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Remote Career Development: Olga Tsimaraki Of Zima Media On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

To limit your freedom, you just need to enforce some structure and organization to your daily schedule. I always dress up when I wake up, drink my morning coffee, take my dog out for a walk and sit at the computer by 7.30 am with my breakfast. I read my emails and a couple of articles for about 30 more minutes and I officially start work at 8 am. I’ll take a lunch break around noon and at 4 pm I usually turn off everything to start cooking, have dinner when my partner comes home, and switch to my personal life. This schedule does change if a call comes up late in the evening or if I have to run some morning errands, but I have generally tried to stick to it for the better part of the last 3 years.

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 Olga Tsimaraki.

Olga Tsimaraki is a self-taught Digital Marketing Consultant specializing in SEO.

A life-long learner and creative at heart, after getting her Master of Engineering she set out to get a job in Marketing that was her true passion. In 2018, she joined Zima Media, a fully remote digital marketing agency and she has now managed over 350 SEO client projects and is helping the agency with internal process optimization, hiring, and training of new employees.

Currently, and having just completed an MBA, she is also working on The Budding Marketer on the side, helping new, self-taught, and junior marketers achieve their own dream career while working efficiently and without stress.

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”?

Growing up back in Greece, I spent most of my time in front of a computer or hidden behind a book. I still do actually. I guess one would say I’m now exactly who and where I was supposed to be, but I could never have imagined that my career would take this path if you had asked me ten, or even five years ago.

At 18, I decided to study Electrical and Computer Engineering because it had something to do with computers and math, and those were the only two things I already knew I loved. Besides that, I thought that I should be able to do anything I eventually wanted with an engineer’s diploma.

I started my studies and completely forgot about them while enjoying my first student years. After a semester in Barcelona, I joined the Erasmus Student Network as a volunteer and that’s when I discovered marketing.

From then on, I decided to focus again on my studies to get my Masters while also learning everything I could about marketing. In the meantime, I managed to get an internship at the National Theatre of Northern Greece where I spent a year as a Social Media Manager, and after that Zima Media hired me as a full-time Marketing Consultant.

I started there from zero, with only one year of experience in social media marketing. I had to learn SEO and everything else while completing work for clients and sending them video reports. After 3,5 years, I have worked with over 350 clients on SEO projects, I’m training new employees on SEO, optimizing and automating internal processes, and helping the founders grow the agency.

I was always someone that needed to have a plan, but I mostly stumbled upon my professional path. I never could have planned it like this.

It might be scary when you’re trying to decide what to study, or when you’re looking for your first job, or even when you feel fed up and looking for a change. But I honestly believe that anyone can eventually discover what drives them and make a career out of it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I can’t say I have a lot of interesting stories to share with you. None really. Working for a fully remote agency hasn’t given me the opportunity to meet anyone famous just yet or travel for work somewhere unique. But I have met interesting people who I’ve become friends with and worked with the most interesting companies from all around the world.

My colleagues, who I haven’t really met yet, are some of the people I trust most in the world. And why not? We see and talk to each other every single day for years, what difference does it make that we’re not in the same space?

I actually think remote relationships can be more real and honest than the ones with colleagues you work next to. When you’re remote, you have to make an effort to get to know the other person. You choose to spend time with them. In an office on the other hand, you might have to get along with your colleagues even if you wouldn’t otherwise choose to.

That might sound weird to people who haven’t worked remotely, but this has been my reality outside that first year working at the local theatre, and it’s the most interesting fact I can share about remote work.

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?

Oh, this is a tough one. I don’t really remember such details from the past years although I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes.

I do remember I once sent a video report to a client without sound. They sent back to me saying they can’t hear what I’m saying and I kept insisting that it’s something on their end. Eventually, I realized that the mute button was accidentally pressed on my own microphone and I had to answer them and say I’m sorry and that I would redo the video as there was a problem on my end.

I was so stressed when I realized that I was the one at fault. How do you tell the client they were right all along? How do you show them you messed up when they have hired you to be the expert on all things digital?

The answer is that you just have to be honest. Clients are humans just like us, and they’re well aware that we can all make mistakes. Nothing got ruined, no money was lost, it was just an honest mistake out of haste.

I’ve made similar mistakes more than once, and I used to get extremely stressed about each and every one of them. I’ve made mistakes that taught me to be careful when phrasing my thoughts, mistakes that taught me to complete tasks not in a hurry, and mistakes that taught me that the devil lies in the details.

But I can honestly not remember the specifics of those mistakes because it’s normal to make some. You just have to learn your lesson and move on.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” — Henry Ford

“Keep your mind young”. This is what I always try to do and I know it’s a big reason why I have a career and a life that I’m happy with. I’d love to learn every skill, read every book, watch every movie, and visit every country in the world. I’m a wanna-know-it-all. I know I can’t possibly do that, but I might as well try.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

I have been close to burnout myself a couple of times, and it’s still very difficult to recognize the signs before it’s too late. Working remotely, I have mostly only myself to be accountable to, and when you’re trying to prove something to yourself you often find that you expect too much.

I am lucky to be surrounded by people who know me and recognize the burnout signs before I do, at home and at work. And those people “force” me to take time off and slow down. They do that because they know me and they can understand when something is off.

And that is the main advice I could give to any business leader. Build personal relationships and get to know the person on the other side of the screen. What does their life look like? Do they have any hobbies? Do they enjoy what they do at work? Get to know who they are inside and outside of work and that will enable you to recognize the burnout symptoms before they do.

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?

Well, there are three main benefits of remote work that have made the biggest difference in my life.

For one, working from home allows you to have a flexible schedule. You can take a workout break in the middle of the day, pause to cook and have lunch, continue and wrap up your work in the afternoon, and sometimes skip a weekday and replace it with a Saturday because something came up. You don’t have to rearrange everything in your schedule to be able to make it to a doctor’s appointment and you don’t have to waste your vacation days for it either.

The second benefit is the freedom to create your own schedule and workspace. You can start work at 6am if you want as you don’t have to wait for someone else to open the office. Or you can only work in the afternoon if you’re not a morning person. You can also work in the kitchen one day because you’re cooking at the same time, or go to a cafeteria just because you feel like seeing some new faces. There are no limits when working remotely, except of course for making sure you’re online and presentable during important calls.

Last but not least, you get more family time. That’s a result of the freedom and flexibility, but also the fact that remote work allows you to be more focused and productive. Let’s face it. Nobody can actually work for 8 hours straight. When you’re in the office, you spend some of that time chatting with colleagues, taking small breaks outside, or staring at the ceiling. But you are stuck there until it’s time to go home. When you’re working from home though, you can simply sit down, focus on your work, complete the same tasks in 4 hours instead of 8, and call it a day. That doesn’t of course happen every day. Remote workers procrastinate too. But as a rule, we do have more productive days than not.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

That’s an easy one as most of these things have happened since the moment we started the interview.

  1. There are many distractions — The dog starts barking, the postman rang your bell because the neighbor is not home, notifications are going off on your phone, you realize there’s nothing for lunch at home, or you decide to finish that book you have left at the coffee table for a month now. At home, you don’t just have your work computer in front of you and your colleagues around. You have your personal life surrounding you and trying to take over, and only yourself to keep you focused on the task at hand.
  2. It’s difficult to switch off — When you work at home, it becomes a place where you think about work tasks and challenges you need to solve, and your brain gets accustomed to that. Then, when it’s late in the evening and you’re trying to relax and watch Netflix or chat with your partner, your brain is still on and thinking about work.
  3. There is too much freedom — Yes, there is such a thing as too much freedom. You have to decide when to wake up and start working, whether to dress up or stay in your pajamas, what task to work on next, and whether it’s actually time for a break or not. And procrastination can creep up on you before you know it and mess up your plan for the day.
  4. Annoying interruptions because of noise or slow internet — This is out of your power and if it happens when you’re in the middle of a task or a meeting it can be frustrating and even stressful.
  5. It can be lonely — When you work from home you don’t easily interact with other people outside the screen. I know I said some of my best friends are people I haven’t met, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still feel lonely at times. Having someone to actually walk with and take a break away from the screen is something you often miss as a remote worker.

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?

Some of the challenges above actually have the same solution. If you take distractions and annoying interruptions, for example, there are only two things to do. You can either decide it’s time for an actual break because there is no way you can work at that specific moment, or pack your laptop and go find a place to work away from home. I usually do the first because my work requires a quiet space and my equipment to shoot videos for clients. So, I take a long break until the noise stops or until I satisfy my craving for distraction, and then I turn my focus mode again.

When it comes to separating your work from your personal life and switching off, you need to pick a place in your house and consider that your office. It can honestly just be your kitchen table, but you need to have a clear distinction and “leave” work as soon as you get off that chair. Me, after 2 years of working around the house in different places and many times until 8 pm, I decided that I needed my own separate office. I did have the luxury of having a guest bedroom empty and I’ve now turned it into my personal home office. At 4 pm, I get up, close the computer and the door, and switch gears to focus on me and my family.

To limit your freedom, you just need to enforce some structure and organization to your daily schedule. I always dress up when I wake up, drink my morning coffee, take my dog out for a walk and sit at the computer by 7.30 am with my breakfast. I read my emails and a couple of articles for about 30 more minutes and I officially start work at 8 am. I’ll take a lunch break around noon and at 4 pm I usually turn off everything to start cooking, have dinner when my partner comes home, and switch to my personal life. This schedule does change if a call comes up late in the evening or if I have to run some morning errands, but I have generally tried to stick to it for the better part of the last 3 years.

Finally, If you want to stop feeling lonely, find a coworking space or a cafe and become a regular. For me, that’s the local library. It’s a big modern building with large tables and great internet. I started going there once a week when I didn’t need it to be quiet and I quickly discovered that there were always a few of the same people around all remote workers like myself. Those people can eventually become your unofficial colleagues.

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?

First of all, you need to remember to keep learning new things. Put it on your calendar if you have to. Work never ends, and there will always be one more thing to do. But when working remotely, you can easily lose track and forget about your own personal development. Find the best way for you to learn, whether that’s reading blogs, listening to audiobooks or podcasts, subscribing to newsletters, etc., and spend at least 30 minutes every day learning something new.

Besides that, you need to be proactive and try new things on your own. Learning is good, but you need to put what you learn into practice to really understand it. Showing initiative goes a long way when it comes to advancing your career as a remote worker.

Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?

Personal and professional development is something every remote worker should focus on, no matter the skill they want to acquire. That’s why, at Zima Media, we ask employees to create an annual training plan which can include any skill or course they want and encourage (and remind) employees to make time every week to focus on that plan.

My own training plan last year was focused around my MBA, but I also had a graphic design course to complete, a goal to learn Dutch (which I still haven’t achieved), and a lot of smaller courses around marketing.

Sky’s the limit when it comes to learning and we should all try to reach that limit.

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. :-)

I think we all need to bring more trust and honesty into the workplace (and our lives of course). Trust the person on the other side that they actually want what’s best for you, be honest with your goals and intentions, and you will get it all back.

I’m always 100% honest with my employers and my clients but I wasn’t always sure that was the best move in the past.

Wouldn’t it be nice though to always be honest and trust that it won’t come back to you in a bad way? Professional relationships would be so much better like this.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find out more about me and my work at thebuddingmarketer.com and I’m available to connect on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/olgagt/

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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David Liu

David Liu

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David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication