In this episode, host Ali Greene chats with internationally renowned remote work expert and industry thought leader, Laurel Farrer, about the remote work topics people are afraid to discuss.
With more than 15 years of experience building hybrid and officeless teams, Laurel now collaborates with the world’s top remote friendly companies as the founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting to strengthen design workplace flexibility, policies, streamline virtual communication, optimize digital processes, and strengthen long-distant management strategies.
Laurel and Ali spend time talking about what the next, “New Normal” looks like and the importance of a collaborative process between businesses, governments, and communities.
Laurel shares potential ripple effects of decisions people are making today about remote work — such as future policies, benefits to offer and risks companies need to get ahead of.
She also shares insight into her remote work story and how humility goes a long way.
Listen to the full episode
Introductions and Life Outside a Big City
Ali: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Distributed Discussions. I am thrilled to have Laurel join me today where we’re really going to go deep on the remote work topics that you’re scared to talk about.
Laurel Farrer doesn’t need an introduction, but she’s an internationally renowned remote work expert and Industry Thought Leader specializing in virtual operations and organizational development. With over 15 years of experience building hybrid and officeless teams, she now collaborates with the world’s top remote-friendly companies as the founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting to strengthen design workplace flexibility, policies—which is extremely important this year—streamlined virtual communication, optimized digital processes, and strengthen long distant management strategies. Laurel, thank you so much for joining me.
Laurel: Oh my goodness, thank you for having me. I’m excited for this conversation.
Ali: Yeah, me too. It’s a little bit been there, done that, but it’s a question that is still one of my favorites because part of the remote work community is being able to meet people from all over the world. I’m super curious where you’re dialing in from today, and how did remote work play a role in you living and working from that location?
Laurel: This is very direct. I live in New England in the United States. I live in the State of Connecticut. That’s right in between Boston and New York. We were living in Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago, and it was just a booming economy there, which was great. But we both looked at each other, my husband and I, we were like, we both work from home and we’re living in suburb America that was just house, upon house, upon house. We’re very outdoors people so we wanted more connections in the mountains. It took an hour or so much traffic to even see a tree.
We’re like, you know, this isn’t us. We can literally live anywhere. Where do we want to go? We had this really fun challenge and adventure of touring a whole bunch of different areas and figuring out what’s the right match for us. We landed here in rural Connecticut. We have a farmhouse and just have a really quiet lifestyle here, but still have access to the big cities and startup culture. It’s kind of the best of both worlds. We wouldn’t be able to be here without remote work.
We can literally live anywhere? Where do we want to go?
Ali: I can definitely relate to that. I did the whole living in New York, living in Washington DC. Trying to figure out where in the US was there a city that I liked, with the job that I liked, and realized that didn’t exist. I’m in Spain right now and couldn’t be happier, and love actually working with the US in Spanish culture because this is properly afternoon, even though it’s dark outside here.
Laurel: Absolutely. Europe is our next trajectory. We have two kids and we would like to have their childhood in America and then we’re like, see you, we’re out of here. We have a lot of traveling to do.
Ali: When you’re out of the house, we’re out of the house.
Laurel: Exactly, don’t have a […] too, sorry about that.
Ali: I’m curious about what Connecticut has been like this year because I often think about people who live in Connecticut and have those crazy commutes to New York City. With this shift to remote work, what have you noticed in terms of the community, how people are working, and adjusting to life in Connecticut?
Laurel: It’s been kind of this funny conversation with all of the locals here in New England. I mean all the way up to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was this mass exodus out of the cities of people just looking up every single Airbnb that ever existed in every stair cabin to wait out of the pandemic out in the countryside. It was a lot of increased tourism for these areas that were not expected.
As we can imagine with the rural lifestyle that there were a lot of people like, where are these people coming from? You’re not welcome here. It was an adjustment but it was funny, and then it continued. We thought it was going to be a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. Now it’s this really cool blended immersion culture that all of the people that left the cities have stayed out here.
Our market is booming. There’s always, always, people that are going to still have access to the cities, just like my husband and I did several years ago—have access to the cities without having to be constrained by a daily commute.
Lots of new population and we’re starting to see the culture of the city’s coming into the culture of the rural communities. I’m really excited about it. I know that a lot of locals aren’t thrilled about it, but I think it’s going to really represent what’s happening on a national, and frankly, international sale as well. We’re literally watching the world divide minimize. We’re watching the hybridization and equality of society reignite a little bit, revive the rust belt, and just really look at economic development in a much more mobile and empowered way. I’m really excited and inspired by it.
Ali: It’s one of those things there right now, I think people are still tiptoeing around what the new normal is going to be. I wish I had a magic ball to see, okay, five years from now, what is this going to look like? If people can genuinely choose where they want to live based on things related to them intrinsically and not where they went to school, where they found the best job, or where they had to be because of a partner’s job, the impact it’ll have on changing how communities interact.
This is something that when I was traveling more often than I am now, I loved going to like rural areas. I spent a few weeks in rural Scotland. I had to take a train, to a ferry, and then get picked up by a coworker who I was going to visit, and then drive to their house. It was nowhere that I had ever seen in Scotland.
There was a group of really cool young people and they were like, we don’t know how to show that this is a fun place to live and get other intellectually stimulating like fun networks here and entrepreneurs, or how can that even support local businesses in terms of new restaurants or cafes and still have this blend of a genuine rural atmosphere, but innovation in tech. I can’t wait to see what happens there.
Laurel: It’s going to be so fascinating because this was ironically something that we’re really trying to force and design, pre-COVID. We were trying to take virtual jobs to people and depressed economies to help stimulate the economy. We were trying to get people from urban areas to move to rural areas with their remote job to help stimulate the economies. We were trying to force this.
Then here comes COVID, and all of these people are moving all over the world. We kind of have to eat this slice of humble pie as thought leaders and innovators. We were saying, we were trying to force this and all along we didn’t have to entice people to move. They wanted to move, they just needed permission to move. We’re just watching these incredible migration patterns.
Revolutionizing Economic Developments & Private / Public Partnerships
Laurel: Now it really revolutionizes what economic development has been about. It used to be a very long, expensive process for any City to be able to attract the businesses that it needed to bring the jobs with it. It was very, very complicated. Now, it’s not. Just like a business, it used to be very expensive to open a business. Now, in a virtual business world, you can open a website, and boom, you’re a business owner. It’s so quick and so accessible.
That’s exactly what opportunities we’re giving to small economies as well. That they can now compete with large economies and have the opportunity to market to their municipality, to attract workers, attract tourists, attract new businesses. They can just raise their hand and say, hey, we’ve got something cool here. Bring your job with you, come stay awhile. That is really going to revolutionize work, travel, business, and economies as we know it. They can just raise their hand and say, hey, we’ve got something cool here. Bring your job with you, come stay awhile. That is really going to revolutionize work, travel, business, and economies as we know it.
Ali: I definitely agree. I’m curious what your opinion is. As people are making these changes, communities are making these changes, whether it’s true or not, it’s always thought that the government will be the slowest to change. Having businesses go in, be innovative, and provide their resources to stimulate this movement can be incredibly impactful. How do you think companies need to flex or adapt to these changes in moving populations and people figuring out what works for them remotely? What is the responsibility for businesses as we enter this next phase of economic development?
Laurel: Honestly, I think it’s to play nicely with the government. For a long time, we had a really big competition between the public sector and private sector. It’s creating those stigmas you just mentioned like, the government is slow and startups are fast. It is complicated, and there’s an unnecessary competition that doesn’t need to exist. Especially right now, there needs to be more cooperation than ever before.
The businesses that are embracing remote work need laws to protect them, protect their workforce, and enable remote-work to work at scale. I mean, tax infrastructures, employment laws, industry regulations, and compliance. All of those have to be updated in order for the business to be safe and sustainable.
We as a private sector now, need the government to update all of that in legislation. But if legislation tries to do that without the voice of the private sector, it will probably be inaccurate or biased towards other sectors. We really need to be more cooperative, less siloed, less egotistical than ever before and really cooperate together in the public sector and private sector to make the changes that need to happen, happen.
Giving the internet to everybody as quickly as possible, getting new laws rolled out, getting tax structures updated. We really need to work together because there is just so much work that needs to be done.
We were running behind pre-COVID. We were already dangerously unprotected as businesses and as workforces because the proper structures didn’t exist. Now we’ve advanced the conversation of remote work by 10 years at least. Now we are all the more behind, there’s so much catching up to do. We cannot afford to be fighting between sectors. We need to cooperate and work as hard and as fast as we can to get the work done.
They can just raise their hand and say, hey, we’ve got something cool here. Bring your job with you, come stay awhile. That is really going to revolutionize work, travel, business, and economies as we know it. They can just raise their hand and say, hey, we’ve got something cool here. Bring your job with you, come stay awhile. That is really going to revolutionize work, travel, business, and economies as we know it.
On the Importance of Internet Access
Ali: Besides internet accessibility and just getting everyone connected, if you had a magic wand and could change one policy or one law that you think would just change the landscape of remote work, where do you think the private and public sector should be focusing on?
Laurel: It’s hard to gloss over that internet accessibility because that is so critical, not only for business but for everything right now. We have definitely ventured into territory where the internet is a public right. This is how we’re assessing health care, this is how we’re excessing education, this is how our existing business, keeping the economy alive. We can’t ignore that. We really, really need everybody to have internet access as quickly as possible. So yes, that’s a given.
Ali: We can get back to that in a second. I already have follow-up questions.
Laurel: That’s a definite yes. But in addition to that, I would say just basic laws of worker protection. Right now companies are not required to do anything about remote work. They don’t need to provide a safe work environment, ergonomic chairs. They can discriminate as much as they want to against somebody that’s remote because there are no laws telling them not to or creating a structure.
I’m not trying to make the employer sound like the bad guy because most of the time, they’re doing that unknowingly. It’s just they don’t know that they’re discriminating against it because they have made the proper updates to properly adopt and manage the change management process of incorporating remote work into their operational infrastructure.
Obviously, that’s a big conversation. There’s a lot to unpack there. There will be thousands of laws eventually. But right now we just need some fundamental laws. Everybody is required to have a policy, and the policy should include these talking points. That would be a good baseline to start to make sure that we are protecting both the employer and the employee, and keeping things safe and legal in this interim.
You Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know
Ali: I think what we’re seeing happening right now is companies don’t know what they don’t know. Even if they have an HR team that has years and years of compliance experience, with the shift to remote, you hear different struggles that different people employed by companies go through, depending on the stage of their remote life cycle. I think companies, whether it’s intentional or not, are jumping to create solutions. In creating those solutions, they’re not realizing that it could be discriminatory or it could actually set someone back.
I think the example of remote workers is more isolated, which is a study that happens time and time again. Right now the whole world is isolated, let’s be honest. I’ve been working remotely since 2014, and this is the first year I felt deep pangs of loneliness.
Ali: Wait, before I was remote working but I was meeting people, I was co-working, I was going out to lunch, I was living my life. Here, I’m looking at my wall for I don’t even know how many hundreds of days.
The solution to that has been this rush of sharing best practices around virtual meetups, employee get-togethers online, and creating budgets for that. For a certain worker, that could be really motivating, but for the worker that doesn’t want to participate in that because it’s adding to their feelings of burn-out, Zoom fatigue, or they have parents to take care of children. Then they’re not showing up, and then people don’t trust them as much or think they’re not as committed to the company.
It’s creating this subconscious bias that they’re not a good worker. When really, they’re just putting their foot down in terms of the boundaries that will make them feel good and do good work. I think that’s one example I keep thinking about. With all of these different needs, how can companies find the right solution? If they also don’t know what the risks are in terms of compliance.
Laurel: Absolutely. You said it best right, they just don’t know what they don’t know. That is what we do all day every day as consultants is evaluate what remote models the companies have built, what the policies they have drafted, and they did their best. They really did. They weren’t coming from a place of malice. But as we evaluate them as people with experience and expertise, we’re saying, there’s a red flag. Give that 5 years that’s going to be a massive lawsuit. Give that 30 years and you’re going to have discrimination complaints.
You just don’t know. They were trying their best and just didn’t understand what the ripple effects of their decisions are. Remote work as a conversation about sustainability is a very different conversation than the workplace contingency plan. That’s what’s happening right now is not remote work. This is an international contingency plan for a global crisis.
Just like you said, you and I are not working remotely. This has turned to us on our heads as well. This is not normal work from home conditions. They’re making these decisions about, okay, let’s just put everybody in different places. They’re making these policies with the framework of a workplace transition. It’s so much more than that.
That’s what they don’t understand is how much deeper this goes. How we need to update management strategies. How we need to update rules and communication channels, asynchronous resources, and training. We really have to update so much. It doesn’t have to be a big change, but it does have to be very careful, it does have to be very intentional, and it does have to be very specialized. If they don’t make those specific changes, then it’s going to cause more harm than help.
We’ve seen that historically, companies that made the changes, it wasn’t sustainable, they had to take everybody back after 9 months, 18 months. It caused really big problems like attrition rates of 40%, really big problems. That’s what we’re dealing with as an entire society is like, hey, look if we can’t get this information out at scale about what this actually means, it can really hurt our economy, it can hurt a lot of businesses.
Long-Term Remote Work Strategies
Unfortunately, remote work was such a small conversation prior to COVID, it was tiny. It was up-and-coming, yes. We knew that 2020 was going to be a big year. Companies that were fully remote were not taken seriously. New startups that were trying to get funding for remote work products—not taken seriously. We were really fighting for our place in the credible business world. Most of the resources, information that really needs to exist just doesn’t yet, and there’s no way around that.
There’s a lot of companies that are trying to catch-up, trying to innovate really, really quickly. But when you do a rush job you get a rush product. That’s also putting us in a dangerous place. We really just need to make sure that the voice of the experts, the people that are not trying to capitalize and opportunistically jump on the remote work bandwagon and are remote washing their products. We’re making sure that noise is cleared, and the people that really know what they’re talking about and have actual solutions that can help that the path is carved for them, and that makes it easy for people to find the information that they have to share.
Ali: I can definitely relate to that. One thing that, personally, that’s been very frustrating for me is it’s been a year that we’ve faced this crazy time. I feel like it’s the same information being shared, and it’s the same excuse by a lot of companies. This is a transition, this is temporary. At what point do you realize maybe this isn’t temporary? Or even if it is temporary, it’s time to stop treating it like it’s temporary because a year might not seem like a long time for the history of your business, but a lived year in the life of day-to-day remote workers without a sustainable plan has crazy negative impacts.
I’m curious, from your perspective, in the past year, are there any companies that you’ve seen that have made this transition successfully and done things really well or vice versa? Are there certain things that you’ve seen people just fail at, and what do you think the lessons to be learned are there?
Laurel: This is really interesting because there are a lot of different positions that the companies are taking. Yes, we’ve definitely seen some companies that are crushing it. They are doing so well. They’re doing better than they think they are. They come to us as consultants eager and ready to learn. Okay, we want to commit to this, we want to build the right way. Teach us, we’re ready, and we love to see that.
They are doing so, so great, and they are now doing this in a very, very sustainable way. We’ll be able to, not only survive and thrive as a company but really become thought leaders themselves and help spread the word to other people in their industry. We love to see that.
Ali: What are some of the triggers or clues that you know a company is like that when they’re first talking to you? Are there similar traits, or is there a pattern showing up that you’ve been able to recognize?
Humility as a Best Practice
Laurel: Typically, it’s humility. If they’re coming to us and saying, we’ve done everything that we can, but we know that we still have something to learn. That’s when we’re like, awesome, I want in and we’ll tell you everything that we know. The problem that we’re seeing is that most companies were like, oh, we’re fine. We have been doing this for a year. I’m now going to be a keynote speaker. That’s a door, good luck with that because there is so much more.
We even have this in the remote work thought leadership circles of companies that are founded by people that have been working remotely less than 3-5 years we’re like, oh, that’s so funny because you have no idea what you’re doing.
You don’t really feel the pain points and really understand the longevity and what’s required for remote work sustainability until you’ve experienced yourself until you hit that 5-, 7-year mark, and you’re like, wow, I would really like to go back to an office. You don’t really understand what you’re missing, what you’re fighting for, and what has to be built until you know that, yourself.
Those big pain points don’t show up in a year, they don’t show up in 3 years, and that’s what we’re up against as a big society is anybody can go remote, anybody. I don’t care who you are, anybody can start working from home and have little to no problems for a year, 18 months no problem. That’s me talking as a change management consultant. Maybe I’m talking myself out of a job. Anybody can do that.
Changing your company in a way that is going to evolve it, in a way that is sustainable long-term as a distributed organization is extremely difficult. What’s even more difficult and near impossible is to build a totally equal hybrid organization where everybody is truly location irrelevant. That your on-site employees are going to have exactly the same experience as your off-site. That is so hard to do that pre-COVID most of the remote work thought leaders, our messaging was don’t even try. It’s so close to impossible. It’s easier to just go 100% on-site, or 100% virtually. Don’t even try to be a hybrid organization. The risk is too great.
The Hybrid Model
Ali: I’m curious, what is your opinion on the definition of hybrid? This is something that I think, I personally have some controversial opinions about, and I’d love to just hear from you. Because I think even words that are being thrown around like hybrid—everybody’s defining it differently. I’m curious, what does hybrid mean to you? Do you believe in it? Now that you had an opinion pre-COVID and during COVID, have your thoughts around hybrid change?
Laurel: They had to change. I still think that hybrid is the highest risk category, 100%. The history shows us statistics and data shows that. It is still the highest risk, but now we’re faced with this reality in which 60% of the world is now becoming hybrid organizations. We’re like, well, we gotta figure this out, we’ve got to optimize it.
It’s working with what we have, but yes, boy howdy is the terminology quite loose. Because everyone’s hearing these big announcements from big companies of like, oh, this company’s going remote, this company going remote. I’m like, oh my gosh, no, they’re not. This is ridiculous.
They are allowing some people to continue working remotely. Most of those organizations already did that pre-COVID. They’re just locking in the formal policy. This is all a publicity stunt, folks. Most of those people have no idea what that model is going to look like long-term. They are just saying, yes, it’s in the future we’re working on it. When people are really saying, oh, we’re now a hybrid organization. It’s like, okay?
Ali: What does that mean to you?
Laurel: Yeah, exactly. For us in Distribute, we have a bunch of different models and gradients that define what hybrid means to you, and it is not one thing. That’s the important thing that everybody needs to realize is hybrid doesn’t mean one-size-fits-all. It doesn’t mean that you have an office space and everybody’s going to come into it, 1-3 days a week and work from home the rest of the time, it’s not that simple. There are so many X factors, there are so many different layers that define hybrid and defined employee experiences.
In Distribute, what we do is, okay, the hybrid is your model, and even within that model we have a definition of four to five different types of hybrid. We say, okay, here’s your model, but then within that there’s a whole another layer of what are the policy terms that customize that model and differentiate that model from a different model of the same type. Even within that, then you’ve got a whole different conversation about virtual culture. That even within the same policies you can have totally different employee experiences based on the virtual culture of your organization.
There’s so much customization to do that when companies are not working with a consultant or some type of expert, or not going through the change management process properly, not only are they not doing it correctly, they’re really missing out on an opportunity to access full benefits of talent attraction, the full benefits of employee engagement, foster innovation, and lower overhead costs. They will never see any of those rewards if you don’t do it the right way. They’re just saying, we’re hybrid now. That doesn’t mean anything, and you are not seeing the wood for the trees.
Ali: I agree. I like to think that hybrid doesn’t actually exist. That hybrid just describes how you are positioning where people are allowed to work, but it doesn’t all give any insight into how those people are working.
Laurel: Exactly. It’s a location decision and that’s it.
Ali: Yeah, that’s it. It’s really funny, back to a job I had when I was quite young and there were multiple offices in the same city. I’m like, technically I think I was working remotely and I will argue to the day that was remote work. Even though I was sitting in an office, the way we worked was all online. Those offices didn’t have to be there except for it was trendy, part of the business, and culture in that era of life.
I’m really curious how people take the term hybrid, remote-first, work from home, work from anywhere. Actually sit down with those people and say, what does that mean to you?
Laurel: Exactly. Another pain point of this hyper-growth, those terms, we were still debating those terms in remote work land pre-COVID. We’re like, okay, so what word do you guys use? Do you use distributed? Do you use virtual? Do you use remote? We as a culture, as a community still haven’t really fully developed our own vocabulary.
Ali: Shared vocabulary, exactly.
Laurel: We just weren’t there yet. This is so young, it’s in its infancy, it’s just being incubated as an industry. We didn’t have shared knowledge. I mean, not only that but then we had this revolution that happened when the whole world went remote at the same time and they interpreted our words very differently.
A remote-first pre-COVID meant you were an organization that was built to be remote. You were remote from the beginning, you were fully distributed. The world heard it as, oh, we’re default, we’re a hybrid organization. We’re defaulting to remote workers, and so we have a remote-first mentality, but sometimes we come into the office. As thought leaders, we’re like, wait, what? What’s happening? You took our word away from us. We’re like, okay, will catch up. This is this crazy, crazy evolution.
Ali: I want to do an event, a podcast, or something else that’s just people from different aspects of remote work—a remote work newbie, a company that was forced into it because of the pandemic, you, me—and just literally go through a list and talk about the definitions. I do this with not-work-related stuff. How do you define a sandwich? How do you define remote-first?
Laurel: It’s so different for every single person.
Ali: So different. I just think it could be fascinating. We need a dictionary that is agreed upon.
Laurel: Workplaceless. You should go look it up. I think it’s workplaceless.com/dictionary or something. It was a project that we worked on a couple of years ago because it was the same thing that we were like, oh men, everyone’s using different terms, this is annoying. They developed a dictionary and I enjoyed it. It’s super fun. I’m like, can this go viral, please.
Ali: Can people like, I did it and talk about it then just agree. Then those are the words we’re using.
Laurel: Yeah, and again, have that humility. There are words that I should learn, and I’m coming into a community that already existed as opposed to, I know best. This is what we’re going to do in our organizations, this is what it means. No, come on. Have respect for the community that already existed.
Ali: I want to talk a little bit more about humility. I know for me, before the pandemic and before seeing companies transition to remote work. I held very strong opinions about what an ideal work environment looks like. For me it was highly asynchronous, people living all over the world, choosing when, where, and how they get their work done. I have changed my opinion on some of those things after hearing very convincing leaders at companies explain why it doesn’t work for them, their values, and their culture.
What makes a Remote Work Expert
Ali: I’m curious if there are any strong beliefs that you’ve held as a remote work expert that has been ruffled up this year, and you’re conflicted, you’ve changed your opinion, or you’re starting to question the strong opinions that you had?
Laurel: I’ll say that I definitely had a really strong opinion about the level of experience that was required to be a remote work expert. There were so many of us that, like I talked about earlier, you just don’t know what it really means to operate a fully distributed company until you do go into your 5, 7, and 10.
When people were coming in, trying to be these experts, and they had this enthusiasm of I just heard about this and this is awesome. I want to be an expert. It’s like, okay cool, you can definitely learn, but you got to have longevity behind you. I still hold that opinion but not quite so defensively. I hope I’m not as much of a snob of like, oh, you can never be one of us until you earn your stripes.
No, I’ve seen people come in and dive so deep into their willingness to learn, their willingness to listen, and their willingness to just understand and comprehend the content that we have delivered. That they are able to not only learn from us and catch up to us, but exceed us, add to the innovation, and bring so much to the table.
I do think that there is so much value that these newbies can bring to the table, but they do have to still listen to those of us that did have to go through those early days. We made intense sacrifices in our careers, in our businesses, personal credibility to defend remote work, and to make it possible for the rest of the world now. We need to make sure that we are symbiotic with the veterans as well as the rookies. Okay, let’s work together because it is going to take all of us to do all that massive amount of work that needs to be done.
I definitely had to eat a slice of humble pie there and remember that there was value to both sides. But we also need to still really respect the history and remember, right now, the newbies are so focused on tools. I’m like, okay, what software is going to solve all my problems? That’s where our value as veterans comes in because we understand that at the root of all of the differences of remote work is not what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it.
We operated fully distributed companies without video calls, without cloud docs, we had emails, that’s it, maybe. We definitely have something to bring to the table and then tools can enhance that. That’s really the core that your testimony gets stripped down to when you get past that year 7, year 8. It’s like, oh, this is up to me as an individual and how I’m interacting with people. My emotional intelligence really has nothing or very little to do with true workflows and processes.
Ali: Thinking through that and coming up with a new definition, what are three words that you think describe an expert at remote work regardless of their years of experience?
Laurel: One that I always talk about is pain, that’s something that I scream core in my consultants. Because anybody can advocate for remote work. We’re all enthusiastic about it. Anybody can tell you what remote work is, but very, very, very few people can tell you what remote work isn’t.
You have to come from that place of pain of like, oh, I know what I’m fighting against, I know what I’m trying to prevent in the organizations that I consult. When you have that negative experience, it becomes so much more passionate, founded, and credible in your expertise. When you’re like, look, I’ve experienced discrimination myself, so trust me when I say to you that these policy terms are not sustainable.
I think the pain is important. Obviously experience, but more so credibility. If you’re giving a presentation or writing an article, I’m handing you the distribution team that you’ve done it. It feels silly to say, but most people haven’t.
I think true vision. Everybody’s excited about I don’t have to commute, I can wear sweatpants, and this is so fun. Anybody can be enthusiastic about the opportunity to work from the beach. That’s fine. The true experts, I think, the true thought leaders are the ones that really get the levels of the socio-economic impact of remote work.
When you can have this deep conversation about how this is going to impact childhood obesity, home and family relationships, and environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and reduce the gender pay gap, and things like that. When you have a deep conversation with somebody like that and you know that they really are coming from a place of authenticity.
Hiring and Onboarding
Ali: Let’s talk a little bit about those things, but also bring it back to tactical ways that people operations teams and leadership teams in organizations can start thinking about the social impact in the actions that they take. I’m curious on a few fronts, so let’s start with hiring. There’s a lot of information about how remote work really opens up your hiring pool. What should leaders be thinking about in terms of making decisions on if they are ready to hire only locally or if they’re ready to hire globally? How do they know what’s right for them?
Laurel: Hiring and onboarding is the one topic that we didn’t distribute in our internal team and especially our team of consultants. It’s kind of this running gag that hiring and onboarding is the one topic that everybody needs and nobody knows they need. We’re always telling our clients, okay, let’s look at your talent acquisitions. They’re like, no, we don’t care. It’s like, oh, we’re trying to tell them and open their eyes that this is a massive, massive mistake that companies make.
When they do it they just say, okay, well, if I’m not hiring locally, then I’m hiring globally. That’s it. It’s just this black or white decision to them. That costs companies so much money. It completely blocks their talent acquisition funnels. It creates completely unnecessary expenses in taxation and employment loss. It’s a nightmare to track and manage, and they’re missing out on the real talent. You’re just going to increase the volume of applicants but do nothing for the quality of applicants.
Yes, we would love for everybody to start with thinking very critically and very strategically about how they are leveraging remote work and virtual jobs for their hiring processes. The first thing they should do and a very basic and fundamental level is to choose location. It’s not just well, if I’m not in this city, then I’m in the world. No, it’s not that simple, and that can literally crash your entire company.
You really need to think very strategically of like, if I’m going to hire from anywhere, where do I want to hire from? Start to select very specific locations that are going to leverage certain goals in your organization and help you find better talent, decrease costs, or whatever. Whatever the goals are of your company, select locations that will help fulfill those. As opposed to how about the world is our oyster? It is not that simple, and that will crash everything.
Ali: Yeah. Even ideas such as where do we want the product to grow from a customer standpoint? What do we know about that place? We can hire not only a designer but this designer who’s our potential customer. Or we know we have a weakness in asynchronous communication, so for right now, this part of the world might not make sense because it’s going to fail before we are able to learn and grow into that scale.
Laurel: Exactly, absolutely, 100%.
The Pay Debate
Ali: Thinking about it, let’s say people operations, talent acq team, we know we want to hire in these various countries. They’re quite different from the US. I think the next big question that comes up is the pay debate. Where do you stand on how people should get paid based on the country that they’re in?
Laurel: Completely depends on the company. There are so many parts of remote work. Everybody wants a magic formula and a quick and easy solution. Okay, what is the model for this? How do I do this? What are the step-by-step instructions for this? It’s like, number one, it doesn’t exist. Number two, it shouldn’t exist because remote work isn’t one size fits all. It’s not a model. It’s a strategy, and there can and should be customized.
Based on all of the X factors of the company—where they are attracting talent from, where they want to recruit talent from, what are their tax implications, where is their target market, what are the timezone operations, all of those factors need to go into that compensation formula.
What I will say is yes, for one company, it’s the perfect solution to have flat rates and everybody just paid the same. Or another company, locality, that base pay is best. It just depends on the company and a lot on the industry too. That’s why it’s important to work with a consultant. I will say this is our golden opportunity to really impact economic development and economic equality more than we ever have before. But we do need to think about it.
When we do think about it, that’s where we can see incredible magic happen. But it’s also got to be a very cooperative decision. It needs to be made very, very empathetically. Let’s talk to the government of that country, let’s talk to representatives and global workers from that country to make sure that it makes sense and that there are no cultural implications there. It needs to be made very, very carefully because yet again, we don’t have legislation in place that protects this process and tells us what the right choice to make, it’s for our company.
Ali: I think hearing you talk about it in that way goes back to this running theme in our conversation today around humility. You don’t know what the impact of a certain salary strategy might be until you ask the right questions and seek out the deeper social impact with intentionality. Thanks so much for sharing.
I wish we had more time. We’re nearing the end of our time today. It really went by super fast. There are just so many things that I’d love to dig deeper into, but I cannot. Instead, we’re going to shift gears and end on a fun game that I like to play with all of the podcast guests that have come on, which is our Pearls of Wisdom.
Pearls of Wisdom
If you’re used to playing any of those games where I just spit something out and then you say the first thing that pops to your mind, that’s what this is. We’ll spend two or three minutes doing that and then wrap up and say our good afternoons, good nights, or wherever people are listening around the world.
Laurel: I love it. Sounds fun.
Ali: All right, cool. What is your favorite remote work tool?
Laurel: Loom, for sure. I’m a rambler and I like to be able to record my rambling so people can watch it later.
Ali: Favorite way to take a break when you feel like you’ve been working too hard?
Laurel: Taking a shower. It’s right across the hall. It’s close, easy, and super relaxing.
Ali: I agree. What is your personal biggest challenge when it comes to working remotely?
Laurel: Burnout. It’s really hard for me to unplug mentally and recharge. Burnout is a constant fight.
Ali: More showers, less burnouts.
Ali: Who is someone, living or dead, that you would want to co-work with in real life when we’re allowed to do that again in the world?
Laurel: Oh man, lately I’ve been watching Parks and Rec. I’m getting this massive girl crush on Amy Poehler. I’m like, that would be so fun to hang out with Amy Poehler or Kamala Harris or something. Yeah, girl. Let’s get this girl power going and change the world.
Ali: Yeah. Women power and all the jokes. You can’t have a stressful day when you have a comedienne working with you.
Laurel: Totally. But doesn’t get stuff done. It’s like the light and the heavy together. Those would be my answers.
Ali: Awesome. And last but not least, what is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?
Laurel: I read this in the book many, many years ago and it really has driven my life that you can do everything, just not at the same time. That really helps me slow down because I have the personality type that I’m like, we have to do everything, we have to do it right now. Go big or go home. That really helps me keep a level head, focus on consistency, slow down. Both on the macro level and a micro. Every day, it’s okay, work will be there tomorrow, now is my time to be a mom and later I will be a boss.
But then on a macro level, it’s like, it’s okay, we’ll get to it. There were times in my life that I was an employee and now this is the time to be a boss. I hope to be an employee again and have to go through another learning cycle. There are just different phases. Anyway, you can do everything […].
Ali: Thanks for sharing that. I love that. Amazing. Slow down. One thing at a time. One foot forward.
Laurel: Be present. Yeah, exactly.
Ali: Awesome. Thank you so, so much for joining us today. How can people learn more about you, about Distribute Consulting, and reach out if they want to learn more?
Laurel: Fantastic. As you can imagine, distributeconsulting.com is the best way to find us and to get in touch with our experts and consultants. For me, personally, LinkedIn and Twitter are really easy and great because I’m the only Laurel Farrer. That’s pretty easy to find me as long as you spell my name right.
Ali: Awesome. For all of those listening, we’ll have that information in our show notes so you can follow up and keep following Laurel’s thought leadership on remote work. Thank you for listening, and thank you Laurel for joining.
Laurel: Thanks for having me, Ali. It’s been a pleasure.