Chris Dyer of PeopleG2: “Take walks or just stand outside in the sun for a few minutes”

Setting a designated space and creating clear boundaries with others in the home is important. It’s not unusual for others to assume that, since you are home, you have extra time to run errands or take care of non-work tasks. Create structure in your day, such as setting breaks to keep your mind fresh. Take […]

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Setting a designated space and creating clear boundaries with others in the home is important. It’s not unusual for others to assume that, since you are home, you have extra time to run errands or take care of non-work tasks. Create structure in your day, such as setting breaks to keep your mind fresh. Take walks or just stand outside in the sun for a few minutes.

As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Dyer.

Chris Dyer is the author of Remote Work and The Power of Company Culture. Chris is also the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a background check and intelligence firm. Based in California, he is the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio, an in-demand speaker on company culture, remote workforces, and employee engagement and a frequent contributor to Forbes, Inc, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I am the founder and CEO of PeopleG2, which has been 100% remote since 2009. I’m also recognized as an expert on company culture and leadership. My activities include speaking, coaching and consulting. My first book, The Power of Company Culture, was published in 2018. Kim Shepherd and I have co-authored a new book coming out in May 2021, Remote Work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One year I decided to avoid tunnel vision by saying “yes” to any reasonable request. It turned out that the year of saying yes was very influential in my life. It started when I was asked to do a podcast. Although I didn’t know anything about doing podcasts, I said yes anyway. As a result of the podcasts, I was approached by publisher Kogan Page about writing a book — something else I didn’t know much about. But I said yes, and the result was The Power of Company Culture. Based on the book’s success, many people asked me to be a keynote speaker at different events around the world. I also said yes to things that didn’t pan out, but since then I have learned to be open to new experiences and opportunities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I founded PeopleG2, my first five employees were family members. I thought it would be easy, fun and cost effective. It turned out to be the opposite. We spent more time arguing than doing productive work. Overall, the lesson is to keep things professional, although I still have family members on staff.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

As in all things, you need to take an intentional approach. It’s not enough just to say, “Don’t overwork yourself.” You need to teach people and also model the kinds of behaviors you want to see. For example, you can use an egg timer to help prevent burnout. Set it for 45 minutes and, during that time, work hard on your project or task. When it rings, set it again for 15 minutes and use that time to step away from the work and recharge. Make a sandwich. Throw a load in the washer. The point is to take a break and reset your mind. Then go back for another 45-minute sprint. This is a simplified version of the Pomodoro Technique, which can be helpful.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

The main benefit in my mind is that working remotely gives you the opportunity to work with many fewer interruptions. You have time to focus and think through challenges, seeing them from multiple angles and considering the ramifications. In the brick-and-mortar office, I was constantly bombarded with interruptions. I still get emails, phone calls and IMs, but it’s easier to “close the door” for a period of uninterrupted reflection.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

  1. Creating a space that is specific to your work.
  2. Securing the tools necessary to succeed: computer, Internet access, a quiet space, etc.
  3. Managing issues when multiple time zones are involved.
  4. Offsetting loneliness. This is particularly challenging as the COVID pandemic persists, as options such as church, volunteer work and just getting together with friends and family are limited.
  5. Setting boundaries to avoid overworking.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

  1. I recommend that you are assertive about setting aside your workspace. Don’t use the kitchen table. Create a space and don’t use it for paying bills or handling other non-work tasks. You may have to put a curtain up to mark it off, but also make sure your family understands the boundaries.
  2. To secure the tools you need, ask your employer about providing a quality computer and offsetting other costs such as Internet service. If you are a freelancer, it’s worth investing in these things to establish the infrastructure you need.
  3. We have team members in Europe, so we decided to leave written communications for team members in other time zones, such as “Here’s what I did today and where you should pick things up.” I know of some companies that leave video messages for the same purpose. You can use a collaboration platform like Slack or Loom.
  4. Loneliness can be a challenge, particularly if you have employees who are used to getting a lot of social interaction from work. There are ways to help, however, such as using chat platforms like Microsoft Teams. Friends can check in on one another, and you can even create virtual water cooler “rooms.” For team events, hold video calls, but try to avoid Zoom burnout.
  5. One of the big changes from working in an office is that you no longer leave the office and commute home. That used to be a cue, telling most of us that we’ve left work behind and it’s time for family and personal activities. You need to create new cues. An obvious one is to close the laptop at 5 p.m. But there is also more flexibility. For example, you might shut the laptop whenever the kids get home from school, spend 30 minutes with them, and then go back to work. Teams can do this by having daily wrap-up meetings at 4:50. It lets you wrap up the day’s activities and gives everyone a chance to say good night.

Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?

Setting a designated space and creating clear boundaries with others in the home is important. It’s not unusual for others to assume that, since you are home, you have extra time to run errands or take care of non-work tasks. Create structure in your day, such as setting breaks to keep your mind fresh. Take walks or just stand outside in the sun for a few minutes.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

You may be doing the same work, but the way you do it remotely is very different. You need to redesign processes. Start by identifying what activities are most important to the team, and then design new ways of doing those activities. For example, if it’s important in the office to check in, set up a daily video conference (but keep it brief). If celebrating wins is important, create a way to do that via email, instant message or on a platform like Slack. If impromptu meetings are important, figure out how those can happen virtually. In most cases, it isn’t difficult — you just have to recognize that it will be different.

One obstacle for leaders to avoid is micromanaging. A lot of people worry that, if you can’t see your team working, they may be slacking off. Instead of focusing on how to control the team, focus on how to promote their emotional health and keep them motivated.

What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Culture is a big topic, but here are some key areas of focus. First, be intentional about designing what you want — I keep coming back to intentionality because it is very important to set clear goals. Your culture should be transparent and promote openness. You should establish, with your team, how to measure success and performance, so that everyone is clear. Keep things positive and upbeat. Make a point of celebrating wins, and focus on what is working and build from that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would allow as many people as possible to continue to work virtually. The idea of returning to “normal” is not realistic, and the benefits of remote work outweigh those of working in an office every day. The pandemic has shown us that remote work means parents have more time to spend with their children, couples have more time together, reduced commute traffic is good for the environment and other positives. Of course, some jobs can’t be done remotely, but for jobs that can be virtual, employees should have the option of working from home as frequently as they want.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Focus on your strengths.” For years, successful leaders have told us to “focus on your weaknesses,” but that’s just not good advice. In fact, most of the leaders who say that don’t do that. It’s similar to a key element of the StrengthsFinder program, and it helps you stay positive. Do what you love, work with people who are passionate and build on your strengths.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Follow @chrispdyer on Twitter.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success

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