Ep. 88 - Running Remote's Egor Borushko

 
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Jeff Robbins interviews Egor Borushko, who is the Co-founder and Producer at the Running Remote Conference about the current state of remote work, the current state of conferences, and the gamut of all the things that have changed around the pandemic.

Here’s the transcript:

JEFF ROBBINS: Hi Folks. It’s Jeff Robbins, back with Episode 88 of the Yonder podcast where we talk to company leaders and big thinkers about how to make remote work. We’re focused on expanding the remote work job market and helping listeners to create happy, productive, distributed teams. This time we talk with Egor Borushko who is the Co-founder and Producer at the Running Remote Conference. Egor lives in Bali, and we got to talk long-distance, have a nice conversation about all the current state of remote work, the current state of conferences, the whole gamut of all the things that have changed around the pandemic, but also the trajectories that remote work had been in and maybe continues to go into [laughing]. Anyway, interesting conversation with Egor.

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Alright, let’s get to our interview with Egor Borushko.

JEFF: Egor, welcome to the Yonder podcast.

EGOR BORUSHKO: Hi Jeff. Thank you.

JEFF: It’s great to have you on.

EGOR: Yeah, it’s good to be here.

JEFF: [laughing] (2:37) The question I ask people first off is where are you talking to us from today?

EGOR: I’m located in Bali, Indonesia, tropical island.

JEFF: Yes, perhaps the most exotic location I had a guest from. [laughing] I always use Bali as the example that you can live anywhere in the world, for instance, Bali, and you do live there. That’s amazing.

EGOR: Yep. I’ve been here for 10 years and it’s almost turning into a cliché now.

JEFF: [laughing] Well, yeah. Before we get into other things, I’ll let you introduce yourself to people. You are the co-founder and producer of the Running Remote conference but expand on that.

EGOR: My name is Egor. I was born in Russia. My childhood was in Malta. I’m been in the U.K. and for 10 years in Bali. I’m a truly global citizen as someone referred to me as, and as my day job I am a producer and co-founder of Running Remote, which is a conference and also community for founders and leaders of remote teams.

JEFF: (4:04) The conference has run physically in the past how many times and where in Bali was it? Or, you’ve done it other places?

EGOR: I have been in Bali for 10 years and I’ve seen the remote work landscape and the coworking landscape really change the face of Bali. I’ve been really inspired by the movement. Being disconnected from the world located in the southern hemisphere, I had to find a way to sustain myself being here. Originally I’m from London and it’s quite an expensive city to be in. So, I went to discover remote work through online marketing which was my expertise. Long story short, my last employment was with a company called mystuff.com which produces software, and engineers of software that track productivity of remote teams, and there in that team I had an experience of working in a truly remote fashion with a large team of 100 people in 46 different countries. And I was even more inspired by the remote work movement, and so with the founder of those companies we had an idea of spotting a conference and what better location may be in Bali, because obviously I’m based here, it’s very easy for me, I don’t have to travel anywhere, and also it’s a place that attracts a lot of companies that run remote teams and whole teams are based here and a ton of coworking spaces as well. That was our first launchpad and we’ve had two conferences here in Bali.

JEFF: I didn’t make it there for the last one. I was thinking maybe I would come, it’s a long trip to Bali, but I’ve heard really good things about your conference, and you were planning on doing one here in Austin in March or April and then we had this pandemic that many people have heard about, [laughing] and that one has been postponed at least, but you guys have been doing online conferences. (6:26) There are all sorts of different aspects of this that I want to get into, but over the few years that you’ve been running this conference, and there’s the physical logistics of running a conference, but you are also curating and figuring out what the messages are around this topic of the conference that you are running. I’m curious just in the past few years, what changes you’ve seen or epiphanies you’ve come to around remote work through curating a conference like this?

EGOR: I think right off the bat our tagline is to enable people to work wherever they want, whenever they want, and that’s essentially our driving force of running remote and we try to relay that in our content, that it’s not only for the hirers, the people that are the employers, the people who are looking to expand their talent pool and hire from elsewhere, but it’s also the employees themselves that are sometimes based in very rural locations and so with the conference we realize that a lot of remote work conversations happen around the western countries, the first world, who are actually the proponents of remote work and actually hiring all those employees all over the world. I’ve realized there has been quite a big neglect of the impact that remote work has had around the world, specifically in third world countries, with amazing platforms like Upwork and Fiber. Those platforms have literally provided livelihoods for families and we try to portray that in our conference as much as possible, to actually expand the notion of remote work that, of course, we know about the cost cutting and things like that, but what long term implications does it have for the future of work and essentially how the future work will pan out for that developing countries. That’s one interesting area I’ve been thinking a lot about.

JEFF: To some extent you’re syndicating work, right? When you disconnect it from a location you need to come up with the rules for how work works, [laughing] and systems and processes around communication and stuff like that, but once you’ve put that together people can work anywhere, and oftentimes anytime, and you disconnect it, which for companies starts to create a wider talent pool that you can pull from but potentially an infinitely wider talent pool, you can pull from people all over the world. So, there is inherently some globalization I guess I would call it, that can come pretty quickly with remote work.

EGOR: Yes. Remote work connects people. It connects the world in unprecedented levels, and I was also quite surprised by how the proponents of remote work founders of successful tech companies are actually calling themselves remote because they are distributed within one country. So, they are actually non-collocated which is the official dictionary definition of remote work.

JEFF: (10:27) The official definition is what, non-collocated? Is that what you’re calling it?

EGOR: Exactly. We’re not under one roof. So right now, at the time of COVID you have coworkers literally working behind the wall from each other, maybe in the same apartment block. That makes the culture in that remote company quite different to the culture of a remote company that has employees in more than one country. So, I’m specifically interested in how the founders and people ops managers in companies that are fully distributed are dealing with multicultural complications, multi-time zones. And there are certain advantages to that.

JEFF: There’s a lot more potential when you decouple from location. There’s a lot more potential for all sorts of diversity; cultural diversity, economic diversity, language diversity [laughing], time zone diversity. A lot of these things that can become potentially a competitive advantage for companies but also can be inhibitors of productivity sometimes where you’ve got people spread out all over the world, and it’s difficult to meet. I think some people have found that. Some companies have chosen to embrace it, and just go with it and figure it out, mold their company culture and communications, strategy around that, whereas other companies, I’ve talked to people on the podcast here who only will hire people who are at most one flight leg away. [laughing] If you have to do a layover to get to where these people live, where they consider to be the center of the company, that’s too much, whereas we’ve got companies that are just spread out completely, globally. (13:02) It’s interesting all the different ways that it works. The part I find most interesting about it is how you need to rethink everything. You have to start from the ground up. What is communication? What is work? And start to build it back up again.

EGOR: That’s right. I also think that labor laws in certain countries had made it quite difficult to hire contractors remotely from a different country. There are now companies that are helping solve that issue for distributed companies. I believe we will see much more cultural diverse teams, but nevertheless distributed work fashion still requires the same rules applied to the way you communicate, the way you document processes, the way you hire. Those are all the same. One of the main differences is if you’re working in multi-time zones you have work happening non-stop and that’s the amazing thing. You wake up and somebody in India had already just finished the day and handed over their task results onto your table when you start your day.

JEFF: It has potential for great productivity assuming you can figure out the communications issues and make sure that the handoffs are happening elegantly. (14:35) What other trends have you seen? I guess to some extent where do you think things are going?

EGOR: Connected to dealing with companies with multi-time zones and multi-cultures, the notion of asynchronous communication has been more and more pronounced, and tested by more and more companies. Asynchronous communication is different than synchronous communication in the simple way that when you receive a message or an email from an employee, if you’re communication culture states that it’s asynchronous than that email doesn’t require you to reply right there and then. So, if it’s 2:00 AM on your end and you know that the other person doesn’t require a reply right now because that’s what your asynchronous communication states, then you can wait until you’re comfortable with your times to reply to that message. So, that takes away a lot of stress from managers who are dealing with multi-time zones such as myself. I have messages coming in all the time, but because everyone knows that I work in async manner, I will reply when it’s good for me. So, that builds up a certain expectation and I’ve seen a lot more companies now adopting that methodology.

JEFF: I feel like we were following certain trajectories and you could see these trends emerging and then the pandemic hit, and it’s changed everything. [laughing] So, there’s sort of like, what trends were you seeing and then there’s like, where are we now, which is a whole different conversation. The thing I’ve been saying is, with Yonder I had built this soapbox I was standing on and saying, “hey everyone, remote work is great. You should try remote work. Let me do some interviews with some people who are having success with remote work, and you can see what remote work is like,” and then all of a sudden everyone started working remotely, they started working from home, and now it seems silly to be on a soapbox about it, like, “hey everybody try it. It’s great.” People are doing it and they have opinions about it. I don’t know that they’re necessarily doing it right. [laughing] I think there’s still a lot they can learn from those of us that have been thinking about it and doing it for all these years, but it seems a little bit silly to be evangelizing remote work these days.

EGOR: Yes, to the point that everything has changed, the landscape of remote work has changed in a very unexpected manner. Basically, we no longer have to promote it as a perk, it’s a necessity, it’s just a simple survival mechanism. I think this also shows some companies that should there be any kind of infrastructure lock down in the future, and there can be a million reasons or causes for this right, these companies are not going to be more prepared to not disable their daily business operations, having now embraced this model. But, of course, it will leave a sour taste in a lot of companies who have now been thrown at it without the correct toolkit, and I speak on a daily basis to acquaintances that work for large organizations that can’t wait to go back to the office because they miss the water cooler conversations, because basically from what I’m hearing, is because they don’t have a culture manager who specializes in remote work. So, they haven’t adopted the correct methodology and that’s where Running Remote comes in, and educational tools and podcasts and eBooks. It’s basically to go back to the ABC, and a lot of companies haven’t had the ability because they are simply trying to get through the nitty gritty of their day to day massive pivot that has happened right now. But now that we’ve had a couple of months of COVID, and a few organizations have now proclaimed that they’re going to be permanently remote like Shopify, CoinBase, AWeber, Nationwide, Facebook, I think now these two months have given an opportunity for a pilot program. That has also been one of the trends that I’ve been seeing in the last couple years where a large organization would want to continue doing remote work, however, they shouldn’t think about going all remote and sending the whole department remote, they should pick a pilot group of maybe 10 or 20 individuals. COVID has just magnified that so all these companies that have gone through their pilot programs and those that have seen advantages and done it successfully are going to continue.

JEFF: I’ve definitely been discouraging companies from taking a trend that a lot of companies do where they say, “we’re going to let people work from home one day a week and then maybe we’ll go to two days a week and then three days a week and then four days a week, and eventually we’ll be completely remote.” I think that’s not a great way to progress because what you do is you move your meetings to those four days a week, then three days a week, then two days a week, [laughing] and then you put all of your meetings on one day a week and when you give up that last day you’re not really down to 20%, you’ve just crammed 100% of your interactions into that one day and you haven’t really learned to work remotely. So, instead what I advocate is more of a remote first thing where you take this on as a philosophy for the company and/or send everybody home [laughing] all at once and learn it altogether, which is basically what we’re doing right now. It’s sink or swim. There’s some companies that are finding that it’s good and working for them and then there’s others that are [laughing] resenting it and saying things like, “we’ll never do this again, it’s awful.” But that’s inevitable.

EGOR: I think that a lot of companies that have got it right and they’re committed to making it work, will actually see their productivity increase exponentially, simply due to the fact that remote work enables you to reveal all the caveats that you have maybe in your communication or process recommendation, so if things don’t work remotely and you need somebody to go and plug in the gaps with their presence, then you’ve got a flaw, and I think it’s a great x-ray exercise to see maybe the organizational chart does no longer apply.

JEFF: You definitely need to rethink things a little bit, realize that there is a difference, but it is a one to one relationship. One of things that I say is that “good remote management is simply good management.” These are tactics that work in a collocated environment as well. However, you can kind of get away with more things. I think there’s a lot of things that happen when we’re physically located together that feel like management, feel like communication, feel like productivity, that oftentimes aren’t, and it can feel like stopping by someone’s office and having a conversation about sports for a little bit is connected and we know what’s going on with each other now and we’re synced up and aligned in our goals, but it’s [laughing] not really that.

EGOR: Exactly.

JEFF: There’s value to it but it’s not that.

EGOR: I think also, I have met founders here in Bali, who have flown from across their world and left their team behind, and they’re basically waiting to see what happens with their company. They’re a remote CEO, everyone else is collocated and they’re waiting to see, and if the business doesn’t work without them, then there are major issues that they need to fix.

JEFF: That’s always a good one. I think a lot of CEO’s founders, in particular, find that in order to sustain the company, in order to come up with culture process systems that are sustainable, they need to figure out how to extract themselves, and oftentimes [laughing] it doesn’t happen very elegantly. They just leave for a month or two months or six months or something, and hope that things will right themselves, that the company will heal itself and the people will start to fill in the gaps and figure things out, but sometimes it doesn’t.

EGOR: Definitely. I think the culture of a mini CEO where everyone is responsible as the CEO of their own area of the company, that works really well, which means that you have far more autonomy to the extent that I’d rather you make a bad decision than no decision at all. Or if you give me three options of performing this task, give me the one that you think is the best at the same time. So, all of these things make you think like an entrepreneur but also make you much more responsible for your area of the company as opposed to my experience being in offices where you basically walk in and there I would have formed the plan for my day based on what my managers would want.

JEFF: And it follows the theme that comes up so often in remote work of autonomy. That remote work is autonomy. There’s a certain amount of self-management that comes in, it’s just part of the thing that you need. You need to embrace trust and allow people a certain amount of autonomy, self-management and that leads pretty quickly to people having their own agency in the company, at least in their own work.

EGOR: I was having interesting conversations regarding this actually recently with a company who were actually afraid of this mini CEO format because our employees will become entrepreneurs, start their business and leave, and [laughing] I said on the contrary I gave that company an example where I know a CEO who hires only a person who he knows will be likely to quit in the next two years. So, somebody that’s at the verge and they’re hungry and they’re full force, they want to hire that guy. So, I think it really is not for everyone, and therefore we do have these various models within remote work as well, but remote work by itself is just not for everyone, and it really depends on the entirety of the CEOs and founders themselves.

JEFF: [laughing] Yeah. (27:25) How do you think all of this is going to play out. What do you think that remote work will look like as the world starts collocating again? That companies start back up again.

EGOR: The funny thing is that even being in 2020 before COVID, there have still been very large number of companies who think that remote work is just a bunch of fun for people that want to be irresponsible and go sip a coconut under a palm tree, and that’s what remote work is.

JEFF: [laughing] Well if they didn’t have all of those coconut trees in Bali, they wouldn’t be saying that.

EGOR: [laughing] Yeah, and I’m like, “really, wait a minute. We’re in 2020. We’ve had remote work for a good 4-5 years present here and you still think it’s not serious?” That is going to be gone, completely evaporated with some of the big names that I mentioned previously and that these serious companies, like Shopify have actually been components of remote work for quite a while and have made large scale operations very successfully in a remote fashion. I think that there’s going to definitely be more trust in remote work. I think that for every coin base or Facebook going remote there’s going to be another thousand companies that are going to follow suit. They’re simply going to follow that same case study, so I think that it’s generally fantastic for the world. I think it will enable more people to be more mobile and actually implement their dreams that they had for awhile to go visit certain places to maybe work at the time that they want to work, rather than the time when everyone walks in, to work during the hours when you’re most productive. For a lot of people 7 PM is when their brain switches on. Not for me, I’m a morning guy [laughing], but for a lot of people that’s like, when everyone is gone from the office and, of course, Jason and JJ from Basecamp talk about this in their book, that 6 PM everyone leaves, that’s when I start to go into my deep work. So, it will enable people to actually live fuller lives to spend more time with their families. I think a lot of goodness is to come, however I’m always focused on the problematic areas. That’s just how my brain works, on how everything is amazing, but how do we make things better? I think the only way to make it better is find the companies who have had sour experience with remote work, who have had these in the past as well, Bank of America, Mellon Bank, a couple others. They didn’t have a good experience, so I’d like to focus on what made this experience bad and why didn’t it work out. Most of the time it’s the same issues, it’s just lack of processes and the a, b, c understanding, maybe bringing somebody into the HR department who understands this and has experience. I think healing those companies that have a sour taste of remote work following COVID, that’s going to be the focus for Running Remote. Bali coworking spaces are completely empty, and I think together with the hotel industry and travel industry it has a really big fear of its survival, however I think the coworking industry is going to massively scale up after COVID is over. All those people who have their employment contracts changed by the organizations they work for. I think Twitter has 20,000 employees or something. They’re all gonna wanna travel, so I think coworking is actually going to become the norm as well, and that’s thanks to COVID. But, we try not to talk about the good things as much because all of this has been caused by a massive tragedy, which has had a lot of people not be here with us anymore, so, always trying to remain mindful as to why this all started.

JEFF: I feel there’s going to be a rebalancing. A pendulum swing. Obviously all these people are working from home now and for some it’s working well and some it’s not working so well. I think that the pendulum will swing back the other way for a bit, but there’s also going to be this momentum back for a lot of companies that maybe were resistant to try it, now they’ve tried it, and there may be aspects that will work for them in the long run.

EGOR: It’s definitely huge, huge news, something that we didn’t expect, and, of course, most products that are now built, and tech products and services that have been built to sustain the remote work management practices, they’re all booming right now. What I’m seeing is also a lot of products are being shipped much faster because companies are having to pivot and readjust, and restaurants are now having to do online deliveries and such. Another externality that I see from this is that the procurement of products being shipped is going to be much faster, meaning that developers have super-compressed experience right now, and I think that’s really exciting. We’re going to see some really awesome products come out.

JEFF: I feel like there’s almost this, it’s tough to sum up this concept, it’s so wide, but a redefinition of professionalism that in the past with an office job you needed to get dressed up and put on a suit and a tie, and you would go in and pretend to be a professional person [laughing]. That you would ignore the things that made you a non-professional person, your family, your kids, the difficulties of your life, the chaos, and now that we’re working from home and using Zoom, people have animals that are hopping on their lap while they’re on a Zoom call, or children that are, and initially there’s this gut feeling, these hundred years of work evolution that make us think, I need to be a professional person because here I am on Zoom, but the truth is that we are just human beings, and it’s okay. (34:43) While it can inhibit communication, it can inhibit productivity, the truth is that these things are oftentimes doing that anyway just in the background. I feel like we’re starting to accept each other’s humanity a little bit more, and in the same way we’ve got these lean start-up style product development cycles where products are developed in a more human centric way where you’re shipping them a little bit earlier, saying, “this is a beta version. Give us your feedback. Let’s talk. We’re all humans.” And these faster cycles are causing that. I think in this chaos we’re showing a little bit more of our nooks and crannies, the humanness of things, and that’s okay. I like that trend.

EGOR: Beautifully said Jeff. I do think it’s not the most intuitive point of view where actually remote work and digitalization of the world brings people closer to each other. As opposed to separating people more and more, it actually brings people closer where now in standup meetings or Zoom calls, you can actually say more things than you could’ve said in Board meetings and stuff like that.

JEFF: Well, you kind of have to because there’s not the water cooler, there’s not those non-verbal ways of communicating, there’s not the casual sports conversations. Those need to be brought in. “How’s everybody doing?” “How about that sports?” Well, there’s not really any sports happening right now, but “how about the weather?” [laughing] “How are your kids?” Incorporating a lot of this stuff that was seen as unprofessional in the past, inefficient, realizing the morale value of that, the human trust building value of it, and how that stuff does allow us to align more and feel like we have each other’s backs, and that’s something you have to incorporate into remote work because it doesn’t happen otherwise. But to think that it does happen, accidentally in an office space, is probably a mistake.

EGOR: Yeah, trust plays a very central role here. By the time all these companies have closed their offices, they didn’t really have the time to write down a process for some of their employees, so they just really had to trust them that they will wake up tomorrow, pull out their laptop and start working the same ways they did, and I bet lots didn’t, but at the same time many did. So, managers are like, “wow, I can actually trust these guys. They’re getting work done.”

JEFF: (38:04) And then it becomes clear, right? The ones that you can’t trust. The one’s that aren’t getting the work done. That’s a problem. And either it needs to get better or those people need to go.

EGOR: Coming back to that x-ray washing machine or however you want to call it. It gets rid of all the stuff that was bottlenecking and building up and hindering your company growth.

JEFF: Yeah. [laughing] (38:34) So, I’m curious. Living in Bali, am I correct, your business partners in Running Remote are in Toronto, Canada right?

EGOR: That’s correct.

JEFF: (38:45) So, same time zone as I’m in I think which is almost exactly 12 hours from you. Basically, when it’s daytime here, it’s nighttime there, and vice versa. [laughing] How does that work? You said you’re the asynchronous guy. You have to be in Bali, or I guess you can just work overnight?

EGOR: It’s definitely that I’m in that position of no choice. So, before I end my day I have to already have a list of things that I want to discuss with Liam who wakes up in Toronto and I’m going to send him those points and in the morning when they wake up they will answer it. If there is something important, and there always is, and that’s why we have a couple meetings during the week, those are either inconvenient for me or inconvenient for Liam. If you love your work you really don’t see that as an inconvenience. But, of course, we have a time when we are synched as well.

JEFF: You start to find your rhythms, your cadences for these kinds of things, so it’s like, “I have a 9 PM meeting once a week, and that becomes okay.” To some extent the 9 to 5 workday is arbitrary. [laughing] It could be 7 to 3 or 6 to 2. Or we could work over nights if we were nocturnal beings. You kind of find your rhythms around these things and I think those happen company to company relationship to relationship within companies, but it is certainly a redefinition of what we think of as the conventional workday sometimes.

EGOR: I think it really depends on your job role, being a customer support rep, or customer success. You got to be there at certain hours to be there for customers to ask you questions, but for a lot of other roles I actually believe that it’s much better for the employee to choose their own time so that they don’t feel that work is pushing on them. Also, I’m a strong believer in a 20 hour work week.

JEFF: Interesting.

EGOR: Don’t just sit there and try to figure out I’ve got three more hours to kill. What do I do? Free up that space for your mind and actually have everyone work at their fullest capacity, and of course, it’s very difficult to be 100% productive for five hours. Two hours is great. So maybe an hour for clearing up your inbox and then another hour for setting strategy and actually two hours of being super productive. For me, personally, it’s definitely sprints. Developers work in sprints. They work very hard and take a pause. I do exactly the same thing, but with my daily routine at work. So, I work a maximum in batches of two hours. Say if I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for more than two hours I know I have to stop even if I’m feeling really inspired, I just have to stop because it’s physiologically straining and also to kind of break my day up. So, typically I do two hours in the morning, starting at 7, then I take a break, have my breakfast, and then after that I do another 2 hours. So, by 12 I’m done with half a day. So, that’s the best way of doing it. I think the worst pattern would be to work on and off for 18 hours, early morning to night. That’s very challenging.

JEFF: Yeah. And people burn out and ultimately there’s a productivity loss. I think micromanagement is not compatible with remote work. You need to move to a more results oriented way of looking at things, both as the worker and as the [laughing] manager, right? It’s like “did you get things done today?” “Were you productive today?” “Why weren’t you productive today?” Rather than, “did you work 8 hours straight today?” Because my analysis of myself when I had a collocated job was that in an 8 hour workday I was usually lucky to have 2 hours of productive work. It’s just hard to measure, but the results are easier to measure. Ultimately are things getting done. Are we getting our objective accomplished?

EGOR: Absolutely. Sometimes just doing four hours a week may produce better results than working a lot. We all know that working many hours doesn’t make you successful. Working hard doesn’t mean working a lot of hours. I have seen a lot of interesting exercises within remote team cultures that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the corporate world, but they can be applied. There’s a lot of interesting tests that can be done in the remote work fashion.

JEFF: (44:52) What have you seen?

EGOR: For example, I mentioned we would hire somebody who would be on the brink of resigning in the next year or two. That’s something unusual. Also, if I would be, “Jeff I have a message for you.” That message is actually empty in itself so I have to express my message in full because I know in the remote work setting maybe you’ll see that message and be like, “okay, what is the message Jeff?” and by the time you see that you’ll be like, “oh, well, now I’ll mention that.” So, I think that effectiveness of communication and efficiency can be learned from the way it’s done in remote teams. I’ve seen much more flexibility in job titles, so being able to take on the role or being essentially an octopus and keeping your fingers at the same time in many areas, isn’t a bad thing. For example, when a server crashes in a company that has a tech product, your inbox is going to be flooded and the support team is going to be unable to answer all those. If you have somebody that’s closely related to them, for example, customer success or maybe sales that also are full with facing customer people and have them trained and being able to put on a different suit in the area of the company.

JEFF: This syndication idea I think is easy to refine and rework people. It’s not like they need to go to a different office where the phones are, they’re in their same space. It’s easy for people to be malleable and jump in and help. Collaboration. I think remote work is really just great for collaboration. Initially, it’s difficult. It feels more difficult to collaborate. It feels like I think for a lot of companies they assume that collaboration is going to be more difficult in a remote working environment, and I’m not sure that I exactly disagree with them. It is difficult. [laughing] but once you can figure out how to squeeze that collaboration and communication through the pipes you’ve got a magical thing, because you could do it anywhere with anyone, at any time to some extent, and it becomes a really amazing tool for a company to have.

EGOR: With some skill I think you just become a better communicator full stop. You learn how to write sentences that make sense, which verbally something may sound great b the water cooler but once you actually try to put that down in writing you really have to give it some thought. Of course, it’s a prerequisite that remote workers should have but it’s something that you can develop while being a remote worker as well.

JEFF: It’s interesting to see companies transitioning to remote and I’m sure that we’re going to have all sorts of stories over the next couple of years of all these companies that were pushed into working remotely, that people are discovering the sarcasm that they used to use verbally with people doesn’t really work over Slack. [laughing]

EGOR: Oh yeah. I mean look, again, there are companies who are saying emojis are actually going to be a company policy. There’s no way for me to see your mood so please indicate using an emoji. Use video by default. Don’t come into work if you’ve got a bad hair day. That’s another thing actually I haven’t experienced in the corporate world and I spent quite a few years in London working companies there where, nobody cares about how you feel you just go in, unless you’re like blue color then there’s something wrong with you, you’re going to go back home. But mentally it can be very challenging and when you know that your culture and your managers allow you to not coming to work if you’re not feeling like you’re going to be at your best and just don’t come in, that really releases a lot of stress.

JEFF: (49:36) Do you feel like there’s any of this stuff that’s happening now. I get this feeling that there’s a lot of things that people think is happening right now with the pandemic that is remote work that is not really remote work. [laughing] I don’t know how to explain it.

EGOR: That has been forced and imposed on them.

JEFF: Exactly. That people feel like they’re actually evaluating remote work, but it’s not really what remote work is really like, because people are forced into it. People are not thinking it out ahead of times, it’s not intentional. Peoples’ kids are home. They think that it’s a microcosm of what working remotely would be like, but it’s not.

EGOR: I think it’s really important to be real and accept the fact that the future of work is not 100% remote, it’s going to be hybrid and it may be my point of view, but it may actually pan out to be that way from the majority of companies. So, to have as an employee, an option to opt out from office work, if my environment at home is providing that, is amazing. Equally it’s amazing to be told that “if you want to come into our beautiful office and use the vending machine there, you’re totally welcome to do that.” So, given the option, because definitely not everyone first of all is in that environment but also just there may be an extreme extrovert [laughing] and they need to be around people.

JEFF: [laughing] Yeah. It’d be interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m really curious. But it really has changed the game around talking about remote work.

EGOR: Absolutely.

JEFF: It used to be this thing that was at the edge, and was cutting edge, and idealistic, and now it’s pragmatic, practical and messy, [laughing] which is okay.

EGOR: I can’t help but feel that the world is catching up and unfortunately it had to do that due to this massive tragedy that happened globally. But I still feel a lot of companies have embraced it and now have changed their policies, they could’ve actually done that earlier. It was just at the moment an excuse to figure out what their policies are like. So, I do think the world was meant to catch up at one point but didn’t think it was going to be everyone at once, at the same time.

JEFF: So, let’s talk about your conference and conferences in general. (52:46) What does the future of conferences look like? What do remote conferences look like now and in the future?

EGOR: So, we had to postpone our events because it was scheduled for the end of April in Texas, and Texas was one of the states that declared a state of emergency, so we pulled a force majeure and postponed it along with many other conferences. We postponed ours until September thinking that due to all the optimistic projections, things are going to normalize much quicker and they actually did. So, at the moment we’re here two or more months ahead already and the situation hasn’t really gotten any better so there are many more events that have been postponed to next year now, as opposed to end of year. Many events that were scheduled for autumn, and these are large events. I’m talking Miss World Beauty Pageant, the UN Climate Change conference. There are approximately one massive event every three hours that comes out in the news as being postponed to 2021. So, I think the approximate future for live events is very, very bleak, so 2020 is going to be a very bad, bad couple of quarters for the event industry. At the same time many conference organizers have tried virtual conferencing. Some of them are still on the fence and not sure what that’s like and don’t understand how that works, but those that have tried it have certainly seen the potential and we were one of those. So, funny enough, our topic prior to the COVID live conferences, build and scale your remote teams, it kind of relates to not being together under one roof.

JEFF: [laughing] Right. And there’s always this irony to holding a physical conference about remote work.

EGOR: Oh, tell me about it.

JEFF: Yeah, but on the other hand, even with remote work there’s a lot of value to getting together in person at times.

EGOR: That’s what we always say. We say that face to face conversations, in person contact, are just not irreplaceable in any shape or form and for the same reason I think the world in the future is going to be hybrid, it’s impossible to fully replace that. There’s a very famous product that a lot of big conferences use called Bizzabo and they are an amazing team that runs a lot of survey data on the state of the event industry, and they actually just ran a big survey last week with a very large pool of conference organizers from all over the world, and 98% of them said that virtual conferences don’t replace live events. So live events still have a very, very big place to play, not only in companies marketing budgets but also just in connecting the world and educating the world across all industries. So, they will spring back. It looks like what’s happening, and I think that’s actually going to be a long-term strategy is that in 2021 when live events come back, they’re going to be mostly hybrid. So, a lot of people are still going to be afraid of traveling and getting into planes and big airports, so they’ll try to opt in for livestream process, whereas previously those livestream processes would’ve been very simple where you just have access to a private link and you can see the cameraman, walk around the conference and have a close up of what’s happening on the stage, etc. But with the opportunity that virtual conference platforms offer, it’s actually going to be possible to run simultaneously your conference offline and online, and that makes it a hybrid conference, and that’s something that we’re thinking about.

JEFF: When we think about an online conference we think about a webinar and it tends to be a one way, it could be a YouTube video and you sit on your couch [laughing] with your computer on your lap and watch the “conference”. But there are a lot of pieces of a conference that that’s missing, right? There are in-person conferences that work a lot that way too. You come in and it’s corporate(y) and people aren’t socializing and talking to each other and there are people that lecture, and then maybe it’s a one day thing and then people leave, and there’s not a whole lot of social aspect to it. But I don’t feel like that’s a very good [laughing] in-person conference and it’s not exactly what I want to replicate online. (57:59) What are you thinking about in terms of trying to bring the conferences online? What does an online conference experience look like?

EGOR: I thought that it’s just going to be a bunch of webinars and people are gonna be mostly quiet and just absorbing the content. We were very surprised as to how our event ran. I think a lot of it depended on the platform, that where you run the event.

JEFF: Yeah, absolutely.

EGOR: We had an opportunity for people to talk to each other and network and have these one on one video conversations as well as keep an eye on the stage and so there was actually an atmosphere of a real event that was created there. Yes, you don’t really have this feeling of being in the room, but because you are so absorbed into the screen at what’s happening there, you really are teleported along with the rest of the people into this bubble where you’re all sharing a similar experience, and actually there are many advantages of virtual events that virtual events possess and live events don’t. You can be in two places at once for example. That’s the most basic one.

JEFF: Even a back chat, back channel kind of thing is a thing that doesn’t happen at a lot of conferences where you can be commenting and posting links to things that people are talking about as they’re talking about them and stuff like that.

EGOR: Yeah. There are lower barriers to participate. There are a lot of advantages but with the technology developing so rapidly to accommodate for this need of virtual conferences, because of the live events being cancelled due to COVID, they are coming out with amazing features, and you are able to run three, four track conferences with AI tools to tell you who they think you should meet out of all the registrants for these. One of the cool observations that I had is if you are at a conference and you want to find somebody from a specific company like AWeber, you’re going to have to walk around and look into peoples badges, or maybe if they have an event you can find them that way, but here you literally just search for the person you need and you find them, so it’s easier to connect with people I think. The issue is maintaining those relationships for more than five minutes.

JEFF: Even the connect, just a dynamic precedence, a culture. I’ve certainly found myself both walking around conferences looking at peoples badges to see who I would want to connect with? Who is interesting? And also just talking to people randomly and then realizing, Oh, we’ve talked online, and that on the one hand there’s some serendipity to it which feels magical, but also I just as often left conferences feeling like I didn’t connect with anyone and feel frustrated because I went to the conference with several questions and hoping to meet some people and I didn’t get my questions answered and I didn’t meet some people.

EGOR: I think it can definitely also help introverts who are a little bit slow into getting their pocket full of business cards just because they’re thinking of an entry line that would open up the conversation. Online it just makes things easier for them. We had an event, Remote 8, and we didn’t want to monetize on the COVID and so we did a free event and we collected money for the Red Cross. So, anyone who signed up could just donate. We sent $5,000 to the Red Cross. At that event we had random video networking. It was basically like speed dating but video.

JEFF: (1:02:20) How’d that work?

EGOR: It was mixed opinions. Some people didn’t like the random part. Other people loved it because they didn’t think they needed to speak to that person at that one point or they didn’t realize that the company the person represents actually can be beneficial in a certain angle to them. I think we probably want to do half random but mostly targeted, nevertheless. But it was amazing for the fact that a record number of conversations was 45 video calls, and those were all video calls that are going to be emailed with contact details to that attendee who had those 45 video calls with the contact details of those people. Now, imagine a live conference during a day. If you have 45 meaningful conversations and you walk away with the contacts, that’s worth a value of three conferences maybe.

JEFF: Yeah. At any given conference if you have five meaningful contacts; contacts implies business card networking, and I don’t mean it like that. It’s more of a human connection thing. If you just sit next to someone and it’s like, “oh, you’re an interesting person. This is interesting,” you would never get 45 at any conference.

EGOR: No. That was very surprising. The person was very happy because those connections were valuable, but honestly I never believed in virtual events. The truth is that I never wanted to sell any livestream process, you know, you gotta be there, especially being in a remote workspace. We were saying, “just disconnect from your computer, fly in and meet people in person.”

JEFF: And especially when you’re meeting in Bali [laughing] it’s tough to create a virtual version of Bali.

EGOR: Yeah. The environment has a direct impact on the value of networking. If you’re sitting at a sunset just outside the auditorium, that conversation can go into other levels, but maybe Bali will be a place where we’ll come back to one day, but for now we’ve cancelled all our live events, including the one we have postponed for September. We’re just not going to risk it. Even if we are going to be able to pull off a live event at the end of this year, the likelihood of it being attended by half the attendees we want is going to be very high, so we’re going all into the virtual conferencing space. And I’ve completely changed my mind of how I view virtual events.

JEFF: Well, to some extent being forced into it allows a level playing field. We know we’re all doing this, we’re all committed to it, and we can really explore the virtual version of all of this. It’s funny, maybe not to you, but running remote, I was slated to speak at the event when it was happening in April, and as it got postponed and now cancelled, it got cancelled due to this pandemic, however the pandemic is causing us all to think about remote work and rethink remote work, and I think that there’s probably no better time to be having a conference about how to do [laughing] remote work than now when it’s really difficult to do a conference about remote work. I think it’s great that you’re doing this online and I have a feeling that when you pick it up again in person it’s going to be even more popular an event than it has been.

EGOR: We’re definitely not trying to recreate the atmosphere that we have running remote live, we’re simply doing a whole new event. So, running remote online is a different animal, and running remote live is going to have a much bigger place to be now for all those online attendees to have an opportunity to finally meet in person. It also enables us to build an online community which is something amazing.

JEFF: And that’s the thing with all of this stuff. You have to break it down to it’s component parts. What is a conference? What do we want to get out of a conference? How can we try to replicate that online? That’s the best way to do it, rather than just saying, “well, there’s aspects of it where people are never going to get any networking online so let’s just forget that and we’ll just make a YouTube video”, and I don’t think that really takes advantage of the potential of what can be done online, so I think it’s great that you’re a little bit dubious about online conferences in general. I think it’s great that you’re rethinking it. I think it’s great that you’re embracing it.

EGOR: It’s like with remote work. The only way to fully test it is to go all in for a short while, so we’re doing that for the next two quarters, and we’ll see what comes out of it. I’m pretty hopeful and I think a lot of it relies on the quality of technology that’s now available to host these events which weren’t available six months ago. So, very excited.

JEFF: And, runningremote.com, if you haven’t found the link already, is where you can find all this stuff. (1:08:08) Egor, if people wanted to follow-up with you about any of this stuff where should they get in touch with you?

EGOR: Runningremote.com, also my LinkedIn, I’m always there so you can just search Egorrunningremote on LinkedIn and you’ll hit my profile right there.

JEFF: Cool. Well, thanks so much for coming on and talking to us. I’m glad we managed to coordinate this across our time zones. [laughing]

EGOR: Thank you Jeff. It was an interesting conversation on a topic that I really love.

JEFF: Me too. Great. Alright. Well thanks again.

EGOR: Thank you too. See you at one of our next events hopefully.

JEFF: Take care.

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