Anne Bibb 0:00
Welcome back to Unexpected Journey. This week we have Sasha Connor. She’s the CEO of Virtual Work Insider, a consultancy, that provides thought leadership and training on how to lead, communicate, collaborate and build culture on hybrid and remote teams a very needed thing in today’s world. Welcome, Sacha.
Sacha Connor 0:20
Hi, Anne, thanks for having me.
Anne Bibb 0:22
I’m so excited. We’ve known each other for a long time, we have these little conversations on the regular, but this time, we’re gonna record it. Great. Oh, pressure, pressure. Like, what are we gonna say that actually the whole world is gonna hear today.
Sacha Connor 0:39
That’s through,you know, the video conferencing and not on a beach in Bali.
Anne Bibb 0:43
Right? Right. So for everybody that does not know us, because a lot of people do. Sasha and I actually met at Running Remote, which is a great conference that has been around for many years. But we met in Bali at this conference many, many years ago, I think it was in 2018, or 2019. And we’ve been friends ever since. And I am so grateful for that. When I met you, it was at the very beginning of your journey of starting virtual work insider,
Sacha Connor 1:20
right, this unexpected journey that we’re gonna talk about today.
Anne Bibb 1:24
Unexpected Journey, right? Because you were just kind of starting this. And I remember having this. We were sitting not on the beach, but not far from the beach. And I remember the ocean in the background. And I remember you telling me about how you were just starting this and you were kind of nervous about it. And you weren’t really sure. But you had this plan and you had this idea. So why I mean, what led you here? Why did you start this?
Sacha Connor 1:54
So why I started a virtual work Insider. Well, I just celebrated my 12 year remote anniversary. So remote aversary. I coined that phrase a couple years ago when I hit a decade of remote work. So now we’re at 12 years. So that’s 12 years of working remotely while leaving hybrid and remote teams. And my remote work story started back in 2010. So that was when I was working for the Clorox company, which is a $7 billion company that’s headquartered in Oakland, California. It makes a bunch of the products that you probably have in your in your household already
Anne Bibb 2:31
a little company just a tiny company Sasha
Sacha Connor 2:35
But so much more than cleaning products everybody thinks about is bleach and cleaning products, but I worked on Brita water filters Kingsford charcoal Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, right, a lot of people don’t no. Yes way. You’re kidding. Yes. Nope. Nope. Clarkson’s food brands. So I had had worked there for for 14 years in total. So I started working at the Oakland headquarters, and I was there for six years when my husband and I had our first of our two kids. My daughter Nevin. And my family and my husband’s family live, lived and still live in the Philadelphia area. And we wanted her to grow up near her grandparents. So that prompted me to ask a bold question of Clorox, which was kind of keep my job, but do it from the opposite coasts of the United States. So back in 2010, it was unheard of at the time to have a job like I did, which was leading large new product innovation teams and marketing teams and sales teams, and not doing it from headquarters, but I had a good relationship with the chief marketing officer. And he said, Okay, you could be an experiment. Let’s see if you can do your job from 3000 miles and three timezones away.
Anne Bibb 3:49
This is the word that we all want to hear as executives, you could be an experiment.
Sacha Connor 3:56
I took it in a positive light. But also, I mean, it came with a lot of pressure. I felt like you know, I had to figure this out. Because if I didn’t figure this out, then no one else was going to be allowed to do. And, you know, that experiment turned into eight years of me leading large hybrid teams for my office here in the Philadelphia suburbs. So I realized that hybrid work and remote work is really hard. And I was having to learn through trial and error. And you know, some days I felt like I had a hand tied behind my back. Other days, I felt like I was blindfolded trying to do the work that I was doing. But it led me to realize that I was learning so much through that trial and error process, that I was uniquely positioned to actually help others to help other teams companies, industries by creating training that you use my successes and my screw ups and also the latest best practices and hybrid and remote work to help others Just get up that learning curve faster. So that’s what eventually led to me founding virtual work Insider. Now, it’s been over four years.
Anne Bibb 5:08
One of the things that you’ve told me over the years, and then I found very interesting was that when you were at Clorox that, and you went remote, you started an erg to help people because you were the first, but then it was a successful experiment, and others started doing it. So how did you how did this erg come about? And then how did you go about? Did you present that ERP opportunity as something that you wanted to do? Or did they come to you? And say, this is a needed thing? And then how did you grow that?
Sacha Connor 5:48
Yeah, I love telling the story about the employee resource group. And so actually, it started out as a small pocket of people that sound each other that we’re working for live remotely. So as I was mentioning, before, even when I went remote back in 2010, I didn’t know how to do this. I went from overnight working in the headquarters office with the people that I was working with on mostly on a daily basis to now like I said, 3000 miles or three times I was away. And 2010, this, we didn’t have a lot of the technology tools that we have now as well. So I was having every day to kind of reinvent how to do my job. And so I found this pocket of people and other functions across the company that we’re also working fully remotely. And so when I say small pocket, I mean, it was less than 5% of roughly 8000 employees. And we started just informally to get together and share best practices. How are you being involved in this type of meeting? How are you handling, getting this type of work done. And then in 2013, we had this idea to take that concept of a traditional Employee Resource Group and apply it to the virtual workforce. So for those who don’t know what an erg is, oftentimes, large corporations and enterprises especially have these groups that are volunteer led teams that are responsible for supporting colleagues and driving business goals. And they’re usually formed around common interests, backgrounds, or demographics. So for example, there’s women energies, black energies, Asian Pacific year, geez, next gen parents, ERG youth, that kind of thing. And so we took that concept and applied to the virtual workforce and created the first ever virtual workforce employee resource group, not first ever at Clorox first ever. And at first, we thought we were creating this group for that small pocket that 5% of fully remote employees. But then what happened was, we started to see more and more signups to be part of the erg. We were becoming the fastest and largest growing employee years, ERG and I started asking people who worked at out of headquarters, why they were signing up for the ERG because they weren’t working remotely. And I learned that they said, Well, we’re working with people and other office sites and some of the remote employees. We need to learn how to work in these virtual teams. So
Anne Bibb 8:11
they wanted to work, learn how to work with them, even though they weren’t in them.
Sacha Connor 8:16
Yes. And that for me, it was like this huge lightbulb moment, which was what we were teaching and talking about with each other was important to 95% of the workforce, because we were all working across distance in some way, even from headquarters in Oakland, California, to our large campus in Pleasanton, which is a 30 minute drive. That was a virtual relationship. And those teams, they were innovation teams that were across those two different buildings, sites that needed to even know how to work with each other and work with the sales offices that were in other parts of the US and the globe. So that was a huge lightbulb
Anne Bibb 8:55
moment. I guess my big question here is How do you start an erg?
Sacha Connor 9:00
So, most er, G’s are under the Diversity Equity inclusion umbrella within a company. So the chief diversity officer may be overseeing that your G is within your company. So we went to that Director of Diversity and Inclusion in our lot of
Anne Bibb 9:17
our listeners, though, are to give you an idea, we have 50% Men, 50% women, we have an age range of 25 to 55. And it’s pretty equal across, which to me indicates that we have people that are all the way from manager all the way up to C suite. And we have which I found very fascinated startups to enterprise. So they might not have a chief diversity officer. They may be in that, you know, middle to end stage startup and realizing that this is something that they need, but they don’t quite have a CTO or chief diversity officer or CHRO. But they know that this is something that as an organization that they need, if that’s if that’s what they need, and they don’t have that resource, what would your recommendation be? So my recommendation
Sacha Connor 10:16
there is to go to whoever the decision makers are in the company to talk about, you know, what the need is that they’ve identified and present a recommendation on how they would create this erg to help fill that need. There’s a case study about this era, GE I created, it was what we called it Orbitz. And so we can do a link to that case study. And then also, virtual work insider offers some services actually helped create these energies. So if somebody wants to reach out to us as well about that we can help as well.
Anne Bibb 10:48
I loved the orbit, you know, the whole thing, which can I vaguely remember.
Sacha Connor 10:54
orbit so or orbit was officers remotes, but integral teammates, which was our original name for the IR G. And we had named it that because what we were feeling a lot was what we didn’t have a word for at the time, which was distance bias, or brain’s natural tendency to put more importance on the people and things that are closer to us than those that are further away. This is part of the neuro leadership Institute’s unconscious bias model. And we were feeling that and so that kind of came out in that in that acronym, the orbit acronym, it really does.
Anne Bibb 11:28
And that’s one of the reasons I loved it so much. And you’re right, it does encapsulate distance bias. And that’s one of the reasons I loved orbits so much just the word orbit. To me even I felt the integral teams, even though I couldn’t remember the word because we’re all in the same orbit.
Sacha Connor 11:46
Yeah, exactly. So we love that the fact that we were all in different places, but we were all really integral. And over time, as I was mentioning before, because we were having so many people sign up that actually weren’t working remotely, they were working in distributed offices, we dropped kind of the acronym and just went with the orbit name, because then it was encompassing everybody who was signing up for this. And our in our mission became broader, which was to enable Clorox employees and teams to thrive wherever they lived, or worked.
Anne Bibb 12:18
I just thought that was the coolest story. And I love talking about it. And I wanted to make sure everybody had an opportunity. And I do want to talk specifically about different kinds of training and hybrid type of training and leadership hybrid right now is being defined well, it’s almost undefined. Because it’s being defined by different organizations differently. It can be defined, as, you know, coming into the office a couple days a week, it can be defined, as you know, I’m a hybrid organization, because I’ve got half the team in house and half the team that works from home. So I’m a hybrid organization, not the people coming in and out. But I’ve got some here and there. So you know, it’s interesting in there are multiple different ways that people are defining it. I’m having a hybrid meeting, because I’ve got some people that are here, and I’ve got some people that are there, I’m having a hybrid training. Because I’ve got some people here and some people that are not I’m having a hybrid training, because some people are, I’m doing some of it here, but some of its going away. It’s interesting how hybrid is being defined so differently by so many different people. And it’s almost feels like you have to put the second word with hybrid in order to understand what they mean by hybrid.
Sacha Connor 13:46
Mm hmm. I think what you’re bringing up is that hybrid has become the buzzword of it probably started with 2021. Right? If we if we go back to kind of where I started with virtual work insider, I started the business to help companies work across distance, whatever distance meant for them. And that could mean as some of the things that you just talked about, that could mean a group of people that is in the location majority in a in a conference room together with people who are in other office sites in conference rooms together, it could mean a group of people that’s together with other people who are fully remotes and in multiple different locations, time zones, etc. And like you said, that could mean a hybrid work strategy, or it could mean a hybrid meeting. But I think the real thing to think about when it comes to hybrid is there are so many different Workforce Strategy choices that companies are making and each company is deciding on their workforce strategy based on their company values based on the type of work they do based on their employees needs and wants, and they are super complex decisions. So So, I’ve been working with really large organizations that have made a wide variety of these decisions from what we would call hybrid flex, meaning, you know, some general guidelines for when people need to be in office. So for example, you know, some people might be on some sort of weekly schedule come in a couple of days a week, whatever it is you choose, or you’re expected to come in monthly, again, on the days that you choose with your team, or quarterly, or hybrid structured, where there are some organizations that are defining those in office days, they found it to be a simpler way to by defining that, for example, employees must come into their local office Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday each week. And in those cases, they’re making those decisions, because it’s simplifying that others know that, that other people on their team or their function, or their company will be there. And they wouldn’t be commuting just to be in an office by themselves on a video conference all day long. So it’s a wide variety, as you said, and that where people are defining these different hybrid workforce strategies,
Anne Bibb 16:09
very well said. And one of the other things I’m hearing from you is something that we, as remote work advocates have said for many years is that remote work is not one size fits all. I am also hearing hybrid is not one size fits all.
Sacha Connor 16:25
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that this is an incredible time of experimentation right now. So even if a company has set a workforce strategy of what I was talking about hybrid structure Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, each week, or if they’ve set one that’s hybrid flexible, where it’s it’s telling you some groups that they need to come in, on a weekly basis, monthly Quarterly, we don’t know what the right answer is yet. We are experimenting, we are going to see how that works in terms of hitting business objectives. And also making sure that people are engaged and feeling great about the work that they do and the flexibility that they have. And it should be iterative, learn here, hear from your employees, see how the business results are coming in and adjust. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit about upskilling for this environment. But that’s an important piece of this as well, because we can’t just assume we’re going to create this experiment about hybrid work, and that everybody’s going to know how to do it, and it’s going to be perfect.
Anne Bibb 17:21
And I think that that’s a really good point, though, is that you have to be flexible, right? I mean, don’t put your feet in the sand and say this is where you know, bring the cement on. This is where we’re staying. Because as things change, I mean, look at everything that’s happened over the last five years. You’re nowhere near where you were five years ago, three years ago, six months ago, right? How often as businesses, we have to change. Yeah, even as you grow as an organization, you have to change, you need to be flexible and adjust in order to continue to grow and move as an organization. So I think that’s a really important message you just gave I and a nice segue that you just gave also, to talk about the important differences in how we train for remote hybrid on site. How is it different to train for a hybrid workforce?
Sacha Connor 18:15
Yeah, and I think I would even ladder that up to you that there’s this constant of of teams working across distance, as we’ve talked about before, right. That could be hybrid. That could mean you’re we’re also hearing terms like remote first workforces work from anywhere workforces geographically distributed teams, right, all of these terms, and in my opinion, the constant there is working across some sort of distance. And we need to create the skills and the mindsets and the behaviors to enable those teams that are working across distance. And I think that there’s two important components to this. One is needing to be aware of the unconscious biases that happen in those work environments. So distance bias and recency bias. So I’ve mentioned already distance bias or our brain’s natural tendency to put more value on the people and things that are closer to us than those that are farther away. And it’s close cousin, which is recency bias, which is our brain’s natural tendency to put more value in the people and things that we’ve heard from or seen most recently. And those biases are they are rearing their ugly head again, as as we’re hybrid work environments are happening and offices were reopening. And you’ve got a pupil group of people that are co located together and the location might majority with others in the location minority. So first is being aware of those unconscious biases. And the second piece is that people leaders and individual contributors they have not yet been taught the skills to be what I call Omni modal leaders. And what I mean by Omni modal is being equally successful with communicating, collaborating, influencing building culture. Turn relationships in all of these different modes. So a fully in person mode is different than a hybrid mode where you might be in a building or a conference room with some people with others that you’re having to interact in other places, which is different than a mode of being with a fully remote group. And what’s happening now is that people are having to switch between these modes, even within a given day. So for example, you might have someone who is at home in the morning, and they are running a fully remote global meeting. And then they commute into the office. And they have a small and often in person meeting in the office, and then some other in person touchpoints. And then they jump into a conference room where they are facilitating meeting with some people in the room with them, and others that are remote, and then they commute back home. And they are then logging into a meeting where they are remote, and other people are together in an office in an office setting or a meeting room.
Anne Bibb 21:02
That sounds exhausting
Sacha Connor 21:04
it this is a huge ask for people to learn how to do this. I’ve been doing this for 12 years. And I am still learning every day on how to be better at this. And I think we need to pause and realize we haven’t prepared our people yet to be able to switch across these modes.
Anne Bibb 21:21
Now, I mean, not only,
Unknown Speaker 21:25
not only is that exhausting from a brain capacity, and switching across modes, the time and energy that we’re asking people to give is exhausting. It’s just
Anne Bibb 21:37
exhausting. Like it just is. But also the leadership that is needed from those types of individuals. Yes, the Omni modal, which I love that word. And I’m totally using that moving forward. The Omni modal need to be able to do that. But that is a different type of leadership need for somebody to be able to do that and lead a team in that capacity I there’s that’s next level. And I think that we saw over and I’ve had this conversation with many different people over the pandemic, we saw that gap get magnified. And when I say magnified, it was it was highlighted the myths that was happening there. Because remote work has been around for decades, I started remote working in the 90s in the 1900s. But you know it and I was leading. But what I find interesting is that it was in people saying that remote work is what caused so many issues. But it was during the pandemic, when so many people move remote, that they weren’t trained on how to do what you just said, of leading across distance, if you don’t know how to do it, if you don’t know the signs to look for, if you don’t know what to listen for that is that’s going to be stressful, not just on you, but on your team. And then to go back into the office and enjoy it, then a hybrid environment, the shift that is needed. There’s a huge gap across the leadership training that is needed across corporate right now. And I’m interested to hear where you feel the gaps are across this. And this is not just in any industry. It’s not just in any size. It’s just leadership that needs help on how to lead and not just not manage lead people and both remote and hybrid.
Sacha Connor 23:51
Yeah, and that word lead, I want to talk about that for a second. Because when I go into companies, often I get asked to train the people leaders. And I like to use the word leader more broadly, which is I think even if you’re an individual contributor, you’re expected to lead, you’re expected to show thought thought leadership, you’re expected to show people leadership even cross functionally. So I think that the skills needed to become Omni modal leaders is actually at all levels of the company. And especially important because I don’t think that the weight of this should be completely on the people manager shoulders. It’s actually a two way street, that even the individual contributors need to know how to work remotely how to work in hybrid environments with their manager remotely and hybrid in a hybrid environment and vice versa. So I think that this is applicable to all levels of the organization. And it’s even applicable at the very senior levels of the organization where I think that there are some people who actually think that they know how to do this already, but could also maybe have a refresher or it’s good for them to go through the training at the same time, so that everybody is learning the same skills mindsets and behaviors, the same terminology and kind of going through this change management together. So that’s just a little bit on leadership there. And then what you’re talking about the difference between, you know, the pandemic remote work, and then transitioning into hybrid work, the pandemic that I, what happened was I, what I knew was going to happen was that people were going to fall back on the two things that they knew how to do, which was scheduled meetings and send emails,
Anne Bibb 25:33
then meet Sasha, the meeting. Yes. The, okay, just do what, back to back eight hours of meetings. In those meetings, you’re talking about meetings, you’re getting assigned tasks that you can’t get to until the end of the day, because you’ve spent all day in meetings. Right, though madness.
Sacha Connor 25:54
And that’s carrying over now into these hybrid work environments. So I’ll give you an example of what was happening, it was back to back meetings, and then nobody ever kind of unraveled that. And then as some people were having to commute back into an office, others were creating meeting invites that were happening during the commute times of other people. And so their team members were not showing up to meetings, or calling in, you know, in the car and distracted, because there weren’t intentional conversations around. Okay, what are our new hybrid work schedules? What is our working agreement. And so we are working a lot with teams right now to create these hybrid team or remote team working agreements to walk these teams through the steps to intentionally codify their team norms. And that includes things like availability expectations, so whether you’re some people are commuting on any given day, so they can’t now call into a Zoom meeting between seven and 9am, for example, and it also means having conversations around the the team’s anatomy, their geographic anatomy, that we, we often will map out visually where the team is, so that it actually is in black and white to say, Oh, we have people that are in four different time zones or six different time zones. And so when you schedule a meeting, that is at 1pm, Eastern, you know, what does that mean, for Europe or even within the US, you know, we see a lot of unintentionally, you know, back to headquarters centric, if you have headquarters on Pacific time that a lot of those meetings then require East Coast people or central timezone people to to work really late. And that group might not feel comfortable speaking up for themselves to have a more location inclusive timezone choice for a meeting. So one of the things that we do too, with teams is actually create a chart to where every bit what timezone people are in what location they’re in, you know, help get, get people to know each other a little bit better, too, and then start to talk to them about the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Oh,
Anne Bibb 28:03
gosh, here we go. That is that go the asynchronous conversation?
Sacha Connor 28:10
Well, it’s new for especially for a lot of more legacy, longer, longer. tenured companies haven’t even thought about communication in those terms, right. Most enterprises are highly synchronous enterprises. So if I think back to Clorox, that the the, the experience that I had,
Anne Bibb 28:29
do they realize, though, that they’ve been communicating asynchronously for years through email?
Sacha Connor 28:34
No, because that’s not the word. That’s not the word, right? That’s not the term. This is a fairly new term that we’re using to describe that, right. But they, they definitely lean more heavily to synchronous communication, for collaboration, decision making, brainstorming, all of those things needed to be done live, they weren’t things that were being done asynchronously. And again, back to my experience at Clorox, I was in back to back meetings all day long, every day. So I get it, I get it. But what we do it with teams is try to unravel that a little bit and talk about what should be done asynchronously versus what should be done synchronously. And a lot of that is getting to change the behavior of having meetings for updates and share outs, right. So a lot of meetings are just meant to share out information and provide an update or an FYI, versus being very action oriented to having things done asynchronously is pretty work so that the live synchronous time can be used for debate, decision making, understanding something that’s more nuanced. And that’s, that is that is a new behavior that we’re starting to teach. And to that point, I think the idea of the standups virtual standups huddles that’s a new concept to a lot of teams, and then to even synchronous huddles and then to move that to asynchronous is a very different behavior. But it can become very powerful, as you said, because it’s a way to keep everybody accountable for what they’re working on. I used to have synchronous stand ups on Monday mornings with my team. And as a team leader, it was super helpful to do that, because I could make sure that in my hybrid team, because I wasn’t there every day kind of being able to run into people in the office, that we were all aligned on our priorities for the week, because the worst thing is that people are off working on something that they shouldn’t be, that isn’t a priority for that week. So finding a way to create a ritual, whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous, to make sure that everybody is on the same page with the priorities for that week, that month, that quarter, even, is really important. And once we can give you a toolbox of things like a synchronous stand up and asynchronous stand up office hours, in other other rituals that can replace some of these one hour long meetings, then it frees up your time to do focused work, it allows you to not always have to work nights and weekends to catch up on the things that you mentioned around like I’m taking meeting notes about all the action items that need to happen. But when am I ever going to get this done? If it’s not at night or on the weekends?
Anne Bibb 31:20
Absolutely. So Sasha, how would or why would somebody get in touch with you? And then how would they get in touch with you.
Sacha Connor 31:32
So if you are interested in any upskilling skills, workshops in hybrid and remote work, and that could be at a team level that could be at an enterprise level, or even just a Keynote or some sort of panel discussion. So we do a lot of speaking engagements as well. And we work from the team level all the way up to the C suite, then you can reach out to me, our website is virtual work insider.com. And I know that we’ll put some links with the podcast as well. You can also follow me on LinkedIn. So my name is Sasha Connor CEO and you can find me on LinkedIn there, follow me there, DM me there if you’d like I put out content weekly on hybrid and remote work as well. And on the website as well. You can see what our top five skills workshops are. And they range everything from what we talked about, about setting those expectations and norms with a team to how do you influence across distance. So that’s something we didn’t get into deeply today. But that is a hugely important skill. And one of the hardest skills to master is how do you influence your key stakeholders when you can’t be in person with them on a daily basis? And how do you build culture in teams? And how do you work with direct reports and a manager who’s not co located with you? So we have workshops that range across those different skills.
Anne Bibb 32:59
Wonderful, and as Sasha said, those links will be below. And we are so grateful, Sasha, for you joining us this week. Thank you. I look forward to you being on the show again. And we look forward to seeing everybody again next week.