193: Manage Well Remotely with Sean Campbell

Sean Campbell is the CEO of Cascade Insights, a competitive intelligence and market research firm for B2B technology companies. We discuss the benefits of niching down, what it takes to manage remote teams successfully, and the 3 things all your clients expect from your business. 

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Manage Well Remotely with Sean Campbell

Our guest is Sean Campbell, founder and CEO of Cascade Insights, a consulting firm that empowers B2B technology companies with customized market research and marketing services. Sean, welcome to the show.

Hey, thanks for having me on.

So, Sean, tell me a little about your long and winding journey to founding Cascade. What prompted you in this direction?

Well, the first thing I always say is that I didn’t want to be a business owner. I didn’t even think it was on the agenda. I thought business school students who were getting up at 8 a.m. to go to accounting class were just kind of silly, the liberal arts graduate myself said. And so, I was studying a degree to do radio and television production as my bachelor’s degree, actually.

And then I had always thought I would like to be a professor. That’s what I was aiming for. And I got a master’s degree in communication, and I was still on the track to do that. And then a lovely woman entered my life, and I started to ask myself if I wanted to be a starving professor. For the full record, she was completely happy to follow me wherever I wanted to go. It wasn’t like she was asking me to get rid of that dream or anything.

But you know, like a lot of people do in their 20s, I said, you know, well, maybe I could make a living doing something other than that, or maybe I go back and get a PhD at some point. So, I ended up taking a job as a technical trainer in an era where that was like extremely common. Microsoft was like pushing out a bunch of new technology all the time. This is like the mid 90’s. And there were these like training centers where you could basically go be trained for a new five days on some new technology.

And I went in and did that because I always had a little bit of a hobby and dinking around with a computer. And anyway, long story short, I ended up getting a bunch of technical certifications, working for some of these outfits. And then I found myself in the interesting position of circa around 1999, I could become an independent trainer and I could start a company with a few other individuals, two other guys, which we call 3Leaf Solutions. And we started out just selling training as kind of independent trainers.

Like we were still training people on Microsoft technologies through their kind of approved coursework, but we were being paid as like independent consultants instead of working for a company. And where that led to is, you know, to this day, I’m not sure how we lucked out this way, but we did. The organization that we were working with at the time, when the three of us left, had been doing work for Microsoft. And through some contractual arrangements, we were allowed to continue that working relationship with Microsoft.

So, my very first account in life was the largest technology company. At its moment, I think you could arguably say of its largest moment of dominance, because back then, 97% of computing devices were Windows. And if you think about today, we’ll never go there again. I mean, you go in your average room and you say, who has an Android or an iOS? You don’t expect 97% of the room to have an iOS device, right?

And so it was a really good learning experience, even though maybe initially I wasn’t thinking of it that way, that great, my first account is this like, mega list that we get to work with, and then my second account was Intel, and some of that was because the two of them partnered so much, they were, to some extent, it’s used less today in the lingo, but they were known as Wintel, and so, and yet they were two diametrically different organizations, if you ever met the people that worked for them, very different culturally.

And, but succeeding in their own ways back then. Intel perhaps has fallen on slightly harder times in some ways than Microsoft did, if you kind of look at it objectively, I guess, but, but anyway, that was the start. And then I grew and sold that company, managed a lot of people remotely in that organization, and then started Cascade in 2006. And to speed up the rest of the story, Cascade was founded in 06 and we’ve got about a dozen or so employees. It’s been really fantastic ride. The interesting thing about all of it is, I still love teaching and I still love mentoring, and I still love getting the opportunity to do that at any educational setting when I do.

But the weird thing about having a business that I would have never expected a million years ago, as I’m 53 now, so it’s been a while, is that if you orient yourself right to a business, and I guess if you have the right kind of business, you can do a ton of mentoring and a ton of teaching. And oddly enough, I even have the research component of a professor, because what do I own? I own a firm that does market research, right? So, you know, and so it’s this kind of weird thing that I ended up with a very commercial version of somewhat where I wanted to end up, I guess. And it even took me years to kind of figure out that it happened, to be honest. And so, anyway, that’s kind of the journey. And the journey obviously continues from here and till the day I retire, which I don’t know when that’ll be.

That’s just beautiful. So, I do believe that my dad always used to say that the personality chooses the profession. It’s how he learned because he was a professional. But you can say that the person that chooses the enterprise as well, because basically we end up, if you’re lucky, creating a business that we enjoy doing, which interests us, which piques our curiosity. So it kind of makes sense that you ended up living out your academic dream in a business setting.

So that’s cool. So you ended up running Cascade, you left kind of, you started in corporate America in some ways, and then you got outsourced, I guess. And then you grew that business, and then you started your own business. So that interesting journey. So let’s talk a little bit about a framework that you discussed in our pre-call, which you called defaults to narrow framework. So what do you mean by defaulting to narrow and what’s the significance of that strategy?

The first thing that I think that’s important to consider when you think about defaulting to narrow is that everything has become more narrow. Everything. And I don’t know if there’s a historical precedent that’s remotely similar, except if you go far enough back where your entire bounds of what you knew and who you knew were basically constrained by how far a horse could travel. It was just you in the village, right? And the 50 people that live there. We’ve reached an era where people can be incredibly specialized in what they consume.

And I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying it’s fact, right? I mean, if you just want to watch sci-fi as your primary mode of entertainment, you can do that. I’m a big sci-fi fan, so I would be behind that. I mean, behind me are a bunch of planets for those of you that are just listening on audio. So if you just want to read about early British history, you could do that all day long. We have this ability to consume in a very narrow way.

Now that has some negative knock-on effects that’s probably for a different show and a different person to talk about, but it’s a fact. And where that I think plays out in the business world is that it basically drives forward a need to find a narrow partner, a narrow organization that is really specifically targeted to their needs, right? Back to the village, you can only know people as far as your horse can carry you, right? You’re not limited that way anymore if you’re an organization.

You can assume that somewhere on planet Earth, there is a narrow organization that has exactly the right mix of industry expertise and problem solving and the domain of attack that is exactly the problem you’re facing today. You don’t have to go hire a generalist. You can just go find somebody narrow. And we’ve benefited from this a lot. During COVID, when a lot of organizations, I think were struggling with their sales process and their marketing efforts, we benefited.

And I think one of the large reasons for that is that a lot of our marketing is extremely narrow. And here’s the key thing. I don’t believe you can be narrow unless you are actively saying what you don’t do. And whenever I say that to any entrepreneur, I can almost see them get tense because they feel, I think, as if that’s just wrong and I would strongly argue that it’s not. And the reason for that is if you don’t define the boundaries of what you offer, someone else will.

Probably someone on the internet that you don’t know, whether that’s a competitor, a review site, a review on Google Maps for your company or whatever. You want to define where you perform the best and the kind of opportunities that you’re not trying to access today. And there’s a huge reason beyond all those review sites and everything else you want to do it. And this is kind of a related point about kind of defining yourself narrowly, I think that really matters. People don’t trust content anymore.

Defining boundaries and actively stating what a business doesn't do is essential; otherwise, someone else will define it, leading to potential misunderstandings. Share on X

That’s another major trend, right? I don’t think we have to go pull up a study to prove it. I mean, they just don’t trust content. And that’s not a political statement. Notice I didn’t say like, they don’t trust somebody’s content. You just don’t trust content. You don’t trust even those reviews as much, right? You sort by negative reviews. Why do you sort by negative reviews? Because you assume all the five-star ones are perhaps paid, right? And so you look for those things.

And so you’re looking for, I think in a lot of cases, the edges of what you’re trying to buy. You’re looking for where it’s not gonna work in a way. Where does this car fall apart? And where does this restaurant not serve people well? And all those things. And it’s not really a negative mindset, although I know it can kind of sound like that. I think it’s just people are trying to do their due diligence and they don’t trust the marketing that’s put to them.

So here’s what happens. If you say, this is what we don’t do, you instantly create trust, because you have taken away the major fear that people have when they buy almost anything. I don’t know what it doesn’t do. It’s the major fear. You go buy a car, you’re like, I don’t know when it’s gonna break down, which is a different way of saying, I’m not really sure when it’s gonna fail. I don’t know when the components are going to fail, right? You know, if it’s a service offering, what’s, and this is especially true in services.

I think one of the most dangerous things in services is that there is a very porous boundary for most service companies. I mean, unless the ownership team is doing a good job at defining what they should offer, most service companies fall into the trap of like, well, yeah, we could do that. We have smart people, we could do that. And I think most people that buy services from services companies know that. Whether it’s the lawn care service who says, yeah, we can fix your deck.

Or it’s the lawyer who says, yeah, I know a lot about IP and trademarks, says the lawyer who predominantly deals with small business HR issues, right? You know, and there’s this kind of gray box around services companies, because you’re really selling what’s in people’s brains, so how do you define what they know and don’t know? And I would just sum it up by saying, if you put that mark in your own marketing and your own sales messaging about, this is the line upon which we don’t cross, I guarantee you will generate more leads, you will generate more trust, you will hence generate more sales.

And the stuff that you do get is stuff that you actually really want to do anyway, and that you can make more money at and you can retain those clients. But it takes this kind of active will of being willing to tell the market, I’m narrow in this way. And I guess the very last thing I’d say about it is that if you say I’m not going to do these things, you’re really just running upstream of a couple of major trends. One, that people assume they can find a narrow provider and two, they don’t trust your broad-based marketing that says you can do it all anyway. So you’re just running up foul of those things and you need to address that.

I agree, of course, I agree with what you say. I’m just thinking that possibly there is a group of people for whom broad targeting is better. Maybe people who don’t really have a marketing capability and they are selling through relationships and if those relationships trust them for whatever reason, then it may be easier for them to try to be all things for those relationships that they have rather than figure out how to actually build a marketing machine that is going to channel to them those niche interested buyers who really are after the product. Because if they live in a small town somewhere, there is probably not enough market for that niche offering that they have.

I would say there, I mean, even on the partnership side, then you have to define what kind of partnerships you want to have, right? And those partners probably want providers that are specialists and good in their field, right? And so I think even there it has a similar impact, right? And again, you can eventually build up enough capabilities that you have a broad base of things that you offer. But even within that broad base, there’s gonna be limits to what you offer at some point.

And the more that you’re clear about those, I’ve just seen time and time again, I don’t know how many times over the years in sales calls that the entire dynamic relationship of the sales call changes when the provider of the services is willing to say out loud, this is something we don’t do or no, that’s not something that I would use us for or there’s a limit to that piece of the capability. It’s like the whole nature of the conversation changes. Ultimately, all sales is built on some degree of trust building. If you can accelerate that and still get as many sales as you might possibly want, just better ones, I’m a big advocate of that.

Sales dynamics change when providers are transparent about what they don't offer. Accelerating trust-building leads to better sales, emphasizing quality over quantity. Share on X

Okay. So how do you put this into practice? So you come up with a narrow positioning, for example, in the case of KSKD, so how do you use that for your business? And how do you communicate that positioning? And what kind of channels do you use to have your target market find you or you finding your target market?

Well, I mean, there’s plenty of tactical things that any company would do like good SEO and pay-per-click and making sure that you’re writing content in a way that structures for those things. But that’s true of any business. The biggest thing for us is that in pretty much every piece of collateral, we put out and in every sales conversation, we lead with the specific audience that we serve and we follow it up with a very clear statement that we don’t serve any other audiences. And that seems pretty straightforward, but it works. It works time and time again.

People will be like, I was looking for somebody that just served me. I was looking for somebody that didn’t try to be all things to all people. I was looking for somebody that had a proven expertise. And we backed it up with like hundreds of logos of companies that have just worked in the space that we target, which is B2B tech. We don’t even do B2C tech. I mean, it’s very common for us in a sales call to open it up and say something kind of akin to like, you know, when they say, what do you guys focus on?

It’s like, well, you know, we just work with B2B technology companies. So the AWS is and Google’s and whatever the world but we don’t work with like Samsung’s dishwashers and we don’t work with drone companies and we don’t work with video game manufacturers, right. And so even in the realm of technology, we have to try to make it really clear to people exactly who we serve. But every time we narrow it, we just generate more trust and we generate more opportunity.

Yeah, and then you can create much more relevant content.

Exactly. Everything’s written to a narrow lane. You get more resonance, you get more stickiness with clients, you get all of that. And one thing I want to say in empathy, if you’re starting a business, I understand the temptation to go wide. And as a matter of fact, it’s not that I didn’t try it. At the start of Cascade, not at the start of 3D Solutions, but at the start of Cascade, I told myself, I said, all right, I don’t want to just focus on Microsoft and Intel and the other cast of characters that might surround them.

Narrow positioning is key for resonance, stickiness with clients, and overall business success. Share on X

I want to be broader, right? And so for about the first 12 months of Cascade, this is a long time ago, so this is like 2007, we decided that we were going to go broader. So I ended up doing research and competitive work for everyone from a furniture manufacturer to Exxon to Merck to Microsoft to, I mean, I’d have to think through some of the companies, but I know we spanned everything from pharma to furniture to consumer goods to healthcare to tech. And what I quickly realized, it was funny, like after about like 12 months to that, I was like, I have less and less relevant things to say.

I’m sure somebody listening is like, well, but you learned all this variety of different things from these different companies. And yeah, that was kind of true. But what does a company care the most about? They care the most about what you know about them and what you know about the lane that they’re in. Does Microsoft really care what you know about an oil company? Yeah, we could come up with a scenario where they might.

But generally speaking, they’re going to care if you’re Microsoft, how much do you know about a Google or an AWS or other companies that are in their lane in terms of like and even the all of the types of personas and individuals that all of those company targets for sales. Right. And so, you know, the way I’ve kind of summed this up to a lot of people over the years is that imagine you wanted to hire us. And I say, if you’re looking for B2B technology, that’s us.

If you were looking at a company that maybe is like aligned with an industry that offers technology like they offer a life science solution for SAS, well, that would still be us because the SAS solution. On the other hand, if you took it one step further and you’re like Merck talking to surgeons about cancer drugs, well, I don’t know anything about doctors or cancer drugs or anything. Now, you could argue that there’s technology involved in the development of a drug pipeline. I would absolutely say that’s true.

But we’ve basically gotten out of the domain where I feel like our organization can provide the most value. And I think there’s an ethical component to that. I mean, frankly, I think once you get far enough out in front of your skis, I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say you’re being unethical to serve those clients. But you might be walking pretty close to that line because what are you offering except kind of generalized advice at that point? And so that’s where I feel like it gets kind of dangerous.

So, yeah, I take your point. So narrow positioning is good. You know, there’s also an idea that when you travel through different industries, you can actually bring ideas which are out of the norm for a certain industry. So, you know, some calls out and deliver.

And I’ve heard that. I mean, I remember there was an organization we competed with for a while and kind of our stars have shifted a bit for us and them and I don’t really feel like we’re in competition, but there was a season where we were kind of in competition with this organization. I watched one of the leaders once go up and say, I kind of his version of the pitch, right? He gave a talk at some conference and he’s trying to introduce the company. And he said, you know, we work with, you know, I remember one of the organization types.

So I’ll kind of make up the other ones, but it gets the same point across. It was like we work with pharma companies and technology companies, and we’ve even recently worked with a gold mine. And we see all these patterns that apply across all these organizations. And what I always think about when I think of that story, so I think of a guy at Microsoft, a fairly senior guy who looked at me once and very directly said, the reason I love you guys is because you didn’t just roll off a project doing research on M&Ms.

And what he was saying is like, ultimately, the thing that’s going to matter to me more, unless you’ve uncovered some amazing pattern, right? I’ll admit that exists, but the funny thing about those is eventually those become more common knowledge and eventually everybody knows what they are. But unless you’ve uncovered something truly like kind of earth-shaking from a pattern standpoint that exists in one industry that can be applied to another, which is hard to do, clients are always gonna say, what do you know about me? I mean, deep down, I’ve sometimes said to our employees, I’m like, there are three things that matter to the client.

Channeling the real estate agent’s version of location, location, location are the only three things that matter, right? The clients care about me, me, and me. That’s all they care about, right? Now you need to break them free of that, and you need to give them external perspectives, or whatever, but by default, through no fault of their own, the clients care how much you know about them and their space. And I think the more you can prove that early on, it’s just gonna be a win.

Clients inherently care about themselves and their space. Proving early knowledge builds trust and leads to success. Share on X

Okay, so I’d like to shift gears here a little bit, and I wanna pick up on something that you mentioned in your introduction. You said that since 2006, when you started Cascade, you were building a remote business. I don’t know if I heard it correctly, but that was a pretty early time to do remote. So at that time, I think only Skype was a remote application. Maybe some of the others, LogMeIn or whatever, other companies just have to get going at the time. So how did it transpire that you went the remote way? And what is your experience? Is it more efficient to run a remote company than an in-person company? Or is it less efficient? What are the pros and the cons?

Well, so a little bit to unpack that, because we did only briefly touch the surface. So to be super clear about my experiences as a remote, my first company started as a fully remote company in 1999. So we were very early. So like we joke, we had a DSL modem. Most folks listening probably don’t even know what that is, but go look it up. That was the fastest internet at the time.

And people back then in 99 would almost give you flack for it. They’d be like, “You don’t have an office?” And I was, with a smile on my face, I would say, “Well, you could pay for it.” And they took him, take him a second, usually to even figure out what he said. It was like, well, somebody is gonna pay for that office. It doesn’t come out of like some slush fund. I mean, it’s just gonna be what we’re gonna charge you. And that company was fully remote, eventually had 25 or 30 employees. We sold it, well, I should say at the very, very end, I hired a couple of local people, but it didn’t really fundamentally change the fact that we were remote, pretty much.

And then when we started Cascade, we also started remote, and we had a short season of a few years where we had an office. Some of that was driven by my business partner at the time. He was much more, needed to kind of be in physical contact with people. My team and the company was always remote. And then ever since COVID again, we’ve been fully remote and we will remain that way. So if you were to say like out of the nearly 25 years, I’ve been a business owner, I’ve had my teams be remote almost 90% of that time.

And the companies I’ve owned, the two of them, they’ve been remote probably 75% of the time. And so, so yeah, there’s a lot, a lot of history there. And to your point, like long before it was cool, and we even had the enabling technologies that we have now, you know, back when I started in 99, it was a lot of three-way phone calls, which again, is probably something half the people don’t even know how to do. They’re listening.

But like, there’s things that we were doing back then. I think it is absolutely stupendous and amazing to stay remote. And every time that we do a poll, and while we’re talking, I’m gonna try to pull up a couple that we have done recently where we’ve pulled data on remote. I also think ever increasingly, it’s simply what people want. I mean, I have an active poll, for example, on LinkedIn right now that has a number, number of responses. How many days you want to be in the office? 50% of the people, zero days a week.

On the other end of the scale, the number of people five days a week, 1%. And when you look at it, it’s just a dude from Google who probably just likes all the coffee and the free snacks. You know what I mean? They hit at Google. I mean, I ate in Google’s cafeteria once. I’d probably want to go eat there too if I was him. It was pretty decent, right? There’s knock-on effects from a personal life standpoint. It’s another poll we put up not that long ago.

Do you believe your parenting style has been positively or negatively impacted by working from home? Positively impacted, 76%. Only 14% negative. So I even thought, while it’s not my job to engineer the family lives of the people who work for me. I love it if I think I’m having a positive impact indirectly. And I do believe that. I’ve seen that in my own family. When we get done with this interview, I’m gonna go up and have lunch with my two 20 and my 20 year old and 18 year old and my wife. If I was in an office, that’s not gonna happen. We’d probably have lunch together as a family like four days a week. And everybody knows, as somebody once said to me the other day, how do you spell love? T-I-M-E, time. You know, it’s like if you spend time with people, it just it changes things. And it’s especially true with kids.

Right. So what about in the office? So you’re spending time with your colleagues also.

Well, I’m going to get to that. Don’t worry. I’ll get to that side. But what other what other two things? Because it kind of bleeds into this. We just started running like a ton of polls on LinkedIn because I’m so frankly, I’m really fed up about it’s no other way to put it. This will take us off on topic, but slightly aside from it. The number of times I’ve seen an announcement go out, even from the clients we serve, frankly, that says something like this, they almost all look the same. Y’all weren’t productive.

It doesn’t quite say that, but it basically says that. Y’all weren’t productive. It’s time to go back to the office. I know we make all this technology that makes remote work work, but you gotta go back in the office. Says the CEO that’s roughly my age, and you know what’s never in a single one of those announcements? Ever. Your managers failed to manage you differently when you went remote. Because I can tell you for a fact, having done Vols, that managing remote people requires a different pattern, a different rhythm.

It requires you focus on different skills, even when you hire, than the skills you might focus on if someone is going to be predominantly in the office. And we can talk about some of that stuff, but it’s absent. The middle management layer is never blank. And I put a poll out on this at LinkedIn, and it blew up. I mean, like, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to being viral on LinkedIn. I mean, it was like insane. It like, I had like hundreds of comments from everybody like, you’re right, no one criticized my manager. They all made it sound like I was the schmuck sitting on the couch watching Netflix. And my manager basically didn’t know if I was being productive unless I was standing in front of them. How lame is that?

All right, so let’s clear down on this one. This is interesting. So what does it take to manage well remotely? What are the handful of things that a manager has to do?

I’m happy to talk about that. One last poll I want to mention though, and then we’ll get into it. Very last poll. Just because it talks about productivity, we also ask, has your productivity increased, decreased, or stayed the same working remotely? Eighty percent of the respondents increased. So there’s this weird disconnect. It’s like the CEO who somebody once said, and this is the last thing of this, then I’ll go to the points, is somebody put a great comment, I thought, on that thing about productivity and kind of this disconnect between senior management and workers when it came to productivity.

They said, you know what one weird thing about it is? The CEO probably lives three blocks from the office in an expensive apartment, or if he doesn’t, he has a driver, or if he doesn’t, he can choose his own schedule when he comes to the office to some degree. The rest of us all have to have an hour commute after dropping our kids off at daycare. I mean, there is a class issue here a little bit. There is. And I say that as a CEO who’s benefited from being a CEO. There is a class issue in play. I think we’re gonna have to watch how this all settles out.

So as far as the specific things. One huge thing that I look for when I hire remote employees, and I think is a critical skill for remote employees, and I’ll unpack this, because it’s deeper than it might initially sound, they have to be able to write. Because here’s what happens in the office. So much gets done verbally, especially the tough conversations get done verbally. Or the, like, I don’t know what I’m doing conversation, or I’m unclear how to proceed conversation.

And this is where I think people map being in person inappropriately. So they’re like, we’ll see all that happens. And I’m like, “Well, no, no.” You just have to have people who can actually write effectively because if they know how to write effectively, or you can train them how to write effectively, you don’t have to run into the scenario a client told us once. This was right at the start of COVID. And the guy wasn’t trying to be a jerk, he was just trying to be correct, I think, in his view of the world. He said, I had no idea how dumb my colleagues were until they had to write me everything.

Writing is a critical skill for remote employees. Effective written communication is key for tough conversations and problem-solving. Share on X

Because he’d been home for about three months and he said they didn’t know how to make a coherent argument. They didn’t even know how to write a good sentence. And even if they got past that, they were so unused to using that skill to motivate and inspire and discuss problems. So it can be done, but you have to either have to train your people or they have to have it innately. And both of them are a solution, right? You can optimize for the hiring process or you can train people to become better written communicators.

So really written communication is important. What else is important?

The other thing I’d say is important is the ability to say you don’t know something. And that seems so elemental, but I’ve watched it play out every time we’ve hired somebody in a remote company. Every single time we’ve hired somebody. I mean, maybe there’s an exception I’m not thinking of. But every time we bring a new employee in, there’s this like period where they go through a process of wondering if I really mean it, if they can tell other peers and me they don’t know what to do next.

And see, I think in an in-person company, when you’re not sure of the next action, you shuffle over to somebody’s desk and you do, hey, Bob, you know, I’m not kind of sure what to do, and that feels really safe. To write your boss or peer an email saying that you have no idea what to do with the next hours because you’re unclear, right? Which happens in any job, any job, that’s not a case of poor direction.

Sometimes you’re just not sure what to do next. So you have to build a culture where people can do that without a fear of like massive accountability. And the minute we work that out of people, they’re way more productive. But every one of them doesn’t believe it. Because I think we’re trained to like, have the hard conversation verbally, and we’re not trained that it’s okay to have it in a written form, or to call somebody up. Another big thing, you gotta have people pick up the phone.

The ability to admit not knowing something is elemental. Building a culture where employees feel safe saying they don't know fosters productivity. Share on X

In this digital age, it’s kind of an antonym of sorts to what I just said. Like, people are comfortable just calling a colleague to work out a quick issue, right? They always want to schedule a meeting, and it’s always 30 minutes. And it’s like, no, the world was not solved in 30-minute chunks. So sometimes it’s just a matter of training your team to ad hoc interact with each other with the technologies that have been with us for hundreds of years, right? Well, maybe the phones aren’t hundreds of years, 150 years or whatever, right? So those are a few of the things.

And I think from a management standpoint too, I think you also have to do a lot more ad hoc check-ins. I think the office environment sometimes does allow for that in a way that again feels like maybe more immediately accessible. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in remote. You just have to pick up your phone and call your direct. You don’t have to wait for their one-on-one once a week. You can have all the same hallway conversations you want.


Right? I mean, you can’t, it’s just, we don’t do that. We’re not used to that. And so it really comes down to really changing a lot of the communication styles and patterns. I’d also say sometimes people make a too big of a deal about Zoom being a poor environment for interaction. Okay, well, sure. Is Zoom scintillating? No. On the other hand, can you have an engaging conversation over video? Well sure, and you know how I can prove that? YouTube. Do you know how many people watch YouTube?

Last time I checked, it’s the same flat 2D view of video that I’ve seen everywhere else. And it’s probably watched more than anything else on the planet, with sometimes the most inane stuff you could ever imagine. So it’s not that a flat 2D pane of video is inherently unengaging. Otherwise, television wouldn’t have been. But I think that the idea that you can, you do have to think through what that interaction looks like. And you have to make sure that you’re engaging appropriately. But anyway, so I think there’s a lot of different things to consider.

It feels like there are some skills that are needed in the remote environment. So the ability to communicate, whether it’s written communication, whether it’s verbally being comfortable, articulating something on the phone without all the metacommunication being available perhaps. And maybe more flexibility, more vulnerability, admitting that you don’t know something, which requires more confidence, which people have to be good, so it’s a skill that people have to essentially fortify themselves to be able to work remotely. And the ethical check, so there has to be more flexibility in people because it is uncomfortable sometimes to call someone and interrupt them.

Oh, right. One quick thing on that, it’s one of the things that I almost have to again kind of train people out of, right, because I mean, sure, I’m a small company, but it’s funny, even when you’re a small company, one of the things you find is that you’re still the owner, which creates kind of a weird interrelationship sometimes with the fellow employees, and I have to train everybody here, like, I just might call you sometimes.

It doesn’t mean the world’s coming to an end. You don’t have to, but the first few weeks when I would call an employee, it’s like I can almost see them sometimes sit up straighter you know, when the phone rings, and I’m like, look, we’re just checking in on whatever it is. This is normal. It’d be like if I passed you in the hallway, you wouldn’t salute me if we passed each other in the hallway.

And there’s also, you hit something that I think’s really important. You hit it, but I want to make sure we pull the thread fully out on, just cause to me it stuck in my head. You have to be willing to allow for maybe a degree of kind of ad hoc interruption that you would fully expect in the office. But when we go remote, we kind of put a little bubble around ourselves and we act like it’s not supposed to happen. And I feel like that’s the one thing I break down. You know, frankly, I know some people might very much disagree with this.

A lot of my one on ones, they’re on the calendars so that we know worst case will have that time. But I am very frequently calling the people who report to me directly outside of those times. Not like an accountability thing, but just like, I want to call when I’ve got something on my mind and we can spend five minutes talking about it and maybe that covers a few other things and they can do the same with me. And I allow for different communication styles. It’s not like everybody just calls me.

Like some people might Slack me more than that leads to a phone call or whatever. But you do, it’s a really good point you kind of got right up against, which is I think remote work allows us to put maybe a bubble around ourselves that’s somewhat self-inflicted, and then we have to allow people to get through that. In other words, the benefit of working remote doesn’t mean you just pick up your phone whenever you feel like it, right? And so, but yet, you have to respect people’s time and space.

So there’s this, I think, cultural dance that an organization has to go through where it’s not invasive, you don’t feel like anybody’s bothering you any time of the day they would, but on the other hand, you’re not just waiting for that one half an hour meeting a week virtually to solve everything, because that would be bad in a whole different way.

Maybe there’s a power dynamic there. So when people are in the office, the boss has more power. When they are out of the office, the boss has less power.

100%, right? Because you’re not seeing, they could just be busy. Yeah, I don’t know what they’re doing right I mean and in a remote environment I have to respect that but on the other hand as a boss. I shouldn’t feel trapped into just the meetings Because that’s not the way it would work in the office either right if I felt something was probably and it’s true the other way around. You know say an employee needs something of me, they shouldn’t feel like they have to schedule a meeting to talk to me. They can call me or message me or just ask for ad hoc time. And I think that is, it’s an interesting dynamic that happens in the world. But again, that doesn’t mean remote’s bad. It just means we just have to deal with that situation and embed in our culture ways of addressing it.

Okay, well, we probably could spend the next five hours talking about that and going deeper and deeper on it. But our time is kind of up. It’s been up for 15 minutes. So let’s wrap this up. So if people would like to learn more about your services to B2B tech companies, or would like to reach out to you to learn more about the remote philosophy that you have, where should they go? How can they reach you?

Just go to cascadeinsights.com. And if they want to reach out to me directly, you can just email me at sean@cascadeinsights.com. And yeah, happy to happy to help any entrepreneur in the journey. You know, when that’s the one place I’d say that I’m not narrow in the sense that I’m always happy to just help somebody along the journey. You don’t necessarily have to be a client. I feel like that’s just my way of paying it forward and kind of respecting the people that help me, too. But yes, if you’re interested in our services, just make sure you’re a B2B technology company first.

Love it. So Sean, thank you for sharing your insights on going narrow, on going remote and staying remote and be successful remote. That was a fun conversation. And for those of you listening out there, if you enjoyed the conversation, don’t forget to subscribe and to stay tuned next week because there’s always an exciting option coming every week to the show, because there’s always an exciting option coming every week to the show. Thank you, Sean.


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