Secrets from 15 years of managing remote-first engineering teams with Hannes Kleist, from Stanwood

Product Stories
Secrets from 15 years of managing remote-first engineering teams with Hannes Kleist, from Stanwood
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Summary

In this episode of Product Stories, Victor Purolnik talks to Hannes Kleist, Founder of Stanwood, a German-based but completely remote-first software house. Hannes shares some tips and tricks he uses for remote work, including how to brainstorm as well as align people and hold them accountable.

Episode Highlights/Topics:

  • Squads: 3 decentralized, autonomous teams organized around clients and projects  
  • Stanwood: Team members live in 12 countries, 22 cities, and Europe-centric time zones 
  • 5 Stages of Remoteness: 
    • Office-bound
    • Home office
    • Synchronous processes
    • Asynchronous processes
    • Remote nirvana with digital nomads
  • Standups: How to improve efficiency 
  • Team Bonding, Binding to Brand: Connect with squads and celebrate each other
  • Company Culture: Leadership enables remote work to let people own their work, ideas
  • Vision, Mission, and Strategic Goals: Leadership’s priorities to offer guidance to squads  
  • Grill the Boss: Last step in recruitment process for the burger-and-beer-based business
  • Onboarding: Create personal connection, assign buddy, and conduct daily check-in 
  • Brainstorming: Problem-solving structure to find technical or creative solution, input
  • Peer Pressure: How do you know if people are working or not, or working too much?
  • Objectives and Key Results (OKRs): Run autonomous teams to improve on their own
  • Primary Focuses: Personal development, performance, and enablement to help people
  • Transparency and Toleration: Make sure people behave, align with culture, or take action
  • Key to Remote Success: Being as little remote as possible to build human relationships   

Resources/Links:

Trustshoring

Hannes Kleist on LinkedIn

Stanwood

Whitepaper: Remote Work Hacks

Fooxes.de

Confluence

Notion

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock

 

Read the transcript:

Victor [00:15]: Welcome back, everyone. Today’s guest is Hannes Kleist, founder of Stanwood German-based but completely remote first software house. In this episode, he’ll share his tricks from many years of remote work, how to brainstorm remotely, and how to keep people aligned, and accountable. Hannes welcome to the show.

Hannes [00:35]: Victor thanks so much for inviting me.

Victor [00:37]: Yeah, well, this has not been the first time. You’ve essentially participated in the first and last conference that we ever organized, I think the last thing to ever happen before the lockdown last year, that was March. Thanks for coming over. Anyway, back then. But today we’re going to speak about remote work, why don’t you tell people a little bit about your background, and what you do.

Hannes [01:05]: Currently, I am running a number of agencies. But that’s not how we how we started, how I started. I have a classical MBA background marketing and sales, but was always into tech. I was always a nerd. As you might see in the background, here, there’s lego star wars all over this wall, behind me. I’ve worked in corporate at the broadcasting company in Germany [inaudible 01:33] for 10 years, I’m doing business development and all kinds of stuff before I had enough and set up my own startup with a bunch of friends, an app TV Guide, that we grew up to a million active users in Germany, and then sold to a publishing company here in Germany, third largest publishing company.

Then we stayed with that company for two years and build up their app development and publishing business. Again, the corporate word got kind of boring. We headed out again, set up a new bunch of companies, agencies, and one of them is Stanwood, which is a app development and website development company, based in Berlin, but as you said in the introduction, we are 100% remote. Even the first company that we founded was fully remote that’s in the name Stanwood. Stanwood comes from the Skype call where we founded the company in Munich, [inaudible 02:37] which translates into wood street and Sydney, Australia in Stanley Avenue. We even have the remoteness in our name back from 15 years ago.

Victor [02:50]: Wow. That’s definitely one of the oldest remote first companies that I know. Congratulations, just to get a sense of how big the company is, how many people do you have, how many teams, how many projects you work on at a given time.

Hannes [03:06]: With Stanwood, we have had a bit of a hit due to COVID. Many of our clients have been struggling under COVID and reduce the budgets. But at our height, we were a bit over 40 people working in three teams, and we call them squads. Our teams are organized around clients or around projects, or they are cross-functional teams, and very decentralized, very highly autonomous. Every one of those squats was working for usually one big client where they were doing the principal development, and then five to six smaller projects just doing maintenance or some minor development.

Victor [03:50]: How many countries do your team members reside in and across how many time zones?

Hannes [03:56]: That would have been 12 countries at our height. 22 different cities and the time zones were fairly Europe centric, like we had the odd guy working from Australia for a year, especially during COVID. Like last year, my business developer, Richard, like he didn’t make it back from vacation. He had to stay in Sydney for a whole year. That was quite tough. We had some people working from South America for a number of months, but we are really focused on Europe. We are still in the stages of renal boldness, right where stage one is office-bound, and stage five is the remote Nirvana with digital nomads. We are still at stage three, where we have synchronous processes, right.

We are working currently of making the jump to the asynchronous world where we can basically support working from all time zones and not just Europe.

Victor [04:55]: Yeah, I’m sure your Australian guy did everything he could to come back. It’s such a shame here to stay there. But if you could go over those five stages, I think that would actually be super helpful to our listeners.

Hannes [05:09]: All right. All right, now I need to focus because I might mix them up a little bit. The first stage is obviously being office-bound, right, like everyone is coming to the office working nine to five. Then this stage two where some people are allowed to work from home. This is then called home, like working from the home office. I know in Germany, we call it [inaudible 05:34] a phrase from the 70s. Then there’s stage three, where you don’t have offices anymore, where everyone is working remotely. This is basically true for every company in the last year. Everyone had to work from home from COVID. It’s like, you’re working on physical stuff.

Then the next stage, and this is actually the big revolution in remote work. The next stage is getting to asynchronous processes. Because everybody in the last year was doing the same stuff they did in the office just from home. Everything got worse. People had to work more people got more stress, people felt more lonely, more stressed out. This is kind of like in sicknesses where it gets to get worse before it gets better. This is a with remote work, it gets really great once you go asynchronous, where you don’t have to be in the same timezone, have meetings, and calls and Slack chats all the time where your stress level just goes up.

Because you have to constantly work with your time constraints, and go into asynchronous processes. This is really the big shift in management style in leadership, if you want to allow these kinds of processes, because then people can work and live from everywhere. You can truly hire from everywhere, and give people the freedom that so many, especially millennials now require. Then the fifth stage is basically everybody has a digital native. Stage number four, asynchronous processes, most people work from their home most of the time. Then stage five is where we all travel around the globe all the time following weather patterns, and these kinds of stuff, that’s then the fifth stage.

Victor [07:29]: Well, then everybody would be in the same place. You’d take your office with you because there’s like this one ideal spot during the year. Just kidding. But I think it’s crucial to investigate that breakthrough moment, you said between synchronous, so like doing things as we did in the office, just doing them remotely. For example, in the office, let’s say we have our 9am stand-up with the entire team. I think that’s a perfect example, for a very simple synchronous event that happens in almost every startup. Now remotely, most people probably do at least I know that from a lot of startups, the 9am stand-up call where everybody’s late, where half of the people are already working on the side, the other half are speaking about something that’s totally irrelevant.

In the end, nobody really likes the call, even though I remember that I really liked in office stand-ups, how should someone improve this?

Hannes [08:31]: This is really a fine line to walk. In terms of efficiency, let’s look at the efficiency side. You can do and in a stand up asynchronously, you can just have people that’s what we do when everybody checks into Slack in the morning and gives a quick like your typical three questions. What did I finish yesterday? What am I going working on today? What is blocking me. You can do that as a text or if you want to go real fancy you can have like a small video recording. Which I would actually recommend because if you do that if you go fully asynchronous, what you are missing is everything related to team bonding.

Also binding your people to your company and to your brand. That is the tricky, really tricky part. If you go for asynchronous stand-ups, you need to find other ways to connect with your people and connection with people. There’s no way around that you always need to make that asynchronous. That is the real tricky part. For instance, we are doing out of the old scram thing. We have the demo that is still synchronous with us right so everybody and we do it company wide. Once per week this is like the one slot where everybody comes together and everybody is presenting what they did and we celebrate each other to keep that kind of bonding.

Victor [10:01]: Yes, that is very important. We’ll definitely discuss culture as well. But I think what’s super important with remote work is how leadership propagates this culture and how these decisions are made. how does leadership work at Stanwood to enable remote work?

Hannes [10:21]: This is one of the hardest lesson that I have learned. Because I was socialized, if you will by a McKinsey consultant. My boss in corporate was an ex McKinsey. He taught me management by spreadsheet and PowerPoint. Smart people at the top, come up with brilliant ideas, then they communicate very good, good communication was also key at that time. But then you basically force people to fill out status reports, or monitor their behavior or PowerPoint. Basically, top down micromanagement. I tried that a couple of times in my own companies, and that always failed, even up to the point where I was burned out and was like a week before throwing in the towel. I had people leaving because of that.

We ruined the company, a couple of times with different approaches have the same flavor, if you will. Now I turned this entirely around. For a lead on, what you need to do is you need to define the problem that you see, give background and give context. Then even if you think you have the right solution, don’t tell anyone, right, keep it to yourself, and let your teams develop all the stuff they need for themselves. That’s what we did in the last couple of years that we have highly autonomous teams that can define everything, like from tools, processes, everything that they need.

I only come in if I see a big problem, and then go, guys, we have this problem. I don’t know, like our clients are not happy. We are measuring client happiness with a net promoter score, like our clients happiness is below 70%. You need to do something. Then we set up basically okay us so that I can get my priorities communicated to the teams. But how they are going to do that, I leave it to them. Like even if they present it to me, like I might give some context and will give perspective that they might not be privy to. For instance, how clients will see what they will do. But I do not come up with stuff anymore.

Even if you think the idea your people come up with is worse than yours, even if you think their ideas is just 80% as good as yours, don’t tell them don’t improve it. If you try to improve it, if you say this is a great idea, but let’s do this, you will kill all ownership that you had so far. If they come up with the 80% solution, you have like, they will implement this thing faithfully, right to the dot, like, let’s say 80%. Overall, your goal is achieved at times 80 is 64%. The solution is fixing 65% of your problem. If you come up with your 100 or you implement or force down you’re 100% brilliant solution, but you only get 20% of acceptance in your team.

Then you are only achieving your goal by 20%. That’s how switched, how decision-making works. The great thing is it also frees you up as a leader. You don’t have to think about it anymore. You can think very about strategy and culture and give interviews.

Victor [13:47]: I think this is very, very valuable advice and insight. Clearly you’ve invested a lot of time tweaking this. Congratulations on that. I know how tough this can be. Heard it from a lot of founders. Thank you for that. How do you define and communicate your vision and mission? Because I assume that stands on top of everything that you just said so that people understand what guides them, right?

Hannes [14:17]: Yeah, and I think this is like the last four that I’m holding down where I say this is leadership priority. This is something that you don’t hold meetings and have people come up with the vision of a company that is the one thing plus goals that you work out of your vision and your mission that is something that you need to set otherwise that’s your role as the enterpreneur. Because then you need to like the second most important job for a leader is finding the right people and if you don’t have vision and mission and strategic goals aligned you don’t know what to look for in people. Depending on what your great idea is you need very different people. What I do is like usually every one or two years usually during vacation, I sit down and think about what are we here for then why do I do this.

This all comes from like me personally, what I feel is important for me and for my life. That changes our vision quite drastically. We started off couple of years ago and wanted to just become the biggest remote software agency in the world. That was still in my big ego phase, where I just wanted to like beat WordPress, basically. I wanted to get to 1000 developers on my team. We switched, then once like working with the coach I found out right, like having the biggest numbers isn’t really going to make you happy. It’s also not going to create the work environment that I really wanted.

We change that to a quality aspect. We want to bring in the best quality software from any agencies in Europe. That was something that you can then rally the troops around. We are currently switching with all our agencies towards not only making the best software, but creating the most money value for our clients. We have a new agency that is doing lead generation marketing and sales for clients. That is really what we are focusing on that we that we are looking to only look for b2b clients, and try to help them increase their revenue and increase their sales by use of technology and all the other stuff that we build around that.

Then how do I communicate this? Well, I invite people. My favorite leadership instrument, if you will, is something we call a grill the boss. On your first day when you’re working with us, and at least once per year, you have to fly in here to Munich into our home, and you will have to cook with me. This is the last step in the recruitment process where we filter out all vegans and non beer drinkers. We are a Burger and Beer based company culture. Or if you are vegan, you need to show me that like your vegan burger is really up to snuff. This is like in those conversations with people that is how I believe you can communicate something as important as vision, which comes out of your own soul.

This is something that highly aligns with what I feel what is important, what my role in the world. You can’t really communicate that with a Zoom call in front of 200 people. That is not authentic. I always focus on getting people in and then telling them why I do this. Why I’m doing this, why I believe that we should work the way we should work and on the projects that we are working on to get reattraction on that.

Victor [18:08]: Yeah, that’s awesome. You do have an open home, I know we discussed your presentation four hour conference around your kitchen table as well. Now that is awesome stuff. Very, very personal also with people, especially when somebody starts remote has never been in an office. But then inviting them home, I think that it has a sort of power to it. That’s great. That also answers my next question, basically, which is how you onboard new hires. But I assume after you weed out the vegans, you communicate your mission, what else you do, to make sure people find themselves in the company, know what to do and can provide value without doing things again?

Hannes [18:58]: Onboarding is probably the most tricky process to get right in the remote company. That is also what you see, we are consulting other companies ongoing remote and working remotely and dealing remotely. This is the number one thing that people found hard in the last year, starting somewhere just remotely. It all comes like you basically from a mindset perspective, you need to plan that the first month, your new hire will not add any value. That is the mindset you need to have because otherwise, getting somebody up to speed will take a year and they will never really feel part of the team and properly onboard.

We tried that by failure. We learned that the hard way. People get very anxious in the beginning. For the first six months people are super anxious when working remotely and we counter that by taking a lot of time. I said I get people here and we cook and we talk and then everybody gets an onboarding buddy, we call it in the company. Usually a developer from the same team with the same, slightly higher seniority. He’s there for you. Like every question you have, that’s the guy you ask. Because most people are very shy asking their boss, where’s the form to fill out my travel expenses, for instance. Like all the small and questions that usually ask over a desk that you ask your office neighbor, right,

It’s really hard to get right remotely. We have this onboarding buddy. Also in the first week, first up, the first day is just like getting input. The first day, I will give a speech about company goals, the team lead gives a presentation about team goals and team processes. The onboarding buddy gives an introduction into the ongoing project. Firstly is just like, welcome. This is how we run things. Then the next week, we do pair programming, or sometimes called shadowing. The new guy has nothing to do at all for a whole week, but just watching his onboarding, buddy do his work. Onboarding buddy shares the screen, and the new guy just watches and listens in and can ask all kinds of questions.

Then the week after we turn this around, right, so that the new guy is has to work. The old guy just has to watch and like give him pointers. During those two weeks, everything happens at least twice with our sprint cycle, all processes, you first saw it and then you had to do it. But with somebody behind you to tell you no, that’s wrong, or this is right. What I also recommend is that you do a check in like the team lead has a quick 15-minute call at the end of every day, really has a call to find out if there are any issues any roadblocks during the onboarding calls. I guess those three things are really critical.

First up personal connection, like meet your people and have at least dinner with him. But cooking is better, I can promise you that. Then second have an onboarding buddy for the first month that helps them out with pair programming and shadowing. Thirdly, have like a daily check in in the first month every day, at the end of the day for 15 minutes with the team lead.

Victor [22:20]: Another important topic that many people find very challenging on a remote basis. It’s not just onboarding, it is also brainstorming. What if we have a problem that we are not very clear, there is no documentation, it’s not just hey, go implement this. But we need to discuss a problem, we need to find a better solution. Most people say we used to gather around a whiteboard and just throw spaghetti at the wall. We try this on a Zoom call, it ends after 10 minutes of nobody having an idea how to approach that or should we just fly and meet?

Hannes [23:00]: Well, there are two kinds of processes that are really hard to get right in a remote setting. The ones that you are just describing that is problem-solving, or finding a let’s say technical solution. The other one is more of a creative problem. If you for instance want to develop your company’s persona, right, like what is like these kinds of our new slogan, your new logo for those kinds of tasks, like everything that is about creative work about spitballing, if you will, like coming up with a brand name. One person says I don’t know, dog, the next says cat right where you need that kind of jumping off other people’s thoughts fly in and meet. That setting like you can’t get that in a Zoom call unless Mark Zuckerberg gets his VR glasses up to scratch, you will never have can do that remotely.

I think for problem-solving there’s a better way than even meeting. But you need to have a very strong moderator. What we do is we either jump into a mentee meter, or a meal board. there we do basically, as you would with post its in a meeting, you split the work into time. It’s not a free for all brainstorming. The moderator, the host defines the task that needs to be solved. Everybody writes down digitally, of course, what they think like their ideas. Give them 10 minutes to write down or whatever, and then have them present it right. Everybody presents this. The great thing about that approach is that compared to free for all brainstorming, you also get the input from introverted people, right like in a brainstorming around an office table or conference table. It’s only the loud mouths. The usual suspects who are contributing because the introspects they keep behind like they’re just shy. They don’t want to push.

If you have everybody prepare and then present a possible solution, then you can take it, then you can take it from there. That’s one approach. Another approach that I really like is splitting up if you have a larger team, splitting them up in smaller teams. You have a one-on-one kind of situation, where two people, for instance, in a Zoom breakout call, can work on a solution. You have five teams, for instance, work on the same problem. You get very intensive work, you let them work for half an hour or 45 minutes. Then everybody comes back. Everybody presents their idea and discusses different merits on that. Then you do another breakout session where the people take what they’ve learned from the other group and find their solution to it, or just grab another person’s solution and work on that.

That kind of very structured approach to problem-solving. I found that more efficient than a real meeting around a table, because let’s face this, people are lazy. You have a problem. You call your five guys on to the conference room, and then you just brainstorm. That’s how it usually works. I think the remote setting forces you to use a more structured approach, which in the end is better than the spitballing game in the conference room.

Victor [26:22]: Yeah, that makes sense. Because in the conference room, you might not actually be that much more productive, but it just feels differently, because you’re more casual. You make a joke, you speak about your vacation. It feels a little bit more productive at the end, because you don’t have these awkward moments of silence. But I agree. I like your approach, like a tennis game of ideas like moving forward, LA or each time. Very nice, do you then document any of those decision made? Do you have a wiki? Do you have any systems like that to then really communicate that outside? Or does that mostly just apply within a squad?

Hannes [27:04]: Yeah, that’s very limited. Like I’m still looking for a good wiki. We try a new one every year and always default back to Confluence. I’m still looking for something that integrates, like wiki with the power of Google Documents. That’s always our issue. Like when you want to work productively, asynchronously, you want a tool like Google Docs, right, where you have proper commenting, and suggested changes and inversion history. But then there comes a time where you need to basically make it more solid thing. This is now official, my time still, I’m still looking for that hybrid, basically confluence meets Google Docs

Victor [27:46]: Might want to try notion probably not perfect on both fronts. But it has a lot of these that you that you mentioned, now that we’ve spoken on alignment, essentially, in solving problems. Another challenge a lot of people face, I get that question a lot when I speak to people. It’s like, yes, Victor, I understand. But how do I know people are working? That obviously, on the extreme people then ask, so can I just record their screens. I get that regularly, which is an objection that I have to battle very hard at this point. What’s your approach? I want to make sure how to be at peace with yourself even maybe that’s actually the problem. How to be at peace with yourself that you don’t know if every minute that you’re paying for is actually being spent on work?

Hannes [28:47]: Yeah, so you hit one of my pet peeves if you will. I have been asked this question 1000 times at least up until mid of last year. Because that was always the number one question from every managers. How do you make sure that those people are working and not Instagramming the whole day. This is not the problem. Your problem is exactly the opposite. How do you make sure that your people stop working after eight hours so they don’t burn out? Remote work, at least when you’re working with creative and smart people will burn out people. The problem is exactly like they have it backwards. Like the problem is backwards. But if you’re really worried about that kind of stuff, and most office-bound managers and leaders like they feel that kind of this loss of control.

I simply act like I employ everyone like scrum. It’s so simple. If you start your week, everybody like going through the list of stuff that needs to be done, you have your daily where everybody is like telling what they did and what they want to and at the end of the week, you have your demo where everybody is showing what they’ve done. There’s no better way, and you actually don’t need to be involved in that if you’re not part of the project. You can even stay out of it if you are that leadership guy, because the team will make sure everybody’s contributing. Peer pressure is the best way to weed out your slackers, if you will.

Because everybody else is so motivated, if you have autonomous teams working remotely from home, you don’t need to motivate them, because the work is very rewarding. If you build great stuff that is really not an issue. My short answer is that’s not a problem long answer is scrum.

Victor [30:39]: It actually makes a lot of sense that we also do the dailies with like, what have you done yesterday versus what do you want to do today and the bullet points style in Slack? Obviously, you’ve seen very clearly looking at these, who’s over estimating under estimating what makes sense, what doesn’t. It’s a very quick reality check. In the end, if what you’re paying for resonates with what you’re getting, as a result, more or less. If there was half an hour more or less work involved, it really doesn’t matter that much at the end of the day. That’s on accountability, but how about maybe not just accountability within projects or within day to day work. But how about long-term company goals? OKRs KPIs, or maybe even personal development? Not that much company goal-related? But do you have any frameworks around that as well?

Hannes [31:37]: Yeah. With regards to KPIs, we fully adopted the OKR system, the objective and key results, because there’s no other way to run an autonomous company with small autonomous teams, other than management by goals. There’s really no other way to do that. OKRs are fine way to do that. Although it takes time and some experience to get this off the ground. I wouldn’t recommend trying this on your own because you will fail. If you need a recommendation, I have a good friend who was helping startups implement the OKR system. But that is how I run the teams and how the teams are improving on their own. But then the second part is really interesting that you asked Victor, and that is personal development.

That is one of our goals. Actually, there are two reasons why our company exists. One is obviously to fulfill my aspiration on what I want to do with my time. But the second reason that companies exist is to develop our people. We spent an enormous amount of time into personal development. We have for instance, we have mandatory weekly one on ones. everybody has to have a one on one with a boss every week, with a team lead every week, and every team has it with me. It’s not a status update kind of meeting, right? Like we have a framework, literally seven questions that my team leads me to ask their people and I asked my people, and it’s all about the person. Like it’s what are their challenges, what are their issues, and that can be work related, but must not be work related.

Like I told you about Richard was stranded in Australia for a year, like in his one on one we were solving like logistical and visa issues and had nothing to do with this work. Because these kinds of personal issues, were blocking him from being productive. Whatever is front and center of anybody’s mind needs to be solved. That is what leaders are there for. It’s very rarely about work. That’s the feedback culture and also like just paying attention to your people. The second is I’ve built a development program with courses across different areas. They can be obviously programming related software related or design related, like stuff that is very much hands on to our daily business. But there are like some 40 courses on general management, for instance.

I teach accounting, I teach negotiations, we have stuff on mindfulness, we have like, really personal development, personal goal development. Anything that I found helpful in the last, I don’t know 20 years of my professional life, I’m trying to teach and get inspirations as well. We actually have a book club in the company. I read about like a business book every week and then I post this in the company internally and sometimes people then read along right, that’s always a good idea to read along with what I’m reading because you can be sure that something will come your way once I read that book. Yeah, so that’s our second focus and actually that is what all our leadership is focusing on, on the personal development of people.

The teams themselves make sure that performance gets it right. Our leaders are not slaveholders with whips whipping people into action. But their focus is only developing and helping people.

Victor [35:22]: Enablement really. Enable people to do good work very interesting. To dive into more of that, that really is a perfect segue into culture. Because how do you create that engaging environment? We spoke about onboarding, start that way, you have your onboarding buddy. You have one on ones, but what else do you do to get people together to live the mission and vision?

Hannes [35:51]: Culture is basically, there’s underlying stuff in culture, but how it manifests itself is in stuff that you can see and feel, and perhaps even touch if you’re in an office building, right. If you have a classic office building, you can do loads and loads of stuff with the way you design your offices and what kind of products you do. In a remote company, all you have is behavior and behavior that both you as a leader exhibit, right, what you do every single day, and also what kind of behavior you tolerate, or even endorse. What is written in your company memo write about your vision, mission and culture and how you want to treat people.

If you say like, you’re really like a kind organization, but you yourself scream at people all the time, if they fuck something up, that is obviously not going to help if you want to have that kind, forgiving, tolerant culture. It’s really important to check your behavior all the time. Your own behavior, if you want to have a certain culture, as a leader, you need to be front and center, like you need to do that 200%. If your company culture, for instance, is one of transparency, which is in our case. My emails are all visible to everyone in the team, my calendar is visible. All the like checking in stuff or documenting things, I do that twice as often and twice as nicely as everybody else.

That is, if you want something done, regardless of what your culture like you might want to have a more military side culture. Because you need that. But still, you need to live it. That is the one thing. The second thing and that can’t be underestimated is what you tolerate. If you say for instance, you are a company that values diversity, and inclusiveness highly, but then people make jokes in Slack about how a certain woman dresses for instance. You need to make sure if you see something that is not in line with the culture that you want to enforce in your company or not enforced not the right word because you can’t enforce it, What’s a better word? Fertilise, I’d say is a better a better idea on how culture actually grows. You need to make sure that other people are behaving in a way that is aligned with that.

If you see like a sexist comment or a homophobic comment, for instance, you need to grab that person and set it straight. If it’s like a public thing that went wrong, you need to make that even official, like do that in your next all hands meeting and address that. That’s I think, very important the second part that you need to make sure that how people are behaving is in line with your culture. If that is not the case, then you need to take action. We actually did that. We haven’t fired so many people, like a handful, perhaps. But all of those were based on cultural grounds. I had to fire my best developer, but he was just abusive. When he got under stress in a meeting, he made other people cry.

Like he was so abusive, with other people. We had people who didn’t live up to our idea of ownership and accountability. Like if you see something, it’s your responsibility to fix it. Because in remote organizations, stuff falls through the cracks. If you see something you need to fix, and there was just some guy who he saw a bug, but said that I’m an iOS developer, it’s a bug on Android. I don’t care right and that’s not my job. As they say, you need to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to culture.

Victor [39:48]: Do you meet up like as the entire company or within teams a lot on retreats?

Hannes [39:54]: We used to up until COVID hit, we were quite a travel happy lot. The teams met every three months somewhere in Europe, and the whole company met once per year for a big multi day, extended weekend with family and kids sometimes when it makes sense. It’s actually like when people ask me, what’s the most important thing for a successful remote company? It’s being as little remote as possible, like meet up as often as you can, because it’s so hard to build human relationships over Zoom calls. Like you need to touch other people or be around them. Actually, you’d be surprised if you look into the literature, how much of human interaction is based on smell. Like when it comes to building real deep relationships. We have a lot.

Victor [40:49]: That’s very interesting. The last one, because we’ve already been recording for quite a bit, and I know your schedule is very busy. But this is, I think, interesting, because you already said that in an office, you can give perks, you can make a nice office, you can give a salad bowl and things like that, that classic startups used to do foosball table. What perks do you give in a remote environment?

Hannes [41:16]: Well, I don’t believe in perks to be honest, as a organized part of your compensation motivation, because that’s what psychologists would call that’s an extrinsic motivation. There’s a saturation in there, you can give perks and perks and people just get used to it. It wears off and you’re at a higher level of cost. I believe a lot in working intrinsically. Helping people to learn. Helping people to be part of an initiative, helping other people like one of the biggest motivator people have is if you can help another person. We’ve built that into our leadership, like actually my team leads, they have scorecards, where they need to write down just for themselves, which of those internal triggers they can instigate in their people.

They get this nice internal boost all the time and are internally motivated to do their great work. I do send like I have a few things that I do. For instance, I’m really big on Christmas presents. I spend a lot of time on that. We send out LEGO Star Wars sets. We have set out super NAS like ghetto things consoles. We have sent out Nerf guns, that’s a good thing working with nerds like we are still boys in our heart. All the stuff that we weren’t able to buy ourselves when we were kids, I do this now and send these out. Super Soaker in the summer. It’s more like an ego thing for me because I just enjoy handing out toys so much that.

Victor [42:58]: That almost classifies as an official perk, though. Now how can people find out more about you and your various companies?

Hannes [43:09]: Alright, so if you’re interested in working with us, or for us, you can go to Stanwood.de and you can see everything that we do on the software development path. If you are interested in our experience in remote work, we have set up a whole program where you can learn how to run a company fully remotely. The best thing to start with is going on fooxes.de/remote. There’s a white paper with our 10 remote work hex. Then there’s a whole bunch of other literature that we’ve created and webinars that we’ve created. Actually a boot camp, which is coming up in two months, a bootcamp on remote leadership, and where you can get like our experience of 15 years compressed into a three day workshop and you can find all of that under fooxes.de/remote.

Victor [44:04]: That’s fooxes.de I suppose. Right? Yes. Excellent. Yeah, that is very exciting. Actually, I think people should do that if they want to be serious about it, especially in a, well, I don’t think just in a larger organization. But even in a smaller one these concepts apply the culture applies, that accountability applies, all of it does. Is there anything else you want to share with people that they can read or what they should check out to learn more?

Hannes [44:33]: Yeah, there’s like one book that I always recommend. Anybody wants to build up, especially when you want to set up your own company. There’s a book by the head of HR from Google. His name is Laszlo Bock, and his book is work rules. It’s basically an insight on how Google is running their operation with regards to leadership. That has been the great like the one book out of 100 business books that has been the biggest inspiration on how to run a modern company. Also, because it’s all a numbers piece. Like they don’t invent stuff in the measurement, they improve, and they repeat. That is the best book in that regard. Otherwise, if you want to have a chat with me, just contact me on LinkedIn. We’ll take it from there.

Victor [45:20]: Awesome. We’ll make sure to link it up. Thank you so much Hannes. That was very insightful. Thanks for being on the show.

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