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Ep 5: Is Company Culture Remotely Possible?

Elon Musk labels remote work as “morally wrong,” yet workers continue ditching the office scene. How does a remote-first culture impact business? Is working remotely right for you?

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Meet Alex Helsen, Founder of Destination Remote

Follow Alex on LinkedIn

Alex is a Remote Work Advocate who helps other advocates speak up and build an authoritative brand on LinkedIn. 

He founded the Destination Remote newsletter to share weekly tips for Remote Workers to be more productive. In the newsletter, he meets remote company founders, employees and freelancers worldwide.

About Destination Remote

Destination Remote is the remote work newsletter that takes you around the world 🌍 

Learn more at destinationremote.beehiiv.com.

Episode Highlights

How Can Culture Drive Greater Profits?

Alex Helsen: I really am an advocate, but I'm not someone who wants to force remote work. The flexibility for people to choose from where they work [matters]. That's where you can really make a difference. The hard part is for many companies, is you really have to be intentional about it. You really have to go for it and create a remote-first culture. Give the opportunity to people who come in the office, but also who work remotely to get the same opportunities within the company to grow, but also you give them the same tools to be productive. 

[Some companies are saying: “Okay, we're getting people back into the office,” thinking that people are gonna be more productive in the office. I mean, spoiler, It doesn't work like that. It's about how you manage the people. I think this is really important for remote work. It's all in the company culture. 

Alex’s personal story:

I have a really good example. After COVID, I switched jobs. I worked at a Unicorn tech company in Belgium. The company had a great culture because we really could work from anywhere we wanted. They were really flexible around the timing we wanted to work and people just were more productive and worked better and were more motivated because we got this flexibility. Our employees really trusted [the company]. 

If I wanted to go to the hairdresser at 10 am for one hour, I just went. There was no problem. People were just like, okay, as long as his output is good, his job is done. We're happy about it. And of course we had coaches and everything to be productive. There was real support.

But there was not this micromanaging part, where you had to be present in the office to make sure that your manager could pass by check on your computer, if you were actually working or if you were rather chilling on Facebook or something. 

For me, on the culture part, it makes a real difference. If you have happy, motivated people who are loyal and they feel like they belong, the profit is going to come by itself.

So it's not about forcing people to work remotely or forcing people back to the office. It's about giving them the flexibility to work at the moments and places where they can be most productive.

Why did you start Destination Remote?

Alex Helsen: I recently quit my full-time job to go all by myself. Some of my friends call me Mr. Remote because I'm always talking about remote work. I stumbled upon a guy who took challenges all over the world and it gave me an idea. Let's talk about remote [work] and meet one remote worker in every country of the world and have them share [their] tips. The fun part is these can be freelancers, it can be founders of companies. It can be employees. It can really be anyone. So I just wanted people to share their tips, both on the company side as on the person working site. So I wanted to share this with people and make it fun.

Should everyone work remotely?

Crista Vance: I love that you say you don’t want to force [remote work] or [in office work] on people because some people have tried remote work and it doesn’t work for them. While for others it is the better option and for others having a little bit of both is the perfect thing for them. Having that culture of trust where the employee can do what is best for them is what you want to shoot for.

Alex Helsen: Absolutely, some people will feel better going to the office sometimes a week at a time or even full-time, others won't and that's the beauty of it. For me to remote work is about working from anywhere other than in the office. It's really about flexibility.

What advice would you give someone looking to work remote?

Alex Helsen: A lot of people hear you get the freedom, you get the flexibility and WOW, that sounds amazing! But it's not all good and everything is perfect. There's definitely a lot of drawbacks. I would say that the first thing you have to do is really have a kind of an introspection if remote work is really good for you. 

Alex’s top considerations before deciding to work remote:

  1. Intentional social life: You can get lonely pretty quickly. I know some people just don't want to be alone all the time and say, yeah, but I can go to a co-working office. Then they see the prices and they're like, okay, maybe I'll just stay home because I can't afford [it] and my company doesn't want to pay for it. So the first thing you have to do is make sure that you have a good social life. Have a hobby, something that at least a few times per week, you'll just go outside and do.
  2. Boundaries: The average American wins [back] about one hour a day on commuting. But then in the end over 50% of remote workers are actually spending that time to work more because they just can't set boundaries and they can't just close their computer at the end of the day. They're always connected. If you don't [set work boundaries] from the beginning, it's really hard to change. If you start doing it right from the beginning, it's way easier to maintain on the long term and to get this healthy life- work life balance.

Additional considerations from the Destination Remote newsletter:

  • Stick to a routine: Have some consistency. Wake up, get dressed and start your day as if you were heading to the office.
  • Take regular breaks: Get up and move so you're not just stationary sitting at your desk.
  • Practice self-care: Take that time to prioritize some exercise, and make sure you're getting good, sleep, and healthy nutrition.

Matt Vance: All those things are good in general. I actually ran track in college and our coaches would ask us about our eating, sleep and those types of things. Running is a very calculated sport, unlike football or basketball or soccer, where you can't predict how a play is going to go, you can predict which direction you're going to run. You can predict how much power and energy you have based on your inputs of sleep and exercise. I think remote work can be pretty predictable in that same way. 

Alex Helsen: Yeah, that's 100% true and I think it's not only remote work. It's really something very important in life, in general. There are also a lot of unhappy people that are working in offices. No matter if it's remote or not, working on your self-care and listening to your body and your mind [is important] before something bad happens, like a burnout or back pain, because you're sitting too much or not exercising.

Final thoughts:

Alex Helsen: [Remote work] is a give-and-take [relationship]. It always goes both ways and if it doesn't go both ways, then probably you are very bad at choosing your company or very bad at recruiting the right people. 

There was something that I wanted to add with the profitability concept for companies. I think your most important asset of a company is the humans, for sure. The culture you build is definitely going to impact your profits and the way the company goes in the future over the long term.

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