21 mins read time

German Angst and Virtual Teams. Why virtual teams actually work, even for German’s

On this episode of the Virtual Frontier, we’re joined by Florian Michalik. Florian is the CEO & Founder of Team of Talents.

Florian is an expert on New Work, Distance Collaboration and Future Leadership. As a pioneer in these areas, he inspires people and organizations with his great keynotes and masterclasses. Virtual collaboration is already a reality in most of today’s companies, but often we are confronted with a lot of uncertainty and no real plan behind these “new” ways of working together.

Here comes Florian in with his inspiring knowledge and great tools, to turn distant collaboration within virtual teams into predictable success.

Listen to the episode below:

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Listen to the rest of the episodes of the Virtual Frontier on our blog.


CHRIS REEVES

Hello and welcome to the virtual frontier, the podcast about virtual teams created by virtual team. I’m Chris and I’m part of the team here at flash hub. On today’s episode, we have Florian Michalik. Florian is the CEO and founder of team of talent. Florian is an expert on new work this in collaboration and future leadership. So here is Episode 14 of the virtual frontier featuring our guest, Florian Michalik.

DANIEL GUAPER

Hello, and welcome everybody to our new podcast episode on virtual frontier. Our guest today is Florian. Florian is a expert and evangelist in New Work and the training of distributed and remote teams. So welcome very much, Florian. And maybe you want to talk a little bit about the background from very coming. And what’s your actually you’re doing in this interesting feud of New Work and virtual teams?

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yes, sure. Thank you, Daniel. Thank you for having me at this episode.Yeah, my name is Florian Michalik. And actually, I’m yeah, I was stumbling into virtual teams when I began my professional career back in year 2000. Because one of my very first projects I ever had, I was a junior software developer back at the time, was actually remote projects. And this was an interesting constellation, because we were in Germany, and the developers were in Tunisia and Africa, actually, which is pretty uncommon. And I was not every prepared on doing that, and was really new to that. And what that was the times before, we had, for example, Skype. And that was my beginning with remote teams. And yeah, by the time I started to get used to that, so I’m. My home is pretty much the digital economy. So I worked for digital agencies, as a manager as a project manager and later, as a consultant, I worked for large consultancies, like Accenture and Sapiens, which are where we international and obviously have big, big, big international teams has much of development in India. There are onside teams all over the world for different client locations. Yeah, and pretty much worked with with those teams with those different locations. And actually what what drives me is, by the time I realized when I changed my jobs, for example, that some teams might be where we familar to remote work, there’s it’s no topic at all. For them, it’s we like normal business for them to be remote. While for other teams, it’s a topic, it’s a challenge, even if someone’s working from home for one day, for example, or someone is in a different location. And the rest of the team is in a different location, and of course, with outsourcing projects and teams in overseas, and people struggle, and I tried to find out what the reason could be for that. And why is that that some teams have that advantage, and others do not. And I pretty much got addicted to that topic to find that out. And in all literature, I found some hints but not what’s really the secret and actually how you can reproduce it and how you can learn it as a team. And for the last five years, I got so addicted, that I tried to find my own way, and identify the ways of successful remote teams, and created method and methodology people can learn and it’s called remote agile. And this is what I do now with my own business for the last years, teaching companies and individuals how to work remotely efficiently.

DANIEL GUAPER

Wow, that’s interesting. So we are working with Flash Hub and we are as well a completely virtual company and team with over 150 members, I can understand where we’re from where you come and what you have experienced might on your way. Would you mind to to share like some of your key findings, what when you researched and got addicted to all this?

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yes, sure. Happy to do that. So actually, in my in my point of view, there are three layers which which are important when it comes to remote teams and remote work. So first of all, it’s it’s about task related processes. So for example, if we talk about about software development, it’s pretty easy. Most teams today use for example, Scrum or any other agile methodology, which which defines how you actually work together, how you share your tasks, where where are the interfaces in your work, and where you work together and how the workflow of the team is. And having that defined helps helps the virtual team much in working together. But the second thing is, is the forgotten one. And it’s about what I love to call socio emotional processes, which which is like a nice word for how to team up how to build relationships and maintain relationships and how to see each other as human beings and take time to to know each other, and to group up and to develop team spirits. And, I can share a little off of my most favorite tricks after the afterwards. So but a second, this is the second layer. And third layer is a new kind of leadership in my opinion. So the traditional especially when it’s in Western Europe, and maybe especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we are people are very control addicted sometimes micromanaging and trust is a big topic for us in Germany, obviously. And we tend to distrust sometimes our teams and people without having any bad intention. But but it’s like many of us work here in our culture. And this is not really a good thing. And I think you need a type of new leadership. So you have to develop some new leadership skills. Many of those come from what some people call a future of work or New work, or we-inventing organizations style. So so it’s like a mind shift for some of the leaders.

But I would love to share some some of the tricks as you asked me for the tricks. And so, some of my most favorite things are on that remote socio emotional processes. And when when I talked to two very successful remote teams, and when I observed them, I saw all over the place that they do one thing where we where we often and this is having a type of rituals. So for example, of course, they might have daily stand up meetings, which of course have a short and crisp agenda and should not be used for anything else. But many of them have regular meetings like a weekly meeting. And in those meetings, they include some rituals like icebreaker sessions at the beginning or check in…. One of my most favorite one is from Automaticc is the company behind WordPress. And they are 700 people all over the globe, and have no office at all. And what they love to do is in their weekly meeting, they have a exercise called waks and roses. And it’s about everyone telling one wak so something what was what was what I have struggled with in the last seven days, maybe some private thing or some work related thing, some something what was challenging for me, and they share a rose something we are grateful for something we loved to experience or we liked. And it’s really just about telling that and it’s only like seven or eight minutes in the beginning of that weekly meeting. But at has a huge impact on the bonding of the team and on the team spirits and seeing each other as a human being, and really makes a difference. And this is one thing I observe all over the place and virtual teams having those rituals,

DANIEL GUAPER

Yeah, that’s really important. I found in my recent experience that in a traditional company, you have might those those experiences in rituals feels like happening on a more natural based, let’s say it like that. And in virtual teams on remote teams, you have to organize those human interactions more specific. So it’s not just like, let’s look when there is happening, because most of the things we do virtually, like meetings and everything scheduled, no, but those interesting things about rituals and getting to know each other and have personal talks with peer to peer whatever. So you need to have them out of this schedule , but you need to schedule them in some way. So this is kind of tricky, and you have to plan for it. But it has to happening as well, naturally.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

That’s so true, there’s no way to meet someone randomly on the virtual floor, because we do not have any virtual floor. So maybe you can use Slack or HipChat as a type of virtual floor, but you are so right. So So having that like scheduled and planed. And this is another thing I see. Especially when it comes to Western Europe, culture is taking the time to maintain those relationships. So for many of us, it feels like okay, I have so much work to do. And we all have much work to do. And I can’t take the time for my working time to have a chitchat for example, or having a conversation and in a virtual coffee meeting. So what some people love to do, is having like a virtual water cooler where people meet in like a video meeting once a week for half an hour, for example, and just doing chitchat. And what people don’t see is in actual physical office, we take this time. So we go to the water cooler, we go to the coffee kitchen, we meet on the floor on the hallway, and talk to each other. And even if we plan like half an hour every week for doing that as a ritual, and not that 100% work related. In the end, on one hand, it’s less time than it would be in the physical office. And on the other hand, again, it helps the bond of the team and the team spirits and makes us more productive and i have one client. It was the sales organization actually so non IT and they start that and it was a sales team full of women. So we it was women only. And they started with introducing that virtual coffee connection that works with virtual water cooler once a week. And now they ended by having virtual pajama parties actually, and doing that really as a fun stuff for the whole team. And yeah, we’re really enjoying that.

DANIEL GUAPER

That’s great. I mean, you just have to experience what fits the best for you and your company. But like, as you said, for them that was the pajama party whatever it is But this is a great story.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

So right.

DANIEL GUAPER

What you would think like, we talked already about how to build like those teams up from to remote teams. But how you get to the shift from for traditional company that still is working like in a old fashioned way, so they can start to implement more and more step by step virtual teams or remote teams or remote labor contracts, whatever arrangements for for their employees, how they can get started and get the shift from traditional to virtual or remote?

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So actually, what what what I see first of all, is what hinders what hinders actually companies and and, and leaders doing that. And I think it’s kind of that German angst that that fear of, especially in German speaking language countries, where people, fear like, having a lack of control over the people. So I do not know if you work when you are not here in my office. Actually, what I answer I cannot know if you work if you’re sitting right next to me, because you have your screen, I’ve my screen and it don’t know what you’re actually doing. And I saw many people in my professional career not really working when they were in the office. And so many people working like hell from home or from different locations. So it’s it’s not really, really a concrete and tangible fear. It’s more like a feeling the gut feeling people have. And I see, especially when it comes to that fear, people fear, a lack of communication, and they fear lack of, of knowledge exchange. And actually, this is more realistic. Because I think if you’re used to work in the physical office, and you just send people working from home or hire people 100% remotely and doesn’t matter if they are employed, or if they are freelancers. And you do not change how you how you act and how you work together, you have obviously you will have a lack of exchange and communication because you have to behave differently. And another fear is obviously about team spirit. And this is the same thing. So you will lose team spirit if you do not change. And people working remotely on the other hand, so the team members sometimes fear is that a career killer if I’m not sitting in our global headquarters, but in working from home or sitting in any outpost office somewhere? Or can I get lonely because I’m I lose the connects to my team. And they get enough appreciation, for example, for my work. And what what some people in this is so so, so sad to hear what’s what’s some companies and some people do is they identified those obstacles and challenges and say, Okay, so we don’t do it. But what I say is, let’s find ways to get over that because it’s a great chance. So I myself, there was a time I worked in a city and wanted to change my job to a job, I would love more and had really that that purpose to do something which which is meaningful for me. And there were several companies which are 100% cool. And I would love to work for them. But they were like 500 kilometers away. And I was not willing to move at that time for private reasons. And so I had no chance but to take a job, which was okayish but not my dream job. And on the other hand, if you are an employee, why not hiring people who are really willing to work for you who are really sharing that, that purpose with you? And if they are not willing to move on if those are freelancers, but they are highly engaged, why not considering that by getting over those obstacles? And what can you do so I see two scenarios here. One scenario is if you have a company, most of the time, the company is already working with distributed teams, because the challenges and the mechanisms of virtual teams, occur even if you have several floors in the same building, so it’s it’s the same story, you do not see all of the time to get to get all those little context and tiny information which is in your office room. So you have a distributed team when you have several floors, or even if you have one long floor I have one clients, it’s 80 people on one where we long long long floor and they are half a distributed team already. And it’s it’s not that much difference when it when it comes to to other countries or other offices. Of course, there are some cultural differences which come along and some more use of technology which comes along. But but the the deeper insights, challenges are pretty much the same. So and for those clients or scenarios, I suggest to focus on that social emotional parts of that so to to think about, for example, a team Carter, which is a wonderful thing for existing teams, and even teams working together remotely for 10 years. And I have clients doing that. And when I asked them, for example, what would be for you and appropriate time for answering an internal email, if you’re still sent emails, what is an appropriate time to answer and they should write it down on the cards and show the cards to everyone. And it’s like one person says one hour, and the next one says eight hours and the next one says a week. And they are disappointing each other all of the time because they never talked about that. And when you do a team Carter, you can clarify those simple questions, and how do we want to work together? How want we to communicate? What tools do we use? What’s our working style, so it’s not that much about processes, but general expectations and each other. And this is for scenario one, a wonderful idea to do so where you have an existing distributed team. And if you if your plan to to hire people remotely, can be freelancers or employees 100% or 80%. working from home. What you should do is first of all to talk with the people about or try to find out about their motivation find to try out on shared values and to try to find out their working silence their characteristics. For example, if someone is highly extroverted, I would not recommend doing a 100% work from home job. Because people will feel lonely if they are too much extroverts. And what you can do is by selecting the team members to find strong communicators, people being open to transparency, sharing their knowledge proactively. And to look at this, having a great diversity in your team is important. Because diversity brings new ideas and especially when it comes to a remote team where you have a little bit less conversation and less exchange. Diversity helps to have the conversation rolling and going on.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

When you start a projects you should desperately focus on try to meet at least one time at the beginning of the projects. And even if it is an international projects in most of the times the flight costs and travel costs are more than good invested in time, you’re safe because of the bonds of the team and the cohesion of the team and people teamed up. And if your budget allows it, you should we do that exercise for example, every six months. So depending on what you do, and how big your team is, and in the meantime, have as many video enabled conversations as you can. So this is also in Western Europe, sometimes the topic, should I activate my webcam and even in North America, where do some of my projects, depending on the company culture, some people do not feel very comfortable by activating the webcam. And you cannot force anybody to do this. But if you start doing that, after two or three web meetings, you will see it’s like normals, no big business, and you see all that advantages and how you you get more relationship and connecting better to each other. So this is one thing I really recommend every virtual team,

DANIEL GUAPER

I was just listening to a podcast a few days before. And they were talking exactly about that. How important it is even in virtual teams to have like, like this visual connection with your co workers. And especially for your nervous system and how you react with people. It’s like, it works even over webcam, but you have to activate it, you know, if you don’t see each other for never. So you don’t have like a activation of your sympathetic nervous system. So this is like like really important stuff. And it works in virtually.

DANIEL GUAPER

scienced proof. So, this works.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

I think in fact, on the other hand, sometimes people try to tell me, this is for young people and for young professionals doing all that web meetings with video and whatever. So I don’t think that so I think it’s more like, are you used to do that. And on the other hand, I see when it comes to some of young professionals, they rely sometimes too much on new ways of communication. So for example, I work sometimes with teams, especially in IT, where Slack or HipChat or any group chat is used a little bit too much, I do not mean having too much notifications, I mean, people stop talking synchronously, like audio telephone conferencing, and only you have chat. So this is too much. So you need that direct communication, voice enabled communication as well. So of course, there are many good reasons to use a team chat. But to rely too much on it can even increase the distance between people

DANIEL GUAPER

Yeah, because like, I think, in some other context, you need to be like a real expert in emojis and how to how to apply them in the right place to get like this personal notion like the voice over and like how you feeling in this moment, knowing how to transfer this information and feeling from for yourself to your coworker, the people that you talk right now.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yeah, so right. And you just mentioned those studies. And back in the time when we were caveman and actually, we are not far from that today. We hadn’t the chance to communicate with anybody we do not see. So telephone is not a really old for human ways. So it’s a new invention, to to talk over distance. And it’s great that we have video enabled. And people also are not used to text because Gutenberg is pretty new for the humankind, for mankind. Because most of the time when when we were caveman and developed to what we are today, we hadn’t had the chance for any text communication. And this is why it’s so hard for us to transport feelings. And you mentioned those emojis, for example. And sometimes I myself see an email and think, oh, why does she write me such an email and that tone? How could she and when I talked to that lady afterwards and try to solve that, I find out that the she meant completely different things. And I just was interpreting and we are so fast and interpreting any texts communication, which is really a bad habit, but hard to let go. And because most of the time we are wrong. Only if you are a team of professional book authors and writers, maybe they can exchange feelings very good and team chat or in emails. But most of us can’t so I would suggest never interpret any bad intention into text communication. Absolutely. .

DANIEL GUAPER

Yeah this is interesting.

I would have another question for you about virtual teams. So they’re like different categories of virtual teams, you have like this completely remote and distributed teams that are like, you mentioned in the beginning Automaticc or WordPress, in particular, then you have like the tradition little old fashioned company that is completely not remote and on one place. And then you have like this rare special combination with hybrid teams, which I found and we have that on on Flash Hub and Bright Solutions. We have like a hybrid team like some of those people are based in Germany and Darmstadt, some of them are in Hamburg. And then we have like this huge virtual team. So the to get this hybrid teams working is like them. I find that the most difficult way, because you have like on one side, this physical physical office where people met and then you have like the external workers that are around the globe and different cultures and whatever. So how you blend those teams that are virtual and not virtual?

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yeah. An excellent question because this is one of the biggest challenges serious so rights. This is something which was called distribution a Symentry by scientists called Kevin Savegelezki. And she, with her colleague, Richard O’Riley is they, they made many, many studies 10 years ago about the topic of distance. And this is one this and they found which is hardest to fight because and that’s again, with those cavemen when we are sitting together in one room, we will have those unintended conversations, and there are so many important information going on between us and we are exchanging and most of the time, we won’t whites, like meeting minutes of our two minutes spontaneous conversation, to let anybody around the world from the team know, because they are not there and they are not in our minds, they are not really present in that situation. We we are not aware of that. And it’s it’s easier to say that then doing that is to make it a habit to really make it a habit to write , as many micro meeting minutes as you can. So if you’re working in a hybrid team, and you are sitting together with some colleagues co located in your room or in your location, and you’re not writing, two or three mindful meeting minutes, and your team chat, or as an email every day, you’re doing something wrong, it’s not enough. So it’s really about making that a habit. It gets a little more easier when it comes to web meetings and video meetings. As see sometimes even today. That they are teams sitting in that big conference room and they are sitting eight people and two remote people are dialed in. And in that big conference room, they had that conference phone. And what happens then is like a nightmare if you dialed in because what happens is the outside talks, people are whispering all this that really engaged discussion. And you have an idea but you cannot get through. So you do not hear everything, you cannot state your ideas. Because that discussion is so vivid that you have no chance. And this is a little bit more easy to overcome, because there are two fantastic ways what you can do. One way is it’s a it’s like a rule, it’s the rule if one person is remote, act as if everyone is remote, which means everyone dials in individually from the own computer with their own webcam. So it’s like equalized for everyone because everyone is dialed in, there’s no conference room and no conference phone. In some office locations, this is hard to achieve, especially when you when you have an open floor open plan offices. And the The other thing I really like is having something which is called a buddy, which means I dialed in remotely and I have one it’s like my lawyer, it’s like my work presented in that room. And he or she helps me so whenever there’s whispering that person will say Okay, wait, wait, wait Florian cannot hear that he’s dialed in. If there’s a vivid discussion, he will say Stop, stop, stop, let’s hear Florians opinion. And for each and every dialed in person, there should be one of those studies. And this will obviously can rotate. And this helps a lot. But the more challenging thing is really about thinking of those distant people. There are experiments actually. So really practical experiments, for example, connecting two rooms. So if you have five developers in location A and five developers and location B what some teams try to do is have a video conference open for the entire day. So you see the difference opposite like looking through a window. And this pretty good for video. But it’s not that good obviously for audio, because most of the time you have one conference phone connected to that. And obviously in the room, for example, with developers, you have whispering when they are at one desk, and you really do not understand everything. And I hope that technology will will improve some some steps that we can connect to our several rooms better when it comes to audio.

DANIEL GUAPER

Let’s hope for that. I think I saw something just recently like that. Yeah, good treat 360 webcams and with different microphones. So if you’re sitting in a room so that the camera is capturing always the person that is speaking right now and getting like inside, like one like this the same as one to one talk, and especially people that are distributed and catching on on the offline conference or meeting. That is really helpful.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yeah, that’s why that the other systems, but most of the time, they are not perfect when outside the meeting rooms. So when you’re really sitting on your desk working, and he wants to have that same feeling that you hear, like what’s going on, what does Peter do right now? What What is he working on? Who is he phoning with? So all that little background noise you will ignore unconsciously. But it’s somehow importance to get along with all those contexts. But I guess could could be a solution going in that direction.

DANIEL GUAPER

Nice. What do you think by yourself, what percentage of workforce will be like remote organized in five or 10 years

FLORIAN MICHALIK

I’m not so good in spinning the wheel of fortune so I cansay what I see right now is in in all of the major clients, locations all over the place. So especially in Western Hemisphere, I see that that we have more and more demand, especially when it comes to to IT people. There are more and more projects and opportunities. But we cannot clone our developers and data scientists and it guys so there’s absolutely a need, and people and companies are forced to do something. So there’s a strong reason I see why now. And when I see for example, in Germany, especially how few people dare to work from home. And some industries, you can’t you cannot imagine that but but when you really not seeing only the digital economy but but really every company in there really struggling trying that. But also they are forced to do that. And there are more and more jobs, you can do remotely even jobs you wouldn’t think about you can do it remotely. So one of my most favorite examples is San Francisco and Barry area, the rents for flat are so high that if you have a job, like on the counter, where are you where you’re at a fast food restaurant where you get the orders, and it’s so expensive to live there that if you have only that job to take the orders at that fast food restaurant, you cannot live them. So what they do is people are sitting in the body, actually, they are connected remotely to that, that drives through counter and taking your order. And giving that to other people, of course, who has to be there who make your meal. But Wow, these are things 10 years ago, and no one would think about doing that. Right. So and I think we’ll see that more and more. And what I really love is I see that more and more teams and also traditional and somewhat more conservative companies give it a try with those virtual teams. And most of the time, it needs only one project to prove that you do not loose control and that you can have even a higher productivity and a virtual team, because you’re communicating more aware of what you communicate and be more aware of the context of the people and and how you work together and more structured. And you can even outperform co located teams which are distributed over several frost and the same building. And I will I see more and more companies staring that seeing that. And I think it’s like a spread of words. And this is what I hope for. And this is what I believe in for the future.

DANIEL GUAPER

What a good closing, let’s stop with that was a really nice talk with you about the virtual teams and how you can organize them. Florian, do you have like, for for audience, any recommendation what they should read right now what they should see you. And for last, maybe a way how they can connect with you if they’re interested to know more about the tactics and getting strategy behind organizing virtual team and getting to know more about this new kind of leadership and new styles of leadership that are so much in need.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Yeah.

I just just can recommend with everything I have published. No, just kidding. Actually. I’m publishing pretty much in German. So I have to admit that even my website is still only in German, which has a good reason actually. Because I have no time for updating that in English. But maybe if you’re listening now maybe it’s just translated. So give it a try. It’s on www.newwork.me. It’s newwork.me. And it’s obviously plans to have this in English because I do also do projects, international projects, obviously in English. But with my website, I have to improve that. So sorry for that and I’m happy to connect to everybody who wants to share a story or wants to hear some some insights and stories. I’m happy to share my knowledge. So let’s get in touch.

DANIEL GUAPER

Thank you very much. Nice to talk to you Florian.

FLORIAN MICHALIK

Thank you for having me.

CHRIS REEVES

I’d like to thank our guests Florian Michalik for joining us today. You can find out more about Florian and team of talents on their website that is linked in the show notes. You can subscribe to the virtual frontier or leave us a review at Apple podcast, Google Play Stitcher or anywhere else podcasts are found. If you want to learn more about virtual teams as a service, visit flashhub.io. On behalf of the team here at Flash Hub, I’d like to thank you for listening. So until next episode, keep exploring new frontiers.

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