The Remote X: Tom of Myagi

By Keni Teh, 28 June, 2017

The Remote X is a series by the Planetary team to feature the experiences of remote teams across the world (literally!). Every week, we interview people leading or working in remote teams and share their knowledge with others in the hopes that we can all grow and benefit from their experiences.

Art by Vince Joy

Tom McLeod is the CEO and co-founder of Myagi, a platform that connects retailers, suppliers and brands with retail sales associates to help them create more loyal customers and boost sales. In this interview, he tells us more about how he manages his distributed team and his personal experience working remotely.

Hey Tom! Where are you based in right now?

Melbourne, Australia!

Tell me more about yourself and what you do in Myagi!

I’m the cofounder and CEO — so pretty much everything at one point or another. I’m originally a software engineer and computer scientist, so I love all things product and stuff with moving parts… which these days includes leading the infinitely more complex remote human organization.

How do you structure your day while working remotely? Do you find it a challenge to keep yourself focused?

I mainly use Trello and Calendar. I’m a bit of a productivity nerd, so using these two amazing tools together makes sure that I’m spending my time on the right things.

Also, before anything makes it into a “tool”, I’ve got a fairly good mental framework of questioning these items to ensure it’s the “right” thing to do so I’m only focusing on the things that are the most important to moving us forward.

Why did you choose to grow a remote team in Myagi?

It made a lot of sense from about every angle. We have good labour economics in some markets, great access to customers in another and concentration of certain skill sets in others. We wanted the best of all worlds!

How often does your team meet face-to-face or do video conference calls?

We’re video conferencing all the time — every team several times a week. Though for most teams it would seem counterintuitive, catching up even when there isn’t anything pressing is super important to keep the habit of proactive communication up.

We also have a trip somewhere in the world once a year where we all get together. It’s ten jam-packed days of putting everyone’s brains together and catching up.

How do you manage your team and keep them organized/productive?

Clear goals and hiring the right people. Some people will thrive in a self directed environment, while many others don’t. We’ve got a pretty good framework to make sure we have people who can self-manage well, as well as maintain a connection to the bigger picture.

What are the top three apps or tools that your remote team just can’t do without?

Slack (naturally)! Snapchat — for fun stuff. We’re good friends outside of work too, so we want to keep on top of what we’re all up to. — teleconferencing and video conferencing so we can share the work we’re all doing.

How much of an emphasis do you put on keeping your team members emotionally connected?

A lot. Whether you’re working together in person or virtually, you need to be bought into something bigger than yourself to do your best work. We just have to work extra hard to make that connection! We try and have an emotional connection injected into everything from our headline strategy development, right through to our day-to-day. For example, we have a slack channel where all of our the really nice customer feedback comes through so everyone can feel how our work positively impacts our customers.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while managing your remote team, and how did you solve it?

The need for instant responsiveness. Most people are used to being able to tap their coworker on the shoulder to get help.

We can’t do this, but it turns out that this is a terrible habit in the first place and has been shown to be a massive cause of burnout and worker frustration (interruptions of the modern office). We make sure we have scheduled time to collaborate, but also get a huge win from it not being a passing precession at people’s desks.

“We make sure we have scheduled time to collaborate, but also get a huge win from it not being a passing precession at people’s desks.”

What’s the best thing/your favorite thing about your team?

Diversity! We bring views, opinions, cultural norms and all kinds of great things from all around the world, every day. It just makes for a far more vibrant set of people that can frame their thinking using far more creative inspiration from their immediate team — it’s wonderful!

Describe your remote working experience in 5 words or less!

Requires work, but supremely rewarding.

Any last advice for anyone out there working remotely, or thinking of doing so?

Do it, but put the work into the communications and productivity structures. Finally, be patient — initially, it’ll take a lot longer to get the rewards than it would with a bunch of people in the same room, but over time, you’ll see the wins start to come through.

— - - Huge thanks to Tom for sharing his experience with us! Connect with him on LinkedIn here.