Luis Magalhaes: Hello ladies and gentlemen. This is Luis, the host of Staff it Right. And today’s special edition of Staff it Right is brought to you from under the sea. Yeah that’s right, my microphone acted up. The noise canceling did something while I was talking to my guests. So every now and then you’ll see, well you’ll not see, but you’ll hear me as if I was underwater. Apologies or that, but apart from that we have a great show for you today.
Luis Magalhaes: We are talking to Jennifer Kostel. Jennifer’s professional background is insanely varied from yoga to acting to language learning, but what she is and what she brings to the table as my colleague at DistantJob is really being a master of rapport, really able to establish a connection with the person on the other side of the screen.
Luis Magalhaes: And if you already think that it is difficult to did this with someone who shares the same language as you, well guess what? Jennifer does while absolutely smashing the language barrier.
Jennifer Kostel: Other cultures have other ways of communicating or their … again, it goes back to the languages, their native language. Sometimes the way something’s delivered or what they say the expressions they use don’t really translate but they say them in English anyway. In general, Americans are pretty direct. So, something I’ve learned is sometimes you can’t be as direct.
Luis Magalhaes: And while Jennifer definitely stresses how much more productive working remotely can be, she also acknowledges the perils of isolation and advises managers how to deal with it.
Jennifer Kostel: I would say the biggest thing is just communication. Not just when things maybe go wrong but also when thing are going right or just in general. So the person doesn’t feel so isolated. Never let the person feel like they’re just working alone.
Luis Magalhaes: And what’s the secret weapon in creating a connection? Admitting your vulnerability.
Jennifer Kostel: Admitting you’re human as well. Like, if you make a mistake, I think one thing that builds a level of trust with your coworkers and colleagues is saying, “Oh I messed up on that”, or, “I made a mistake”.
Luis Magalhaes: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jennifer Kostel.
Luis Magalhaes: Hello ladies and gentlemen. This is Luis again with the Staff it Right podcast, and today my guest, as I’ve already mentioned, is Jennifer Kostel. Jennifer, welcome.
Jennifer Kostel: Hi, thanks for having me.
Luis Magalhaes: Jennifer, she has previously had several remote arrangements including somewhere she worked quite a lot from home, like entirely from home, right Jennifer?
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah, all the remote work I’ve done has been 100 percent from home or really any location I choose. Some weren’t on the phone so I could go to a café or co-working space or wherever I chose to work and felt I could be most productive. But, I do enjoy being-
Luis Magalhaes: What kind of places have you worked? What kind of companies have you done remote work before?
Jennifer Kostel: I worked for a company that sold products on Amazon. And that was, when you say quite a lot, was about seven days a week overall. It wasn’t 8 hours a day on the weekends, but it was only because of the way I organized my time; it could have been.
Luis Magalhaes: What does that feel like? What does a seven day work week feel like? And the plus or the minus because I feel like if it wasn’t from the remote option you wouldn’t be able to pull that off.
Jennifer Kostel: No, but even with remote option it’s really hard to pull that off. You could start off really strong and be like, “Okay I got this”, but then after a while it’s like work is always tapping you on your shoulder. It becomes really hard, at least for me, it was really hard to divide up my time.
Jennifer Kostel: How do I fit personal things in there? On Amazon, some people may know, when you have a product on there and you get a message as a seller, you have to respond within 24 hours otherwise the rating goes down with Amazon and you have more difficulties if this accumulates over time. We try to respond in an average of eight hours or less, which is for one person to do over, I think we had seven counties and several products in each of those countries. So It was quite a bit.
Luis Magalhaes: What was that conversation like? When you discovered that you were expected to work seven days a week?
Jennifer Kostel: They made it out to be more that if I could get it done in three days, I could do it in three days, but that wasn’t the reality. So as I got started, I thought I could handle it more and over time, over the course of about a year and half, it just completely burnt me out.
Jennifer Kostel: In hindsight looking back, I should have spoken up and let them know that I needed help or had somebody else on the weekends check on things. But the company itself kind of is run that way where people are expected to check in on the weekends and there’s really no work/life balance. Whereas at DistantJob, it’s all about work/life balance. Definitely, it’s a lot healthier of a work environment and I find myself thriving immensely just because I have my life, but also my work is part of that, not all of that, if that makes sense.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, yeah, it absolutely makes sense. I’m just wondering because that, so this is something that we’ve talked about in a previous podcast with another guest, is that a lot of people believe that they will work less when they’re working remotely and they end up working more. Why do you think that is and do you find that happening with yourself?
Jennifer Kostel: Sometimes. It’s really about managing your time. I think it’s the most important thing. If I get up, and I’ve started to try to get some exercise in in the morning even if it’s 20 minutes just to get myself, get some of the extra energy out so I can sit down and focus because if I don’t, I tend to get distracted, but then from there prioritizing.
Jennifer Kostel: But there’s always that sensation, “Oh, that, I’m going to finish that so I don’t have to do that tomorrow.” So sometimes I’ll find myself wanting to get ahead of the game. At least in this environment with DistantJob, it’s much more balanced. It’s very important. They don’t want to see you putting things late at night on your time. They want you to have your evenings. Work normal business hours.
Jennifer Kostel: It can be challenging sometimes to balance it though just because your computer’s always there so it’s really easy to get sucked back into work sometimes and go, “Oh, I’m going to go finish that or do that”.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, absolutely, I can totally understand what you’re saying. Something that caught my eye about your, and this was definitely, well maybe it was but let me know, I don’t think this was remote work, but you have worked as an actress. Teaching people English, right?
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah. That was not remote. Sorry.
Luis Magalhaes: It wasn’t remote, but I’m wondering, because a lot of challenges with remote work can, see here we go, it comes from language barriers. So what did acting to teach people English teach you about those language barriers, and how did that shape the way you communicate with people now remotely, if at all?
Jennifer Kostel: Well the shows that we did, we would travel to different places like we had a couple casts. So I went to Panama and some people with to Uruguay and some people went to Mexico. In advance of our show coming, we would send off lesson plans to the schools and then they would work on them with the kids and then the kids would come to the show. So the interaction we had was an actual musical and it was quite fun. We had different age groups. We had the younger kids and then we had kind of a middle-school age and then a high-school age. They were able to prepare and learn about the characters and idea of the show before they came to the show.
Jennifer Kostel: I live in Argentina, and I have done English classes and worked with conversation classes with people. Not to a huge degree, but I do enjoy it and helping people learn English. And it’s interesting, the language barriers.
Jennifer Kostel: Tying into remote work, a lot of remote teams are from other, you know compiled and made up of people from all over the world. In the job that sold the products on Amazon, we had people in the Philippines, a few people from the States. Another job, also remote, some of the assistants, the VAs, were from the Philippines. Then with DistantJob, we have a very international team.
Jennifer Kostel: It makes it interesting when you get emails sometimes you’ll see how people write and you know, for example, I speak Spanish so I understand, sometimes, how things get transposed, but it’s also cultural differences too. Learning how other people work. And just conversations you have with people, learning about things from that person’s home or different holidays or traditions and all of that stuff makes it really unique and fun, I think.
Luis Magalhaes: So what are the most common pitfalls that you think that happen when you’re trying to communicate with people in other languages?
Jennifer Kostel: I think, in general, Americans are pretty direct so something I’ve learned is that sometimes you can’t be as direct when you’re dealing with someone less … situation I had was a VA from the Philippines, and I just wrote something really fast and it was just to the point, but she got really upset. And I didn’t realize that it sounded so direct because in U.S. culture it was pretty straightforward. It was like, “Okay, we need to get this done, blah blah blah” and that was like it. There was nothing else to tie it in because I was just in the middle of stuff. So it’s-
Luis Magalhaes: What was she expecting? What was she expecting in that situation?
Jennifer Kostel: I guess a softer delivery. Just the way it was written was very to the point. I can’t even remember what it was because it was a few years back.
Luis Magalhaes: Was it like, “Hi, how are you doing? I would be really nice-
Jennifer Kostel: It was more this way I wrote the task, it sounded really direct and “You need to do this” and that’s not what the intention was. It was just … it’s learning how to communicate with people and learning different cultures. Also, other cultures have other ways of communicating or they’re, again, it goes back to the language that they speak, their native language.
Jennifer Kostel: Sometimes, the way something’s delivered or what they say, the expressions they use, don’t really translate, but they say them in English anyway so it sounds kind of strange. You know, things like that But you learn to communicate, you learn just like if you’re in the office with somebody, you learn what makes them tick and when to bother them, when not to bother them. It’s kind of the same thing, remotely.
Luis Magalhaes: Actually because on previous works, a big part of your work was building rapport with people, with clients, wasn’t it?
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah.
Luis Magalhaes: I know based on past experience that that’s pretty hard to do, not only on video, video helps, but especially through the phone. But you did build a lot of rapport through the phone, didn’t you? So how would you advise people who are managing remote teams and they really feel that they need to get a bit closer to their employees, what would you advise them to do?
Jennifer Kostel: I would say the biggest thing is communicate. Don’t, as a remote manager, as leading a remote team, never let the person feel like they’re just working alone. It can be isolating, working from home. You’re by yourself, you don’t have that, “Oh I’m going to get up and there’s going to be someone at the coffee maker or the water cooler” kind of talk.
Jennifer Kostel: Remote teams have, there’s chat channels, some people use Slack, some people use other software to communicate within the team, but having interaction at some point during the day, just checking in, “How’s your day going?” Not that it becomes a micromanagement thing either, it’s just so everybody is on the same page.
Jennifer Kostel: The daily stand-ups help. Like, here at DistantJob, we always have our daily stand-up, and we let everyone else know what we’re working on. So we understand people’s jobs better and what they’re doing and how it fits into the big picture and how we connect to that. I think that’s important too, but I would say the biggest thing is just communication. Not just when things maybe go wrong, but also when things are going right or just in general. So the person doesn’t feel so isolated. It’s a fine balance. If I don’t hear from my manager all day, I’m like, “Okay, what’s up?” It’s always good to have [crosstalk 00:14:23] conversation. Huh?
Luis Magalhaes: Why is this guy ghosting me?
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah exactly.
Luis Magalhaes: Did I do something wrong?
Jennifer Kostel: But I think the biggest thing is also positive reinforcement for a job well done. Like, “Hey, that really worked out well” or “You’re on the right track”. Some sort of feedback is always awesome because you know, okay, I’m moving in the right direction.
Jennifer Kostel: I would say a big thing with remote work is it causes you to be more autonomous on some levels and making decisions that you may, if you were in an office, go to the next cubicle and say, “Hey, what do you think of this” or bounce ideas. And sometimes with remote work, you don’t have the time to do that. Whether it’s time differences or it needs to be done or whatever it is with your coworkers. So you make those decision on your own.
Jennifer Kostel: And sometimes hearing from a manager like, there’s nothing you can really mess up. Knowing that you have permission to make those decision too is always really helpful.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. So that’s a good point, knowing that there’s nothing that you can mess up too badly. You know-
Jennifer Kostel: Well you can on some things, but-
Luis Magalhaes: Well yeah, but it’s like a mistake-friendly environment, right?
Jennifer Kostel: Right.
Luis Magalhaes: But before you came to DistantJob and you were working with other people remotely, I know it wasn’t a managing relationship, but you did build long-distance relationships with people. How did you put those people at ease that they could talk straight to you, come to you with their problems, with their doubts, with their questions?
Jennifer Kostel: Just being receptive. I think the biggest thing is admitting you’re human as well. If you make a mistake, I think one thing that builds a level of trust with your coworkers and your colleagues is saying, “Oh I messed up on that” or “I made a mistake, this is what I did to fix it” or apologizing, “Hey I’m sorry, I misunderstood that”. Whatever it is, I think that really builds a level of trust.
Jennifer Kostel: And that comes from all levels. If the manager’s always there just saying what’s wrong and you never hear anything positive, it trickles down into the whole morale of the team even if you’re not in the same place. So I think it’s important, the accountability, and showing that you are accountable for your tasks and that you’ll always step up and things like that really builds trust. Even if it’s not in your wheelhouse or your normal day-to-day stuff, if you know someone needs assistance or you can step in and help in some way, I think that’s another way to really build a connection with your team.
Luis Magalhaes: That makes perfect sense, thank you for sharing that. You’ve worked in translation before, right?
Jennifer Kostel: I worked as an account manager for a translation company, but I wasn’t a translator.
Luis Magalhaes: Ah okay. So tell me the story of how that ended up happening.
Jennifer Kostel: Well, in Buenos Aires, I’ve worked a lot with customer relations, sales, that’s basically been kind of my track record overall, but I was living in Buenos Aires and as an English speaker, and at the time I didn’t have a lot of Spanish, I was kind of limited on what I could do. So I found this opportunity and I thought it would be great to be able to work. Also, they sponsored your residency and I didn’t have my residency at the time and stuff.
Jennifer Kostel: So I started working there, and it was working with clients in the U.S. mostly from the office here in Buenos Aires and managing, making sure projects were delivered on time. The work ethic in the office was complicated because we were working for U.S. clients but sometimes different cultures have different work ethics or different holidays. Managing all of that and trying to make sure the client was happy and still get things done with conflicting holidays was challenging.
Luis Magalhaes: Tell me a bit about that culture and specifically … that was, from what I understand, that was a co-located effort so it wasn’t remote.
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah, no it was in an office.
Luis Magalhaes: Do you think that if it was remote it would’ve helped with those difference or would it have made it even harder?
Jennifer Kostel: That’s a good question. I felt like the job could’ve been remote because on the weekends, someone was always on call from their home. The issue with it not being remote was for a confidentiality issue because some issues being translated in PassForward were highly confidential and so they preferred to have those documents delivered to someone, to the office and have them within the office on their network. Which I know now, things have advanced quite a bit with remote that things can be kept very confidential and highly protected and there doesn’t need to be the need for an office all the time, but at the time that’s how they, and that’s still, how they run the company.
Jennifer Kostel: The hardest part was, I think, like in Argentina for example, they have a lot of holidays and the U.S. has about, what, six a year, so at least once a month, at least once or twice a month, there was a holiday sometime during the month. So it would make it-
Luis Magalhaes: [inaudible 00:19:57]
Jennifer Kostel: What did you say?
Luis Magalhaes: I need to move to Argentina apparently.
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah, but when you’re trying to work with U.S. clients that don’t have those holidays … so it was quite challenging at times, on that respect. But overall, it worked. For that company, that’s how they chose to run it, but I believe a remote component, like I always felt like I would’ve been a lot more productive if I was working from home.
Luis Magalhaes: So what are your major productivity blockers in an office?
Jennifer Kostel: In an office? Distraction of other people talking, having conversations. People have those days where they don’t want to do anything so that tends to kind of infiltrate the rest of the office. You know, where they get really distracted or just-
Luis Magalhaes: What’s happening here today? I’m not going to allow any [inaudible 00:20:49].
Jennifer Kostel: I would say those are the biggest things, or feeling like sometimes … I find myself, if I want to have a break or whatever, I’m more productive if I can take my breaks as I need to. I don’t take long breaks, but if I can go outside for five minutes or go take the dogs on a walk for 20 minutes and then come back, I’m refreshed. But in an office, you can’t do that. You might be able to get the work done in half the time but you’re sitting there for all these hours because that’s what you’re scheduled to sit there for and it sometimes can feel like you’re just grinding out hours to have a quota I guess, whereas remote work, it’s all about what you produce not how many hours you work, you know what I mean.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah, oh I definitely know. I’ve been in companies where the work was on a demand basis, Meaning if there was no work available, it made no sense for people to be in the office, but the chief demanded that people be in the office for the full duration of the work regardless of them having no work to do. You know, just stay there and produce, think how you can do your work better, something like that. It was really ridiculous.
Jennifer Kostel: It happens. I guess sometimes when you have companies that are just solely in the office, you don’t have remote, it’s just the age-old philosophy that if people aren’t there, things aren’t getting done.
Jennifer Kostel: The fact of the matter is, there’s a lot of things with technology we don’t need to be in an office every day. If you use it correctly, there’s definitely ways you can maximize productivity. People feel like they’re … when I work with the candidates that get hired with our clients at DistantJob, one of the things that they always love is, I’m home with my family, the hours are … most of the time there just needs to be an overlap with the clients’ hours of at least four hours so they have flexibility. They get the work done, and they feel happier.
Jennifer Kostel: It just depends on the company too. It depends on what they do. Not every position can be completely remote but there are positions that definitely can.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. So we’ve talked before about you teaching yoga and there’s a mindfulness component to that, this may be a long shot, but I’ve always felt that part of what was so great about remote work, and again working in my environment, was that I could really be more mindful of what was doing and just be more absorbed in my work and not have to deal with a lot of parallel things. In relation to that, do you feel something similar? Does it happen that you can get in the zone more often?
Jennifer Kostel: It depends on the task I have to do to be completely honest, and each day varies a little bit. I do enjoy working independently. I think if I had to go back into an office full time, it would be a very hard transition at this point. I could probably do a mix, but to be in an office all the time I think I would feel like I was going into some sort of prison, not prison, but, you know what I mean. I definitely wouldn’t enjoy being in an office five days a week.
Jennifer Kostel: I do enjoy sometimes getting … I can be stimulated by having a meeting via Zoom, getting on video chat with the colleagues that I’m working on a project with or talking about things and brainstorming, and then going and working and then just checking back in.
Luis Magalhaes: What about that stimulates you that much?
Jennifer Kostel: Which part? The meetings or-
Luis Magalhaes: [crosstalk 00:25:05] with people and talking with them. How do you draw energy from that? What’s the mechanism there?
Jennifer Kostel: It has to do with different personalities. I’m more of an extrovert so I think that’s part of it. I love hearing people’s ideas and bouncing things back and forth because then it stimulates other ideas in my head or hearing things in a different perspective. And then there’s other tasks where I just need to focus and I don’t want outside noise. I just need to get things prepared and maybe an email to send to a client or a proposal or whatever it is, so those things I like to have my quiet time. It really, for me, depends on the task. If there’s things I have to concentrate on, I don’t enjoy having a bunch of noise around me.
Luis Magalhaes: It’s funny that you mention being an extrovert, because the complete opposite happened on another episode that people will, hopefully, have listened by the time that they’re hearing this, unless they do it out of order which is completely fine people. My previous guest told me that she was an introvert actually at that’s why she enjoyed remote work so much, but at the same time, she also said that she constantly needed to go on calls with people and felt that that was important.
Luis Magalhaes: It really seems like regardless of your personal persuasion, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the onus here, it seems to me, is in the control. You can choose when to do it instead of just having to go, “Oh god, I’m locked here and I won’t speak to anyone” or on the opposite “I have to go to the office and I know that people will be whaling on me all day”. And it really seems to me that both the introvert and the extrovert need to talk to people to accomplish their job, to feel motivated, etc., but the fact that they can choose when to do it and when to turn it off and go into focus mode, that seems to be a big deal.
Jennifer Kostel: It really is. You’ve hit a really valid point there because I think it touches back on to what I said earlier as well. When you’re working remotely, you know, I’m home alone, my dogs are sleeping, I have no human interaction if I don’t check in with my coworkers right. Or my job, things I do, I’m dependent on other people to give me information. For example, with DistantJob the recruiter sends me over candidates, I prepare the candidates and send them to the clients. I’m also connecting with people that are currently working with our clients and having a lot of human interaction on certain days. Some days not so much.
Jennifer Kostel: So I think one of the things that also makes me thrive is the varied activities in my day rather than feeling like it’s a machine just sending out information and stuff like that. I need a little bit of both. I do have my moments of introversion where I don’t have the energy to put into conversations, and I try to schedule my conversations when I know I’m going to have the most energy because if not, it doesn’t … I think someone said this in a previous podcast, it was Trevor. He talked about having seven meetings in a day and by the last meeting, it was like, “Okay, what do you want? Let’s get to the point.” You know, it’s-
Luis Magalhaes: He totally said, “I’m not listening to what you’re saying, don’t bother me.”
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah, basically. So don’t have the meeting because the person on the other end is probably feeling the same way. You can only do so much in a day. I think having the balance of knowing when to schedule your tasks and when to schedule your meetings, but the flexibility of being remote is nice because if you really have to get something done, you can put yourself on ‘Do Not Disturb’, get your task done, and then come back into the world again and reconnect with your coworkers. Whereas if you’re in an office, someone knocks on your door, you know, you don’t have a choice. Or they come to your cubicle, you don’t have a choice. You have to interact. It makes it more challenging.
Luis Magalhaes: Absolutely. I totally agree. So let me switch gears a little bit. Do you enjoy fortune cookies? How do you feel about fortune cookies?
Jennifer Kostel: Fortune cookies? I love them. I got a fortune cookie one time with nothing in it, and I didn’t know how to interpret that. It was empty. It was empty, so I was like “Is this a good sign or a bad sign?” I took it as a good sign, I’m kind of a glass half full kind of person, so I was like, “Well, I can make my own destiny. That’s the fortune.”
Luis Magalhaes: There you go. I’m asking, let’s say a lot of tech company executives are gathering at the Chinese restaurant and you are hosting, so you get to say what’s going to be written in the fortune cookies. There’s influential managers, people who manage remote teams will be opening. What is the message, and sorry, it can’t be devoid.
Jennifer Kostel: No, not devoid, not devoid. Ooh, this is a tough question. I almost need time to think about this one. Wow, what is the message. Well, you don’t want to make it cheesy, like, “You will have success.” That’s just like, all the fortune cookies are that way, right.
Luis Magalhaes: Except the ones that don’t have any message.
Jennifer Kostel: Yeah, exactly. That only happened once. It’s like in the U.S., we have the crackerjacks, and one time I-
Luis Magalhaes: Are you sure you didn’t just eat the message?
Jennifer Kostel: Did I eat the message? No. I’m trying to think. That’s a tough question Luis. You stumped me.
Luis Magalhaes: This is what I do. Think of it as a Zen kōan. I’m just trying to help you reach enlightenment.
Jennifer Kostel: Something about abundance. I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question. It got me.
Luis Magalhaes: I guess it’s devoid.
Jennifer Kostel: I prefer devoid, or the blank piece of paper and let them write their own fortune. That’s what it would be.
Luis Magalhaes: Alright.
Jennifer Kostel: It would be blank and then they could write their own fortune.
Luis Magalhaes: Yeah. That’s what happens when you manage remote workers. You’re responsible for writing your own destiny.
Jennifer Kostel: That’s true. That’s true.
Luis Magalhaes: Alright. So, thank you very much Jennifer. Obviously, you’re with DistantJob, but is there any way, a part from reaching out through DistantJob, that people can check you out on the internet? Something like that? Anyplace where you hang out in the internet?
Jennifer Kostel: I do have a Twitter account but I’m not that active on that form on social media. I have LinkedIn, but beyond that, my email at DistantJob is probably the best way.
Luis Magalhaes: Okay. So thank you so much for sharing your remote work experiences, and that’s it. Thanks for coming Jennifer.
Jennifer Kostel: Awesome. Thank you.
Luis Magalhaes: So there we have it ladies and gentlemen. That was Jennifer Kostel. If you want to keep up with Jennifer, if you want to talk with Jennifer, discuss some of the things that she mentioned in this podcast, you’re welcome to reach out to her through Twitter, at least it will be on the show notes, or ping us at distantjob.com.
Luis Magalhaes: And as usual, if you enjoyed the podcast, if you would like to support the podcast, the best way to do so is to leave a review on iTunes or your podcast listening service of choice. Also, sharing the podcast with friends, pretty good, sharing it on social networks, even better. The more you share, the more you allow us to achieve our goal of helping people build the best remote teams possible. If you need to build a remote team, if you want to build a remote team and you want to staff it right, visit us at distantjob.com.
Luis Magalhaes: That’s it. This is Luis with the Staff It Right podcast. Thank you very much. We are out.