040 | Ariane Bernard | Tfw you lead a team you've never seen

Sure, employees never want to give up remote work. But how does a founder feel?

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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Ariane Bernard founded Helio in 2020. Her startup has never known a world where you could network in person, meet clients and investors easily or work from a common space with your employees. How do you lead a team you've never seen? And in a multinational startup, how do you work past cultural barriers and incomprehensions when you can't look your coworkers in the eye? She had to find out the hard way.

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  • “A lot of good team culture is safety, ultimately. You want a culture whose first achievement is the ability to say the words 'I don't understand. I don't agree. I propose that we do X. Has anyone thought about Y?' If all team members, whether they are the most junior all the way to your executive team, equally feel like they have access to these words without risking something, then you have the making of solving for many other problems.”
  • “Everything that helps you understand whether people are connecting with a particular goal, everything that helps you understand whether people understand, everything counts because the distance does not help us.”
  • “The uncertainty is, what am I not getting and what is this company not getting if we are not as fully present and as fully engaged as we could be?"
  • “The complexity of the distributed team is compounded by our cultural differences.”

Show notes

[00:00:00] Intro
[00:03:14] Making the jump from intrapreneur to entrepreneur
[00:06:57] Anchoring a new company culture without an office
[00:10:12] Zoom cameras on, please
[00:14:07] Take every opportunity to reduce uncertainty
[00:15:52] When physical and culture distance combine
[00:19:43] Do we still need culture?
[00:25:54] "Do as I say" vs just one man's opinion
[00:27:51] The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
[00:29:31] Good culture is psychological safety
[00:36:03] Resting bitch face and the curse of the screen
[00:37:39] The benefits of hiring worldwide
[00:41:29] If you had a choice... centralised or distributed?
[00:44:32] Outro

📺 Watch the full interview on Youtube
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Ariane Bernard

[00:00:00] Ariane Bernard: A lot of good culture is safety, ultimately. You want a culture whose first achievement when it starts to gel is the ability to say the words "I don't understand. I don't agree. I propose that we do X. Has anyone thought about Y?"

[00:00:17] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:31] A bit of lighter fare this week, a break from authoritarian states and climate change. We're talking about business. My guest is Ariane Bernard. She is the founder of Helio Cloud, a CMS for creators like myself who do podcasts, newsletters, blogs, et cetera, who want to manage their brand. She is a new entrepreneur with a business that was born during the pandemic. And she came to me actually, she is a regular listener, with a desire to do an episode about something that she and I both feel has been little talked about. We've talked a lot about working remotely during the pandemic and the number of white collar professionals who have no interest in returning to the office.

[00:01:10] But what has it been like for their bosses? We know that managers have suffered the most from burnout during the pandemic. And what has it been like specifically for managers of tiny teams, for startup entrepreneurs, for small businesses, trying to keep a team and a business together, or even start one as in Ariane's case, when you cannot see the people you're working with. And in her case, in the case of an increasing number of people, that team is distributed. It is all over the world and there are cultural barriers as well as physical barriers of distance that are a very real challenge and impediment, but as well, a great opportunity. So it was my great pleasure to talk with Ariane, to go back to my own experiences as a manager of a global, multinational team.

[00:02:00] Our full conversation was about an hour and you can watch it in full on Borderline's YouTube channel because I now record all of the interviews in video. The link is in the show notes, or you can just search for Borderline on YouTube if you want to see the full uninterrupted conversation, I've cut it down a bit in length for the podcast to stay within reasonable length parameters.

[00:02:23] Remember that you can support Borderline, on the podcast, on YouTube and on the website and newsletter and everywhere else by becoming a member at borderlinepod.com/ subscribe and get access to the podcast early, more content, access to a discord community, and most importantly, you help me keep this going. Welcome this week to a new member, Rose James. You can join her and many others by going to borderlinepod.com/subscribe. And there's one more thing that you can do for absolutely free to support Borderline and that's making sure to share it around you. Send it to a friend. Tweet about it right now. I'll wait for you. You can hit pause. It really, really matters. Thank you again.

[00:03:05] And now here is my conversation with Ariane Bernard.

[00:03:14] Making the jump from intrapreneur to entrepreneur

[00:03:14] Isabelle Roughol: How are you? Good morning.

[00:03:17] Ariane Bernard: It's nice to see you.

[00:03:18] Isabelle Roughol: We're going to do a kind of a different podcast episode than I usually do. Maybe let's start with you introducing yourself and telling us what your business is.

[00:03:29] Ariane Bernard: Yeah. I'm Ariane Bernard and I am right now the CEO of a little company called Helio Cloud. And Helio Cloud was born during the pandemic. She was an incubated project at an incubator in London called Founder's Factory, venture backed by GMG Ventures, which is The Guardian, and went through her incubator and now is in the accelerator, not ever having... a little bit like those babies, right, that only knows the world through the prism of can't meet real people, does not have a real location even if she wanted.

[00:04:10] And it's interesting because I think a lot of young companies like mine start remote anyway when they're doing software, but with the understanding that you can lean on the real world, meeting people in real life, maybe hiring a hybrid offshore onshore team.

[00:04:35] And what I found was building a brand new company and therefore brand new team, especially a very lean team as these incubated startups are, really was, kind of opened up a whole, a whole other level of what it meant to onboard and to create culture and create alignment around the strategy of both the product and the business, that I've found very challenging.

[00:05:08] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. I love that your business is a she, by the way.

[00:05:12] Ariane Bernard: She is a she, she's a she. The world has plenty of natural hes and its, but, uh, I, yeah.

[00:05:23] Isabelle Roughol: I like that. I like that. I think it gives a different, a different tone to the business, for sure. So you're experienced in product strategy, business strategy and management, but this is your first entrepreneurial adventure, isn't it?

[00:05:36] Ariane Bernard: I am a first-time CEO. Just as Helio's a baby company. I too am a baby CEO. And I do, I do have extensive experience with, as you said, with, with, building teams or building products in the corporate world. But of course the big difference, which I think is readily obvious to anyone is whenever you're, you're building even something new within an existing organization, you... New is not quite like new from scratch. And there's also new, well-resourced and moneyed versus new, scrappy and lean.

[00:06:09] So with Helio I am discovering true from scratch everything. From scratch as a product, from scratch as a business, from scratch as an organization, which is really interesting, but does mean that every single thing needs to be figured out, for better, for worse.

[00:06:34] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I'm with you on the starting a business mid-pandemic craziness. I can, I can relate. So how has it been different or been challenging more so than what you would have already expected from launching a brand new business, by the fact that we're living in this very remote world.

[00:06:57] Anchoring a new company culture without an office

[00:06:57] Ariane Bernard: I think the two things that I really didn't imagine would be so impactful was the fact that ... There is having a remote workplace that has a place that they call the office, right. Taboola my dev team, for instance, my engineering team work was in LA. I was in New York. My boss was in Israel. and I would spend a week a month in LA and the rest of the time would go, go on daily calls with them to get the lay of land. But they were in an office. So there was a centeredness, and I was in an office too. There was a centeredness to the experience of we were at the office in separate offices, right.

[00:07:44] Everyone, understandably, I think, went through this pandemic, whether they were based in India, in Vietnam, in London or New York with their own lives being upended in some fashion, whether that's kids or just so many dimension or just social isolation or... So that's a moving piece that I think also affects people's ability to kind of get into that workspace, framing it for the longterm. I feel like there were many blunders that happened with Helio because things were a little bit too casual. And it's weird to kind of, to say that it's, I think it's the environment, but I don't think that the fact that there was no work environment. I think that didn't help.

[00:08:38] You start something, kind of looks like a passion project, kind of looks like you have all the the time in the world. You don't. The runway's the runway. And you're kind of doing it from home the way you would if you're just starting out your new thing. I suspect that it did not help that you know, that there was no sort of anchoring of that new company and for the folks working with me, anchoring of that within the context of something that felt and read like work.

[00:09:10] The other thing is, is really probably more connected with like it's a brand new thing and, you hear a lot, of course, people talking about what's your culture and what's, how do we speak to each other? How do we convey what our goals are? How do we debate what these goals are? How do we hold each other accountable and how do we support each other? And all of that together, it's culture ultimately. It's how we speak about these things.

[00:09:38] When you're both trying to build a company and build a culture at the same time, which I think is the fact of every new, every new business does that to an extent, right, and you add cultural distance and time zones andthese are contractors, some of whom I would like to bring on board sort of more formally but because very young company, not quite there yet... All these things participate in creating even less alignment or rather making, creating alignment even harder.

[00:10:12] Zoom cameras on, please

[00:10:12] Ariane Bernard: And so we were talking about this the other day, but one thing that I know I had to really kind of struggle with was, making the ask to turn on our cameras. That was like a thing for weeks. I would be the only one who would turn on my camera in our daily calls with, with some of the engineers who work on the project with me. and I'd be the only one who turned on my camera. And I do understand the struggle of many people who are like I'm on Zoom all day, I can't just be there in that way all the time. And it's like so demanding and I get it. In our case this is an hour, an hour and a half a day, so not quite full day. And, and anyway, it's different to say, every now and then I just need to not have a meeting where my camera's turned on for XYZ reason, but default right to, to turning on this camera.

[00:11:05] And I realize it's such a small thing, right? To say, like, it was hard because the camera was turned off, but everything counts. Everything that helps you understand whether people are connecting with a particular goal that you have for that week or that month, or whatever, everything that helps you understand are people... like we're discussing something maybe technical and trying to debate whether to solve this way or that way, I need to make sure, including in your eyes if I can tell, that we're, we're talking about the same thing, that we're understanding the same thing. And everything counts because the distance does not help us. I can't lean over your shoulder in two hours and look at what you're doing on your screen and be like, "oh, oh, oh, that I think, I think we, we might be doing things differently."There'll be none of that feedback.

[00:11:57] So you need to take everything that you can have in order to make sure that you, that what you hear on the line is really how this person feels. Like when they say yes, I get it. "Yes, I get it. I get it. I get it?"Or "I kind of get it"or is it like I get it as in "shut up and I'll do what I want. And we'll talk about it tomorrow."And facial expression and how you look at someone in the eye or through the eye of the camera as the case may be, is another signal.

[00:12:38] And I know that, so for me, the hard thing was the moment where I told these guys and even put it in writing in our Notion just, I was like, wow, this, this is a new low. Uh, and I was like, I'm going to request that you turn on your cameras unless you have a good reason.

[00:12:57] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm.

[00:12:57] Ariane Bernard: And I hated that I did that because it feels so micromanaging in so many ways, but I really needed it.

[00:13:07] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. moment where you feel a bit like the head teacher, who's like having to crack the whip, isn't it?

[00:13:12] Ariane Bernard: You're like, I failed at building a culture where we want to be with one another, right? It's it's, it's they, they want to turn it off and I'm like, no, I, I need to make sure that you're fully engaged and present and not just like playing video games, which I didn't particularly think they were playing video games while we were on these meetings. But it felt like, like a little bit of a, of a failure on my part to have to use authority rather than have that happen organically.

[00:13:41] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. But that's interesting though cause that's a.... and I think particularly, you know, in the Millennial generation, we're in this mindset that the boss has to be loved and the company has to be loved and authority is unnecessary because people love their work at all times and, and want to do what's best at all times maybe. And that's, maybe a bit, maybe a bit too high a bar.

[00:14:07] Take every opportunity to reduce

[00:14:07] Ariane Bernard: Maybe, maybe I'm soft and squishy. No, I mean, I think you're right. I think there is definitely a generational thing with how an older generation would not hang up on it the way I did. But I hung up on it because it was like, this is really necessary because there are so many points of unknowns to building that product and that team at that stage, if there is any sort of way to strengthen the ability to know that we're all staring at the right thing in the same direction and, and are walking the same path, like I need to take every, every little thing that's available. And it might've hurt my managerial sensibilities, but I mean, using, using authority at times is all you got. I'm not going to shy from this. I have in fact used the words "do as I say,"but it is not, it's not great when you have to do to do that.

[00:15:11] Isabelle Roughol: But it's interesting what you were saying, because you know, I think you used the word, "unknowns"right and "uncertainty,"which is integral to starting a new business, right? But right now there's even more of that because I mean, the future is very hard to know. That's been the main struggle for me for the past year and a half, it's just really hard to project yourself into even 2022 and beyond. And you are working with people that you've never met. There's just all these added layers of uncertainty. So anything that you can control, anything that can make things just a little bit easier, in work in life? Why complicate your life even more? Like there's enough of that already, right?

[00:15:52] When physical and culture distance combine

[00:15:52] Ariane Bernard: Yeah, it's, it's, it's definitely the distance, the distance which is both cultural. I am French originally. Just like Isabelle. And, and just like Isabelle, I have spent some time in an English speaking country for awhile. And I'm also American now, but that's a recent development. And while I'm very comfortable going from an American culture to a European culture and even actually a European work culture was an adjustment for me, the few years that I did, experience it. Still these are cultures that I don't think I'm going to sort of, I don't want to say offend, but I have a read on with all the variables that are down to the individual, right? People's preferences and styles and personal histories.

[00:16:46] So I don't have a problem going to an American and being like, "turn on your camera, what the hell!"Because the worst thing that happens is that they'll be like, "no, and here's why."So that's fine. And, and I feel the same way about someone who might be in Western Europe.

[00:17:01] But I think when you're working with folks who are, who come from environments and have cultures that you only know in a much more superficial way, those are exactly the things that become... you're like, well, what am I actually asking them? Like, it feels like I'm just asking them to turn on the camera. It can't be, can't be that much. But I don't actually know this. I don't know what this stands for. I don't know how they feel about me seeing them in their home environment, because again, they're not at the office. Is there a mom in the background? Is there a kid in the background, but in a way that they would not want for me to see their kids? So that adds to, I think, a self-consciousness of making these requests of people that you don't know well, and don't really have a good sort of pathway to, to knowing that well.

[00:17:53] And the uncertainty is what am I not getting and what is this company not getting if we are not as fully present and as fully engaged as we could be? Because documentation will only go so far and it does not necessarily create the kind of alignment that in many ways you hope you create right. Even with a brand new company, that's, that's two minutes and a half old, you have to, I think really prioritize as a manager, as a leader, that you are allowing everybody, even in their own sort of specialty area, to connect with what this is meant to do and what is this meant to achieve for the users that you're building for and for the business?

[00:18:43] Isabelle Roughol: Hm.

[00:18:43] Ariane Bernard: The distance of it means that you just, you throw it out, but you don't know how it lands. Just, I just don't know. And, and that's something to reckon with.

[00:18:55] Isabelle Roughol: That's where when I was growing an international team or global team, where travel came into play, which obviously is the problem now. You know, I was building a remote team with people on four continents, but always, you know, when people were asking me for their advice on building a team like this, I always said, don't think you're doing this to save money because, you're gonna need a massive travel budget because I love that people are advocating for remote, remote, remote, and is great. And it's opening up a lot of opportunities for a lot of people who couldn't necessarily physically be where the work is. But, there is nothing like, in-person connection and face time, even when you're not doing the actual work, but just to be able to know, one another, as people and how we work, right, how we operate, how we communicate, what makes us tick and, and things like that.

[00:19:43] Do we still need culture?

[00:19:43] Isabelle Roughol: What I'm really curious about is if there is a way to, instead of trying to recreate the things that were great about how we worked before, like culture and all of that, is there a different way of working that we just haven't imagined yet? And sort of advantages to this particular way of working that we should lean on rather than keep trying to recreate something that will only ever be a pale imitation. And does it become a world that's more task focused and, you know, we don't spend forever trying to be mates with the people that you're working with.

[00:20:19] Ariane Bernard: I think the question is fascinating. I would bristle a little bit at the notion that the goal of culture is to be mates. Because

[00:20:27] Isabelle Roughol: this is a bad shortcut.

[00:20:28] Ariane Bernard: The reason I want to make sure that even if someone is an engineer with responsibilities for engineering, that they're connecting with the product problem or the business problem is because it will make them a stronger engineer, because there will be sort of things that they'll encounter as they're taking on whichever sort of piece of the machine that we're building, that they'll be sort of faced with three possible options for doing something and because they actually understand what the trajectory is for this product or this company that they'll be like, actually "road three is the best one. The other two will be problematic for this reason, if not now, or it will be problematic in two minutes."

[00:21:10] So the difference though, I think it's, it's really interesting that you point this out just after mentioning travel, the complexity of the distributed team is compounded by our cultural differences.

[00:21:30] If, if for instance, I was working with all Americans or all French engineers, I do think that those early challenges of making sure like that I can read, I can read between the lines of, are we, are we getting this? Are we connecting on this? Are, do we see eye to eye? I would read that better because I would come from that same cultural world. And if it weren't the case, but we could travel, I'd be like, well, let me just fly over to wherever we'll connect as humans for a little bit. And so they'll, I'll become real to them and they'll become real to me where I kind of get other dimensions of their personality that I'm going to store in a corner of my mind and that help me read them when the going gets tough.

[00:22:27] Because so, so for me, I think a place where it becomes really obvious, right, is how an American team responds to your bad ideas as their manager is very different than how it's received in other countries. And I, I mentioned I had worked with offshore teams before. They were remote. We were in New York. This team handled certain aspects of what we were building. And we would, say, send them some requirements to build something or fix something. And then you'd hear back days after and was like, "okay so I did this, but it was really difficult for XYZ reason. And, but, but this is how I did it anyway."And, and you're kind of given back something like that's really convoluted and crazy and you realize the reason it's convoluted and crazy is not because these guys don't know what they're doing. They do. It's because you wrote entirely stupid requirements or something that had a hole in it the size of Texas, that in, in an environment where the culture is a little bit more horizontal, that engineer, so if I had given the exact same ticket to an equally skilled American engineer that would have taken this ticket, read it for an hour and then write back to me and said, "are you really sure because there's something really dumb in what you just wrote? Or there's a big part that's missing. And sure I can, I can do what you asked for, but it really sounds ill-conceived. So maybe you want to take another look."And that's what I expect, right? save me from myself. Not everything that I conceive of is genius. And sometimes it's wrong, like actually wrong. And so I've been surprised the few times that this has happened, that the way that my brief was received was "she asked for this, we're going to do what she asked for"in a way that didn't... that I'm sure these guys were like, this is really wonky, not really advisable, but the client said.

[00:24:32] And so that dimension, I think you can only bridge if the culture of someone, like how they're taught to respond to authority or respond to just what work relationships look like or clients to vendor, if you come from a place that has fairly different rules for how we think of this versus how we think of it in America or in Europe, I do think I can probably get through to you. I'm not going to turn you tomorrow into a big-mouthed American who is going to take a look at that ticket and be like, "it's obviously dumb. Ariane, what are you thinking?"i, I get that this is a journey. but it is easier to imagine that, that we might get to a place with someone whose natural inclination would be to say, absolutely, we will do exactly what you asked for, if we've managed to connect in-person, if we've broken bread, if we have created a personal connection where they felt secure in the fact that not everything that they might say that might diverged from yes, would be held against them.

[00:25:54] "Do as I say"vs just one man's opinion

[00:25:54] Isabelle Roughol: What you're bringing up is, is essentially that diverse teams are harder to make work. They're better in that they bring a lot of different perspectives that make your product better, that make you think about all your different kinds of users better. They're also just simply more challenging because you don't have that short hand that you would have with someone from the exact same culture.

[00:26:14] Two things, one very short one,One advice that the former CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, who was CEO when I was there, said, I thought it was really helpful. It was, cause he had noticed, even within the same culture, when you have someone who's like kind of that, you know, revered leader that no one dares question, which certainly, Jeff was in many ways, you know, you say something that you think is just a comment in passing. And, two weeks later you realize that you've entirely derailed the work of a team because they've taken that for an instruction and has gone in a completely different direction. And he was like, you know, anything that you say as a leader, you know, you, you reach a point in leadership, then all of a sudden you realize that what you say, has a weight that you just didn't expect. And so it was to qualify everything that you say with,forget how he put it was like,this is a mandate versus this is a think about this versus this is just one man's opinion and you can completely disregard it.

[00:27:06] Ariane Bernard: I'm just, Tag everything you say.

[00:27:08] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. Exactly. just have to tag it all with a level of, know, is this actually, I'm your boss and telling you, "do as I say,"as you were earlier, or is just, "I'm thinking out loud, what if this, you know, what if that". Cause otherwise, yeah, you might, you might have the team just take one word that you said and just run with it. And two weeks later you're like, "oh wait, wait, wait. But that's not the roadmap. What are you doing?"

[00:27:34] Ariane Bernard: As someone who writes, who writes messes, I appreciate that. It's like, no, you need a parameter so that you can write whole logical sequence that is different. If gift If tag equals just, just mouthing off here,

[00:27:51] Read The Culture Map

[00:27:51] Ariane Bernard: then...

[00:27:51] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. Yes. That's the code version. The other thing you brought up is this book that I just absolutely adore, which is The Culture Map by Erin Meyer, who ironically also recommended by the CEO of LinkedIn. The CEO of Netflix recommended it to the CEO of LinkedIn, who then recommended it to his direct reports who then, and so then they just kind of spread like a wildfire. So I think pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley has read this by now. And I've been recommending it left and right. And in fact, she ended up co-writing her next book with the CEO of Netflix. So I think he's got stock in this or something. But it's a fascinating book. She's Erin Meyer. She's a professor at INSEAD, the management school in Paris. And she's looking at how to manage and lead and communicate across different cultures. And she's got like this eight different criteria, like scale where you place each country on each of those criteria to get kind of a map of how people, behave, communicate, et cetera in his country. And what is interesting is that it is, it is relative. So it's not Americans are like this French people that, Indians are like this. It's how Indians are compared with Americans and Americans compared with Indian. I found that fascinating because when I was, when I was leading a global team, like I was like, oh, that's what it was. And there was a couple of pages there about how French people write emails that I literally scanned and sent to my French team members being "this is why Americans never read your emails."I think a lot of this comes down to, um, you're not going to change how people but at least understanding how they work really helps.

[00:29:31] Good culture is psychological safety

[00:29:31] Ariane Bernard: But I, I think that within this, right, the personal connection you've created is the adjustment variable to. Leading someone who may, either naturally or culturally and it's hard to tell the difference, not sort of, feel super comfortable telling you, "well, are you really sure about this"or, or "it seems to me that we really should do something else"that they will kind of break their own natural limits because you've managed to kind of get to a place of trust with them and connection with them, that they feel this is safe, which a lot of also kind of good team culture is safety, ultimately. Safety of saying when you don't understand and safety to say you didn't agree or safety to propose, even when it seems that a decision's already been made, which is not quite like saying I won't do it, right, which is different thing.

[00:30:32] But it's, it, it was something I even saw when I worked in France. Worked so like my, in my career, I worked only at American company, went to school in America and then work for American companies in France for a few years and then that American company, well, that was New York Times, sent me back to New York where I spent many years. And then much later, 16 years into my career in fact, no 17 years, wow, I worked for a French company with French people in French for the first time, which

[00:31:00] Isabelle Roughol: I'm sorry.

[00:31:01] Ariane Bernard: no, it was, I wanted that adventure and it was very interesting. It was very interesting to see what was easy. And also what was hard, just, just as a, and I, and I thought many too, this is, there are sidebar, but like many times it was like, I need to write a book about this, what it means to go home in a country that is both yours, but in so many ways has become not yours. And where as far as one aspect of culture, when which is to say work culture in this case is completely foreign to you because I've never worked in a French environment. And I didn't even study in France. So I, as a professional and all my professional culture is only American at that point.

[00:31:40] And so the reason I mentioned this is that, the way that I understood how my French teams related to me was, I realized over time and sometimes after some really hard lessons, lessons that were not delivered in a way that I would say were sort of pleasant for me to learn, but useful certainly, was the amount of how people would quietly disagree. Quietly. Or not understand where you were coming from and instead of American style, raising their hand and being like "one more time because I don't really get what this is,"which I'm fully prepared to do at all times, that they would more like sit with it and that, that this sort of like lack of having been able to bring them over to what I was trying to do, translated into disagreement, which was, which I didn't understand for quite some time.

[00:32:49] and so the reason I say this is that I think you want a culture that whose first, I think, whose first achievement when it starts to gel and starts to happen -- you don't build culture, it's culture, right -- is the ability to say the words "I don't understand. I don't agree. I propose that we do X. Has anyone thought about Y?"I think if all team members, whether they are most junior, all the way to your executive team equally feel like they have access to these words without risking something.

[00:33:26] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah,

[00:33:26] then you, have the making of solving for many other problems that you could not address until somebody is able to use the words "I don't understand,"or "I don't agree", or "I don't see why X"right? All other problems are tumbled in the ability to air that out.

[00:33:43] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. And there you have, you have national culture, you also have industry culture, corporate culture. That was probably my main battle when onboarding and hiring and onboarding new peoplewithin our culture at LinkedIn. And, I got to calling it newsroom PTSD, uh, because in traditional, you know, we hired a lot of, and I have nothing but love for newsrooms, who are my other home. but in traditional legacy media culture, things are far more hierarchical than in tech, which is, you know, probably the most, flat, uh, you know, American tech versus French legacy media or, or Australian or whatever other, legacy media and, people just really weren't used to exactly what you were saying: the safety of raising your hand and saying, "Hey, what if we did it this way instead?"or, "Hey, I don't understand what's going on."or "Hey, I think there's a mistake here."and then.

[00:34:36] It's really dangerous when people don't, you know, it's dangerous for the company cause things end up, wrong things go through because nobody dared raised their hand. and it's, it's not safe for people. But getting people into that mindset of, Hey,not only is it okay, but in fact, I expect you to, and we'll have a problem if you don't, that takes months post onboarding of constantly repeating "this is safe"and demonstrating this is safe.

[00:35:04] Ariane Bernard: The remoteness actually makes that time longer. Was this happening with a brand new team, but also we did have physical, kind of moments where we, where we met, there's so much that you get, I, I don't, I'm sure that there's some biologists, anthropologists or whatever that have studied stuff like this of just like how we feel safe just from the impression that somebody gives physically. Like, I never thought of myself as being particularly intimidating for instance. And I've been told that I am. And I would argue that I'm probably more intimidating on a screen than when I'm just like half ridiculous, I won't say at a bar, but it doesn't have to, it doesn't have to involve an adult beverage. Um, and you're like, no, no, this, this person is, that's fine.

[00:36:03] Resting bitch face and the curse of the screen

[00:36:03] Isabelle Roughol: You know, on screen for me, what it is is, is, and I've noticed it on Zoom because I was doing zooms for years pre pandemic is, um, they call it a resting bitch face, which I a 100% have, and a, and I've taught myself, as you can tell, I've taught myself to smile, to have a smiling resting face because literally that's my, that's my intimidating unapproachable face on zooms. which is entirely just how my face muscles work, but you know how it is, and for women obviously it's even worse.

[00:36:33] Ariane Bernard: women it's deadly.

[00:36:34] Isabelle Roughol: So it's like, hi.

[00:36:37] Ariane Bernard: But that, the resting bitch face thing is, is not a real life thing.

[00:36:41] Isabelle Roughol: No, it's a Zoom thing. It's a, it's a screen

[00:36:44] Ariane Bernard: I mean, that's not true. I guess there are people like you go to real meeting and there's always like that like frowny person that you've never met. And you're just like,

[00:36:51] Isabelle Roughol: It doesn't strike you the same way.

[00:36:52] Ariane Bernard: This person seemed really unhappy the whole entire time. And then you meet them at some point and you're no, actually they're just, it's just whatever.

[00:37:00] Isabelle Roughol: But if it's in a meeting, you can have a coffee right after, and you're fine, right. Even got a wrong impression during the meeting.

[00:37:06] Ariane Bernard: Yep. Exactly. There's, there's a lot that the coffee break you, it really is. It's kind of fascinating I think, to see what it is that we do miss in this kind of like extremely large social experiment that we're all kind of living in. I mean, not talking about folks who actually are working in stores and in real life locations, but at least for white collar workers, there was always a fantasy of do we really need all this? And it's like in a number of ways, you don't need all this, but you do need some of this.

[00:37:39] The benefits of hiring worldwide

[00:37:39] Isabelle Roughol: Is there, I feel like we've been talking a lot about how terrible it all is, but have you found benefits?

[00:37:47] Ariane Bernard: Yeah. I mean, of course. It's always, it always sounds wow, this is just some whiny, some whiny story. It's not a whiny story because Helio did not exist not even a year ago. and we did build a multitenant multi-site SAAS CMS, that doesn't do all the things that I have a vision for it to do, and it doesn't serve the users in all the ways that I want for Helio to support them with. But when I think about going from zero to where we are and I'm raising seed and all that, it did happen in an incredibly small amount of time. And thinking about what you get on the other hand from these non-lean environments that offices are by their nature. Like offices have a lot of cruft associated with them, right? Just, it might be fun cruft, but it's still cruft. I think, wow, it's, it's definitely been something that has been enabled by the fact that we could bring people in, hire from a much larger pool of people, do just this little project. I mentioned how I hired the first engineer who worked with me on Helio, which is how I like to recruit people if I can, in the context of remote, which is to lurk. One day the cops are gonna come from me, but I, I'll join like all the Facebook groups and LinkedIn groups and whatever, and just sit quietly and observe the conversation until someone who seems interesting says something and then I creep on the internet, follow them home to a more respected, you know, just find their LinkedIn, their blogs or whatever, run the little github secret script that finds their email, which is always a little bit on the sketchy side. and then send them an email and say, you know...

[00:39:44] Isabelle Roughol: I'm interested in that.

[00:39:45] Ariane Bernard: Oh, yeah. Well, there's, there's a trick that I I'm sure Github is going to plug at one point. But anyway, and, and so when you send an email to someone and you're like, "Hey, we're both part of whatever group. You were making this point. This is really how I think about this and I checked out your profile and LinkedIn or whatever. And would you perchance be interested in joining, in joining me and working on this project with me?"The reason why this is a strategy that's even viable is that I don't, I'm not adding physical location as a variable, right? If, if Helio was only operating out of New York City, most of these conversations could never happen because I would see in one second well, but is based in whatever, whatever place, the fact that I don't have to kind of use that as a filter makes that strategy of very kind of affinity driven, let let the, let people kind of self identify as being passionate about a problem, of being an expert of this particular technology or issue, and then, and then that's it that's that's that was the only thing that really mattered was, was how passionate they would be in or how competent they might be .

[00:40:56] But, but that strategy is to me, one of the best ways to hire folks in a fairly low, it's fairly low overhead because the sort of way in which I warm up to them is not contrived it's, just, oh, you, you made that point and that really resonated and nice job. So that's that's because, that's because it's remote. I could not do this that way if it weren't.

[00:41:29] If you had a choice... centralised or distributed?

[00:41:29] Isabelle Roughol: So knowing all that, to conclude our conversation, in an alternate universe where COVID-19 is just a bunch of weird letters that nobody understands and you can do everything the way they've always been done, would Helio be an office-based, locally-based startup or, or would you for that distributed model?

[00:41:53] Ariane Bernard: I think a lot of really, really, really young incubated company, because there is a question, just a financial question of how much runway you might have, and it's usually much less than you wish you had, that naturally just makes you want to say, you know, how much do I really need to pay Wework for a space? And how much, how capital efficient would it be to at least do some of the development, whether you're a software company or something else, but with a distributed workforce in markets that don't have quite the per hour rate of New York or San Francisco?

[00:42:33] It doesn't mean that it's everybody and it doesn't mean that it's forever. And it, I think you'll have to kind of be strategic in your mind about what you could forever do as a distributed workforce and what would ideally sort of move back to a center of gravity for the company. And I understand that some companies really have figured out and figure out, I know a few, how to run everything distributed forever.

[00:42:59] I don't know if I know how to articulate for myself, how I would do this long-term. Because, because I come from a corporate world, yes with a significant amount of remote teams, et cetera, but still, I think there is a part of my brain that thinks having an anchor in the world does provide for certain benefits that I can see now, but, but even before I would say they are meaningful. So if I was a betting woman --which in fact to build a start up, you have to be a betting woman, is what I've realized, it's all bets-- so, you, I would say that the kind of more mature Helio will probably have more of a distributed workforce than what I would have conceived of, had little Helio been born in 19... in 2018.

[00:44:01] I think I can, I would feel more comfortable now today, like pushing the envelope much further with having, a significant part of the company be distributed and kind of remaining distributed, and we work to build a culture that makes that healthy and fruitful. Rather than only think of distributed workforce as being like the early stage of Helio, but as soon as we can bring all that to a single point in the world, we would. I think now I would push that envelope much further.

[00:44:32] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you so much to Ariane Bernard. Her company Helio cloud is a content management system for creators, helping them manage their brands and streamline their process and publish their content. If you're interested, you can find out more at helio.cloud and sign up as an alpha user.

[00:44:55] As always thank you for listening. And remember, you can support Borderline by becoming a member. Go to borderlinepod.com/subscribe to join us. It's just five pounds a month to keep this independent media going and I would be extremely grateful if you would. Please remember also to share it around you with your friends, with your coworkers whether remote or in person, it makes a big difference.

[00:45:18] I'm your host Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. I'll talk to you next week.

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.