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How to Build a Successful Digital Workplace with Remote Work Expert Laurel Farrer

Laurel Farrer is the CEO and founder of Distribute Consulting, where she helps businesses strengthen communication and develop long-distance management strategies.  Being a remote work advocate and with over 13 years of experience, Laurel is also the founder of Remote Work Association.

She has also experience writing about remote work in platforms such as Forbes. And she has advised US governments and industry leaders on how to thrive working remotely.

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Laurel Farrer

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host as usual, Luis, and this is a podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. And in this episode of the DistantJob podcast, we have two-time guest. This is her second time around. Laurel Farrer. Laurel is the CEO and founder of Distribute Consulting and founder of Remote Work Association. She works as a distributed operations consultant helping businesses strengthen communication and develop long-distance management strategies. She has written about remote work for several publications and education platforms, has advised US governments, business conferences, and industry leaders on the topic of remote work. Laurel. Welcome back.

Laurel Farrer:

Thank you so much for having me again. It’s fun to be a repeat.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah. Not a lot of those. I believe you are the second or at the most the third repeat. So congratulations.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, I’m honored. Thank you.

Luis:

Well, thank you. I’m honored to have you back. And why don’t you tell us about… We were talking about just now, before we started recording, that you were expecting 2020 to be big, but you weren’t expecting this big. So what has changed?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. You know, it’s amazing to think back and to even just look at my presentations and emails from late 2019, and even January 2020, because that is what I was trying to tell a lot of the organizations and governments that I work with, is, “Hey, we need to be prepared for this. We need to really anticipate that remote work is going to have a boom in 2020.” And so making sure that they were equipped with the resources and the knowledge that they needed for it to be successful.

However, I think we all grossly underestimated the size of that boom. So it’s been just massive, massive pivoting and restructuring for the entire industry, understanding how can we scale at this level? Even the most prepared businesses in the remote work industry had three to five-year growth plans that were maybe strong and ambitious but did not even come close to meeting the needs of the speed of growth that we have now seen.

So for me and my business, for example, our five-year growth plan, we surpassed in about two weeks. It was just such immediate and intense growth. And not just in the growth of the businesses, but in the advancement and the process of the industry in general. The temperature and reception of the topic of remote work from the general public. All of these advancements that we hoped to get to eventually, it’s now just everywhere, but it’s also coming with the heat of mass adoption, which means that there’s going to be controversy. It’s not going to be the slow, easy, organic growth, and give you an opportunity for people to warm up slowly. It’s going to bring a really high level of pros and cons in the media attention. So that brings another dynamic to this boom in attention.

So yeah, the topic of remote work, the industry of remote work, the development of remote work research, all of that just is on fast-forward. You know, it’s sped up three years, then five years, now about 10 years, all within the span of three months. It’s shocking.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. We notice that as well. Obviously, DistantJob is a recruitment company, so obviously we don’t notice it as well as you do, because people tend not to hire so much during events like this, but that said, we do see more people interested in hiring remotely, because if you’re going to hire during this period, that is how you need to do it. Right?

Laurel Farrer:

Absolutely. Yes.

Luis:

So if you’re going to hire at all, then that’s what you need. So I’m wondering, I was actually, when this all started, we had an all-hands-on-deck meeting about, “Okay, what is this current pandemic situation?” Back in February. I was in Sweden, and we had an all-hands-on-deck meeting in the company. And I was actually quite bearish on the situation. I mean, I knew because I have a background as a physician, I knew that the pandemic was being undervalued and that it was going to have a much bigger impact just in the national and international health pictures than most people were giving it credit for. So I was prepared for the health aspect. But when it came to the remote work aspect, I actually was bearish. I was thinking that, “Well, everyone is going to talk about it for a long time, for a short while, for one or two months, but then it’s going to back business as usual.” Right?

I was definitely off on that. I was surprised to see big tech companies like Google or Facebook coming out just this month and saying, “You know what? Actually we’re going to keep doing it like this for the rest of the year, and after that we’ll see.” And other companies like Twitter, or Square, just saying, “Okay, we’re remote forever now. If you want to work remotely you can do so for as long as you’re with us.” So I definitely did not see that.

That’s the US market, by the way, of course. In Portugal, where I am based, it’s not nearly as interesting to our audience, but I see that at least anecdotally, all the people that I know that are developers, mainly, I have quite a bit of friends in development, and they’re all being expected to report back to the office by the end of June. I’m not sure if it’s going to change that dynamic any time soon, but yeah. I definitely didn’t think that North America would catch on to remote work as tightly as it did. So what do you make of that? How many companies do you think are going to follow in the footsteps of Twitter?

Laurel Farrer:

Over time, a lot. A lot more than we expect. And that’s what surprised me, actually. I thought the same thing as you. I thought, “Okay, this’ll be temporary. They’ll go back to the office and then they’ll consider this as an option, and then maybe we can help them go through that change management process eventually.” And now, no. What happened, though, is that we have touting, as advocates, about the financial benefits of remote work for a long, long time. We’ve been saying, “Okay, look, you can save up to $11,000 and $20,000 per employee per year from employee retention, productivity costs, real estate and equipment savings. There’s a lot of financial benefits.”

And that’s actually the conversation that we were so used to having to explain and introduce as advocates. Like, “Guess what? Did you know that you can see these rewards?” However, what we saw in the midst of the pandemic is that immediately the Chief Financial Officers started noticing those benefits for themselves. So they were actually the ones that started this conversation with the large enterprises, saying, “Hey, guess what? Because we have this perfect storm of this global pandemic and then we also have an national and international economic recession as well as the work and life needs of our workforces, this is what we should be doing. This is saving so much money that is going to help keep our people and our company afloat regardless of what the economy looks like, short and long-term.”

So, they were actually the ones driving the conversation. And typically in the past, it’s been employee experience, human resources operations that drive the conversation, but now, more of the CTOs, the CIOs, the CFOs, they’re the ones driving the conversation. So it’s this very balanced, holistic comprehensive conversation that’s happening throughout the executive board, which is really fueling much faster adoption. So it’s great to see. And usually that’s a conversation that we as consultants had to facilitate, but now it’s just happening organically.

So what I expect, and again, it feels ridiculous to make predictions at this point because we all have no idea what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. However, if we use the history of the growth of the remote work industry in general, in the past, if we use that as a prototype, we will see that more companies in the technology sector and in the tech industry, they will be the first and early adopters because their workloads and processes are so conducive to remote work.

And then slowly but quickly after, we will also see the adoption across more industries. So a lot of engineering, a lot of entertainment, a lot of accounting and financial tech, we’ll start to see the adoption in those industries, and then it will become much more accessible. So yeah, that was the unexpected part of the growth and the boom of remote work, is that it happened to everybody at the same time. There really aren’t early adopters and late adopters. It was everybody had to go remote, regardless of your industry, the size of your company, the location of your company. Everybody had to embrace it all at the same time. So it really levels the playing field. So now we’re just going to see companies that are flexible and innovative in their culture, they will be the first adopters, as opposed to a specific industry or size of company.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. I definitely feel that that is the way that things are moving. And a lot of people, nearly everyone that could, started working from home, and that’s a challenge, obviously, to the leaders and managers that are within these companies that need to adopt the new systems, and new processes, and play by the new rules.

We at DistantJob, we have a history of trying to educate leaders at companies, but as a courtesy service, right? Because our product is remote. So when we get a client, we conduct training, we help them shift their process, et cetera. But that’s not our business. Right? That’s a courtesy service that we do to our clients. But that’s actually your job, right? So I’m wondering, what are the challenges that you are meeting the most? That you see people really go to, are desperate for help with?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. We place heads of remote in three different sectors. The first is operations and change management. So that is where, exactly like you’re talking about, a vice-president of remote work comes in to the executive board and really just sheds the light of distributed teams in the entire operations of the business, and identifies how do we need to update talent acquisition? How do we need to update reporting? How do we need to update communication and performance reviews? How does everything just need to be slightly adjusted in order to accommodate virtual collaboration?

So that’s the first side, and obviously, we’ve seen high demand for that role. The second, though, is something that we just did on the side previously, but now has spiked in demand much, much more than we ever could have predicted, but that is marketing to remote teams. There are now millions and millions of products around the world that need to sell to remote teams, that all of their products for the business world are now products for the virtual business world, and they really just don’t understand what that consumer profile looks like, how their marketing needs to be updated, and just how to connect with this new market.

So, that is a very, very large role that we’ve been filling. It’s just subject matter expertise and product advisory on what virtual teams are and how they work.

Then we also advise governments. So this is heads of remote that are placed into government organizations, and the public sector, in order to leverage virtual jobs as economic solutions. We’re monitoring and solving problems like transportation infrastructures, environmental sustainability, and then obviously economic recessions, really trying to identify how we can balance the urban-rural divide, to keep people safe during this time and make sure that the economy’s stabilized in a variety of different geographic regions.

So, yeah, we’ve been fighting the good fight from a lot of different angles, and hoping to help anybody that we can.

Luis:

But let’s talk about pain points. People didn’t ask for this. They weren’t prepared for this. They knew that this was something that existed, but now they have to deal with this, right? And I’m not asking about someone that suddenly needs to work from home, I’m talking about someone who suddenly needs to lead their team from home. Right? They need to make sure that the team is performing. What are these people suffering with? What are these people calling you and asking for help with?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. So a really large problem that we see in our analysis is that it really boils down to a cultural problem, and that’s a hard problem to solve, is do you trust your employees? Do you have effective, safe communication within your teams? And if not, that’s unhealthy, period, regardless of your location. However, you can get by much easier in an office, because there’s a lot of environmental context that can fill the gap. However, in a virtual environment, you really don’t have anywhere to hide, and if you have bad communication or people don’t trust you, it’s going to be very, very apparent, very quickly.

So that is where most of our services focus on, is first we build the infrastructure of a virtual team. We actually create that digital workplace for them to congregate, and so they have a place for work, just like they did before. But then we follow up closely with a lot of leadership training and workforce training about how to trust each other, how to collaborate with each other when you can’t see each other, how to supervise work and track results, and maintain productivity.

The reason that we do both sides on the leadership and the workforce is that self-management is the biggest difference, that managers have to let go of control in a lot of ways, and then the workforce needs to increase their control in a lot of ways. So it’s a big jump for a lot of people, and it requires some very… It’s not necessarily like groundbreaking information, but it does require very intentional change in order to make it successful in a sustainable model.

Luis:

Yeah. So, tell me about the building of that virtual office. What does that entail? Are you recommending any specific tools, or are you giving people some criteria on how to choose their own tools? How does that work?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. We are true consultants in the fact that we stay completely neutral, so we do not recommend any specific tools. What we do is we research the best tools for that organization. So sometimes it’s an in-house tool that they’ve developed for themselves. Sometimes it is a product that we know about and that we use, and so we recommend to them. Other times it’s a neutral that we research and find and say, “Oh, this looks perfect for you.” But we evaluate a lot of different criteria based on company size, on just the tool adoption process, based on the functionality of the tools. But we don’t ever want any client to get too hyper-focused on a tool, because this is going to be an area where we see immense innovation over the next several years. We’re going to see so many tools that are able to provide much higher level of functionality than we’ve ever seen, at least in the 13 years of me working remotely, which is back when we had just email to work with.

So, we’re just going to continue to see great tools coming out, so we want our clients to remain flexible to that and say, “Look, if this tool doesn’t work for you now, there probably will be one soon that does work for you better.” So stay flexible, stay adaptable, and just focus on the function of the tool.

So you’re right, we do build a virtual workplace with software. A physical workplace is built with bricks and file folders and air conditioning, and virtual workplaces are built with tools and processes. So that’s what we do, is we create those workflows between those tools, and articulate what the habits of use need to be for all of the team members that use these tools. So at a minimum we are looking at an asynchronous communication tool, something like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Doit, in which they can communicate regardless of timezone, and people can get caught up on information if they’re coming 15 minutes late or 15 hours late. So asynchronous is massive.

Also synchronous communication, so video calls is a new must. It’s not a nice to have, it’s not a nice to know. You have to understand how to professionally use video calls, and to manage effective virtual meetings. So obviously, the go-to tools there are Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, et cetera.

And then, we also make sure that they have a cloud collaboration storage of some kind, a database in which people can manipulate files at the same time. So Google Suite, Dropbox, et cetera. These are the file folders of virtual work.

And then outside of that, we look at industry-specific tools. So any tools that they might need for brainstorming, design thinking, creative design, whatever the functionality of their team is. But yeah, at a minimum they need to have synchronous, asynchronous, and storage in order to keep their team running.

Luis:

Yeah. A lot of the tools that you mentioned are tools that we do use on our virtual office. And each company has their own preference. So I understand that you’re loath to recommend any specific one. But I know that we, especially in terms of project management systems, we’ve tried pretty much everything that’s out there, and it took us a while to decide what worked best for us. So experimenting is definitely a virtue. More through the cultural challenges.

I mean, just past the questions of trust, or if the bosses trust their employees, or if the employees trust enough the bosses to communicate clearly with them, how do we go more into the area of motivation and making sure that everyone is well during this time? They are hard, right?

The other thing that people should know about this is that, even if you’re working from home, you’re not going to be operating at peak capacity while everything is crashing and burning outside.

Laurel Farrer:

Yes. Yes. I’m so glad you said that.

Luis:

So that’s going to be an extra layer. There’s definitely an extra layer of stress that contributes to diminish productivity, regardless of how good your home work environment is. Right?

Laurel Farrer:

Yes.

Luis:

Just as an example, of kids that ordinarily wouldn’t have kids around the house, now they’re stuck with kids in the house.

Laurel Farrer:

Right, and trying to manage school at the same time, which is-

Luis:

Exactly. Exactly.

Laurel Farrer:

And I hope that more people understand that and aren’t scared by that. But I mean, the first month of all of this happening in late March and early April was, I mean, all of the remote work experts and advocates were coming in together and saying, “I am stressed and overwhelmed. Everybody expects this to be easy and it’s not. Are you having the same problem?” And all of us were saying, “Yeah. This is so hard.”

So, yeah, this is not working remotely, this is, you happen to be working from home during a global pandemic. This is not optimized, ideal work environment at all. But I think slowly, as we are learning to adapt, it’s getting better. But now what it’s going to become is a problem of sustainability. Again, learning from the history of remote work, is that large companies that adopted remote work, that infamously retracted their policies like IBM and Yahoo, even they were touting the benefits of remote work right off the bat. They were saying, “This is great, and it’s so easy, and we’re seeing higher productivity.”

Going remote, allowing remote work has never been difficult. It’s the sustainability, the optimization, the true adoption of remote work. That is the problem. So now we’re going to see this really tricky phase of growth of the remote work industry, in which in a few months, many, many businesses are going to be saying, “This isn’t working. This is hard. This was a mistake.” And the media attention about work from home is going to shift, and it’s going to become very, very negative.

And all of a sudden, all of those people that were suddenly these big advocates of remote work, that were like, “Oh, I’ve been working remotely and I’m an expert.” We saw those explode everywhere. But now, they are going to be singing a different tune and saying, “Oh, I don’t know how to deal with that.” So it’s really critical that companies get connected to credible experts that really do understand how to make this sustainable. Not just adopt. Anybody can allow it. But truly adopt it and integrate it.

Part of that is the culture that you were talking about. We cannot just be operating in a virtual environment like we have been in an office. They are two different things. We are trying to manage virtual processes and virtual interactions with physical management styles, and they are incompatible. So we need to update the virtual culture, the virtual management, in order to be compatible. 0

So much of that is trust and communication. Results-based tracking, asynchronous communication, over-communication, and that’s exactly like you were saying, just checking in with people. In an office, you have so many environmental and contextual cues that give you information. In a virtual environment, you don’t have that automatic input, so you have to verbalize it. You have to talk to somebody and say, “How are you doing? I noticed that you were late the past few meetings. Is there a problem? Do you feel trusted? Are you burning out?” You have to actually articulate and over-communicate so much more than people are used to.

So that’s the biggest jump and the biggest gap that we help people overcome, is just, what does collaboration and nonverbal communication and just context, what does that all look like in a virtual environment, and how do you stay connected with tools, but also with habits?

Luis:

Yeah. For sure. And I do have to touch upon the things that you said about, suddenly remote work experts are popping up like mushrooms. And this was actually something that I was disappointed. I mean, I guess I was just being naïve, because it’s the internet and it’s 2020, and you expect people to be very sanguine and mercenary about, “Hey, let’s make some bucks. It’s a hard work market so we need to make our money how we can.”

But actually, there are a lot of really good people, really insightful people, that have been doing this for almost a decade now, that are offering their services for free just to help out in this situation, just trying to do their part. That’s actually the case with DistantJob. If you go to our website, DistantJob.com, you can actually find that our VP of operations has almost 10 years of leading fully remote operations. And he is just making himself available for calls. If you need help, you can sign up for a call with him and you can ask him questions.

And there are a lot of people doing this, and that’s great, and obviously there are people like you who, you charge for your services because that’s your career, and you provide great service. But there’s definitely a lot of people that just saw an opportunity and said, “Oh, I worked remotely a couple of weeks two years ago. So here, let me set up my consulting services.”

Laurel Farrer:

It’s been painful. It’s been painful to watch.

Luis:

Exactly. Exactly. So definitely, look, the advice here is, there’s no lack of experts like Laurel that are totally worth your money, and then there’s also a lot of people like the people who are like my colleagues at DistantJob, that are doing it just as a way to give back to the community. So just before you schedule something with someone, do your homework and see if they have at least some experience in the field. Right?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Luis:

Because I’m saddened to say, and I’m going to get down from my soapbox in a minute, but I do think that those people ultimately cause more damage than they help.

Laurel Farrer:

Right. And brands as well. There’s multiple brands that four months ago I was begging them, “Please, your tool can be really helpful for the remote work market. I really think there’s great opportunity for you to reach a lot of people and to help this movement.” And they were like, “No, we want nothing to do with remote work. That will never amount to a thing. Leave us alone.” And then, lo and behold, three weeks later, all of a sudden they’re releasing a remote work guide about what experts they are, and, “We’re here to help,” and, “We’ve always been great advocates.” And I’m like, “Oh, goodness.”

So yeah, it was really, really frustrating at first, for you and for me, and I think for our entire community, because we had made a lot of sacrifices in our careers. And I know that me personally, that’s a pain point. I made major sacrifices in my career in order to be a remote work advocate. So for people to just be capitalizing and opportunistic and jumping on the SEO bandwagon, it felt a little bit like war profiteering, a little bit. Like, hang on, where were you when we were fighting the good fight?

So yeah, it was frustrating there for a little while, but again, the tune of advocacy and the tune of support, and just the general media conversation, will be changing over time. So again, we’ll have the opportunity for true experts and true advocates to be filtered to the top again, because they’re going to the only ones with the real answers, and that are willing to stand by remote work even when the conversation goes sour, because everybody else will say, “Oh, never mind. Never mind. I didn’t actually think it was a good idea.” If they were so impulsive to be jumping on the wagon during the positive, they’ll be just as impulsive to jump off the wagon when it turns sour.

And so yeah, I just echo what you say. Do your research. Really ask. Don’t be afraid to ask very blunt questions, like, “How many teams have you led? How long have you been working remotely? What size of team have you managed?” Because even some of the influencers out there really don’t have boots on the ground experience. So it’s easy to evangelize anything, but you can’t fake true experience and expertise.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly. So I want to talk a bit about one of the pain points that I perceive the most. Because you touched a while ago on some companies that were really against remote work, like IBM and Yahoo, and the brunt of their concerns were surrounding creativity, were surrounding chemistry. Not necessarily culture, but they felt that they couldn’t replicate the effect of having five or six or 10 creative minds sitting at the round table and coming up with solutions to problems, with creative solutions to problems.

Now, I can’t say that I don’t see a problem there, because I definitely have had times in my career where I felt like the creative juices of the team weren’t flowing as they sometimes happen when the team is co-located. On the other hand, I have a very big history of projects in the video game community. These are usually projects that have no profits. They are completely voluntary things. When gamers band together either to achieve something inside the game, or to work to update an old game, or to translate an old game, or even build a fan project around the game, et cetera, et cetera, these were my formative experiences at the dawn of the consumer internet, right?

And I always was… I can’t even say that it was amazed, because it felt natural to me. It’s like, “Look, me and these people, we are in a shared virtual space.” Many times there wasn’t video chat, there wasn’t even voice chat. We just bounced ideas back and forth by text, and somehow it worked. Somehow it worked. And I think that it boils down to the people at the time were passionate around the topic. Video games in general or a game in particular. Right?

So I really can’t accept that creativity takes a hit when handled through the internet, but at the same time I can definitely feel that these concerns from Yahoo, from IBM, they are real in a sense. So what do you think about this dilemma? How can we help people be their best creative selves as a team working online?

Laurel Farrer:

That’s a great question, and yes, this is a concern that we hear all the time, and our most common response is that nobody has ever said that remote work has to be 100% virtual. That remote work is more about location irrelevancy. That most of the tasks that we do are irrelevant to our location. That we can be just as successful at home as we can be in the office or at a park or at a coworking space, or whatever.

However, some tasks, like it or not, are still location-dependent. So I think this entire movement is about really filtering that and saying, “Instead of forcing us to do all of the tasks that we need to do all in the same place, let’s identify which tasks need to be in which locations, or can be fueled by certain locations, such as heads-down, deep strategic work, you’re going to perform better at home or in an uninterrupted environment than you are in the office.” Period. Because that’s what it is. It’s heads-down, uninterrupted work.

Or based on the individual, maybe they don’t have a quiet home environment so they are going to do that work better in the office. So it just depends on the individual. It’s so, so subjective. So the goal here is not to say that one location is better than another. The goal is to say, “Let’s give people the power to choose what is best for them and best for that task and best for that team.” That’s the goal, is that empowerment.

So along with that creative work, that can and should be given to the team to choose, to say, “All right, we can do all of this type of creative work, but you know what? Once a year there’s something about this type of planning that we that we really do get a better energy, we get better results from being together in person. Therefore, that specific meeting will be held in-person.”

So it’s really about leveraging, and it’s about customizing it to the strength and benefit of your team. However, and right now, we don’t obviously have that luxury. We need to keep going with all types of work, regardless of what it is, while we are separated. So my answer to that is, when you are forced to choose a specific environment, focus more on the how instead of the where, and the more that you do focus on the how, then the less that where becomes a conversation.

So, if you are focusing more on creating that environment and that culture in that creative thinking space, where everybody has an equal voice, everybody feels very inspired, you take the time to design the agenda to ramp up creativity and get inspired, and then get into that deeper head space where everybody’s equally collaborating, that how of creative thinking is much, much, much more important than, “Is that happening in a room or is that happening in a video call?”

So the more that we focus on that and prioritize the employee experience, the team dynamics, the company culture, the more that we focus on that, how people are feeling connected to each other and to the topic, the more success that we’ll see in the type of work that we’re doing, whether it be creative, or strategic, or manufacturing, or whatever.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. It definitely makes sense, when you can, to get your people together. Right? I mean, even back then, again, when I was in the gaming community, if at all possible we went to conventions. We met up, right? We got to know each other through the internet, but if at all possible, we tried to meet up a couple of times a year. Right?

It’s the same thing, at DistantJob, until I met the rest of the leadership team, it was two years. Right? We got a lot of things done during those two years, but it was really powerful when we managed to get everyone together in the same location, for only a week. And the thing that we see is that meeting for a week, it pays dividends over six months.

Laurel Farrer:

Absolutely. Yeah. But too much of a good thing is a bad thing, too. When we say, “Oh, man, that was so great. We got so much done. We had so much energy. Let’s get together all the time,” then those distributed teams that start to make too many meetings, and too many on-sites, they actually see the decline in that energy, because you start to take it for granted, right? So there is such value in only getting together when absolutely necessary, because it does bring that incredible, unmatched energy that comes with a very rare encounter together. And so because you know that it’s rare, and that it’s temporary, you really invest so much more subconsciously into building those relationships, and into being more productive with the time that you have together.

Whereas, if you know that you’re going to see them again next week, it’s like, whatever. I’ll talk to them about it next week.

Luis:

Okay, Laurel. So back way when I started this podcast, I started a tradition that I called the Chinese Fortune Cookie Question.

Laurel Farrer:

Okay. I’m so excited.

Luis:

I’m not going to spoil what you answered back in Episode Five, people, if they want to know, they can go back and hear to Episode Five of the DistantJob podcast, and know what you would write in your Chinese fortune cookie. But you know, over time I have refined a bit the way to wind down from the main part of the podcast, and there is a new segment that I do before the Chinese Fortune Cookie Question, which I don’t think you encountered because you were one of the early guests.

Laurel Farrer:

Oh, I’m so excited.

Luis:

Yeah. I would like to ask you a couple of rapid-fire questions. The questions are rapid-fire but the answers don’t need to be.

Laurel Farrer:

Okay. I’m going to sit up in my chair. All right. Let’s do this. I’m ready.

Luis:

Okay. So what tabs do you have open right now?

Laurel Farrer:

Oh, so many. I did close a lot of them down for this podcast, to help with the bandwidth, but at a minimum, I’m looking at my screen right now, at a minimum I always have my to do list open, Slack, Google Drive, Google Calendar, my current project which is usually writing a Forbes article, and then I’m in the process of publishing a Forbes article so it’s the publication platform as well as links to my old Forbes articles so I can create hyperlinks. That’s what I have open right now.

Luis:

What do you use for to dos?

Laurel Farrer:

I actually have a personal assistant that I use just in Google Docs, but it’s a… I’m a very strong organization nerd, so it’s-

Luis:

Yeah, I feel you.

Laurel Farrer:

… this interactive spreadsheet type thing that is… Yeah. Anyway. It’s nerdy, but it helps me stay organized.

Luis:

Nice. Nice. Okay. So next question. If you had $100 to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them? And no, you can’t give them the money and you can’t ask them what they want. You need to buy in bulk.

Laurel Farrer:

Ooh, okay. I would probably do something for their home office. I’d be like, “All of us really need a boost in our home offices, even though we don’t think that we do.” So probably a good ergonomic chair, or I don’t know, a great webcam or something like that.

Luis:

All right. Any brands you recommend?

Laurel Farrer:

I’ve gotten… Logitech is one of my clients-

Luis:

Oh, nice.

Laurel Farrer:

… so I’ve gotten some good swag from them. So my headset that I’m using, the BRIO webcam, both of those are really great.

Luis:

Can you set me up with them? I can build them a podcast in exchange for some gaming gear. Their gaming gear is the best.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. Yeah. I think they’re going to become a gold standard. And external keyboard and mouse. Those are really essential. I make sure that all of my team members have those, because they’re so critical to ergonomics.

Luis:

Awesome. Okay. So what purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the past year?

Laurel Farrer:

It’s a good question. Maybe my headset. It wasn’t a purchase, it was swag, full transparency about that, but it was one of those things that I received it and I was like, “Fine, I’ll wear it for the event. Okay, blah, blah, blah.” But man, I wear it all day every day. Having very reliable high-quality audio has made such a difference, and I didn’t realize how much it was lacking before when I was just using my earbuds or the webcam. It’s so much more reliable, and I know that my clients can hear me, and there’s not going to be any miscommunication. It’s made a big difference.

Luis:

It does look very reliable. I mean, this is an audio program, but I have to say, it looks like you’ve just gotten down from an attack helicopter, or something.

Laurel Farrer:

I know. At first I was like, “Ugh. This is so not feminine.” Right? “It’s so unprofessional to wear…” I mean, I don’t mean to insult, but it’s such a gaming thing.

Luis:

No. It’s fantastic. There are some cool ladies in the army.

Laurel Farrer:

Right. Yes. I was like, “Oh, man, I don’t want to wear this on camera.” But I love it so much, I can’t not wear it. It’s been fantastic.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. That looks good. Okay. So final question. What book or books have you gifted the most?

Laurel Farrer:

Gifted, so given to other people?

Luis:

Yeah.

Laurel Farrer:

I make just book recommendations. So within the remote work world, I talk about Drive a lot which talks about intrinsic motivation. I talk about Quiet a lot which talks about the power of introverts. I am an introvert, so that’s one that I refer to a lot.

Luis:

Really good book.

Laurel Farrer:

I always love Made to Stick about marketing. I think that that’s just a classic. And I do talk about The Color Code a lot. It’s a personality test, kind of like Myers–Briggs, that I was raised on it, and it really helps me understand how to connect with people more empathetically. Yeah. Those are some good ones.

I personally just, on my radar, I love A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I think it’s just fascinating, because I’m a nerd.

Luis:

It is a great one.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. Yeah, and Boys in the Boat. That’s a good one. I don’t know. I could talk about books all day. Maybe I’ll do a separate episode about that one.

Luis:

I love that. I love that. Me too. Quiet is one of those books that I was very resistant to reading it, because it always felt to me that I don’t need to be patted on the head and told how great I am.

Laurel Farrer:

Right.

Luis:

And it felt like the book would do that, and the book does do that a bit, but I actually regret not having read it earlier because it does make some good points about how to make the most out of that personality trait.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. For me it was so validating, because I am very introverted, but I’m not shy. I can talk at people all day long, in a safe place like this, or in large presentations. I don’t get scared in front of crowds. So every time that I would start to feel introverted or feel like I was an introvert, everybody around me was like, “No, you’re not introverted.” I’m like, “But I am. I really don’t like being around people.”

So yeah, how she explained it, that it’s not a linear scale, it’s a grid, that was just such a light bulb moment for me and helped me with my self-management so much more. And I handed it to my husband and I was like, “This explains everything.” And so he read it and it helped our marriage. I love Quiet.

Luis:

Oh, yeah. It’s definitely something that you would want your significant other to read.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah.

Luis:

Okay. So thank you so much for making the time to be here in the DistantJob podcast. It’s great having you again. Are there any closing remarks that you’d like to deliver before you tell everyone how can they find you, and how can they learn more about the services you and your business provide?

Laurel Farrer:

You know, I think just as a closing remark, I just think my unique value proposition I think is that I talk more about the socioeconomic benefits of remote work. So what does remote work look like at scale and how can it change the world in these large, very impactful ways? And the exciting part about what we’re going through right now is, yes, of course it has come from such a horrible place, and we all wish that we had come to this remote work boom from a different direction that did not come from such a place of pain and fear.

However, now we will be able to witness this amazing change, from the global adoption of remote work. And those are the coolest stories that I’ve heard in the past three months, are people that have saying, “I live in this little village next to a mountain range and I’ve never seen the mountain range until now, because the air was so polluted, and now I can see the mountains.” And families that are saying, “I’m just so happy, yes we’re stressed, and yes this is chaotic, but our family is talking, and we’re spending time together. And there’s just more balance and more love than there ever was before. And we’re eating healthier food.”

All of these little things that I’ve been talking about in theory, and researching for all of these years, now to see it happening in people’s lives is really exciting. So with that, I’d love to hear anybody else’s story, anybody that’s hearing this and says, “I have an amazing story,” or, “This is how remote work has changed my life,” I’d love to hear about it. You can find me on social media. Laurel Farr. The spelling will be in the show notes. I’m usually the only one, so it’s pretty easy to find me. But I’m most active on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. You know, it really tells you something when you look at the stats that came out this month, and suicides are down across the board. I mean, they’re down.

Laurel Farrer:

Yes.

Luis:

In Japan, 20% less suicides. That’s just incredible. Some US states, as big as a 40% decrease in suicides. It really makes you think about-

Laurel Farrer:

It’s amazing.

Luis:

… what are we doing with our lives, right?

Laurel Farrer:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that this deserves so much more research, so much more attention. It’s not perfect yet. People are also feeling more burned out than they have before. They’re working longer hours. It’s not perfect. But the more that we don’t just say, “Well, it is what it is,” the more that we’re proactive and intentional about how can we make this better? How can we apply the learnings that we’re seeing? The more success we’re going to see.

So, that’s the phase that I’m excited for, is yes, now we can do so much more research and make so much more progress because we have this global support.

Luis:

Well, Laurel, it was a pleasure.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Luis:

I’m hoping you’ll join me for a third round someday.

Laurel Farrer:

Of course. You know I will. I love our conversations.

Luis:

Awesome. So stay well and have a great rest of the week, I guess, of the day.

Laurel Farrer:

Okay. Thanks so much. Bye.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners, and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me, and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners.

Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to DistantJob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up, and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

And, of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally. Not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, DistantJob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 40% faster than the industry standard.

And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic was announced, and some companies are still fighting against the remote work revolution. One of the main reasons is because they have struggled to manage their teams effectively.

As a second-time guest in DistantJob’s podcast, Laura Farrer shares strategies and practical tips for those companies and managers struggling to lead their teams during COVID-19. She shares why some companies are failing to adopt a remote work policy, and what aspects these companies should change for positive results.

''Going remote, allowing remote work has never been difficult. It's the sustainability, the optimization, the true adoption of remote work. That is the problem.'' Click To Tweet

 

Highlights:

  • The main challenges she has experienced working remotely during COVID-19
  • Main difficulties first-time remote managers are facing
  • Areas companies transition to remote work have to prioritize
  • Tips to achieve self-management
  • How to build a virtual office
  • Importance of flexibility regarding remote work tools
  • Boosting creativity in virtual teams

 

Book Recommendation:

  • Drive by Daniel H. Pink
  • Quiet by Susan Cain
  • Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!

 

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