He is also a co-organizer of the world’s largest remote work conference – Running Remote.
Liam is an avid proponent of remote work and has been published in Forbes, Inc, Mashable, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, The Next Web, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat and many other publications specifically targeting the expansion of remote work.
The mission statement that feeds all the products and services that Liam is involved with stems from empowering workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want. Liam has an undergraduate and graduate degree in Sociology from McGill University.
He lives in Canada but travels 3-6 months of the year due to his ability to work wherever and whenever he likes. He chooses a new place to travel a few times a year but usually spends time in Austin, Las Vegas, and Ubud (Bali) each year and loves to encourage others to work remotely on his travels.
What you will learn
- How Artificial Intelligence will impact work and marketing in the next decade
- The tasks an AI assistant can do to help and boost your marketing efforts
- How a robot can predict when your employee is going to leave
- The work productivity metrics that matter
- If a 40-hour workweek is more productive than a 26-hour workweek
- If the 200-year-old post-industrial 9-5 work model is broken
- Why introversion is one of the biggest psychometric measures that denotes success for remote workers
- What rules we need to put in place to protect us from the robots
- If good content can be written by a machine
- Why the two success differentiators for remote teams are communication and process documentation.
- The importance of “asynchronous communication” or “on-demand communication” for company messaging
- Three tools to consider for process documentation. Trainual, GitLab, and Google Docs.
- Why you should have no sacred knowledge within your organization
- The vital business skill of making sure that everything in your business is written down, and put in a system, allowing you to scale that organization
- The 8,500 page manual on how GitLab (the largest remote working company in the world) manages its company and remote teams
- The hierarchy of communication
- Why fast communication is the key to success and empowering staff to execute is vital
- How Hotjar is one of the fastest-growing SaaS in the world
- How to create a productive “Digital Nomad” practice
- Why you should do “Slow Digital Nomading”
- How Liam Martin has used millions of workers’ data to redefine work and gain insights and wisdom
Jeff Bullas: Everyone, welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have with me, Liam. Now, Liam comes from one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, Montreal in Canada, and I've had the privilege of visiting there. Liam speaks French and English, and we're going to do this in English today, luckily, because otherwise I'd be completely lost, because I struggle with speaking English, but we're not even going to go into the French. But, so just a little bit about Liam, he's a serial entrepreneur, and runs businesses called the Time Doctor and staff.com, which are one of the most popular time tracking, and productivity software platforms and use by the top brands today.
Jeff Bullas: He's also organized the world's largest remote work conference, called Running Remote, and I just want to make sure that people understand what Running Remote is about. It's about running your business remotely, it's not about going and running in a desert remotely. So-
Liam Martin: Although, it could be.
Jeff Bullas: It could be. Exactly. He's an avid proponent of remote work, and has been published in Forbes Inc., Mashable, TechCrunch, Fast Company, and wired, and a bunch of others. Now, an interesting mission statement. Mission statement feeds... “Empowering workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want”. I like that, and that's basically how I've been operating for the last seven or eight years myself.
Jeff Bullas: Liam has an undergraduate, and graduate degree in sociology from McGill University, and he lives in Canada, and travels the world when he can, for three to six months out of the year. So, great to have you on the show, Liam. We've had a half hour conversation before we've had this conversation. I think there's some really interesting areas we want to dive into, and welcome to the show.
Liam Martin: Yeah, thanks. Before we get into that, Jeff, I just want to show you that... Because I know for people that are listening right now, they may not believe me, or see me, I actually have a French Canadian pie, a sugar pie here. It's quite literally like the most Quebecois stuff right in front of me. I've recently moved here, but it's really become a second home for me. And for anyone that's interested in traveling to Montreal, please just message me after this, I can definitely show you around.
Liam Martin: But we're here to talk about marketing, right? I think that this is something that I've been... And we've just in the last half hour conversation, I think we should talk about remote work for sure, because it's one of the biggest things that's going to impact the next six to 36 months of every marketer's lives. And then I also think we need to talk about automation, and artificial intelligence, which I think is also going to be probably the second biggest wave, in the next six to 36 months, but it's actually going to be a bigger wave than that. So I think we need to talk about remote work first, which is really going to talk about what's going to happen in the next six months, once the pandemic is over, what's going to happen next? And then on top of that, what's going to happen as a longer term trend? Which I think is totally connected to artificial intelligence.
Jeff Bullas: I think that's a great summation of what we've talked about already, and we're going to carve that up, and dive into... And there's a lot of human versus machine conversations we're going to have. The current environment has accelerated what is maybe going to be the next fastest development of change we've ever seen as humans on the planet. I think it's going to be the fastest evolution of humans, which we're going to have to deal with, and that poses its own problems. So yeah, so let's talk about remote work. You're obviously passionate about it, the business supports that with its tools. So, tell a little bit about how your tools from Time Doctor, and staff.com help people work remotely? And we'll dive a little bit more into the detail along the way on that.
Liam Martin: Sure. So, we really like to call ourselves a time analytics tool. So, we're not necessarily a time tracking tool, but a lot of time tracking tools, they look at when you started working, when you ended, and we really focus on what happened in between. And then we develop insights on what you did with that time, to be able to figure out how to hopefully improve your workday.
Liam Martin: So, case in point, I'm currently in a meeting with Jeff, under the project category of Podcast. I have done about 548 of these in the last calendar year, and I've collected all of that data, and I now know, approximately how long one of these is going to take, what tools I use to actually execute on that particular strategy.
Liam Martin: And if I knew the success rate, and how many views how much interaction, how many backlinks or something like that I was going to be able to generate from this campaign, I could actually figure out which insights produced more successful podcasts, and less successful podcasts, which I think is connected to our clear vision, which is within the next 10 years, I believe that probably all work will have an AI assistant, much like, as we had discussed before, most marketing right now actually has an AI assistant that helps you run your ads, and run your SEO, and run a bunch of other things. I think this is going to actually expand out to the entire realm of work. And that's really our mission, is to help the transition of that occur over the next decade.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, it's a fascinating area where it's a machine enabling humans to do better work, more work, and scale their work. And so, tell us a little bit about some of the insights you get, and how'd you gain those insights? In other words, you're gathering information from when they start, to when they finish, and you can even predict when an employee is going to leave.
Liam Martin: Yes. So, that's the thing that is... And it happened almost by happenstance. So, we were a time tracking tool that really focused on the analytic side. So, we measure websites, applications, mouse movements, and keyboard movements, we anonymize that data, and then we give both the employee, and the employer the results of those insights. So, how long is your workday? What's your average workday look like? How much time do you actually spend in the office, when we did have offices, versus actually doing work? What productivity metrics actually are maximizing productivity? So, does a 26 hour work day maximize your productivity? Or is a 40 hour work day something that actually allows you to get more work done? Spoiler alert, 26 hour work days are actually more productive, meaning you get more work done with a 26 hour work day than you do with a 40 work hour work day.
Jeff Bullas: So, you mean a 26 hour work week.
Liam Martin: Sorry, work week, thank you very much. Work week. Yeah. A 26 hour work day would need a time machine, unfortunately, you'd have to open up some type of vortex to another dimension. But fundamentally, for us, it's just how can you take that data, and how can you build insights, to hopefully make people more productive, and be quite agnostic with regards to what the results are?
Liam Martin: So, I'll sit in meetings with very large companies, and give them insights that are incredibly counterintuitive to the post Industrial Revolution concept of the nine to five factory worker, which, unfortunately, has been the model that we've used for the past 200 years. But, it's never really been based off any quantitative data. It's just been, "Well, that's the way that we've always done things. So therefore, that's how we should continue to do things."
Liam Martin: And that's a broken premise. You should actually analyze the data at scale, to be able to figure out, well, how can people get more done in less time? And more importantly, how can they get more done in less time without burning out? Which also ties into remote work.
Liam Martin: In March, we saw remote work completely explode, and that's something that obviously I'm very passionate with, with regards to Running Remote, which is the conference that we run, but we saw in the United States, 4.5% of the US workforce was working remotely pre pandemic. In the heat of the pandemic, 45% of the US workforce was working remotely. 77% of people that primarily used a computer to execute on their work were working remotely, during the heat of the pandemic.
Liam Martin: So, almost everyone on planet earth now has had a taste of remote work, and I actually think it was quite literally the largest movement of labor in the history of work. No one has changed their work so fast, in such a short amount of time, than we did in the last nine to 10 months. So, that's an incredibly exciting thing to be able to see, because, at least in our opinion, and we back this up with data, remote work does actually make people more productive, and much happier workers.
Jeff Bullas: That's very interesting. In terms of the data too, do you detect any issues with people being socially isolated during the pandemic, with your data?
Liam Martin: So, that's an interesting question, and the analysis right now is difficult to be able to come to some clear conclusions on. But I can tell you pre pandemic, one of the biggest retention advantages, and our definition of success is, is someone going to stay in the position for a longer amount of time, right? Employee retention is really what every large corporation looks for. What's your net retention rate for your people?
Liam Martin: Introversion was actually one of the biggest psychometric measures that denoted success inside of remote work. So, extroverted people actually have a much more difficult time working remotely than introverted people. Before the pandemic started, we really, truly lived in a remote work world. So, what do I mean by that? It means there's not a scary virus outside that's going to possibly infect us, and kill us, we could go to co-working spaces. I generally travel the world about six months out of the year, and I still work remotely. So, I traveled to places like Costa Rica, and Mexico, and Bali.
Liam Martin: You can't do that right now, obviously, because there's restrictions on travel, and everyone seems to be in lockdown. So, the new reality is that we're living in this work from home model, this is incredibly destructive towards people that really need to interact with other people, to be able to get energy. However, for those people, I keep telling them, "Just wait, because in about six months, when the vaccine is distributed, at least to Western countries, G20 Countries, you should be at a point where you'll be able to get back to the real remote work, and not the working from home model that we've currently been, unfortunately, getting through the last 10 months."
Jeff Bullas: So, I heard some data the other day that only 42% of the workforce can work remotely, because of the type of work. You mentioned a figure that during the pandemic 45% of the people went and did remote work, so that number, of what you said-
Liam Martin: We were at full capacity. Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: You we're at full capacity?
Liam Martin: We were at full capacity for remote, and this is something actually that we just had a big debate about, for Time Doctor as our mission statement, because our mission statement, our core purpose, and value was that our company was focused on helping the transition towards remote work. Well, if everyone's already had a taste of remote work, is our mission finished?
Liam Martin: And we actually disagreed, we think that there's a lot more things that we need to do. There's a lot of companies that are not working well remotely, and we need to help facilitate that. But it's been, as I already mentioned to you, before we jumped into this podcast, a massive shift, particularly for our industry, anyone connected to remote work, because we're completely reimagining the way that work happens.
Liam Martin: I think for the first time ever, where probably the genie is out of the bottle. A lot of Fortune 500 are now recognizing, "Wow, the team went remote, and the company didn't fall apart, and we're still operating. But yet we have to own this really expensive office, that's 20% of our PnL. What if we could just get rid of that, and become a much more efficient organization?" And I actually think the future will not be about whether we work remotely, but if we can afford not to work remotely, because it's going to be such a huge strategic advantage in the future.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I think the other thing that's emerging too, is that with the rise of robotics, and artificial intelligence, and the intersection of different technologies, that work that has to be done by human will be done by machine, and that human will go work somewhere else.
Liam Martin: Yeah, I think that's another part of this that kind of ties into artificial intelligence, which I'm not entirely clear on, and I think is definitely concerning. And I would define it as exciting, but exciting can be terrifying, or it can be a very pleasant experience.
Liam Martin: I actually see remote work as an intermediary step of the digitization of the economy. So, the digitization of the economy is, we're now looking at each other through a Zoom call, I know that you're a human, but probably within the next five to 10 years, you could be a bot, and you could be on a Zoom call at 720p video stream, and I probably couldn't tell the difference as to whether or not you were a human, or not a human. You'd probably be passing the Turing test.
Liam Martin: Well, what happens at that point? Does the Liam avatar talk with the Jeff avatar, and then that pumps out as a podcast, and because no one can tell the difference, that's entertaining to everyone that consumes it? Quite possibly, right? But what are the long term implications of that? I think you have to look at the redundancy of the human race, as it applies to work, and what the long term implications of that might be.
Liam Martin: I think that, and this is coming from someone who has worked on artificial intelligence, and whose company uses artificial intelligence inside of its software application. I think that we need to pump the brakes, we need to start to think deeper about this, we need to license this technology, we need to manage it much more than we are currently doing right now, because I believe it can very quickly get out of our hands, to the point in which the vast majority of the population, and I would effectively put that as everyone that isn't entrepreneurial, is going to be made redundant inside of the economy, which is not good for people, because as we had mentioned before, my background is in sociology, if you have more than 20% unemployment, there's generally blood in the streets.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Liam Martin: It's a sociological rule, wherever you go. You look at the Black Lives Matters movement, you look at a bunch of other revolutions that have happened. They've always premised large unemployment pulses in the economy. And this is something that we need to be able to really think deeply about, what are the solutions to get ourselves out of that? And hopefully get ourselves into a much more utopian society, where people can not necessarily not work, but pursue purely creative endeavors, which I think is a better world for everyone. But it's a very large chasm to jump, and I don't necessarily think we have the tools right now to be able to do it.
Jeff Bullas: No, no, I totally agree with you, and I have been frustrated recently with AIs in just marketing, advertising, Facebook ads, Google ads, and it led me to write a post two weeks ago, human versus machine, because we're in the middle of what, you said, "Leaping that chasm," And I totally agree with you. I think the challenge is going to be, at the moment we're using the machines, and the machines aren't getting it right. In fact, I think 50%, 60% of ads are getting rejected due to issues that have got nothing to do with reality. But the machine says it is.
Jeff Bullas: The humans at Facebook and Google are having trouble overriding the machines, because the machines are running the “at scale” advertising approvals, disapprovals, and we're in the middle of leaping the chasm between humans, and humans, to humans and machines. And at the moment, we're in a real challenging point with that, I totally agree with you. It's frustrating me.
Jeff Bullas: I've had conversations with other entrepreneurs recently, including yourself, and others, and you know what? As the market is, and entrepreneurs are starting to find that problem is, I'm not an orphan on this. So, talk a little bit about how you maybe use the AI, machines for detecting how people are working, the most efficient ways of people working, and then we'll leap into a little bit more about the marketing side, and the role of AI going forward maybe, because it's... And its role in work, as well.
Liam Martin: Sure. So when I talk about artificial intelligence, it's really important to understand what we're specifically discussing. So, simply, and as I explain it to people, an artificial intelligence is no more intelligent than a human being. In reality, actually, it's a lot less intelligent than the human being. The difference being, an AI can take many more variables into consideration than a human being.
Liam Martin: So on average, a human can measure about three to five different variables at any one point. There's actually a test, a psychology test, you can try this with your friends. Hold three to five marbles in your hand, very quickly, open your hand and close your hand, and then ask that person, how many marbles did you have in your pocket? Or in your hand?
Liam Martin: Generally, men actually can equate for less variables than women. So women can actually say, "Oh, there were five marbles," Or, "There were six marbles." Men can usually only get about three to four marbles, before they can really see those differences. An artificial intelligence could look at a billion variables in a moment, at the same time. So, that's the only real difference between artificial intelligence, and the way that the human brain works, they can just take more variables into consideration.
Liam Martin: With that said, basically, our Quit algorithm takes approximately 23,000 variables into consideration when analyzing whether or not someone is going to quit their job. Now, if I were to explain all of those different variables to you, you wouldn't understand, because you can't hold 23,000 different concepts in your brain. But, an AI can, and that's the only difference.
Liam Martin: So generally, when I tell people, they always ask me, "Well, what makes up the variables for someone quitting their job?" And the answer is, I can't explain it to you, because you're not smart enough. And that's, unfortunately, just the reality of the situation. So, just with regards to your ads being discounted, I'm sure there's probably 100,000 different variables that are taken in consideration, with regards to why your ad was not put up, or was put up, and to explain it to you, or for anyone to understand it, is completely impossible, because AIs don't think the way that humans do.
Jeff Bullas: No, they don't.
Liam Martin: Yeah.
Jeff Bullas: And the other interesting part we were talking about before too, was, and you've mentioned it, we touched on it briefly, is creating content. In other words, can AIs write great content? And we're up to what, third generation AI, content creation algorithms, bots, that are starting to do this really, really well, that a human has trouble even identifying. So, tell us a little bit, and both of you and I are quite interested in SEO, search engine optimization, which, of course, is driven by the foundation of content. So, tell us a little bit about your experience recently with artificial intelligence, and content creation for marketers, and we can have a chat about where that's going?
Liam Martin: Sure. So, in my opinion, when we look at marketing right now, and particularly search, which has really been the most powerful arrow in our quiver, in Time Doctors marketing, we've seen artificial intelligence move from something that couldn't pass the Turing test, and for anyone that references artificial intelligence, the Turing test is basically just a test to figure out whether or not you can tell the difference between a human, and a computer.
Liam Martin: So, if two pieces of content are written, the Turing, you look at 100 people, and you'd say, "Which one is the bot, and which one is the human?" And if only 50% choose the computer, well, it's passed the Turing test, right? So, it's indistinguishable from human content. So, there are briefs now, which is basically a short form version of a longer blog post, that completely passed the Turing test at this point. There's also a lot of interesting stuff happening in the customer support world, where small tickets, and the answers to those tickets are now passing the Turing test, very quickly and easily.
Liam Martin: So, quite literally, a support software goes in, analyzes your entire Support Portal, and then looks at 10,000 responses from different tickets that have been produced before, processes all that information, and then just starts coming up with responses. It doesn't work all the time, you actually need a human to be able to help this process. But, we're getting to the point in which probably, if you're a support rep right now, I would probably say within the next five years, email ticketing is not going to be done by you any longer.
Liam Martin: Same thing with SEO. I would probably say we are 12, to 36 months away from content writers being made completely redundant from basically marketing, which is something that I never thought I would actually say. But, I do believe that that's probably going to happen. The strategy that I take, however, is that I'm now very much doubling down on content that can't be recreated very easily by a bot.
Liam Martin: So, we went from producing one piece of YouTube content per week, to now we're going to target I think, five. Now, it's very difficult for me to be able to scale YouTube content, because it's done either by me, or someone else on the team. But the reality is, is that right now, that's an asset that can't be recreated by a computer. Maybe in five to 10 years, it can, but for right now it can't.
Liam Martin: So, I would really look for opportunities to produce content on platforms where economies of scale don't necessarily make an AI completely redundant to a human being. And that's where I think a lot of marketers should really be looking right now, is what could I do, that could scale human based activities over the next 36 months? Because I think a lot of the other ones, you still have time to be able to get better at these other activities. But, a lot of the stuff that we're currently doing right now that we think we're so smart at, me being included, I'm an SEO guru. Well, all of that information is probably out the window within the next three years.
Jeff Bullas: I would totally agree with you. And I think there's going to be a question where we're going to go, and maybe, there's going to be a time where there's a stamp on it going, "Made by human." In other words, "I want to see what a real human is doing, not what a machine is doing."
Jeff Bullas: And yet, the other thing we alluded to before, you said, "Okay, so it could be in two or three years time, you and I could both be avatars, look exactly like we do in real life, on Zoom. We have an AI machine that generates, and is going to be a lot funnier than you and I. Well, you may be funnier than I am. But, the machine is going to go, 'Ah, add a little bit of humor. This is the humor that works, based upon data sets. This is what gets you more engagement. That's what drives longer viewing, or more engagement.'"
Jeff Bullas: And I think you're right. I think within two or three years, I don't know what the time frame is, it's just a matter of time, is that podcasts will be done by virtual versions of ourselves that would be much more entertaining, and much more informative, and clever. And I think that's a little scary. But the other content side, you're right, I think, years ago, when I started creating content, it was just creating SEO through blunt force trauma, just writing a lot of content, and getting that shared and linked, and hey, you got a high domain authority. And an AI, and content creating machine AI, could do that, what, create 100,000 pieces without too much effort.
Liam Martin: Absolutely. And that those pieces could be optimized for time on site, for click through rate. It's not complicated to do these things, and they're currently being done now, they just cost a lot of money. So, the people that can afford it, are actually using these technologies. A lot of the stuff that you're seeing on Forbes and Inc., right now is generated by a computer, it's not generated by a human being. It's reviewed by a human being, but the content is written by a computer. And this is only going to continue into the next, as I said before, the next one to three years, where I think probably within three years from now, that war will effectively be over, and I think the only human produced content will be platforms in which an AI can't reproduce it, like video.
Liam Martin: And to your point with regards to human made, I would be 100% behind that. As an individual, as a human, as a business owner, I don't want that to happen at all, because then I lose my my advantage in the market. So I actually think this has to be government oversight, even though I don't like the government to get in my business under any circumstances whatsoever.
Liam Martin: But, in this case, it is so important for us to be able to start to pause, and recognize, "Where is labor going? How are we going to actually make sure that everyone is happy, and content?" And they don't just have a job, but people who feel like they're on a mission, and there's a purpose to their lives. A lot of the people get purpose through work, and maybe we can move that purpose to something else. Maybe it becomes more family focused, maybe it becomes more existential. But as of right now, if you switched everyone off of this model within a year, as an example, I know you'd have blood in the streets, because people would lose their purpose.
Jeff Bullas: I agree. And that raises a very interesting question about purpose. And that also raises a thing called happiness. I think for all of us as human beings, when we're on purpose, I think we're the happiest we can possibly be, when we're on purpose. I even spoke to a program recently from Israel, from accessiBle, Shir Ekerling, and he said, he gets so much joy out of creating software, that he can then share with the planet and see it being used.
Jeff Bullas: In other words, he's creating, and sharing, and then... And there's a term I use, is that for me, when I create, I share it with the planet. In other words, what's the point of creating something, unless you're going to share it, and make it visible? And for me, when I share it with the planet, I change the world a little while, and the world then changes me by the feedback.
Jeff Bullas: And that's what I loved about social media, was the reality was that I got a two way conversation. And from that two way conversation, I know what's working and what doesn't. I know that my creation is acknowledged. And this is interesting about purpose. I'd be interested, so for me, the blog was a just incredible discovery of me starting to write, very imperfectly, I got a little better over the years.
Jeff Bullas: And then, to share that with... I could actually watch, and when I put the blog posts out, I could see the traffic on my blog go up, especially when we didn't have the machines, and the media, we now have the gatekeepers, and now Facebook and Google with their algorithm stopping organic getting out, unless you pay for it. But years ago, it was, you could watch in real time, the organic impact of your creation. And that excites me. It still excites me today. So going, "I've made a difference. I'm leaving a legacy." So, how do you see purpose? I'd be really fascinated in what you see as, what's purpose for you?
Liam Martin: Well, I think it's, to your point, leaving a legacy. It's what is on your tombstone? When you're gone, did you leave a positive impact on the world? Or, did you not? I've been thinking a lot about this, actually, over the last week or two. Someone that I knew relatively well, definitely professionally, and someone that I think a lot of other people knew, was Tony Hsieh, who was the co-founder of Zappos.
Jeff Bullas: Yup.
Liam Martin: And, amazing human being. I remember I actually met my business partner on his happiness bus in Austin, Texas, 11 years ago, during South by Southwest. And such a friendly person, a giving person, someone who is entirely committed towards building community, and that was really his purpose. And when you see a purpose for someone being taken away, the implications are quite serious. They were very serious for Tony.
Liam Martin: And I think that that's something that... I mean, to a degree, almost, it's the thing that gets you up in the morning, right? The purpose for me right now is taking care of my newborn daughter, making sure that my partner is very happy with her life, and that I'm happy with my life, and that I wake up in the morning doing things that I think is helping humanity in a positive way.
Liam Martin: So for me, that's helping to transition people towards remote work. I think that that gives me... And there's plenty of other things that I can do in my life, obviously. But for me, that's something that I know quite a lot about, and I'm very excited to do. So, to have that pulled away from you, in any instance, for anyone, I think is incredibly destructive, And I think that unfortunately, the next decade is probably going to be much more less purposeful, unfortunately, than the previous decade.
Liam Martin: And we can also talk about machine learning, and artificial intelligence as it applies to social media, and the impact that that's making for people, and creating negative purpose in people's lives, getting people angry about a particular issue, because that's what feeds artificial intelligence in a positive way, right? That's the outcome variable that it's looking for.
Liam Martin: But to me, the thing that probably connects best with me is anything that just gets me up in the morning, anything that I would do, not for money, right? Not because it's just going to continue to put more zeros in my bank account. And something also, too, that I would not do, that would put zeros in my bank account, but because I'm so passionate about it, and it bastardized my purpose, I would not do. And those are the much more difficult decisions that you need to make, particularly if you own a large business, because... That's a completely separate podcast, to be completely honest with you. But, something that you need to really think about when you think about Google saying, "Don't be evil." Well, is Google evil? I don't know. But their mission statement was, "Don't be evil." And I think that a lot of the time, the pragmatics of reality sometimes impact your purpose.
Jeff Bullas: I think that purpose has been a little twisted over the last few years. I came across a great quote by Wayne Dyer, on the topic of purpose. He didn't say mission, but he said, "Your purpose or your mission in life is essentially to teach yourself, then teach others, and raise the energy of the consciousness of the planet."
Liam Martin: I love that.
Jeff Bullas: You know what? If you just do that, I think... And I've gone back to writing my weekly blog post, I've been missing in action for about a year. I'm hoping that it passes the Turing test, but it's written by me. I don't think the computer could write it, because it's my stories. I don't think the computer would know about those. Because I've discovered that writing brings me joy, and then sharing it brings me joy, and then seeing it make a difference, and raising the energy of the planet, hopefully, makes a difference as well.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I think, if we can share our gifts with the world, whatever that gift is, is very, very important. Anyway, so let's leap into a little bit more about remote work, because I think it's very, very timely. We've really skimmed across the surface on this. So, some of the challenges, there's quite a few challenges with people in doing this. So, number one, one of the biggest challenges is building, and scaling remote businesses. Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on that?
Liam Martin: Sure. I mean, from a tactical perspective, it really boils down to communication, and process documentation. Those are the two major differentiators between successful, and unsuccessful remote teams. There is a trend, and a methodology, which I definitely purport to, which is called asynchronous management philosophy. And that is really the difference between a remote first organization, and an in office, or what we like to call an on premise organization.
Liam Martin: So, the concept that information does not have to happen synchronously, meaning you do not have to pull your attention to the stream of that information in order to consume it. I give people the example of old school television, that you'd pick up on an antenna, or cable news, where it's a direct stream, versus Netflix. That's the difference between asynchronous, and synchronous communication.
Liam Martin: I'm more of a Netflix person. So, I want to consume that content when I choose, and the more that I have to schedule around communication, the more detrimental the organization actually becomes. And this is something that we've found in countless examples for remote first pioneers, that have really kind of come up with this entire concept of remote first work, and implementing remote work at scale.
Liam Martin: The most successful ones are the ones that are able to basically figure out asynchronous communication at scale. So, perfect example, let's say that I was going to do a company address, we usually do it once a month, we do it synchronously, meaning we make an address directly on Zoom, and you can log in, and you can watch that content directly on Zoom, or you can watch the recording. And it doesn't matter which one you do, it's up to you, because we really want to adapt to your schedule, and most people watch it asynchronously. So, they wait until that stream is available at a time zone that's most opportune for them, after they've done all their work, and they consume that content at that point.
Liam Martin: The second problem is process documentation. So, a lot of companies... The difference between an unsuccessful company, and a successful one generally boils down to process documentation at scale. So, what does that mean? Well, inside of our organization, we have information that is digitized, and processed out, and given into our cloud networks.
Liam Martin: So, we use a tool called Trainual to be able to do that. You can use something like GitLab, you can use something like Google Docs, it really doesn't matter. But as long as everything about your business is written down, and put on a system like that for anyone else to consume, inside of the organization, that allows you to scale that organization.
Liam Martin: So, if we were sitting next to each other, and I was a new employee at your company, Jeff, I would say, "Hey, Jeff, how do I do X?" And you would just look at me, and you'd say, "Oh, here's how you do X." When you're remote, that doesn't happen. So, we basically just make digital Jeffs right? We have a perspective, which is there's no sacred knowledge inside of our organization.
Jeff Bullas: Okay.
Liam Martin: And, when you actually document that information, this is another one that I stole from Napoleon, which is, order shouldn't be easy to understand, but impossible to misunderstand. And that's a bit of a click that you just have to recognize, when you're building process documentation. But don't make it easy to understand, make it impossible to misunderstand. Which takes a lot of time at the beginning, but once you can actually deploy it at scale, then you can go from five people, to 50 people, to 500 people without that much difficulty.
Liam Martin: There's a great resource for this from one of the absolute pioneers of remote work, which is at about.GitLab.com/handbook. And that is the largest open source remote process document on the planet. It's about 8,000 pages, and it's everything that you could possibly know about GitLab. So, what kind of stock options do you get? It's in there. How do you sign an email? It's in there. How do they do demos for clients? It's all in there, and it's all open source. So you can actually grab it, you can steal the information that you want, and you can create your own process document on GitLab very quickly, and easily, and then at least you've got something for your people to be able to work with moving forward.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I totally agree with you in terms of creating platforms where everyone can access it. We've been using Trello for the last about 12 months. In other words, we just... And we've got different boards for different things. It stopped us having the whole email, getting lost in the email thread. It's changed my life, really. The team can just leap in and do stuff, it's documented on the fly. So, that's one of many.
Jeff Bullas: The other thing I really liked your discussion on was asynchronous versus synchronous, I think that's really, really important, and the challenge with scheduling. And you mentioned something I thought was quite fascinating, at the beginning, when we were having a chat before we hit the record button. The point you made about Zoom's changed its interface, and now you can't just have an open Zoom meeting, everything has to be scheduled, because you would have a Zoom meeting open all day. So, you can have asynchronous discussions, I think that's what it would be. People can just get hold of you at any time. So, tell us a little bit about that.
Liam Martin: Yeah. Well, I have a hierarchy of communication, which is in person beats video, video beats audio, audio beats instant messaging, and instant messaging beats email. As you move up the chain, you become more synchronous, as you move down the chain, you become more asynchronous. You do need both inside of an organization, but I'll give you a perfect example.
Liam Martin: Let's say that we had an exchange on Slack, which is our instant messaging platform, and we're debating a particular issue, and we've sent 10 messages back and forth. Well, instead of continuing to send 10 more messages, and disrupting your ability to be able to create deep work, as much as mine, I would immediately jump to the highest form of synchronous communication that I can get to, which in this case is video communication.
Liam Martin: So, I would click the Zoom button, you'd get a little pop up that would say, "Hey, Liam wants to do a Zoom call with you." I'd break it down in five minutes, we'd get the problem solved, and then we would either apply it to our project management system, or we would go back to Slack.
Liam Martin: The ability for people to not be bothered throughout their day. There is a great book that is coming out soon called the Lies of Silicon Valley, which is that collaboration is the key towards success. And I could not disagree with that more. I don't think that collaboration is the key to success. I think that fast communication is the key to success, and then the ability to empower the people that are actually supposed to execute on those aspects of that task, allowing them to not be bothered, and focus on deep work, and executing on their tasks is the best way to be able to build a fast technology company, or any other type of company, in that sense.
Liam Martin: And this is the problem that I think we've had inside of particularly remote teams, is remote teams have a slower rate of collaboration, undoubtedly, then people all in the same room. But, they also are way more efficient. Offices waste a whole bunch of time with people. We have a company policy, which is, if you don't find a meeting valuable, walk out of it. Literally don't even tell people you're leaving, just end the call, just leave that call, and get back to what you actually need to do. Because a lot of the times, and this is another thing that frustrates me with regards to offices, just general kind of collaboration veiled as positive.
Liam Martin: There are people that can't requisition a paperclip inside of a company, but yet they could get eight $100,000 plus executives in a room for three hours, and they could waste 10s of 1,000s of dollars of time, and labor that could be better applied to other things. This is a big problem, and it's been an underlying problem inside of offices, but because there was no better way, there was no way to be able to evolve out of it.
Liam Martin: And now fortunately, at scale, people have now been able to taste remote work. There are a lot of people that are doing it incorrectly, and just trying to recreate the office virtually. But if you look at the remote pioneers, if you look at the companies that were really innovating, and successful at the remote first model, they focused almost entirely on asynchronous management philosophy.
Jeff Bullas: Cool, I like that. Now, I have a big question, which has been troubling me for a while, in that we're moving to more remote work. There's books about remote work, there's companies that facilitate remote work, and I think the challenge is because we're changing work so rapidly, and so quickly, that, is there a template for this? How to do remote work well? Do you guys do that sort of stuff? Is there a PDF, a roadmap?
Liam Martin: There isn't. So that's why we started Running Remote, to be completely honest with you. I remember we were at our team retreat. So, another thing inside of remote teams, we have a yearly team retreat. So, we flew everyone into Boracay, in the Philippines, which is kind of like the party island.
Jeff Bullas: I've been there. I've been there. It's fabulous.
Liam Martin: It's amazing.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Liam Martin: Yeah. Right. So, we're in Boracay at the party island, and we were at about 50 people, and we were trying to get to 100, and we started Googling around, and we said like, "Okay, remote first organizations that are trying to get to 100 people. Where's the playbook for that?" And there was none. There was a whole bunch of information on how to hire a virtual assistant. Right?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Liam Martin: There was a whole bunch of loosey goosey information on how to just build a remote first organization, but there was no actual playbook available. So, then we said to ourselves, and I have this philosophy, which is, "Ready, fire, aim." I was ready. We just booked $100,000 venue, and I got a couple of my friends that were remote first founders, and I said, "Can you come? And can you speak about a subject?" And we had no attendees whatsoever, and I just thought to myself, "Well, even if we don't have anyone come, and it's just our people that are watching this, we might be able to increase net retention by 10%, which would absolutely make up for the $100,000 that we've lost."
Liam Martin: And thankfully, that wasn't the case, we had a couple hundred people come to our first one, we had close to 1,000 people come to our second one, then the third one unfortunately got canceled by the pandemic. But that's basically it. So, if you go to YouTube.com/RunningRemote, all the talks are free, and available there. So, if you want to learn about how the director of support for Shopify, we have her story about how she went from zero to 2,000 remote reps, pre-pandemic, in Shopify, and basically built her entire department remotely. We have that story there.
Liam Martin: If you want to learn from the COO of Hotjar, which is one of the fastest growing SaaS tech companies in the world, they're entirely a remote first organization. How he scaled Hotjar, Product Hunt, how that was scaled. GitLab, GitHub, all of these different companies, we've all got these founders that are telling their stories about how they built their companies. And a lot of other tactical information, as well.
Liam Martin: But fundamentally, I mean, there's so much that you could look at, it's such a big issue, it's such a big subject, and that was before the pandemic. Now, it's gotten 20 times bigger, so it's a much more difficult problem to solve. So, for anyone that's really looking for that information, I would just redirect you back to RunningRemote.com, sign up for our email list. We send people that information all the time, and just kind of get your head into it, because it's a very difficult place to kind of choose a direction, and go. I think you really just kind of have to skim through the information over a couple months, before it really starts to kind of grind in.
Jeff Bullas: So what you're saying is there's a bunch of success stories, and because the landscape is so large, and humans are complex, but then add humans to humans in a complex organization, then how do you make that be an efficient remote team, a remote company?
Liam Martin: Sure.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I can hear what you're saying, it's more an evolutionary process, that needs to be put in place, that has the philosophy, I suppose, of remote work.
Liam Martin: And the other part too, which I was thinking about, about a month ago, the increase of remote work has quite literally 20x, the amount of remote workers that there on Planet Earth has 20x'd in the last year. It's a completely... We're unfortunately going to have to rewrite all the playbooks that existed pre-pandemic, because there's just so much more data to be able to collect. There's so many more insights, and outside of just following up on asynchronous management, as a generalized philosophy, and process documentation, I mean, that's just the beginning. I think there's a lot more.
Liam Martin: Right now, we're in remote work at gunpoint, which I like to call work from home. So, this work from home philosophy is not really remote work, it's going to get a lot better. Trust me on this, it's going to be fantastic, once everyone has the vaccine, and you don't actually have to stay inside your house to work. But I think we're going to see at that point, that's when we're really going to start to see the evolution of the second stage of remote work, which I'm pretty excited about.
Jeff Bullas: So, what would you say is the essence of the second stage of remote work?
Liam Martin: I think that's going to be remote work at scale, and remote work, just becoming work.
Jeff Bullas: In other words, we're talking about a post industrial way of work, not a nine to five, not the 40 hour work week, not five days out of seven.
Liam Martin: Focusing on outcomes, instead of inputs. Focusing on making sure that it doesn't matter where you're from, or it doesn't matter what disabilities, or your racial background, or your sex, or your religion. I'm only focused on the output, and I'm only focused on making sure that the people that are involved in the project are actually scaling the business as quickly as possible. Focused more on quantitative metrics, as opposed to qualitative ones. Do I feel good about working with Jeff? Versus, is Jeff actually productive, and is he a good person in this organization?
Liam Martin: I think that those are problems that we've had to face, because in office, what we like to call on premise teams, have always been focused on politics as an absolute critical component of the way that that business operates, right? Company culture, and company culture is definitely still important. But, when you actually ask a whole bunch of people, "What does culture mean?" They don't actually know what the answer is.
Liam Martin: I think it's a very crunchy, granola terminology that we've used up until recently, to be able to really figure out, what does that truly mean? What is Netflix's culture? I don't even know if Netflix knows. That's something that I think we're going to move out of, and we're going to move into an environment in which work is no longer restricted by space and time, which is going to completely rewrite everything that we know about work.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I heard someone make the analogy that company culture is like human personality. How do you put that into a one page book?
Liam Martin: So, my definition of culture is, and I actually have a much more precise one than a bunch of other people. What actions, or traditions, or activities do you do, that would seem weird to others? So pre-pandemic, we worked remotely. We will not hire people inside of an office, we don't believe in it. That's weird.
Liam Martin: People think that it's weird that I have these black tee shirts that I have about 300 pairs of, and I have them located in seven different countries, because I don't like to check my bags. So, when I land in a different country that I usually go to on a regular basis, all of my stuff is already there. That's really weird.
Liam Martin: I don't like to communicate with people face to face. I think it's a bad usage of my time. I'd rather do some deep thinking, or deep thinking with a few select people, as opposed to a large group. That's weird, right? So, what makes you weird? What would someone else think, "Oh, that's a weird thing." That's your company culture, or that's just your individual culture. And if you can really lock into who that is, to me, that's a great way to be able to filter candidates, and build your company, because you only want those same weird people building the business for you.
Jeff Bullas: Well, that comes down to unique personalities. You talk about weird, well, that's your unique personality, and that's what makes us human.
Liam Martin: Exactly.
Jeff Bullas: I went last year, went and did a Digital Nomad experiment. And you brought up the fact that you have sort of certain places to go to regularly, and you have black tee shirts there, you don't want to have to do checked in luggage. You just want to get on with a carry on, and go, and go to where you're going.
Jeff Bullas: My experiment was where I moved every two weeks, sometimes even more, as I traveled and worked. I dedicated the mornings typically to the routine of work. In other words, checking my emails, doing proposals, checking with a team. I found it very tiring, and it was a fantastic experiment, got to see the Dolomites, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Like Como, London, Estonia. It was a fabulous trip. But I found it very tiring. In other words, I was remote working. I was mixing adventure with it. So, I'd be interested in your take on that, in terms of how you see remote working, or remote living, and working, and traveling, and how do you do it?
Liam Martin: So, I like to call myself a part time digital nomad, for sure. So, I usually spend the winters remote, but I choose a single location. The fast traveling I think is really great, if you want to get a ton of experiences in very quickly, however, it's quite distracting.
Jeff Bullas: It is.
Liam Martin: It's a lot of fun, but it's quite distracting. And I think if you're not the business owner, you're going to end up having a lot of direct conflicts with your direct report inside of your organization. I would say, to me, and this is just, well, this is my personal experience, the way that I do it, we choose one location for approximately three months, and we may extend that stay for another month or two, as an example, just to kind of finish off the winter. But we very rarely move from that location.
Liam Martin: We've actually only done that once, in which the location was horrible. We hated it, not going to tell you which country it was, because I love all countries, but I hated this one. And we needed to get out of there as quickly as humanly possible. But outside of that, it's land in that location, spend a week kind of doing all of the things that you would usually do as a tourist, but during that time, get a long term rental, and get a co-working space.
Liam Martin: And then just kind of act like a local, for three months. That's generally the way that I like to do it, and it's called slow nomading. It's just very much just staying in that same environment, and it's effectively... We just did one, before the pandemic, I think we stayed in Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, for the winter, and I stayed at the Salina Co-Work. We got ourselves a really nice two bedroom apartment, that we could work out of if we wanted as well, with really good internet, and that was great. It was quite literally like working every single day from my regular work environment, except there was the beach that I could go to whenever I wanted.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I love that answer, because that's what I've discovered, is that I was doing fast nomading, I want to do slow nomading. And I did hear a comment by someone. So in other words, "Go to a spot, settle in, work from one location, create a routine around that. And then sure, if you want to go and do a long weekend, go and do a long weekend from there."
Liam Martin: Sure.
Jeff Bullas: The other comment I had from that was by someone, was one of their ways of adding to that was, "Go to a city where you already know someone, and then you've got an entrée into the fabric of that community, and that city already." One of the biggest challenges I had was traveling to Europe, even though a lot of Europeans speak English, was that I missed English conversation. And I missed that conversation over a dinner table with friends.
Jeff Bullas: It was snippets of conversation with waiters, and waitresses, and hotel people, and I missed the conversation. And that's just me, but it's very good to hear that your template for slow nomading, as in, go to one place, spend three months, and use that as a base, that there's very little change in terms of location, because changing locations is very tiring.
Jeff Bullas: But yeah, look, I'm a little older than you, but I think I'm quite flexible. I've reinvented myself a lot of times. I'm still finding, I leaped into being a blogger, what, 12 years ago, which was, I still describe, told my dentist, as they asked me what I did, and just before he pulled out one of my teeth that was cracked. So, if I'm not smiling very much today, it's because I've got teeth removed. He said, "What do you do?" I said, "I'm a blogger." And he went, "Wow, you just don't fit the demographic for a blogger."
Jeff Bullas: I think trying to keep an open mind about the changes in front of us, and I think the changes that are happening in front of us now have just been accelerated by the pandemic, and we do have to keep an open mind, and flexibility in our approach to life, because, look, I'm not struggling with how I work, because I've been working remotely effectively, and virtually for quite a while.
Jeff Bullas: What you've done is you've taken it to a whole new level. You've introduced the tools which I find amazing, the data set, that's the other thing that I found interesting, and you can tell a little bit about this before we wind this up, I'm cognizant of your time. You said you had the largest data set of information about how people work on the planet from 300,000 people. Tell me a little bit about that, and how that helps give you insights?
Liam Martin: Well, it's millions actually. Those are more in like our weekly active users. We measure, and again, this falls back to artificial intelligence. You don't need a smart AI when you have the right amount of data. So, this is why companies like Facebook, and Google, and all the other large conglomerators of information are so dangerous, because their AIs don't need to be that smart, or they can be incredibly intelligent, and get really deep insights into what people are doing.
Liam Martin: I actually think that this is probably the future of work. This is probably the future of commerce, the future of everything is not necessarily how many dollars you have, but how much information you have, because information is power, and it really is the way that you can predict what someone is going to buy, which is sometimes much more profitable than what they're buying right now.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, I totally agree, that data is the new gold. I read an article recently about... And we're in the middle of many different, I suppose challenges and evolutions. So we're in the middle of moving from 4G to 5G, and there's a bit of a battle between East and West on who's going to own the 5G space, and the essay that I read was incredibly insightful, and I totally agree, and the more I researched, and read, it's, I think it's the truth, is pretty powerful. And that is that the real battle behind 5G is not a technology race, in terms of building the tech, and selling the routers, and the technology globally for the other big telcos to implement. The real battle is, guess what 5G collects at incredible scale, because it's done at a... It drives smart homes, and collecting data from everywhere. It's a data arms race. That's what 5G is really about.
Liam Martin: Yeah, no, I never thought about it in that context, but you're probably right. I mean, if you own those pipes, and you're able to do the sampling... This is also where I think that the government really needs to step in, to be completely honest with you. And I was not against this, I was totally against this at the beginning, and now I'm thinking we need to do more of it, which is just GDPR compliance.
Jeff Bullas: I totally agree.
Liam Martin: The ability to be forgotten, the right to be able to say, "This is my information, and if you continue to use it, there will be serious implications." That's something that is very much important. In our company, all of the data collection that we do is directly voluntary. There's no involuntary data collection inside of our company, because you actively have to use the software, and you choose to start tracking time, inside of the software.
Liam Martin: I think that that's a much better way to do it, and when you look at the amount of data mining that's happening right now, as I had said before, I think this is more dangerous than nuclear weapons, because the biggest fear that I have is, and it already exists today, in certain contexts, there are very small actions that I could have you do, or that I could impact on you, that could have you vote for someone else, or turn left, when you're supposed to turn right, or drink Starbucks, instead of McDonald's coffee. And these are all really dangerous things.
Liam Martin: I think that we need to measure the implications of where we are right now, and what long term, what kind of society we want to have. Do we want to have people that come to independent conclusions based off of data? Or do we want to have a form of mass hypnosis, which is really what we're dealing with right now, is people being told how to think, and agreeing with it. I think that that is a very, very dangerous road that we're down, and I would welcome governments of the world to step in, into our company, and to stop us using this technology, or at least controlling the way it's used. Because, I see the next few years, as I said before, as quite dark if we don't change something now.
Jeff Bullas: I totally agree with you. And for me, that insight was heightened recently by reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and it's a book written in 1942, I think it was. It's just been put out on Netflix, and it's about a world that is controlled by data, where the minds of the people are controlled by drugs that are taken by the data that they consume. And it was between two camps, the Wild West of humans as they were, and the Brave New World of humans as they're controlled.
Jeff Bullas: And I totally agree with you, we need to take back... I think humans have got to get back their data privacy. I was talking to Rob Shavell recently from SAbine.com about his app and platform, "Don't track me." As part of the tools they offer. Because it's three issues with security. Number one, we leak information. Number two, we give out information. And number two, how do we get back information? These are all the challenges, three major challenges he sees, and I totally agree with him. But, I think it's fascinating, the world we're in.
Jeff Bullas: You're a software as a service platform, you're collecting data, and now you're using it for good, not for evil. And that's the challenge we have as humans, we're playing with technology, we're a huge social experiment with this technology at the moment, well, range of technologies, and I think we've got to work at how we preserve our humanity, and make it the best it possibly can be, and I think that's our biggest challenge.
Liam Martin: Yeah, I mean, couldn't be better said than that. I think that we're, as I said, going down a pretty dark path. So, hopefully, something will change. But I'm scared that we will have to pay a pretty serious cost before the world really pays attention to this.
Jeff Bullas: I agree. And Ray Dalio, the guy Upon Principles, one of the richest men on the planet, is writing a lot of LinkedIn posts about last 500, 600 years of trends of pandemics, of wars, the rise, and fall of nations, and we're in the middle of some very interesting times, to say the least. So, thank you very much, Liam, for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you in Montreal. Technology allows us to do it, and it's been a fabulous conversation. Thank you.
Liam Martin: Thanks for having me.
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