Table of Contents

Successfully Working in a Remote Office

working remotely with kids

Many workers are being asked to work remotely, but how does that change the way we work? In a post last week, we looked at some resources and tips around shifting to a home office. Recently, Gus Curran wrote a timely blog post about successfully adapting to a remote team. This week, Gus sat down with the Train Like You Listen podcast to dive deeper into how people can be successful in this work situation to which many workers are rapidly shifting.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Gus Curran

Heather Snyder: Hello and welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly short podcast for learning development professionals. This week, we’re sitting down with Gus Curran to discuss a topic that is affecting a lot of professionals right now, which is working remotely.

6-Word Introduction

Heather Snyder: Gus, we like to start each week with a six-word memoir that describes us today. What would be your six-word memoir?

Gus Curran: My six-word memoir today would be, “without trust, virtual teams won’t succeed”.

Heather Snyder: That’s fantastic and very true. Mine is, “I’m thankful for my remote office”.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And for me, I would say, “working from home isn’t so bad”.

Gus Curran: I like them all.

Brian Washburn: [LAUGHS] All right, Gus, let’s get into some questions here. I’ve known you and I’ve worked with you for a while, and we both find ourselves in organizations that are 100% remote. Can you tell me a little bit, from your end, what was the transition like when you went from working in an office to working remotely?

Transitioning From Working In An Office to Working Remotely

Gus Curran: When I first started working remotely, I have to admit that it was a little strange. And I kept wondering, “what will my first day look like?” One thing that really helped me is my CEO at the time, Eric Berg, he gave me a speech that went something like, “Gus, it might be in a week. It might be in a month. But you’re going to get buyer’s remorse. You’re going to be sitting at your desk in your house and saying, what have I done? And when that happens, I want you to reach out to me and talk to me about that.” And that really helped. Because he was right. I did get sort of lonely. I did feel very isolated at times. I think my productivity went down. And that little speech that we had at the beginning of my job gave me permission to go to him and say, “hey, Eric, I’m struggling. What’s going on?”

And we worked it out. We came up with ways to help me out. And we say that same thing to everyone who joins the Humentum team now. I think it’s a great way to kick it off.

Heather Snyder: Well, that’s good advice. Has there been more training or guidance that’s given to managers for how best to engage with their remote teams?

How Can Managers Engage Their Teams Working Remotely?

Gus Curran: Yeah. Always use video. That’s the first thing we say to everybody. Unless they’re having a bad internet or bad hair day, maybe they won’t use video. Everybody uses video. We think that helps to build trust. It helps you to see if the other person is, first of all, paying attention. It forces you to pay attention.

One of the biggest things that we try to encourage everyone to do is to trust each other. And we do that by asking each other to assume good intent from others. We always try to speak our minds respectfully to each other. And– this is really important– we trust that other people are doing the same thing.

So when we’re trying to negotiate meeting times or important things, we’ll say, I know if you, Brian, say to me, Gus, “this is how I feel about this”, we’re not going to spend a lot of time going, “are you sure, Brian? Are you–?” It’s like, “OK, Brian, I understand. Great.”

We just trust each other to tell the truth. And then sometimes, we aren’t going to agree, but if we disagree, we do that thing where we disagree but we do commit to the solution that the team comes up with. We like to have regular meetings but shorter meetings. So, for example, all teams are encouraged to have weekly team meetings, bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with all the staff. Those are about 30 minutes. Weekly team meetings are about 45 minutes.

And then daily standup 15-minute meetings, kind of borrowed from the agile project management system. We found that if you can connect with your whole team every day for at least 15 minutes with that video on, things are just going to speed up, and it just really works for us.

Brian Washburn: In an office, it’s really easy just to walk up to someone and start a spontaneous conversation, and suddenly you’re getting into new ideas, and you’re able to build upon just the energy in a spontaneous fashion. Is there an equivalent that you’ve found when it comes to working remotely?

How To Encourage Spontaneous Conversation Among Colleagues When Working Remotely?

Gus Curran: I’m so glad you asked that, Brian, because I just read a piece in The New York Times about how remote working isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, implying that there was no creativity and no spark in remote work. And I can’t disagree with that more. Some of the ways that our teams have overcome that challenge, first of all, we use Slack. And we have a lot of different channels.

And we really just Slack each other all the time. If I have a great idea or someone else has a great idea, we’ll reach out to each other right away and start talking about it, invite others in, jump in a Zoom room, and just start having those conversations. We also think it’s really important to build in time for, in every meeting, if possible, build in a little icebreaker. Build in some time for water cooler at the end. You can’t always do that, but I think it’s really important to let those things happen.

We have channels on Slack that are built just for this kind of thing. Some of it is on social interaction, like literally a channel on Slack called Water Cooler, where we post music videos or things that are not work-related. We have some channels on Slack that are all about what are you eating right now? What did you eat last night? Share your recipes, that kind of thing.

From these little interactions, that interactivity, that permission to just reach out and just be kind of goofy, it creates a space where that creativity can happen outside those goofy places.

Brian Washburn: That’s really cool. Yeah, we found Slack to have a similar function with our organization. I know I’ve put out things before when I’m in the middle of writing a blog post, or even yesterday, Heather put something out saying, “hey, I’m working on this eLearning project and looking for some creativity and interaction for this specific scenario. Does anybody have any ideas?”

And we just started to riff off of one another and brainstorm and bounce ideas back and forth. And we came up with kind of an Oregon Trail style interaction, which was kind of cool. And I don’t even know if that happens necessarily in an office setting when you’re trying to work on something and you’re just sitting there and staring at your screen and thinking that “I’m responsible for this”. So I think that, in some senses, Slack really has enabled us as a virtual team to get the ideas flowing.

Heather Snyder: We push each other really hard to say, “if you do get stuck, jump on Slack, and let’s have a conversation”.

Gus Curran: Exactly. And it takes practice. This is– behavior change requires practice. When we started requiring video at Humentum, there was a lot of pushback. And a lot of people were like, “oh, I don’t want to do this. It’s so weird”. Just try it. Try it for a few minutes. See how it feels. The more you do it, the more you’ll get used to it. The more you reach out to people when you’re not in the middle of a crisis just to say, “what did you have for lunch today”, the easier it will be when there is a difficult subject. So you’re prepared for when you do need extra help.

Heather Snyder: So if you had to give someone three tips about being productive for working from home, what would they be?

Tips for Being Productive When Working From Home

Gus Curran: That’s a great question. The first thing I would do is I would– this almost sounds like an anti-productivity tip. But I think I learned this from Adam Grant. But the idea of 15-minute meetings and 15-minute increments for meetings. People still are in a bad habit of inviting me to 60-minute meetings, which I really don’t like. I think the starting point negotiation for all meetings should be 30 minutes. And if it has to be longer, go to 45, not 60.

This frees up so much time on your calendar if you can get everyone to adopt this behavior. And don’t be afraid of a 15-minute meeting. But basically, think of meetings in 15-minute increments will actually, I think, change your life.

I also really like when I’m stuck and I just can’t get motivated, I will literally set a timer on my phone and say, “OK, for the next five minutes, I’m going to answer email”. Or “for the next five minutes, I’m going to work on that presentation that’s due Friday, and I’m not going to stop till that timer ends.”

And nine out of 10 times, by the time the timer ends, I will be into the task and I’ll be doing it. If not, OK. I’m going to move on to something else. I might even set another timer for whatever that thing is. That trick usually really works for me. Though I think the most important thing is that everybody has to find what works for them. I’ve been reading a lot in the press this week about, “you must keep a routine. You must shower every day. You must have breakfast and go to work. And you must end by 5:00.”

I think that’s all crazy. I think the advantage to us working from home is having the ability to find what works for us. And if we’re more productive in the morning before the whole family wakes up, go log in in your pajamas and get to work. That works for you. That’s not what works for me. Really trying different things, trying different approaches, and see what works for you. And then trust yourself and stick with it. I think that’s key.

Heather Snyder: I’m always so surprised when I read those lists how many of those things I don’t do. I’ve been working from home for a really long time. And they say, “you absolutely must get up and shower before work every day”. And that doesn’t happen for me every day. I just– I think it’s interesting when I read those lists, the dos and don’ts that I don’t necessarily fit into as a remote worker.

Brian Washburn: Put on a clean shirt. Do your hair. Shave. Ugh.

Gus Curran: Right. And if the whole world would just start using “I statements”. Like, “I find that wearing a clean shirt works for me.” Well, I find that sweatpants sometimes works for me. And I’m not going to tell you you have to wear sweatpants. Let’s all do what works for us. We’re grown-ups.

Get to Know Gus Curran

Brian Washburn: We’re coming to the end of our conversation. But before we go, we definitely want to make sure that people have a chance to get to know you a little bit more beyond working from home. And so are you ready for our speed round?

Gus Curran: I am.

Brian Washburn: All right, Gus, first question. Speed round. What’s your go-to food prior to delivering a presentation?

Gus Curran: Trader Joe’s Simply the Best trail mix because most of my presentations are less than an hour and my trainings, so I just need a little snack right before.

Brian Washburn: How about a book that people should be reading?

Gus Curran: Daniel Pink‘s To Sell Is Human. It talks about how we all are now in sales. We don’t think of ourselves that way, but especially trainers and people who are trying to change behavior, we need to coax people and convince them to join our train of thought. And this book really opens up. It really helped me think about my role, not only in actual sales, but just, “how can I be a better influencer?” “How can I make a difference?” It’s a great book, To Sell Is Human.

Brian Washburn: That is a great point because sometimes when people think sales, they think used-car salesmen. But when it comes to what we’re doing and changing behaviors, we do need to make sure that there’s a good pitch in terms of why people should want to change their behavior or do something new or different or better. How about one piece of training tech you can’t live without?

Gus Curran: This is the hardest one, I think. I was going to say internet. Because if I don’t have internet, if my learners don’t have internet, we’re in trouble. But I feel like that’s cheating. So I’m going to just be classic and say Snagit. A lot of the folks that I need to reach, I’m not always online at the same time, and so I use it every day to capture my screen and say, here’s how you do something.

Brian Washburn: Excellent. I think you might be the first person to share Snagit. Snagit is– it’s a good one. I’m going to toss it over to Heather to bring us home and wrap this up.

Heather Snyder: This has been really insightful, Gus. Thank you. Podcasts are great when you’re working remotely. You can follow our podcast on Spotify, iTunes, or any other major podcast hosting site. Send us your comments on the blog or tweet us @train_champion.

You can find us on Apple. You can find us on Spotify, iHeartRadio, or anywhere where you get your podcasts. Until next week, happy training, everyone. 

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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