, that fear is very valid, and companies are seeing it right now.
Yeah. So, what are some of the things that people should be afraid of or they’re often not prepared to have when they make that leap into remote work? They haven’t really thought through those issues. What are some of those issues you think about?
Yeah. The first thing I see in traditional companies, not like tech startups, is trust because there is no monitoring, seeing a thing, right? If you’re in the office, your boss or your manager sees you all the time, right? You are where you punch your card. We have these cards. It’s real. Before you go somewhere when you put that card, they know when you enter. And then they have another card. Now, you want to eat outside and when you enter, they track your time. It’s a timesheet. It’s the way that the legal work hour thing works, right? So, in that remote environment, we don’t have that, right? So, it’s really a trust-based system, and you really need to trust your team.
And now people really work wherever they want. So, it’s more like you really need to hire people who are really passionate about the product you are working on. Then you don’t need to monitor people. Because I think in corporate life, people really don’t like what they’re doing. So, you have to monitor them if they’re going to work or not, right? But in remote work environments, these things don’t happen. And they even fear that they will be less efficient, but it’s not the truth. Now we see amazing successful companies, building great environments, nearly fully remote. Right? And it’s really successful. Yeah. And we have new tools now. We have new tools like Zoom, Slack. I really like our async meetings. So, we have a lot of new tools right now that make this way more efficient and easier.
Yeah. So, I’m hearing you saying measuring employee productivity needs to be totally reworked in people’s minds. You can’t just base it off of the old model of presenteeism. If you’re sitting in your seat, you’re doing work, like you have to do something. So, what are some things in your own company, because your team is fully remote, how do you measure if your people are doing a good job or not? What’s your standards for productivity?
So, we are a 40 people team. We are not like 500, or we are not 3, 4. So, this is where we are at. We don’t have product managers and we don’t have deadlines. We work in a two-week sprint. And, okay, if we have a very big product that I’m going to build, and it’s taking four months, we divide it into these groups. And we do that in two-weeks sprints. And the way we measure it is, we also don’t say things like, ‘You didn’t deliver your thing on time.’ Everyone knows. We are saying things like, ‘This is what we are working on.’ And our team is really dependent on each other. And when we build a structure like that, people are coming with their parts, at the correct time, on the deadline, before deadlines, and almost all time over delivering because they know that we are working together and depending on each other, right?
And we do it in a more cultural way. We don’t use any tools, but we have something that’s very interesting. I really like this. We have desk time. We have a time tracking tool. It’s optional for people to install, but if you install, we give you overtime. And everyone’s desk time is open to each other. So, people can see their desk time. Because when you start to see what you work on and what you waste your time on, it becomes so obvious. ‘Oh my god! I spend so much time searching.’ ‘Maybe I didn’t know about this open source.’ ‘Maybe I didn’t know this part of the code.’ So, we use desk time and the result of tools like this like Time Doctor, RescueTime. And I read something. The WordPress founder said, ‘If I didn’t know RescueTime, I would not be able to build WordPress because it was shocking that I can do some things with this efficiency.’
So, we really like desk time. And people see what they work on, how much time they spend on. But we don’t go check it. We don’t go like, ‘Ah, you spend time on YouTube. Why the hell do you do this?’ It’s totally open and everyone sees it. And in a remote environment, it becomes the punch card, right? And people say, ‘Oh my God! I was wasting all of the time on Spotify or YouTube.’ They start to see it instantly, right? We use that. And there’s efficiency there.
Like, if you’re a coder, and if you search a lot, it means that you are still learning. So, we focus on the learning piece a lot. And we are product-oriented people. For us the whole thing is, can we build this product in the way in the time we want and in the NPS we want, right? Will our users be happy? And that is our performance. Like the user saying, great or not? It’s that simple for us. We are really product focused people.
I love the idea of desk time, and specifically not saying it is mandated, that everyone’s got to use it and we’re going to track it. It’s a method to judge your own productivity and make an option like that.
And I see insane success. In my previous company, I was using a time tracking tool. I will call it a performance management picture. I don’t call it time tracking, but it’s easy for people to search. So, let’s keep it time tracking here for now. I see insane benefits. Everyone turns into, like, ‘Oh my god. I was spending time on so many wrong things.’ And then they see, ‘Wow, I was surfing on the web. I was not using Visual Studio Code.’ It’s mind blowing how people change.
And we have a lot of young people in our team. We have a guy who is 17 years old in our team. We have a lot of people for whom we are their first job. We are their first company that they will work for. I really like to get people in university sophomore, right, second year. And we are their first company. So, they haven’t built the skills yet, right? So, when this time comes to the play, they really work. And we do put flexible time to people. We don’t have something like you have to work eight hours a day. Some people work 12 hours on Monday. Some people work half day on Fridays. And we actually give Friday’s half day. We tell people most of the time, don’t work Fridays. But people work half day on Fridays.
Talk to me about the cultural elements because you said you have people working for you from all around the world. What are the kinds of things you’ve learned about working with different cultures as you’ve built out these teams?
So, I think one great thing about remote work as we are, at least in the US in the last two years, is that we are really living in a divisive environment. But we were really on the edge of a civil war. And God bless the new President. He calmed the people, made the people together. So, we have to do a lot of things around diversity. It’s really sad. It’s really heart shattering. And I talk so much about this topic generally. And what I realize is that location is actually a very simplification of the problems of why there is diversity. Because if you are coming from Ireland, if you are coming from India, if you are coming from Israel, if you are coming from Turkey, Russia, the location is actually the culture. Where you come from actually defines your culture in the whole world, right?
But with remote work, everyone is coming from the same distance. Right? So, it is going to change this cultural element. I think one of the greatest things that will happen is it gives enough great opportunities to people all around the world, and it actually will make places more diverse and more inclusive. And when you have more diversity and inclusion, you create more diverse ideas. The more diverse ideas you have, you create more creativity. If you have more creativity, you have more revenue. Period. It’s that simple.
So, the cultural element I really enjoy a lot because even in Remote Team it’s my favorite tool. What we have in RemoteTeam.com is, we have holidays. And we have official days in every country, and we have religious holidays in every country. It’s interesting. So, every day or I would say every time, you get a random holiday in Africa, or in India, or in Turkey, like what the hell is this. And we allow people to talk about these holidays, and we learn a lot. Everyone learns a lot in these cultural aspects, sharing their culture. And this is more like a personal culture thing. As a company culture, we fully focus on product. Let’s build great products. Let’s enable people to work remotely. Let’s save their time so they don’t waste time on traffic. Let’s make it very easy for everyone.
But on the other hand, when it’s more of a human-to-human cultural thing, I think people really enjoy talking to each other. And we have a big meeting weekly. And we do breakup rooms, and everyone talks about some random cultural element from their countries, and it’s mind blowing. And it’s like, ‘What? That is real.’ We allow people to communicate without filters and that builds up and that breaks all the stereotypical tags around that. And it’s pretty fun. I think people really like it. But we allow people to say whatever they want. People say, ‘What? That is really like this?’ ‘Yeah, it’s real. People have been doing this for 1000 years.’
I love that because there’s so much to learn. Like you said, in a time when it feels like we are more divisive, at least in the United States, just to have those interactions in the work setting, that’s often where you want to have those. You have those chance encounters with somebody from a different perspective and that often leads to a perspective shift of your own.
Yeah, exactly. This will be interesting. I really enjoy this analogy. If you look at the cities that have a seashore, it’s more left and democratic, right? And this is similar to most countries. Even when you go to South France versus North France, or if we go to Turkey, Mediterranean, the middle, or if you go to the US, or the seas, because they have more people. When you have more people, you don’t become conservative. You become more like a liberal, with so many different ideas. You get the opposite, right? Because you start to have so many different people in your life from all over the world. And remote work sort of does that too. So, it’s great. The company is like a seaport. So, you get so many different people from all over the world.
Yeah, you have a lot of cultural infusion I will say. And the more you have, your brain’s social constructs that, we think that is correct or right, will break up. And the more it breaks up, you become more open-minded people because we have a lot of junk in our brains. I love those stupid stereotypes and all of junk.
Sahin, my last question for you is about when a lot of people think of remote work or distributed work, the one complaint is that it tends to be slower. It tends to take longer to get things done, to get decisions, and a lot of that, in your case, maybe with the time zones. When you have people spread across lots of different time zones, it’s hard to catch people in real time. Most of your discussions end up being asynchronous, that’s there, which has its advantages, but one disadvantage tends to be that things just go a little bit slower. So, talk to us about your experience with that. Do you find that true? And how have you coped with that? Do you embrace that? Or do you work against that?
So, that is a great question. That is a great, great question. So, if a company was working in the same time zone and sync for years, the culture and the people are not used to working asynchronously and with different time zones. And it’s really difficult to change that. I like the GitLab example. In GitLab interviews, they really hire people who are good, excellent in communication plus they’re excellent in writing. They’re really getting people who type more than they talk. And they get people who can really work in an async environment. So, then they can do perfectly the best async in the world, maybe, right.
But I really like the human touch element of it. And I say to our team, if you are not writing 100 words per minute, try to send your voice message. But if you can type faster than your voice, you can write whatever you want. But if you are not that fast, let’s do more voice-to-voice communication. That will save more time.
Because I’m also an advisor and investor in so many companies. I see sometimes they’re like, ‘God bless, we have desk time.’ So, we say, ‘Oh my God, we spend so much time on Slack.’ So, it means that they have to do a little bit more communication. So, what we do, our team time zone difference is around seven hours. I think this is important. So, if you are a California company and hiring someone in China, it’s really difficult. So, the best way for them to pair is, you need to have another smallish hub, or some people in England, that will work with this team. So, what we do is, we put in 3-4 hours that intersect with each other. So even there is a team in Turkey.
And we also hire people who like to work at nighttime. So, they have free time in the daytime so they can do whatever they want in their day time. And then they work more in the nighttime. So, that is really when you’re hiring people, we really look into that.
And our team works not like a one synchronous 8-hour chunk. They work in small chunks. Like, they wake up, they have breakfast or not, then they work 3-4 hours. They do their errands and stuff, whatever they need to do, and then they work in another big chunk after nighttime. And they can shift that back and forth. So, this is really important. And because of that, we have a flexibility for people to come together on 2-3 hours’ time and talk nearly every day.
So, we are not fully async. We do a lot of tasks async. But when we feel that there is something slowing down, and we have these 30 minutes, it’s not a stand-up, we don’t do it like a structured stand-up, but people come together and talk. And if you don’t have anything to talk about, which rarely happens, just talk random stuff, like a refrigerator talk or something, whatever you need to do, right, icebreaker talk. But we make that time.
Everyone and every team has some of their common times that they come together and talk about the product, about what they are working on, about the problems. Because otherwise it can get really slow in async. Because you said something, they say something in two hours, you say something three hours later, and it just never adds, right. And then it’s like, no way. We just come together and do that. And the time zone difference thing is, some people can’t really work at night, or they start to stay after two o’ clock, one o’clock and it lowers their quality of life. So, either you have to have people who like to work at night, most engineers do, or you need to have a maximum five to seven hours’ time difference between groups of people. Or you need to be really good at async. That’s the choice you have.
Yeah. I think those are a lot of the issues that people need to start thinking about and be ready for, to recognize that those are your options. Either you get amazing in async communication and really only hire people that can do that well or if you pick somebody who is working in India but they’re a morning person and you’re on the west coast in the US and you’re a night person, you’re not going to talk to each other very much. It’s just not going to work.
Yeah. It’s not going to work. I had a meeting, I try not to work at night time, and I had a meeting today at 12. Like it destroyed my day. Now, I have half sleep and I sleep again. Now I need to get coffee. I go get a super strong coffee, and drinking coffee is not good when we drink more and more, right? It’s just horrible to work if you’re not a night person, as you say. It’s really difficult. Some people love to work. Then we really ask it through our interview process at the early stages only, like, ‘Do you work at night?’ And if they say, yes, it’s fine. If they say no, then we have to find something else and then we pair it with someone else who works half off. Right?
Well, Sahin, this has been amazing. I feel you’re one of those people that’s going to continue to report back from the field things you’re learning back to the rest of us who are trying to figure these things out. So, we really appreciate you doing that. Where can people go if they want to learn more about your product?
I am very active on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. I seriously respond to every question that comes there. And RemoteTeam.com is really the place. You can just book a demo and we have great onboarding sales success people. They I think explain the product way better than me. I was just a feature person. Like, what is our feature? Like, we like one feature and talk about that, but the customers don’t want that. They want to hear something else, right? We have great people that can sell the products way better than me. And not only Remote Team related but everything else like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, I’m really active. I will return your message.
Fantastic. Well, we’ll put all those in the show notes. Sahin, thanks for being on the show. We look forward to staying in touch with you.
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Sahin Boydas is a serial entrepreneur living in Silicon Valley. Sahin has built and managed 100% remote teams for over a decade now. In the past, he co-founded 3 Startups, he is alumni of 5 accelerators such as Stanford StartX, 500 Startups, FI, Betaworks Vision, Quake Accelerator. He sold his first company to Gfycat in silicon valley. Sahin is currently working on RemoteTeam.com to bring his vision to the future of work. With his 10 years of experience managing remote teams successfully, he is now on the media about the future of work-life and Silicon Valley, sharing his experiences on building a company culture and a successful team.