We recently caught up with Stefan Palios, Founder and Editor of PulseBluePrint Media, the Remotely Inclined Newsletter and Venture Out to learn more about his rocky then smooth transition to remote work, the importance of having a support system in place and tips for blocking out your day to avoid burnout.
Quick facts about Stefan:
- Has been remote full-time since January 2019 👨🏻💻
- Founded Venture Out, PulseBluePrintMedia, the Remotely Inclined Newsletter
- Restored a family-owned chateau in Normandy (a real-life castle!) 🏰His dream is to own one himself!
As a team of one, what’s in your remote work tech stack?
- Task management → Trello
- Communication/community building → Slack + G-Suite
- Outward communication → LinkedIn + Twitter
- Transcription for calls → Otter.ai
- Video/calls → Zoom
What are some of the challenges you face as a remote founder and how do you combat them?
My biggest challenges were/are:
Time management → I send myself a daily priorities email every morning so I know what to focus on.
Seeing the bigger picture → I have advisors for my company that I regularly touch base with.
Professional development → I spend a LOT of time reading. I set an intention to read 20 books in 2020, and I always keep a fiction and nonfiction book going at any time so I can read whatever I’m feeling like. I also read any blogs that catch my fancy + subscribe to The Logic + Vanity Fair and avidly read BetaKit.
Grand vision / “why am I doing this” → In late 2016 I built a life vision system I call “My 5 Fucks”. I wrote down the 5 things I truly give a fuck about in my life and gut check every action I take to ensure I am “acting like I give a fuck about the things I say I give a fuck about”
What is the biggest advantage of remote work?
Location freedom. Hands down.
I frequently asked previous employers about WFH / remote arrangements because I always felt constrained in an office environment (or, more to the point, I felt constrained when someone else had the power to tell me where I had to be). I understand that in-person meetings are crucial and I still meet some clients face to face, but the choice over my own location is incredibly empowering.
Where do you actually work?
For the first few months of full-time remote work, I only worked from home. I have a desk set up in our living room (small 1-bedroom apartment, yay!). But I liked that it was quiet and I had total environmental control – that was necessary for me as I got my bearings around working remotely.
Once I got more confident in my ability to work, I started to run tests:
- Working from my parent’s house
- Working from a hotel lobby in Toronto (I love the Fairmont Royal York)
- Working from a cafe
- Working from my gym lobby with wifi
When I started seeing that I could produce results, I got more serious with my tests:
- Working from Europe (London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam on a summer trip in 2019 + Paris in 2020).
- Getting a FlexDay coworking membership and trying out the coworking life.
I really enjoyed working from coworking spaces and around the world as I traveled. It was a fun challenge trying to figure out hostel + Airbnb wifi working arrangements, especially since cafe culture in Europe is not as friendly to laptops out all the time.
The work-from-anywhere tests are on hold right now (thanks, Covid-19), but I’ll get back to it when I can. Home will still be my base, though.
How do you start your workday?
Sending myself an email with my daily priorities, broken down into four categories:
Why did you decide to make the transition to remote work?
In 2017 I was working in a tech startup and my manager pushed me really hard about my career goals in a 1-on-1. She could tell I wasn’t telling the whole truth when I said some generic answer around “impact and helping people”. She pushed me to get ‘selfish’. After a bit more prodding from her, I blurted “I want to completely separate my earning potential from my physical location and hours worked.”
It felt good to say that out loud – it felt right for me and felt like what I truly wanted. I knew I had to seek out some remote opportunities (location freedom) and, realistically, had to go back into entrepreneurship (hours worked freedom).
Shortly after that, I started PulseBlueprint Media as a side hustle, but made sure it was 100% remote. It’s a funny story, I actually started the company by accident. I’d been writing a bit for myself on LinkedIn and published a couple of freelance pieces in BetaKit. Then, at an event, someone cornered me and said, “I love your writing, can I pay you to write for me?”. And then out of the blue, a connection of mine emailed me and said “Hey, I heard you do some consulting. We need some help. Are you available?”.
I said yes to both opportunities. It wasn’t until I’d booked over $1,000 in revenue that I thought to myself “Huh, I should probably register a business because both of these clients are asking for my HST information”.
How did you handle the transition from being on-site to remote?
Um, frankly I don’t think I did a very good job in the first few months. The first choice I made was to push my wake up time and hour later – from 7 am to 8 am – because I was feeling burnt out from a bad office work experience and needed the rest. Except I’d wake up every morning at 7:30 am or something, flipping out because I was going to be “late”.
I’d also work all day, every day. Not a healthy way to do business (or life). Then I faced an issue where I wouldn’t leave the apartment for days at a time – my partner lovingly kicked me out to go for walks or something many times. I also was listless in terms of my work. I’d have bursts of productivity but then a day or two of slacking off. Not conducive to real growth or success.
It wasn’t until about 4 months into my remote working journey that I started to take it a bit more seriously:
- I recognized that I had total responsibility for my own work environment. This was annoying in the sense that I didn’t get a free fancy espresso machine, but also it meant I could design my work environment how I wanted. So that’s when I started testing locations.
- I thought about what I actually wanted, not just what I’d settle for, and began to look for those opportunities (coworking, traveling, etc.)
- I began sending myself my daily email to focus my priorities. I’m a task-oriented person, so time-blocking strategies never worked for me.
- I began tracking my client work in Trello instead of just in my head, which made it way clearer what I needed to do.
- I began actively choosing “turn off” times throughout the day when my brain was fried and I needed a break. I wasn’t scared of working late, it was more about avoiding working 12 hours straight, and more doing 6-8 hours spread out over 12.
Would you ever go back to working on-site?
I’d consider it, but it would need to be the right opportunity to completely go back to in-office (read: massive financial upside). Barring tons of money, the company would have to be good with remote / distributed / WFH arrangements at least some of the time, if not most. Flexibility is a must-have for me and my goals.
What is the biggest piece of advice you can offer to new remote workers?
1 – You need to build your own support systems.
And “support” means different things to different people. For me, it’s breaking everything down into small tasks that I can strikethrough on a task list because that’s how I feel motivated and also how I can give myself permission to shut off at night knowing I put in a “good day’s work”. For others that might be time-blocking. Or it might be rewarding yourself. Or it might be setting up personal rules.
Remote work forces you to become way more self-aware since you don’t have someone else telling you how to exist in a space. It’s weird at first, since we’re conditioned from school to respond to that kind of leadership, but the autonomy begins to feel amazing after a while.
If you work for a company instead of doing your own thing, you may still have some support systems available to you. If they work for you, run with it! Otherwise, be ready to build your own.
2 – You have to become a descriptive communicator.
I recommend writing/speaking as though you’re communicating with a computer and screen reader. If you don’t say precisely what you mean, you will not be understood.
Further, I try to remove all reference words – spell out everything you mean. For example: “I’ve been working on task A and task B. It should be done by tomorrow.” → “It” could refer to A, B, both, or even something else entirely. In an office environment, context clues would likely let your colleague know what you mean. You don’t get that with remote work.
When you communicate, offer as much of a decision flow as possible – both in questions and directives. Basically, explain your thought process so that you can work for the maximum amount of time without needing to interface with someone else.
As a manager: “Here’s task A. When you’re done, move to task B. But if you can’t finish A for whatever reason, communicate that reason to me then immediately start task F, which isn’t related to A. After we resolve the obstacle stopping you from completing A, you can move back to it. If you have questions about A, ask me. If you have questions about F, ask this other person, etc….”
As a remote worker: “I’m stuck on Task A in XYZ ways. Can you help me out? If you can help immediately, that would be great. If you can’t, I was planning to tackle task F in the meantime since it’s not related to A. Let me know if you’d prefer I do a different task in the meantime or if you’re available to help me resolve XYZ right now…”
Learn more from remote leaders like Stefan:
- Remote Leaders: Why GitLab’s Head of Remote “unchained from a life of commuting”
- Remote Leaders: Dana Doswell of Sidepart on why habit building is the key to remote work
- Remote Leaders: Marcus Wermuth of Buffer on overcommunication and isolation
- Remote Leaders: Shreyansh Sanghani of Founder of SKS Enterprises on building a partially distributed team