On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Mark Warnquist from InShare on his insights on the essential role of remote leadership.
Some Conversation Highlights:
The direct personal engagement, the personal touch is almost nonexistent. And that was really important for everyone, leaders and those that were led. I think what you also saw was just over the last few years, and certainly the last couple years with COVID, just the tech advances and just the need to leverage tech that was probably available, but not used very much, has just become the norm. And the third thing I’d say is the quickness with which all of us accepted flexible working arrangements, which I think is fabulous.
There was a time that I think we all remember where if you were working at home, usually you were ill or something like that. And if your daughter or your son interrupted a phone call, it would be taboo, but that’s the norm now, and it’s fun. And so those are some of the things that I see. And I think the transition hasn’t been easy for many, but I think it can still be very, very rewarding to work and lead in that kind of environment.
Tune in for the full conversation.
Listening time: 30 minutes
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Music: This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one over-complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Mark on from InShare. We’re going to talk about our insights on the essential role of remote leadership, so essentially we’re going to be talking about how essential the role of remote leadership is and what insights Mark has from himself and his customers. So Mark, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and InShare?
Mark Warnquist: I sure will. William, thank you. Thanks for having us. I’m Mark Warnquist. I am the CEO and co-founder of InShare. And my background is, I’ve had a lot of roles in remote leadership, but I’ve led teams across the country, across the United States, across Canada, and then globally with Uber. Our company is a small insurance company. We call ourselves a managing general agency, and we’re an outgrowth of our experience at Uber, founded about two and a half years ago or so, and we are a 100% virtual company.
William Tincup: And RecruitingDaily is as well, 100% remote. So not a lot of changes when COVID first hit, but all my friends, not so much. So what did you see from just your clients and your friends and peers that [inaudible 00: 02: 06] the transition of that office culture, et cetera, to a remote, and even 100% remote leadership?
Mark Warnquist: Yeah, I think we saw a lot of things. The direct personal engagement, the personal touch is almost nonexistent. And that was really important for everyone, leaders and those that were led. I think what you also saw was just over the last few years, and certainly the last couple years with COVID, just the tech advances and just the need to leverage tech that was probably available, but not used very much, has just become the norm. And the third thing I’d say is the quickness with which all of us accepted flexible working arrangements, which I think is fabulous.
Mark Warnquist: There was a time that I think we all remember where if you were working at home, usually you were ill or something like that. And if your daughter or your son interrupted a phone call, it would be taboo, but that’s the norm now, and it’s fun. And so those are some of the things that I see. And I think the transition hasn’t been easy for many, but I think it can still be very, very rewarding to work and lead in that kind of environment.
William Tincup: So let’s talk about the transition real quick before we get to some of the other insights. Why do you perceive that it’s difficult for some leaders? I mean, you’ve been doing remote for a long time, so you’ve probably gotten past this transition, but you see it in others. Why do you think it’s difficult to transition? Because you see, and we read a lot of the same articles, that people want to go back to the office, or this concept of return to the office, et cetera. Outside of someone being at a cash register, okay, that’s different, but what’s the reluctance, or what do you think are some of the roadblocks for leaders?
Mark Warnquist: I think it has to do with the ability to do a couple things. Communicate effectively. I actually think that it has to do with a sense and a need to control, and to control the how as well as the what. And I get that. And then there are plenty of challenges, frankly, with remote leadership, like trying to brainstorm and build out strategies and those sorts of things. It’s difficult to do. I also think that there’s the absence, or there can be the absence of collisions, which create great ideas.
Mark Warnquist: And I think there are ways to work around that. So I could see for some types of workers, frankly, and some work environments, where a heavy price is put on the collisions and the strategies and those sorts of things. And so there are a lot of good reasons, I guess, to try to bring people back to the office, at least for a part of the week, to encourage that. But beyond that, some of the reasons I think are less good, and those are the need to control personally. Let’s put it that way.
William Tincup: Right. Yeah, it’s interesting that you bifurcated the how and the what. I’d really more thought about the how, and just how work gets done, because historically, a lot of our management leadership styles have come out of World War II and command and control military kind of control. And there’s a lot of good things there. I don’t want to disparage anything that’s come from that, because there’s actually been a lot of innovation, a lot of cool things. But I hadn’t really thought about the what, and that’s a really interesting concept, is them wanting to control the what, too. And especially as you bring those collisions together, and the happy accidents that happen in the hallway or the copier or whatever are in conference rooms, it’s harder to get… I won’t say it’s harder. It’s different. I shouldn’t say harder. It’s different to get that on a Zoom call.
Mark Warnquist: I agree. I agree. I would actually say it is harder, at least in the beginning until you get used to and have a couple tricks up your sleeve and a couple of strategies for how you do that. We’re all used to the conference rooms, and I think back on some of the times in conference rooms and the drudgery of sitting there. But there were great things that happened from that. They could still happen. And I think they could be better, frankly, in a remote environment if coupled with a few other strategies.
Mark Warnquist: But you’re right about the what. You separate the how and the what. I have personally, as a remote leader in a fully virtual company like yourselves, the how should not be important, frankly. Whether you do something in the morning or the evening or whatever, it should not be important. And I think if anything, COVID has taught us that in the last couple years. But what, still focused on outcome, on value, on what needs to happen, but frankly, you don’t need to be next to somebody looking them in the eye personally to make sure that that happens.
William Tincup: What do you think about vulnerability? And I’ll say it kind of framing it up this way. Sometimes what I would see historically is, you get away from the office and you have a personal experience with somebody else, maybe at lunch or whatever, and they’d tell you a little bit more about their life and what’s going on outside of work. And it was a way to bond, a way to connect with another human being, and a way to understand them in a little bit more of a three dimensionality than maybe just their work self. If I have that right, how do we do that in a remote world, and/or is that even important?
Mark Warnquist: I think it’s critically important. And I think fully remote is pretty second best to at least having that touch point once in a while. How do you do it? I think you find time for remote check-ins, and you find time to talk about the kinds of things that you and I might do over a bar stool or at Starbucks, but we’re doing it through a computer. It feels a little awkward at first, but you get used to it, I think, over time. At our company, we have virtual happy hours, and I know many different companies do. And it’s a little awkward at first, but we get used to it, and you get to know people a little bit better. We make time to have fun virtually.
Mark Warnquist: And we’ve had to find ways to do that. We had a trivia contest not too long ago. We’re only 20 people in our company, but 20 person trivia contest broken into teams and all that kind of thing. It’s important to do that, and it’s important to bond. To be honest with you, William, what I like to do is blend, if you can, a bit of the personal with the remote. So getting together, even if it’s once a quarter or once semiannually or something like that, or getting some parts of the team together, if you can, and if the health and safety allows for it, is that good bond that then can be reinforced remotely.
William Tincup: Right. Right, right, right. Right. That’s the periodic retreats or sales kickoffs, or any of those kind of important types of capstone events. Still have those, but now there’s even more of an emphasis of having something like that, talking about the business, and also talking about connecting with each other, putting faces with names and all that other stuff. I love that. It’s interesting, the remote happy hours. I’ve told people, because I’ve attended a bunch, and I’m like, “It’s not like I’m drinking alone now.” I feel much better about myself because there’s other people on the screen. I feel like this is almost normal.
Mark Warnquist: But you also learn, you’re not in a pub or a Starbucks environment. You get to people’s children-
William Tincup: That’s right.
Mark Warnquist: … and you learn a little… I think you learn more about people when they’re a little bit more relaxed in home.
William Tincup: 100%.
Mark Warnquist: So there are advantages to that. I’m sure you found the first couple are a bit awkward-
William Tincup: Oh yeah.
Mark Warnquist: … but you get used to things, and I think we’re all very used to that now.
William Tincup: So the check-ins thing, what I like is, at least as other leaders have described, it is a conversation with no outcomes. So it’s like, “Listen, we’ve got work,” and those conversations. There’s going to be a bunch of them about outcomes. Okay, yeah, let’s separate that. This is going to be a conversation with no outcomes. Just, “How are you doing?”
Mark Warnquist: Exactly.
William Tincup: “How’s your physical health? How’s your mental health? How’s your financial health? How’s your wellbeing? How are you doing?”
Mark Warnquist: And that is so important. It is very easy to miss cues over Zoom. [crosstalk 00: 12: 13]-
William Tincup: Right. Oh, gosh, yes.
Mark Warnquist: Right. How is somebody feeling? How would you know they’re reticent to tell you that something’s going on in their lives with their children or their health or something else? And so you have to be, I think, more attentive, check in more often, and look for those cues. And those cues are not just personal cues, but also morale cues, whether they’re misaligned with a vision. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t take long for that to happen if you’re fully connected. So I think those check-ins are more important than they ever were, in my view, now that we’re essentially fully remote, or for those that are.
William Tincup: Yeah. And we can talk about different things. Pre-COVID, maybe even five years ago, it was really difficult to talk about mental health. It was really not just taboo, it was just almost unheard of in a lot of corporations. Now that’s easy. I mean, you can literally talk about it with yourself, with your family. It’s just so much easier, which I find fantastic and good for everyone. But I love your take on cues and not getting… Because people can put on a fake smile.
Mark Warnquist: They can.
William Tincup: They can make it through a 30-minute Zoom call, and you have no idea what’s going on outside of that 30-minute Zoom call, but for the 30 minute zoom call, it’s like, yeah, they seem fantastic. And in person, that’s harder to do. You know what I mean? You can sit across from the conference table, but it’s harder to pull it off for 30 minutes or an hour.
Mark Warnquist: That’s very true. That’s very true. And it can show up in different ways, too, these cues. It’s not the eyes rolling in one direction or another, or looking down, or whatever it is, or just folks that are looking tired or whatever it is. I don’t know. And I agree with you. It’s easier to talk about just about everything. It’s easier to talk about the challenges at home, the pressures at home, children because they’re there behind you, family members that are struggling with COVID or something else. I just find that it’s… You got to be careful, of course. As a leader, you can’t intrude in areas that you shouldn’t, but I think there’s greater opportunities than there were in the past to actually engage at that level. It was almost taboo, as I think you said, when you’re in a strict office environment.
William Tincup: Well, let’s do some insights into the essential role of remote leadership. You’ve done it. Again, you’ve you’ve seen it done, and you’ve done it a bunch yourself, so you’ve got some dos and don’ts, and maybe even some tips for folks. So let’s just start with, if you and I were building a business school class curriculum for students in their 20s about this topic.
William Tincup: What would we take them through that would basically help them understand… Okay, you understand leadership’s important. Great. You understand remote is important. Fantastic. These are two things that are important going forward. How do you blend the two together and be successful all the way around, both as a leader, manager, employee, candidates, everyone? How do you effectively do that? And this isn’t rank order or any of that type of stuff. Just, what would be some of the things that we would put in our curriculum?
Mark Warnquist: I would put an emphasis first on communication. And of course, as a leader, that’s part of being an effective leader. Sorry for the noise in the background there.
William Tincup: No, you’re good.
Mark Warnquist: But what I would say is that, what’s important to communicate is context more than anything. It’s about, what’s our purpose? What’s our mission? Why are we doing things? How does it all come together? That happens, I think, more naturally in an environment where you’re in a conference room or you’re meeting one-on-one with people. It’s pretty easy to do, and it’s part of leadership. And this is part of leadership here, too, in a remote sense, but just an over-indexing and emphasis on those things so that people don’t become disconnected over time. So it’s taking communication skills to the next notch and making sure that, in addition to all the standard and basic and wonderful communication skills that leaders need to have, that focus on context and the why is more important than ever. That would be number one.
William Tincup: So the why is very interesting, because we dealt with control earlier in the how and what, and the why in communication and context in particular. Now we’re peeling the onion for them, and we’re doing it because we’re not in the same conference room, and we need to do it more frequently. We need to do it in a different medium. We need to do it in different ways, and probably the velocity has to change. But explaining the why and kind of reiterating the why. In case you’re ever wondering, here’s why we’re doing this. And those whys can change, which I think is good for employees to understand when the whys change. It’s okay when you’re navigating something that the whys change. It’s not okay if they don’t know.
Mark Warnquist: Yeah. I’ve found, William, that my own experience, and I’ve learned, like many of us, that I think you learn more and more vividly from failures or issues than from great outcomes. I think initially, I would take my standard distributed team, remote leadership approach that I had in the past, and I’d bring it to this fully virtual, fully remote environment. And what I found is, after a few months, that people that I just assumed knew the whys and how what they were doing was connected to others, it was off.
Mark Warnquist: It wasn’t there, and it caused me to reevaluate and rethink how often and how much I communicate on the topic of, the why is also about alignment. It’s not just about purpose and mission, but how what you’re doing is important, and how it impacts the company, and how it connects with what somebody else is doing. That latter part, by the way, how it connects with somebody else, is probably as important as anything else, because everybody’s separate now, so that’s not obvious, or less obvious, anyway.
William Tincup: Yeah, it’s giving them insight. It’s funny. In a basic communications class, they teach you that in any communication, there’s a sender and receiver. And one of the things that I’ve found with remote is, once you’ve communicated something to somebody, you ask them, “Hey, what’d you hear?”
Mark Warnquist: Great point.
William Tincup: Just so they then restate what you just said, and if they say it a little bit differently or if it’s a little bit off, it’s like, “Okay, good, glad we… Here’s what I meant. I should have used different words. Here’s what I meant when I said that. This is why. Now, what’d you hear?” And it’s like you’re constantly validating to make sure that they heard what you wanted them to hear. And again, that watersheds into the people that they talk to, like the telephone game. So that if you get that one right, then you have a chance of it actually going through and getting through to other people in a correct way.
Mark Warnquist: That’s right.
William Tincup: I love the bit on alignment, because the connecting of the dots, as you said, for people, that’s a sense of purpose. People want to always be grounded like they’re doing something that means something. This isn’t a TPS report. They’re doing something that people are looking at, that they care about, that’s value, that’s valuable, that’s valued by the organization, et cetera. And connecting those dots, leaders have to go even deeper into their well and communicate context and alignment of all of those things.
Mark Warnquist: Very true. In an office environment, alignment is absolutely essential, and it’s essential in a virtual environment, obviously, but it can be one of those things that’s lost the quickest if you don’t emphasize it, because people aren’t connecting as often with direct personal cues. And I’ve found some people that are true rock stars feeling a little lost. And frankly, that was my wake-up call that I need to over-index on that.
William Tincup: Oh, that’s interesting. Have you run into any things that you either shouldn’t do in remote leadership, or that they just kind of fail and you have to do it differently?
Mark Warnquist: Yeah. Again, [crosstalk 00: 21: 47]-
William Tincup: [crosstalk 00: 21: 47] hard yes.
Mark Warnquist: Yes, yes, definitely.
William Tincup: Stop.
Mark Warnquist: I’d say that brainstorming exercises are a real challenge and need to be done very, very thoughtfully, and I would argue differently. I still think it’s second best to direct personal engagement. So those quarterly meetings that we talked about earlier, that’s a great opportunity to make sure that strategically we’re aligned and we’re thinking about certain things. But if you are going to do that, and you have to do it, and I have to do it, we have to do it in our company, I think you need to break it apart a bit more. There needs to be a bit more preparation here to cause more collisions, is what you’re really trying to do. And we all know that you also have to bring out voices. That’s something that good leaders always do, because you want diversity of thought.
Mark Warnquist: And of course, as you’re thinking about that, it’s just a bit more of a challenge when you’re doing it purely remotely. What I’ve found is, if I was planning a session that might be… I don’t know, let’s pick a length… 90 minutes, that it’s probably better to break it into three 30s and do a bit of preparation, just hit it hard, get people to collaborate using Google Docs or whatever it is so there’s some preparation upfront, and people know where others are coming from at least a little bit. They’ve had some chance to prepare. Because it’s just a little bit harder. The other thing I’ve found… I don’t know if you see this, but it is a heck of a lot easier for people to talk over each other on Zoom than they would [crosstalk 00: 23: 41].
William Tincup: Oh, yeah. Oh my gosh. It’s almost normal, or at least we’ve normalized it. In a conference room, you really wouldn’t. Someone would talk, and you’d make eye contact or raise your hand. You wouldn’t talk over them. But on Zoom, and it’s a free-for-all.
Mark Warnquist: It is a free-for-all. And that part’s really frustrating to me because I find, A, we’ve kind of allowed a certain element of impoliteness to happen-
William Tincup: [crosstalk 00: 24: 19].
Mark Warnquist: … to become the norm, and that’s not good. And frankly, it’s the person that talks the most, almost a verbal bully, and that’s not good. And so-
William Tincup: You’re rewarding people that are loud-
Mark Warnquist: Yeah.
William Tincup: … and aggressive. You can have the best culture in the world, but if you’re allowing your Zoom calls to be taken over by people that are just loud or just want to talk or hear themselves talk and bully, then you’re not pulling out those… I loved how you phrased that, pulling out those voices. I’ve seen that actually 100 years ago in market research behind the window at an ad advertising agency. A guy that ran market research and he had a focus group, and he was just an expert at pulling out things, little, just wonderful gems out of each person.
William Tincup: So if somebody was talking too much, he’d go, “Thomas, that’s great. We’ve got everything we need right now from you. Linda, we want to hear your thought.” He was just a master at doing that, just great at pulling those voices out. But I love that you use that phrase, pulling out voices. I think that’s super, super important. I love the note on decorum. Maybe we need to reinstitute some rules, maybe not Robert’s rules, but just some type of rules to how we’re going to do this. Because I think there’s another element that’s impacting the brainstorming and pulling out voices outside of people taking over, is Zoom exhaustion.
Mark Warnquist: For sure.
William Tincup: Right? People are just tired. So they’ll get on a Zoom call, it’s like, “Okay, let’s brainstorm.”
Mark Warnquist: Yeah. I mean, we all get tired of that, of Zoom fatigue. I think one thing you can do here to pull out voices is to politely, but maybe a little forcibly as a leader, just remind people about a set of rules. And it’s not Robert’s rules, but I would do it very casually like, “Guys, I’m guilty of this, and that is talking over others and maybe not giving enough room and space for others to talk. So I’m going to make it a point not to do this as we get into the session. I just hope and would ask that everyone do that.” And it lasts for at least 10 minutes, maybe. [inaudible 00: 26: 52].
William Tincup: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. My brother worked at a consulting firm 100 years ago, and they had a rule, and it was from the CEO all the way straight down. And whenever somebody was in a… This was in the conference room, but whenever somebody was on a tangent and people needed to stop the tangent, they’d just put up their fingers like rabbit ears, and they’d go, “Rabbit ears. Rabbit ears. Okay, you’re going down a rabbit hole.” And then that person wouldn’t take offense. They’d just go, “Okay, cool. Change the topic.” It was understood. “You know what? I was into a rant, or I was into my own self and going down this path. Okay, cool.” Done. Reset button. And it was okay. And it was from the CEO. You could do this to the CEO, and they were like, “All right, cool. Yeah, totally get it.”
Mark Warnquist: Ours, it’s not rabbit ears. Ours is squirrel. [crosstalk 00: 27: 44]-
William Tincup: No.
Mark Warnquist: And so we call squirrel, and they do call squirrel on me because I [crosstalk 00: 27: 50]-
William Tincup: Oh, that’s genius. I love that. And we all need that check. I mean, that’s all of us, everybody, especially in this environment. All right, last question before we roll out. What do you see… I say evolution. That’s probably not the right word, but what do you see in remote leadership next year? How do you think that either this evolves or devolves or moves forward, or any changes that you see in 2022?
Mark Warnquist: I think it becomes a hybrid. I’m hopeful, of course, that the world returns to some sense of normalcy. I think that the hybrid… And by hybrid, I mean that there are certain work activities and things that are done in person, and there’s flexibility around that because those that can’t or won’t or shouldn’t of course are exempt from that and not required to do that. And you find other ways, because flexibility’s going to be the watch word and a key principle going forward.
Mark Warnquist: But a hybrid where you maximize remote leadership, you maximize the flexibility that comes with that. But for key events, key moments, we bring people together, or at least some of those people together. Whether that’s the office that’s two days a week, that’s kind of the concept, I think, there. I think that concept, I think it becomes less frequent than that, frankly. I don’t think you need two days a week. It’s heavy remote leadership with, once in a while, that direct personal touch to make sure folks are engaged and aligned. That’s what I see.
William Tincup: Yeah. I love that. What the Brits would say is bespoke, right? They’d say, “Listen as needed.” And again, it’s not forced. It doesn’t feel forced, but it’s still, that’s human connection. We can all get together. We can have a human connection. There’s work involved, but we’ll also have some fun and connect on another level. Mark, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time.
Mark Warnquist: Thank you, William. Always a pleasure.
William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.