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Top lessons from remote founders in 2021

Table of Contents
I.Lesson 1: Be conscious of your mental and physical health
1. 1.Encourage vulnerability by living it
1. 2.Truly connect with others
1. 3.Invest in your physical well-being
II.Lesson 2: Identify your values and lead your company with integrity
2. 1.Pay attention to your overall mission
2. 2.Prioritize your responsibilities as a leader
III.Lesson 3: Drive growth through content
IV.Lesson 4: Hire internationally
V.Lesson 5: Turn remote collaboration into an asset
5. 1.The virtual office 
5. 2.Tacit knowledge sharing
VI.Lesson 6: What can we expect in the world of remote
6. 1.The future of Nation States and remote work communities
6. 2.The future of digital nomads
6. 3.Remote work in 2022
In 2021, we interviewed remote founders and leaders on our Building Remotely podcast - here's a summary of what we learned! We're jumping into season 3 with our latest episode on The story of SafetyWing, and will continue gathering information and advice on building and scaling remotely.

Lesson 1: Be conscious of your mental and physical health

We spoke to Melissa Ng from Bravely about the importance of promoting mental health literacy and healthy practices you can implement for your remote team.

Encourage vulnerability by living it

The first step to helping someone is to be aware that they need help. And recognizing this in a remote team is even more difficult. 
When you lose the power of observation that comes with working together in an office, you rely on your team to speak up when they're struggling. The first step in creating a culture of vulnerability is being open and vulnerable yourself.     
"Be transparent and brave enough to be vulnerable. This doesn't only include big emotions, but being able to say “Hey, I've had a hard time last week. I'm going to take Monday off for a much-needed mental health day.”

Truly connect with others

According to Melissa, we are relying too heavily on digital tools and devices to create social connections. Rather than having a small number of meaningful relationships, we tend to have a big amount of superficial connections. 
"Stop collecting connections and start building them."
Pia Mancini from Open Collective also highlighted the trade-offs for online platforms:
"Social media seemed like this incredible tool that could open up the gates of power for us, affect change and bring about democracy in the Middle East and South America. And a lot of that happened. But we forgot that we are also being used by these algorithms."

Invest in your physical well-being

We know that physical and mental health are intrinsically connected. If you don’t take your sleep and diet seriously, it will have repercussions in every part of your body - including your brain.
We spoke to Rodolphe Dutel from Remotive about how to create a work environment that supports your overall health and productivity. 
Remote work allows you to create your perfect work environment. Creating clear habits around dedicated work environments not only increases productivity but also the quality of your leisure time. 

Lesson 2: Identify your values and lead your company with integrity

"Your team can almost manage itself when you are all working in the same direction." 
One of the biggest concerns co-located companies have about going remote is maintaining their culture. According to Darcy Boles from TaxJar,Values and culture in a co-located space can easily just be glass-plaques on a wall. And when you go remote it does not kill culture, it reveals it, very quickly.”
So how can you lead a culture of belonging remotely?

Pay attention to your overall mission

Values are the foundation of your company culture. You want to be very intentional about setting them, as they will impact every decision you make down the line.
Sarah Hawley from Growmotely points out that being unapologetic about your mission and values does not contradict commercial success:
"There is charity and non-profit work and then there is business, and if you want do business you just have to make sacrifices. That’s not true. We can absolutely stay with our convictions, stay with our alignment and be abundant and widely successful. That is 100% true but we need to let go of this belief system and conditioning." 
A compelling vision not only affects your company internally but has the potential to reach further and touch every stakeholder of the company:
"The vision is important because that is the bit that excites customers, investors and your team and gets them to say "Hey I want a part of that, lets do that together!"

Prioritize your responsibilities as a leader

In order to lead a company effectively, you need to do what’s important. And naturally, your responsibilities change as you scale. Michael Alexis from Team Building has his own system of prioritization:
"A priority for me is should-do's vs. must-do's. Being able to focus on the must-do's and cutting out the should-do's is definitely going to move you forward."
Delegating responsibilities can be a difficult task but keeping the same responsibilities as your company grows might actually do a disservice to your team. It will keep you from more meaningful tasks even though you have the resources to hire someone qualified to take over the job. 
"What are you hanging on to? When our ego is feeling threatened we tend to do the thing we are really good at but does not need to be done by us."

Lesson 3: Drive growth through content

"We have to drive our decisions by data but at the same time we are dealing with human behaviour which is oftentimes more art than science."
In order to stand out in the modern digital landscape, you need to understand your customers and create content that they need.
We spoke to Irina Papuc from Galactic Fed about improving your SEO and creating organic growth as a remote company: “Your job as a great SEO these days is to understand the best practices very well. What they boil down to is writing great content and making it super relevant and insightful for your users.” 
An important part of this strategy should be to optimize your website’s mobile experience. As Irina concluded: "We should not neglect desktop experience but Google continues to use your mobile experience as a guiding light to how it ranks your page.”

Lesson 4: Hire internationally

"I believe the best talent can be found anywhere. The companies that have embraced a distributed model of working will have a massive opportunity to access great talent anywhere in the world."
Going remote majorly broadens your accessible talent pool overnight. Yet, many remote companies are hesitant to hire someone outside their geographical jurisdiction or even in a different timezone. 
However, services like Pilot, Oyster and Deel make hiring much easier nowadays.
Hiring internationally doesn't only give you an edge to find and attract the best talent  - 52% of remote workers said they would consider leaving their colocated company for a remote job. Not expanding your hiring pool will soon cost you more than adopting new systems of onboarding and hiring globally.
You also contribute to increasing global equality of wealth and opportunities according to Tony Jamous from Oyster:
"If you create a world where companies in the western world that are really fighting for talents are able to tap into this amazing talent pool that is coming online in the next ten years, you will not only help these companies grow but also reduce wealth inequality and brain drain."

Lesson 5: Turn remote collaboration into an asset

"For the world that has just gone remote, there is still this question: can you actually form the same level of trust as you would in person? What gave us a lot of confidence that this is possible is the entire generation connecting and making friends through playing games online and talking on Discord."
Probably the biggest struggle that arose as many companies switched to remote during the pandemic was facilitating effective collaboration between their team members. 
If you stop looking at the things that remote doesn't let you copy from a co-located environment and start looking at the opportunities it provides, it opens possibilities that redefine collaboration altogether. 

The virtual office 

Rajiv Ayangar from Tandem mentions that serendipitous watercooler moments are difficult to replicate in a remote environment, but not impossible: 
"The hallway conversations, the watercooler moments, the ability to pop out of a meeting room and pull in a third person - all these categories are quite difficult to replicate unless you have this category of the virtual office."
And according to Teamflow founder Flo Crivello, the virtual office has unlimited, and yet untapped, potential, compared to its physical counterpart:
"You would imagine, now that we have gone remote and that we have infinite real estate, we would use it to create infinite working rooms. But instead, we don't have many of them. You can see a lot of passion for the product, though. I really see the virtual office at the iPhone 1 stage of their existence - pre AppStore. People already loved the product, just imagining what it could be once there is an AppStore."

Tacit knowledge sharing

One of the last challenges that remain in a virtual environment is the exchange of tacit knowledge. Uri Bram from the Browser defines tacit knowledge as “the difference between watching someone cook and reading a recipe book. No matter how good the recipe book is, it just can't explain the entire process.
The natural flow of tacit knowledge in a remote company is more difficult to achieve. Services like Loom are successful in bridging the communication gap when it comes to knowledge sharing.
"One of the issues of tacit knowledge is: you don't know if you don't have it. For me, this is the difference between a good company and an extraordinary company - their ability to transfer tacit knowledge from people with different areas of expertise to each other."

Lesson 6: What can we expect in the world of remote

We are beginning to see that remote work is shaping more than how we work - it is affecting all aspects of our life.

The future of Nation States and remote work communities

Remote work enabled the most mobile workforce in human history. This is creating a competitive landscape in which countries need to provide better benefits in order to keep their citizens. 
"This new world that we are living in is all about the people. Before, it was all about the companies. You would go to Silicon Valley because there were a lot of opportunities there. And you wanted to be in that ecosystem. Now it’s about attracting people, attracting talent and that’s what is going to create the new ecosystems because the rest is going to be digital."
Remote workers now have the freedom to choose where they are based, depending on their interests and personal preferences rather than job opportunities. Nacho estimates that this process will be even more seamless in the future as “visas are totally obsolete. Visas were built traditionally to protect the workforce from others entering their country and taking their jobs. But with remote workers, they are coming already employed.”
With citizens moving freely over geographical borders and forming communities not based on nationality but on their lifestyle, is it time to rethink the concept of Nation States in general? 
According to Pia Mancini from Open CollectiveIt is hard to articulate an alternative for Nation States because we internalized this so strongly. But it is actually just a social agreement and we can change it and agree on something else. It's necessary to do so as all the big problems we need to tackle are global, yet we still decide to them in silos called the Nation States.”

The future of digital nomads

Kevin Kelly from WIRED agrees with the notion of increased global governance and estimates that, in the long-term, we will evolve towards having a basic human right of mobility. In order to support this mobility, he expects the revival of a truly nomadic lifestyle.
On top of that, going nomadic might become a respected form of self-education and self-development:
"Being able to think differently is the engine of innovation. If we are all connected all the time online, having a new idea becomes harder and harder. Getting out of your comfort zone and travelling around the world produces new ideas and ways of thinking differently."

Remote work in 2022

And according to Kevin Kirkpatrick, remote work is becoming increasingly available to different kinds of industries.
"When I think about the future of remote work, everything is so instantaneous and fast that it feels like the tools melt away. It feels like - if you are a hybrid worker - you may not remember which days you are in the office and which days you are remote because it feels so comparable. And I actually don't think that is ten years out. I think we will get there really soon."

About the author

Jakob Bodendieck

Podcast Production Manager
Jakob is a startup-oriented nomad, recently completed his BA in Creative Business in the Netherlands. He joined SafetyWing as a Podcast Production Manager and helped create and grow the Building Remotely podcast. As the host of his own podcast, The Self Employed Student, he is offering a valuable resource for other young people with an entrepreneurial mindset.