In this podcast episode, Liam Martin, Co-organizer of Running Remote, shared with Max his recruitment hack on remote hiring. In contrast to the technical test employed in traditional recruitment, Liam emphasized that cultural fit is the default tool to hire the right people in a remote organization.
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Max: Hello, welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Ambruster, and today on the show we're going to talk about hiring remotely and how do you do that at scale. I'm delighted to welcome to the show Liam Martin. Liam is the Co-founder of Staff.com, Time Doctor which… which helps employers hire employees from anywhere in the world, and help manage their time or the organizer of the Running Remote's conference, which has been going around for a few years and great timing on that Liam and then and, recently, you took that running remote title and you slapped it on a book.
Liam: That is true.
Max: And so, yes, we'll talk about that book. Thanks for coming on Liam, and looking forward to… to picking your brain on how to hire remotely.
Liam: Yeah thanks for having me. I think that hiring remotely is actually one of those issues that hasn't really been addressed all that much during what I like to call the pandemic panic period of remote work, the last two and a half years, because no one really had to learn how to play because they were literally just transitioning their teams to a remote work model, and now I think we're actually going to see a lot of work being done in this space.
Max: Yeah, yeah, then then last year, the big theme was the great resignation. And I don't know if the numbers have come in, yet on whether people have been able to retain their remote workers, but certainly I'm hearing a lot of people saying it's harder to hire now because people refuse non remote work so there's all segments of the population that refuses to come back in.
Liam: Yeah there's a statistic that I heard actually when I was speaking at a conference a couple months ago and I'm going to pair it here may or may not be true, but supposedly more people quit in the month of June last year in the United States than history of the United States, which is pretty scary statistic when you think about it, so many people quitting their jobs, and when you look at the actual reasons as to why people are doing it, it all ties back to remote work, undoubtedly, it is fundamentally easier to enter and leave a job now with remote work than it was in the past, so it's even more important to be able to retain that talent and I think there's a bunch of strategies that people can implement to be able to do that, but before you even do that need to actually hire them. A little bit more of a complicated process. Yeah hiring the right people you know I got some counterintuitive perspectives towards that.
Max: Okay, great well before we dive into those perhaps for for those who don't know Time Doctor and Running Remote, could you give us like the the one minute overview of what you do.
Liam: Sure, so Time Doctors, a time tracking tool for remote teams that company's been in operation for 10, 11 years. We effectively lovingly call it Fitbit for work, and it really came out of the problem that I was having which was, I actually had a business before Time Doctor, which was a Tutoring business. And I couldn't actually measure how long a tutor work with a student, it was creating a big problem instead of that business. So Time Doctor scratch that itch. The second business, which was born out of basically our core mission statement which is trying to help the world transition towards remote work was running remote, and we did one of our team retreats in Baraka, which is a very small island, it's the party island in the Philippines and we we get to like oh it's a great spot, isn't it?
Max: Yeah, yeah. Great. Great. Fun.
Liam: Lots of lots of Red Horse that we drink there, I think I got very, very drunk at the end of that actual team retreat and. The issue that we had was there was so much information on how to hire a virtual assistant, or how to be a digital nomad but we didn't want to know those things. We wanted to know how do we get to 250 people, 500 people, 1000 people, 10,000 people. As a remote first organization, a lot of remote companies and since you've been remote from the inception, you probably know this. They have a bit of a chip on their shoulder where they're kind of seen is like lifestyle businesses right like oh, that's a cute little half a million dollar a year business that you have, I hope that it goes well, as opposed to really. The incredibly fast growing segment of the market that I think it is today, I actually think promote first organizations are going to be the majority of hyper growth tech companies within the next five years, and so we're really frustrated on this. There was no information and I just said okay, let's do a ready shoot aim philosophy. Let's just get on you. And then I'll talk to a couple of my friends that are in there about workspace and see if we can put something together and that was the beginning of running remote, which we are finally going back to in person conferences, May 17 and 18th in Montreal, Canada, and we've got a great you know grabbing speakers that are really coming from. It's an interesting time for us actually. This is the first physical conference we've had since we've… since we basically come back from COVID, and remote work has changed so much. I think it's a complete kind of reimagining of what remote work is, and I'm excited to be able to do the conference.
Max: I hope you have a good sales team for for this event, because I, it seems like every tech company has got its got a story to tell now on how to run remote.
Liam: So I completely agree on that. I actually have a bit of an insider joke here. There's so many remote companies coming out of the woodwork that said that they were remote pioneers. You know before it like basically if someone is legit to me it was did I know about them pre-COVID? If I knew about them pre-COVID, they're automatically legit because I've gotten pitched by so…I mean I've got a dose this week gotta speak at the conference, and so critical for me to speak at the conference, and I know everything about remote work.
Max: And then I talked to the county data and they're like three months old. Right, and it's gonna you're gonna miss. You miss the early adopters. Well, alright let's let's let's talk about you know the good thing about the early adopters they they make all the mistakes and they learn all the lessons, and they clear the space so so let's talk about the mistakes that we've made as employers hiring remotely. And we were speaking beforehand about the Steve Jobs philosophy that you should know who your who are not your customers better than who are your customers. Could you expand on that and see how and discuss how that applies to candidates as customers.
Liam: Sure um I loved there's this talk, and it's… I don't know if it's… I mean it's on the Internet somewhere. I've watched it a couple times, where this this interviewer asked Steve Jobs will you ever have a sub $1,000 notebook and that's when $1,000 was you know, a lot of money, not in the hyperinflation days of today. And he said no, I'll never build a $1,000 notebook because none of our customers are selling $1,000 notebook people, like we only target people that can afford a $1,000 plus notebook. And when you think about that, it's actually a really good measure to be able to identify who your customers are. We talked about running remote. Digital nomads, not our customer. A business that has you know, one to two employees, not our customer. People that don't want to go remote, are not interested in it at all, not our customer. What are we interested in? We're interested in people that are interested in building and scaling remote in hybrid teams and are really excited about building a business, not necessarily building, you know, a lifestyle business on the side that makes 10 grand a year, or something like that.
Max: As that applies to people.
Liam: I think you still have to have the same philosophy, so we have a culture test internally, where we really focus on what… and I love the term culture, because it's used so often in the tech startup world, but no one really knows what the hell that means. You have to have a really important culture. What does that mean? Like what… Does that mean you know aeron chairs and like free lunch? Is that culture? No, it's not culture. The sociological definition of culture is, what are the unique activities that you do, that other groups do not. So we really try to identify what makes us unique as a culture, and then we try to get rid of people that don't necessarily want to apply to that particular model of working, so we have you know before the pandemic, a big one was we work remotely. We’ll never have an office. We have people and team members in 43 different countries all over the world. Everyone will work remotely. We will never have an office ever. If you're interested in having an office, don't come work here. That's an example of those types of cultural touchpoints that I think are really important before making those long-term purchases, which are basically, the most important purchases in your business, which is your people.
Max: But that's a good practice for people who are doing first interviews is to really outline who should not be applying for a job and in a way to let… so that the candidates are the future… the potential future higher screen you out as an employer and say well this this is going to do it for me because they're they're very adamant about the fact that they don't want this, and they don't want that. That could be done, you know as a first interview, and in your case, you said it’s a test that you've built in.
Liam: So we generally uhm… and I took this leadership from Shopify actually, where they don't… so the candidates that are brought in, they figure out there's a first pass of do they meet the base requirements for the position? They do not do any technical. Their first test that they do was a culture test. Because they recognize. If you're perfectly you know positioned for this job, from a technical perspective, but you don't have the right culture fit, we're going to hire you and then you're going to quit in six months, which is the worst. I mean that's the absolute worst place to be. You've gone through onboarding. You've integrated them into your culture. You spent all that managerial overhead to be able to get them into your organization, and then they quit, right? That's the absolute worst place to be. So they're realizing well let's not be tempted by technical fit. Let's actually just focus on cultural fit first and then, if they meet the cultural fit, then we talk about technical fit.
Max: Right. And and so in Running Remote, you you you you've written about the best practices to put in place for hiring remotely. Is uhm… is that is that part of your… the toolkit? Is the standard toolkit that you recommend is a culture test at the front? Or there's some other some some other methodologies that you, you advocate for?
Liam: Well, so even from a psychosomatic or psychometrics perspective, there's there's some interesting data as well. Remote work really is very friendly towards introverted people. So this is a, this is one of the strongest signals that we've had and the way that we're measuring that is basically retention. So does someone quit, right? Remote first organizations, if you're extroverted, your chance of quitting goes up, and we think it's simply because people get lonely. So the way that you solve for that, you can’t hire extra pretty people. You just need to be able to keep entertained in some other way, which is going to a coworking space. You know sending them to coffee shops. Getting them a social circle that's not necessarily their work circle is a way to be able to hedge against that, but fundamentally introversion counter-intuitively is by far the most important variable that we found that is going to make for a successful long term higher.
Max: When…when I'm going through the people in my company in my head and thinking. Yeah, that… the the extroverts would be the exception. So do you think that by that token it's going to be difficult for certain organizations that are more maybe sales reliance and that need to to offer a service approach? I mean, in fact, we know that a lot of the…the BPO world, the call center world has managed to move to hybrid or some some even fully remote and… and they need to hire extroverts, I would imagine, so… so it can be done, but maybe…maybe you're saying the easier… easier for companies that are hiring remote teams of engineers, for example, which tend to be more introverts.
Liam: To a degree, I mean, I think there are introverted sales people there are people that are able to build that deep intimate connection with just one person. And it can work, but I agree with you, the vast majority of sales people just are… you know they're attracted towards extroverted perspectives as it applies to sales, but I would say, I mean it's um. I actually think remote and where we are right now, like January, 4% of the US workforce was working remotely. March, 45% of the US workforce was working remotely like wham, exponential jump and that's the biggest transition, since the industrial revolution in work, but the industrial revolution took eight years, and we did it in March. So we've completely transformed the way that work is being done and long term, we're projecting 30% of the US workforce will be working remotely literally like 2022 and on post-pandemic so, there's got to be a place for these people to go, and whether you're introverted or extroverted you really have to actually learn a couple key variables to succeed from a hiring perspective, from a working perspective which, and I think the actual, the most important one is the ability to be able to focus on information and ideas, as opposed to individuals, so I think that the future of remote work will be the future of the introverted leader. I think that the vast majority of not that…when I interview people for the book, I interviewed two dozen billion-dollar plus remote-first organizations. And the biggest signal that I got from all of that group was number one, their managerial layer was about 50% smaller than the average company of the same size, which is an interesting…
Max: Like an organization, you have more people reporting to you.
Liam: Well, there are more people doing work and there are less people telling people what to do. Yeah so any organization, in which you can optimize towards deep work, which is basically solving very difficult problems quickly, you're going to have a faster-moving organization, so if you can remove, you can tighten up at managerial layer. That's a big one, and that's actually due to my second biggest assumption, which I was pretty surprised about, which is why I actually made the entire book about it, which is asynchronous management, the ability to be able to say listen, I don't need to tell Max what my targets are or what my numbers are, even though Max is my manager because I'm just going to put it inside of a Google Doc or somewhere. It's going to be automatically reported. And then Max doesn't have to tell his manager, and his manager doesn't have to tell the boss, the boss can basically know everything and not only that, Liam and Max can know everyone's numbers everywhere. You can have the same kind of radically transparent view of the business as the CEO. If you have the same informational advantage as the CEO of the company, you automatically make better decisions up and down the org chart but, more importantly, when the difficult decisions need to be made, a lot of people actually understand what the heck is going on. They’re like oh, I understand why we actually have to cut 10% of the workforce. Because if we don't right now, we're going to be screwed in six months, because we don't have the cash to be able to keep going, and that's the part that all of these asynchronous remote-first companies have in common.
Max: And uhm… the percentage of of those big companies that are you know going for hundreds or thousands of employees that are truly, you know, like truly remote where you can hire anybody in the globe is quite small right? Because usually they would they would pick one, two or you know, a handful of countries to run remote.
Liam: Absolutely. That's something that I think is changing. Companies like ourselves. Get Lab, you know, Get Lab hires everywhere on Planet Earth. Companies like Todoist, they have…they hire everywhere on Planet Earth. Buffer hires everywhere on Planet Earth but, they’re actually very small companies. Zapier as well, but they actually have a lot of their employees located in North America. They've just realized that there are some asynchronous versus synchronous challenges, so they've realized that they actually need to silo at least some some overhang hours. But the companies that are incredibly successful have basically just built their businesses with this one core assumption, which is what if we could never talk to anyone in person? What if there were no… What if we could not communicate synchronously? What if there was no way for us to be able to do it? There's some… Zoom, you know, explodes tomorrow. There's no more Google Meet. There's no more Skype. What the heck do we do? How do we build a business that way? And then, when you put your mind into that perspective, you actually build a business that is incredibly resistant towards problems. I'm currently seeing a huge conflict between Russia and Ukraine right now. Conflict…a war between Russia and Ukraine right now. You can sidestep a lot of those problems but, more importantly, this actually makes your business much more effective to scale. So if you have the process, be the manager, as opposed to the manager, you can train a 1000 sales reps, not just one or two at a time.
Max: Uhm…one question that I, I always go back to is hiring mistakes. And in the context of remote hiring, as you, as you pointed out, some people will be at a psychological disadvantage in a remote organization, extroverts notably, and they… they are there's you've given some tools to work on that. But when you know, when you when you think back on your your personal journey as an employer, as a recruiter, and you think about some of the mistakes that you made. Is there… can you point to one example where you hired somebody, it didn't work out, and and what lessons the audience can take from that unfortunate experience, I mean. You gotta pick one, because I know you I know you've got an end you got dozens that flying through your mind. Now now that's um...
Liam: So we always assess, every quarter actually, we… we assess regrettable and unregrettable terminations. So um there are some people that quit and we think to ourselves, oh man thank God, he quit. Because otherwise we would have had to fire him right? And you've all been… I mean everyone that's managing a company right now, you've been in that headspace. Um so we try to basically identify, is more than 25% of our termination events regrettable? If that is then we're in a deep… we’re in…we're basically in pretty serious trouble and we need to be able to make a shift pretty quickly. In terms of the reasons. I would probably say it's almost entirely connected back to culture, and I hate to use that term because I actually hate that like it's such an all encompassing term but I can remember, I did an interview for a sales person and this person was incredibly well-positioned for a job with our company. Had the right experience, work with the right type of technology, understood our technology stack, understood our CRM systems, and throughout this interview he said, Oh well, you know I don't really believe in remote work. As I go, what do you mean? What do you mean you don't believe in remote work? And he gave me a long answer. He basically said that remote work doesn't work and it's not going to be successful long term. And I said so, you know that our mission statement is that we're trying to empower the world's transition towards remote work right? And he said yeah, but I can sell this software. I'm just telling you straight up I don't necessarily believe in, you know, remote work. And I was like, awesome...
Max: I mean in hindsight, is….
Liam: …I need to get out of here right now, like you need to get off the bus
immediately. So really for me it's just identifying… I mean the vast majority of people that we hire right now, with the great resignation, they can find another job instantly and they can probably find a better job actually long term. We're very… I mean we're relatively competitive, but Facebook and Google and Apple and all of these big corporations are all spinning up remote hiring on at scale, so I actually think the real pioneers like us, are going to be significantly left behind in comparison to what hiring was like, you know, two or three years ago. But it's just literally saying, listen, do you actually connect to what we really care about? Would you do this job for free? If you had like… if you had 10 million in the bank, would you…what part of the job would you do for free? Would you do any of this job for free?
Max: That’s a good question.
Liam: And if the answer is yes, and that's someone who I would keep for an extended amount of time.
Max: Did you hire the salesperson, Liam? Did you hire the salesperson you were talking about in your example?
Liam: No, we got rid of him immediately, like that was…
Max: That was out of the process. Okay. Okay.
Liam: That was immediately out of the… out of the game, yeah. Because to me…
Max: But you…I gotta hold you accountable because you dodged my question. The question was: a hiring mistake that you made.
Liam: I know. But it was such a… like there's a ton of people and they're all kind of, and I also want to be respectful of… If I tell a personal story, it might… I might identify something…
Max: I think you might get caught.
Liam: Well we just don't want to do that, we want to make sure that everyone…Like when people leave the company, they may disagree or agree with our decision, but at least we want them to feel like it was a fair decision that was made, and that they've left on good terms. If I had to really look at a core part again, it would it would come back to that cultural part it would come back to the… did they actually really identify with what we were as a company? I can tell you actually right now, one of the conflicts that we've had just recently was COVID really grew everything in remote work, so we had extraordinary growth during COVID, and our DNA as a company is a bootstrapped company. We are bootstrapped, we've never raised any money, and so we were hiring a lot of people that were really really experienced people that could scale venture backed companies, and we came up against some of that resistance and we basically discovered by we, I mean, like me and my Co-founder, discovered that that's actually part of our culture is being bootstrapped and being a little bit I mean some people would call us cheap probably a lot of people would call us cheap but just being more thrifty with where we put our dollar. And thinking a little bit. Maybe too much before making some… some tactical or strategic decisions in terms of spend. So that's something that we thought this was the direction that we wanted to go as a business, and we realized it had… it took us quite a bit of money and time to be able to recognize that that wasn't the direction that you take it.
Liam: It's constantly evolving and the thing was is that when we actually came back to the team members that were having that type of tension with us and we explained it to them, they were like: You know what? I agree. You guys it's just not… you're absolutely right, this is probably not the way that we want to go and it's much better if these people move on to something else, as opposed to continue on in the business and they moved on and they all got salaries double. What…what we had because they were really, really good people and they were incredibly passionate about the subject but it's just again, with hiring people, especially those A players, don't be concerned about letting them go. It may actually be the best thing that you could possibly do for them.
Max: If… if you're building…a key takeaway here is, if you built a unique culture around in bootstrapping but it's a form of hustle and you know, can do attitude with with limited need sometimes, you don't… you don't want to dilute that culture, even if it looks great on the resume, and it's an important element to preserve. So thanks for those lessons and for sharing Liam, and if people want to get a hold of you, and they want to buy your book, what's the… what's the best way for them to do so?
Liam: If you go to runningremote.com/book, you'll be able to go and check out the book there. We are launching August 16th and while you're there, if you're interested in going to the reading about conference, it's may 17th and 18th in Ontario Canada, which is a beautiful place to live.
Max: It’s not in the metaverse?
Liam: So…you know what? You actually have to come to the conference to get the answer to that one. That's all I'll say.
Max: It’s the portal, it’s the portal inside Montreal that takes you to the next dimension.
Liam:: I'm pretty excited about it, but you have to come to the conference. I'm not gonna get any more than that, and then Time Doctor, just go to timedoctor.com and then, if you want to kind of talk with me, best spot is YouTube. We put up all our talks for free, because, again, helping the road transition towards remote work means can't afford a ticket for 1000 bucks or even a book for 30 bucks you can afford for YouTube and you go to youtube.com/runningremote and you can check out all of our talks there.
Max: Thanks, Liam.
Liam: Thank you.
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