Remote work isn't just about swapping the office for your living room, it's about reshaping how we think about our jobs altogether.
Valentina knows this all too well. Having immersed herself in the world of distributed work, she's got some stories, lessons, and insights that offer a fresh perspective.
In our conversation, Valentina touches on the differences between the "old" and the "new" remote work, highlights common misconceptions, and shares invaluable advice for companies still navigating this terrain. Curious about AI's role, tech tools, or her ideal remote setup? She's got you covered.
As someone at the forefront of distributed and remote work, how would you describe your vision for the future of this work model in just three words?
Access, flexibility, community.
As in access to work regardless of life circumstances, flexibility that allows work to be aligned with other (social) expectations, and the opportunity to build and tap into community wherever we are.
Can you share an interesting story or unexpected insight you've gained from your research in distributed work?
Pre-pandemic, being remote was a deliberate choice made at the founder’s or executive level, because it aligned with their work preferences. That’s why many of the OG remote companies are async-first and completely distributed across all time zones.
Post-pandemic remote work is different: it’s often driven by employees themselves with a focus on outside-of-work preferences (e.g. where to live, cutting back on the commute etc). And while meeting fatigue is a thing, a lot of people actually enjoy (good) meetings as a form of social connection, especially now that technology has given us so many more choices around how, when and where to communicate.
Imagine you've been given a time machine. What advice would you go back and give to businesses at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding transitioning to remote work?
Treat it as an assessment of your company’s resilience. Write down what works, and what doesn’t. Take note of what breaks, what bottlenecks you can detect, which workarounds pop up to solve for those bottlenecks. And then create the policies and procedures that incorporate that knowledge.
Remote work requires clear communication, accurate documentation, and personal accountability. In-office work can benefit from those things, too. So even if you only view remote work as a short-term solution for extraordinary circumstances (like a pandemic or a hurricane), you can still use the learnings to improve your in-office productivity.
What is one common misconception about remote work that you would like to debunk?
Remote work is not the same as “work from home”. That was just a pandemic problem.
Outside a pandemic, a company offering “remote work” is about as descriptive as a restaurant offering “food for eating”. When making dinner plans, I’d like to know whether we are going out for Japanese, or Mexican food, whether there’s some kind of dress code, at what time the place is open, whether we need a reservation and how far we have to drive to get there.
The same is true for “remote” work. You need to be clear about whether you mean work-from-home only, work within the same state or country, work within the same time zone, or whether you are OK with work from anywhere. Most likely that also means you need to clarify your policies around work hours and schedule flexibility.
Offering “remote work” should be a deliberate decision, because it has ramifications across all other company functions (most obviously: hiring, legal and security). It’s not something HR can “just do”.
How has your own personal experience with remote work influenced your research and perspective on it? Are there any unique rituals or habits you've developed?
I’ve worked remotely for most of my career, which means that I came of (remote) age in a world where remote companies were the asynchronous-first fever dream of every writer. I remember being hired by Automatic (the owners of WordPress) without a single phone or video call. The entire process was done via chat and email.
Moving from Automatic into the VC-backed startup world, where speed and oral eloquence (to get funding) are of the essence, I had to adapt to more video calls, more synchronous conversations, more succinct summaries instead of weeklong written discussions. This shift taught me to first understand the company and the founder before recommending specific tactics or ideas. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but there’s a solution that will work for you.
I’ve kept the writing habit honed and perfected during my fully-asynchronous experience. And I start most of my calls 5 min past the hour to make sure you can refill your water bottle before engaging with me ;)
Imagine a scenario where every company suddenly decides to transition fully to remote work. What are the potential pitfalls they should be prepared for?
I wouldn’t recommend anyone to suddenly transition to fully remote. We all tried that during the pandemic and the results were very mixed. Instead, I’d approach it like the 4-day-work-week experiment in the UK, including a deliberate transition process that engages every single employee - from intention setting to very practical training on how to be productive outside of an office environment, including when and how to work and when to stop. The lack of social cues when working remotely cannot be underestimated.
If you are hell-bent on doing a sudden change, send everyone to work from home or a coworking for a single week and see what breaks. Which decisions get postponed? Which meetings get rescheduled? Which tasks remain undone? Then use that information to prepare for a more deliberate roll-out.
How would you say the dynamics of leadership and team collaboration are altered in a remote work setting? Can you share an example from your work?
You can’t count on things just working out. Someone needs to actively make it work. That means that people managers need to organize and stick to those regular 1-1 meetings - preferably weekly or biweekly. Otherwise you’ll forget who’s doing what on your team.
You also need to deliberately set up those places where people can get to know each other on a personal level. Collaboration is easier with people that you like. And we like people who we have something in common with. I’ve had great results with facilitating interest-based chat channels so people could get to know others who also shared their same interests: #running #foodies #plants #dogs, etc. You get the clutter out of the work-related channels, and you help people to get to know others they click with. And that humanizes the company, directly impacting how people collaborate.
From your perspective, what is one tool or technology that has yet to be invented, but could revolutionize the way we approach remote work?
We already have the tools and the technology. What we need is a shift in how we understand remote work - not as the enemy of “in office work” but as a new way of organizing how work happens. I would love to see every single manager getting the training they need to lead distributed teams. For knowledge workers, psychological safety and a feeling of belonging are more important than the exact location of the office chair. This means that we don’t need more technology — we need more humanity. We need leaders who are invested in seeing their employees grow. We need employees who are interested in their coworkers. We need managers who care. And we need individual contributors who aren’t scared to give candid feedback.
Leading a remote company is hard — because it requires new skills. Luckily, those are learnable skills. Now, if we could just implement these skills into everyone’s reality, that would be great ;)
If you could design a 'perfect' remote work environment, what unique features would it have?
A top notch headset that prioritizes mic quality for crisp sound quality on the other side, independent of my background noise. Clear audio reduces stress and frees up energy to engage with the topic - and hence - with you. That’s exactly what you want for your clients/coworkers/vendors.
Other than that: one of the big advantages of remote work (in the wider sense) is that you can change your work environment when you need new ideas. Go to a coworking space, check out the local library, write for an hour at a café. Do some brainstorming at the kitchen table, do some research on the couch, sit down at your work desk to bring it all together. Just make sure that you are always aware about what you are trying to accomplish. Maybe that’s the secret sauce: a little widget that keeps reminding you to work on xyz.
In your opinion, what role will artificial intelligence and automation play in the future of remote work?
Pretty much the same role that it will play in the future of… “work”. If you can automate and simplify a task done by a person working remotely, why would you want to keep that task manually for someone in the office? At the end of the day, remote work is just work. The location where you open up your computer does not change the input that you are using your computer for.
You could argue that fully remote companies tend to have more processes and policies written down, as a matter of survival. You can’t rely on institutional knowledge being stored in Maria’s brain or Brian’s memory. It needs to be somewhere accessible (and preferably searchable). That means that by default remote companies tend to have more of a knowledge base - hence more of an input they can use to train AI tools or make use of automation, which could give them an edge when it comes to onboarding new joiners or training their own internal tools.
The sales person is still going to call their prospects. And they are going to use AI to create their email sequences whether they are in the office or at home.
The engineer is still going to build products based on specifications. And they may be using an AI powered code review tool whether they are in the office or at a coworking space.
The location has an impact on legal decisions, security protocols, and health mandates. But work, work is just work.
In our ever-evolving landscape of remote work, Valentina's insights and experiences are more pertinent than ever. This conversation not only provided a deep dive into the realities of distributed work, but also inspired us to reflect on our own approaches and expectations. Thank you for joining us on this exploratory journey. We hope you walk away with fresh ideas and inspiration for the future. Until our next discussion, let's work smart and connected, no matter where we are.