Company Culture and Fighting Ageism with Sharon Koifman

Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob.

Follow our guest on their social media:

Sharon Koifman DistantJob

Luis Magalhaes:    Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the DistantJob Podcast, the podcast about building and leading remote teams who win. My guest today is Sharon Koifman, the president of DistantJobs. This is our fourth podcast together, if I’m not mistaken.

Sharon Koifman:    Again.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. And do the people that haven’t listened to our previous podcast, by the way, they should, you should if you’re listening to this. But if you haven’t already, if this is your first exposure to Sharon Koifman, Sharon, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Sharon Koifman:    Okay. Well I have been in the tech industry for tech-related companies. For the past fifteen years I’ve been doing, I ran a web hosting and an outsourcing company. Then I got some consulting companies to introduce them to specific markets. Of course I built this job, which is a company made specially to find the best and the smartest remote people across the world. We actually call ourselves a remote place of an agency. I fell in love with this model, simply because I was able to give jobs for people all over the world, not only I was able to give jobs for people, I’ve made their jobs happier, because they get to work from home. And as far as I’m concerned, that is a benefit that you can’t buy with money, which is where I am today, and I try to teach as many people as possible these days, how to manage those remote people.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right.

Sharon Koifman:    To their ability.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right. So I wanted to talk to you about a topic that’s been going on my mind for a while. I’ve had some conversations about this with guests on the podcast. But no one is really thinking about it. And this is about people that are a bit older. The tech industry where we work, tends to skew a lot younger, and I’ve read several books now about how to make remote work work, and when it comes to hiring, a lot of them recommend privileging younger people. And the sentiment, they never say this exactly, but the sentiment is, oh those old people, it’s just too much of a bother to teach them how to use the technology, et cetera, et cetera.

And I feel that this is a huge waste, because yes, older people, they may not be as used to using Chat or Slack or Basecamp or those kind of tools, but they bring so much value through their experience. And one of my favorite interviews that we’ll have heard by the time that we’re talking has been with Agile people that are much much older than any of us, and they are pros at Agile. And any company that would be able to tap remotely into their kind of experience would be so much better. So I mean I guess that I want to pick your brain about what are your thoughts about tapping into older people’s knowledge by having them work remotely? What are the challenges there, and how would you solve them.

Sharon Koifman:    One of the biggest challenges with companies these days is they’re trying to create a culture for millennials. A happy culture, a fun culture and they feel that somebody older might interfere with that culture. I mean I can understand that. Sometimes I go to those companies where they’re shooting nerf guns at each other, and listen to loud hip hop, oh my God did I just age? Look at those young kids listening to this. Oh forgive us, please. But it just, even for me, I sometimes feel a little too old when I visit some of those start up companies, and those companies are so passionate about being start ups. They like to call themselves start ups. This is the big thing for the past ten years where companies feel cool, even if they don’t make money, but they call themselves start ups. Oh my God, makes myself sound like a cult. I just, uh. Okay.

So just to get back to it, that an older individual might not necessarily feel what they consider to be their culture, and also the skills might not exactly fit what they require, which is probably false. Somebody with years of experience can easily use his experience to learn something new, or not. Sometimes people get stuck in what they do for too long. But the amazing thing of how the remote world can change this, is you open yourself up to so many more combinations, even if an individual doesn’t fit well with a specific culture or a specific skill, in a specific area.

What we have taught our world to choose from, in terms of companies, it’s much easier to do great matches. It’s like online dating, they’ve made it so much easier than local dating. I mean, when you’re physically trying to find your other partner in a bar, you have a limited supply of people, they don’t necessarily fit. But something when online dating came in, you could exactly find the criteria, what appeals to you, what you like, what’s the experience, the looks, the physical and everything. When you open yourself up to the world, instead of just limiting yourself to the physical market, there are better fits out there.

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah. That’s part of the point. So you’re opening yourself to the world. Why should you limit yourself? As several books recommend, why should you limit yourself to a certain age bracket? I mean diversity is a high value word in today’s hiring market. But I find that it’s so shallow. Really what people talk about diversity, but they really only mean either skin color, cultural background, or gender. So what about age diversity? Because I really think that you can, I’ve gotten some great insights from people that are like 20 years my seniors, that I don’t think I would get from people younger.

Sharon Koifman:    It is, for lack of better term, ageism. It that pronounced the proper way? Ageism, yes?

Luis Magalhaes:    I don’t know if that word exists, but it’s-

Sharon Koifman:    It does exist. I heard it. I heard it before. I swear I did.

Luis Magalhaes:    But if it doesn’t exist we can trademark it.

Sharon Koifman:    Let’s trademark it. I love it. Yeah. But it is definitely ageism, but there’s not much you can do about it because all we talk about these days, even in DistantJob, is about company culture. And if, whether they admit it or not, if the company creates too much of a culture for, that aims at a certain demographic, there’s not much you can do. If your culture is something that fits, millennial mental state, which I have no idea what would anybody want to do something that fits the millennial state, but yes, listen to me sonny. I got a guest spot so oh, but if you choose to create that culture, when you bring somebody who’s 50 years old, it’s like in those movies. You see that old man coming and giving advice to a guy sitting, skateboarding and everything, and all those stereotypes. There’s a match issue.

And you want people not just to work together, do you want them to hang out together. And it sucks, it sucks. But I think that the most brilliant thing that a company can do is take all those brilliant older guys and build a company based on that, and create an old folk culture and listen to some rock’n’roll and-

Luis Magalhaes:    What changed though? Because it used to be that you would have several generations of people that represented the business, right? When you were talking about the millennial culture, I immediately think about start ups and of course, start ups have been, they’re the success stories of our time. But let’s take a company like Microsoft. Do you know? A tech giant, like Microsoft. There are some great companies out there that have several generations of people working together.

Sharon Koifman:    Well first of all, it’s actually the old school companies which are the big, that are the most guilty and being less open as far as I’m concerned. It is actually the start ups, the young people, that are more open to the idea of remote and more open to the idea of creating a flexible fun work environment. When they subscribe to the idea that work has to also be fun in a certain way. And it needs to be enticing and needs to be challenging, and it needs to be fulfilling, right? I find that the old folks actually the most guilty of that. And I’m sure there are companies who are just open to everybody, that understand the model that, as long as you have quality, please work for us. And I guess that most smart lines are like that in a way. But yes, it is very hard to find an older company that would be as open to a flexible happy environment.

Luis Magalhaes:    Well I guess I just have trouble with the culture argument. Because you know whenever I work together with older people, I feel blessed. I really do.

Sharon Koifman:    Yeah. But that’s because you’re old, you’re an old soul, my friend. You are a very mature individual. You see, I actually, I’m an older guy, but I’m so immature that I enjoy hanging out with the kids these days. Because I am completely immature. But you my friend are an old soul. You’re charming, so this is kind of how the world works.

Luis Magalhaes:    So let me put this in another way. What do you think would be the biggest, are the biggest challenges that older people have with remote work? And how would you suggest them be resolved, if you were looking to tap into that potential?

Sharon Koifman:    I don’t have enough input, enough research on the topic. But if I would have to guess, it would be inflexibility. They already know the way they’re doing things, and they don’t necessarily, don’t want as much change. And let me tell you, remote work is change. Remote work is result-based, result-oriented operations of management is all about getting feedback and criticism and need to evolve.

And let me tell you, when you are 50 years old, you don’t want to evolve as much anymore. You already created your skills and you want to stick to them. You want to do what you do best and don’t necessarily, are not necessarily looking to expand as much as a 25 year old that is like a puppy. What you got for me? Okay, come on. Okay. I’m excited, I’m excited. Ooh, let’s play ping pong. Okay. But let’s get back to work. You know. In my opinion, that would be the biggest challenge. And it’s harder to criticize older people, right? It’s not easy to go to my dad and tell him, dad, you’re leading a funny lifestyle. It’s much easier for me to go to my brother and criticize him. My dad is like, you know, an older man, live life, be happy. Who am I, this young chub, to tell you what to do?

Luis Magalhaes:    You know it’s actually funny, and I’m going to jump off with this. That you mentioned your dad, because I always like to end these interviews in a bit of a more personal note. Like getting to know a bit more about the guest. And a question that I ask sometimes is, what’s the biggest lesson that your father, or father figure in case of people that don’t have parents, have taught you. And I guess that I put that question to you now. You mentioned your father. What is the biggest lesson, when it comes to business I guess, that you’ve learned from him?

Sharon Koifman:    I would not be here. My business would have been completely different if I would not live in a house where this one man builds a multi-million dollar machine by himself.

Luis Magalhaes:    Wow.

Sharon Koifman:    This was before outsourcing, this was before freelancing. My dad would sit down, design the machine, and let the manufacturers build it, right? And he would build brilliant machines. I mean it came off the spring-

Luis Magalhaes:    He was working remotely.

Sharon Koifman:    He was working remotely. Ain’t that something? In so many ways, he built a nice company, an engineer company, an old school company which is, you know, the machines are kind of high tech, low tech, building war and cable manufacturing machine, but model of I am designing something, and here’s all the designs, here’s everything, here I’m outsourcing it to the manufacturing company, build the machine for me. So you don’t need an in-house, most other engineer firms, his competitors had a hundred employees, two hundred employees, warehouses, machining, everything. He just sat in his room, created that. At the best time he had four employees that were assisting in the drafting and everything of that sort. And the rest was outsourced. I mean that model is the original outsourcing, before there was the outsourcing company. And before it evolved to a remote recruitment agency. There was the man that created ideas, and let somebody else do it.

Luis Magalhaes:    Nice.

Sharon Koifman:    Nothing else could influence me more.

Luis Magalhaes:    Nice. So you’re 40. If you had to give a piece of advice to your 20 year old self, what would be the advice of old man Sharon?

Sharon Koifman:    Oh wow, I have so many advices. You know, there’s certain people who would say, I have no regrets. I am the type of person that has so many regrets. So I have a lot to learn. So I can start with two, I have like 15, but I know there’s time-

Luis Magalhaes:    So let’s keep it again for the listeners, because you know the position that our listeners are in, they are leading teams and building businesses, so let’s give something practical that would let young Sharon get on with his business, you know? And have faster success than he had.

Sharon Koifman:    So let’s stick to related to remote. And I’m sure the listeners-

Luis Magalhaes:    Or maybe work/business. You know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be remote, though it can be.

Sharon Koifman:    But I have one related remote, and I have more, and we can talk on next podcast. But I have a lot of advice. But one advice that is quick and makes you think. In our business there’s a lot of cheap labor, right? There’s a lot of people working from countries which are known for their lower cost of living, which reflects on the salaries, and people, the moment that they pay a more affordable salary, they simply start having a different mentality.

They start thinking in the freelance in the outsourcing world, and in my book, the only way that you can succeed, manage your remote people, is treating them like they’re local, and this is one of the biggest mistakes that I made with them at our house. I literally back then, you could have got in India. So my offices were in India, you could have gotten an employee for 300 bucks. That means I could have gotten ten employees for the price of one North American. And I literally would have added that. I was like hey, I got ten employees. How could I go wrong? Right? They cover every corner, every work. We were taking care of servers, and that’s like saying, I cover every shift, three times around. It’s not a problem.

And because I treated them like numbers, and because they were so cheap they were more disposable, not only that they didn’t function, ten employees did not function as well as one individual here on a normal salary. We went backwards, right? Until today I remember Hostgator, which was, we started off with the same business model, and I remember the owner. We were buddies, but we went to, but we knew each other, in every show, and I remember growing a lot.

But in the beginning I would ask myself, I remember the name of, I don’t remember the name of the data center that we shared in the beginning. We were in the same data center. And I was asking myself, why would somebody hire local American employees? What, are you crazy? And I did not understand. But he treated every employee like a local one, because they were local. And he provided an incredible customer service for cheap cheap cheap web hosting, and still managed to make profit. At least I think he managed a profit. And I, did not have such a good operation, because I thought that I have ten people for his one, and how could I not do better?

Luis Magalhaes:    Yeah, well so what’s the advice to 20 year old Sharon?

Sharon Koifman:    So the advice is to treat every remote employee, every offshore employee, every outsource, whatever you want to call it, as a local one, right? That is the big advice.

Luis Magalhaes:    All right.

Sharon Koifman:    Yeah.

Luis Magalhaes:    Sounds good advice. So thank you, Sharon, for coming on another episode. And we’ll talk next time.

Sharon Koifman:    All right.

Luis Magalhaes:    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 indication 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, and 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 we 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 DistantJob Podcast.

More ways to listen:

This episode is a free-flowing conversation where Luis and Sharon discuss the age barriers that new companies erect and what they should change to avoid missing out on some seriously talented older professionals. We talk about lessons from Sharon’s father, and we finish with Sharon dispensing some leadership advice to his younger self, that little whippersnapper!

As always, if you enjoy the podcast, we humbly ask that you leave a review on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice – and if you could share it, that would be even better!

Need that one incredible employee to bolster your team? Get in touch and we’ll find you who you need.

And if you would like to receive the transcript of this episode and previous episodes to read, annotate and love forever and ever (creepy!), subscribe in the sidebar.

Don’t miss out!

Subscribe to our newsletter now and receive our latest eBook “Agile in Remote Teams” for free.