"If you work in an office, you walk across the hall or you go into the coffee kitchen and you meet your team and you talk. This happens naturally. But with remote work and distributed teams, you have to be intentional about those things, because they don't just happen."

In this episode

In episode 27, Marcus Wermuth reminds us that intentionality must come along with remote work.

Marcus is an Engineering and Product Manager at Buffer, a social media engagement and management platform. He is an advocate for remote work and is deeply passionate about helping managers build effective, distributed teams. 

In this interview, Marcus talks about hiring a team that is distributed around the world and how he makes it work. We talk about asynchronous meetings and making sure your meetings are bi-directional and personal.

Tune in to hear why we must remember to include humanness and personality in our work systems and structures because we are working with humans, and not avatars. 

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


Work is about understanding each other


Six team members, six time zones


The power of asynchronous meetings for remote teams


Knowledge sharing via meetings notes for remote teams


You Lead, I Listen, the 90/10 Rule


Remembering that we are more than avatars


The work of remote work


Remote work and cultural differences


Communication, culture and collision


What is active listening and why do you need to know about it?


Leaders need coaching too


Stay curious and continue learning


Episode Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee  2:17  

Marcus, welcome to the show. 

Marcus Wermuth  2:18  

Hey, thanks for having me. 

Aydin Mirzaee  2:19  

You know, obviously you’re no stranger to remote. You’ve been doing remote for most of your professional career. And certainly at buffer, buffer is an all remote company, right? 

Marcus Wermuth  2:29  

Yes, yes, exactly. Yeah, theoretically I’ve worked my whole professional life. Like remotely, I was a freelancer and worked with various companies and startups. And I always think of funny note that I mentioned, the longest that I’ve worked in a big office is like six months or so. 

Aydin Mirzaee  2:46  

Wow, six months? Okay. Well, I guess enough time for you to know that. You don’t want to do it on an ongoing basis? 

Marcus Wermuth  2:52  

No, no, definitely not. Yeah, I’ve been at Buffer now for the past five years. And as you already mentioned, Buffer doesn’t  have an office, were distributed from Australia to the west coast of the US. So basically, across the whole world. 

Aydin Mirzaee  3:04  

Yeah. So I think you know, we’re going to spend a lot of time today talking about, obviously, remote remote management, you know, this stuff that you live and breathe every day. But before we jump into it, I did want to ask you a few questions. And you know, the first one is really just going back in throughout your career to ask you and I know you’ve worked with a lot of different companies, especially when you had an agency mindset. I just want to ask you so from all the different bosses that you’ve had, which one has been your most favorite or more memorable? And why? 

Marcus Wermuth  3:37  

That’s a really good question. The funny thing is that I’ve worked a long time as a freelancer and worked mostly with clients, but we can consider them bosses in a way to two that come to mind, I want to highlight maybe one that kind of pushed me in another direction was maybe a good boss, and the other one that was maybe very good boss, and it helped me kind of get to where I’m at right now. One was kind of the CEO of a small startup that I worked with. And I worked as a freelancer or was part of the team. But we had to be in a certain place for three days or so a week. And I had to travel like one and a half hours every time back and forth. And, of course, pitch the idea, hey, listen, I can also work from home, you know, like, it’s gonna be the same, we might have to change some things, but he was very against it and kind of was very forcing of, Hey, we all have to be here. And, you know, like the boss that has that old mindset of managing people. The problem was, that person was even younger than me. So there was a young person having an old management and leadership style that kind of really pushed me into another direction and look even more into the remote work field and how that all works. Another example I think, a better example, probably would have to say is my current manager Katie. She’s the VP of Engineering at buffer and I think that I’ve learned a lot about humans and managing humans from her, I would say, and I think that has probably been the most influential person when it comes to managing remotely. 

Aydin Mirzaee  5:07  

So what have you learned? specifically? What makes her a great boss? 

Marcus Wermuth  5:11  

Well, I think the biggest thing I learned from her is just being, you know, empathetic and working with humans understanding them, whether it’s giving feedback, you know, getting feedback, or managing people that are spread across the whole world, you know, like you have to do with different cultures with different mindsets. There’s a lot of diversity. So getting into that, I think that’s probably what I learned from her. When it comes to Yeah, remote teams and distributed teams. 

Aydin Mirzaee  5:37  

So yeah, so, let’s, let’s dig in a bit on how many people work at Buffer today? 

Marcus Wermuth  5:42  

I think it’s around 89, or 90.

Aydin Mirzaee  5:45  

And so I mean, you know, one of the things that you just mentioned is, you know, a lot of these people, and especially even the people on your teams, they’re in different time zones, from different cultures, I’d love for you to elaborate, like how many time zones are there in your team, and what kind of different countries exists for people who work at buffer?

Marcus Wermuth  6:05  

My team consists of six people, including me. And we have six time zones. And we have five countries in just a small team that I am, you know, so we have someone in Taiwan, someone in India’s mean, Germany, someone in the UK, and in two time zones in the US. So we’re basically spread from east to west, which makes this whole thing kind of a bit more complicated. If you look at it from, you know, as the first thing, you see, six people, and they’re spread as far as they could be. So there’s a lot of challenges that come with it. But there’s also a lot of good things that come with it. The first challenge, did you of course, notice, like you can’t have one meeting where everyone will be around like, that’s not possible. Because, you know, people also have to sleep. And I am a manager where I don’t want to force people to wake up in the middle of the night to attend a meeting, right? People might have people they have to care for or they have kids, they can’t just wake up at one or 2am.

Aydin Mirzaee  7:01  

Marcus, let me ask you a question about that. Because this is a very interesting thing. And a lot of people you know, I think a certain mindset around just different time zones is that you try to have at least some overlap time. But are you saying that there’s, for all intents and purposes, no overlap time between all the different time zones? 

Marcus Wermuth  7:21  

Yeah, in my team, I mean, we do have overlap, I, I’m actually in a very good position. Because I’m right in the middle of Europe, I can, you know, chat to the east part of the world and can chat to the west part of the world. But the person in India rarely gets to meet the person in San Francisco. It’s just not possible. Because of times, right. And we did that intentionally when I was hiring, like we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just one timezone. Because we wanted to hire the best person that’s out there. Right. So timezone is a tricky thing, but it’s also not, you know, it’s not the biggest problem, you can work around that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  7:56  

So how does it work? So do you guys have staff meetings together? Or, you know, how do you make it work across all the different time zones? 

Marcus Wermuth  8:04  

Yeah. Well, we had, when I think before we had someone in India, in Taiwan, we had a weekly and weekly meeting where, you know, engineers, me, we were getting together and just chatting about the weak and what’s going on. But we had a designer and join our team, and she moved back to her home country, Taiwan. And we made the intentional decision. Okay, we could either do a meeting every week and record for one person, and that person has to watch a recording all the time. But we thought that this is not really fun, right? watching a video of your team, having fun every week isn’t really the best way to build and bond a great team. So we decided against it. And we basically don’t have, as you call it staff meeting, you don’t have a team meeting every week. I do one on ones, I do see everyone every week on a video call. But we don’t get together as one group, we have other ways. And we do that with, as you probably some of you might have heard in an async way. So we don’t chat synchronously. We chat asynchronously. We use it to a conference, which basically replaces all our email communication and a lot of our internal longest threaded discussions. And what we do there is we do a weekly meeting there, which is written, which right now. It’s like a second iteration of it. We always keep evolving it. It’s basically three questions, which, you know, it’s probably not new to all of you. But we asked what’s been going on right now and what’s the most important thing they worked on? Secondly, what they’re stuck on and what they’re planning on next week, mostly, we kind of write that thread on like Thursdays and Fridays. So that kind of gives you the high level idea. And then we also have a personal question that we ask just to get the personal feeling in there, which can be what you wanted to be when you were eight years old? Or what’s your favorite movie right just to get to know the person it has been working well with, but of course, not seeing the people in a team setting is definitely tricky. I’m not saying it’s the best way, but it has been working for us pretty well right now. 

Aydin Mirzaee  10:05  

Yeah, that makes sense. So it’s interesting, like this concept of an asynchronous meeting. And I guess if you think about it, a lot of meetings can be asynchronous meetings. And you probably know for a lot of the things that we do obviously have on at the same exact time, probably a lot of those things could actually be at different times. But I guess like for your one on ones, though, you don’t do that for your one on one. So you do have like synchronous meetings for your one on ones. 

Marcus Wermuth  10:32  

Yeah. Before I dive into that one quick thought that came up. While you mentioned, you know, like that, a lot of meetings can actually be async, there’s a part that when remote work, that’s actually much more of a benefit to you. Because if things are written down, they’re much more easily accessible to you know, people that aren’t different time zones that aren’t around, or just for gathering context. You know, if things only happen in meetings, only two people in that meeting will get a hang of it. And if you actually have it written down, and it’s shared transparently, with a much wider audience, then knowledge sharing, and information sharing just becomes much more easier. And this will help you, your team and the whole company, if it’s, you know, fully remote just in like, productivity wise, like it will kind of, I don’t know, 100 x all of this, because just video meetings won’t help you. Just wanted to add that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  11:25  

Yeah, I guess like a lot of you know, a lot of work does obviously happen in meetings. And so, if you if everything is all of a sudden written down, then yes, of course, that’s knowledge sharing, people could look up decisions. If they’re wondering what got discussed about a certain customer, maybe those things could be accessible. Yes, exactly. And then is it I guess, a culture within your team that all meetings are obviously public, and like everybody can see them? So can anybody at Buffer see the content of any of your meetings? 

Marcus Wermuth  11:59  

Well, depends where you share them, like there has to still be an intentional action behind it. For example, in threats, we have various let’s call them channels. And in my team’s channel, like it’s open, and everyone who’s in the channel can see the meeting notes of like, our async meetings, for other meetings that are, you know, maybe not sensitive to people management things, if they are shared somewhere, or if summaries are shared, they are also transparently accessible. For example, when all our engineering managers get together and chat every week, those meeting notes are transparently available, but we do share a summary of it because we might chat about, you know, people related things that aren’t necessarily we’re on puzzle, like, it’s not possible to share them widely with the audience, because they might be now very vulnerable things that we chat about there. So it depends on the meeting. And it depends on your intended action. Right. So all maybe team meetings that are, for example, for product teams, or for engineering teams, like those meetings generally are very transparent, because just you know, helps with alignment across all the teams. 

Aydin Mirzaee  13:01  

Yeah. So let me ask you a question. So I guess the way that your team is currently structured, obviously, five different time zones, like you said, India and San Francisco, very, very difficult to get everybody at the same time. So you know, obviously you choose not to because it’s so difficult that it’s probably not worth it. But I guess my question was that if you had three time zones, for example, and it was possible, and there was overlap, would you then still choose to do an async meeting? Or would you do a synchronous one? 

Marcus Wermuth  13:32  

Hmm, that’s a very good question. I would maybe do a mix, I would generally default to a sync nowadays, because as I already mentioned, the knowledge sharing and the writing down is much more helpful than being in a meeting. But I would always add a meeting, if I can, on top of it, where maybe it’s not an hour, maybe it’s just 20 minutes or 30 minutes, where we get to bond and chat about things that we have to chat about that aren’t possible. Like, we can’t write about them, because it would take us I don’t know how many back and forth. So I think the mix would be the best in my opinion, if I could do it. 

Aydin Mirzaee  14:07  

Yeah. So it sounds like getting stuff done for knowledge sharing, and asynchronous meeting again, it forces a lot of good behavior. Yes, you know, so maybe some people are super disciplined, and they do all those things. They write things down, they share it. But when you’re doing an asynchronous meeting, again, it forces good behavior, but for bonding, those are the sorts of things that like, if possible, you would still default to people seeing each other. 

Marcus Wermuth  14:32  

Yeah. 100%. And that’s also to come back to your question before where I can in a distracted us is the one on ones you know, like that’s, I know, it’s just a one on one meeting, but those are the meetings that for me, are are crucial as a manager like they are the most important thing for me in the week. 

Aydin Mirzaee  14:49  

Yeah, sure. Tell me about how you run these remote one on ones. 

Marcus Wermuth  14:55  

I think they’re not too different. Like there’s probably you know, nuances but they’re probably similar to what you would do in a one on one. And my main thing that I tell people, when we start one on one says this is time for them with me. So they are responsible for the agenda. Sometimes I do add things, right. But I want them to kind of define what we’re going to chat about every week, we have weekly one on ones, I’m very keen on doing that. Because there’s a lot that’s happening, you know, in a distributed team, even being a sink, right? I don’t want to wait two weeks to chat to someone. So it’s weekly, they are defining the agenda. There’s like this 9010 rule, and that I’ve also written in a blog post, where I want them to kind of contribute 90% of the agenda. And I want to add 10% to the agenda, so this kind of the very general gist of it. And then I also have the kind of time structure that I use where I say that the first 15 minutes, I don’t want to chat about work, right? Because as you know, we already chatted, I don’t get a lot of face time with my team, at least on video. So I do want to know what’s going on in their life. Right? Like, how is the coffee like, What movie did you watch yesterday? How are the kids? What’s your doc doing? Or like, Where did you go on the weekend, I noticed it sounds funny. But you know, things like that normally happen in an office. If you work in an office, you walk across the hall, you go into the coffee kitchen and you meet your team or you meet people and you talk, oh, hey, Aiden, how was your weekend, right? That happens naturally. But any remote work in remote work in a remote, fully distributed team, you have to be intentional about those things, because they don’t just happen. Right. So that’s why I set up my own one on ones. I don’t put a timer on, you know, but it’s just that, hey, listen, we chat about you know, the first 10 to 15 minutes, we chat about your life, what’s been going on, maybe I’ll share something that I’ve been doing, right. It’s not just one directional, it’s like bidirectional, we both chat about our lives. And only then we dive into the agenda, and we talk about the things that have been coming up. So that’s kind of the very general structure of my one on ones that I do every week with all my teammates. 

Aydin Mirzaee  17:02  

[AD BREAK] Hey, there. Just a quick note, before we move on to the next part, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably already doing one on one meetings. But here’s the thing, we all know that one on one meetings are the most powerful, but at the same time, the most misunderstood concept in practice and management. That’s why we’ve spent over a year compiling the best information, the best expert advice into this beautifully designed 90 Plus page ebook. Now, don’t worry, it’s not single spaced font, you know, lots of text, there’s a lot of pictures, it’s nice, easily consumable information, we spent so much time building it. And the great news is that it’s completely free. So head on over to fellow dot app slash blog, to download the definitive guide on one on ones, it’s there for you, we hope you enjoy it. And let us know what you think. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. [AD BREAK ENDS]

Aydin Mirzaee 18:02

I love that, you know, you’re putting in the structure to make sure to talk about things that are not work. And I think you know, part of it is like, if you’re genuinely interested in the people on your team, you know, you just come from it from a human perspective of like, I’m genuinely interested in learning about, you know, how things are going, I think a lot of this stuff will, you know, naturally fall into place. And you talk a lot about this. I know, I know that you have this book coming up, called Making virtual leadership human. I’d love for you to tell us a When can we read the book? And to, you know, what is the general premise of and what are you trying to address? By writing it? 

Marcus Wermuth  18:45  

Very good question. Thanks for bringing it up. Well, I’m, I don’t want to say I’m in the middle of it. Like it’s not done yet. But I hope that the draft and everything will be done this year. So around this year, end of this year, start of next year, hopefully it should be around and it’s the one the title you mentioned, it’s actually the subtitle, you know, it’s called Beyond avatars, making virtual leadership more human because, as we already talked about, you know, like, theoretically, I don’t see my team if I don’t want to see them, right. If I didn’t have the one on one, I wouldn’t see them. So working with avatars or working just with you know, video calls. You don’t it can happen that you forget, there’s actually people around the people behind the screens that they have families that they work in the middle of their house when COVID is happening. And you know, I had one person on my team yet to work from home because everything was closed. You normally work from a co-working space. And he doesn’t have a home office, right? He has a small home. He has three small kids, and he had to work from his bedroom. And everyone every week on our one on one, we had to cut them short for like 2030 minutes because kids were just flying around even if you know his wife would tell them like, yeah, you can do it there. I’ll keep the kids there. I mean, their kids, right. So sometimes we do forget that if we work just with avatars or if we work virtually and in very asynchronous nature, so my book and the whole idea behind it is that we don’t forget, there’s humans behind the screens. Like that’s the very general gist, in my opinion. And that’s kind of the way I approach management. And that’s how I have grown into it is to not start with your team first, right, but to look inside first, when I started out, right, I got a leadership coach, I had therapy, so they’re working on yourself, for me is very important, because it teaches you a lot about your strengths, your weaknesses, how maybe you get triggered by certain things and how, you know, you can also be more empathetic to people. And that kind of is then the entryway into, you know, mastering your communication, being able to actually talk to people to understand their cultures to then ultimately building a, you know, that, that hot word about sort of psychological safety, right to build a very psychological safe team, where everyone is connected, where everyone knows each other in kind of a deeper way than just Hey, this is my colleague, right? Because it’s so needed in this fully distributed remote world, because we do tend to lose track of whom, with what person we’re actually working with. Right? 

Aydin Mirzaee  21:10  

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think, you know, it’s really interesting, there are a lot of benefits to remote work, obviously, you know, it’s a long list. And, you know, we’re not going to list them all out here. But, you know, one of the one of the key benefits is that you’re able to, you know, for example, hire the best person for the job, no matter where they live, no matter what their circumstances. And so, but like, we have to keep in mind that, like, if you want to take advantage of some of these really, really great things, you do have to do the work and like part of that work is like you mentioned, really getting to know the people as humans, because it’s it’s harder to do, the benefits are totally worth it. But it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to do the work and get all of the benefits. 

Marcus Wermuth  21:57  

Yeah, totally. I mean, ultimately, remote work is still work, right? All the work has to still to happen. But yeah, you have to be everything when it comes to you know, team culture, team bonding, or you know, like just the coffee chats, everything in remote work, you have to put more effort and more intention into making those things happen. Because in remote work, rarely does something just happen. You have to set it up, you have to you know, build a routine, you have to make it available so that it actually can happen. You know, whether that’s for example, coffee chats, right? How do we do those? Like there’s a lot of companies that do those, you go into your coffee, coffee kitchen, you meet someone you chat? How does that work in remote work? Well, we have a bot, a lot of remote companies use it called donut. And every week, it pairs you with another person. And then you can if you want to, you know, once a week chat with that person next week, it changes to another person, just to create that serendipitous moment where you get to meet someone and a hole in chat for 15 minutes, right? But it doesn’t happen, we have to set it up with a board with a tool. That’s why the process that’s inside our company and set our culture to make all those things happen. That’s kind of the very general idea of what you just said, you know, when it comes to remote work, you have to put in the effort and intention. 

Aydin Mirzaee  23:12  

Yeah, yeah, that totally makes sense. And if you know, I like the concept of using technology to connect people in that way. You know, I remember, you know, in one of my last companies, we had a multi like it was a multi office company offices in different countries. And it you know, just the concept of like having a boy like that, so that it can connect you, maybe you you connect with the people in your office, but what about the people in the other office and you know, having something like that in place, definitely can confer really great connections over the long term. 

Marcus Wermuth  23:48  

Yeah, and, you know, to add on top of that, which, again, adding timezone, so maybe you can’t have a call. And then we have another thing where, you know, we have a weekly newsletter that is also shared in our tool that’s called threads. And, and at the end of it, you know, every I think it’s every week, another person from the team just gets to answer a few personal questions, just so we get to know them, you know, where were they coming from? What, what are their hobbies, because I know, 90 people is not yet the biggest company, but when I joined, we were around 40. And I still get the chance to check most of them. But nowadays, you know, like it’s, it’s a bit more trickier. So it’s also helpful in a written format to get to know, know, who’s actually working at the company. 

Aydin Mirzaee  24:30  

Yeah. So, you know, it’s all these things that I just want to make sure that for the audience that we’re just emphasizing, like the amount of work that you’re doing to make this, you know, work really well, obviously, we talked about the newsletter, we talked about asynchronous meetings, you guys must actually meet in person as well, right? Like, is there a, you know, company, get togethers that happen maybe once a year or team get togethers that happen? 

Marcus Wermuth  24:55  

Yeah, outside of COVID, which this year, you know, we had to cancel everything but normally, we would meet once a year, like the whole company. And then there would also be in the beginning, we called the mini retreats, where just my team got together. But that changed also. So now it’s the product teams, so to enforce a little bit more collaboration, theoretically, you see your team twice a year, if not a global pandemic is happening, because this year, we won’t see each other, which is already tricky. And an extra treatise actually planned, late summer next year. So there’s more than almost two years that we didn’t get to see each other. 

Aydin Mirzaee  25:33  

Yeah. But it’s really important, you know, for people to know that, you know, just because you’re remote doesn’t mean that human connections aren’t important that you’re doing all these extra things to make sure that they continue to work. One of the things that I wanted to ask you about is culture. So obviously, you know, you talked about people in San Francisco and India, and it sounds like there’s, you know, there’s obviously cultural differences, what are some what are some tips or advice that you would give people that are managing teams with people that have, you know, different cultures in the ways that your does.

Marcus Wermuth  26:07  

 You know, I made my mistake, fair share of mistakes when it comes to that, because initially, you think of just two people, they can’t talk to each other, right? So it’s like a communication problem. It is a communication problem, but you have to speak those things out, right? If you don’t like that’s the mistake I made. Initially, I thought, it’s like, oh, two individuals can talk to each other. But if you then take in, you actually understand that it’s actually more cultural, and that some people, you know, they can’t change, it’s just how they’ve grown up and how their culture is. And once you can transparently share that with the team or with those two individuals, it becomes a bit easier for them to understand, okay, so it’s not the person that has something against me, it’s kind of the way they’ve been always living their life, right. So I think the one tip that I would give people that work with different cultures is to try and understand where they’re coming from. And, you know, make it like, put it out, put it on the table and say, like, okay, hey, you’re from Taiwan, you’re from India, you’re from the US, you’re from Germany, we all have different ways of interacting. So let’s be sure that, you know, when that happens, we acknowledge that and, and find a way around it. So you don’t have to, you know, dive deep into Taiwanese or Indian or German culture to understand the people. But it’s important to, you know, not hide it away and say, it’s just an individual problem, because sometimes it isn’t, it’s just how, you know, a person in the West has been growing up, versus a person that has been growing up in the east, where, you know, structures are still more rigid, and they look up to the more senior person and all of those things, right. So I think putting it out into tables, probably, for me, the biggest tip that I would give.

Aydin Mirzaee  27:47  

Yeah, do you have a story or an example of something that went wrong, where you had to step in and allow people to actually acknowledge that, you know, this miscommunication might actually be a result of different upbringings? 

Marcus Wermuth  28:01  

Yeah, yeah, there’s a good example with the descendant, my team and another engineer for where, you know, engineering and design, they have to work together. And then engineers, generally a very productive person, have a lot of great insights, and was always sharing thoughts around how we could make the design better. And the person did the signer coming from Taiwan, where you look up to the most senior person, you don’t question them, you always say, you know, most of the times you say yes, and take it in, was kind of struggling with a person that’s coming from the west, always just saying how we could make things better, but just coming from a very honest point of like, let’s make our product the best, right? So those two things coming together, kind of created this little wall between them, where one person was thinking, Oh, my god, they’re always telling me what to do. And I have to say yes to coming from the east. And then some other person, you know, coming from the US kind of just wanting to be the collaborative person saying, like, hey, let’s do this, let’s do that to make things better. And this was kind of Yeah, growing that wall between them. So they couldn’t actually solve what they wanted, wanted to solve, because they were kind of stuck in the middle of fighting the way they were communicating. Right. So that’s where I had to step in. And initially, I thought, yeah, that’s, you know, just a communication problem. Why should the engineer maybe be so focused on the design? Let’s, let’s look at that, but it actually wasn’t. And if you understand the cultures, at least a little bit, you know that, you know, Taiwanese, Eastern Chinese culture, they look up to the senior person, they rarely, you know, say, say no to someone that comes from a more senior person that comes from a more senior person. So once I understood that I was able to step in and tell them actually about that. And hey, listen, there’s actually two cultures right now that are clashing. It’s not, you know, you person x versus you person y. It’s actually your two cultures that we’re struggling with. So let’s just put it on the table. Let’s talk about it and see how we can solve it right. And, and now the communication is much easier in that way. Because the people understand where the other one is coming from. Right? 

Aydin Mirzaee  30:09  

Yeah. So it’s really interesting. And so right now we’re talking about actually people in different countries. But obviously, you know, if you live in North America today, or actually most countries in the world, you know, having a diverse team is much more common. And just because people aren’t different countries, they still may have you know, a lot of immigrants different upbringings different parents that would have raised them with with different values, how do you go about figuring out, you know, some of the lessons and you know, some of the things that you just learned? How did you actually get to the root of that issue? 

Marcus Wermuth  30:42  

Yeah. Well, I’m generally a very curious person, I don’t get I don’t settle with, you know, I don’t settle easily. So when that came up, the first thing I did was going to just research a little bit, because I felt that, you know, if you have a general understanding of human and human nature, you’re curious, then you kind of start to dig in a little bit. And there’s various things that I found is one thing, I always pronounce it, I think it’s called huff study project or something where you can add various countries. And it shows you how they align, for example, for leadership for communication, and it shows you the difference that some, you know, countries are much more positive or much more focused on freedom, where others are more following and stuff like that. So that was a first glimpse into, okay, there’s something with countries and with cultures, there’s a, there’s a difference there, right. And that was the first entry point for me. And then I do tend to just continue to read about topics. And then I found two books that kind of brought me on to, you know, the road of solving this, but one was called  cultural map. And then another one was called geography of thought. And both of those books talk about East versus West, which for me was that conflict that I wanted to solve, right? And reading those books, and understanding that there is a difference when it comes to culture really opened my eyes to understand that. 

Aydin Mirzaee  32:13  

Yeah, I love that, you know, and we’re gonna obviously include both of those titles in the show notes. But again, it just goes back to this concept of if you’re managing people, there is this extra bit of homework to do. So, again, now that we’re all managing more diverse teams, this concept of like learning about cultures, learning about the differences, learning about personalities, it’s all kind of, you know, part of the game of like, continuing to be a better people manager. Yeah, one thing I wanted to ask you, Marcus was that you have this online guide, and we’re gonna link to it too, which is your guide on just effectively running one on ones and remote one on ones. One of the things that you talk about in this guide is this concept of active listening. And I was kind of hoping that you would give us all a crash course on active listening what it is, and how we can become better active listeners, knowing that, you know, we’re not going to be able to do a master class, but you know, some general tips that we can walk into going into our next one on one, and and applying them. 

Marcus Wermuth  33:18  

Yeah. Also to share maybe a little little story on top of that is that I wasn’t I wasn’t an expert in active listening, I was struggling with it, I get feedback, because I wasn’t actually leaning into that skill. And to make that even more, more real, I was coming from an engineering background, right? I was an engineer and a software developer. And as an engineer, software developer, you tend to get trained into solving problems. So if someone tells you, hey, we have a problem here, you’re the first one to show up, like, Okay, how can we solve this problem? Right? That’s, that becomes your second nature as an engineer, which is fine. I’m not saying this is wrong. But once I made the switch to become a people, manager, things weren’t that easy. Because if someone comes to you with a problem, like the example we just had with two different countries, I can’t check the person’s understanding of me, you can say, of course, I’ll try to solve the problem. But you rarely get to solve those problems if you know, just like sniping with your finger. And that’s where I initially get the feedback from, because I was always falling into the advice trap and just always giving advice someone tells me, Hey, I have a problem. Oh, you should do this. You should try that. Right. So that’s, that’s where I started to focus. Okay, listen, there’s something I have to get better at, which is called active listening, active listening. You know, the words already kind of alluded a little bit what it is, it’s not just listening with your ears, because that’s what we all do. But it’s really tuning into the person that’s in front of you, or even multiple people, but most of the times you just chat to one and really tuning in and, you know, creating this shared understanding of like, Where’s the person coming from, you know, like, how do they have two kids around right now? Can they focus? Like, what’s their emotions right now? Where are they? You know, are they upset? Where, what’s what’s the context around this? This sounds very complex right now. But ultimately, you could even mention, you could even name it like empathetic understanding, right? You can use your empathy to understand the other side, and see where they’re coming from, instead of just giving advice, you know, in the first second. 

Aydin Mirzaee  35:26  

Got it. Yeah, I like this, this idea of, I think, you know, it’s not just engineers, a lot of people are quick to just jump into, hey, you just told me about a problem. I just want to jump in and give you a solution. So what do you do now? What is your approach when someone comes to you with a problem? 

Marcus Wermuth  35:47  

Yeah. Well, I also have to say, because I’m going to mention probably around this topic is that I did training to become also a leadership coach. So coaching actually helped me there to like, you know, take that even to another level, when someone comes to me with a problem. The first thing I do you know, is there’s two things actually, that I do. The first thing is paraphrasing, right. So if someone tells you, I have a problem, you take their words, you take them and kind of paraphrase them with your own words and kind of mirror it back to them. And then you get a feedback of like, Oh, you didn’t understand it? Or maybe you miss something? Because if you mirror it to them, in your own words, and they say, No, that’s actually not what I meant. You get closer to, you know, the real thing. And maybe they say, Oh, yeah, that’s actually what I meant, then you’re already there. So it kind of gives you and the other person a shared ground a shared understanding of what they’re coming to you with, right? So I’m not giving advice, I’m just using what they said to me and mirrored back to them to put us on the same level. That’s the first thing I do. And the other thing, then to follow up is, which sounds simple, but it’s actually to ask powerful questions. And that’s what I learned in coaching. And you know, as a manager, sometimes you can be a coach. And in those situations, they help, you know, you can you can actually just ask, what’s actually important to you about that issue? Or like, what’s truly behind solving this? Like, what’s really, what’s really kind of upsetting you here, you know, or what else like very, very basic questions. And also, one trick that I learned becoming a coach is never ask why questions, just, you know, very open ended questions so that the other person can kind of dig into the problem more. So you get really to the deeper level of what they’re actually coming to markets, these are really great tips. 

Aydin Mirzaee  37:37  

I mean, I love the idea of paraphrasing it, I feel like getting on the same page is so important. And very often you’re going to jump to try and solve a problem and you’re solving the wrong problem. So I think it’s super valuable. And I love the fact that you actually went out and got code like actually became a leadership coach, for other people who want to try and explore that working, they go to do something like that?

Marcus Wermuth  38:02  

Well, how I actually got born with the topic of coaching is because I went, when I became a manager, the first thing I did, and that’s why I’m also writing a book about you know, starting with the inner work is I got a leadership coach, like, I think two or three months in, and it helped me tremendously to, you know, become a manager to become a better leader and to understand myself more. And that’s how I found the way so I honestly think, too, before you jump into becoming a leadership coach, just getting maybe a few sessions with a leadership coach, or with any kind of coach can be very insightful for you, if you actually like, what this is Psych or if this is something you could, you know, envision yourself with. So this for me how I got into it. What I would recommend a lot of managers do is to just find a coach somewhere and just try it out. 

Aydin Mirzaee  38:53  

And that makes sense. And so this is someone that you meet with on a weekly basis, or do they actually sit in on your meetings and observe you in action as well? 

Marcus Wermuth  39:03  

Well, there’s probably various forms. So the coaches that I had, and the coaching that I do is every two weeks, it’s kind of similar to how I approach one on once right, the coaches out there, but you bring the topics and the agenda, they have their tools, I have my tools now to to use when I’m maybe stuck with a situation I don’t know how to solve a thing. So they’re mostly mirroring back stuff to you too, right? They’re asking the right questions. So you find your way through the problem. That’s the coaching, you know, school that I went to is kind of 30 years old, it kind of made coaching like a profession. And they say that, you know, every person is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole, so that everyone already has all the things in there. You just as a coach, help them find it right. If you look into sports, that’s what a coach does, right? It may not be the best soccer player or basketball player, but they actually help all the players to get the best out of them. So that’s kind of the idea of coaching is you meet with them every two weeks, you bring your topics, you bring your problems. So you bring, oh, I want to get better at this, I want to, you know, maybe do this and then they kind of help you find your way through it. That’s the idea. There’s probably other ways where you can invite coaches to your meetings and all of those, but it’s, I wouldn’t say that’s coaching, that’s more than maybe consulting, mixed with, like coaching. on that front. 

Aydin Mirzaee  40:24  

That is super helpful. And, and again, I think like, there are a lot of parallels, you know, I would argue that a manager’s job is also to get the best out of each and every person on the team. So Marcus, we are running against time here. And, you know, we’ve learned a lot in chatting with you. We talked about time zones, and culture, your upcoming book, we’ve talked about building rapport, the 9010 rule, active listening, we talked about storytime, there’s a lot of different things that we went through, I think this has been incredibly insightful. What we usually like to end on is, you know, just any words of advice, tips, resources, or anything that you would leave us with to help the audience that want to get better at their craft of management. 

Marcus Wermuth  41:10  

Yeah, I mean, we’ve probably mentioned most of those things already. But just to summarize them I think, first, if you haven’t already find a coach that for me, in my way, in my past had helped me tremendously. And even to talk about it openly, you know, even going to therapy, not even not because you’re sick, but just to work on yourself is also very helpful has been very helpful for me. Secondly, stay curious, and continue to learn. My favorite quote from Albert Einstein says that, as soon as you stop learning, you start dying, for me is something I strongly live by. And this means, you know, reading books, reading articles, reading, everything that you can get your hands on, and not just you know, business or management focus, everything can broaden your horizon. The third point that I wanted to mention is that you should also connect with others, especially if you know some of your listeners are remote workers or managers of remote teams, you don’t get to see a team often connect with others outside of work, right? Find slack groups reach out to people in LinkedIn, that’s what I did initially. And, you know, out of nowhere, I was in a video call with five people from Dropbox, right? And I was sitting here in Munich. So there’s ways you can connect with others, build that network and this kind of support group for yourself to live in this virtual world, right? Because you won’t have all of them next to you. So you have to do it in a virtual way. 

Aydin Mirzaee  42:31  

That’s awesome. Very, very good tips. Marcus, thank you so much for doing this. 

Marcus Wermuth  42:40  

Thanks for having me.


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