Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Curt Lederle about his work at Tread and how things have changed given shelter-in-place.
But before we get started, the coolest thing Curt told me was how his favorite record shop has converted to online sales. The owner posts videos of a gloved hand flipping through records and people DM or comment to buy.
With that, here’s a transcript of our chat, edited for clarity.
Curt Lederle from Tread on WFH in the Construction-Tech Space
Can you briefly describe your job and company so that people know what we're talking about?
Sure. Yeah, I'll try and keep it relevant and feel free to keep me honest. So I have recently in January joined [Tread], a Toronto-based construction tech startup, at least that is how we broadly categorize ourselves.
And for just for a little bit about the industry and the problem that we're solving: Construction is something that is happening everywhere all the time and their systems are largely antiquated. So when you look at tracking people, tracking materials, tracking trucks, if you look back five years ago, the best of those options were physical hardware devices being installed on engines and trucks, etc. Which you can imagine is hard to scale, hard to deploy, hard to update. And so there are all sorts of benefits to being able to move to digital.
Great, and what do you do in particular?
What do I do? Yeah, so I've been brought on as a regional general manager for California and kind of broadly speaking the west of the US. We will see kind of how things roll out, to date the team is all based in Toronto. We do have some deployments in Florida and Ohio and across the Eastern Seaboard largely as a result of the team being based in Toronto and their local market going through winter which induces a very cyclical business.
So I'm a bit of an experiment in putting some boots on the ground on the west coast. Right now my capacity is mostly around what would be like go to market and sales activities. Hopefully, if things go the way we expect they would go, we would build out a satellite office here that has the necessary resources across functions for the company.
And so while you’ve been remote for at least 5 years in previous jobs (including working for a wind-turbine manufacturer!), Tread is new to it. What’s been hard about Tread’s transition given shelter-in-place?
Yeah, so my general position and current thinking is just how fortunate we are from a company perspective. There are a few key mechanisms that were put in place right before this that have tee'd us up super well.
So first and foremost, we had secured funding and the money has already been transferred. So there was no worry about people backing out on terms or renegotiating terms or anything like that, which I'm sure a lot of startups are facing right now.
For context, my wife and I were in New Zealand when [shelter-in-place] began. So we came back, we made it back into California on March 21st. So the initial transition to remote had kind of happened while I was away so that can set the stage a little bit.
In general, I'd also say that there was probably a little bit more, not friction, but getting used to new processes in the beginning but by the time I had come back the team had already adopted to have new dress-up cocktails on certain days and there are a bunch of ways to connect digitally that I kind of jumped right back into.
But largely put, you know, it's been very stable through the process. We've also been onboarding and I had calls with three new colleagues [who joined] in sales this week, they now have joined this company and gone through remote onboarding entirely. And their feedback has been largely really wonderful. So that's definitely been a strong point for us.
There's a lot of video chats, of course, like everyone else I'm sure. I think people do yearn for the physical office. We do have a great culture people genuinely enjoyed in the office. So not having those lunches and those relationships from a distance, I think that's tough, but productivity-wise I've actually seen really amazing things from our team.
Those virtual dress-up happy hours sound interesting. Any other creative solutions?
Yeah, we have a standing 9am-pacific/12pm-eastern that's a lunch/brunch. So if people want to have meals together on video chat, that's kind of a standing window that people have joined. We also now have a colleague who is leading in-home yoga and workout videos. Largely leveraging all these platforms out there to find classes, but then you know a few of our colleagues will do it together. So yeah, there's a few of these cropping up for sure.
Has anything not been solved yet?
There's a couple of layers to this right? If you think about the construction industry, it is largely a handshake industry in that many of these brokers and dispatchers and construction companies, often cases are family companies that might span, you know up to and over a hundred years. So these are this is an industry where legacy matters, relationships matter. So I think that impacts our ability to, not build credibility, but you know successful outbound sales motions.
I would say the other side that's really important for us typically is in-person onboarding of operators or trucks as well as the teams that are going to be using the dispatch systems. And that was something that I think we were more nervous about but we are well tooled to manage that process remote and we actually last week had our highest number of trucks on the platform ever and we also on-boarded [a huge number of] trucks in a 36-hour period where from our perspective that was pretty phenomenal. That would have been hard to do in a physical way. But by having a remote webinar and video and resources that could be shared and then troubleshooting over text with individuals.
It was actually a big learning for us in what's possible.
If you had to do this for a year what needs to change to help you be productive?
Yeah, it's an interesting question. I think [working from home for the long term] would be more life-changing to most people. For me, to be honest, I kind of plan on working remote for the next 30 years. Now that I've set it up for myself so long as you can be productive and you can be satisfied and those ways that you need to be personally and professionally, you know, we have found this is optimal for our life. Like I truly enjoy working remote.
That said, part of what was important for me when I was onboarding starting in late January, was [being present in] Toronto maybe three times. So I think working remote I see as having a permanent place in my life personally, but I will always be one who wants to log hours in person. If there is a headquarters, [visiting the] headquarters staying close to the central nervous system.
How do we get to that level of shared camaraderie when fully remote? Not sure you or I will have the answer here, just wondering how it might be different.
Yeah, that's an interesting question and I might make the argument that I believe it probably will be fundamentally different.
So today we spent three hours or four hours on a video chat this morning really hammering out something we needed to get through. We were challenging each other. We were getting tough on each other that I think it was an instance in which we were building that camaraderie that you talking about.
My standard question to wrap things up would be to ask “When it's all over how many days per week will you WFH?” But I know that answer to that, it’s every day. So instead, I’ll ask “When this is all over, what percent of people who are now currently WFH are still WFH?”
That's interesting, and I think one of the interesting dialogues I've been hearing that there's a lot of talk about returning to normal and I'm not convinced there ever was a normal and I think about our generation and many of my peers and colleagues including yourself and others: most had some balance of work from home.
I would say like in my quick thinking if you put like doctors aside and other professions that might require people in person, think mechanics, trade services, etc. That's different. But for especially friends in technology, customer support, sales, these roles, It feels like the vast majority did at least one day a week [remote].
I would imagine that grows. And I think our team is going to think critically about it. We will need an office, but will we need a full office that has a desk for every person at all times? Who knows. You know, we were just about to go out to look for new office space and I think we will still grow such that we need something more than what we've had but it may not be quite as big as we thought.
Great, and on that note, let’s wrap things up. Thank you!
Trying something new, here are some WFH takeaways from our conversation:
Lots of construction is still happening despite shelter in place.
People continue to find creative solutions with things like virtual happy hours and standing lunch video chats. Some of these only make sense when everyone is in the same time zone on the same schedule. I wonder how sustainable these things are.
Even in the construction industry, COVID19 is causing a huge incentive to move to digital tools. This is really accelerating long-term trends that were moving so slowly.
Multi-hour small-group video chats can actually build a huge amount of connection between people, especially when they are working to hash out a direction.
When this is all over, companies may choose to have more flexible office space rather than simply growing and having everyone have a desk in the same office.
Please let me know if the takeaways are helpful!
And last but certainly not least, Curt’s WFH setup:
See you next time!