The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Amanda's Internet Things:


@very_demanda on Twitter

very_demanda on Instagram

very_demanda on TikTok

Amanda on LinkedIn


Tyler Sellhorn (00:02):
Hello, everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn, and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work, with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.

Tyler Sellhorn (00:21):
Today, we welcome Amanda Nielsen, partner manager at Formstack, a pioneering organization in the remote work movement. Amanda is also a consultant, speaker, and advocate for diversity and inclusion. Thanks to Amanda's knack for catalyzing conversations and forging meaningful connections, she thrives on driving growth for companies by establishing, developing, and maintaining relationships with key strategic partners, thought leaders and industry stakeholders. Eager to empower her peers and use her passions for marketing diversity and innovation, to create positive change, she aspires to leverage her perspective to challenge the status quo and serve as a role model to her community. When not helping Formstack partners grow, she can most likely be found petting strangers' dogs. Amanda, welcome to The Remote Show.

Amanda Nielsen (01:05):
Hey, thanks for having me.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:05):
It was such a blast to make internet friends and meet you here, screen to screen and over the wire here on our show. I'm really curious, what problems are you all trying to solve at Formstack?

Amanda Nielsen (01:17):
Yeah, so Formstack is a productivity tool consisting of forms for data collection, document generation, digital signature, but essentially what Formstack does as an organization is revolutionizes the way that people collect data and put it to work. All of those long, arduous processes that were once in person, on pen and paper, we help companies digitize those and ultimately drive more efficiency and come into the 21st century.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:50):
Fantastic. Speaking of efficiency, you all have really leaned into the remote working space and have been one of those original teams to lean into the idea of work can be done anywhere, right? Tell me, what does working in a remote environment enable for you? What does that mean for you?

Amanda Nielsen (02:09):
Yeah, the way I think about it is it's kind of like having crippling amounts of freedom. It's really awesome in a lot of ways, but it definitely has its drawbacks and challenges. Overall, I love it. I'll never be able to come back to an office, I don't think, not full-time. But yeah, I started working remote even before COVID, before it was cool. It's nice to see the rest of the workforce starting to follow suit.

Tyler Sellhorn (02:40):
Tell us that narrative, how it is that you ended up being able to work remotely. Is Formstack your first remote position?

Amanda Nielsen (02:47):
Yeah, my first fully remote position. I live in Vermont, and as you can imagine, the tech scene is not exactly booming here. When I was on the job hunt, I was really hoping to find a remote role. I wasn't in a place where I wanted to move into a city, still don't want to do that. I wanted to stay in my industry and so it took a lot of resources and took probably like six months in total to land a fully remote role that I was happy with, and that ended up being Formstack.

Tyler Sellhorn (03:19):
Cool. Go back to the beginning for us. How did you start your remote work journey? Give us some milestones along the way. How did you end up finding the role that was for you and it being the one that you were able to provide some value to the organization and for it to be the one that you were looking for? How did you evaluate those opportunities?

Amanda Nielsen (03:40):
Yeah, starting my job search, one thing that was really helpful to me was having a robust social media presence already so I was able to leverage my network to learn of new remote opportunities, get interviews, introductions, et cetera. Then during that job search, I also picked up some freelance consulting and so that helped me adjust to the official remote workforce, just coordinating everything exclusively over Zoom and working with people who are states away or even on a different continent. That was a good entry point for me. Then from September to December, I was searching for roles, looking online for remote resources. At the time it definitely wasn't as common to find remote roles, especially at the bigger companies that are headquartered in cities. I searched all sorts of resources, We Work Remotely being one of them actually and a whole slew of others.

Tyler Sellhorn (04:46):
Hey, yo, shout out.

Amanda Nielsen (04:48):
Yeah. I was religiously following these job boards, trying to find something that was relevant. A lot of them were developer jobs I noticed too and I was pretty concerned that I wasn't going to be able to find a role that was a really good fit for me without having to do some sort of travel or even move. Ultimately, I came across Formstack. my current boss, Zak Pines, who is our VP of partnerships, I actually knew him prior to joining Formstack. He was the VP of marketing at a company called Bedrock Data, which was a client of the marketing agency I used to work at, so we knew each other that way. Then I think Formstack had an open marketing role listed on one of the job boards, I can't remember which. I had asked Zach about and he was like, "Hey, I think you'd actually be a really good fit for my partner team. We haven't posted the role yet, but we're looking to add this kind of position." Then I started the interview process from there.

Tyler Sellhorn (05:50):
That's so interesting to me. I want to drill down on one of the things that you said, of really leveraging the opportunity to make connections in the internet, to find a job that is done in the internet. Tell me more about, you said, a robust social media presence. What does that include for you when you say, "I have a robust social media presence and that was something that I leveraged into earning a remote position."

Amanda Nielsen (06:16):
Yeah. One, I had a big network to work with, and two, I had credibility. Those two things combined, I think, would make up a good social media presence that you can leverage in that capacity. I've always been a social media person. I'm 23, so it's standard for being a young person. It wasn't until probably my sophomore year of college, I started using Twitter in a professional sense and then also started to use LinkedIn once I had internships and things to actually post about. Gradually, I just continued to build up my network, always taking every opportunity to network with people in person and then online and then creating content about those experiences, which leads to more connections. It just has snowballed over the years to the point where I am now, where I have a really big community that has stepped in to help me tons of times, that I can always count on and really have brought my career to another level.

Tyler Sellhorn (07:21):
I just want to double down on the idea that internet friends are friends and that being an internet person on the internet doing internet things has a payoff, right?

Amanda Nielsen (07:31):
It does.

Tyler Sellhorn (07:31):
You're talking about a return on an investment of lots and lots of compounding time and energy and investment that has paid off for you in the type of role that you would hope to have. Obviously, there's the professional connections you mentioned, people that you've worked with before or you've had a professional relationship with before. So many of us in the remote working space have worked as a freelancer first and there's even those style of engagements on job boards to say, "Okay, we're going to do a contract to hire, or we're going to engage this person in a long-term contractor relationship." Those are things that do happen here in the remote space and that's really cool to hear that rhyming with your experience as well.

Tyler Sellhorn (08:10):
Okay, one of the things that I'm curious to learn more about is when you are describing yourself as someone who connects with thought leaders, I'll say it again, thought leaders, in the silly ways that we've made fun of it and also the serious ways that that is a real thing, what do you think about when you say, "I am a thought leader," or, "I engage with other thought leaders," what does that mean to you?

Amanda Nielsen (08:35):
I too hate that phrase. I put my own spin on it and that's been my brand is thot leader, but T-H-O-T, because I'm 23 and it's funny. That's always been my brand. I describe it as, I don't know, hot girl shit meets Fortune 500, somewhere in between there. That's my brand, is just being like a young person in the corporate world and really being authentic and being almost an anti-thought leader. I started out on the opposite end of the spectrum before I had a lot of confidence in my persona and my content and my abilities. I kept it super professional, super boring and super average, like what everyone else posts. Then as I got more experience, I started to loosen up a little bit, be more creative of my content, be more honest and vulnerable.

Amanda Nielsen (09:34):
There was definitely a big turning point for me after my first big public speaking engagement. I wrote very candidly about the experience and dealing with imposter syndrome and all that good stuff, and received a lot of really positive feedback from that. That was assigned to me that that's the type of content people really want to see. LinkedIn and Twitter and all the platforms are completely oversaturated with the generic bullshit that everyone already posts, so that's how that all came about.

Tyler Sellhorn (10:08):
Tell us more about the turning point you mentioned. When you're saying, "Okay. I've been showing up in these sanitized, corporate ways," tell us about the before and after. What is the moment, you mentioned that you had an opportunity to speak, tell us about the before and after of that opportunity.

Amanda Nielsen (10:26):
Yeah. This is a fun story. I consider it almost like an origin story, which I think is an important thing to have when you are building an online persona.

Tyler Sellhorn (10:37):
Take us on the Joseph Campbell journey.

Amanda Nielsen (10:41):
I was an intern at the marketing agency I used to work for my junior year of college and one day my CEO came to us. It was a HubSpot agency, so we were very intertwined in the HubSpot ecosystem and that was a really important big partner for us. He comes to me and he's like, "HubSpot's big conference, Inbound, is having an open call for speakers. I think we should have some people apply," and he was like, "Okay, can you help me," and he named a few other older employees, "Can you help us create our pitches," because it had to be a video pitch and a little script and an application, like, "Can you help us do that?" And so I did.

Amanda Nielsen (11:19):
At that point, I had been running webinars and occasionally doing podcasts and interviews and things like that. I always knew I really liked public speaking and that I was semi-decent at it. I was hoping that I could apply, but obviously I was like, "Okay, what, I'm like 20 at that point, I'm not even graduated college yet, there's no chance." Also, I was like, "That would look really dumb if I told anyone or brought that up."

Amanda Nielsen (11:47):
I helped them all submit formal pitches and then I filmed my own, literally in a closet in the office, I got my cell phone, and submitted it just for practice. I didn't tell anybody that I did it because I really was not expecting anything to come of it. Then a few months later, my CEO came to me and was like, "Hey, I just got the email. My pitch got rejected. Thanks so much for all your hard work. You did a great job." Then I went and checked my email and I had gotten selected, which was such a crazy moment. Yeah, it was really cool. That was a moment where I was like, "Wow, I guess I do know my shit. Wow, I guess people do want to listen to me, even though I'm not a 35-year-old male CEO."

Amanda Nielsen (12:40):
Then that whole journey, preparing for this big 45-minute talk in front of like 400 people, there were ups and downs. There were definitely moments where I was like, "I don't think I can do this. Oh my God, I'm going to get up there and talk in front of all these people who have literally been in the workforce longer than I've been alive. Who am I to do that?" Through that process, I dealt with imposter syndrome. Then eventually the conference came around and I absolutely killed it, got asked to do an encore session and just had the best time. That was really affirming to me, that people do care about what I have to say. Even though I am young, I'm not super buttoned up and formal and that people actually really like that.

Tyler Sellhorn (13:30):
Showing up as yourself allows people to engage with you.

Amanda Nielsen (13:34):

Tyler Sellhorn (13:34):
It's really special when people do that. Thank you for showing up as yourself today, Amanda, we appreciate you.

Amanda Nielsen (13:41):
Yeah, you're welcome.

Tyler Sellhorn (13:43):
One of the things you mentioned as you were sharing your origin story was talking about interfacing with older, more experienced colleagues. When you think about imposter syndrome or when you think about interacting with people that are older, that have more experience, what are the things that you say to them as they are saying, "Oh, I see Amanda being successful online. She has a social media presence." How do you coach them into showing up as themselves, as adults who might be wanting to leverage those same professional networks that you've found? What are the tips that you've shown to people?

Amanda Nielsen (14:21):
Yeah. I'm always the go-to when people need help. They're like, "I've never posted on LinkedIn before. What do I do?" I definitely am always happy to share tips with people. It doesn't always come naturally to people who are older and maybe didn't grow up with social media. Typically, I recommend, one, not diving in headfirst, because it's super uncomfortable. If you've been on LinkedIn for years and you literally have never even posted a single thing, going and writing a blog post or something super personal right off the bat is probably not going to be very well-received and also feel really strange. I always recommend people do a slow build. You can start by commenting on other people's posts or even resharing other people's content with your own insight attached to it. These lower commitment things that you can, one, use to make yourself feel more comfortable in sharing your opinion and then also capitalize on the reach of other people to continue and build that network.

Amanda Nielsen (15:25):
And always sending a LinkedIn connect to everyone you meet, literally doesn't matter if they're not relevant to your current role or anything. Down the line, that person could come in handy at a different company 10 years from now, it really doesn't matter. You should always be looking to expand your ecosystem of people that you interact with because you never know when it'll help you. Starting out that way, and then when you do feel ready to start posting content, you can keep it moreso professional. Obviously, I recommend adding your authenticity and a personal spin and personal commentary on something business related or related to your role or something. Then you can start to build your personal brand and sprinkle in things that maybe don't pertain directly to your role, but matter to you, here and there.

Amanda Nielsen (16:21):
It really is a super long game. I've been building my social presence since 2017, in a professional sense. It's just something you've got to commit to and do over time, it doesn't come overnight obviously. It can be really hard to figure out what to post. I remember when I was first using Twitter, I would make a task for myself once a day to just tweet something. It didn't have to be work-related, just literally anything, It could have been a photo from the weekend, as a way to make a habit of sharing things with people. Now, I'm a total menace on social media and I can't stop. I post way too much probably and way too many personal things, but it just takes a long time to really get your footing and find your niche and also your community who will be interacting with that content.

Tyler Sellhorn (17:21):
I was interested to meet and interview you on The Remote Show because of your authentic self showing up in your Twitter, in your LinkedIn, and you just mentioned something that's really important about boundaries. We're saying, "Okay, what's going to be okay for me and what's not going to be okay?" As you've continued to show up as yourself online, how do you think about drawing those boundaries between what I'm going to be posting and what I'm going to keep for myself?

Amanda Nielsen (17:48):
Yeah, that's a good question. I don't have any hard and fast rules around what I share. It definitely has been evolving over time as I've morphed my professional persona with actually me. Really, my rule of thumb is to keep it positive or funny. I don't share excessive complaints or stuff that isn't really going to either be valuable to someone or make them laugh. It's hard to give examples there. The one thing that I do usually keep separate is my personal Instagram, although I do have some internet friends on there, but for the most part that is a private account and that's where I can interact with my friends, but Twitter is open to the world and LinkedIn as well.

Tyler Sellhorn (18:47):
If you're thinking about being a remote hiring manager someday or if you happen to be looking for another remote role, what are the things that you think you want to communicate or that you want to make sure you see in a job advertisement or on a careers page or on an about page of a marketing site? What are the things that you think are really the things here in 2021 that we're going to say, "Ooh, we are for real remote and these are the things that show that that's true."

Amanda Nielsen (19:18):
Yeah. Particularly before COVID, there were a lot of companies that would be like, "We're remote-friendly," but they had zero remote infrastructure in place to actually support that. They'd tout work-from-home privileges as this huge benefit to try and draw people in, but when you actually used it, people would be like, "Oh, she's not in the office, again." It was also very difficult to collaborate with coworkers who, if your team is partially in the office and you're the only one remote and you're just sitting there on a screen while everyone else is talking to each other and there's not any precedent or standard of collaboration with folks who are remote, it can be a negative experience.

Amanda Nielsen (20:04):
In looking for a remote role, definitely have an existing remote infrastructure and getting reassurance that you're going to be provided all the technology you need, and a stipend for your home office is one thing that Formstack does, which is awesome, and having a sub-community of remote workers. At Formstack, we were 60% remote before COVID so it was a huge part of the culture. We would have virtual events all the time. Our biggest company events, our monthly meetings and stuff would all be virtual. All the people who were actually in person in the offices would gather around one screen and they would call in and everyone has video on.

Amanda Nielsen (20:51):
There's all sorts of different tools that you can use to make it interactive. This year, we didn't get to do our in-person annual retreat that we usually do so they had to improvise. There was an escape room, a virtual escape room, which was really cool, and they brought in this outside entertainment.

Tyler Sellhorn (21:13):
Those are fun.

Amanda Nielsen (21:14):
Yeah, or they brought in a magician and all this stuff. It's silly, but it's something, and it just goes to show that they really are committed to keeping people engaged even when we can't all be together in person.

Tyler Sellhorn (21:27):
Yeah, those are really good touch points to think about when you're thinking about communicating or looking for remote working legitimacy. That's really important.

Amanda Nielsen (21:36):

Tyler Sellhorn (21:38):
When you think about a version of working remotely in 2019 versus what we've experienced here during the pandemic, 2020, 2021, and then you look ahead to 2022, give us that compare and contrast. Where were we and where have we been, and then where are we headed? What do you think about when you think about remote working in those three phases of our recent history?

Amanda Nielsen (22:04):
Yeah. In my job search, I was applying to jobs regardless of whether or not they said they were remote and I was just hoping I could convince them to let me be some sort of hybrid employee, either fully remote or traveling occasionally to be in person. That was fairly common, people would be like, "Okay, well, you have to come in once a month and make a commute to Boston," which is like three hours, just to spend however many days in the office in the same room as the people I'm working with every day. I got met with that a lot.

Amanda Nielsen (22:40):
I don't necessarily know what the aversion was. I think there was a sentiment that they'll take advantage of company time if they're not being literally watched over their shoulder or if they're not in the office, in that setting, which obviously isn't true. I'm significantly more productive at home because, one, I don't have a commute, two, I'm not distracted by my coworkers playing ping pong or talking on the phone super loudly or banging on a gong when someone closes a deal. Honestly, especially in the tech industry, or at least how it was prior to COVID, I don't miss that kind of office environment at all, at least day-to-day.

Amanda Nielsen (23:26):
I do miss events and being able to see my coworkers in person. Formstack does a really good job, or did and will do so once everything is up to normal, does a good job of incorporating in-person events into the company as a whole and then into our roles, particularly. We're given opportunities for once a year can choose some sort of learning thing that you want to do, whether it's a conference or take a course or whatever. I'm technically under the sales team, so I was traveling to conferences and able to do talks and stuff like that and see people. So, yeah.

Tyler Sellhorn (24:03):
Yeah, I think that's interesting to hear you break out the different moments in time there, where it sounds like, okay, there was a work-from-anywhere hybrid thing that companies like Formstack ... My day job is at Hubstaff, we missed out on our in-person retreat last year, right? Even those organizations that are fully remote or have a deep commitment to working remotely, even that was hybrid because we got together for a week. There is benefit to being together, but letting those moments together be about synchronous bonding and then letting those moments where we get away to be about the work. It's really cool to hear our experiences rhyming there.

Tyler Sellhorn (24:44):
Okay, Amanda, I want to close with this question. If you were to say anything to someone who is seeking a role in a remote job, what's something that you wish you could have told 2018 Amanda, or imagine the Amanda of today, May 2021, that is seeking a remote position? What are the things that you would want her to know or you would want to say to her as she's figuring things out and finding this remote role that she was seeking?

Amanda Nielsen (25:15):
Definitely making sure that you have an online presence. If you're asking a company to hire you and communicate solely online and you don't have any type of social media or demonstrated expertise in engaging in that medium, you can't expect them to hire you. The other thing about everything being remote now is that candidates are not just local, they're all over the world, so jobs are significantly more competitive. Definitely leaning into that online presence, regardless of whether or not you want a remote role, it is just so valuable to be immersed in a community online and within your industry and other areas of your life that you care about. It will always, always serve you.

Amanda Nielsen (26:03):
So I'd say that, and just knowing the etiquette and working hard, because again, it is so competitive and you have to have every edge you can get, whether it's how you dress for an interview or how you follow up after or sending thank you notes virtually to your interviewers and things like that.

Tyler Sellhorn (26:27):
Awesome, awesome. Thank you for those tips, Amanda, and thank you for your time today and sharing what you've learned as you've been a remote worker at Formstack. I'm curious, if people want to stay connected with you, what are the best ways to follow you?

Amanda Nielsen (26:42):
Twitter is probably my best platform, most entertaining. My @ very_demanda, so Amanda, but with D-E.

Tyler Sellhorn (26:53):
We'll be sure to include all the links to Amanda's stuff on the internet with the episode, so check out the show notes. But again, thank you, Amanda, for sharing your learning. It's a pleasure speaking with you today.

Amanda Nielsen (27:04):
Yeah, thanks for having me, Tyler.

Tyler Sellhorn (27:05):

Tyler Sellhorn (27:09):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show, and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. If you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at podcast@ weworkremotely.com, that's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening and we'll talk to you next time.

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