Running Remote 2019 Overview
How a conference in Bali ironically de-mystifies the idea that remote work is only for the few who want to ‘sip a coconut.’
Running Remote 2019 was a two day immersive conference on the shore of the Nusa Dua beach in Bali Indonesia. The event focused on enabling leaders of remote teams to understand best practices, case studies, and methodologies to build and scale a company with employees distributed across the globe.
Besides the incredible screen-saver worthy backdrop, the main highlight of the conference, for me, was the connections I formed. Of course, this was expected. This type of conference is self-selecting. You don’t end up at a resort in Bali, Indonesia by accident. Although, if you did, I imagine it would be a happy accident.
During a pre-conference speed networking event, I came across multiple attendees who had close ties to good friends of mine, as well as relevant and meaningful abilities to collaborate. The community of remote workers and companies, while distributed across the globe, is actually really small. And, especially as a traveler and digital nomad (an even smaller percentage of the already niche group considered ‘remote workers’), I felt incredibly welcomed and understood.
Being Remote Offers Few Chances to Get Together in Person
Since us remote professionals don’t sit with our teams in an office, it’s incredibly easy to go a full day without in-person socialization.
This event was a welcomed space for personal connection, learning, and an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals who can relate to the various challenges of those who work in physical isolation.
Egor Borushko, founder of the Running Remote Conference, said some might be surprised to know the industry mix of companies who attended. It wasn’t restricted to web app and tech — but e-commerce, food and beverage, healthcare, and various others. With over 400 attendees from 35 countries, the conference allured many types of companies and people — some, even, that haven’t instituted any remote work policy yet. For them, this was a great chance to soak up as much information as possible.
After this conference, I’m even further committed to the future of remote work. I’m encouraged by the possibilities for companies and employees alike. This event legitimizes remote work, and solidifies it’s spot in mainstream work culture. It de-mystifies the idea that remote works is only for the few who want to ‘sip a coconut.’
I wanted to share what I learned not only from the great speaker lineup at the event, but some of the incredible people I had discussions with. These concepts include remote work, remote companies, and remote lifestyle. Below you’ll find a few themes I felt interesting to highlight.
The Terminology We Use About Remote Work Is Important
Before getting into the meat of the takeaways, lets clarify a few definitions that sometimes get misconstrued as these terms will show up throughout the video and article.
What is Remote Work?
A working style that allows professionals to work outside of a traditional office environment. It is based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a specific place to be executed successfully.
Think of it this way: instead of commuting to an office each day to work from a designated desk, remote employees can execute their projects and surpass their goals wherever they please. People have the flexibility to design their days so that their professional and personal lives can be experienced to their fullest potential and coexist peacefully.
There has been a cultural paradigm shift in what society deems to be an appropriate workplace — and remote work has capitalized off of that newfound freedom. (Source: Remote Year Blog)
The Distinction Between “Remote Worker” and “Digital Nomad”
Remote work is an umbrella term that applies to many different types of individuals’ working styles and motivations. Andres Klinger, head of remote at Angellist, and one of the conference speakers, prefaces his discussions with the same narrative:
Because these people have very different lifestyles and needs, it is unfair to lump them all into the same category. This is important because as we identify challenges, success, and advice within the greater remote community, we have to know who it applies to and the terms to use.
Here’s Andreas’ definitions from his tweet thread:
- want to see the world
- travel like budget backpackers
- often run a small business
- … or influencer
- … or freelance
- switch location every 1–3 weeks
- usually work from coffee shops
- … or bigger coworking spaces
- stay 1–6 months
- try to live like local expats
- … and be more productive
- regularly couples/families
- some work from coffeeshops
- some rent a desk in a coworking space
- … or smaller office
- … or use their airbnb
- “i dont get enough holidays so i do this”
- … or “i am the ceo cant let go”
- vacation in hotel or airbnb
- ideally with pool or beach (for pictures)
- work from hotel lobby or airbnb room or pool ;)
- locals (or expats turned locals)
- work for international companies
- optimize their day routine for own needs
- optimize workplace for efficiency
- some work from home
- some rent desks
‘Digital Backpackers’ and ‘Digital Staymads’ make up what we may consider ‘Digital Nomads,’ a term that’s become popular in the mainstream. But there are nuances and distinctions between all of these. The major distinction I’d like to call out for this article is this:
While all the archetypes above work remotely, each individual has a different set of needs, and they treat their freedom and flexibility differently.
Some Companies Don’t Even Know They Are Remote
Now that we’ve covered some misconceptions about people who work remotely, lets tackle companies. This is where Sacha Connor comes in. She is the founder of Virtual Work Insider, a company that teaches strategies, tactics, and skills needed to prepare companies and individuals to lead virtual, distributed, and remote teams.
In her work she finds some companies don’t even realize they are already functioning remotely. She thinks the term ‘remote’ can be difficult to palate and understand, especially if a company has a history of a fully co-located workforce in physical offices. Many companies think ‘remote’ means fully remote.
This is why the terms we use are important — both for companies and individuals.
Because for some companies the concept of a fully distributed, remote team is simply impossible. However, they shouldn’t dismiss the imminent role that hybrid or partially remote teams will play on their future success.
In addition, she contends the phrase ‘work from home’ has painted a skewed picture — attributing laziness and irresponsibility to WFH jobs. Sacha was a remote work pioneer for the Clorox company, working remotely for 8 years while leading large distributed teams responsible for over $250M of sales and $25M in marketing budget. She held this role from the comfort of her home office.
Virtual Work vs. Remote Work
While all remote work is virtual work, not all virtual work is done remotely. Sacha is intentional in using the term ‘virtual work’ instead of ‘remote work,’ to avoid the confusion for companies who may be wary or unable to move to a fully distributed model. As companies are creating remote work policy, it’s an easier transition when thinking about how their teams already work virtually:
- Employees open and answer emails from their phone on the weekend.
- Conference attendees step out of sessions to take a quick client call.
- Colleagues collaborate over web conference from different office locations.
These are all virtual interactions already. She says this often creates light bulb moments for a company. They understand how their current practices are already aligned to the transitions they’re considering making.
And, according to Recruit Loop, this mindset can open the door for companies to take full advantage of the benefits of remote work, including:
- Less time commuting
- Improved employee retention
- Access to wider pool of applicants
- More autonomous employees
- Lower costs
- Making better use of tech
- Reduced salaries
- Increased productivity
Unexpected Job Roles and Industries are Becoming Remote
It’s practical to associate remote work with certain types of professions. Some people may think of brainy programmers surrounded by papers askew, empty take out boxes, and Red Bull cans. I can see the image now: A dimly lit room, baggy and sleepless eyes peering over thick glasses at a seemingly endless amount of matrix style numbers cascading down the screen.
But hold on one second.
One of the beauties of remote work is it’s creation of opportunities for flexible working conditions in industries and job roles that historically have been very hands on.
While programmers, developers, and designers certainly make up a significant portion of the remote work community, it can be surprising to analyze the types of industries, professions, and job roles that are adopting flexible work options. Doctors, lawyers, and yoga instructors are finding ways to monetize their skills online — either working for themselves or companies.
Karen Finnin, an online physiotherapist and tele-health consultant, educates, diagnoses, and treats her patients online. Because these opportunities are extending to a wider range of skill sets, there will be a fundamental shift in what a ‘job’ looks like in the future.
Remote Work and AI Are Changing Job Economics
Employment is changing. Not only because of remote work, but many jobs are expected to be automated by AI in the coming years. There is much speculation on how this will impact the job landscape for future generations.
A consistent idea I’ve heard, both from Naval Ravikant during his episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast, and Ilyas Vali during his talk at the conference, is that the future of work will favor “gigs” especially for the highly skilled portion of the labor force who may simultaneously be looking for the freedom and flexibility that remote work allows.
The idea is that remote work and availability of jobs as “gigs” create a new landscape and set of economics for employees and employers.
Goncalo Hall of Remote-How lent some of his thoughts on this phenomenon during a break in the action at Running Remote. Traditional jobs pay bi-weekly or monthly, and usually based on an hourly or salary scale. With remote work, and an ever expanding pool of talent to choose from, companies can outsource tasks or processes rather than hire employees.
They can crowdsource and decentralize tasks, and pay for contributions, or simply pay for tasks or processes as they are done. That means that workers have the ability to bid or compete for tasks they are qualified to perform, and ultimately be paid for that task. They could be independent and potentially work for many companies at once.
Remote Work is Creating Global Innovation Hubs
Before the internet, humanity was highly focused on being local and physical. People built communities locally and they were physical in nature. When the internet came it gave opportunities for interactions to be digital — and eventually global. People could engage all across the world with other people instantaneously — communities weren’t restricted to location or physicality.
During the panel about the future of co-working he made some interesting points about innovation:
- Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it requires inspiration and creativity.
- There are segments of the population who are extremely talented but also on the move.
- Exposure to new environments, people, and things fosters creativity, and thus innovation.
Another fantastic example is Selina, a lifestyle, travel, and hospitality platform that aims to be just that — a chain of innovation hubs for communities of talented, traveling, professionals. Marcela Fernandez, employer brand ambassador for Selina announced at the Running Remote Conference that the company is sponsoring 12 individuals on a two week Mexico Roadtrip.
As companies structure more of these environments, they will continue to fundamentally change the options available for those who wish to avoid restriction to a particular space day in and day out. The collaboration possibilities for this segment of the population are incredibly unique.
Remote Work is Better For the Environment
Andreas Klinger, whom I mentioned above, said, tongue in cheek during the beginning of his keynote:
“Going remote is better for the environment than going vegan.”
The quote received quite a reaction. A girl in the front row even exclaimed — although I don’t know if it was in agreement or just because she heard the word vegan and got excited.
Either way, it was hilarious, and it set the tone for the conference, as he was the first speaker. Directly comparing the two is less important than recognizing what the statistics say about remote work and it’s positive impact on the environment:
Annual Environmental Savings from Current U.S. Remote Worker Population:
Vehicle miles not traveled: 7.8 billion
Vehicle trips avoided: 529.8 million
Tons of greenhouse gases avoided (EPA Method): 3 million
GHG equivalent of cars off the road: 617,000
Reduced traffic accident costs: $498 million
Oil savings ($50/barrel): $980 million
I also met Tarek Kholoussy at the conference. Tarek is someone that seems to be running in a parallel universe to myself, having many mutual friends and experiences (even living in Medellin, Colombia at the same time, and attending the same Healing Center, La Ceiba). He mentioned through his project, Nomads Giving Back he’s noticed a couple patterns:
- Socially conscious companies are implementing remote work policy in their workforce to make an immediate impact on their environmental initiatives.
- Remote workers and digital nomads can more easily find ways to impact the environment. Having inherently more freedom and flexibility, they simultaneously have more opportunities to choose where and how they’d like to volunteer or give back.
Spirituality is a Foundation of Self-Awareness for Nomads
I’ve been traveling as a digital nomad for close to a year and a half — mostly spending 1–2 months in a location before moving to the next. This lifestyle is abundant in autonomy and choice. For many people that can be the noose that hangs them. The key to an abundance of autonomy and choice while maintaining productivity?
There’s been nothing more helpful for me in my search of self-awareness than commitment to my own spiritual practices. June Liu and Aren Bahia, who I met at the conference, both share similar sentiments.
Spirituality is personal. It’s practiced and dedicated time to your rituals and provides clarity to your motivations and needs. Because self-motivation is so crucial to a remote worker’s success, spirituality becomes a foundation of this awareness, and thus a catalyst for your productivity.
This intrinsic motivation built through awareness allows you to take action on activities and people aligned with your values. You’re able to say ‘yes’ more to things you want and ‘no’ more to the things you don’t. All three of us lamented on our personal findings during soul searching — whether daily rituals, fulfillment, or reduced procrastination.
Community is Crucial for Remote Workers
That self awareness you carry from your personal practices also help you find community. Nienke Nina, Founder of Digital Nomads Daily discussed the importance of community for remote workers and nomads. Usually we think about community as other people, but it truly starts as a reflection of ourselves.
You need to understand who you are, your desired self, and the current gap between the two. Community is your bridge. If you want to live a certain lifestyle or habits or behaviors, joining a community of people who already exhibit those behaviors is your quickest way to change.
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, those who work remotely often find themselves isolated from others. While you may not be near your direct team you can find other ways to introduce communities into your life by joining:
- Virtual communities like Facebook groups, Slack, text groups, etc.
- Local communities found through Meetups, community organizations, alumni groups.
- Co-working spaces where you can connect with other professionals.
Many Nomads Think it’s Impossible to Find Love With Their Lifestyle
A common stressor of the nomadic lifestyle is the acceptance of an unconventional and emotionally taxing romantic life. There seems to be a sacrifice that goes along with being a nomad — an inability to find a partner who understands and lives a similar lifestyle. And since relationships and connection are core needs for any human, it can seem hopeless as a transient being.
Aline Dahmen, founder of Nomad Soulmates wants to challenge that assumption. She thinks many nomads carry an unnecessary burden of worry about finding a partner. And, like many others, she spoke to the constant theme throughout my conversations with different nomads at this conference: the importance of self-awareness and community.
Cultivating the self primes you to:
- Find communities that fit your desired lifestyle and social circles.
- Attract potential romantic partners that are aligned to your desired lifestyle.
Therefore, the previous two sections, spirituality and community, seem to be a prerequisite to gain the self-awareness necessary to surround yourself with the right people. And it makes sense. I mean if you don’t know anything about yourself and don’t care, it doesn’t matter who you surround yourself with.
Remote Work is Changing the Future of Parenting
Ken Weary, VP of Operations at HotJar and long time nomad, dispels the misconception that you can’t find a significant other that aligns to the nomadic lifestyle. He travels with his wife and two kids, effectively “world-schooling” them, and giving them experiences that most of us would dream of having as an adult, let alone in adolescence.
The fundamental idea, though, is that remote work changes the possibilities for all parents. When Ken worked a corporate job, like many others with long commutes, would be gone from 6:30am to 6:30pm throughout the day. He missed so many opportunities to be with his kids. Now, he hardly misses a meal with them. And when they come back from adventures with their mom, they teach him something he didn’t know about the culture and location they are visiting.
Even if your goal isn’t to travel the world with your kids, the option remote work provides is opportunity to be there more for your family. To miss out less on activities, to make more of the practices, games, and meals that create a bond.
The Future of Work
Personal interactions are not replaceable. The future of work is not fully remote. There are some companies that simply have to operate with some co-located teams.
However, every person I spoke to at this conference predicts that all companies, regardless of industry and size, will need to consider how remote work will impact their business — and create policy to enable it.
Companies will need to strategize how they can embrace remote work to find talent, save money, and focus on re-investing in their business. The remote work train has already left the station, are you going to catch it at the next stop?
Did you go to the Running Remote Conference?
If so, what did you think?
Drop me a comment below with your thoughts about remote work!
Click here to register for pre-sale tickets for Running Remote in April 2020 in Austin Texas!
Jordan is an ambassador for the global remote work movement. He guides professionals who are committed to building a successful and meaningful career while working remotely by guiding participants of the Remote Year programs and coaching high achievers on finding remote employment.
Find more about Remote Year here.
Connect with me on Linkedin: Jordan Carroll