Remoter Podcast

Musings from a leader in a hybrid set-up with Rob Minford from CyberSmart

Episode Summary

Recorded on 02/2020 in London, UK at Second Home. Rob Minford, Head of Engineering at CyberSmart met up with Remoter at their coworking space Second Home London. CyberSmart is a SAAS-based, automated compliance product helping small to medium-sized businesses maintain compliance standards, currently with a focus within the UK. Being a remote-first team lead had also taught him to be cautious when talking about his experience; he makes sure to mention the hardships of working in a hybrid setting so it doesn’t get swept under the rug.

Episode Notes

Recorded on 02/2020 in London, UK at Second Home. Rob Minford, Head of Engineering at CyberSmart met up with Remoter at their coworking space Second Home London. CyberSmart is a SAAS-based, automated compliance product helping small to medium-sized businesses maintain compliance standards, currently with a focus within the UK. Being a remote-first team lead had also taught him to be cautious when talking about his experience; he makes sure to mention the hardships of working in a hybrid setting so it doesn’t get swept under the rug.

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Episode Transcription

Josephine Tse  0:00  

It's time for season two of the Remoter Podcast. I'm your host Josephine.

Josephine Tse  0:05  

As a continuation from season one with Alex and Andres, I had the opportunity to interview some remote work leaders, ranging from companies, consultants, advocates and more to add to Remoter's stash of free resources and human-centred stories, enriching our educational platform about remote work. This podcast is sponsored by Torre, a new kind of professional network that automatically connects talent with opportunity. Founded by Alexander Torrenegra, our goal is to make work fulfilling for everyone find the job of your dreams by visiting That's T O R R E dot C O.

Josephine Tse  0:49  

The amount of outtakes in this episode could have made for another podcast episode. So picture this. Rob and I are sitting in a ridiculously Instagramable co-working space and we're nailing down all this good content, but there's a coffee machine whirring in the background, and seems like all the women decided to wear heels that day and people seem to be closing glass doors left, right and centre. Aside from that, Rob story is one of the hybrid remote team. We talk about our love for travelling as well as what makes work fulfilling for us. He also shares his musings and lessons learned from being the only lead at CyberSmart, managing a globally distributed team of engineers. 

Josephine Tse  1:30  

Welcome to another episode of the Remoter Podcast. Today we are in London, in East London by Shoreditch, and I am here with Rob Minford from CyberSmart UK, and we're going to talk about his journey of running an engineering team remotely, and how he heads that up. But before we start, could you please... Oh, there's a dog.

Rob Minford  1:53  

Lots of dogs. There's lots of dogs in here. This is also a great thing. 

Josephine Tse  1:57  

Really cute. 

Rob Minford  1:57  

And yeah, they do just roam around, which is nice.

Josephine Tse  2:00  

Anywho Rob, could you please tell me about yourself?

Rob Minford  2:03  

I came through from a computer science background, went into the security security world but as a developer, you know, I've always been, you know, very outgoing. I travel a lot. And I like to see what the world's doing and how it's changing anything, on the cutting edge really gets my interest. So I kind of you know, jumped out in this when I started to look into the startup world. I started doing projects always have alongside with, you know, other developer friends and my journey into CyberSmart was, you know, as a time of growth for CyberSmart, they just raised a seed round.

Josephine Tse  2:32  

Tell me a little bit about CyberSmart in terms of the company's missions and values. What products do you guys provide?

Rob Minford  2:39  

Sure. So I mean, given our name, you know, first first reaction to everyone is we're, you know, hardcore deep level cybersecurity company, which isn't what we do. Our vision is as a world where millions of small to medium sized businesses trust CyberSmart to help them combat the constant threat of cyber attacks. You know, there's increasing regulation over all countries and to support that SME market to operate safely in that space, we have an automated compliance product. So the main compliance as we look at at the moment are cyber essentials and also GDPR, which is across Europe, we also are looking into other other standards and also into other markets as well across Europe into North America, we want to empower those SMEs is for them, you know, meeting these compliance standards so they can just trade is you know, is a real pain for them. And it can be very, very expensive to them, not just in, in financial, but in time to build a tool which can automate that whole process and to make sure that they are happy and comfortable and know that they are up to meeting a standard of security, then that really is our mission. And so giving people the peace of mind, certainly with the SME market globally, giving them the peace of mind that they are, you know, meeting those standards and are secure is something that we you know, we're very passionate about. You know, we're looking into to what we call real time compliance, okay, it's, you know, constant monitoring of, you know, their devices, so it's not only we get them compliant. But then when they maintain compliance, you know, every minute of every day, so that's really what we're doing here at CyberSmart within that product.

Josephine Tse  4:07  

You basically go in and help these small to medium level enterprises. And you guys help them with their security. Yeah, I mean, the so then you make accessible as well.

Rob Minford  4:18  

Yeah. And but it is it's to make sure that, you know, it's catered for, you know, everybody Yeah, you know, real world person who doesn't want to be, you know, sitting down, you know, a builder's merchant doesn't want to be going, reading through, you know, various documents trying to figure out what what you know what patch numbers I've got on an on a device or something. They want to be designing and building houses. So it's already to empower them to do what they do best, which is, you know, in the SME market is everything you can think of. So, yeah.

Josephine Tse  4:46  

So I understand that when you joined the team, you are the head of engineering, you have transformed your team into a remote engineering team and that you guys are the only department within this company that's globally distributed. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that began and why you started... why'd, why did you even hire your first remote engineer?

Rob Minford  5:09  

The remote team was first was started given we needed support and we need to support very very quickly. Okay and obviously when you you know there's there's different ways to get you know people to support you One is through the contract worlds and the other is through you know, through an employee world. Yes. And contracting is very quick. And at the time, that was what was required. And that was where it kind of kept first came from as the company grew. But we have gone through a bit of a transition and change with that, having to look on the legal side and we have to now we're you know, we're really picking up speed and we're growing by about 20% month on month. You know, because of that we're having to look over the hill and going okay, where we are going to hire the next 10 people for the team and things like that. We are transitioning into still remote, but places where we have essentially an entity set up so that has narrowed it down from global, to to the UK but still fully on fully remote on that on that model. And I don't see any reason, you know moving forward, why we would change that.

Josephine Tse  6:10  

So from what you've told me, I was just wondering, is the team here at CyberSmart the first fully remote team you've run? Or did you? Were you managing other remote teams prior to this?

Rob Minford  6:24  

It's a good question. And I don't have a straight answer because so as far as a straight answer is, is yes, fully remote. But I've worked in in tech teams and managed tech teams that have been partially remote. Okay, I think it's like a hybrid if you like.

Josephine Tse  6:40  

Do you prefer working with a team that's fully remote or do you kind of prefer the hybrid?

Rob Minford  6:45  

So there are definitely pros and cons to each. Talking from the kind of you know, day to day management of the team, a hybrid model does cause issues because obviously people next to each other tend to make decisions naturally. You know, and people can get discluded very, very quickly you know nothing intentional, but you do have to watch that and that is an overhead of management right? You have to watch that. The bonuses of this stuff is you know, if there is something urgent you know working in tech, working with such a, you know, a high growth product and so on, there are problems you know, there are things things go down, things go wrong, and you know, having someone just next to you, you know, is very is, you know, tapping someone on the shoulder is a lot easier than dialling someone in. It really depends on the company, I think as CyberSmart, our remote, fully remote works, okay. But it's really down to our culture, down to not just within the engineering team, but the whole company. Whereas you know, if you like we're all on one single mission here at CyberSmart. So really heavily depends on on those things.

Josephine Tse  7:45  

For context for the listeners, I had reached out to CyberSmart seeing that they were hiring for remote positions. That's how I got in contact with Rob and I had found their story to be very interesting because had not found a hybrid company to participate at the moment. But I was interested in really learning about Rob's journey in managing his team remotely while in an environment where all the other departments were not fully remote. They, as you've said, CyberSmart, has a remote work ethos, and you guys do uphold it and let people work remotely, and it's allowed, but you are the one that runs the fully remote team. So I wanted to kind of flip this and go deeper into your team and how you manage your team. And I want to talk a little bit about how you've implemented the processes and workflow that work for you guys. Could you talk a little bit about how you've gone about that with your engineering team? Are there any, I'm guessing you went through a lot of trial and error phases to see what works with your distributed team. What were some of the things that you learned when trying to set up these workflows with them?

Rob Minford  9:06  

Okay, so I think the key thing is here is not to tell people what tools they should use. We do do monthly kind of set sessions on this, but we very much build and this is the whole of CyberSmart, one of our values is drive for change. And you know, it's very much if you think something could be better with processes with tools or whatever that is, uh, you know, just say, let's, let's do it, you know, this tool, we're very flat, you know, and let's make the decision and let's do it, you know, is Slack the right tool for x, using these JIRA integration is gonna support on y, you know, I don't know, let's try them. Let's try them. Let's test them out. You know, we can have a brief conversation if we need but in terms of having ownership within the team is absolutely key. And people who, as I said, you know, really want to change for the time, it's about processes, and it's about looking and finding those gaps. And, you know, when you're finding people, those qualities are absolutely vital for, you know, if you are going to go for fully remote, or even hybrid and because you do you know, pushing things down on people is not gonna work.

Josephine Tse  10:08  

So do you have a recent example of something that happened within your dev team where somebody spoke up about wanting to change something?

Rob Minford  10:16  

If you have something to think that can make us you know, smarter or faster or do things things better then you know, we have a drive into our culture to say that and to take ownership of that. We've been, we've been building a product team and there's been lots of change not just in personnel but trying to you know, really involve the company to become more product led. With this kind of growth. we need to be adapting and changing all the time and yeah, having new ideas it's not just looking about what's next month, but also you know, what's in three years time and down on that. what that means for you know, development or delivery if you like, of a product is the way we're kind of getting things out to the customer and you know, we use some of the developers were raising, you know, the perhaps sprints that we were running - hang on, is this right? Like, you know, we're doing sprints and we're looking at work and work is changing and adapting so quick, you know, we're not really having time to get an estimate any of this, or really look into it because it's changed. Yeah. So we pretty much pivoted our whole methodology in you know, people familiar with this stuff we use things will kanban now. And that was from a, you know, mindset, a tooling perspective, everything. We pretty much pivoted that. And so I think as a leader, it's more about you know, you are, you know, listening to whatever your team needs and you're leading from the from the bottom really, yes, subservient leader, and listening to to what was needed. And as a leader, you just have to go okay, let's actually, let's actually do that, you know, to support but a lot of the ideas a lot of the pains are, you've got to listen and come through from your team because you're really there to serve them, right. And, and so yeah, so we pivoted that and we run command that's been been going now for various cycles, and it's, it's going very well.

Josephine Tse  11:52  

Yeah. Being open minded and listening to the team members who are giving feedback is very important and to drive change and to drive growth in your company. In terms of like also scaling your business and everything, as you said are other, or do you get the sense, do you know if other departments are starting to get curious about maybe changing the way their departments work? Like, do they want to also go fully remote like you? Have you heard anything?

Rob Minford  12:20  

We do have some other remote workers within the customer success team who you know, answering phones to people having, you know, asking questions about the product. So they are fully remote. In terms of people within here based in London, people work remote, maybe it's for a day, maybe it's for a week or a couple of days. My colleague who heads up the customer success team is you know, he's currently visiting family in India right now.

Josephine Tse  12:42  

Okay. So the thing that we talked about at Torre is, like we are a fully remote-first company and the team is distributed throughout different countries. Like the big chunk of people are in Bogota. And some of them work together in the co-working space. We still practice remote processes. like for example, if we were in a meeting, everybody joins on their own computers. It's the processes that are within the company that sort of drive, like what type of company you are. And that's kind of like the direction that we take. I'm like, I'm maybe one day, I would like to work with my, a coworker of mine and visit them and do what you do with yours. Where else are your team members located? Where else have you visited?

Rob Minford  13:25  

So we have team members in in Eastern Europe, in Egypt, in the UK, and Canada. Okay. So Canada, I used to live in Canada. So I know Ontario reasonably well. Recently, I've been out there to Montreal. Okay. So our lead QA is there. We also have a lead application developer in Sous St. Marie. I went to Sous St. Marie to just to specifically meet 

Josephine Tse  13:46  

That's a trek. 

Rob Minford  13:48  

It was a lot further than I thought it.

Josephine Tse  13:49  

It is very far.

Rob Minford  13:50  

And I mean, we're looking at it looking at the Canadian market and compliance market right now. And we were, I was there and I, you know, again, Sous St. Marie is just here and I think maybe this was a little bit of my European air travel brain going, jump on a plane and it's, you know, 20 pounds and it's just, you know, just a quick nip. Oh no, no, it's not. It certainly wasn't 20 pounds and it was a pretty grey day in Sous St. Marie so we didn't want to be outside. I think we went into an aeroplane museum actually, it was a nice day. So those things are important to do that. But obviously everybody's very different. And this is another thing of having a remote team. If people are remote, you have to be very very aware of not just different cultures but but also the way in people work because they are yes people are on calls every day but sometimes you know people can be siloed and so on and do things their way.

Josephine Tse  14:46  

Can you tell me a little bit about your your work routine, if you even have a day to day?

Rob Minford  14:51  

Yes. So I do. I have I do like my routine. Sometimes as an even when I travel, I like to try and keep my routine I of course. I get up. I get up normally early and I like to exercise before getting to work. And for me the first initial thing we do is we do stand up from our, the heads of the functions here at the company. And it's really a stand up about what are the critical things as a company we need to achieve this week, which are cross functional. For me, I get a lot of messages. And you know, this comes in through Slack and email and things like that. So I normally do a bit of a session on that. And then I actually plan my day. And there's a, there's a great book called Hyper Focus. And again, people should read it. 

Josephine Tse  15:29  

Hyper Focus by...

Rob Minford  15:30  

Oh, good question. I have to get back to that, I can't remember. Okay. So, you know, I have a lot of things coming from every direction. And a big challenge is trying to focus on the right, on the right one, oh, I'm just focusing on that without getting astrayed over here and an email pops up here, too. That's about being able to get into this hyper focus mode to be able to achieve stuff and it's also about prioritising things and, you know, so normally I do in the morning, I do, I just use Notepad, but I know there's tools out there but I just like notepad and I put things in priority order and this book goes into that actually, I've done this for a while, but this book does just touch on this stuff. As you know, you have high priority stuff, high priority stuff that you enjoy, high priority stuff that you don't enjoy, low priority stuff that you enjoy, low stuff that you don't enjoy. And you categorise stuff in that way, you do it for the day. I normally do it for the week, at the start of the week. And then I attack it that way. Noise cancelling headphones are the probably the best things I've ever bought, right? I can put my classical piano on, which I like and just get into that focus mode to achieve the, you know, the high priority - it's like kind of high value work. So things that might not be yes, you might have a little fire over here to sort out but actually building the fire extinguisher and designing that is probably more important because it's going to put the fires out quicker, right? So it's really prioritising and value and what you enjoy. That's just part of growth, so there's always gonna be things to jump, jump in and out of, and that's completely natural. But I think for me is, planning, I don't plan the day scheduled. I just can't. But what I can do is I can plan, okay, these two hours slots is my sit down, you know, classical piano on and I'm gonna get x y z done.

Josephine Tse  17:06  

Or your sit down and get this podcast done.

Rob Minford  17:09  

Exactly, exactly. 

Josephine Tse  17:10  

I have, I should read that book, I personally need to figure out how to focus better, especially when jumping around. I think that's the thing that throws me off as well because...

Rob Minford  17:21  

Very interesting, it goes into things like, the biggest thing of context switching...

Josephine Tse  17:26  

Context switching? 

Rob Minford  17:26  

So context switching so you know, if you're say like, we're doing this here, yeah. So you know, this isn't in here because well this will be edited out but, you know, my colleague came in and we had to context switch to talk to him, completely lost focus on everything and to get back into this, and there's they go through all the science of this, and there's lots of studies on how long it takes to actually context switch in and out of something and, and how valuable it is not context switching. 

Josephine Tse  17:28  

Of course. 

Rob Minford  17:30  

So it's, it's pretty useful, but anyone that works in kind of a fast, very fast paced environment and has to jump around a lot - yes, it's good read. It's good read. Yeah.

Josephine Tse  18:04  

And what I'm wondering like I know you have the opportunity to travel and see your team members, get to know them and work with them and everything, and I understand you like to travel a lot from, through our conversations, but what else has working remotely opened up for you outside of your career?

Rob Minford  18:21  

Well, this is a deep question. I think I mean, when I you know, when I started in industry, you know, as a fresh face graduate, I think... I, I don't think remote working was, I just don't like, obviously it was a thing but I didn't know anything- I didn't know anything about it. 

Josephine Tse  18:41  


Rob Minford  18:41  

Remote work and just trying to see what this was, opened up this whole context of, actually you can do this for life. For me, as advice I've given people like you know, wanting to, "I'm gonna stop doing what I'm doing, stop my career (and careers are very important to them), and go, I'm going to go to you x y z." And you know, and I had said, isn't that fantastic. and that's great. But have you thought of this other- and a lot of people haven't. 

Josephine Tse  19:06  

Oh, yeah. 

Rob Minford  19:07  

A lot of people have not thought about this. And it's like, you know, you know, you know, you can do this and carry your career on. And instead of doing this for two years and burning yourself out with travel, which I don't think it's an actual thing and can never happen. 

Josephine Tse  19:19  

I beg to differ actually, I think you can. I mean, I think people can get burnt out by the travel the actual travel.

Rob Minford  19:26  

Okay, yeah. 

Josephine Tse  19:27  

That kind of like plays into the mindset.

Rob Minford  19:29  

I'm more talking about the, the mentality of wanting to go somewhere new or explore something new, I think. Yeah. If you're going to explore something, it doesn't have to be a country. It doesn't have to be a place. It could be just, you know, a new environment or something. Oh, yeah. And you kind of inclined to find more and more, but I don't know, that's the way I think. Maybe not, maybe you're right, maybe it's, maybe you can.

Josephine Tse  19:52  

I think I've been travelled out a couple of times, but at the same time, I pick myself back up, it comes back quickly. It's like oh boy, just kidding, I kind of want to do this again. But I like, I like what you're saying about, about that. Because I kind of grew up on the mindset of, my parents worked, you know, at the same place for decades. And then now they're retired, they are going to retire soon. And then they can. They're like, oh, we can finally travel. Yeah, exactly. And I, when I was growing up, I was like, oh, I guess like, you can't really do anything fun until you're old. But, but this doesn't make sense to me. 

Rob Minford  20:28  

Mm hmm. 

Josephine Tse  20:29  

And and I think like in yeah, remote work does open that up for people. And it's important for people to know that, that's an option because...

Rob Minford  20:37  

Absolutely, and I think there's not... I don't I think it is a awareness thing. And, you know, we're talking very much, I think it's just because maybe who we are as similarities in terms of we enjoy, you know, seeing new places and cultures and things like that. And, but, you know, the other side of it is, you know, there's lots of other reasons why people might - I mean, we have a one of our, one of our engineers, who is, you know, starting a young family. Oh, yeah. You know, to be just at home when he has a young family is very important to him.

Josephine Tse  20:39  

It was more difficult definitely a decade ago, two decades ago, but now we're at a time where it's a topic that people want to talk about and something that people want to change within the workplace so...

Rob Minford  21:15  

Let's go back to a key point. Your parents worked at the same place for 30 years. 

Josephine Tse  21:19  

My dad is working in the same place. My dad worked... I don't know what anyways, but my dad works at IBM. Okay, maybe twenty-something?

Rob Minford  21:27  

When we- when I worked, we used to call them lifers.

Josephine Tse  21:30  

Yeah. Look, my dad has kind of like that. Yeah, he but he's been on remote for IBM for 10 years. 

Rob Minford  21:35  

Oh, has he? 

Josephine Tse  21:35  

Yeah. But I really liked your point about being able to continue things without stopping your career, continue to do other things, as well. And that's, that's something that's really important to me. And to wrap this up, so you think that your team at CyberSmart, the story your mission and your values will encourage and enable more leaders or companies to maybe think about going remote?

Rob Minford  22:02  

I hope so. I hope so know, and I you know, I always welcome, you know, if people want to come and see what we're doing, or even just to have a call, I'm more than welcome to do that. And I hope so I think the benefits outweigh the negatives massively. But again, obviously, it's the type of company and everything. It's not just the industry you're working in, but your current team that you know that where you are as a business, where you are location, and so on. So there's so many factors to consider. The biggest thing is for people to think about, think of the scale of what remote means. There's so many buzzwords of everything from, they're all just buzzwords, there's a scale of to do this and it just starts with letting people work from home. And obviously, there's a far end of the spectrum as well which is, which is you know, go into the contractual side of stuff. But again, that you saying there's there is companies starting up there now to support on that and these things exist and these things are happening. People's happiness and how they work and their output is should be key to that.

Josephine Tse  23:01  

Rob, I just like to thank you very much for giving Remoter your time and participating in this podcast episode with us.

Rob Minford  23:11  

Yeah, thank you very much for coming to sunny London. Don't get to say that very often but sunny London.

Josephine Tse  23:16  

It is nice. It is okay.

Rob Minford  23:18  

No, it's going great since we've been talking. So this is real London. Oh yeah, this is London in February.

Josephine Tse  23:28  

Remoter Podcast season two is recorded, produced and edited by Josephine Tse. It is mixed and mastered by Stephen Stepanic and Vanesa Monroy. Graphics and visuals by Valentina Castillo. The music track used is Skip by OBOY from SoundStripe. Follow and subscribe to us on Spotify, Apple podcasts wherever you listen to your podcasts. Don't forget, we've recently made our Founding and Growing Remotely online course completely accessible and listed on our site. Visit us at, that's R E M O T E R dot com for more relevant content. Follow us on social media @remoterproject to stay up to date with our latest initiatives and collaborations with other remote first companies around the world. We'd also love to hear your thoughts about each episode, so feel free to tag us on socials anytime. And remember, we're here to make work fulfilling, so what part will you play in shaping the future of work?