164. Remote Spaces with Esther Derby

July 14, 2020

As developers, we have likely had experiences with remote work before the pandemic, but now, the context of remote working has completely changed. The blurred lines between work and home life have brought an array of stressors that people have to face. Joining us today to talk about how to make this new kind of remote work the best it can be is a friend of the show, Esther Derby! As a programmer who was promoted to manager, Esther realized that management required an entirely different set of skills that are often taken for granted, and she now dedicates herself to making work more humane. In this episode, we talk about how not sharing physical space can affect collaboration. So many opportunistic conversations and interactions are possible when you are around your teammates. While this can happen remotely, it requires more intention and effort to get to know your team members outside of work. Esther and Dave share experiences of how they have done this on projects they have worked on. We also get into how managers should deal with this type of remote work. Esther believes that there needs to be a move away from micromanagement and a shift towards more flexible, trust-filled work experiences. She shares some of the ways managers can foster trust and collaboration, while still allowing great freedom. Along with this, we also touch on facilitation and ensuring everyone feels they have opportunities to contribute, why managers need to have one-on-one time with the individuals on their teams, and why remote work can be more productive than in-office work. Tune in today!


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Esther’s background and her journey from programmer to making work more humane.
  • Hear about Dave’s experience of working remotely on a team he’s not worked with before.
  • The importance of being intentional in getting to know team members when working remotely.
  • Why connection is so important in collaborative work.
  • Esther’s tips on setting up a backchannel where team members can work on connecting.
  • Why getting to know your teammates should not be considered unproductive time.
  • The different stressors that come with having no separation between work and home spaces.
  • How the lack of boundaries between home and work life changes people’s perceptions of you.
  • How Mike's responsibilities with his son have changed during the pandemic.
  • Remote work can be more productive if people are given the space to follow their energy flow.
  • Hear more about how online whiteboards can help with remote work collaboration.
  • Some techniques to foster virtual facilitation and ensure equal participation.
  • Esther’s advice for managers on how they should manage remote work.
  • Get clear on the North Star in order to avoid having to micromanage employees.
  • Tips on creating flexible virtual workspaces and allowing for creativity.
  • How managers can use this time for one-on-one conversations to build rapport with team members.
  • Esther’s latest work and how to get hold of her.

Transcript for Episode 164. Remote Spaces with Esther Derby




[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast. Live from the boogie down Bronx. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host to day.


[0:00:09.2] DA: Dave Anderson.


[0:00:10.7] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about remote spaces.


[0:00:15.8] DA: We’ve been remote in various spaces.


[0:00:19.4] MN: For some time, forcefully. We’re practicing social distancing.


[0:00:26.1] DA: I wish I was there in the Bronx with you but I’m so far away.


[0:00:29.7] MN: So far from Jersey, right? You're in Jersey right now?


[0:00:33.7] DA: Yeah, I can’t quite see the Bronx from here but you know, I’m straining my eyes.


[0:00:38.9] MN: Don’t hurt yourself. Before we begin, we have special guest, we have today Esther Derby. Good evening Esther, how are you?


[0:00:47.6] ED: I’m great and I’m happy to be here.


[0:00:50.5] MN: Awesome, where are you calling us from right now?


[0:00:53.2] ED: I am joining you from lovely, lively, Duluth, Minnesota.


[0:00:58.2] MN: That’s far from the Bronx.


[0:00:59.6] ED: It’s very far from the Bronx. It is a remote space in some ways. Although, it’s the 17th largest port in the US.


[0:01:09.9] MN: There you go.


[0:01:10.7] ED: Even though it’s what 1,200 miles from the coast?


[0:01:15.7] MN: That’s awesome. Esther, tell us a little bit about yourself?


[0:01:20.1] ED: Well, I started my professional career as a programmer and because I was good at working with code, they promoted me to be a manager. Completely different set of skills, you know, just completely different. I had to learn a different set of skills and you know, over the years, I had a bunch of different roles and being in those roles and working in corporate situations led me to care deeply about making work more humane.


That’s really what I work on now, it’s how to make work more humane.


[0:02:01.3] DA: I feel like that’s very important work, especially now when we’re so removed from the human element of collaboration like there’s so many tiny boxes on my computer screen that have people inside of them and I feel like right now, we’re re-learning a lot of the basic things that we figured out.


Missing my Post-It notes on my informational workspace.


[0:02:25.4] ED: Missing my peeps and my Post-It notes.


[0:02:28.0] DA: My peers and my Post-It notes, yeah. Going to get a tattoo of that.


[0:02:33.7] MN: My peeps and my Post-It notes.


[0:02:36.3] ED: Well you know, there’s so much that has changed that we used to take for granted like all of the opportunistic conversations we used to have with people before a meeting started or after a meeting ended or walking to the next one or going for coffee and all of that, you know, we can recreate but we have to be intentional about it, right?


[0:02:57.7] DA: Yeah, we had a retro the other week where you know, when things started as they are right now in 2020, I was already on the team that hat formed and so we knew each other and we had a bond and we were getting things done. That project ended and now I’m on a new team where people have never worked on it with before who are in various places and we realize that we don’t really have any time that’s unstructured, time to talk. This came off on retro and we scheduled on structured time on the calendar to talk about whatever came to mind. Then we had our first session today and it was interesting.


[0:03:43.6] ED: How did it go?


[0:03:46.1] DA: It was fun, we talked about Taco Bell and Chipotle.


[0:03:52.9] MN: The most unstructured thing that could be talked about.


[0:03:58.1] DA: Which is not so far removed because it’s actually a restaurant related project. It’s adjacent but you know, still. Pretty far out there but like the rules are a little bit different, it’s like, you can’t really have as breakout of conversations, there’s really one voice at a time.


[0:04:19.2] ED: Something I did years ago when we could still travel, which wasn’t actually that long ago but I was working with a group where we h ad people in Europe and we had people in the middle east and had people in the US and several different time zones. The only time people interacted was in WebEx meetings, which meant they didn’t have any way to get to know each other.


I set up a little back channel which it was just you know, it was an unauthorized tool and just the team members were there and it was a place where people could just talk about whatever. I mean, we talked about work stuff there. You know, we could just talk about anything and that’s where we actually got to know each other and that’s where we developed the trust and understanding where we could really work more effectively as a team.


[0:05:10.3] DA: How big of a team was it?


[0:05:13.5] ED: That particular team was about eight or nine of us working on that. But I had done similar things with larger and smaller teams over the years where we just were never going to be in the same physical space so we created a little unstructured remote space for ourselves. It worked great, we got to know each other and then the managers found out and they were upset.


[0:05:39.5] MN: Oh no, really?


[0:05:42.1] ED: Yeah. It’s like, “What are you doing here? What are you talking about here?”


[0:05:47.1] DA: Why aren’t you working?


[0:05:49.7] MN: Man, that’s a bummer.


[0:05:51.9] ED: I had to go to bat and explain why we were doing that and why they weren’t included. Because –


[0:06:00.8] DA: That a conscious decision not to include managers?


[0:06:03.2] ED: Absolutely, because if the managers had been there, it would have been be on task, we have an agenda, you know, you’re wasting time by just talking about where you want to vacation or something you learn that was interesting. And but not necessarily directly relevant to work and even if the managers hadn’t said that, and there’s so much internalized belief that you know, if the managers are looking, they’ll notice that you’re not on task and it will show up in your views. Yeah, it was a very conscious decision on my point.


[0:06:38.7] DA: My report card.


[0:06:38.8] ED: Yeah, exactly. It was very conscious decision not to involve them.


[0:06:44.8] DA: Yeah, I’m trying to think like what a proper or what a tool might look like for a back channel these days. Slack feels like it could be that tool, if you have a private channel but it’s also work thing as well.


[0:07:03.8] MN: You had to make a separate Slack channel I guess, a whole other org and then invite people to that maybe, I don’t know.


[0:07:11.6] ED: Yeah, we just did a Skype back when Skype was useable.


[0:07:15.4] MN: Back when Skype was useable. Are you listening Microsoft? This is not a back channel.


[0:07:26.6] ED: I know, sorry.


[0:07:28.2] MN: Yeah.


[0:07:29.7] ED: That’s one thing that’s really changed is you know, where do we make connections with people, where do we actually get to know people on a human level so we can connect and learn to trust each other and learn what each other’s strengths are and develop some of that personal connection that serves us really well when we end up in conflict, right? Because we have something to land back on.


[0:07:53.9] DA: Yeah, that’s totally true. It feels very risky to disagree with somebody who you don’t have a positive rapport with. They’re not going to like me. That becomes the personal connection where it’s like, I am the guy who disagrees with you instead of you know, having to talk about connection.


[0:08:19.4] ED: Or, you know, we have kids the same age or you know, we grew up in the same part of the country or you know, whatever it is. People connect over hundreds of ways, you know, finding little common ground, sometimes connecting on the fact that we’re so different, right? Because that’s sort of intriguing that you grow up in such a different way than I did or you have a different background. But that connection is super important for collaborative work.


[0:08:47.7] DA: Do you have any tips for like facilitating the use of that kind of a channel or like the adoption of it?


[0:08:54.5] ED: I would just set some basic ground rules that have to do with you know, well, we’re not going to talk about sex and drugs, you know? Because it is a work thing after all and you know, what happens here is between us unless there’s something that happens that is really extraordinary that has to be dealt with. I’ve never seen that happen and I’ve done this several times.


I think making it explicit that just you know, chatter is fine, it’s an important part of it. You can talk about work but you can also just chat. And you can sometimes seed it with questions or seed it with, well, I just you know, I found this really interesting thing. It takes a little nurturing.


[0:09:38.9] DA: Yeah, it’s interesting. I have experimented using Discord which is a tool for like a chat server which is not very dissimilar to what Skype was I guess in the glory days where you can have like group voice chats and things like that.


[0:09:59.5] ED: We often did ours totally by IM, right?


[0:10:03.2] DA: Okay, just text.


[0:10:03.7] ED: Yeah, we did voice chat once in a great while but a lot of it was just IM. It was enough. I still talk to a lot of those people and some of them got to be good friends.


[0:10:19.1] MN: I do have a question I guess, Dave. You mentioned in the retro to create this space of like banter, it’s like scheduled, it’s once a week or is it once every day like how does that work, being in the office, you know, you have water cooler talk, that’s not scheduled, right? That conversations that you have with people were organic when you’re in the office and I’m curious what approach did your team take, Dave, and what approaches or can someone make for you Esther? Dave, what is the schedule you guys have?


[0:10:56.6] DA: I mean, we set it up, this is the first week that we did, we had once a week, right now. But I think we’ve also kind of consciously and kind of unconsciously acknowledged that you know, the first five minutes of a meeting are like kind of non-productive time.


[0:11:22.2] ED: Except it is productive time.


[0:11:25.6] DA: But time is money and I’m not making – I guess, am I making money? I guess I’m billing, year.


[0:11:31.7] ED: But it’s productive to be building the rapport in the team and getting to know other people. But it’s productive to be building the rapport in the team and getting to know other people.


[0:11:38.1] DA: Yeah, totally. I feel like there’s like a muscle that I have flexed so many times like it’s pretty with standup. Stand up is the first thing in the day and it’s very useful for getting context quickly and then setting the tone, getting things done right afterwards. And you know, you always try to like keep the amount of time that were there because we’re standing low.


But now, I don’t think we stand anymore. We’re all slipping.


[0:12:06.7] ED: We could.


[0:12:08.1] DA: We could stand but we also take the time more to say like you know, good morning and how are you and how are things going and like kind of don’t rush it too much but when we get started, we try to get it done quickly.


[0:12:23.3] ED: Well, I think in some ways, just setting aside some time in every meeting for connection is a useful thing to do and something that will mitigate the distance, right? Let’s acknowledge that the first seven minutes of the meeting, we’re going to be checking in because people are facing challenges that they weren’t facing before we all started trying to work from home during the pandemic.


[0:12:52.4] MN: Yeah, I mentioned before and happens often times, but my son will either pop up on the podcast or show up in the meeting and he is now a regular employee to Stride right now essentially.


[0:13:06.5] DA: And a co-cohost of the podcast.


[0:13:09.1] MN: A co-cohost yeah.


[0:13:11.6] ED: That points to another thing that is happening for people now is that contacts are collapsing, right? We u sed to have home. And work and maybe you have some home-related calls during the day or you check in on things or something. Some extraordinary event would come up and would call and kids have to be taken home from daycare or whatever. But they were largely separate.


Our lives, our spaces were separate and now they’re the same. I think that leads to a whole level of stress and distress for people.


[0:13:53.6] DA: Yeah, totally. It’s interesting the shifting kind of target of that as well, for me, we adopt the dog last summer and we had a dog walker that would come and help out with the dog during the day and for a while. That was impossible so you know, we kind of got by with that and you know, she’s a rescue so she’s got like PTSD a little bit but you know, she’s generally good and we like figured out a pattern and now, the dog walker’s able to come in again and now – but the time that she comes is like random and unexpected and those times are very exciting for the dog and very distracting for anything that we’re trying to get done.


I totally feel that context collapsing thing happening big time this week.


[0:14:48.9] ED: Yeah, I think, you know, to a certain extent, people kind of put on a persona when they go to work, I think this is particularly true the higher up the hierarchy you go where you have to present a certain kind of view of yourself. And that can go away when you’re working from home, I mean, I know one friend of mine’s husband is now managing many teams from his daughter’s pink frilly play room.


You know, it shifts people’s perception of you, it shifts your perception of yourself, some people try to draw very firm boundary and say no, “You should – you should never allow your children to be in the background, never allow your dog.” I think that’s inhumane and unrealistic.


[0:15:44.7] DA: Yeah, against the thesis that were talking about earlier about making work in general more humane.


[0:15:54.1] MN: It’s really difficult, as you mentioned.


[0:15:56.8] ED: Yeah.


[0:15:57.8] MN: My kid has a mind of his own and you want to run this direction and then so be it.


[0:16:03.2] ED: And, he has needs that need to be attended to by an adult. I have one friend whose employer hast told, all their employees that the official line is that if you have to attend to your kid for two minutes or five minutes or whatever, you need to go off the clock.


[0:16:23.8] MN: Wow!


[0:16:23.8] ED: Take paid time off.


[0:16:26.4] MN: My gosh. No.


[0:16:29.1] ED: No. No. No. No.


[0:16:32.0] MN: It’s just like there’s – if I’m working, I can turn over to my wife and I look while she’s carrying our son and she nods yes that I have to step away because he probably did a stinker that I have to help and assist on because that takes more than one person to have a clean job there. That’s very cruel if you are told – if I was told that I needed to take PTO to ensure that a diaper change happens and where everyone’s okay, that’s nuts.


[0:17:08.4] DA: That’s a sick day right there.


[0:17:09.9] MN: Yeah. That’s very harsh because everyone’s going through this. We unfortunately didn’t ask for it but we’re doing the best that we can with you know, child has needs, right? You can’t be walking around with a soiled diaper for so long. We need to do something about that.


[0:17:28.9] DA: Retrospective, prime directive every day. Doing the best you can, what do you got?


[0:17:34.2] ED: People think somehow that this will be more efficient but I think that’s not actually true, you know? If you have to clock out and then clock back in, that is its own type of friction versus you know, you just take care of something for a few minutes and then you’re back. Plus, I think it contributes to resentment. It contributes to a feeling that I’m not being treated like a human, you know, I’m being treated like an automaton.


I think it’s counterproductive.


[0:18:08.8] MN: It took me some time to – because I was really hard on myself in those regards. Like, “I’m at work, I can’t really help, I have to stick around and do these things.” But I think we just been in COVID long enough where it’s like, “You know what? I’m doing this, he’s hungry, I got to cut some apples really quick for him, I’m doing that.”


I think that when you have the ability to create a remote space for individuals to know – If my peers were aware that you know, my son is cute but he also needs to eat and we also need to change his diaper and we had these conversations about how difficult it really is with my teammates and they will be more relaxed when I do have to step away.


I imagine that the place where you’re, the person you mentioned Esther is working probably doesn’t have remote spaces where people need to care or would want to care for their peers in the situation because, who would say you have to take PTO to do something else?


[0:19:13.8] ED: Well actually, the people there really do care about each other and it was handed down from the top policy.


[0:19:21.8] DA: I’m trying to imagine like what kind of external forces are like shape people’s belief that that is the needed thing. If it’s like, “Okay, I’m your manager and I believe that I value you as a person but then I also have this contrary policy where demanded control kind of thing?”


[0:19:45.5] ED: Huge gap. I think there’s long been a concern about, are we getting enough work out of people? Are we getting our money’s worth out of them? I do hear people speak that but even when people don’t speak it, I think that belief kind of pervades people thinking about management versus workers.


I think a lot of people are afraid that if we don’t stay on top of people, they’ll slack off, which is deeply insulting.


[0:20:21.2] MN: Yeah, I mean everyone is going through their own experience of what is happening and distractions are going to be natural and people are learning how to fend off the distractions and to think that no one can have distractions. You have to continue to output 100% energy as you did when you were in the office is kind of crazy.


[0:20:47.2] ED: Well and in some ways people can be more productive if they are allowed to follow the flow of their energy, right? I think that’s another thing that I have observed is that – I mean this isn’t true for me because of the nature of the work I do but I have friends who are expected to be on Zoom meetings eight hours a day and that is just exhausting. Just exhausting. You know you got back to back to back to back Zoom meetings.


And so, I think it’s important for people to rethink what has to be done synchronously and what can be done asynchronously.


[0:21:25.5] DA: Yeah, I had an interesting experience at the kickoff of this product that I am on right now. So, we did a design sprint like modelled off from the Google design sprint, which normally is a very intense thing because you are in the same room for those eight hours but it was eight hours of Zoom meetings.


[0:21:50.7] ED: It’s exhausting.


[0:21:51.9] DA: Yeah, but you know it kind of is like bringing it back to what we are talking about earlier like the collaborative space where we’re trying to very quickly come together and ideate and align and figure out what the next things are.


[0:22:09.0] ED: So how was the remote space designed to support that?


[0:22:13.5] DA: If we were in person, we would have used Post-It notes and drawn pictures and sat quietly and listen to music and have shared snacks and things like that. So, a lot of those things were like BYO, but if you didn’t have a snack or a drink then you didn’t have it.


[0:22:39.9] ED: No snack for you!


[0:22:42.6] DA: I did not bring enough for the whole class. But we were able to set up a Miro space for collaboration and I saw that you had mentioned Miro in a tweet or a blog post a while back and yeah, I had not really used it very much. But that seemed pretty close to what we wanted the experience to be.


[0:23:07.3] ED: You can actually do a lot with some of those online whiteboards. I find that it helps to be more structured in remote meetings and everything takes longer. Everything takes longer, right? And you just have to think about your agenda and think about how you are going to accomplish what the goal is and how you are going to encourage participation a lot more and a lot more detail, a lot more explicitly because I mean when you’re together, you had to just wave your hands and you know?


[0:23:44.0] DA: Facilitation you can just play it by ear.


[0:23:47.1] ED: Facilitation is a skill and an art in it of itself and you have to know what you are doing and you have to plan ahead but there are a lot of things that you can explain differently or you know, it is easier to read the energy. It is easier to see if someone has a pencil or book and you might want to see if they have a question. So, you know even the idea about, “Okay, we are going to do a round robin here and everyone is going to say what they’re going to say.”


And you know you can do that in a room, you just look at the person to your right or to your left and then you go around the circle but even that has to be orchestrated a little differently if you are in a remote space.


[0:24:26.8] DA: Yeah, I think we tried that one time with Zoom and we’re like, “Okay we’re just going to go scanning down the row,” and we found it –


[0:24:35.6] ED: Except people are in different places.


[0:24:38.2] DA: It is non-deterministic where you are in a Zoom meeting.


[0:24:40.9] MN: Oh no.


[0:24:41.6] ED: Yes. So, I am in the middle right now. I don’t know where I am for you guys but on my screen, I am in the middle.


[0:24:49.4] DA: You’re top dog on my screen.


[0:24:51.5] ED: Oh man, well see it wouldn’t work. So, I know these – I met these two women in South Africa a few years ago Jay-Allen Morris and Kirsten Clacey, they just had a book coming out I think last week maybe on remote facilitation. And they do a lot with Google slides and other free to use things but one of the things that I learned from them about that round-robin thing is you just you can have a little virtual ball and you can pass it around a circle.


Or you can have everybody’s name around the circle and then go around the wall. So, there is things you can do to equalize participation and ensure participation in remote spaces but you have to put more effort into it.


[0:25:40.6] DA: Right, you have to think through what tools are going to support to replace the kind of pervasive non-verbal or other things that we have available. That is a pretty interesting idea. I never thought about that before like actually using the whiteboard to simulate the space a little but we’re people are represented in the space and can draw attention to themselves or what have you. There is a facilitation trick for like a – I saw someone using this tutorial.


It is a pretty big class and they handed out like green and red cards. So, people are able to indicate where their state is if they’re good or if they are not good and I think that is interesting too. I saw that there is more abilities in these job platforms or video conference platforms to kind of like indicate that you have a yes or a no or thumbs up or thumbs down.


[0:26:53.0] ED: Yeah or even just using the chat in a more conscious manner. So, taking advantage of the chat to queue questions or to indicate people who would want to speak because it is hard to get attention in a Zoom meeting.


[0:27:10.7] DA: That’s true and also sometimes you don’t want the full attention. Sometimes you just want to whisper.


[0:27:15.7] ED: Yeah, well there is that.


[0:27:19.4] MN: I always forget about the raise hand feature in Zoom but I find that to be too many clicks.


[0:27:25.8] DA: I was just pressing that button right now. I was like, “Oh yeah there is this” I am clapping right now actually but it’s a bit subtle and there is a lot of clicking.


[0:27:33.6] ED: I am giving a thumbs up.


[0:27:34.7] MN: Thumbs up, yay.


[0:27:36.4] ED: How do I get it back? How do I turn it off?


[0:27:38.8] MN: You must thumb’s up for the entire meeting right now.


[0:27:46.0] ED: Forever, permanent affirmation. Pervasive affirmation.


[0:27:51.4] DA: It is like the end of Terminator 2 forever.


[0:27:54.2] ED: Now it’s gone.


[0:27:55.5] MN: Oh, so we’re all remote. And managers need to know every single minute and every single click of a particular user. Is that safe to say, let me know.


[0:28:07.6] ED: No, they do not. No, no, no.


[0:28:11.1] MN: I know that there is a lot of places that like are we thinking about software of what people are clicking and I find that to be really intrusive at this point. Is there any piece of feedback that you may have for managers right now? If there is one thing you need to tell every manager who could be listening to this episode in the world, what would be the thing, the one thing that they would have to consider I guess since we’re working from home?


[0:28:39.5] ED: Well, I think we need both more trust and more flexibility, right? I mean we are talking about how our contexts are collapsing and that speaks to the need for flexibility. And the idea of putting surveillance software on someone’s computer, which there was actually a run on this sort of software right after people started working from home back in March, the sales of surveillance software went way up but that will destroy trust. And frankly managers do not need to know what is happening every minute of every day.


I mean frankly, you know thinking back to my days as a manger you know if someone spent two hours of the afternoon playing video games on her couch, as long as they got the work that needed to be done-done, you know who cares, right? I mean that is part of their creative flow perhaps or part of their energy flow. But I think people get concerned about are people really working hard? Are they going to slack off? Which I think is deeply insulting and we need to focus more on outcomes.


So, we need to be really clear on what problem are we trying to solve for what group of people, for what benefit? How does the company make money? How does your work fit into the product? How does your work change the life the customers? So, all of that contextual stuff enables people to make better judgments and it means that they don’t need to have as much intervention in terms of direction. So, the tendency I think when people feel like they are losing control is to try to get more control and to micromanage and the alternative to that is just to be really clear on what the North Star is. Really clear – go ahead.


[0:30:26.7] DA: It sounds hard actually. It sounds hard they might not know where the North Star is.


[0:30:30.2] ED: Well, they might not but they need to find out because they’re job is to enable people to solve problems you know for the customers.


[0:30:39.8] DA: You may have exposed a more fundamental problem where they’re like, “Oh wait this is actually harder.”


[0:30:44.2] ED: Well, the other thing that may come up as well and I have heard managers say this, “If I am not the one who has all of this knowledge then I am replaceable. You know, I can’t share this because then where is my value?” And I get that. But I think that you know the way I think about management is that the fundamentally two things that they need to attend to. One is developing people and the other is working on the system.


So that people are enabled to work creatively on solving the customers problems. Whether they do that by building software or delivering a service or whatever it is. So, you know the stuff about developing people you can still meet one on one with people over Zoom. That is actually in some ways the easier thing but the other part is creating the environment where people are empowered to do good work and they feel that they are valued and trusted. Distrust begets distrust.


[0:31:42.8] DA: So, what is an example of some kind of outcomes that the manager or someone who is being managed could set to kind of foster this kind of creativity or this kind of flexibility?


[0:32:00.0] ED: Well, so I think being able to articulate what problem are we solving for what group of people or what benefit are we providing to what group of people? What will they be able to do as the result of this product we’re building or this service we’re delivering? I think that is the starting point and then you can get more granular about that. You know, so this feature is intended to address this problem or this is the problem we’re trying to solve.


[0:32:25.7] DA: Actually, quite qualitative where like – I mean it sounds like you’re describing a story or like a spring commitment or an Epic or something like that.


[0:32:35.8] ED: Yeah. I mean you could think of it in those terms. I don’t think setting specific targets like, “You must produce 80 widgets by such and such a date.” I mean you know that is not an outcome.


[0:32:48.4] DA: Yeah, got to get those lines of code out. Got to get those points up, not that.


[0:32:54.1] ED: Well, this used to lead to what we call bloatware when I was writing code because people thought lines of code was an indicator of productivity but really what you get is bloatware.


[0:33:06.7] DA: The true measure of productivity in software is software not written. Hust delete it all.


[0:33:14.9] MN: Delete it all. But no test, just remove all of the tests that will do it. So, I want to talk about like so we know one way to improve or gain trust is to know more about your peers and the individuals in your team. You schedule more one on one’s with them or more one on one’s with the entire group because I know like we mentioned before Zoom could be very tiring and the context switching of writing that widget and then having to switch to a Zoom meeting then having to go back to coding. And then having them to meeting like.


Should we increase the amount of times that we’re meeting with individuals because we cannot meet with them as often in an office versus at home?


[0:34:04.4] ED: Well and I think for managers, I think if they haven’t been having one on one’s with people, now is a good time to start because that is one way you maintain connection with people and you discover what their context is. So, you know, you can appropriately flex to it. I mean it is not like you flex to everything but you have boundaries around what is acceptable and what isn’t. It enables you to understand where you are coming from and what the context is and negotiate expectations.


So, I think it is super useful for managers to still be having those conversations with people, right? Because people still care about where their career is going, they still have stuff they need to deal with, they’re still is you know? So, I think that’s super important and I think for peers having that back channel is a way to do that. You know, not that you necessarily have to schedule one on one’s with everybody on your team but with some, some people some of the time from a peer perspective.


[0:35:04.3] DA: Yeah and I guess even if it is not scheduled, like just keeping in mind that you’re trying to have that time for connection with people whenever you can get it and that even though it feels like you got to get those widgets like that the connection with the people is just as important.


[0:35:23.1] ED: Well, it supports getting the widgets. I want to go back to what you said Michael about the context switching is and I think when people know there is going to be switch, it is a little easier than when it is random, right? So, if you know that every other Tuesday at 2:00 I’m going to have half hour chat with my manager, then you kind of mentally arrange so that, “Oh okay, I have this meeting coming up at 2:00. I am not going to pick up something new. I’ll finish off this thing I am doing.”


So, you are better able to manage your brain cycles around focus and completion and just being randomly interrupted but switching back and forth multiple times a day is hard on people and it is hard on productivity.


[0:36:12.2] MN: Esther you said you had – you had mentioned resources about remote facilitation. Could you give me some details on the article or the book?


[0:36:22.2] ED: Yes. So, Jay-Allen Morris and Kirsten Clacey wrote a book called The Remote Facilitator’s Pocket Guide. It just came out last week. They actually moved the publication date up by several months because it is so topical. I mean if ever a book hit the topic right now, yeah.


[0:36:38.9] MN: Got to deliver.


[0:36:40.7] ED: Yeah, it’s –


[0:36:41.8] DA: Better hope they have pockets to keep the book in.


[0:36:45.2] ED: Yeah, indeed. So, it’s based around principles but they had a lot of practices and tips that people can apply. So, go grab that book.


[0:36:56.9] MN: Awesome and yeah, how can people reach out to you? Do you have anything coming up in the works and the pipeline? Tell us what you have Esther Derby, let’s go.


[0:37:05.3] ED: Well, my most recent book came out last August, 7 Rules for Positive Productive Change Micro Shifts and Macro Results, and I just released an online course that is based on the book. So, it is organized around some of the biggest pain points that I see in organizational change and the people who participate in the class, apply the heuristics in the book to those problems in their own context.


So it is not abstract, it is really focusing in on your context and how you can apply these heuristics or rules from the book to these problems that people always experience the change like you know, people who want to change with the speed or enthusiasm with the desired. Or you know, you do all these training but nothing really changes or someone comes up with the one size fits all solution that doesn’t really fit anyone. Or you know people are left alone to rely on persuasion to get other people to change.


And so, it looks at how you can leverage networks and influence. So, I am super excited about it. There is a self-study version and a cohort version and a live. The first live cohort will be starting on July 30th.


[0:38:24.2] MN: Awesome, how can people register for that?


[0:38:27.3] ED: They can go to estherderby.teachable.com. And they can find other great stuff on my website, estherderby.com, all one word.


[0:38:40.1] DA: It sounds like a pretty exciting class like I imagine those kind of rules for a change person may have benefited from practice and like repetition that maybe harder to do if you’re just reading a book.


[0:38:55.1] ED: Well, I think it’s always useful to apply some – apply what you are learning with the opportunity for some practice and some discussion and conversation, right? So it is guided learning.


[0:39:09.5] DA: Cool.


[0:39:10.8] MN: Awesome, Esther thank you so much for coming on down to The Rabbit Hole. We really appreciate it.


[0:39:16.6] ED: My pleasure. I always like being on The Rabbit Hole or is it in The Rabbit Hole?


[0:39:22.2] MN: In well yeah, yeah you jump in, I just say on, you’re now on it but you got in it and – but yeah, jumping on in. Thank you.


[0:39:31.8] DA: Whatever it is, it is our collaborative remote space.


[0:39:35.3] MN: There you go.


[0:39:36.3] ED: It was great. I really love talking with you guys.




[0:39:39.8] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.




Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Esther Derby

Esther Derby OrgDynamix Lab

Esther Derby on Twitter





The Design Sprint



Jay-Allen Morris

Kirsten Clacey

The Remote Facilitator's Pocket Guide

7 Rules for Positive Productive Change Micro Shifts and Macro Results