This episode’s guest is Frank Cottle, and we discuss contractors, the change in workforce, and some things you can do to be more successful with remote staff.
Frank Cottle is CEO of Alliance Virtual Offices and Chairman of the Alliance Business Centers Network. He is a recognized expert on flexible working, the virtual office movement and ‘third place’ working. Prior to creating the Alliance brand, Frank successfully operated his own portfolio of business centers in multiple locations across North America.
Frank has spent almost the past 30 years delivering business services that are finely tuned to the workplace needs of startups, entrepreneurs and growing SMBs. Over the years he has worked with tens of thousands of business owners and, coupled with a unique global management perspective, has become the go-to authority on flexible and remote work.
In today’s episode you’ll learn:
- About working on the Move: Flexible working, anytime, anywhere.
- How flexible workspace plays a crucial role in driving today’s economy.
- How remote office services help business owners maintain professionalism, even when working from home (or from the beach!)
- How to start a business from anywhere.
- About Virtual Offices: the 21st century workplace solution for any size business.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, my guest today is Frank Cottle. Boy, I always blast people’s names all the time. I’m sorry, Frank. He is the CEO of a Alliance Virtual Offices and Chairman of the Alliance Business Centers Network.
Today, we’re going to have a really interesting conversation about how has work changed and what is the future of work. Frank’s just the guy to do that because he does remote business centers. And I probably got that wrong too but Frank will correct me. I’m sure. Let’s bring Frank in.
Hey, Frank, how are you today?
Frank: Josh, doing just fine. Thank you.
Josh: Thanks so much for joining me today. Let’s start off with just a first talk question is that, it appears that work is changing or where people work is changing and how they work is changing. Could you address that a bit?
Frank: Let’s start at the top for that, Josh. Let’s take large corporations as an example. If we were to look at the annual report of, well, I’ll say, Cisco, five years ago, we would see that they had a certain amount of revenue, a certain amount of profit, and they had 300,000 employees worldwide. If we looked at that same annual report today, we would see that they still had good revenue and good profit but they now have a workforce of 300,000. And that subtle difference is contracting.
About 20% of all of the ex-employees of large corporations and about 30% of all of the employees of smaller companies today are actually contractors as opposed to employees. There’s a huge dynamic shift in the way people are being employed, the way people are earning a living, for everything from gig economy structures on up to government working on one-year budgets and wanting to have one-year contracts with its employees or previous employees. We see a lot of that happening and that’s a global phenomenon. A matter of fact, today, there’s 1.6 billion mobile workers that are working in that kind of a format and they’re working outside of a primary office, a minimum of two days a week.
Josh: When you say working out of a primary office, does that mean they’re working at home, or they’re working at a coffeeshop, or they’re working in an executive suite like you guys have?
Frank: All of the above. We call those coffee shops third-place offices.
Frank: And anywhere, all you have to do is walk into Starbucks at 9:00 in the morning. And if you look around, you’ll see half of the tables have an individual nursing a cup of coffee with a laptop on them.
Josh: I see it when I travel all the time.
Frank: Everywhere you go. Everywhere you go. The companies no longer feel as if someone has to be at a desk, in an office, with a manager peering at them. Individuals are much more self‑directed today. In fact, I think, as we see GenZ coming up in front of us now. That’ll be the most self-directed, first native digital generation we have and it will be quite an impact on the way that we work.
Josh: You know something, I’m going to push back on that a little bit because what I have found– and I’ve been owning and running businesses for about 40 years now. And what I found was, when I tole my employees what they had to accomplish but I didn’t tell them how they had to do it, it made them really happy – a much happier workforce than if I told my employees what they had to do, and then how they had to do it. It really came down to my concept of employee is, the employee is the expert at their job so why don’t we let them tell us how it should be done?
Frank: I think it’s a very empowering thing to do. Let’s take the military. It doesn’t matter which military for a moment. If you look at the military, everything is done by goals, objectives and resources. “Here’s your goal, Sergeant Josh. Take that hill.” And you say, “Okay, I need a squad and the following resources.” Now, I didn’t say, “Go up this ravine. Turn left at the trail. When you see Pocahontas, now take the hill.” I didn’t say that. I just said, “Take the damn hill” because you are that expert. And that’s very empowering to people. It’s also a high risk if you don’t have good training or if you don’t understand the objectives you want people to achieve and don’t give them the right resources.
Josh: I agree 100% with everything you just said.
Frank: Well, say something you won’t agree with then [laughs].
Josh: Well, it’s true. If you give people— one of my trick questions when I do workshops is I’ll often ask the audience, “How do you motivate people?” And you get like the 152 ways you can motivate people. And after everyone gives me their reasons, I say, “Well, I hate to tell you but you’re all wrong. You don’t motivate people. What you do is you set up situations for people to be motivated in and you can demotivate people.” But you know what, you motivate yourself.
Frank: I think that’s right. Although part of motivation always comes from a strong leadership and a vision, people have to understand the direction they’re going in order to know why they’re doing things.
Josh: Absolutely. The first step to building a great company is becoming values-led. Values-led allows you to create a vision. And from that vision, you’re now getting to see, “Gee, where are we going?” And when you hire people, you hire people to opt-in to your vision. You don’t opt-in to their vision.
Frank: I think that’s right. I absolutely think that’s right. And you want the people, basically, to build on each other. To inspire each other to achieve the higher value in that vision, overall. That’s really where team comes to the play. A team’s going to lead itself, with different individuals and different roles, as long as they understand where they want to go.
Josh: I have a question for you. How much is traffic playing a role in the change in work?
Frank: I think, quite a bit. We had a study done years ago. It’s like many studies, it told us the obvious that people would rather work five minutes from their home and 30 minutes from their customer, than work five minutes from their customer and 30 minutes from home. So, 35 to 40 years ago, when we started our predecessor company, we learned that and we understood that. We actually study traffic patterns and get traffic studies in making location determinations of where we think centers and facilities should be. I think the fast food industry does the same thing. There’s no magic to that.
Josh: I live in Northern Vermont, traffic is not an issue in Vermont, really, but I do live 27 minutes from my office so, two or three days a week, I just work at my duplicate office in my house and I save myself an hour and 15 minutes to commuting, and life is a little bit easier. I’m not living in Boston, or New York, or any of the major cities in the country. I have a son-in-law who lives in the Boston area and he used to commute an hour and a half each way.
Frank: Yeah, that’s not uncommon. And I think technology now allows you to do, what you just said. And, in the right environment, would allow your son-in-law to do the same. And that’s why we now have 1.6 billion mobile workers in that model of working outside of their core office a minimum of two days a week.
Josh: Did I get it right that you folks, as one of your businesses, you help people hire mobile workers to work in your company?
Frank: No [laughs]. We really don’t.
Josh: [laughs] Okay.
Frank: We are in the serviced-office and co-working industry.
Frank: And we have a network of facilities worldwide, about 700 facilities on a private network, operating in 54 countries that runs a lot like Best Western Motels. We don’t own the facilities anymore. They’re independently owned now. We provide the technology, infrastructure services, booking reservations, management services, et cetera.
We also have three different companies. One in the Netherlands to service Europe and another in London to service the UK, and then here, in the US, we have a third company that are wholesaling companies, we call them. Their software is a serviced platform, so it’d look a lot like Expedia. The difference being that instead of hotel rooms and rental cars, we do office space, virtual offices, live reception services, meeting room services et cetera on a global basis.
Josh: Would you consider yourself an expert at how to hire mobile workers?
Frank: Well, we’ve been doing it forever. As a layman expert, yes. As a professional in that trade, no.
Josh: Well, since you’ve been doing it forever, you probably have some tips for what you might be doing. I mean, if I’m a one- or two-person company, I’m going to need a lot of help around the edges, what I call is hiring out for the $20-per-hour jobs so you can focus on the $500-per-hour job.
Frank: Yeah, that very report. In fact, what we see, in our business, because we help so many companies that are in the start-up phase and growth phases, we see them. Really, we say, every company is an international company today because, undoubtedly, they have an offshore supplier and an offshore customer in some way. We see that very consistently. The key that we see as being important, really, is setting up your proper communications infrastructure first. Often times, that has to do with time zones. I would say, if you’re going to hire remotely, don’t necessarily go to the cheapest time zone, so to speak, but the most productive time zone. That’s usually an hour or two, either side, of wherever you are. Hire vertically in the time zones, not horizontally.
Josh: In other words, if I want to hire someone and it’s a relatively repeatable job, it’s not especially hard to do. I’m in the Eastern time zone, I should be looking at either Central or South America is what you’re saying?
Frank: Absolutely. If you’re trying to hire in a more effective economy where you get a benefit, that’s absolutely right.
Josh: That actually makes a lot of sense. I’ve hired some people from the Philippines and the Filipino workers are unbelievable.
Frank: Wonderful, wonderful.
Josh: They’re wonderful workers. The only problem is they’re 12 hours difference than we are and communicating is a challenge.
Frank: Yes, it can be. It’s funny, we work globally as you know and even in other countries where English is the first language, communications can still be a challenge because words might be the same but concepts and cultures can be quite different.
Josh: Oh, absolutely. I’ve really learned that. It’s that the work ethic and the way people go about thinking about work is a country by country thing.
Frank: Yes. In fact, we have a saying, “Every time you cross a border, you need a partner.”
Josh: Yes [laughs].
Frank: So, we cross lots of borders [laughs].
Josh: If I’m a small business, and I know you deal a lot with larger businesses but we don’t get a lot of larger businesses listening to this podcast. I’m a small business, two, three, or four employees, what are the five or six things that these folks should focus on?
Frank: Well, you know, all companies have to have three things: capital or access to capital, they have to have a customer base, and they have to have flexibility. And I would say that flexibility is probably maybe even more important than the other two when you’re starting out. What we like to see, for companies when they’re starting and companies when they’re growing, what we focus on ourselves when we’re growing a company, is to keep that company very flexible.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s tie capital back to that. Let’s assume that you and I are each going to go pitch to a venture capitalist. We each want to raise a million dollars. And you go in and make your pitch or I go in and make my pitch. I’ll make me the bad guy. I go in and make my pitch and the guy says, “Well, hey, great idea, Frank. What are you going to do with this money?” And I say, “Oh, I’m going to get an office. I’m going to hire a secretary. I’m going to buy some furniture. I need photocopiers, blah, blah, blah. And then I’m going to hire some engineers, for my software, to program.” And you go in, make the same pitch. The same question. “What are you going to do with that money, Josh?” Then you say, “Oh, I’m going to take a virtual office and hire programmers.” Who’s he going to give the money to?
Josh: My guess is he would give it to me if he believes I know how to do that.
Frank: That’s right. There always has to be a fundamental or a skill set involved. But the key is you basically set yourself to be highly flexible. If you run into trouble, you don’t have fixed overhead. You’re going to be focused on your creation of your technology product as opposed to administrating clerical/secretarial staff. You’re not going to be worried about acquiring tasteful furniture et cetera. You’re just going to move in, and get down, and get to business.
Josh: That’s like the biggest waste of money in the whole world.
The interesting thing about this and I learned this when I opened— I used to be in the food service and vending business. And by the way, your industry ruined that industry [laughs] because that was based on having fixed employees in a facility.
Frank: Well, it’s funny because our family is an old farming and ranching family here in California. And we were also in the food distribution business.
Josh: But what I learned, when I opened my second branch out, is that you cannot run a remote operation unless you have good controls and good metrics to make sure the people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Frank: Yeah, it’s all about reporting.
Josh: Yeah. And that seems, to me, to be where not only small businesses fall down but basically every business falls down until they get to about 500 to 1000 employees.
Frank: I say, even then, often times. We had a technology company that we owned for a number of years. It was in the paid aggregation reporting business in the travel industry. That company had 100% of the Global 1000 as a customer base, 100%. We got to see how people used massive amounts of data. And travel, in a large company, is usually its third or fourth largest expense. We got to watch all of that. And we developed a little mantra back then and we still use it today in our company. It says, “Get the data. Data becomes information. Information becomes knowledge. Knowledge becomes action, so get the data.”
Josh: I would go past get the data. I would say “get the right data.”
Frank: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Josh: I can’t tell you how many times I walk into companies and I say, “Show me your dashboard.” And they’ll say, “Huh, what’s a dashboard?” And then I’ll say, “Okay, what numbers do you look at that you think are important in your business?”
Frank: Sure. What are your KPIs? Yeah.
Josh: Almost invariably, they’re going to pull numbers off through either P&L or balance sheet. And I say, “Well, that doesn’t do you any good, really, except it tells you historically what you’ve done. What is your predictive numbers that are going to tell what’s going to happen in your business—
Josh: –not what happened in your business.”
Frank: Exactly. Now, we look at daily web metrics as a forecasting driver for our P&L. As an example, we want to see what our visitors are doing and what our page views are doing. And all of the web metrics that you really need that are much more real time, those become predictive drivers in our business.
Josh: And then, the next thing I ask people to do is, “Well, here’s the metrics that we know drive your business. What is your company doing as a company to drive those metrics forward?” And I think that when you get into the world of remote workers and team members who are really not employees but they’re still part of your team and you need to treat them as part of your team. I think that’s a big mistake that people make with VAs, virtual assistants, is that they say, “Well, I don’t have to be as nice to them as I would to somebody staying next door to me.”
Frank: It’s just the opposite, you actually have to be nicer.
Josh: Yeah, that’s actually what I was just about to say. I think the opposite is true there. It’s that if you’re not nicer— and actually I have this mantra forever, it’s that, “Your employees are only going to treat your customers as well as you treat them.”
Frank: I would say that’s probably true. Oh, I hope, if you’re treating them right, it’s true [laughs].
Josh: Well, my experience is when you treat your employees well, they return the favor. When you treat your employees poorly, they return the favor.
Frank: I think that’s very true, not just employees but everybody in life. I think that was called the golden rule about a millennia ago, sort of do unto others. Take that approach.
Josh: Yeah, I kind of like to change the golden rule a little bit which is, treat people the they want to be treated, not treat them the way you want to be treated because the way I want to be treated may be different than the way you want to be treated. And if I can find out how you want to be treated, I’m going to be likely be more successful with you, have you happier, and we’ll have a better relationship.
Frank: I think that that’s true. It’s really a matter of respect and consideration that you have to play. The other thing that we do is we treat everyone as a peer. Well, we each have different responsibilities within our company but we have a little toast that we toast at meetings and things and it goes, “Never above you, never below you, but always beside you.”
Josh: Oh, I like that. That’s great.
Frank: We really think that way. The most junior employee or team member in our company might be in another country and I might be addressing him. In my view, we’re peers. I just have more experience in certain areas and I have different job responsibilities but they have the same authority to do their job as I have to do my job. And the one thing that we tell everybody, when they’re interviewing, that we’ll get them fired very quickly is if they do not make decisions on their own. We’ll stand behind their mistakes and we’ll learn from those mistakes. But if they’re incapable of making decisions, they can’t work with us. They can’t be on our team.
Josh: Yeah, well, that makes perfectly good sense.
Frank: Everybody’s empowered from day one.
Josh: You know, I’m a big fan. I call it the culture of mistakes. And people always give me a hard time about that. And I say, “Well, I’ve got to tell you something. We all make mistakes so we have a choice, do we yell at people about it and they hide the mistake or do we celebrate the mistake and learn from it?”
Frank: Actually, when I make a mistake, I’m always mad at myself so I go take my dog for a long walk along the beach and I get rid of my anger that way.
Josh: Oh, okay. I do bike rides but I think we’re similar.
Hey, Frank, we are unfortunately out of time for the podcast. How would people find you, your company, and if they want to do business with you, how would they do so?
Frank: I’ll give you two web addresses. The first one is AllianceVirtualOffices.com. Very simple. We can provide services. Anybody can reach me through that company. The second one I’ll give you, really, is a publication that covers our industry, everything to do with a business center, co-working flexible office sector. That’s Allwork.space.
Josh: Oh, interesting.
Frank: And so, people that are interested and want to learn more about flexibility in the workplace, companies that are doing– who’s doing what to whom, that is the publication that we sponsor for the industry, as a service for the industry. And that will be of help to people.
Well, I also have an offer for you, too, which is my book Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. It’s a business parable, although I say a fable. A fable sounded better than parable. It’s pretty easy to get. You can go to Amazon. You can get a soft cover at Amazon or a Kindle version. Someday, I’ll have an audible up there. And you can also get it off of our book website which is sustainablethebook.com. But if you buy it off the website, my website, you also get a free 20-minute conversation with me and I’ll guarantee you, at the end of conversation, you’ll have one piece of take home value you can implement in your business. And I also wrote a 37-page cheat sheet which sort of is how do you implement the lessons that we talk about in the book. The book’s a parable so we do some stuff but there’s a how-to of what the steps are. You can get all of that there.
This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at the Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.