Remote Career Development: Raj Subrameyer Of ChaiLatte Consulting On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
An Interview With David Liu
Give permission to your employees to attend conferences and take courses to help them grow.
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 Raj Subrameyer.
Raj Subrameyer is a tech career strategist focusing on helping people to land their dream job and become successful leaders. He has given multiple TEDx talks and is a sought-after speaker at various conferences and has been featured in numerous TV news segments, podcasts and publications, including CBS, FOX, NPR, NBC, Entrepreneur, CEOWorld Magazine, CIO and Authority Magazine, Career Addict, Thrive Global, Addicted2Success and The Good Men Project. You can find more info about how he serves people through his website — www.rajsubra.com.
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”?
I grew up as a shy, introverted kid in a conservative middle-class family living in the Southern part of India. I was the average Joe, well in India, the average “Raj” since that’s one of the most common names, and focusing on academics was not my thing. I had other interests and passions, such as playing outdoor sports and hanging out with friends. By the way, I was never really into indoor games, including video games; yes, I am a rare exception for being a nerd.
I started developing this inferiority complex at a young age, believing that I was not good enough. And this led to horrible feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, stress, and self-doubt. After 20 years of false identity, I decided to take control of my life because of a trigger event.
I entered the IT field and started as an entry-level software tester. Then I quickly rose through the ranks and had different job positions in various tech companies, and then I started leading teams in 2012. In 2018, I started working remotely for a start-up company in the Bay Area and transitioned into building my own coaching, writing & speaking business.
I have transformed my life from a shy, introverted kid earning a minimum salary into an international keynote speaker, author, and tech career strategist, running a six-figure business remotely. I have helped numerous other people discover their zone of genius, find their dream job, launch their businesses and become successful leaders.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was highly insecure throughout my life because I had a fear of being ignored stemming from my childhood. So, when I started leading teams and was in a position of authority, I wanted to make sure that it would never happen again. I thought, “People should always notice me, and I should always be in the spotlight.” I had a hunger for recognition. The willingness to do “anything” to succeed. So, I tried to please everyone around me, and it started becoming very stressful for me. This continued for several years until I worked for my first boss once I got into a leadership role.
He noticed that I was stressed out and trying to do multiple things at once to make everyone happy. One day he called me into his office and told me that the actual reality of life is no one cares what you do; they see only the actions and results. He also mentioned you could never please everyone, and the bottom line is to do what is best for the team and the company. This incident changed my life.
Since then, I have learned to filter through the noise, take tough decisions and become an effective leader in all the companies I worked for.
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?
The funniest mistake I made was when I started my own business and got into social media. I was never active on social media at that point and did not know many available features.
I remember using Instagram for the first time couple of years ago, and I thought it was super cool and addictive, so I wanted to get in on that action. I was familiar with using LinkedIn and thought Instagram worked the same way. So, I started posting the same content I post on LinkedIn on Instagram as well.
But there was one problem with that approach. Links in posts do not get displayed with a hyperlink on Instagram unlike LinkedIn and other social media channels. So, on Instagram, people interested in following my story further in my posts were not able to click on the links I used, as they displayed as text and not hyperlinks.
One of my friends noticed this after two months of posting on Instagram and called me up on my phone to tell me about this. It was embarrassing and funny at the same time. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you take a chance in life sometimes good things happen sometimes bad things happen. But if you don’t take a chance nothing happens.”
From the first 20 years of my life, I learned that I was too afraid to step out of my comfort zone and still expected positive outcomes. This made me anxious, depressed and stressed. But once I realized that there is beauty in getting uncomfortable to get comfortable, my transformation started.
For example — Till 2011, I was afraid of public speaking. I was tired of this fear and wanted to take some action. I spent $3,000 of my own money to go to a software conference. Everyone thought I was crazy because here is the thing: in the software world, no one spends their own money to go to a conference. Either the company you work for pays for it, or you go to the conference as a speaker, in which case the registration fee is waived (which is the bulk of the expense). But I wanted a change in my boring life and also wanted to learn something new.
So, I took a leap of faith and decided to invest in myself. At the conference, I saw many people speak and share their experiences with the audience on various topics. Some sessions were good, and some were bad. I should say it is good to have sessions with bad content and/or delivery, as it gives people confidence that anyone can give a conference talk. At least in my life, this made a difference, since that is when I decided that I should give a talk to get rid of my fear of public speaking. I spoke with many speakers at the conference, took a lot of notes, and went back home feeling inspired.
After the conference, I read books and watched videos on public speaking. I videotaped myself speaking, and asked my then-girlfriend-now-wife, a collegiate public-speaking champion, to critique my video and speaking style (I should say this was one of the few occasions she took advantage of, and she gave me a feeling that I was a contestant in American Idol, berated by Simon Cowell). In 2012, I started speaking at small meetup groups and events. Then in 2013, after 7 months and 23 trial runs with various groups of people to get feedback, I finally gave my first conference talk. Mine was one of the best sessions at the conference, and the rest is history.
That one decision to invest in myself made me who I am today — an international keynote speaker, inspiring people globally. This experience made me realize that a mindset shift and consistency are keys to success in anything and helped me discover my true passion and career path, inspiring people through my stories and experiences.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
Employers have realized that they have to support their employees regarding mental and physical health, especially when burnout is happening at an alarming rate in various industries. So they have to turn to innovative strategies to keep them happy and help them have a better work-life balance. Some of them could include:
- Giving employees control of their work hours and helping them prioritize their personal life around it.
- Having online wellness classes either as part of work or online subscription that includes meditation, exercise, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities.
- Supporting them by providing the necessary tools and resources to perform their work effectively and removing obstacles.
- Increasing paid vacation days for employees to spend more time with their families without any obligations to attend to work.
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?
Based on my experience working remotely for several years and helping others do the same, here are the benefits I have seen with remote working:
Flexible work hours
You can decide hours that work for you to have a better work-life balance. For example — Say you want to work from 8 AM — 2 PM, then start work again from 5 PM — 7 PM, you can communicate this to your boss and the team you are working with and follow your own schedule. Of course, if you run your company like me, you can decide how you want to organize your work hours around your personal life. This is the biggest perk of working from home.
You are your own boss
When you are physically in the office, your team often dictates the way you work as you are generally in close contact with them. But at home, you do not have anyone around you, so you get to manage your time and plan work accordingly. You have complete control over it, and there is no one else there to criticize you as long as you get your work done. This gives a feeling of empowerment, and you become your own boss making your own decisions regarding how you work, what you want to work on, and when you are going to work on a particular task. This feeling is very liberating.
When you are at home, there are usually lesser distractions. You may have your pets or kids running around, but you can still tell them not to disturb you during work hours. This is hard to do when you are physically in the office surrounded by people as your coworkers are constantly stopping by your desk to talk to you, asking you to join them for lunch, or want to gossip about something. It drains your mental capacity and energy to do focused work. Also, the biggest perk of working from home is you do not get pulled into unnecessary meetings just because you are physically around.
People spend hours commuting to work, attending unnecessary meetings, and being surrounded by constant distractions at work. When you work from home, you can get back the time you spend on all these roadblocks to producing high-quality work.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
Being always online
In the age of digital communication tools like Slack, Skype, Facebook Messenger and much more, you get sucked into using these tools 24/7. This creates an expectation that you always need to be online to respond to coworkers’ messages, put off fires at work, and give status updates to your peers. So instead of working an eight-hour job, you end up being online for 12–14 hours a day, affecting your personal life.
Reduced human interaction
When you are physically at work, you get to talk to people, learn about their personal life, laugh at their jokes, and have a sense of community and friendship. But when you are working from home, you are all alone, staring at your monitor. You attend one virtual meeting after another and start to feel like a zombie having a mechanical lifestyle. You start missing the human connection you once had and want to meet people.
Distractions at home
Just because no coworkers are around does not mean working from home does not have distractions. You may have kids running around, your pets wanting to play with you (in my case, a cat who thinks he is a dog and wants to play fetch with me), your significant other thinking they can talk to you whenever they want to even during virtual meetings and much more.
Blurry line between work and personal life
The availability of tools to keep you connected with teams has made the line between work and personal life blurry. Although you have flexible work hours, you end up replying to work emails and messages during personal time, like playing with your kid or having dinner with your family. Before, you did not have this problem as you were physically at work, and then you came back home and spent time with your family.
Lack of motivation and structure
You have your colleagues and boss telling you what to do at the office. Other people often dictate your schedule, but that gives you the external stimuli you need to stay motivated (whether you like it or not) and follow a structure. At home, there is no one around you to ask questions, and there is no one holding you accountable for the task you decide will finish during a particular time of the day.
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?
First, let’s start with always being online. Just because you have digital communication channels does not mean you always have to be available 24/7. Unfortunately, with remote work, many people fall into this trap. Instead, clearly communicate your work hours and put your status as “Do not disturb” or “Offline” for the rest of the hours. This applies to the times you are doing focused work as well. Secondly, there will always be distractions at home, which is the nature of life. You cannot fight it, but you can minimize it. Start treating your work hours as “strictly” work hours, i.e., you should only focus on your office work and not do laundry, house cleaning, or any other chores you may usually do during non-work hours. Also, set some boundaries with your family that you will not be attending to personal matters when you are working and do not want to be disturbed. Communicate your work times to your family the same way you would with your team at work.
To keep you motivated, have a routine you follow everyday. The human mind likes routines, and when you start repeating the same things repeatedly, it will become a habit. I follow morning, day, and evening routines, and it looks something like this — When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is write down all the thoughts in my head onto a notepad. Then, I identify those thoughts that I wanted to do and prioritize them by putting a number between 1–10 next to them. My motto in life is to work on the top three things on my list and block time for them during the day. Next, I do focused 1-hour time block sessions to concentrate on these three tasks. This time is my creative time, and I put my phone and laptop in “Do not Disturb” mode. I turn on symphony music which helps my creative juices flow when doing critical work. Finally, at the end of the day, I look at the things I have completed, and those I did not get a chance to finish get carried over to the next day’s to-do list.
Finally, to increase human interaction, you could work a couple of days from co-working spaces where other remote workers like you would like to socialize. Set up lunch dates with friends during the weekdays to help you get some interaction and change from your normal routine, and finally, once a month, try to meet up with your coworkers for happy hours or some social event to feel still connected to your team.
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?
Whether you work remotely or physically in the office, career development is crucial to help you advance in your career, give you a meaning of fulfillment, and keep you motivated. Here are some ways to do just that:
- Carve out some time for personal development during the weekday. This could be outside work hours, or you can get permission from your boss to do it during work hours. During this time, take online courses on LinkedIn, Coursera, Udemy, and other online websites on various topics you feel interested in and want to learn more. Read articles, blogs, and other publications related to your interest areas.
- Hire a coach who could help you grow in certain areas you feel you are lacking in, and this will keep you motivated in both your personal life and career.
- Your personal brand is the most important thing that will help distinguish yourself from others, whether you are an entrepreneur or working for someone else. Spend some time in a social media platform where you think your audience hangs out and start posting and engaging with other people’s posts. For example — I am Tech Career Strategist, and my audience is on LinkedIn. So, I ensure I spend time posting meaningful and valuable content and engage with other people posts by commenting on them.
Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
There are several ways employers or managers can help their teams with career development. Some of the strategies I have personally used are as follows:
- Help your employees map out their interest areas and how they want to grow in their careers. Then work on an action plan together to help them reach their goals.
- Have regular 1:1 meetings to see who you can best support your employees.
- Give permission to your employees to attend conferences and take courses to help them grow.
- Encourage them to learn new things and share them with your team.
- Hand them opportunities that will help them get out of their comfort zone and grow as an individual.
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. :-)
Ordinary is easy, but being extraordinary is hard. When you continuously strive for greatness, after a while, it becomes a part of who you are. One key factor to get you in this path of awesomeness is building your brand.
What do I mean by building your brand? For example, say you have your favorite bodywash. You have been buying only that one brand of bodywash for several years. This is because you may like their advertisements, the ingredients, the fragrance, the price, the color of the packaging, the different sizes it is available in, and other factors that make you buy it regularly. Our personal brand is the same way. People get to know you not only because of your job description and name but also because of other skill sets such as communication, collaboration, teamwork, programming, out-of-the-box thinking, punctuality, empathy, and much more. Now, do you see the similarities with any particular brand? There are multiple factors that make up who you are and what you bring to the table. So how do you start building your brand?
- Build your social media footprint by posting valuable content and engaging with other people’s posts.
- Attend conferences and meetup events.
- Grow your network.
- Have a clear vision, goals, and tasks to help you grow in your personal life and career.
This is the first step in growing your brand, and making people recognize your skill set.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My hangout spot is LinkedIn (@rajsubra) and Twitter (@epsilon11). All my life’s work can be found on my website — www.rajsubra.com.
I love connecting with people, so hit me up!
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.