Remote Workers Series: Sebastian Vasta
- Thought leadership
- July 17, 2014
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Sebastian Vasta, Quiip
1. What are you working on?
I work on social media strategy projects for various clients and manage a distributed team of community managers for Quiip. Quiip is an Australian social media and community management agency. We are a totally office-less bunch of Australians spread around the world. For clients that means we can offer 24/7 support, for employees that means all the awesome flexibility of remote work with (largely) regular hours.
While doing that, I move around a bit. I’ve travelled through 20 countries in the last year thanks to remote work, and I’m working as good as if not better than I ever was in an office.
2. What’s the biggest challenge of working remotely right now?
Companies just don’t get it. Australia is the polar opposite of the freelance market of creative hubs like Berlin. In my line of work many are hesitant to take on a freelancer, let alone someone who they’ll probably never meet face to face. I get approached by recruiters all the time because of my experience in social media, but as soon as I say I’m after remote work, you never hear from them again.
And yet, here I am, successfully managing a team, training clients, making pitches, doing all the things that apparently I can’t do unless I’m at a certain address. Employers just aren’t willing to cut the umbilical cord. It’s so frustrating.
Recruiters and recruitment sites are behind the game too. There’s a big opportunity for someone to connect willing employers with people who want or need to work remotely. I’m very lucky to have found Quiip, but that only happened because of a chance encounter at a pub with a friend of a friend.
Anecdotally, I’d say the people who land a remote job get lucky with their network, or have worked so long at a job that they’re indispensable enough to dictate terms.
For everyone else, there’s a huge gap between the potential of technology, the desire of employees, and the mindset of employers.
3. Describe your workspace/ How do you choose a spot to work from?
I prefer to work from a cafè. A quiet cafè or one with a low hum of noise, and the essential needs of any remote worker – power outlets and fast wifi – that’s normally enough for me. A comfy couch and big windows are added bonuses.
Home has distractions – even if, when I’m travelling, my home changes frequently. Leaving the house forces you to do things like, you know, shower and get dressed – which is actually good for productivity. Rolling out of bed and switching on the computer isn’t the right way to start the day. I’ve encountered many remote workers who feel the same.
Working on the road has seen me working in some interesting “offices”. I lived in Belize for a couple of months and worked at an outdoor bar on the Caribbean shore every day as the sun set. That was pretty special – and surprisingly good for getting things done!
4. What are the most important types of tools you use as a remote worker (video, chat, email)?
IM is important. Doesn’t need to be fancy. I want to be able to tap my coworkers on the shoulder, so to speak, but something like Sqwiggle is a step too far.
Text is fine. Video requires effort. It’s the reverse of that home vs café thing. Remote Workers like wearing pyjamas. I haven’t shaved in a while.
5. What’s the biggest misconception about remote work?
I’ve already touched on my thoughts about employers needing to have their drones in the office and under observation. That’s the most cited misconception, I guess, that we can’t be effective working out of sight.
Probably the biggest misconception that my friends have is that I have the most amazing, carefree life of freedom that is far-removed from their chained-to-the-desk career. While I’m extremely grateful to be able to move around, I’m still worried about the same things they are; paying the bills, job security, and yes, even work/life balance.
6. Top tips for working remotely?
Learn how to say ‘No’.
About that work/life balance thing: people generally take on remote work because it will suit something else they’ve got going on. Maybe they want to travel. Maybe they are raising children. Maybe they live far away from employers and clients. But when you work remotely, office hours quickly blur with downtime. Especially when you’re working in a timeshifted job, you can start to work more hours than you would doing a regular 9-5. Be clear with your clients and yourself when you’re working and when you’re not.
Many office workers have seen a steady creep of work into our lives thanks to technology. Look at what smartphones and push notifications and webmail clients have done – we now feel pressured to check and respond to emails when we’re not at work. If you’re not paid to be on call, force yourself to not be. And if you’re out with friends, for god’s sake, put your phone away.
7. Do you think remote employees are more productive?
Well, of course I have to say ‘Yes’ to this!
I’ve seen plenty of lifers in big companies get away with doing the bare minimum – or less – because they know how to keep up appearances. Remote workers don’t have that luxury. I think there’s actually more oversight for us, because everything we do is trackable, measurable, and can be reported on. Change logs in Dropbox, revision histories in Google Docs, timestamps in Yammer. It’s all there.
Yes, there are more companies using more tools to track what their employees are doing in the office, but most aren’t up at Google’s level yet. But when you’re working remotely, ways of measuring you are hard-coded into the software you work with, and have been since the start.
The fact is that we can all be unproductive wherever we work. We’re all guilty of lapses in self-discipline. Are remote workers more susceptible to this? I don’t think so, no.
A lot of people might say remote workers aren’t productive because they’re not being watched. That’s a non sequitur. What a lack of a boss watching you like a hawk really means is that remote workers need to be self-sufficient, self-starters, self-controlled. If you’re not excellent at time management, you’re either going to learn real fast, or not be an effective remote worker.
Follow Sebastian on Twitter @sebastianvasta.