Remote Career Development: Miruna Necula of PhotoAiD On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
An Interview With David Liu
Change your internet company and your equipment. That’s precisely what I’ve decided to do. At least invest more in what is my work tool. It’s funny that I decided to choose another company just a couple of days after writing this interview. Next week I will have the new internet installed, and even if I pay a little more, I hope it will be worth it.
Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaboration with others and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miruna Necula.
Miruna Necula started as a teacher, but she has ended up in the curious world of Marketing as Community Manager for PhotoAiD, doing what she loves the most, writing — and doing it from where she likes the most, her small town on the Mediterranean coast, Almeria. She is curious, sometimes fights against the injustices that crash in her face, and hopes to make this world a better place.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
Thanks to you! It is a pleasure for me to share my story, which I hope will inspire others to take a step towards a remote career. My professional career started off a bit crooked. I chose to study Law and Labor Relations in Madrid because it was a career that was considered to have many professional opportunities. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hit a hard wall and went into depression, so I had to return home. It was not at all what I wanted to do. I never imagined (nor can I do it now) my life locked behind the doors of an office. After this unhappy and somehow painful experience, I had to return to Almeria, where I was in time to enroll in the Degree in Humanities, from which I managed to graduate with Honors in Anthropology in December 2019.
The big question that remains to be answered: How did you end up working in Marketing? Well, it’s something I never imagined. Let’s just say that you have to know how to look for opportunities. While studying Humanities, I started working as a teacher, although it didn’t fit into my studies. After two years (and a pandemic), I decided to spend a couple of months traveling to re-discover myself and know what I wanted. The best part of the trip was how I reconnected with my partner, with whom I decided to move in together. While I was unemployed, I realized I couldn’t stop my life, as my family was expanding and expenses were mounting. So I enrolled in a Master’s program, which did not give me much more apart from a lot of theoretical content. But it was then, when I was looking for an internship, that I met Maciej, the man responsible for starting my professional career remotely. He was the one who offered me the chance to perform an internship at PhotoAiD, and he was also the one who offered me the opportunity to stay in the Outreach Department. When I look back, eight months ago now, I can’t thank him enough. A little story? The other day I went out for a run, and as I was enjoying the sea-view, I was thinking about all the tasks I had pending with a smile on my face. Yes, I did it right!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Well, I’m not going to lie. Being an “Outreacher” can bring you pleasant surprises every day. One day you might wake up and be quoted in the Financial Times, as happened to my colleague Karolina, or you might get an email from someone from Business Insider, as happened to me. I could say that the most exciting thing that happened to me was the interview I had with a writer from Insider and how a couple of weeks later, the article went live. Sometimes there’s no room for all that pride in your body.
That was special, but even more special was when my colleague Michal told us he was going on a trip to Morocco at a completely random moment in the day. Before that message, we had shared very little. And in that thread, we all started to exchange experiences and get to know each other better. In a remote environment, establishing relationships with the people you work with is very important, as it helps you grow as a team. So if I have to choose between the Insider interview and a team chat conversation, I’ll take the latter.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes, of course. It was a typo because the “j” and the “k” are very close on the keyboard, and in Polish, just one letter can change the word’s meaning. It all happened very early in my PhotoAiD experience. When my mentor, Maciej, sent me the first email, his name appeared as “Maciek,” but it was much later when I realized that the “k” at the end of his name was for his last name (Kubiak). Of course, I was always writing that if Maciek this, Maciek that, while everyone else called him “Maciej.” One day, out of curiosity, I asked my partner if it doesn’t matter what your name is in Polish because I didn’t understand why some called him one way and I called him another. Well, my partner told me that the “K” at the end of the name turned it into a diminutive — yes, that’s right, I spent a couple of months calling my supervisor something like “little Maciej.” I think I even blushed when I found out, and he’ll probably find out when he reads this interview. So, here’s to you, “Maciek”!
What I’ve learned? That you should always take the funny side out of things, even in the smallest mistakes. No doubt the anecdote will stay in my memory, and I’ll laugh the next time I call him that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Things happen because they have to happen.” My whole life is folded with “second” choices. I think this story is a little funny too. I’ve never stuck with the first thing. Ever since I was little, it has happened to me with daycare. The first one my parents took me to, I found it so small that I didn’t want to go again the next day, so they switched me. And so it was with school, then high school, and then college. I can say that the second is always the best, haha. That’s why my mother always told me the phrase: “things happen because they have to happen.” Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be sitting here today writing this interview without those changes.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
My main advice is to actively listen and look in advance for symptoms that may indicate burnout. Every person is different. Some more extroverted people have no problem communicating how they feel at any given moment, and more introverted people may think they are “annoying” or panic about expressing themselves openly. In any case, there are somewhat “measurable” symptoms, such as decreased productivity or communication problems, that can be prevented. Ideally, once a week, leaders should hold one-on-one meetings with their employees to test whether burnout is present or not. And from there act according to the situation of each employee. In addition, promoting a healthy lifestyle is also a way to prevent burnout. If such strategies have not yet been implemented in the company, it is never too late to do so — such as nutrition courses, gym, or therapy sessions.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
The primary and crucial benefit for me is flexibility. In our company, we work based on objectives, which helps me give my best when I am most productive. For example, there are days when I have to dedicate my mornings to other tasks, or I simply feel like taking a walk along the seashore to take advantage of the sunshine and recharge my battery.
The second thing is having such an international team. Now that we are hiring remotely at PhotoAiD, I think we are already more than 11 nationalities. I tend to communicate easily, and I have to admit that I have learned a lot about the customs of my colleagues’ countries, which I think enriches me as a person.
Thirdly, working from home is “sustainable” and saves me a lot of time. Before, I used to spend an hour in traffic, which seemed crazy to me — in addition to the actual cost for me and the environment.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
- Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between the professional and private spheres. It happened to me at the beginning, for example, I did not have a special place dedicated to work, but I had improvised an office in the living room. I felt the responsibility of always being in front of the computer, or alerting me if a new email came in so I could see it immediately. But when I move the office to the other room, after finishing my workday, I turn off the computer and the door, and that’s the end of everything to do with work until the next day. That door is my differentiation, every time I cross it I know I have to go into working mode.
- There is a huge risk of sedentary lifestyles that can lead to more serious health problems. When working from home it is essential to combine it with physical exercise. It has happened to me at times that my legs were getting tired and I couldn’t feel them, I felt my muscles atrophy. Or back pain. Especially when I was forced to sit for a long time to finish a task, putting work before my body.
- Absolute dependence on technology. It is evident that in order to carry out your tasks from home you need a powerful internet connection. On many occasions, it has happened to me that I have been disconnected for no reason, or that the connection is not stable, which implies a delay in my tasks. It’s something I’m still dealing with.
- Communication. Since everything is done through channels without human interaction, it is very difficult for us to understand the tone or the way in which our colleagues communicate things to us, no matter how many emojis we use. Human beings tend to interpret things on their own, especially with online conversations, and we always wonder: what did they mean? An incorrect interpretation can easily lead to a major conflict.
- Home distractions. “I have to put on a washing machine,” “Oops, I’m hungry,” “Pf, I’ll get on later,” “I’ll take the opportunity to do the dishes” are some of the phrases I used to repeat to myself before establishing my work routine. Even the smallest fly could distract me from the computer screen. But all this was because I had not set my limitations, either of responsibilities or space.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?
- Yes, it is very simple for the first one: have your own space. Whether it’s another room at home if you can afford it, or opt for a co-working office, which even in my city, are reasonably priced. You can even negotiate with your company that they are the ones who pay you for that space since you need it to establish that line between professional and personal life clearly. In my case, I decided to give a second use to the room I was using as storage. I put in a big desk and a chair. There is hardly any noise at the back of the house, where it is placed, and it is also very comfortable. I have also engraved in my head that once I close the room door, the work is locked up until I go back in. In addition to getting a place for your office, it’s also key to understand that mindset.
- This one is also pretty simple: find your motivation, whether it’s an influencer, your partner, or because you like to challenge your sister. In my case, it was this third one, as sometimes I can get very competitive. I had acquired a smartwatch and entered the “steps” competition. Of course, every time someone did a workout or had more steps than me, the watch would immediately alert me. And that really motivated me to get out of my chair, put on my tights, go for a walk, run, or go to the gym for a yoga class. It was always: let’s see, who has done more today?
- Change your internet company and your equipment. That’s precisely what I’ve decided to do. At least invest more in what is my work tool. It’s funny that I decided to choose another company just a couple of days after writing this interview. Next week I will have the new internet installed, and even if I pay a little more, I hope it will be worth it.
- So far, I don’t think I’ve had any severe communication problems since whenever I don’t know something or notice that something is wrong, I usually ask why. Yes, I know I am inquisitive, but I think it is necessary to avoid misunderstandings, especially in a virtual space. I think of my colleagues as friends, so at the beginning of the week, I usually ask them how they have been doing, and from there, we help each other with the tasks and give each other constant feedback. I think that’s the key to establishing smooth communication — think of your colleagues as friends, not just that they’re somewhere in another world and you’ve never seen them.
- It is very much related to the issue of space and schedule. To work well from home, you have to be very organized. If there are other things you want to do, write them down in the plan, and schedule them before or after the working day, not during it. If you do it during, it is effortless to lose track of what you were doing and take much longer to finish your tasks, leading to low productivity.
Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?
Think of it as real. There is a lot of hidden stigma in society about working from home. I have come across comments: “that’s because you don’t do anything,”; “what a bargain, is that working?”, and many other such comments. At first, it discourages you because you think no one takes you seriously, and you underestimate yourself for working from home. But that should not be the case at all. If there is something to thank for this pandemic, it has been the transition to this way of working, and it has more benefits than disadvantages. The stigmatization comes from the typical thought that “we have to live to work,” which is the scheme that working remotely breaks. My advice for you to progress is to believe that it is real and that you can develop your career remotely. Also, it’s not that surprising. We’ve been getting into digital interactions for quite a few years now — Tinder is the perfect example. You just met people you had a connection with through a screen. Why is it so outrageous now that we communicate with our peers through an app? Also, that working remotely is not doing everything from home. On many occasions, companies often have annual meetings to meet with your colleagues. Take advantage of these moments to create connections, which can be maintained through Slack.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
Trust your team and give them responsibility. I think that’s the key. Also, the more responsibility team members have, the more the sense of belonging to the company increases, which is beneficial for both sides. But that’s not the case. By giving them more responsibility, you show them that you trust them, and you provide them with the opportunity to learn and develop in the area they like best. Career advancement, I think, is even more important than salary. Yes, money is a significant incentive, but can you imagine being in the same position, doing the same tasks, for forty years of your life? If the answer is no, then neither can your employees.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A very good question! I think I would focus on fighting stigma. Both stigma and discrimination are present in all spheres of our lives and cause isolation and loneliness. Just before, I mentioned how “working remotely” still suffers from stigma. And I think it is also a sign that may even prevent us from advancing our careers.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can read me on Insider here. And they can also see what I am doing now at PhotoAiD through its blog. Of course, if anyone wants to get in touch with me, they can do so through LinkedIn and Twitter.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success
Thank you! It’s been my pleasure, David! I wish you continued success too, and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future!