2 Critical Steps for Fortune 500 Managers Going Remote

If you’re a typical Fortune 500 manager (like I was for 14 years at Intel) – your calendar is rammed with back-to-back meetings and you’re basically spending most of your day running from conference room to conference room. Between those ridiculously overplanned blocks of time – you are jumping in and out of your team’s cubicles – providing guidance to help them achieve their quarterly goals (which were probably changed by your boss in your last meeting). 

Other than your weekly staff meetings and occasional 1:1s – most of your management is by ‘walking around’ and collaborating with your team (since you won’t get to your emails until after your kids go to bed that evening). And if you see a couple of team members huddled together – you jump in and join their discussion for a few minutes.

Despite the chaos – for the most part – you and your team are comfortable with your management style. Your boss is happy and everyone is aligned.

But then your company suddenly orders all employees to work from home.  Now what?


At first – you rationalize that it will be fine. I mean – your staff travels on a regular basis, you’ve got a few team members on other campuses and you’ve had a ‘work from home’ policy for a long time. Should be the same now right?


Moving to a 100% remote organization is completely different than Bob calling into your staff meeting from the airport. This is the equivalent of moving from on-prem servers to the cloud – EVERYTHING changes.

Focus on Simplicity – Ignore Everything Else

As the fearless leader – simplify to the basics for now. Trust me – during times of dramatic change – your team is more nervous than you are. So minimize the number of changes you need to make today. Punt on anything other than getting your team back up and functioning.

Ignore your annoying neighbor (who works for a 5 person company) that talks about how he’s been working from home for years and it’s easy.

Ignore the thousands of articles in your inbox promising remote work ‘tips’. None of them were tested in a Fortune 500 company before.

And definitely ignore the various remote work pundits preaching a utopian world – where all your employees are more productive in their pajamas, everyone is happy, and all the work they do is suddenly able to be done asynchronously (which is just a fancy word for ‘no meetings’). 

Someday you’ll get to all that fancy stuff.  But for now – just focus on minimizing the thrash and getting your team back up to productivity (as close to par as possible – a bogie is good enough for now).

Step 1: Adopt a video-first culture

You, and most F500 companies, already have video conferencing tools in place. But in most cases – the video is never turned on.

The reason is that you see most of your employees on a regular basis. So the video component is a ‘nice to have’ in building culture and trust.

In a remote world, however, turning the video on for almost all calls is CRITICAL.

Humans are social beings – and the act of ‘seeing’ your colleagues goes a long way towards maintaining trust, having open communication and furthering the culture of the team.

It may feel ‘weird’ at first to see your colleague’s kitchen/bedroom/office or wherever they are working – but you’ll soon realize that those images become a part of the relationship building. Think of it as a better version of their kids’ photos on their desks in your physical office (which were probably taken 5 years ago anyways).

Be open – have discussions about their setup. And when their kids come into the frame or their cat jumps up on the desk – don’t ignore it – have a human conversation and take your relationship to the next level.

For good insights on how to have a great video conferencing setup – feel free to read this article.

Step 2: Set Up a ‘Virtual Office’ to Replace Your Physical Office

The fastest way to get back to productivity is to simply replace your physical office space with a virtual one.

A virtual what?

Yes – a virtual office.

Virtual offices are pseudomorphic representations of your physical office. You can set up a floor plan that resembles your current office – and recreate a majority of the team interactions that occur today.

You (and each one of your team members) have your own offices, meeting rooms and common spaces.

Want to see if Katherine is in her office and available for a chat? No problem.

Want to join that impromptu discussion that John and Malcom are having? No problem.

Want to close your door so nobody can bother you in your office?  No problem also.

A virtual office is obviously not as good as your physical office – but it’s a close replacement for times like these. There is almost no learning curve, they’re integrated with Zoom/WebEx/Hangouts, and they enable you to work largely like you do today.

The best news of all? You can test it out for free and you don’t even need to ask IT for permission.

We use a product called Sococo – and loved it so much – we bought the company. Here is a link to the free trial.

Here is a quick 3 min video of a virtual office and how this can work for your team.

In Closing

This situation was thrown at you. But as a leader – it’s now your job to calm the troops down and get everyone back to being productive.

The remote working world is great – and will bring a ton of additional benefits to your team. But rather than try to adopt all of them all at once – simplify – and get to the ‘advanced’ concepts later. Your team will be grateful that you’ve calmed down the initial storm and recreated their familiar environment first.

If you have any questions – please feel free to contact me at @andytryba.

5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party

Virtual holiday – what? That sounds ridiculous.

I know – that’s what is going through your head right now. And trust me – that went through my head before throwing our first one years ago. But believe it or not – it actually works – and is a great way to build culture and connection within your remote team.

And even if some team members don’t celebrate Christmas – certainly still include them. In our holiday party this year – we had team members attend from the following countries: US, Canada, Bulgaria, Romania, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Poland, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, UK, Ukraine, Austria, Armenia, Turkey and Egypt.

Here are 5 steps to throw a great virtual holiday party:

Step 1: Use a virtual world and create a ‘holiday floor’

The first key to throwing a remote party is to make it ‘feel’ like an in-person event. Virtual worlds work great for this purpose – since the skeuomorphic depiction of a space tricks the brain to thinking people are in the same physical room. We use Sococo and it works great.

If you already use a virtual world – create a new floor specifically for the holiday party. To make the floor festive – name each of the rooms something fun and related to the holiday you’re celebrating. In our case – it was Christmas.

Step 2: Setup a themed scavenger hunt

To get everyone in the holiday spirit, make a themed scavenger hunt and open up the holiday floor about a week prior to your event.

To start the scavenger hunt – designate 1 room as the starting point with instructions and a clue. From there – the team members will need to decipher the clue to figure out which room to go to next.

As they jump from room to room – they discover various factoids about Christmas – as well as clues to find the next room to jump in. Factoids can be linked directly in Sococo through hyperlinks in each room. The hyperlinks can be to a website, blog, video, etc. Get creative!

You can embed various questionnaires (we used Google Forms) in the rooms and reuse the information at the actual event itself.

You can also create little puzzles for them to play (this one was obviously a bit easy) – which then becomes a clue to the next room.

And for the final room and conclusion of the scavenger hunt – embed a quick video from your CEO thanking the team for all their hard work this year – as well as encouraging them to attend the holiday party.

It was really great to see various team members work together to solve the hunt and make their way around the virtual holiday floor. It really got the team excited for the party itself.

Step 3: Throw the party

For remote teams that are scattered around the world – it’s always hard to pick a time that works perfectly for everyone. But since this is an event where you want folks to be synchronously engaged – try to pick one that can maximize the attendees. This year – we had team members from 12 different time zones across 5 continents.

And for people that can’t make it – be sure to record the party. Believe it or not – we always have folks watch the party and have fun even weeks later.

One good touch for the event is to ask people to come in holiday attire. Having folks dress up really adds to the comradery and spirit. This holiday attire can be representative of their local traditions or be part of the games you play (more on this in the next section).

Step 4: Play games over video

I wouldn’t have believed this prior to doing them – but there are a ton of fun games you can play over video! Here are some of the games that we’ve played:

Ugly sweater contest: Have folks dress in their ugliest holiday sweater and everyone votes on the winner.

Best holiday hat contest: Have people wear a themed hat and vote on the winner.

Best holiday background contest: Have people decorate their home office and everyone votes on the best setup.

Other games you can play over video:

  • Charades: Use an online charades word picker and have 1 person act out the charade on camera. Everyone participates and guesses – tons of fun remote.
  • White elephant/Secret Santa: Prior to the party – assign Secret Santa and do a gift reveal on camera. The gifts may take a while to ship to the folks – but tons of fun also.
  • Jeopardy: Setup a remote Jeopardy board (choose from any of them online) and split up into teams. Compete with either themed questions and/or questions related to your company.

Step 5: Ask team members to describe their holiday traditions

The best part of a virtual holiday party with your remote team is learning about their personal & country’s traditions. This is a great way for various team members to get to know one another on a personal basis and open up trust/communication.

In this year’s party – I learned:

  • Romania has a tradition of ‘pig roasting’ on Dec 20th where the kids ‘sit’ on the roasted pig
  • Bulgaria sets out odd number of plates and only serves vegan food for Christmas
  • Nigerian kids do ‘banga’ (fireworks) and eat a ton of meat on Christmas
  • Newfoundland kids do ‘mummering’ – where they dress up in ghost-like costumes and go house to house and perform for food/snacks – and the hosts have to guess the mummers’ identities
  • Russians go to a banya (bathhouses) where they alternate between hot saunas and ice-cold baths. They also have people ‘beat’ you with bunches of dried branches while in the sauna.


Trust me – I was a virtual holiday party skeptic too. But after experiencing them – I couldn’t recommend them more. With 1 simple hour and some creativity – you can enhance your remote team’s sense of connection, understanding and trust.

There are so many holidays and traditions around the world – take advantage of them to build your team’s culture.

I hope some of these tips helped. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. Would love to hear about your virtual holiday party! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

3 min video to show how virtual worlds will contribute to remote work

Remote work evangelists have a tendency to believe that the word ‘office’ is a four letter word. This is short-sided and ultimately harmful in making remote work mainstream.

Don’t get me wrong – remote work has a ton of advantages that I love (infinite talent, global, async deep work, etc) – but it also has a bunch of disadvantages. These current disadvantages – such as employees not feeling ‘connected’ to their team, lack of impromptu collaboration, feeling of isolation and manager’s lack of trust are items we should address head-on and find ways to fix.

Fortunately – technology is on our side and the emergence of ‘virtual worlds’ will help overcome many of these current issues.

Virtual worlds? You mean like Second Life?

Well – sorta…

These multi-player games create connection and enable folks – that are thousands of miles apart – to ‘feel’ like they are on the same team and working together.

In a work setting – we definitely want that same type of connection and collaboration (less the tanks and ammo perhaps). There is a big difference between communication and connection (as I write about in this article) – and these virtual worlds can help make these connections reality.

Now – I’m not saying you should run your company off of Fortnite – but there are a lot of great virtual office programs. We use a program called Sococo (and loved it so much we bought the company).

Here is a quick 3 minute video of how we use a virtual world to bring together our remote teams.

If anyone is also currently using remote worlds to run your company – love to hear your experiences! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

Book notes: Trillion Dollar Coach – Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

The ‘cult’ of remote work evangelists believe that the lessons of ‘classic’ Silicon Valley companies are outdated and don’t apply to us. When it comes to mentoring and coaching – we couldn’t be more wrong.

Bill Campbell was a legendary mentor to Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jonathan Rosenberg, Sundar Pichai, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg and countless other important innovators of modern tech. If his advise was good enough for them – they’re definitely good enough for us…

Now – obviously in a remote world – mentoring and coaching are delivered via a different medium – but the approach largely stays the same. Many of us have a tendency to neglect the elements that Campbell did so effortlessly – but in reality – we need to be finding ways to increase the frequency of coaching delivered to our remote teams instead.

The isolation of remote team members require even more touch than in-person to maintain morale and alignment.

There are clearly some disadvantages in coaching remote – such as the difficulty to read body language and the development of trust. But many of the ‘Campbell-isms’ can be applied equally well remote – such as his methods of coaching directly, meetings, feedback and morale.

Remote also gives us several advantages – such as the frequency you can ‘see’ (via video) your team members, ability to provide feedback faster via async communications and the ability to make changes faster.

Here are some super raw notes

  • Campbell coached Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sundar Pichai at Google, Steve Jobs at Apple, Brad Smith at Intuit, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, John Donahoe at eBay, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Dick Costolo at Twitter, and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook
  • Campbell-isms:
    • Mentor gives advice – coaches get their hands dirty
    • Best coaches make good teams great
    • Title makes you a manager – your people make you a leader. 
    • You have to become a great manager before becoming a great leader 
    • Great coaches lay awake at night thinking about how to make their people/team better
    • Bill believed that what peers think of you is more important than managers think of you. 
    • 5 min favors go a long way – be generous
    • Love the founders – CEOs come and go but there will be only 1 founder 
    • If you’ve been blessed – be a blessing
  • Hiring:
    • 4 key characteristics to look for in hires – smart, integrity, work hard, grit 
    • When interviewing candidates – asking ‘how’ they achieved X is an important question. Will tell you if the candidate is hands on, doer, team builder, etc 
    • Big turnoff was if candidate was no longer learning – not asking enough questions 
    • Coachabilty is key to all successful players – look for this key trait in interviews, on the job, etc.
    • Keep note of how long they take before giving up. Also how they celebrate others’ success when peers succeed. 
    • Pay attention to people that show up and work hard everyday. Not everyone should be quarterback. 
    • Smarts and hearts 
  • Meetings:
    • Managers – be the last person to speak. Your job is to break ties and make decisions 
    • Start staff meetings w personal discussion. Get to know people and share stories – helps bring honesty and have more candor discussions in making decisions. Small talk is important – interest in people’s lives. 
    • In meetings – see the entire field – not just the person talking. Look around the room to see who’s committed and who is not. Then talk to them outside of the discussion to get them aligned.
    • 1:1s – personal, performance on goals, peer feedback, how to measure yourself amongst best in world
  • Rule of 2:
    • Pick the best 2 people in the org that know about subject to make the decision recommendation. He was big on ‘pairing’ people up to develop relationships but also bring the right subject matter experts together.
    • Team dynamics is often overlooked as important to success. Pair people up on projects. Helps build trust. 
  • Firing:
    • Letting people go is a failure of management – not the people being let go.
    • Important to let people leave with their heads held high – treat them well and with respect 
    • Send out note with their accomplishments as they depart 
    • Be clear early in conversation and provide details. Firings shouldn’t be a surprise. 
    • Treating departing people well is important to the moral of those staying. Many of who you lay off have closer relationships to continuing team members than you. Treat them with the appropriate level of respect. But company has to move forward – so don’t apologize too long. 
    • When you fire someone – you regret it for a day – then say you should have done it a long time before. 
  • Trust: 
    • Team must have a willingness to be vulnerable 
    • Trust enables you to have more direct conversations 
    • Phycological safety is the biggest factor in best, successful teams. Trust is key to that. 
  • Feedback:
    • Be candid and aggressive with negative feedback – you can do this if safety and trust is there. Candor plus caring.
    • Deliver negative feedback in private
    • Bill never had an elephant in the room – it was always directly on the table.  Trust was there to be able to talk about anything.
  • Morale:
    • Be a person that gives energy and not takes it away
    • When things are going bad – morale in the team is bad – and you can’t fix things when morale is bad. Need to build up team first to make changes. 
    • Work to revitalize the team then get to the problem. Teams can’t solve problems if they are a problem also.

Great lessons for all leaders – remote or otherwise… Read the book.

If anyone has additional notes from the book or ideas on remote company coaching in general – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

Book Notes: What you do is who you are (Horowitz)

I have to admit that I wasn’t always a big ‘culture’ guy. The word always sounded like a fluffy HR term that didn’t really mean much. Now with a bit more grey hair and a few thousand people spread across the globe – I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Particularly in the remote team environment – developing culture is much much harder. You have all the variables that work against you – not seeing each other very often, language barriers, various countries, various cultural norms, different holidays, various religions, etc etc etc. If you’re not ABSOLUTELY intentional in defining your company culture – your outcome is literally a random number generator.

Ben Horowitz signing away…

This book by Ben Horowitz hit home for me. The book is written from a perspective of a CEO/Founder (unlike other books in this category written by HR). I could respect it – and I could hear his pains along the way as he learned what really mattered.

One line I loved was ‘Culture is the decisions your people make when you’re not there’. CEOs/Founders forget that, at scale, most of the decisions made in your company are without you there. And how you ensure those decisions are aligned is where culture comes in.

My 3 takeaways from this book

  1. Be intentional about defining your culture – but ensure you also consider how it can be weaponized (Uber example)
  2. The definition of culture is really ‘what does it take to succeed in your company’ – and don’t ask execs or managers to define it
  3. Your culture needs to be who you really are – don’t try to make some pretty descriptions of what you think a company should be. It’s all about what you wakeup and do everyday – that’s your culture and what you’re company culture will be.

Ben’s Checklist

  • Cultural design – aligns w both personality and strategy. Be sure to think how it can be weaponized. 
  • Day 1 orientation – people learn more about what it takes to succeed in org that day than any other. 
  • Shocking rules – so surprising that people ask why it’s here – will reinforce key cultural elements 
  • Outside leadership – sometimes the culture you need is best brought in from an outside pro with a culture you want 
  • Object lesson – public display of importance 
  • Make ethics explicit – don’t leave unsaid 
  • Cultural to make deep meaning – what do they really mean
  • Walk the talk – refrain from choosing what you don’t practice yourself 
  • Make decisions that emphasize priorities 

Here are some super raw notes

  • Culture is the decisions your people make when you’re not there
  • Saying in the military – If you see something below standard and you don’t say anything – then you set a new standard
  • Culture changes over time as market and company changes 
  • Andy Grove – You don’t take the ball and run w it – you deflate it, put it in your pocket, grab another ball and run into the end zone, then inflate the other ball and score 12 points. (Innovative thinking outside the box)
  • Innovative ideas fail more often to succeed. And they are controversial and hard to gain momentum. So cultures typically kill those ideas as ‘dumb’ – particularly in large companies with many layers to kill it. 
  • Virtues are what you do, values are what you believe 
  • Who are we?  ‘Who you are’ is not what you list on the wall – it’s what you do. 
  • Make ethics explicit 
  • Michael Dell famously stated (when Apple was down to 3% MSS) – that he would shut it down and give money back to shareholders. (Before Jobs came back).  Back then – every PC maker was horizontal and the belief was that innovation on supply chain was the future (like Dell)
  • Amazon – frugal culture ‘do more with less’ (door desks, etc). Also written culture – not PPT (only written docs for meetings)
  • Facebook – Move fast and break things (but replaced w Move fast w stable infrastructure)
  • Yahoo – Work hours must be in office (no working from home). 
  • Uber:
    • TK actually designed Uber’s culture carefully – and it worked exactly as designed – but had design flaws
    • Values: Celebrate cities, Meritocracy and toe stepping, Principled confrontation, Winning – champions mindset, Let builders build, Make big bold bets, Always be hustling, Customer obsession, Make magic, Be an owner not a renter, Be yourself, Optimistic leadership, Best idea wins
    • Elevated 1 mindset above all – competitiveness. Do whatever it takes to win. 
    • No evidence that Travis ordered all the unethical actions – but the culture to win at all costs took over. 
    • Culture, like code, can have bugs 
    • And if ethics are the bugs – then many bad things happen
  • Samurai culture
    • I will never fall behind others in the way of the warrior, always ready to serve my lord, honor my parents, serve compassionately in the benefit of others
    • Extent of ones courage (or cowardice) cannot be measured in ordinary times – all is revealed when something happens
    • Awareness of mortality was a big driver – and die at any moment. Ready for death and accept worst outcome. Enables you to be fully live. 
    • 8 virtues:  justice, courage, honor, loyalty, benevolence, politeness, self control, voracity/sincerity 
      • Honor:  immortal part of themselves. Individual name matters throughout time 
      • Politeness:  Most profound way to express love and respect for  others (still works this way in Japan)
    • ‘Samurai word is harder than steel’
  • Bill Campbell – you’re doing it for your team, don’t let them down
  • How to know if your culture is working – ask yourself what it takes for the employees to succeed and get ahead. Don’t ask exec team or managers – you’ll get back what you want to hear. 
  • Design the culture. And be you 
  • Disagree w Drucker quote – strategy and culture work together 
  • Growth question in interview – what’s one thing you could have done better in your current job?
  • Wartime vs Peacetime CEOs – typically people that like to work for one type doesn’t like working for the other
  • Trust – tell the truth even if people don’t want to hear it (state facts clearly, what was cause, what is meaning and end result of action)
  • Kimchi problems – the more you bury them the hotter they get
  • Be okay with bad news – embrace it publicly and encourage it to be aired 
  • People don’t leave companies – they leave managers. Take genuine interest. 

In a remote world – we have to work that much harder to develop a unified company culture. Don’t neglect defining it – and don’t neglect reinforcing it on a daily basis…

If anyone has additional notes from the book or ideas on remote company culture in general – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

How To Make a ‘Gold Standard’ Remote Work Office

Ok – so maybe the ‘gold standard’ that Andreas Klinger called my office in this tweet may be overstating it a bit. But I did get a lot of questions and requests to write-up a small post on some of the details of the office and considerations on how to build it. So this article is to address those requests.

Initial Design Considerations

Since I work with several thousand remote workers – I needed my office to be optimized for remote collaboration. But your typical 1:1 video wasn’t the only use case.

Use cases:

  1. Optimize for remote video calls 1:1 or 1:N (typical)
  2. Optimize for N:N remote video calls – including multiple people physically in my office (a bit more challenging)
  3. Optimize for the use case 1 or 2 while using the whiteboard to brainstorm (also a bit more challenging)

Other design considerations:

  • Great HD audio quality all around the room to avoid the ‘near/far’ mic sound
  • Great HD video setup with proper orientation
  • Limit wires around the office – clean setup – particularly in the middle of the room
  • Physical whiteboard (I still hate digital ones)
  • Ability for others to wireless present on the screen/TV
  • Use only PC-based video conferencing solutions – not fixed room solutions (innovation curve is faster on PC-based/software than fixed room units)


I wanted a space that I could use as a ‘normal’ office for in-person customer visits but also optimize the room for remote work/video conferencing. The first part is easy, of course. For the video conferencing piece, the layout of the TV, camera and desk were the main considerations.

To make the layout work for video conferencing – the camera and TV needed to be directly in front of the desk. This was a challenge since the space is a rectangle with windows on 2 sides.

The first thought was to hang the TV on the wall with no windows (a typical configuration). But if I would have done this – then the desk would have windows behind it. People make this mistake often – if you orient a desk with windows behind it – the video camera struggles due to the brightness. Your image ends up dark, similar to regular photography with too bright of a background.

Instead (and counterintuitively) – a TV stand in front of the window ended up being the right layout. This way – the desk would be along the far wall without windows – avoiding the lighting issue and taking advantage of the natural light in front and besides my desk.

Camera Setup

The camera is mounted just below the TV on a shelf that came with the TV stand.  I took off the glass shelf that came with it and mounted the camera directly on the arm.  I then raised the shelf so that the camera lens is exactly eye level when I’m sitting at my desk (see my other article about the importance of camera orientation).

For the camera itself – I knew I needed an HD webcam that had a 10x zoom – since the camera is 15 feet from my desk.  I also wanted the camera to have the ability to rotate and focus on various spots in the room. This way, I can take video calls from the couch, chairs or even my treadmill.  It also needed to be able to zoom out so I could have meetings with multiple people in the physical room – while visible to the others on camera.

I chose the Logitech PTZ – and it works perfectly for all these use cases.  The pre-settings on the remote are also great to automatically click to various spots/configurations. 

Note – the only issue I have with this camera is when it resumes from standby. When it resumes – rather than spin and rotate into place then turn the camera on, it first turns the camera on then spins and rotates into place. This creates a dizzying panorama effect for the folks on the other side of the video (sorry folks).  I think this is a bug – but Logitech claims it’s a ‘feature’. Classic debate of bug vs feature I guess…

For most of my meetings – someone is displaying some content.  If a person in my office wants to display on the TV to the remote group – they simply login to Zoom and share their screen (which shows up on my TV as well as to others). 

If they are just displaying locally to me – I have an Apple TV mounted on the back of the TV to AirPlay.

Audio Setup

The next challenge to solve was the microphone issue.  Though the office isn’t that big – I wanted to be able to do calls in various spots around the room and have the ability to have multiple people in the office during calls. I knew 1 central mic would not be enough.  I’d get that near/far effect and poor audio quality.

I originally thought I needed to have multiple mic pods.  There are a ton of mic pods and mic extensions you can find on the market – but most are wired together off of the primary pod base.  And they all look terrible. They would also require me to run wires to various spots in the office – something I didn’t want to do.

I also considered the type of mics that hang from your ceiling – which would have worked.  But again – they look terrible and are a pain to install.

I then came across an innovative company called Nureva.  They invented a great (but super super expensive) microphone/speaker called HDL300.  This mic gets mounted to the wall and breaks up the room into over 8,192 virtual microphone zones.  These virtual microphones basically detect where audio is coming from around the room – and amplifies only those zones.  This enables me to be anywhere around the room (or others in the room with me) – and we all sound as if we are next to a microphone.  It’s a very, very cool innovation so I splurged a bit on it.

The HDL300 has a small box that plugs in via USB into my iMac.  This is great since it’s simply a USB device – and is automatically picked up by all the video conferencing software I use.

Whiteboard Collaboration

Call me old school – but I still don’t love software whiteboard solutions.  It got a little better with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil – but nothing beats a large physical whiteboard.  And when others are in my room brainstorming – having a full size whiteboard is important.

Now – I could have purchased a full-size digital whiteboard – but they are super expensive – and they’re a bit of a pain to plugin to various video conferencing software.  So the solution I opted for instead was simply mounting my iPad on a stand and pointing the camera towards the physical whiteboard. I then login the iPad as another user in a Zoom meeting – and share the video.  It works great (though my penmanship is another story).


I use a variety of different remote collaboration software – Zoom, Slack, Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc.  Though we’ve standardized across our companies – customers and others use different platforms. So simply using the PC as your ‘hub’ works great so you can be flexible and use any of them in your office setup. The TV is connected to my iMac by HDMI and treated as an extended display.

I’ve tried various ‘fixed room’ setups in the past – but found them largely inflexible. This includes Zoom Rooms, LifeSize, Telepresence, Halo Rooms, etc. Having a PC-based model connected to a TV enables a) drag documents back/forth from the screen, b) don’t need a second PC to power the Zoom Room, c) don’t need to pay extra for a Zoom Room account and d) less complicated setup.

Though I use many – my favorite software for remote teams (by far) is a program called Sococo.  It’s the only software I’ve seen that can help build remote team culture. 

For whatever reason – virtually ‘seeing’ your team sitting around a table develops a sense of connection that can’t be matched with little green/yellow/red dots on a Slack list.  The ‘visual proximity’ also encourages watercooler talk and quick video syncs.

I loved this company so much that I bought it – and am now making it 10x better (developing ‘rich presence’, making it into a platform to plugin Zoom/Slack/calendar, adding personalization, etc).

Summary of Parts


  • Camera:  Logitech PTZ camera
  • Microphone/Speaker:  Nureva HDL300
  • TV:  60” Samsung
  • PC:  iMac
  • AppleTV


  • Video collaboration:  Zoom, Skype, Slack, GTM, others
  • Remote team culture:  Sococo


Keys to setting up any remote-first office:

  1. Output = Professionalism:  Configure your layout to optimize for professionalism.  Assume you need to close $1M deals on video – so recreate a virtual in-person experience.  All elements matter to create a professional look – where you put your desk, background, lighting, camera, microphone, etc.
  2. Audio is more important than video:   If video fails, you keep going – if audio fails, you end the call.  Splurge on good audio setup. And based on your use cases – there are various options like virtual microphones.
  3. Video orientation is more important than video quality:  Eye-level camera setup with proper distance is the key to a great video call.  HD is nice – but irrelevant if you don’t have the right orientation. Cameras that rotate and zoom can be great flexible options to achieve the perfect orientation.
  4. PC-based software setups are better than fixed room:  Innovation occurs faster on the PC-based solution. And using your PC as the main hub enables you to use a variety of collaboration software instead of 1 fixed ecosystem.
  5. Collaboration is more than just talking:  Focus on productivity and culture building.  iPads are good tools to ‘extend’ your collaboration to physical whiteboards.  Applications like Sococo are great to drive impromptu ‘watercooler’ discussions to get more out of your newly built space.

I’m not sure if this setup is truly the ‘gold standard’ – but after 15 years of trial and error, this setup works great for me.  If anyone has additional ideas on how to make my setup even better – love to hear them! You can reach me on Twitter – @andytryba

5 Advanced Video Conferencing Tips

When people hear you’re a ‘remote worker’ – they automatically assume you’re working in some elevator-music-filled coffee shop or sitting around the house in your pajamas taking conference calls. They also, unfortunately, think you’re less professional (which obviously isn’t true). But if we want to truly make remote work mainstream – we need to change these perceptions and up our ‘remote work’ game. We need to start with how they ‘see’ you. In a remote worker world – that is via video conferencing. Here are 5 ‘advanced’ tips on how to improve your video conferencing professionalism.

Note – I’m skipping the ‘basic’ video conferencing stuff. Yes – have enough bandwidth to do great HD video. Yes – audio quality matters. Yes – use Zoom or some other provider. No – don’t use your phone as the endpoint. No – don’t have your cats jumping on your lap. There are plenty of blogs out there with basic tips – this blog is for the advanced class.

Advanced Tip 1: Camera orientation

First – it’s important to discuss the end state of what you’re trying to accomplish – a video conference that feels super professional and feels as close to an ‘in-person’ meeting as you can. To do this – the #1 consideration is the orientation of the camera.

I do video calls with 50-300 remote workers a week – and I can tell you that it’s in the single digits on how many of them get the orientation right.

The key to a correct orientation is the camera angle is parallel to your eyes. When the camera is ‘straight on’ – you look like you would if you were meeting in-person. Angles are everything here – and if you’re off by even a little bit – you lose the feeling of in-person.

Take a look at the images below – and you can see the huge difference between the right angle (first image) and wrong angles (all others)…

The right angle
Wrong angles

Advanced Tip 2: Laptop camera

Note the middle ‘wrong’ image above – this is a typical ‘laptop’ camera angle. What often occurs (since the camera on the top of the angled screen) – is that you get the ‘up the nose’ angle. You lose professionalism – and it doesn’t matter who you are – nobody looks good from this angle.

To use your laptop effectively for video conferencing – you have to eliminate the angle of your laptop screen and have it positioned at 90% instead. But for the camera to then not point at your neck – you need to raise it by putting 5-6 books under it. This puts the camera at eye level and brings your orientation back to the right position.

The only problem now is that you’re actually too close to the camera – and you look huge on camera to the other side. So to solve that – you’ll want to move your chair about 2 feet away from the desk or table you put your laptop on. This will feel a bit weird at first – but it’s the right distance away for the correct amount of torso to be seen in the video and for you to look closer to the ‘correct’ image above.

Advanced Tip 3: Background

Another big mistake that I see remote workers make is not paying attention to what’s behind you in the video conference. It’s hard to take you seriously when I see your Luke Skywalker bedsheets in the background.

The ideal background is a blank or wallpapered wall (like you see in my image above) or a professional area such as a neat bookshelf or lamp. You should basically ask yourself – if I were closing a $1M deal – would the person believe I’m in a corporate office? If yes – you’ve got a good background.

There are also apps that have built-in background blur or green screen. I find those largely distracting and don’t often work well (particularly around the edges of people). I wouldn’t recommend using that option to hide your background.

One trick that I’ve used in the past is to ‘make’ a professional background using a photography setup. You can pick up a stand kit on Amazon for under $40 and a variety of different backdrops for only $10-$15. So for ~$50 – you can have a truly professional background – that’s super easy to put up and down – and you’ll fool everyone that you’re not in an office. So if you’re stuck with your Luke sheets and have no other options – get this setup.

Advanced Tip 4: Noise-canceling

There is nothing more annoying than tons of background noise from a participant in a video call. I’ve heard it all – from the noises of being outside to dogs barking to children crying to the flushing of toilets (this happens too often actually). I know there is a mute button – definitely use it – but also do us all a favor by getting a noise-canceling microphone.

Noise-canceling microphones are different than noise-canceling headphones. Noise-canceling headphones are to block out external noise for you (the listener). These are also great for video conferencing (such as my favorite – the Jabra Evolv 75e) – but they don’t do anything for the microphone (for us on the other side of your line).

Noise-canceling microphones, on the other hand, actively cancel out noise for the receiving side. There are many hardware mics that do this – and I highly recommend them. But the latest innovation is software microphone noise canceling. I’ve been super impressed with the Krisp.ai software guys. For $3/m – they have an amazing product that all remote workers should use to eliminate background noise. One of my favorite products of all time.

Try Krisp

Advanced Tip 5: HD Option in Settings

I’m not sure how I discovered this option – nor why it’s not ‘on’ by default – but there is a setting in Zoom (and other video providers) to turn HD on. I’m assuming they want to either conserve your bandwidth or reduce their compute requirements – but who in their right mind wants to do SD video? Have you tried going back and watching a non-HD TV? Can’t do it.

The setting in Zoom is under Preferences -> Settings -> Video -> Enable HD. Turn it on…

Okay – enough tips for now – but I’m excited for the day that everyone follows all 5 of these. And if you have more – please let me know and happy to pass them on…

What to look for in a remote job?

The audio version of the What is an Authentic Remote job? blog post

What the heck is ‘remote work’? Is a job that lets you work from home on Fridays ‘remote work’? Is a freelancer building a website for a client as supplemental income ‘remote work’? Is your designer working in Romania doing ‘remote work’? Unfortunately – the answer is ‘yes’ to all of these. How confusing… We need a better categorization of ‘remote jobs’.

Categories of remote jobs

Not all remote jobs are created equal. To break down the generic term of ‘remote job’ – let’s define 3 classes of remote jobs to get on the same page:

  1. ‘Work from home’ remote jobs: These jobs are pretending to be ‘remote’ – but really they are perks of an onsite job. This is ‘work from home Fridays’ or ‘satellite offices’ or companies that have a policy that simply lets folks work from home on occasion – but it’s expected that they are in the office for the majority of their working career. Companies tend to be trendy and offer this type of flexibility – but in reality – it’s not truly a part of their culture and secretly the managers hate people that work from home too often (they assume you’re on the golf course). This is not the future of remote work.
  2. Freelancer remote jobs: These are 100% remote jobs – but they are freelancers and other ‘on-demand’ roles. These positions are typically considered part of the ‘gig-economy’ and suffer from the friction of a marketplace. In a marketplace, you typically have to bid on jobs, which – on a global basis – tends to depress the price/hour (yes – that person in Vietnam is willing to work less than you are – and be happy with it). The bid/ask system also creates wild fluctuations in your income, has uncertainty and is project-by-project vs a long-term career. The projects also tend to be tactical and low skill roles. This is also not the future of remote work – but as Upwork has proven – there are a lot of people willing to work nights/weekends to supplement their income.
  3. Authentic remote jobs: This is the future of remote work – 100% remote, full-time / 40 hr/w roles, transparent wage rate, career/growth-oriented, all workers use both remote communication & connection tools, goals/metrics are clear, tasks are able to be completed asynchronously and the company has a remote culture. These are the Rolls Royce of all remote jobs – and what we all aspire to get. These roles will continue to grow exponentially and will have a massive impact on the global economy.

Diving into the details of Authentic remote jobs

100% remote

The true remote job has no borders. This isn’t ‘can be anywhere – as long as it’s on the East Coast of the US’. Real remote jobs are global. Let me repeat – they are GLOBAL. And they are this way to find the best person in the WORLD for the position – not the best person in your zip code.

Full time, 40 hours/week

Authentic remote jobs are not part-time nor on a bid/ask marketplace system. I’ve never seen a critical position in a company or a key player be ‘transactional’ and only show up part of the time. Additionally – the best in the world already have full-time roles – and they’re looking to put their entire brain/efforts into the next challenge.

Transparent wage rate

Despite the touchy/feely comments people make about their motivations for a job, at the end of the day, money matters – and the best Authentic remote jobs are transparent on what the wage rate is in the job description. According to a recent study by Glassdoor – money is the #1 motivator for 67% of job seekers. Remote or not remote – wage rate matters – so be transparent and include them in the job description.


Though money is a motivator – the best in the world are also looking for intellectual challenges that enhance their careers. This is consistent on remote and non-remote jobs – but even more enhanced when the job seeker now has an infinite number or job opportunities available to them – not just the selection in their zip code.

Use remote communication & connection tools

Many companies have video conferencing and collaboration tools – but ironically – companies that are not ‘remote-first’ fail to use them properly. Managers have to ‘remember’ to post that file on Google drive, the team doesn’t use video in the meetings, everything is synchronous, etc, etc. Authentic Remote jobs are only in companies that treat remote workers as equals.

Success goals & metrics

In a typical office job – if a role isn’t terribly well defined – you can walk around and ask your colleagues and manager to help nudge you in the right direction. In 100% remote jobs – this is much more difficult and the definition of success needs to be more clearly laid out. What are the goals, how is the work itself done, what are the objective metrics, what is the expected calendar are all important to clarify. All Authentic Remote jobs have these characteristics – so success or failure is clear and transparent.


Asynch has also become a bit of a buzzword in the remote world. But the importance of it remains – Authentic Remote jobs have to be able to be done without dependence on synchronization. Unlike everyone huddled in an office – the remote worker needs to be able to complete a majority of the task on their own – in their own time. This doesn’t mean the remote worker doesn’t collaborate with others – it simply means the task itself can be broken down to individual components that the remote worker can complete on their own (with very little dependence on others).

Remote culture

True Authentic Remote jobs are in companies that are ‘remote-first’. This isn’t ‘work from home Fridays’ – it’s a proper understanding of how to build their company structure for remote organization, how to manage and cluster timezones of remote workers, how to understand the power deltas between office workers vs remote workers (ideally there are no physical offices), how to build culture remotely, how to bridge cultural gaps, and how to define roles to be clear/async/measurable.

Examples of Authentic Remote jobs from remote-first companies

Companies such as HotJar offer remote positions and check all the items on our list: they have a remote culture, they are fully remote, employ people from any region as long as the time-zone allows them to be aligned with other team members, offers employment contract for talent in specific countries or contractor agreement for the rest, paid holidays, team collaboration allowance, holiday budget, etc. That is the true remote vision and Authentic Remote jobs.

On the other side – companies like DataDog offer some remote positions, are open to offering 100% remote work, but employees need to live in the US or other areas where the company has offices. It lacks the remote culture, it does not have a fully distributed/remote team. Even if some of the offered jobs are remote, according to the classification above, the lack of remote culture makes those jobs simply flexible jobs, not Authentic Remote jobs.


Going back to the beginning – to get to the end state where the term ‘remote jobs’ evolves to be ‘all jobs’ – we need to be clear on our definitions and what we’re trying to expand. Specifically – employers – develop more Authentic Remote jobs as they are the future of work…