The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Our guest today is Laurel Farrer. As the founder of Distribute Consulting and The Remote Work Association, she starts, strengthens and leverages virtual workforces to solve corporate and socio-economic concerns. A global thought leader on the topic of remote work, Laurel collaborates with the world's leading businesses and governments to eliminate virtual worker discrimination, prevent policy retraction, increased remote job assessability, train distributed leaders and design economic initiatives. Additionally, she also shares her expertise as a Forbes contributor, subject matter expert for business education curriculum, and virtual software product advisor.

Links to Laurel's internet resources:

Laurel on LinkedIn
Laurel's remote work blog on Forbes
Distribute Consulting
Remote Work Association


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 (00:24):
Our guest today is Laurel Farrer. As the founder of Distribute Consulting and The Remote Work Association, she starts, strengthens and leverages virtual workforces to solve corporate and socio-economic concerns. A global thought leader on the topic of remote work, Laurel collaborates with the world's leading businesses and governments to eliminate virtual worker discrimination, prevent policy retraction, increased remote job assessability, train distributed leaders and design economic initiatives. Additionally, she also shares her expertise as a Forbes contributor, subject matter expert for business education curriculum, and virtual software product advisor.

Tyler Sellhorn (01:01):
Well, we are back on weworkremotely.com's The Remote Show with Laurel Farrer. Laurel, it is such an honor to be with "The Remote Mom" here in studio to just talk all things remote work. It's really, really awesome to see you here in this space. As a remote work advocate myself it's been really fun to like be in the same feeds as you, but now we're in the same room.
Laurel Farrer (01:28):
We're in the same room. I think I'm equally as excited for this conversation because you and I have had these conversations talking about remote work for so long one-to-one and now it's just being recorded. So I'm equally as stoked.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:42):
That's so cool. Okay. So one of my very favorite questions to ask other remote advocates is, do you have a favorite metaphor for remote work?
Laurel Farrer (01:53):
Give me an example.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:55):
For me, my favorite way to explain remote working is using nautical ideas. Thinking that Naval Captains are the original remote workers. Asynchronous communication, clear scope and sequence of tasks. Routines and building in dead reckoning of saying, "Okay, where are we now based upon observation?" Those are the things for me that I really love. Or maybe just how do you explain remote work to people who have a limited experience with working away from an office or a co-located environment?
Laurel Farrer (02:30):
That's a great question. I've never thought about it before, but I'm definitely going to be thinking about it. But for today, I think I'll just piggyback onto yours and help people understand that this opportunity to start working remotely is really them becoming the captain of their own ship. This is where you have much more control and responsibility than you might expect, then you might feel prepared for. But ultimately you get to go where you want to go in your daily schedule and in your career path. And in a lot of ways you have much, much, much more autonomy than ever before, but you have to take responsibility. You have to take ownership. It is a big job to be the captain of a ship and so you have to be willing to step up to the plate or else you're going to sink.
Tyler Sellhorn (03:17):
There it is. There it is. Okay, so what are some of the things that you've seen people be effective? What are the behaviors? What are the things that you've seen people say, "Okay, I am the captain of my own ship. These are the things that I'm going to do now."
Laurel Farrer (03:32):
I think my number one trait that I've always been screening for, and never really knew until I started really writing and speaking about it more in the past couple of years, is proactivity. I can't be babysitting anybody in a virtual environment as a manager. And there were many freelancers and employees that I had that that was what went wrong. And I found when I was most frustrated with them, or if I had to fire them, that is what it always boiled down to of them just sitting and waiting for the next assignment, or having a massive problem and not communicating that to me.
Laurel Farrer (04:10):
And me just having to explain like, look, I can't see you. I'm supporting you as much as I can, and I'm checking in often and providing you instructions, but if you're not willing to tell me when you're frustrated and if you're not willing to raise your hand and say, "I have a problem, I need help," and just be proactive in your critical thinking and problem solving, this is not going to work. So, yeah, for me, as a manager in the workflows that I designed in my own companies, it always boils down to that intrinsic motivation and self-starting proactivity.
Tyler Sellhorn (04:48):
Awesome. Awesome. Thank you for that, Laurel. Just wanted to give you an opportunity to share about you and what the businesses you're involved in. What are the problems that you're trying to solve with Distribute Consulting?
Laurel Farrer (05:00):
Yeah, so we are a consulting agency that specializes exclusively in remote work. Now, what that has primarily been based on for the past year is a lot of change management. So obviously converting operations from physical to virtual. And that's something that all of the consultants and experts in our team have been doing for at least a decade. So this is something we have a lot of experience with. We are absolutely thrilled to help as many organizations as possible really understand what it means to, not just allow people to work from home as a contingency plan, but really optimize virtual operations as a distributed organizational development model. So we help them optimize all of those resources and processes in their operations.
Laurel Farrer (05:47):
But in addition to that, we love just a lot of research and development of really fueling and pioneering remote work as an industry as well. So conduct a lot of research on the problems of remote work, and helping design solutions for them. We write a lot of thought leadership content and help train new brands on, what are the needs of remote workers, and how do you design products and marketing solutions for them? How can we leverage virtual jobs to be a solution for socioeconomic problems, like diversity and inclusion and environmental sustainability and economic development? So, yeah, we do a lot of very diverse things related to remote work and that's what we love about it. We love just playing in all things remote work.
Tyler Sellhorn (06:36):
That's awesome, Laurel. I know I'm very grateful for you and your team's thought leadership, and advocacy and consideration and intention around the entire remote work space. I know that I have felt the influence of y'all's trailblazing in the things that I've had an opportunity to do. So thank you very much. I just want to be grateful even just for this moment to be speaking to you today. So thank you so much, Laurel, for all of those things.
Laurel Farrer (07:01):
Thank you.
Tyler Sellhorn (07:02):
We have a lot of hiring managers and people seeking to be hired listening to our show. And we're curious, what was your first remote role and how did you end up landing that role? On the flip side, if you'd rather share a story about hiring your first remote role, whichever way you want to take that. Tell us the story of your first remote role, hiring or being hired.
Laurel Farrer (07:24):
Yeah, so my first remote role was 15 years ago. So we didn't really have the language of remote roles back then. Ironically it was actually just a couple of months ago that I realized that what I thought was my first remote role actually was my second remote role. So the first one that I usually talk about in interviews and in my writing is when I was an operations manager and we were converting our processes and we were scaling. So we needed a bigger office to fit the bigger team, and that's really expensive, especially for a small business. And so that's when the CEO and I really put our heads together and realized, oh, we don't need an office yet. Like, this is the events industry, and we're never at the office we're always on site. So let's wait until the high season's over. And then after the high season, when it was over, we never went back to the office.
Laurel Farrer (08:17):
And so that's how it started and played out and I've been remote since then. But a few months ago I realized that the job that I had before that I was the office manager of an interior design firm and I was onsite, but we were in the workplace transition as well. We were moving locations from one to another and for about nine months we were in a temporary location. And it was so small, this little temp office, that none of the designers and additional staff could be in the office. Nobody had offices in the firm. So they would just come onsite to get samples, or maybe a client meeting, but then the rest of the time they would work from home. And that was the first time that I managed a hybrid team.
Laurel Farrer (09:03):
And I didn't even think about that until literally like two months ago. I was like, "Oh, wait a second, that was a hybrid team." I had remote workers. I was onsite. We had a couple of other executives that would come and go, but there was me and the accountant that were in the office all the time, and that was it. So I really tried to dig deep into that experience as well and just remember, okay, what were all of the transition pain points of that hybrid team back then? Like, what can I remember from that time and how can I apply that knowledge when we had no tools, no cloud collaboration, no video calls, anything? Like, how can I really dig deep and remember the core principles that made us successful as a hybrid team then, and help use those to apply to now when so much of the world is going hybrid? So that's my origin story.
Tyler Sellhorn (09:56):
Okay. So that's awesome because the next question that I wanted to ask you about was how are you seeing ... Because we're talking to each other late March 2021, there's a lot of talk in the remote space right now of, okay, there might be some office experiences, or maybe not at all, or three days a week, or the hybrid this, or we're going to go fully distributed. How are you advising companies right now as it relates to hybrid, all remote, remote first? All the different hyphenated phrases that we're using these days to describe how we're going to get to work. What are the things that are on your mind as you try to explain the best way to move forward in 2021?
Laurel Farrer (10:43):
Yeah. Well, what I will say is that the statistics are definitely leaning towards hybrid being the new normal. Because of how this hyper-growth came about, we have an entire real estate industry that is relying on us to continue having offices for the foreseeable future. If everybody went remote overnight, all of the workers that are currently working remotely stayed remote, our economy would collapse. So that's not realistic. It's not an option. And any advocate that says the whole world's going remote right now is totally full of baloney. So we really need to stay focused on the realistic adaptation of what this really means. So it is looking like hybrid is the new normal. The statistics continue to hover around about 35 to 40% projections of the United States workforce continuing to work remotely, at least part-time post COVID. And we're nearing that, like you said, this is late March, 2021 and vaccinations are coming out and people are going back to the office.
Laurel Farrer (11:45):
So we are about to watch this happen and say, "Oh, are these statistics actually going to come to fruition?" So it is anticipated that people will continue to have flexible work options, but continue to go back into the office as well for that team comraderie that they've been missing, and just accessibility to certain equipment, and to really fulfill the ROI requirements for having real estate investments. So that's what we're moving towards.
Laurel Farrer (12:15):
But that 35 to 40% statistic will not decrease. It will only increase because remote work has always been, for at least the past five years, the number one employment benefit request of job seekers. And previously employers didn't really want to offer it, nor did they have to because nobody else was. But now, when you have 40% of the workforce working this way then it really opens up the opportunity for incoming talent to say, "Well, if you're not going to allow workplace flexibility, I'll go somewhere else that will." And then it becomes a very different conversation. So we do also anticipate that that 35 to 40% will only continue to increase as more employers that previously were committed to staying in the office now feel the pressure to offer more workplace flexibility options as they are losing talent to competing companies.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:12):
Okay. That is a comprehensive view of where we're at these days. I'm very interested to learn from you, let's zoom in to Laurel. And you're a remote hiring manager. What are the things that you make sure that you include in a job advertisement, or in your outreach to your network? What are the things that you say? How do you message the culture of your team, the way that you work, this is our style of remote working? What are the things that you use to communicate to get to the types of candidates you're hoping to have in your team?
Laurel Farrer (13:51):
Yeah. This is such an important conversation because remote work is not one size fits all. And that's a mistake that so many employers are making, is they're describing remote work as a company culture. So they're saying you can work here, we work remotely dot, dot dot, and it's like, okay, but what does that mean? That means very, very different things for different companies. You've got companies like Automattic that are very asynchronous, very autonomous in their tasks and in their workflows. And then you've got companies like Tech Star that are deep into synchronous work and collaborative teamwork and retreats and parties. Just like you have different company cultures for co-located teams, you have different virtual cultures as well. So I think it's really important that every single organization really identify, what is our virtual culture? How do we define and where do we fall on the spectrum of asynchronous work versus synchronous work? Teamwork collaboration versus autonomy, work and professional benefits versus personal life benefits.
Laurel Farrer (15:00):
There's so many different ways to identify our workflows and our processes. Are we more strategic work? Are we more tactical work? There's so many X factors that are mixed and matched to identify what employee experience is uniquely at your organization. So for me, and for the clients that I advise on talent acquisition, we really lean into that. And to identify what are performance expectations, and what does company culture look like at this organization?
Laurel Farrer (15:34):
Because some people are looking for schedule flexibility so that they can pick up their kids from school. Other people are looking for really repeatable, consistent work, so they're looking for more W2 employment. Other people are looking for something temporary, so they're looking for independent contractor work. People are looking for just easy work versus really challenging career development work. Just like everybody's looking for a different job, everybody's looking for a different virtual job too. And so we have to really embrace the diversity of remote work. That it's not just one size fits all. So what makes your organization different? What is the unique experience of working in your company? What value are they going to get out of it? What can they uniquely bring to the table and really define that unique value of your organization?
Tyler Sellhorn (16:24):
That's really great. Trying to adapt remote work to your specific set of candidates, or your specific set of employees. Adapting it to your organization. We're all idiosyncratically going about this thing, and how does it fit you? I think that's really, really great. So when you're evaluating candidates for a job, or maybe you're advising others on like, hey, here's a set of candidates for a job. What are the signals that you're looking for that say, oh, this person's ready for this role?
Laurel Farrer (17:01):
This is a great question because not only have I experienced this, but we also, a couple of years ago, came across this conversation a lot when we were building socioeconomic programs that we were creating talent pools of people that were being trained to be remote workers, and then trying to connect them with employers. And we're building these incredible programs and the job acquisition rates were still really low. So we had to really go in there, roll up our sleeves, and research and dissect these programs. The hiring funnel very, very, very carefully and investigate every single step to identify, what's going wrong here? Why aren't people getting hired? And most of the time, what it boiled down to is the ability to portray and enforce remote work skills during the talent acquisition funnel. So what we're not used to from before, when we would go into the office to interview, is that we only had to be on our A game when we went into the interview.
Laurel Farrer (18:04):
We could put on the suit and we could put on the smile and we walk into the office and then there's that person that we need to talk to. And we shake their hand and we make a good impression to that person, and that's really the only time that we needed to be really, really impressive. However, now, when we are hiring for virtual jobs, every single touch point that you have during a virtual talent acquisition funnel is part of your interview. So they are paying attention to how quickly you're responding to emails. How professionally you're writing those emails. What kind of questions you're asking the person that you think is just a screener, and that they're not the important person that you need to impress yet? They're paying attention to every single one of those steps because that is your professional virtual performance. So they're screening it all along the way. So that is, I think, the most common mistake that people make is thinking that the interview happens only on a video call.
Tyler Sellhorn (19:10):
How do we dress up for our virtual job interviews? How do we do that?
Laurel Farrer (19:15):
Yeah, so you remember that you are a virtual professional yourself all the time. This is the mantra of remote work advocates. Work is not somewhere that you go, work as something that you do. So you have to remember that you are the virtual professional the second that you apply. So pay attention to the applications that you are submitting. Put quality and thought into them, only apply for relevant positions. And then every single touch point that happens after that, take it seriously. The application rates, and this is what I want every remote job applicant to understand. The application rates for remote jobs are three to 6000% higher than any other in-person job.
Laurel Farrer (20:02):
So they have literally thousands of competitors. So they have to be on their A game in order to rise to the top. It's not like you're going to get a call and for maybe you're interested. The employers are working as hard as they can to cut the fat and to really only find the best of the best of the best people. And they have to go to pretty far extremes in order to find 20 good relevant candidates out of the 6,000 that applied. These are real numbers. So you have to be on your A game, be paying attention every step of the way. Only the best quality results respond to emails quickly. All of those little touch points make a big difference.
Tyler Sellhorn (20:51):
That's great stuff. That's great stuff. Okay, so one of the things that I'm curious about learning the story behind is what has it been like for you to change your messaging? Let's imagine it's 2019 and here's Laurel Farrer, remote work advocate. And now it's 2021. Laurel Farrer, remote work advocate.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:19):
Tell us the story of thinking that through of how you present yourself as, you're not necessarily a job seeker, but you are virtually selling your services. So tell us the transition of how you think about that today versus what you did before.
Laurel Farrer (21:37):
Do you want the nice version or the not nice? The real and raw version.
Tyler Sellhorn (21:41):
And all of the above. We're here to meet you.
Laurel Farrer (21:44):
So 2019, I really considered most of my role to be an advocate and a strategist. Yes, a consultant was my job title, it was my business model, but it was so much of just convincing people to understand that this is a reality. That this is a credible option. It was my entire day-to-day life was based on awareness. So the events that I would go speak at was just advocacy saying like, "Think about these statistics and look at these brands." And think about how this is a case for change. Like, think about the viability of this and the potential of this. And yes, I did some change management and yes, I did some research here and there, but nobody took remote work seriously. And because of that, they didn't take me seriously. So it was hard to be an entrepreneur, small business owner, woman owned business, and to really be taken seriously.
Laurel Farrer (22:50):
And then fast forward to now, in 2021, where it is a very different conversation. I am absolutely thrilled that the business world now sees remote work as a viable, credible business model. That we understand that yes, executives can be remote. And Fortune 500s can be remote. That's been my mission all along, it's like, let's get virtual operations out of the tech bubble, out of small businesses, and get it into the corporate world where people need flexibility. This is how we're going to meet scale: demand. So I'm really, really glad that it's there.
Laurel Farrer (23:33):
Ironically, now my messaging is, whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. Like, hang on, you're not doing as well as you think you are. Because now the world is saying, "Oh, we've been doing this for a year, "we're pros." And I'm going to start speaking about how I'm a remote work expert." And it's like, oh my gosh, hang on. You're not to the hard part yet. That's the big message that nobody wants to hear is that anybody can go remote. Literally anybody can go remote, which is what we saw for the past year. Anybody can go remote, it's staying remote that is a challenge.
Laurel Farrer (24:16):
And it is so hard, especially in hybrid teams. It is so, so difficult that there's this tidal wave of stress and chaos that is coming up in our future that nobody knows about. And they're so busy celebrating how incredible they've been for the past year that they are unwilling to really listen and think about what this could mean for our economy, and for their businesses after this sustainability conversation comes about. So that's how my personal messaging has shifted and come across, and has evolved over the past year, is trying to push, push, push, push, push people to consider this as an option, and then now pulling back on the reins and saying, "Hang on, slow down. There's a lot of changes that you need to make in order for this to be successful that you haven't made yet. And if you don't, you're going to be in trouble."
Laurel Farrer (25:13):
And there's so much hyper growth in this industry that we're just not prepared for. So a lot of the things that we need, like laws and tools and infrastructural funding support just don't exist yet. And so we're in for a rough ride for the next, at least three to five years.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:33):
So we've discussed Distribute Consulting here in this moment together, but you're also the founder of The Remote Work Association. As you think of 2021 and beyond for The Remote Work Association, what are the things that you see RWA flying the flag for?
Laurel Farrer (25:50):
Yeah. So The Remote Work Association is this funny thing that it sounds really good and I get a lot of attention about it, but it just started as like me and a few friends that were also remote work advocates, that we would have these incredible conversations when we would get together at a conference, and like those back greenroom conversations. Like, oh, let's talk about the unsexy stuff that's totally different than what we say on stage. And we would have these really great deep conversations about the lame stuff that the audience didn't want to hear about of compliance and human resource legislation and stuff. We're like, how do you do that? And what do you do? So the association was just an opportunity for us to continue those conversations as a distributed team.
Laurel Farrer (26:38):
Like, let's do talk about these deeper topics. Impact on economic development, and impact on virtual professionalism and representation and things like that. And it started as like me and what? Like 15 people. And then it grew slowly and organically. And it was at the end of 2019 that we were looking at the register and we were like, "Oh my gosh, this has grown to a couple of hundred people. Wow, how did that happen?" And, Oh, this is kind of a thing, we need to do something with this. And so we were in the process of thinking, how do we build this as a community and give value to this community? And then March, 2020 happened, and we got several, I mean we quadrupled our size in a couple of weeks and we were like, "Whoa, hang on."
Laurel Farrer (27:22):
We're so busy as change management consultants we can't really do anything with this. So The RWA has been just sitting there in the freezer for almost a year saying, well, now we have this even larger, more saturated, audience of people that are committed to being thought leaders and advocates. What do we want to do with this? How do we want to make a difference? So the vision that I have for that is really focusing more on research. Using these people that are very, very committed as advocates and as thought leaders, not just, yay, I'm a remote worker, but like, how do we solve the problems of remote work? There is so much work to do to catch up because of the hyper-growth of the industry. And it is, it's going to take a village for all of us to come together, share our perspectives, share our connection, share our ideas, share our pain points, to really solve this as a community. So that's my future hope for it.
Tyler Sellhorn (28:21):
Awesome. Awesome. Well, I am very, very grateful to be one of the many fans of your work, and the folks that are grateful for the ways that you've led the charge. And been the vanguard of remote working long before 2020 brought it to us all at once. And we are so incredibly grateful for the contribution that you've made, and are making in our space. So thank you very much, Laurel.
Laurel Farrer (28:48):
Thank you. Well, thank you as well. You were one of those originals as well, and We Work Remotely. We Work Remotely and I have been nudging each other and talking to each other and watching each other for years. So, yeah, it definitely is these platforms, those of us that got into this before it was cool, we made big sacrifices to bring this to fruition. There's a lot of value in this original community. And I hope that the stress of 2020, of the hyper-growth of remote work is now over, and now all of us have a little bit more clear head and our feet underneath us to be able to say, "All right, let's do this. Let's bring our best practices and ideas and innovation to the community that we envisioned having 10, 15 years down the road." Like, oh, it's happening sooner than we thought, but here it is, let's do it.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:42):
Well, as you know listening to this podcast, you know that Laurel is a real one. And if you want to stay connected with her, she is on Twitter, Laurel_Farrer, on Twitter and on Instagram. She is a very loud voice and advocate on LinkedIn as well. She's also a contributor to the Forbes blog talking about remote work. So stay connected to her stuff, it's the very best out there for remote working and learning about that together. So thank you very much, Laurel and blessings.
Laurel Farrer (30:15):
Thank you, Tyler, my friend. I really appreciate this opportunity. It's been a pleasure.
Tyler Sellhorn (30:19):
You're welcome.
Tyler Sellhorn (30:22):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. But 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, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks again for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. 

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