E68 - Secrets in growing remote teams and a life of freedom - Interview with Liam Martin, timedoctor.com
Workers crave freedom and flexibility. It’s the biggest driver for remote working: do work you love, where and when you want. The one hurdle is this: how do you know they are actually getting work done? That they are being as productive as possible and not just getting a free meal ticket?
This is the challenge that Liam Martin and his Aussie business partner set out to address. In this AAHHHHMAAAZZZZING interview, we explore:
- The war against the Distraction Economy and what it’s costing us
- The Big Data that facebook collects and what it can predict
- A world where transparency builds better interpersonal connections and business cultures
- How to build a great culture with remote teams
- Why remote teams are way more engaged than regular office-based teams
- The biggest challenge to overcome with remote teams: loneliness
- Creating an engagement culture with remote teams
- Gamification and e-recognition tools: breakthrough or bullshit?
As a teenager, Liam was a competitive ice dancer, training 8-12 hours per day. Unfortunately a knee injury forced him to look for a plan B and he pursued academia until he found out he didn’t like teaching.
Liam began building a web based tutoring business and gradually got more involved in tech companies. He’s now the co-founder of TimeDoctor & Staff.com - which is now tracking more than 1,000,000 hours per month. It helps individuals and organisations become laser focused and maximally effective.
Plus, he’s Canadian, so ya know he’s cool!
Zoë Routh: Hi. It's Zoë Routh, and I'm thrilled to be here with Liam Martin. He is the co-founder and CMO of Time Doctor and staff.com, a totally remote ... I think, they're both totally remote businesses. We're going to get the inside scoop on how to run really successful remote businesses. Now, some really cool stuff about Liam, the first thing you're going to notice for my Australian listeners is that he sounds funny, just like me, because he's Canadian, eh?
Liam Martin: Yup.
Zoë Routh: He lives in the capital of Canada, Ottawa. A few other interesting things about Liam is that as a teenager, he was a competitive ice dancer. I begged him to send me a picture of him in his ice dancer costume, but he denies there are any surviving pictures of such times. He used to train eight to 12 hours. Really? Eight to 12 hours per day, that's how much you trained?
Liam Martin: Yeah.
Zoë Routh: Oh my God. On the ice, that's crazy.
Liam Martin: Yeah, I was on ice and off ice, but it was definitely ... My life was doing that.
Zoë Routh: Oh my God. Well, that's full-on. As you can imagine, that led to, well, unfortunately it led to a knee injury, and so you went to plan B. You went into plan B academia, been down that route myself, until you found you didn't like teaching, a big thing if you're going to be in academic. Liam began building web-based business, tutoring business, and got more involved in tech companies, and so then Time Doctor, staff.com was born. It is now tracking as a business more than a million hours per month. I am so excited to find out more about this business and your story, so welcome, Liam.
Liam Martin: Thanks for having me, Zoe. I think that you did a lot of homework. I'm quite impressed that you did background work on that. I don't know if it was you who is doing it or one of your staff, but that's a pretty good one. Very few people are able to find out about my ice dancing past.
Zoë Routh: Oh really?
Liam Martin: Yeah. I don't know whether I talk about it all the time in the podcast that I'm doing, but that was a part of my life that I think gave me the discipline to be able to succeed. I don't have any children now, but if I were to have children, I think I would have them get into any type of sport or any discipline, and try to do it at a high level, because I came out of skating. I remember, I went into university, and I had a bit of a complex because I thought everyone else ... I got in on a prayer. I was tutored throughout the end of my high school career, so because I was teaching or because I was skating so much, I was able to ... I got tutors basically. Once you become a carded athlete in Canada, you can get tutors and physiotherapists and psychologist, and an entire team to be able to make sure that you are successful at your sport.
Liam Martin: When I broke my knee, it was like a horse being led out for the shotgun in the head, because you're done. You're finished. As an athlete, they can no longer invest in you, and therefore, you're out. I got into a university, and I was so happy about that, but I didn't have ... I had a high school diploma, but it was one of those representative high school diplomas. It wasn't from a formal high school. I've been to about three or four, and then just finished off tutoring and got all the credits that I needed. I walked in with 400 other students into this big, huge auditorium, and I had entered mid-semester. I had entered into the winter semester, which is not the one where you don't really know everybody. Everybody else knows everyone.
Liam Martin: I was just so disciplined at education, because I was so scared that I was going to get kicked out of the university. I did fantastically at university, because I was a lot more disciplined from skating. When you're doing eight to 12 hours of training a day, there is no time for anything else, so school was a breeze because I didn't spend time doing the things that university kids usually do. Then when I got into grad school, that's when I actually started to screw around a little bit more when I recognised education wasn't for me.
Zoë Routh: I'm curious about this whole notion of discipline actually in this context, because as an ice skater, you said you had an entire team keeping you accountable, and helping you structure your day. Then going to a university, that doesn't exist anymore, so it sounds like it wasn't the accountability that kept you disciplined, or was it just the habit of staying very focused on one thing?
Liam Martin: I think, it's the habit of staying focused on one thing. The accountability partners can take you only so far, but I had a choreographer. I had a skating partner. I had a main coach. I had a technical coach. I had an off-ice coach. I had a trainer, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, a reflexologist, a psychologist, an entire team that's there to be able to make sure that they're putting out good product, which is me, but at the end of the day, you put in what you want to put into it to succeed at the sport like anything. It was just a very ice skating or ice dancing isn't as precise as business. One of the things that I love about business is it has a very clear understanding of how the points are made money.
Liam Martin: If you make money, you're doing something right, and no one can give you an opinion as to whether, "I think that Zoe is good at business." Well, I don't think that. I know that, because Zoe has built this business and this business, and she succeeded here. She succeeded there. It's very factual as opposed to a judge judging you, which is qualitative instead of quantitative.
Zoë Routh: Right. Having been through those three major pathways, so from a professional ice skater or a competitive ice skater to academic to entrepreneur, has your definition of success changed?
Liam Martin: I don't really think so. I think, my definition of success now is just the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. That's the archetypal definition of success for me is I can sit and watch Netflix all day. I can work on a project that I'm really passionate about all day. I can do podcasts all day. I can go out on trips all day if I want to. I really have that freedom. Now, once you're given that freedom, ironically, you end up doing the things that you're very passionate about, which are generally not sitting on your butt watching Netflix all day long, but that's my definition of success is having the freedom to make my own choices, the ability to create agency in my life, so the ability to just say, "I've decided to grab my passport, and walk out the door today, and do something else."
Liam Martin: I can at any point. I wake up and I choose to go to work every day. It's not a requirement.
Zoë Routh: I think that promise of flexibility and choice and autonomy is one of the most attracting things to running remote businesses, and is at the forefront or the underpinning of the digital nomad movement, where people can work anywhere in the world. You're an entrepreneur, but you could have started a retail business, so tell us about why pick remote business apart from the autonomy piece, and how that translated into starting Time Doctor and staff.com. Tell us a little bit about that business.
Liam Martin: Sure. I had a tutoring business as I believe you had mentioned. One of the biggest problems that I had inside of that business, it was a remote tutoring business. We were tutoring students through Skype. I would have a student that I would bill for 10 hours, and then the student wouldn't come back saying, "I didn't work with my tutor for 10 hours. I worked with him for five." Then I would go to the tutor, and I would say, "Hey, did you work with this student for 10 hours?" "Of course, I did." Okay, well then, I'd have to refund the student for the five hours, and I'd have to pay the tutor for the whole 10 hours. Then I would be losing money on the deal.
Liam Martin: I ended up with that becoming a major problem inside of the mechanics of the business. As I continue to grow the business out, those mechanics started to ... You could see churn working into the system at a pretty aggressive rate. The faster I grew, the bigger that churn problem would become. I was at South by Southwest, which is like a spring break for nerds. It's a big technology conference in Austin, Texas. They have hundreds of thousands of people. This was eight, nine years ago when it was a lot smaller. That's where I met Rob, my co-founder, and he had a little app that he was using for his internal team that measured not just how long somebody worked, but all the websites and applications and mouse movements and keyboard movements associated with that type of activity.
Liam Martin: I was able to very clearly quantify exactly how long somebody worked, and I could make sure that it was actual work that was being done, not something that somebody was telling me. That was a big game changer for me. That's something that could have completely revolutionised my first business, and I thought to myself, "Man, this could be much bigger than what I currently have right now. I'd love to be able to see if we could actually make this a commercially viable business." Six years later, it is a commercially viable business. We have 86 employees in 27 different countries all over the world. We have stuck to the core mission statement, which is we want to empower workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want.
Liam Martin: We, in essence, want to empower workers with that same type of freedom that most successful entrepreneurs already have. We want to give that to everyone around the world, where you can just work from a laptop, and be wherever you are and still get work done.
Zoë Routh: You are pitching this basically as proof to the remote worker to say, "Hey, I did actually do the work that I said I did. And here is the evidence." Is that how you ...?
Liam Martin: That's it, exactly. We've got two sides of our market. We've got the customers, which are the employers, and then we've got the users, which is ... We've got another side of the customer base which is the people that use the app, so we need to always make sure that we have an even kill between the two. Fundamentally, Time Doctor is a productivity tool. Right now, I'm working on podcasts. I've been working on it for 18 minutes and 22 seconds. If I went to Facebook right now, I would get a popup saying, "Are you still working on podcasts?" It' would be pulling me out of my productive state, and pulling me back into a state of productivity.
Zoë Routh: Come on, this is a productive exercise.
Liam Martin: Well yeah, it is a productive exercise, but everyone gets distracted. I think, we exist in ... This is becoming clearer and clearer now with the rise of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal that just happened recently. We live in I'm going to call it the distraction economy. The people, the companies that are the best at distracting you make the most money. If you just look particularly online, Facebook is spending trillions of dollars on figuring out how to distract you better than Twitter or YouTube or WhatsApp or Instagram.
Liam Martin: You look at the most addictive games on the internet. There's a company that I love to use as an example. It's called Supercell, and they made two games, Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. They're funny little characters like comic book characters. They have a little base. It's an interesting game. Supercell makes about a billion dollars a month.
Zoë Routh: Oh my God, a month, a billion dollars a month?
Liam Martin: A month, yes, on transactions, on just these virtual transactions. The way that it works is the game is free to play, so the barrier to entry is very easy. Then you will get a notification saying, "Hey, your base is being attacked by another human player. You need to open up the application right now to protect yourself against this incursion." They do it perfectly. It's addictive. I mean, if you look at the same ... There's a lot of data that's coming out, more and more data coming out every day showing that these types of games, they figured out how to just give you the melatonin or the drip feed of positive ...
Zoë Routh: Dopamine.
Liam Martin: Dopamine, that's it. The dopamine smash to just say, "Oh yeah, okay, I've got to pop up, or I've got to turn this app on right now." Every time you do that, you're being pulled out of productivity, and you're being put ... It's not just the one to two-minute distraction. It is the, "Okay, what was I doing? I was writing a blog post. Okay, what was I writing it about? I was writing it about this. I'd better read the last two pages so I understand where my context was. Okay, I've read those last two pages. I might as well look at these other three sources that I was also looking at."
Liam Martin: That's, 16, 17, 18 minutes. It's not just the two-minute distraction. It's a massive hole inside of your day. If you have even four or five of those, you've lost half your workday to these distractions. It's really stopping people from accomplishing deep work. My friend Cal Newport has written a fantastic book called Deep Work for anyone that's interested.
Zoë Routh: It's a great book.
Liam Martin: It's really great if you want to just understand how to get those distractions out of your life, and why it's important to be able to complete deep work. That's something that I would very much ... We try to build a weapon against the distraction economy, so something that can stop you from getting distracted by the Facebook notifications, the Instagram posts, and all those type of things, and get you back into a state of focus, deep work, and doing what you want to do, not what the apps are trying to convince you is the right decision to do. I mean, no one wants to ... People start these games when they're bored, or they start going on Facebook when they're bored.
Liam Martin: They're really just looking for something. They're looking for that dopamine hit, because they recognise that when they go on to Facebook, they do get it. Subconsciously, they're trying to get back into that space, but eventually, it becomes completely addictive, because you're going to have a lower and lower feedback loop every single time, so you have to spend more time on it, or you have to work on different apps, or you have to play different games to be able to get there. In my opinion, it's a very negative cycle and something that we should really be looking at, because it is creating a lot of very addicted people in the world. Particularly for entrepreneurs, we're much more susceptible to that than others, so it's important for us to be able to protect ourselves against it.
Liam Martin: I'm a perfect example. I'm very susceptible to them. I have my phone that it doesn't beep at me past 5:00 PM for anything. I disconnect my workspace and my homespace. Even though I work from home, I have an office where I only do work. If I want to of a personal phone call or even a personal Facebook message, I will take the phone out of this room, and I will go somewhere else, and I'll do my social in another space. I'll do my work in this space. Those are the types of things that are really important to be able to create consistent deep work. I mean, if you even lock in two to three hours of that per day, you'll double your overall productivity and output. Then you can accomplish things that people are wowed at, but it's just because they have a handicap of having this distraction economy, and not understanding how it works.
Zoë Routh: Just a point of clarification on the technical aspects of Time Doctor, it's an app. It tracks your use. You can program it to give you notifications about when you want to do deep work. It's got some alert system. Have I ...?
Liam Martin: Yes, it does have some alerts. It has some popups, so if you go to a distracting website, you'll have a popup that will say, "Hey, are you still working on podcasts as an example?" Then I'll say ...
Liam Martin: Then inside of that, we also use a lot of machine learning to be able to gain insights from it. As an example, with our enterprise product staff.com, we can predict with about an 89% accuracy rate whether you're going to quit your job six months before you do.
Zoë Routh: What?
Liam Martin: We use all of these different ... We're analysing all of the different components of what you do throughout your workday, and then we can tell you based off of the history that we've seen before using machine learning and artificial intelligence who is going to quit and why they're going to quit your organisation.
Zoë Routh: Staff.com, tell me about that particular business. How is it related to Time Doctor?
Liam Martin: That's generally the same product except it's designed for enterprise companies, and very much focused on machine learning. I've recognised at this point that artificial intelligence is probably going to completely change. It has already changed every aspect of human society. We're only at the very cusp of that at this point, where it's completely changed politics, sociology, economics. Cambridge Analytica is another example. They're using artificial intelligence and machine learning to be able to figure out what triggers they need to send you to change your political stance, or to make you angry enough that you would vote for the other person.
Liam Martin: They understand exactly when to do it at the right time because it's just an input-output device. I know for me, all of my degrees were in sociology and academia, and when I was in grad school back in 2006, we were always talking about the sociological ultimate weapon, which is the ability to be able to tell you or to know what you're going to do before you do it. We are in that state now.
Zoë Routh: Oh my God.
Liam Martin: This is the new world, right? This is something that with machine learning and artificial intelligence, we're able to tell you, "Okay, if I can analyse Zoe, same age, same socioeconomic status, and we get a million of you in essence, and we all have you on Facebook and on Twitter, and on Instagram, then we can tell you, "Okay, what are the outcome variables for Zoe's?" If a Zoe makes a left turn here, if Zoe decides to ... Would Zoe be apt to travel? Well, we can tell you probably with enough data down to the week when you're going to take your vacation six months out, and then we can start sending you ads.
Liam Martin: This is what Facebook does, right? They're able to analyse that data, and very clearly tell you, "Yes, this person is interested on going on a trip between now and now a date. And if you advertise to them, they will buy." That can then just be expanded to so many different applications like a quick prediction. For us, we can very clearly with enough data, and the data is the really important part to tell you someone is going to quit their job. Zoe is going to quit her job, because she is unhappy with her manager, and she's actively looking for another position. You need to be able to come in, and figure out, "Okay Zoe, can I change your manager? Can I put you in another position? Can I put you in another department so that we're reducing our employee or basically expanding employee retention?"
Zoë Routh: It's not just an employee engagement tracking tool. There is obviously the dystopia version of this, where it becomes a spyware on staff.
Liam Martin: The other thing is we do follow the EU GDPR requirements for ... There's a lot of apps out there that are basically stealth ware, so there is very specific requirements, and we've always been on that side of history, because we're primarily trying to be focused on productivity. We can also tell you let's say that you have 1,000 sales reps. I can tell you within a month whether a sales rep, a new sales rep is going to be in the top 10% of your sales team or the bottom 10% of your sales team based off of how that person works, because it can analyse what your successful people are doing, and what your unsuccessful people are doing, because I have an outcome variable, which is how much money they make if that's your definition of productivity.
Liam Martin: Then I can have an AI to build that model for you, and then once we put new people in the system, we can see very clearly, "Okay, this person is going to be very successful, or this person is not going to be so successful." That's basically where we're at with regards to staff.com. We've had this GDPR E requirements, which is something that most tech companies need to really pay attention to. It's coming into fruition, I think, in the next two to three months. Basically, it is focused on three major rules. The employee must be able to see all of their data. They must be able to edit that data. Meaning, if they want to delete it, they can. Then they need to be able to turn the software on and off.
Liam Martin: Those are the three major rules with regards to active time tracking. If you don't do that, there are a lot of companies that do stealth time tracking, and that is illegal in the EU. I personally don't believe that that necessarily makes you any more productive. That just monitors what you're doing. As a meta perspective towards the future of technology, I see two separate visions for the future. One vision is a very select group of people are able to have complete access to everyone else, so like the NSA, the CIA, CSIS, SIS. All these organisations will basically know everything that you're doing at all times. Facebook knows this already. Facebook has much better data than the KGV, than CSIS, than CIA, FBI. They're way better at it, because they make billions of dollars off of ads directly targeting that.
Liam Martin: I'm positive they probably have an algorithm that could predict when someone is going to commit a terrorist act. I mean, it's very easy to be able to qualify for that if you have enough endpoints and started a system, but they would never give that information to the CIA or the FBI because they are about data security, but they're data security for themselves, because they want to make money off of it. There is that vision of the future, which I don't like. It's a dystopian version of the future. Then there's another version of the future, which I think is what's going to happen, which is everyone will know everything about everyone else.
Liam Martin: That's the version that I would like to live in. There's no secrets left in society. Then there is the third version that everyone thinks that we live in today, which is personal privacy still exists, and it does not. Right now, we live in an environment where I'm sure with enough time and pressure, I could scrape all of your Facebook messages, personal messages, all your personal emails, all that data. I could throw it into a machine learning algorithm, and I can figure out a lot about you, or I could get a lot of dirt on you very quickly and easily. All these companies can do that anyways right now.
Liam Martin: Do you want to live in that world, or do you want to live in a world in which everything is open? I feel like that's the future that I want to be able to live in, because I don't think we're going to live in a future where we have personal privacy. I unfortunately just don't think that that's going to continue to exist, and the people that think that they do have personal privacy, they just haven't looked at the problem deep enough. For us, we're a very small part of this system but we are ... I mean, even our company, we have hundreds of thousands of different employees that are on our system. We do tens of millions of hours a month now in data that we just collect into our system.
Liam Martin: Before, we could never actually gain insights from it because it's too much data to go through, but an AI can because it can just run calculations so much faster than a human, and it can also understand where there are correlations that are statistically significant unlike a human that just can't think of those types of things at that scale. It's a very exciting time, and exciting can be scary. All these tools are just like dynamite. They can be used for good, or they can be used for evil.
Zoë Routh: What I'm hearing is the world of transparency is demanding integrity, because you can't get away with stuff. Certainly, I've seen that with other types of software like Glassdoor, right? Something I talked about in my keynotes is that kind of platform is calling employers to accounts saying, "If you've got a crappy company and a crappy culture, your staff are going to talk about it, and here are some examples." It's encouraging people to lift their game, and to really look at the internal dynamics of their company and how they're looking after staff. What you're offering is a version of that, focus on productivity specifically.
Zoë Routh: I want to talk about how you manage your remote workforce. One of the things I'm interested in my business is what helps teams, leaders, and organisations be balanced? How can they confront the future and get rid of the barnacles and stuff that holds them back? One of the questions I explore with a lot of my organisations is how can they handle this diversity of teams, where you have some remote workers and some office workers? You've got a completely remote workforce. How do you build a really strong culture when it's so diverse and so divided if you like?
Liam Martin: The culture question is quite interesting, because a lot of people talk about culture, but I don't know whether or not a lot of people really understand what they mean when they talk about culture. My definition of culture is what would appear weird to others. As an example, everyone wears clothes, right? That's not culturally unique between the culture of me and you, but if we weren't wearing clothes, and we saw that as something that we just always do, people looking in would think, "That's kind of weird." When we think about culture, we think about, "What do we do that is odd, that's unique to our organisation and not to others?"
Liam Martin: The big critical part for us is the ability to be able to work remotely. That drops our ability to communicate as efficiently as an example, and also cuts our labour costs just in terms of housing people, having computers for everybody, having office equipment, all that kind of stuff. It's about 25% cheaper. Even if you hire the same type of person in the same area, it's about 25% cheaper, which is a big savings particularly if you can figure this kind of stuff out at scale, but in terms of culture, what we do is we have culture documentation, so everyone has to go through the culture doc. That's the very first document that they interact with when they join the company.
Liam Martin: I have an interesting video, which is the funny corks about me. I have about a 20-minute video in which I just talk about how to work with me and how not to work with me, because sometimes, you miss a lot of the nonverbal cues that just get communicated through face to face interactions, and they're not picked up as much on video. I talked about all this little corks, because sometimes, you can misconstrue an email or a Slack message, or a Skype message, something like that, so we make sure that we have that communication or people understand who I am particularly when I'm managing them when they're reporting to me.
Liam Martin: Then one of the other things that we do is we always have retreats, so we have a retreat before our conference that's happening in late June called Running Remote. Before that, we're having our entire team fly into Ubud, Bali. I believe it's a three to four-day retreat in which we review everything that we've currently done throughout the last year, and we make plans for next year. Then we just all communicate face to face. That is also really great to be able to energize the team, and not only communicate, but reinforce that cultural documentation. Before this entire process, we also hire for culture fit. We know what's weird for us. We know how to find those other types of weird people.
Liam Martin: We have a lot of testing to be able to find the people that are unique or weird like us. As an example, we usually hire introverts. Introverts work better in remote work environments than extroverts. Extroverts need to interact with a lot of people. They get lonely faster, so introverts are really happy to be able to work on their own to qualify for that. We make sure that we're trying to get people that will tell us what they did instead of asking what to do. That's really important when looking at a remote culture, because if I'm talking with the Southeast Asian team, we have a bunch of product managers in Thailand as an example, a design and product team in Thailand.
Liam Martin: If I tell them to do something, and then they haven't properly interpreted the instructions, and they just freeze and they don't do anything, then it's 12 hours before I can actually tell them what to do properly. What they always need to do is just make their own assumptions, go in, try something. 98% of the time even if you break something, we can figure out how to fix it. For us, it's really big on taking action, not asking anybody, "What should I do?"
Zoë Routh: Cool. From a technology point of view, what are your communication platforms that you use? You mentioned Slack. Is that the main communication tool that you use?
Liam Martin: We use Slack. I'm coming to a bit of an interesting crossroads with regards with Slack. I don't know whether or not synchronous communication is that useful towards workers' long-term well-being. Slack is a perfect example of synchronous communication. I believe that asynchronous communication may be a better method.
Zoë Routh: Can you explain the difference, please?
Liam Martin: Synchronous communication is I'm getting a text message at 3:00 in the morning saying, "Hey Liam, you need to get up right now. There is a problem that I need to talk to you about." That's synchronous communication, or a synchronous communication is, "I'm at ease your dinner, and I'm having dinner, and I get a message from somebody on Slack saying, "Hey, you know, you're going to completely trash the rest of my workday if you don't send me this three-minute email. Can you send me this three-minute email right now?" That's synchronous. Asynchronous is you have work hours, and then you buffer all of those messages on the top and end of those work hours.
Liam Martin: That's something that, I think, we should be looking at in society ... sorry, and particularly, in remote work environments, but it's something that because remote work is so new, there hasn't really been a playbook that's been built around that, so I'm concerned about that. Now, we still use Slack, but I don't know whether or not it's the right choice long term. A couple of other tools is we use Space Camp. We use Skype. We use Zoom for large scale meetings. We use Google Apps. That's probably the core of everything that we do. Then we use a lot of process documentation software to be able to put all of our processes in the cloud, digitize them, and then be able to communicate them quickly and easily to employees all over the world.
Liam Martin: That's pretty much our entire stack.
Zoë Routh: I have another question about culture app. Some of the stuff I've been looking at and researching, and people want to know about are things like online recommendation tools like eCards, and things that you can send little badges and awards. Do you use any type of thing like that? What's your thought on that?
Liam Martin: We looked at it. We've actually looked at gamifying Time Doctor to a degree saying like, "Hey, you were the most productive person in your team this week. And I don't know whether it's my own bias to this, or whether it is true, or whether I believe that I'm thinking in the right way, but I think it's bullshit. I think, at the end of the day, I want to provide a work environment in which you can work wherever you want, whenever you want. Focus on getting really great work done. Connect into the mission of what we want to accomplish as a company. I have very clear quantitative KPIs that I've set forward.
Liam Martin: "If you accomplish those KPIs, then I'll give you more resources. And if you don't, I won't, because we're all focused on that goal that we want to achieve." I think, when we tie people in, we talk a lot about in the company when we talk about different employees, we say, "Okay, are they in or are they out?" Are they in? Are they doing this not just to get it checked. If they're not there to just get it checked, then they're four or five X more productive than people that are there just to get a checked out. A couple of years ago, I had a bit of an issue with the department, and I recognise that I didn't nip this in the bud. It was going to become a much bigger problem.
Liam Martin: It was growing like cancer inside of the organisation. At one of our team retreats, I set out $5,000 cheques for everybody. I brought that team in, and I said, "Hey, we all know that there's an issue here, and I think it's more of an issue of you guys just don't seemed to be engaged. And I want to know whether you're interested in still continuing on in this company, and being engaged. And I'm going to make it really easy for you. Anybody who wants to walk out the door, we'll fly you back to wherever you are right now, and we'll give you a $5,000 cheque on top of your two months pay. I'll cut you a cheque right now. You just got to walk out the door."
Liam Martin: Nobody did thankfully, and they got it, which was okay that ... and all of the interpersonal issues that they had inside of the organisation, inside of that department just went away because I just wanted to reinforce, "We're here for something that I'm personally very passionate about." I mean, entrepreneurship doesn't make you as much money on average as working at a fortune 500. I could make a lot more money working somewhere else. I have a lot of friends that make a lot more money working in other places, but I choose to be here because it gives me the freedom to be able to work the way that I'd like to work, and it's a project that I'm very passionate about.
Liam Martin: I'm very disciplined about only working with people that have that same mindset, and giving them a little gold badge at the end of the day. I don't think it's really going to change that significantly.
Zoë Routh: It's a little bit of you've got to be internally motivated. You've got to have a clear structure and identifiable goals and results that people work to, and they got to be mission focused. That is a self-perpetuating incentive if you like. Also, if they meet their KPIs, they get resources which is what you call ... Is that a reward type system, or what do you mean by resources?
Liam Martin: Most of the people that want to work with us that work inside of the company, they just want to do more of what they're currently doing. Would you like another 10 blog writers? Show me how what you're doing right now. Show me up into the right curve, and I will give you unlimited resources to be able to continue to get that curve up into the right, but if we're currently here, and you can't show me quantitatively whether or not we're moving that number, that's another big thing for us that's weird is everything for us is quantitative. It's very much ... If you cannot prove that you're moving the needle, don't bring that information to me. If we're having a debate about let's say adding a feature, if you can't give me a quantitative argument as to why we should make that decision, don't table it, because it's just not what we're ...
Liam Martin: We live in the age of the internet where we can collect all of that data, and we can get such precise measurements of everything that's happening with our customers. We can tell you what's going to make them more successful. You just need to analyse the data, and people that say, "Well, I feel like this would be the right move," you can feel all you want, but you've got to follow it up with quantitative proof. That's the thing that we do is you can show us your app into the right. I will give you more and more resources. The vast majority of the time, they don't want more money for themselves, or they don't want recognition. They just want to be able to accomplish what they were setting out to do in the first place.
Zoë Routh: Very cool. I want to ask another question, which is parallel to recognition. It's about appreciation. Gary Chapman writes about the five love languages, and recognition is acknowledgment of work achieved, quality, and quantity of work achieved. Appreciation is more about acknowledgment and support of the individual, and he talks about the five love languages, so words of affirmation, time spent, gifts, physical touch. I can't remember the fifth one. Oops. Do you incorporate ...? What's the human side of your business? How do you do that thing?
Liam Martin: We can't touch people that often, because we're halfway around the world, and that one, we only do when we're at the retreats. We hug it out a bit, but in terms of recognition, what we usually do is I'll do a one week sync. I have a meeting document that I have for every different department that I work with, and I just basically review all of the different variables that connects the KPIs, that connects to that organisation, or sorry, to that department. We start with the celebration component.
Liam Martin: For the individual, what are you individually proud of this week that you accomplished the previous week? That's one point, so I want to be able to start every meeting with some positive affirmations in essence. "I closed this deal. I spoke to Zoe, and I convinced Zoe to have Liam on the podcast," that type of thing. Then what did we achieve as a team?
Zoë Routh: Did somebody get a celebration for that?
Liam Martin: I was very excited about it, especially after I read your site and just looked at everything. I was like, "Oh, this is going to be a very interesting one." What team achievements have we achieved together, and then I usually put in some customer headlines that have happened within the last week. Somebody's saying, "Hey, your software completely saved my business. Your software is something that I've been looking for for years, and I finally found something that's actually able to improve my productivity," those types of things. That's the first component that we start with, and then we get into the more quantitative stuff, but we always start with that celebration.
Liam Martin: For me, it's the way to put everybody or at least my version of putting everybody into a little bit of a positive spin for the day, and that's where you can really recognise people individually, and usually point someone out, and just say, "Hey, that was really great that you closed this big deal. I know that you've been working on that for six months. How did you do it?" That type of thing. Now, in terms of the other variables, I don't think we're doing a great job at it. Lorene, who is our director of HR, is quite a bit better at it than me, but even with that, between me and Rob, I would say I'm more the one on the emotional scale. He's more the developer mindset, the mathematician, the physicist type of mindset.
Liam Martin: I'm more the marketing, sales, advertising, human interaction side of it. With those two sides, I don't know. I'd love to be able to get your thoughts on this. I don't think that we're doing a great job at that just from who we are as people, because for us, we really qualify at the very beginning what do you want to do with your life, and how does that connect to the company? Usually, a lot of the questions that we'll ask in those first interviews, people will think they're giving the right "answers," but they're actually giving the absolute opposite of what we're looking for, which is great. We're trying to get those people out of the system as quickly as possible to make sure that we have the right people on the bus.
Zoë Routh: Look, I think, that's a good thing to do. This is what the company is all about is what aligns with what you want with your world. That's great in terms of building loyalty and synergy between company and individuals. What I find is what often leaders get wrong is that they don't have a cadence of engagement, so they don't have enough regular purposeful interactions where you look at both the external results as well as looking at the friction points, and the friction points are not just systems. They're also interpersonal. Being able to have the difficult conversations is number one, the most common challenge that organisations and leaders have in terms of the thing that affects their culture the most.
Zoë Routh: For example, there is a legal firm that I've been talking with, and they've got issues in terms of their structure and their inability to actually put what's really on the table as the issue is causing so much problem, so the solution to this challenge, but they haven't actually named the problem, and the ability to solve the problem in a respectful way, that keeps people's relationships growing and moving forward is one of the key things.
Liam Martin: Is this connected to an interpersonal relationship, or is this connected to more business metrics, or are you talking about like ...?
Zoë Routh: They overlap.
Liam Martin: Okay, got it. I know for us, the biggest reasons why people quit their job is because of interoffice politics. They don't like their manager. They don't like their co-workers. That's the biggest reason. Remote work and there's a fantastic study with about 20,000 people that MIT did, and it just came out about two or three years ago shows retention in remote organisations is about 20% to 30% higher than in the same control groups for others, because they're just not interacting with those people in a face-to-face basis, where people are just hating getting up in the morning. I know for us, our retention, I think, last year was approximately 92% over the last year. We've been pretty happy with that.
Liam Martin: Anything above 90, I think, we're quite happy with. That's another thing that ... That's the KPI that our HR director is really measured by is, "Did you get the right people on the bus? Did we have to let them go later, because they weren't the right fit in which the case, that was the HR director's fault? And also, how was that manager interacting with that individual? Is that manager giving what that individual needs?" Basically, we see the employee. Let's say that we're going to let an employee go. We see them as having the lease amount of blame inside of the organisation, and we in essence share that blame between the manager and between the person that did that initial hiring.
Liam Martin: That team together, why is that did not work? Were they not the right person? Were they not the right culture? We had someone that left about a year-and-a-half ago. He broke up with his long-term partner, and he just said, "I've got to find a job that's in an actual office because I'm lonely." He have been with this woman for six, seven years. They worked in the same home. They worked together. They both worked remotely. He said, "You know, now, I feel really lonely, and I have to go find a job somewhere else." Well, that was not the right fit for us. We should have recognised where that was, and one of the other aggressive things that we've been working on is trying to figure out whether we can do any type of psychology remotely, and whether we could deploy that on mass.
Liam Martin: We even looked at, "Could we get ...?" I mean, you're a coach. I have had many business coaches. I think, it's such an important component of the way that you operate a business particularly if you can afford it. People don't think that's a really important part of running a business, but even just having somebody who's been through a couple of those situations, and even just having them talk to you is just such a powerful way to be able to move your business forward. I know for me, the previous coach I had before my current coach was a psychologist, PhD certified psychologist. He spent 10 years in fortune 500 executive roles. He was able to have that good collection. For me, it was really great to know, "Okay, I'm not this screwed up. Everyone thinks like this. Everyone has these weird type of thoughts."
Liam Martin: The other issue is too as a business owner, you can't ditch up. Like, there's no one left at the top, so you go and talk to your coach, and you say, "Hey, everyone's pissing me off, and I'm really unhappy about it." Then the coach says, "Well, maybe it's because you're an asshole." Then it's like, click, "Okay, yeah, maybe you're right. Maybe I should be nicer to people." Those types of things are just so valuable. Getting that for employees, I think, is really important. I'm sure for people that are listening right now that own businesses, and we see this in a very interesting way at team retreats, because everyone is together. Then me and Rob don't really get to hang out with any of the other people.
Liam Martin: They'll hang out with us, but then there is the cool other party at 2:00 in the morning that you don't necessarily get invited to, because they're obviously talking about us, and they don't want to or they don't want us to be included. Those are the types of things that we want to be able to make sure that we're making feel as comfortable as humanly possible. There's a great company right now that's coming to Running Remote in June. It is the HR director for GitHub. GitHub is a mass of development repository for code, and her talk is going to be entitled how she is reprogramming workers for remote work, so getting all of the things that were in the physical workspace all of the things that like ...
Liam Martin: There's a different playbook for working remote as to working physically, so she has a three-month training program to get them out of the mindset of this face-to-face interaction, and getting more into a virtual perspective. For me, it's actually ... I've always done business that way, but it's such an interesting problem for people to face. Can you build a process, where let's say someone's been working in an office for 20 years, and now they're working remotely? There are some major issues. If you can't take advantage of that talent in the right way, it's such a shame, so they built a program specifically to reprogram them into working remotely.
Zoë Routh: Yeah, getting used to a new life as a remote worker.
Liam Martin: That's it, exactly. It's one of those things that I've been thinking about deeper and deeper, because we do lose people to the, "I'm lonely." Okay, well, if I could solve that loneliness problem for you, you're a great worker. You're passionate about what we're doing. You love doing what you're doing, but you've got this other issue. How can I solve that problem for you, which is something that I never really thought I was going to be dealing with when I started the business, but it is one of those things that's pretty critical right now to just making sure that everybody is firing on all cylinders.
Zoë Routh: I'm a bit curious about that loneliness thing, because I would have thought like co-working spaces is a good cure for that, or that's more a bigger cost than working from home.
Liam Martin: No, it was a ... We gave that individual that option. They were looking into it, and then they just realised, "You know, I have this offer somewhere else. And I just love to be able to give it a shot. It's nothing about you guys. It's about me, and I just want to be able to be in an office, and connect to people that are working on the same project day in and day out." I understood that, but we do have ... We have co-working spaces all over the world now, and we have offices, many offices that we've set up. If you want to work out of our Bali office, you can. If you want to work out of our Phuket office, you can, our Sydney office, our Manila office, you can.
Liam Martin: About 20% of our team are digital nomads. They just pack up their laptop. They put in their bag, and then they're off to another spot. We've just realised, "Okay, let's set up little offices around all the hubs that digital nomads usually go to." The next one we're going to try to set up is in Medellin, which I'm pretty excited.
Zoë Routh: Is a what?
Liam Martin: Medellin in Colombia, which is the ... I don't know if you've probably watched in articles or something like that. That is where the Colombian drug lords were, the Medellin Cartel. Medellin is a city in Colombia up in the mountains, and the average temperature 365 days a year is between ... I think, it's like 27 degrees, and the variation is like four degrees on one side, four degrees on the other. It's always nice in Medellin, and because most regular people are terrified of Medellin because they heard about all the killings that have been happening there, most people don't go, but the digital nomads go. High-speed internet, Fibr, and a whole bunch of mansions that are left behind by the drug cartels that you can get very cheap with.
Liam Martin: It's a great place for these digital nomads to go and hang out, and very little regular people ... No one goes for a vacation to Medellin, but these digital nomads, they literally live in Medellin. That's another one that we're trying to set up over the next year.
Zoë Routh: Let me know when you got your mansion set up. I want to have a look at that.
Liam Martin: There we go. Yeah, you can come for a visit.
Zoë Routh: That sounds great, awesome. Oh my goodness, we've been talking ages, and it's breakfast time for me. It's probably late afternoon, early afternoon over there.
Liam Martin: It's late afternoon for me, but I'm just entering my Monday meeting session, so I'll be up until 2:00 in the morning. It's 5:00 PM for me right now. Because we work remotely, I need to speak to the other side of the planet. You're just waking up much like the rest of the planet is. Now, I'm going to be doing my meetings until about 2:00 AM. That's the only day that I stay late. Then the rest of them, I usually work around ... I start around 10, and I usually go until about 5:00 PM on average, which is a pretty relaxed day for me in comparison to a lot of other workers.
Zoë Routh: Fantastic! Liam, that was amazing. I love talking to you finding about your work and your philosophy and all the scary and exciting things that are happening in the remote working land. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Liam Martin: No worries.
Zoë Routh: That was very Australian of you. It's a Canadian say no worries.
Liam Martin: I think because Rob, my co-founder, he's always saying that. Maybe that just worked its way into me.
Zoë Routh: Well, good. Good luck then on that.
Liam Martin: That was cool. Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.