112. It’s About People Ops with Valentina Thörner

Friday, September 22, 2023

Smooth Operator/112. It’s About People Ops with Valentina Thörner

112. It’s About People Ops with Valentina Thörner


Remote work is here for good, no matter how much some are fighting to return to the office.

And for many of us, our companies are entirely virtual and have never been in an office together.

While it’s tempting to treat this environment as something completely different that doesn’t need formal structure, it’s been proven that structure and processes are even more essential for remote workers.

Which is why I’m excited to have Valentina Thörne on the show. Valentina is a remote work systems expert who has helped thriving companies transition to and sustain distributed or hybrid models.


- How SOPs allow you to better respond to your team’s needs

- Why treating remote work differently can be detrimental to your team

- How to set expectations to maximize performance and flexibility

- A neat Slack tip to clean up your general channels

While I’ve been working remote for many years now, I found myself walking away from this episode with new ideas that will be implemented into my own team.

Don’t miss this episode if you want to see increased team performance and happiness within your own remote team.

Book a call with Valentina: https://valentinathoerner.com/operations/

Learn more at https://www.adamliette.com

Discover how to work with me: https://www.adamliette.com/work-with-me

The Greatest Opportunity Of A Lifetime

20 Business Owners Lives' Will Change in 2024

​​... And I'm Personally Inviting You To Be One Of Them!

The Greatest Opportunity Of A Lifetime...

20 Business Owners Lives Will Change In 2024...
​...And I’m Personally Inviting You To Be One Of Them!


Adam Liette
What's up smooth operators, welcome to today's show, so good to have you. So at the time, I'm recording this, this is what I love about this industry so much. I'm recording this at six o'clock in the morning, and you're like, Whoa, ridiculous. But that's what's so cool about this remote world we live in, we connect with people all over the planet, we get to have these conversations, I happen to be speaking with someone across the pond today. So I'm up early. I'm always up early anyway, that military life never goes away. But to be able to have this flexibility. It's one of the things I love the most about the fact that I've been a remote worker for now, several years, I think going on six kind of lost track, but remote work, most of us i i know, I know, you guys, like 99% of you guys are remote. And I get that. And I think

when we start as remote, we often push aside some of the standard business practices and business structures that make business a function that you have to have in the corporate environment. And we're like, oh, I don't want to be corporate. I don't want to have rules, rules, policies, save your life. They save your sanity, and they do great things for your business. If you can go back to last week's episode where I talked about KPIs and how magical KPIs are. We, we might get into that on this on this call here as well. But all these structures, they've worked for a reason they've propelled business for they've allowed companies to grow. And I think we are just limiting ourselves if we put ourselves in our own little remote world bubble, and refused to see the bigger world. And so I was so excited the other day, when I got to meet Valentina Turner, Valentina Turner is a remote work systems expert, she helps a thriving companies transition to and sustained distributed or hybrid models. So think about that, we're gonna go in the opposite way. But we're coming from very in office structure into distributed or hybrid models. So she's held leadership roles across product, customer support and remote operations. And that's really given her a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities of remote work. There are challenges indeed, there are so many opportunities, and I just can't wait to geek out and talk about the various things that we can do in our own businesses, to not only propel our own business forward, but to take care of sustain and enrich the employees that we bring onto our team. So thank you for joining me, Valentina. How are you doing today?

Thank you for having me. I'm doing really great. And one, I already have one comment processes also reduce anxiety. Oh, my gosh, especially for new hires. And especially in a remote world, if you have good processes, and you have them documented. So many questions won't need to be asked because they can just look them up. And then they know how this works here. And like it just makes the the onboarding process so much smoother. Oh, you're hitting my keywords right now. Love it.

Yes, we will definitely dive into that. For sure. Let me make sure I make a note of that. But I've been fascinated by your story as I was looking through things about preparing for this interview. And so I'm really, I love to hear from your own words, what brought you into this place of being a remote work expert and being able to help these companies make this transition?

Valentina Thörner
So usually, the question is, how did you get into remote? And the truth is, I don't even remember, I've been remote for the past. Well, I do remember, but I have been remote for almost 20 years. And the first time with real remote experience was back when I worked at Yahoo. Because we were allowed to work from home when whenever we needed it. And I mean, if you don't really like to fit in a big office, you just needed it everyday. And it was fine until the new CEO Milissa came in and made this whole lean and got back to the office thing and I didn't last very long in the office because there was just too much stimulation. So then I worked at a couple of agencies. I had my own enterprise and then I went to automatic which is like one of the big, remote, original scale big companies fully does

distributed no offices, amazing experience. And after that I started working with startups. And when the pandemic hit, I realized that a lot of the structures, a lot of things that I had learned at automatic, which you think they have figured it out, and they have figured it out, but those things are not necessarily transplantable to a new startup that maybe even started in office. And that never actively thought about how do we want to set this up remotely. Because if you look at the companies that became remote before the pandemic, for them, it was a conscious decision. They basically sat down together and thought about, okay, we don't want an office, maybe because one co founder is from Sweden, and the other one is from from the US or something, and no one wants to move. So we're going to make this remote, how are we going to make this work. And so the seed of successful remote work was planted at the inception of the company. Now, if you were a thriving company, and the pandemic hit, and you had to send everyone home, you didn't have this, this basis, this like framework under which you grew because basically all your processes and all your operations were based in the office, and you had to adjust, basically, under pressure under duress, in a very, very short timeframe, focusing on survival. So the policies and processes that you get out of that

they may be functioning, I hope they were functioning for you, but they are not long term preps planning because there was no strategy behind it is what it was just literally survival. And very often the policy was, here's your computer, take it home, and try to be productive. And then you end up with a set of basically none rules is set off. How do we figure this out? That doesn't really work for anyone. And then you get people telling me, oh, yeah, we've tried remote, it doesn't work. It's like, I didn't know I've thrown my dog in a pool. And it didn't like the water like it's not, it doesn't work like that. If you want to be really successful with a remote company, you need to think about your process and audio setup and how you do things just as much as you would if you did it in office. Because it's not easier. It's different. And it requires a lot of deliberate decisions. And I will, my goal is to help companies to make these deliberate decisions. And because I have experienced both with the

original remote people, where by the way, they hired very specifically for people who love to write. Most people who work at the original remote companies have writers at heart. That's why they have huge handbooks, they don't have any meetings, they are very, very comfortable with asynchronous operations, because everybody likes to write. Now a lot of the startups that were that were first in office and then kept became remote, they never hired for writing skills, because they could just talk to each other. So you have a lot of talkative people who have a hard time writing stuff down. But they still want to do remote because they've seen the opportunities. So how can we align the what you need for business to work with what you need for your style of work to work, like, that's kind of the golden path that I'm trying to help them discover.

Oh, man, you hit upon one thing that I've noticed about myself, because there's so much self discovery that I think goes into this. And if you're, you're willing to be open with yourself, and a little bit vulnerable. I am actually not a writer, I prefer audio visual communication. And so I've had to develop like little tools to help me work within that. So I'm the biggest user of the recorded video function in Slack. I do it at least 20 times a day to my team. If I need something done, I'd much rather spend 30 seconds on a video than five minutes writing something down. And the thing is, especially with my really high team members, so I'm huge purveyor of desk as everyone listening knows, am I really high I people like I fill out that video. Thank you so much, Adam. And so really cool how we have these adaptable ways of communicating in remote work that we didn't have 20 years ago, I'm sure. And if the pandemic gave us one thing, it's a lot more tools to do that. When you're when you're sitting down with a company and you're like working on that intention, because I 100% agree like you have to come with a remote intention. Like let's make this work. Let's come up with a strategy. What are some of the main hang ups that you see are some of the things that like people get stuck on?

The first thing is the word remote. Like ask 10 people What does remote me and you get 10 different answers.

So if you want to describe your processes or the way you work using the word remote, but you don't even have a joint understanding about what that means that is very complicated for some people. Remote means work from home. For other people remote means work from anywhere.

Sounds like a very small difference. But if you work from remote and my anywhere in clips, three different time zones, that will have an impact on how our meetings will go. Because I might be asleep because I just decided to go for three months to Bali.

But if we just put into our policies, people can work remotely. Like it's not enough, because then we have serious problems when it down the line with like the nitty gritty of things that have to happen during the day. So what I usually recommend is like first get, like, ignore the word remote, remote. It's, it's just like, it's like saying,

I'm going to a restaurant to have thought Yeah, but I still choose whether I want Mexican or Japanese, whether I'm going for lunch or for dinner, and whether I'm going to pick up or I'm going to sit in like bear for having fought there's still a lot of

different, a lot of different decisions involved. And for remote, the analogy would be first define what you mean by location. Like, where does the work happen? And then on the other side, look at the dimension of scheduling when this work happened. And if you put these two together and you can put this into a graph, then you let like nice four quadrants, then you know where you sit on this whole spectrum of remote.

Adam Liette
That's so interesting. And I know I've encountered it before, I never thought of it in that way that you just framed it. So how does that? Like with we have the employee because I've had employees that did that their backpack for a year. And they were all over the place. And we had like the company timezone. But how does that work with? Or what do you what have you seen work best with like fixed hours flexed hours? Like, how do we balance that? Because, you know, there there are things that happened during the day that we might need people to be present in

Valentina Thörner
whatever day means, then that's that exactly. Yeah. So usually, so the location is a lot easier. Because you can I mean, on the one extreme, you have like the office, which is like traditional office. And on the other side, you have digital nominates like people who can get over all over the place. And for a lot of companies, like I have to tell them, It's fine if you say you only want to hire in your city still allow for not in office, or if you only hire in your country, because you will live in a country where there's a lot of social security, etc. And you want to have everybody their 14 month maternity leave. So you are only going to hire in your country, or you're only going to hire in your time zone, because you want to have this overlap in time. And then when it comes to schedules, it actually depends, of course, on the one extreme, we have nine to five, which would be common nine, you leave at five and everything else is free time. And then the on the other side, you have complete asynchronous, everybody works whenever what not whenever the Muse strikes, because that doesn't really help. But everybody organizes their schedule as they wish for. And between these two extremes. So a lot of variation, because you could say, Okay, we don't have fixed work times, because nine to five, like takes all the flexibility out of everyone's life. But you have to be online, let's say between 11 and three. And all our meetings will always be between 11 and three, and we expect you to be like available, the other hours, whether you put them in front or at the back, or we don't care and don't work on weekends. Or you could say, okay, you can work whenever you want, but we expect you to be there, Tuesdays at 4pm. Because that's when we have the company all hands and everybody needs to be there. Or you say we are we like a synchronous, so work whenever you want. Or you can work whenever you want. But we need to know a week in advance. So please, on Friday, already put in your working hours into Tallinn calendar for like two weeks from now so that everybody knows, like when to schedule meetings with you. So there is a lot of options, which is the big advantage of distributed work. And it's also the biggest challenge because you need to define this and you will always have people that hate whichever decision you take. But if you don't take a decision, you're going to hate yourself. So make a decision. Have a story about why you made that decision. And then write it down talk about it. Make sure it comes up in every single interview so that you end up people who actually liked

Do what you want. For example, people who have kids actually enjoy knowing that the main work time is between 11 and three, because they know that they will be able to get all their work done while the kids are in school. And for somebody with kids, knowing that no one's going to put a meeting after 5pm, when the kids are home, that is worth so much. On the other side, there might be nomads who think this is absolutely crazy. And they would never because they want to have a three hour siesta. And that's great. But you don't want if you are a core, our work in a company, you don't want to hire these people. So you better tell this already in your job descriptions. And not once they have started. And now you have somebody super frustrated because your vision of how work should happen and their vision does not overlap. And that happens a lot. If you just say, we allow for remote work.

Adam Liette
I 100% resonate with that there's it's find a model, decide on your model, communicate model, and I've loved that you put like tell the story of your model. I think storytelling is so underutilized, right now. And there's so much to gain from stories. Because it makes it meaning behind everything. And it makes it easier for people not only to understand why you did what you did, but also to remember that you did what you did.

Valentina Thörner
Like, for example, like I had this client, and they only hire in Germany. And you can leave Germany to work from elsewhere from up to one month for something per year. But within Germany, you can work wherever you want. And they say very clearly, hey, we want everybody to be covered by German Social Security. We have this very expensive internal

insurance, that only covers you for one month. So if you travel longer than one month, you're not covered by our internal insurance. And we don't want to run this risk for your sake. We didn't make this up. It's like it's the security policy. And we want everybody to be to be covered by this. But other than that, do whatever you want. And also we are meeting once every quarter. And because everybody is in Germany, and we can do these travels by train, we're not breaking the world, the climate. And we're not breaking the bank, because it's easier to get everybody together from within Germany, by train than having to fly in people from Bali, Thailand, us or wherever. So they made it very clear that their policies align with their core values, as a sustainable social company that value social connection that happens in person once per quarter, and that take care of the well being of their employees. And once you have this story created, you don't get pushed back. Because it makes sense. It all makes sense. This whole Oh no, you can only work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays? because I say so that does not make sense.

Yes. And there's so much that once company and in particular like that decision, that conscious decision that we codified, made into our policy that informs like 3000 decisions in the company. Exactly. I did because now there's no more ambiguity. Like it's clear, here's what we're doing. And now we can plan everything else based upon this understanding of how this is working within the company. Exactly. Ah, it's beautiful, because now I didn't even as a leader, like my anxiety just went down like 300 levels. Because decisions are already made. For me, I'm just working from a model. I'm working from a story. And HR usually loves the result. Because they don't have to think about every single question from employees. Because if you have this framework, you don't need to make for every single possible edge case that might come up. Because if you understand the framework, you can solve for 95% of the edge cases. And that means you actually have the time if a real edge case comes along. I don't know. My wife is from Mexico, and her mother just got really sick and we need to go from Mexico to three months. I know we can only travel for one month, but would it be okay if we and then you're like, Okay, this is extraneous circumstances we can justify why are we allowing this to you and not making this a company policy and we're going to find a solution for you and your wife so that you're covered by insurance or whatever it needed to accommodate for this, but like on the day to day decisions they already made because you can just look at the policy and be like, Okay, this aligns and this doesn't align and what doesn't align well it doesn't fly because this is a company and other charity

Adam Liette
line. Well, I think this segues nicely into something I noticed on your In your core messaging, because these policies and having this framework allows you to take care of your people in a very special way when needed, because you've taken care of so many decisions. And you're able to then flex into that more critical thinking and problem solving, that your people are going to need. If they haven't yet. It's coming. Get ready listeners. And that's where I think there was one line off your website where you said, operations and people ops. Yeah, and I love that phrase, people ops. And so I'd love to dive into that. What does that mean to you? And how did you? How did you codify that into your process?

Valentina Thörner
So there was this experiment a couple of years, maybe already a couple of decades ago, where it was actually a study on impulse behavior. So they had these Hershey Kisses, and they put them on like back in the day when they had steal receptions at companies. And they put the Hershey kisses on the reception desk. So it was basically at arm's length of the lady, usually at the time, manning the desk, what we're meeting at the desk. And then they just wrote down how many marshmallows or Hershey Kisses she ate, because it was easily accessible. And then the next week, they put the bowl with the control, like on a cuppa, that was maybe two steps away. So you had to physically get up, go over at your suite and go back to your desk. And just the fact that she had to get up and walk over meant that the consumption of sweets went down to like 1/3 of the other consumption. Because we often do what is convenient. So from a people ops perspective, I want you to set up your company in a way that your processes make it easy to do the right thing. And so that you add friction to the things that you don't want to see happening. So instead of trusting in people's willpower, which is usually depleted by around 11am, anyway, you can trust in the processes. If you don't want some thing to happen, just make it as inconvenient as possible. And if you want something to happen, make it so easy, that somebody would look really bad if they didn't just do it.

And then people can use their willpower for the important things in life.

Adam Liette
I'm hearing like a Robert, have you read Robert Cialdini before? Yes. Yeah, I'm hearing I'm hearing bits of that.

Valentina Thörner
For sure, I mean, it's a reason why they say you could put so put your cookies on the fridge, like on the far side of your fridge, because then the cookies last longer.

Oh, I do more than that the cookies go like in the cellar, behind three bins. But they're like hard to get, because I will eat them. Yeah, it's also what's his physical environment. For example, I used to work at a standing desk for like most of the day when my kids were at home when they were small, because a toddler can't reach your keyboard if you're at a standing desk.

Which means you don't have to tell them don't touch my keyboard. But they don't they can't see it, they don't reach it. There's one less thing that tempts them, it's the same principle is if you don't want them to reach the keyboard, put it up high enough so that they can't reach it. If you don't want people to spam the general channel with things that you're not interested in, allow them to have as many topic based Slack channels as they want.

So that if I want to share my latest growth spurt in my Monstera plant, I could put it into the plant channel and only informed the people who are actually interested in plants. side effect is that you end up creating groups around interests, that cross company like a company functions. And then suddenly the lady that loves plants from accounting is talking to the developer who loves plants, and they end up sharing Monstera growing tips, but they also get to know each other. And those are the types of social bonds that actually then make your company culture. And it all started with the fact that you were annoyed by plant pictures in your general terminal.

Adam Liette
Oh, one of my colleagues, I'm gonna let her listen to this. She's going to be smiling so much, because literally, we set up those channels in our Slack last week. Oh, this is five days old for me at the time of this recording. And I was like, why are we doing this? And I was just like an unsubscribe, unsubscribe. I don't want to know about this.

Valentina Thörner
And you just hit it. Of course he works and you don't need to know

Oh, and now it works. Look at that. They're having their conversations about film, or TV shows over here exactly. And no longer Oh, okay, and what a lot of leaders tell me Oh, but then people are only going to talk about, I don't know, Dungeons and Dragons, or knitting or whatever. But the truth is, if you, I always tell them, well just stay in all the channels for a week and see what happens. And usually what happens when a channel is created, there's like a lot of flurry, because people are like, Oh, my God, I have to tell everybody how many plants I have planned for my thing. But then it tapers out. And then those channels are actually very silent. And you get like, maybe there's a message or three or a picture or something once a week, and then a couple of people because there's it's like in the office, like in the office, you don't only talk about work like you also, you come in Super smiling. And somebody is, so what happens, like, Oh, I just heard that my daughter, I don't know when the spelling bee or whatever. And then you talk a little bit about the decline of education and public system, and then you're done with it. Right? Yeah, and you. But this is what makes you connect with people. And we need to kind of mimic this in the online environment so that people don't only connect with each other other tasks, but also of a personal thing, because that's what then makes them want to do the travel to meet each other at the quarterly half yearly or healing meetup that you have with the entire company. Because the idea is not that you put people together so that they get to know each other, you actually already want them to be excited to meet the people in person that they have worked with. And you're never going to get somebody to be excited about meeting somebody else, just because of task management. There needs to be more to this. So if I know that you and me we have a shared interest, I'm a lot more

interested in making it work so that I can go to the meetup, because something that a lot of authors forget is going to a meetup or traveling somewhere for like, two, three days, depending on who you are, is actually quite a big ask. I mean, I'm a single mom. So I have to like if I can't take my kids with you, I have to outsource them somewhere. So I need at least like three months advance notice, and I need to have a big enough motivation to actually make it worth the hassle for me. And for me, the hassle might be worth it. Because then I'm going to see Mariana who has same plant obsession that I have. And it kind of tweaks the odds that people are going to come slightly a little bit in your favor, which is exactly what you want to do. Again, just because you were annoyed with not planned pictures in the general channel.

it cascades down from there. Or even better, like you can force people to come or at the threat of unemployment. But now they're coming with a better heart, they're coming with a better intention. And so you're not unnecessarily creating friction, when we're trying to avoid at all cost. I mean, well, as much as we ever can in companies, friction is going to be there. To be very honest, if you like if it's part of your work culture that you meet every quarter, and you have made that very clear already in the recruitment process, you can expect people to come once, but you need to be very clear with it. Like what I, what I've seen a lot is that we're like, let's say you're the first fully remote person, and then you've signed the contract. And then they tell you Oh, and by the way, the first week, you will have to fly to headquarters for the engineer like that's three weeks from now, like I cannot put my life on hold, because three weeks on now, like this should have already been covered in the, in the conversations leading up to signing the contract. Yeah. But you need to know that this is part of your process, like very often HR is also kind of because they didn't get any information about how this should all look like. So they also kind of trying to solve things as they come up. So you're making everybody's life easier if you just decide upfront how you want to work to happen at your company, how and when and where.

Adam Liette
Huh. That's so interesting. And I love I want to circle back to one thing you said about, you know, setting it up so it's easy to do the right thing. And doing the right thing is easy. And I think from that perspective that we just shared, where HR should know what some of those expectations are. I see this a lot in the companies that I work with where processes SOPs, those are kind of like they're made and they're put into a folder. Like how do we communicate this? And in this environment, are we or do we use? Are we building dashboards are we built like what? What have you found to be the most effective way of communicating all this information that we need to have at our fingertips and not stuffed away in a digital filing cabinet? So that's where stories come in again, because people don't realize

Valentina Thörner
Remember SLPs they don't remember processes, but they do remember the story and the reasoning behind it. And hopefully, the reasoning and the story behind is clear enough so that you can kind of derive the process from the story that they want. Maybe not with all the details, but kind of getting the gist of it. Because that then, if people remember, there was a process, that's usually enough, because then they can look it up. The problem with a lot of processes that are filed away is that no one remembers that that process existed in the first place. Yes, 100%, then, and then it gets forgotten. And that's because you didn't have a story about it. So what I usually recommend is whenever you make a decision within your company that is based in this process,

bring it back to the why. So explain. Okay, this year, we have decided to meet in Germany in Frankfurt, because it has the best long distance train

connections with the rest of the country. That's why we're using this, because and then, like, come back to the story, so that everybody remembers, oh, yeah, of course, we are hiring only in Germany, because we are very much into sustainability. And we only want to like to travel with train and avoid airplanes, like whatever your reasoning is, and always circled back to the because this is how we work because these are the stories that people make their stories, and then suddenly, it's not just the process anymore, it has become part of the company culture. And at some point, at some point, people don't remember why we go everywhere by train, it's just what people at this company do. We go by train, and everybody has gotten the train, discount card, whatever sponsored by the company. So it's like you make it part of the, the DNA of the company.

Adam Liette
Wow, I have I have taught and use storytelling in so many aspects of running business, mostly, like for motivational purposes or for inspirational. And I never thought about using it for cultural.

And I know it is. And now it's like it's that light bulb moment. We were talking before the interview about how how much we love podcasting, because you, you develop IP, like in the midst of it, it's crazy. And now, this light bulb just clicked on in my head of the story of why the story of that's what it is. It's the story of why. Yep, exactly.

Valentina Thörner
Oh, my goodness. If you get pushed back, then you know that your Y is probably not clear enough just yet.

Adam Liette
That's interesting. That's interesting. So when that happens, like, if you were advising a client who's getting that pushback?

Valentina Thörner
Like what? It's I think it's really hard as leaders, if we, if we have this in our mind, and like this is perfect, and we get that pushback. It's like, what do you it's my story with? Like, how do they go about resetting? Or like, what do they need to do at that point, having a conversation with where the pushback is coming back from which can be one to one single person or it can be like a part of the company and like understanding why this pushback is being created, because of what happens very often is that

the people at the top tend to be very homogenous, in terms of group. So they may just have overseen that whatever policy that's decided on, structurally disadvantaged group that they weren't aware of. And usually that does not happen with that intention. It just happens. Like for example, if you do mandatory every three months, we meet for two days. And that's why but you're only in this country. So it's everybody who comes and you don't have a woman or you don't have parents and your leadership group, you're probably going to forget about the fact that breastfeeding cannot be interrupted for three days to go to a company event, right? So there will be a point in time where you're going to invite everybody and a recent mother is going to tell you, Hey guys, I can't come because or she's simply going to say she's sick, or whatever she's not going to attend, because you're effectively making her choose between the well being of her child and attending the company meeting. And that's not a choice that anyone should be meeting making. So if you get pushback there, then you're like, oh, it looks like our story is no, not complete. So you can then add a policy that says okay, if you have a child that's under, I don't know, 18 month or a child that's still being best breastfed, you can bring the child and a second person with you on company money to take care of the child so that you can take take part in all the activities and still breastfeed your child. And I've worked with at least two companies who have used this and it's an it's an a medicine perk because it doesn't cost a lot because you don't have breasts.

Feeding mothers that off and who need this, the impact on moral and on the story that you tell about how you're taking care of your people is enormous. And the cost is ridiculous because the character second caretaker is going to share a room with that person and the baby anyway. So the only thing you're having to pay is like the extra travel for that person because the baby won't a lot either. So the trainer, a little bit of per diem. Exactly. So it's kind of it's a no brainer, but you are probably not going to think about it. If you don't have anybody in your leadership team has had to make that decision in the past. So sometimes it just makes sense. Okay, there's pushback, let's look into why we're getting this pushback, and then see if there is a solution that we can create that actually aligns with our story and makes the pushback go away. Because we are accommodating for whatever the problem was.

Adam Liette
If I use that, use that example. And I had to learn that lesson heart right away, because we have four children. And at the time, when we started having the kids, we it was a 12 hour car ride home. So I was like, well go home for the holidays. And wife's like, Well, where are we gonna stop? And like, What are you talking about? Well,

Valentina Thörner

Adam Liette
Going right in Yep. It's so interesting. And but it is those little things, I think, when we're telling the story of our company, and when our employees most importantly, are telling the story of our company. That little accommodation, as small as it is, is actually

Valentina Thörner
gigantic. It's huge. It's huge. Yeah. And it's the thing that people will talk about,

like it will create a brand awareness as in from the terms of employer branding, and also a loyalty that you can't manufacture with like giving an annual bonus or something.

Adam Liette
Oh, yeah, oh, my goodness, are there. It doesn't compare? Yeah, there's more from my own life where I was working remote. I need my story of what that means. Now, I, I was working for a new new company, I've only been there a couple months. And I'm an Army reservists. So I occasionally have to go and I get called up for a week or two of active duty time where I have it's, it's nine to five army. And I was expected to do 40 hours a week at my job. And they said, hey, just get what you can just do what you can keep everything running, we're gonna still pay your salary.

But that slightest small accommodation, instead of them saying, Well, you need to figure this out. Yeah. And that became part of my story with that company, definitely changed my perception of them. And so it's like finding those. But But it all comes down to something that if we circle right back around to the front of this interview, it came down to taking care of everything else.

Valentina Thörner
So that we can apply our critical thoughts and our or humanity to be perfectly honest, to the emerging problems that our team really needs us to apply ourselves to.

And the other challenge maybe is that in leadership positions, we often sit in a bubble that's kind of removed from the reality of the people who work in our companies. That's why I hate this whole work from home so much, because you and me, I can see that from your background, we are lucky enough to have a space in our homes where we can work relatively comfortably, without having to like cram ourselves to on the kitchen table or like on the sofa or something which I mean it also has a health part to it because like we both have like ergonomic chairs, and everything is set up for us to be successful. Depending on where you live and on your salary, not everybody of your employees will have the luxury of having a room where they can work comfortably and shut the door on the world, basically. So by telling people Oh, we allow you to work from home.

Adam Liette
It's, it's not the same as when the CEO of the company works at home. So sometimes people actually prefer to go to the office not because they prefer to go to the office, but because they prefer to have a proper chair and air conditioning.

Valentina Thörner
So if you allow or if you encourage work from home or rather remote work, I actually like either you should have a stipend so that they can at least get a proper chair and a proper desk or even better give something like an office allowance so that those who do not want to work from home for whatever reason. Some people just want to completely divide their work and their their non work. Existence.

Yeah. So that people can go to a co working that is close by, which may stem when it gets to some social interaction where they can get out of the house and where they have a chair and a desk that works. That is in working condition and not just in survival conditions. Because work from home in the pandemic, that's not remote work. That was

shattering at home, because there was a pandemic out there. It's not the same that was making it work, as opposed to I really want to sustain this for five years. Exactly, exactly. I remember we had like, all for the kids at the kitchen table, with their Chromebooks trying to do their studies. At the same time, I was like, this is not fun, not sustainable. No. And

I always get very upset when somebody says, Oh, yeah, women need to work from home, because that's so much easier with childcare. And I'm like, There's a reason we don't take kids to the office. Yeah, like you, it's not possible, you can take your dog to the office, but you cannot take your child to the office. And there's a very obvious reason to it. So don't expect women to work from home so they can take off their kids, because it's two activities that do not work with each other, still need childcare for every child, even if the mother or the father can work from home because somebody needs still to take care of the child while the parent is working.

Adam Liette
And like a lot of people don't really understand that these two things are like different concepts you can use, for remote work, and for comprehensive childcare because they need to go together. And I've often seen that as policy where companies would say, Well, if you do work, remote or distributed, you need to have childcare. And here's the allowance for childcare. And my wife is a childcare provider. So we have, this is part of the reason I have my own space. Oh, here we go into my story.

Part of the reason I have my own space in the backyard is because I have dozens of children in my house every day, because my wife has to come over to the house. And we have like it's some zoo in there. I couldn't work in there. She wouldn't want me in there. I get kicked out. Yeah.

Valentina Thörner
So it's, it's what we've had to do to adjust to it and your employees are going to go through the same thing. So what are you going to do from a leadership perspective to enable that? Exactly. Not everybody has a spouse at home, who takes care of the kids. So how are you going to facilitate the taking care of the kids? Oh, my goodness. There's so much to learn from here. But and I feel

Adam Liette
I think the number one thing to take away from the fact that you are going to run into these, we could talk all day, and we're not going to hit every single possible edge case, because that's not how this works. But I think from my perspective, and let me know if you agree.

It's about being curious and actually listening and having an open forum for that feedback from your employees. That's going to uncover the edge cases. But exactly, like just saying open open door policy. But what does that really mean? Like, it means don't bother me? It means that thank you, it means don't bother me.

Valentina Thörner
Now, like, there's this whole, and if you want distributed, you need to have regular one on ones with your employees like me that we do bi weekly. And

those shouldn't be open door conversations where you're like, Oh, we put this into a calendar, if you have something we do this. And if we don't have anything to talk about, we cancel it No, no, there should be a regular conversation, even if you think you don't have anything to talk about. Because once you sit down, you realize to have things to talk about. And if you don't have anything to talk about with your employees, as a leader, you're not doing your job correctly, like you should see actively trying to find out what's going on in your employees life, how you can help them with their work, where they're stuck, what they're super happy about. Because only if you have this holistic picture, you can actually support them in their own development or growth within the company. And yes, they are responsible for their own career. But if you want their career to happen within your company, and if they are a good employee, that should be your interest. You need to know what drives them, what motivates them and what they need, because then they're going to stay with you for a long time.

Adam Liette
Absolutely, and happy employees stay and staying employees. I mean, you talked about stability for you as the leader in the organization. It's those employees that stay because hiring is is what it is onboarding is what it is. I'm not gonna say it's terrible because I don't want to put that framing on it. Okay, it's hard. It is what it is. It's hard. It's difficult. We have our own anxieties about it.

Valentina Thörner
And is this gonna work versus that employee that does work that is already part of the culture. Because you're not just losing an employee, you're losing all those connections that that employee had. So one employee leaving impacts every other moment that they touched. So yeah, retaining people is definitely a skill. And I love the one to one meetings I found for it kind of I always gauge my one to ones based on how many hours people worked. Like my very part time, people that would like five to 10 hours a week, like monthly was enough if I did a week. Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. But my full time and my my people that were closest to me one to once a week. Yes, it was needed. Yeah. Even Even if we think it wasn't needed, it always, you know, because you don't run into them. So like, for me, the question is always, would you rather invest your energy into hiring and onboarding a new person, or into the 10 people that you have the one on ones with every week?

Adam Liette
And then like, it's a lot more efficient to actually take care of these 10 people than having to find one new person? Yes. And those conversations will in turn, tighten up your processes. Exactly. Expose problems, allow your HR person to get in front of them. So again, we circle right back to being able to do people ops, because we've taken care of the stability. Yeah.

Oh, well, we could go all day. But I know we both have calendars. And I do so appreciate this conversation. This has been absolutely phenomenal.

Valentina Thörner
This was great. Thank you so much for your questions. I loved how we meandered through this topic that was really great. I think the biggest thing that any of us can take away is

as much as long as I've been doing this, and I've led companies at significant levels. I'm still learning. I'm still curious. And I think if we all just approach our work in that way, with just the slightest bit of curiosity. I think it just goes so far and allows us to continue to grow because I'm never done product. You're never done product. We're never done. And how invigorating is that? Actually? I love it. Yeah, the day you stopped growing, you're dead? That's just nature. Exactly. And I'm not ready for that. I'm too young.

You know, where can our listeners find out more about you? The easiest way is to find me on LinkedIn, like just, I'm the only Valentina Charna until my daughter comes of age. So for now, I'm very easy to find, and she'll get the best seo ever when she grows up. And then there's remote that works.com If you want to read deeper into the framework that I use remote, remote networks.com/dimensions That's where you can download pretty extensive guide that walks you through different questions that you can ask yourself on how to apply these dimensions to understand your own or to basically shape your own company logic. And if you need help you just reach out. Absolutely. Well, we will link all that in the show notes. Thank you so much, Valentina. It's been an absolute pleasure. I'm so grateful that we ran across each other because the internet so much fun. We get to make these connections and thank you for doing what you're doing. You're all these little things. I consider myself more and more as I grow to be in the people ops business. And

Adam Liette
I know that the work you're doing is having a significant impact on people's lives. So that's phenomenal.

Thank you very much. And thank you for bringing me to

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