Green Element weekly podcast Interview with Paul McGillivray from Remote
We are thrilled to be interviewing Paul, he is Co-Founder and CTO of Remote and Code Assembly, working to empower purpose-driven teams to amplify their impact. He’s also a TEDx speaker, writer and music producer. Both organisations excel at automating systems that free you and your team to work within your individual talents to do the work you were born to do. His superpower is his ability to envisage and model systems in a holistic way that liberates innovation and human potential, with purpose at its core. Paul’s been leading technical teams to build online and mobile applications for nearly twenty years for tech startups, established enterprises and global corporations like Sony, Volvo and Volkswagen Group. His book ‘Purpose First’ will be published in the Summer; it shows us how we can put Purpose at the core of our own lives, to organise our business and teams to align with a common goal, and how to utilise exponential technologies to achieve positive global impact.
My personal website: https://paulmcgillivray.com
Remote website: https://remote.online
Talks on video:
- TEDx: Bringing purpose to work for global impact – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugvmI-ctuMA
- B1G1x: How to amplify your global impact – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCisuNPJ2wM
Will: Today, we’ve got Paul from Remote, he runs a brilliant purpose-driven software company, he runs it with his wife actually, Jeannie, and formidable team that are trying to change the way we, I guess, look at software. He works for purpose driven organizations to further that purpose and really accelerate that purpose growth. I really hope you enjoy the conversation, he goes quite deeply into personal stuff and talks about his professional journey through Remote, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Welcome to the Green Element Podcast, Paul, thank you very much for joining us today.
Paul: Thanks, Will, it’s a pleasure.
Will: I’m really excited to hear more about your business and what exactly you do. We’ve just been talking about how you helped purpose-driven businesses build more purpose and do better, so what is it that you do?
Paul: So, me and my wife, Jeannie, we run a software development company, at our core, we are custom software developers. We started off as website developers, we moved very quickly into online applications and then relatively more recently mobile apps and all that kind of thing. We are interested in exponential technologies, we’re interested in moving people and their processes onto the internet, onto a platform that can be exponentially scaled so that good people can do more good, we multiply their impact using software.
Will: Okay. So, can you give us an example so that, if I’m being honest, so I understand more.
Paul: Yeah, of course, that was a bit of a jargon filled explanation. Okay, let me tell you about a couple of projects that we’re working on and give you an idea. We’ve released an app called stroke active and stroke active connects all the therapists who help someone through the recovery of a stroke. So, for example, if you were to have a stroke in this country the NHS will do an amazing first aid job, first on the scene. They will help you get better for a few weeks and as soon as you’re up on your feet again or not in an emergency situation, you’re left to your own devices really. Which means only those people who can really afford the therapy centers can go through what actually is an essential recovery process for stroke patients. So, our client came to us with an idea of providing a whole load of resources that would help carers of stroke patients to actually go through all the levels of therapy that they need to go through in order to actually recover fully from stroke because that information wasn’t freely available.
When we started working with that client, we realized that actually exponential technology, when I say exponential technology, it’s a posh way of saying computer software sitting in the cloud which means we can scale it out really quickly. That’s my take on it, artificial intelligence machine learning, all those kinds of things. What we realized was actually what was essential for stroke patient’s recovery was for first of all the carers to be able to find the speech therapist, the physiotherapists, all the different types of people that are essential to help on the road to recovery. Also, to help them connect together so that each of them can see the different advice each other are giving, they can then set plans, tasks, record videos. So, a physiotherapist might go through a therapy session with a stroke patient and then they can watch back the video of that as they practice the moves and techniques over the week. The other therapists can see what is being done and what is being said so a synergy is created through therapists that may otherwise not have met each other or known about it.
What we’re finding is that by taking something that’s done normally by going to a therapist, visiting them once a week, twice a week, whatever. Actually, moving online means that you get more touch points, more ongoing care and a more connected holistic route to recovery, the response we’ve received for that app has been phenomenal. Actually, I’m not sure about whether I’m allowed to say where it’s going but it’s looking awesome, it could change the lives of thousands of people.
Will: Well, my other half is an occupational therapist, works with special needs, particularly Aspergers and autism and listening to her talk about her job and it’s exactly the same. They’ve got different people coming in and they all have to write these reports and they all have to read the reports. So, what you’ve done is you could potentially just move it across to any kind of therapeutic profession couldn’t you, by the sounds of it?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the plan for sure what we realized that just as we were finishing, we were like hang on, this doesn’t need to be stroke patients, what we’ve got here is an amazing way of connecting therapists for the recovery of all types of patients. So yeah, I’m sure stroke active won’t be the only brand that rolls out there, yes, totally. So, that shows one aspect of what we do, so what we’re doing there is using software to connect to people for good. The other side of what we do is helping companies that are doing good to do more good and we do that by going into companies and looking at their business processes, their systems and finding out how they do what they do and seeing how much of that we can automate.
So, the theory is that, and this is my theory, I’m not going to say that this is how it’s done or anything, this is the way we see it at the moment. We’ve all got superpowers here, we’ve all got something that, and this is what we were chatting a little bit about before we started this recording. So, we’ve all got something that we find that we’re really good at, that we’re naturally good at, that we enjoy doing and we assume that everyone else is as good as those things and enjoy those things as much because it comes so naturally to us. All of a sudden, we find out, hey, do I have to really explain that to you because I thought that was obvious, I thought everyone knew that? Now what I found definitely is once we can get a sense of where those super powers lie and we can lean in hard to those superpowers, what we end up with is a potential for real transformation with purpose [07:15 inaudible], I can do this thing.
What I’m interested in is seeing models, seeing system, seeing the way things fit together and how they could fit together and how they could be made more efficient, more productive, more effective and create more impact. I seem to be able to see those systems and the potential of those systems and explain those systems to people to help them be the best version of themselves or so be that an organization or person. So, I might be chatting to a friend or a raiser and I might say, hey, I’ve got this particular problem and I might say, hey, have you heard of this, this, this and this? If you do those things that problem will be completely leveled up. That’s what we do when we go into businesses, we say hey, look at those processes there, you don’t have to spend your time doing that, we could automate 80, 90, 100 percent of this and then you can spend your time in your purpose and your superpower doing the thing you were born to do.
So, there’s kind of a meta thing going on here really, the superpower is to help other people work in their super power. So, what we find is that when we know what we can do and when we can find out how to use that skill for a greater good then our lives have meaning and purpose and energy. So, this alignment of our natural abilities and a purpose for a greater good become immensely powerful and we start finding that we’re attracting other people that are doing good. We start finding that we can do things that we didn’t dream we could do beforehand because those opportunities appear. We’re speaking because we met on a purpose-driven level, on a project that we really want to make a difference with. I found this over and over, since we really started leaning hard into, we work with purpose, we want meaning in our lives, and we want what we do to have a greater impact in the world. We’re software developers, we could be making flappy birds or whatever, but we’re not interested in the quick buck, we’re interested in what we do to make a real impact.
Will: Okay. Is this something you’ve always done? You say that the Remote has been around for 20 years, 20 years ago, did you have the same ethos and were you doing the same thing, or do you think it’s changed over time? Take us on the journey from beginning because a lot of people listening to this will want to understand how to do what you do and what you learned along the way, what was that journey like?
Paul: Okay, yes, we’re 20 years old this year, Remote. So, the journey started way back, so I’ll give you the abbreviated version. We started building websites, so 1999 and all of a sudden people are going, what is this thing called the internet and actually should I have a website for my business? I was one of those people, we’d started a record label, Jeanne and I, I’m a musician, that’s one of my side things, I would love to produce music. We were about to launch this record label and I was like, “Should we find out what this internet thing is?
Will: What sort of music?
Paul: What sort of music? Electronica, back then it was hip-hop, drum and bass, I still make a bit of hip-hop.
Will: Brilliant. This is a conversation we can have later then.
Paul: Awesome. Nowadays, I make sort of hip hop and downtempo electronica, that kind of thing.
Will: I’m a huge Hospitality records fan.
Paul: Oh yeah, they’re brilliant, me too, yeah, fantastic. Okay, we’ll definitely, let’s put that conversation to the side, awesome. So, that was what I was completely convinced was going to be my career and then we had a distribution deal with universal records, we had ten artists signs the roster, we were just organizing a massive UK tour. I was like, okay, I’m going to teach myself how to build a website for the record label and for the artists. So, I’ve always been a computer geek, when I was eight, I had a ZX Spectrum, my gran gave me a ZX spectrum, I learned to program basic and program little games in that, I just absolutely loved it. The music I’ve made with computers too, so computers are in my DNA but I’d pretty much by that point abandon the idea of computers being part of my career outside of music production. We made these websites and actually they were pretty cool for 1999 websites. We were organizing this tour and a journalist came to interview me for hip hop connection magazine to talk about this tour and he said, “By the way, you did your website, because it’s awesome and I’m organizing a DJ battle, I need a website for it.” I was like, “Oh, I’ll build you a website, no problem.” Then my dad wanted one for his shop, then a friend wanted one for his pottery and all of a sudden, we were making websites full-time and we didn’t release a record until about three years ago.
Will: Did the tour ever happen?
Paul: No, the tour didn’t happen, actually, one day, the Ministry of Sound, we played there, which was actually a pretty amazing night, but that was it.
Will: You had fun?
Paul: Yeah, totally. So, for about a year I was just making pure HTML web sites, Jeannie has a fine art background, she was designing them, I was building them. We picked up a client that we still have called Arts Alive, they were in their first year too and they said our business just down the road from us. That was our first website for good as it were because Arts Alive runs an amazing rural touring company, they bring amazing theater and operatic and musical acts and cinema events to village halls in the middle of nowhere. They want to bring culture to the people, they don’t feel that only people that live in the city should get to experience these things, so that’s what they do, and it felt good to do that. I think it’s part of our nature to want to do something that helps people and feels good and has more purpose than just I want to sell to trainers online or something.
As we grew, those kinds of people were the kinds of people that we attracted. So, after about a year, we built our first online application, which was the world’s first searchable Materia Medica for homeopathic students. Students that are learning Homeopathy has to carry around these huge books and they’re really expensive. We built some software that would digitize the 360 odd textbooks that there are for students and allow you to search them by symptom, remedy and all that which was no mean feat considering that those books were written over 200 years by different people. They had no order to them, no consistency, but we managed to build that and so that was our first online application. Again, there’s purpose in that too and from then on, we realized that that was what we want to do, we want to build online applications. It was something that excited us, we were enabling things certainly at that point that simply hadn’t been previously possible before the internet revolution and we continue to do that.
We move fast forward to now, that was me and Jeannie, now there are eight of us in the business based in Shrewsbury, got a lovely office here, we just moved to a larger premise and they’ll be 10 of us within two or three months and probably 12 of us by the end of the year. As we leaned into the purpose-driven stuff and really trying to help people make an impact, the business has grown and started to really prosper as well.
Will: Right. That’s really good to hear that you’ve seen a growth in, I guess, growth in purpose, which is what I would imagine most people want to hear. It makes sense when you think about the fact that 90 percent of millennials want to buy [16:12 unintelligible]. So, we’re living in a world where I was talking to someone yesterday, I was talking to the Big Issue Invest and he was born in 1980 and I’m born in 75. I’m apparently two or three years off, being a millennial which, if you think about it actually means that the majority of the workforce are purpose-driven people as a whole because I’ve got another 20 years, 25 years until I retire, and I’ve been working for 25 years. So, I’m already over halfway through my working life in adverse comers and there will be more and more people as you get younger than me that will be more thinking about what it is. I think the legal professions are really struggling at the moment, they’re not chatting about it, but people don’t want to be a partner anymore. They’re like, I want to be a lawyer and I love being a lawyer, but I don’t need to earn two million pounds a year, I’m happy on a decent salary and working enough hours but not working 24 hours a day and never seen my family.
Paul: Definitely, I think that’s spot on, so I think it’s something like 90% of businesses that turned purpose-driven will report an increase in employee engagement, customer engagement and increase in profits. So, whereas as we were growing up, we would have thought well, yeah, the primary thing is profit first and it would be nice if we could do some good. Maybe I’ll do some good with that money, take up philanthropy when I’m a billionaire, but the industry has been all about profit first. Now what we’re seeing is, and especially I think you’re exactly right, there’s this stigma about millennials, they’re entitled, they won’t do proper work, they’re lazy and all that but it’s not that, it’s that they want meaning in their lives.
They’ve got their basic needs met so they’re at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they want meaning in their lives, so they want to know that their lives have a point, have a purpose. They want to know that they can make a difference and that isn’t just about what we do when we step into the workplace, it’s about where we spend our money, who we buy from. It’s not just, well, when we’re making money, we make purpose it, when we’re making money, we have purpose, it’s now if we want to make money and if we want to survive as businesses in this next stage, we actually have to be purpose-driven.
Will: It adds a new dynamic to your equations as well, to your bottom line. So, hence the expression triple bottom line or they’re now talking about quadruple bottom line if you’ve heard that expression.
Paul: People, purpose, profit, what’s the fourth?
Paul: Planet, of course, beautiful.
Will: Funny enough, I knew you were going to ask me, and I was like, oh no, I don’t know what that forth one is. You said in a way, I was like, oh, actually I can go, do you know what the forth is? I don’t know about you, but it really impacts our business and we actually watch it from a financial point of view of how much money we are taking away from the business, from profits. It’s really interesting when you actually do the math of what a significant amount of money you could be making more, but do you want to, and do you need to? I do know, I love it, I love the questions that come out on the back of all of that purpose-driven stuff.
Paul: I really think it’s reversing, this whole thing of actually we have to be purpose-driven and we have to put the planet first because if we don’t for a start none of us will be around very shortly. Also, we won’t attract, just as you’ve said with the legal profession, we won’t attract the kind of people we need to run a successful business if we’re not making sure that we care for the environment. Let’s start right here, let’s care for our internal environment, am I making a difference, do I feel that at the end of my life I have led a balanced and good life, do I have that peace of mind? So, there’s my internal environment then there’s the office, how do I feel stepping into your office? How do the guys around me feel stepping into the office? Have we got a toxic environment with people putting people down, are people stress because they’re not achieving their targets?
All these things that we see so often especially in the larger companies or is there a good supportive workplace? Do we know where we’re aiming, do we know why we’re doing what we’re doing? Do we have a real purpose, do our lives have meaning or are we just trying to fill our safe full of cash? Then, how do we get to work? What kind of energy are we consuming? What does our life look like, are we living lightly or are we going to leave the planet with a charred hole where we were seeing for our lives? So, it’s beautiful to me because it starts inward but then it rapidly expands outwards and, of course, the whole planet is billions of people, hopefully asking those same questions and beginning to behave in that same way. We need to support each other at every level, we need to support the planet at every level.
Will: So, how do you think you can influence change? You’ve done a fantastic TED Talk having you, can you take us through what you were talking about for your TED Talk and take us through how you feel that you can influence change?
Paul: Sure. So, the TED Talk last year, the title was ‘Bringing Purpose to Work for Global Impact’ and actually we touched on quite a few of the key concepts there. So, yes, we’d always had this sense of wanting to do good and there’s a spiritual side which recognizes that we’re not individuals running around out for ourselves but actually we are one universe operating as one thing with the appearance of individuals competing for the precious resources that are left. When in your heart, you know that actually there’s just one living, breathing thing, your attitude changes to life, anyway, I think. So, there’s been that core in my life, but maybe 10 years ago or so I started to lose my way at that, and I started to get caught up in a life that didn’t have meaning, a life that was about the next project, the next project, looking for money primarily.
There were other stuff going on as well that basically just made me feel like I didn’t really have a purpose and I didn’t have meaning and I suffered for that and I caused suffering for that. I guess this is the classic midlife crisis and I’d be very surprised if many midlife crises went spurred on by exactly the same kinds of feelings and I got ill, I got very ill. Four years ago, I ended up in hospital very much on the edge and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and was told I wouldn’t survive unless I took a cocktail of immunosuppressants which I refused and much to the shagging of my consultants. I felt that intuitively, if I was to take a cocktail of immunosuppressants for the rest of my life I would simply be hiding the symptoms and actually there was a core thing wrong with me that I needed to look at. So, I turned inward, I was bed bound virtually for nine months and really went on a period of self-reflection and self-discovery, self-rediscovery, really. It was then that I realized that I needed to make sure that what I did had a higher purpose, that what I did was for a greater good, not just satisfying my own needs but actually I suppose projecting that need outwards to the whole planet.
So, I need things but actually there are people that need way more than me and when I did that and brought the company on that journey with me, the company transformed, my life transformed and the lives of the people in the company transformed. It was at that point that we were we decided to just lean into the purpose-driven stuff because we were like well, how can we make a difference, how can we have an impact? We don’t build solar panels, we don’t make Tesla cars, we don’t do anything to stop climate change, we’re not scientists but we do make software and we do help people become more efficient, more productive and more effective and we give people reach and we help people engage. So, all of those things are the tools that people who are doing these things, these purpose-driven things, they need those tools. That’s when we leaned into that and that’s how the business moved into that purpose-driven direction. So, we help others by using software and those others that we choose to help are the ones that are saving the planet.
Will: That’s amazing. Are you okay, have you got any symptoms now?
Paul: Yeah, I guess I say this lightly, but Crohn’s is an incurable disease, so I suspect on some level I’ll be managing it for the rest of my life, but my symptoms now, right now I feel absolutely normal. I have minor symptoms occasionally, if I get stressed, I get more symptoms, but basically, it’s like the old-fashioned canary in the coal mine and I’m still working on it four years into dealing with maybe 10- or 15-years’ worth of serious damage to my body. I think I’ve got some way to go but at the same time I’m living a normal life I feel great, I think I go to the bathroom more than the usual person but that’s probably the biggest annoyance. I was in pain constantly, I had constant nausea, I had brain fog, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t do most of the things that we just totally take for granted and I went down to seven stone, it was like ridiculous.
I’m skinny now but back then I was very skinny and that’s coming back, I go to the gym, I joined the gym last week, it’s amazing. At one point, I could barely do four press-ups, it’s incredible, I put it down to just a really powerful connection to what my body is saying to me. I went to an amazing medical herbalist, Fiona Burns, and she prescribed loads of medical herb’s along with all sorts of treatments. We did some amazing stuff, craniosacral therapy, Kinesiology, Matrix re-imprinting, it was all stuff looking at the trauma. I did EFT, I’ve learnt Reiki, I did that grounding, there’re so many amazing things out there. None of them involve chemicals, but what they do involve is really connecting to yourself and so when you’re really listening your body doesn’t have to shout. I believe that my disease certainly was my body shouting, screaming, oh my God, pay attention, you’re doing all the wrong things here, so I changed my diet dramatically.
Will: I guess moving from there and thinking about the world and planet earth as we know it, with all of what’s going on with climate change, you could compare the two?
Paul: A hundred percent, yeah, a hundred percent.
Will: We should be listening to what is happening. Why are there rafts of cold going through North America at the moment? What is going on, are these symptoms?
Paul: It’s just starting to shout. When we were kids the body was, the body, the planet, same thing, was saying guys this isn’t right and now it’s shouting. The hurricanes, the wildfires, it’s crazy, the whole war in Syria was triggered because the farmers had to move back into the city because they couldn’t grow anything anymore. It’s like the body is screaming, the planet is screaming and you’re totally right, I remember mentioning I think it was just a couple of weeks ago to my mum about these wildfires when they were happening. I said, “This is climate change, this is global warming really kicking off.” My mom said, “But Paul, they’ve been saying this for years” and she said it as if, bless my mom, I don’t mean to put my mom down, but it’s a common misconception amongst certain people that this has been going on for years, we’ll be fine for another few decades, but that’s not the case. It really is shouting, and it is terrifying what might come next if we don’t put the brakes on in some way.
Will: Yeah. How do you think you can help our listeners to understand how to be more sustainable in their workplace? What is it that you guys do sustainability wise from a company?
Paul: I stole the phrase, ‘living lightly’ earlier on in our conversation, but it really rings true to me. So, there’re the practical things that we do, we’re a software company so we’re not manufacturing anything, so really our greatest drain on resources is energy. We have solar panels on the roof, I’m desperately hoping that will switch to electric for our vehicles this year. We hire locally, most of the guys walk into work, there’s a recognition that the way to live a good life is to live a life that’s clean, minimal process food, we get exercise, we don’t eat junk, we recycle, we favor less packaging, less process, less chemicals, so that’s part of our culture. We interview people values first, skills second and that’s worked really well because the actual culture of the company is one of caring and support and that spreads out. So, I suppose really for us it’s about that work environment and making sure that that’s a sustainable thing.
The way that we work is sustainable, the way that we treat each other is sustainable and we tread as lightly as we can on the planet. I think our biggest resource is the service which we host in the cloud, Microsoft is here, and Microsoft is making massive steps towards renewable energies themselves. I think they’ve just launched another wind farm and they’ve got solar panels and so on and they’re carbon neutral moment I believe. I’m hoping that all of the energy it will be renewable that we use there, and it certainly is here, and it certainly is at home and we’ve encouraged all our employees to make sure that they’re using renewable energy at home too. So yes, we’re at the start of our B Corp journey, we’ve got a long way to go still and I’m hoping you can help us with that as well actually, which is another reason why we connected to you in the first place.
Will: I completely forgot about that because of you.
Paul: I can’t remember what the question was now, but I heard that on a stick.
Will: Yeah, I guess you have actually answered it, it was how can people understand how to be more sustainable? So, what’s the one thing you would like people to do?
Paul: I think the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves and I guess to the planet right now is to undertake, hopefully for everyone a much less painful and traumatic journey that I went on but undertake that journey of self-discovery. By that, I don’t mean that in a hippie sense, although I’m all for that too but what I mean is actually asking how can I make a difference? How can I find a purpose for the things that I do well that will help with global good? How can I make a difference so that my life has meaning and how can I encourage others to do the same thing? So, if we look back on our lives, we see threads and especially nowadays, there are so many threads to our careers, to our personal lives to ask our passions and hobbies.
What we find when we look underneath the surface of the reason why we do those things is often a why that gets us out of bed in the morning. When we can go really deeply into that, there’s a great book by Simon Sinek, I’m sure you know it, called ‘Start with Why’ and there’s another one called ‘Body of Work’ by Pamela Slim as well, which really helped me work this out. To really look at these threads and find out why we do what we do and what fires this up and when we can find that why, find out how we can serve each other and the planet with that why, then we have a meaning in our lives that lights us up. If we can begin that journey today, then the world will absolutely be a better place tomorrow.
Will: Well, Paul, thank you so much for sharing the journey that you’ve been on and how you’ve got to where you’ve got to today, thank you so much for your time. Where can we find out more about Remote and where can we find out more about what you’re doing, using your services, etc?
Paul: Sure. So, the website for Remote is simply remote.online and I have a personal website as well paulmcgillvary.com and I guess you’ll have show notes for this because no one can spell my name. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook and so if you basically go to either of those two websites, you’ll be able to follow that internet rabbit hole to your favorite platform for sure. I’d love to speak to anyone who’s interested in the kind of stuff we talked about, I love it, it’s my passion.
Will: Thank you so much, Paul, thank you for today.
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