Remote work and digital nomadism have always been of particular interest to folks in the FIRE community.
After the pandemic, remote work was suddenly thrust upon the entire knowledge workforce. And after two long pandemic years, the possibility that remote work for many professions will persist and become long-term viable options is tantalizingly close.
What is the state of remote work right now? Where is the future of remote work headed? What jobs are most in-demand for remote work, and how much can you get paid for them?
This week, I deep dive on these questions with Sharon Koifman, founder of DistantJob, a remote-only recruiting agency that helps companies find full-time remote employees around the world.
- How Sharon became an advocate for remote work and got into remote recruiting
- How the pandemic changed norms around remote work
- What types of jobs are most in-demand for remote work right now
- What types of jobs still have not embraced remote work
- Skills and qualities employers look for when hiring remote employees (profile of an ideal candidate)
- Compensation: what remote employees can earn for certain roles (including pay range – min and max)
- How companies adjust compensation for remote employees
- How companies can promote strong, healthy remote work cultures
And now, I’m super curious…. Are you a remote worker or digital nomad? Trying to be? Wish to be? If so, what type of work do you do?
If you work remotely for a company, was your compensation adjusted when you switched to remote?
What’s the biggest benefit vs. challenge you have experienced as a remote worker? How do you build (and keep) strong connections to people in your company/organization?
Does being able to be remote change your FIRE plans, timeline, or philosophy at all?
Let me know by leaving a comment!
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- Surviving Remote Work: How to Thrive as a Leader and Entrepreneur in the Remote Age
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Andrew Chen 01:22
My guest today is Sharon Koifman.
Sharon is the founder of DistantJob, a recruiting agency that focuses on helping companies find full-time remote employees around the world.
In his own words, he is “obsessed with remote management” – and, over 2 decades of running companies remotely, he has studied how to create strong remote work cultures.
He is also the author of a book called “Surviving Remote Work: How to Thrive as a Leader and Entrepreneur in the Remote Age,” which he wrote after the pandemic transformed our norms and expectations about remote work.
So, I’m looking forward to diving into these topics today with Sharon and hearing his insights on the future of work – let’s get into it!
We’re here today to talk about the future of work. I’m especially interested in talking about remote work, which is your specialty, because that’s of particular interest to people in the FIRE community (Financial Independence Retire Early), who are interested in either early retirement or becoming digital nomads or finding some way to work remotely so that they can untether themselves from any single location.
To kick things off, I’d love to just learn a little bit more about your background. How did you get into remote recruitment, and how did you become an advocate for remote work?
Sharon Koifman 03:26
I’ve been running remote companies from my own computer for the past 20 years. I actually learned this from my dad, who ran an engineering company back when digital was not popular, but you had your computer, you could make your own draft, send it to the machine shop. So, he literally ran his entire company, building big wiring cable manufacturing machines from his own computer.
And I did that. I started to build a web hosting company and an outsourcing solution company, all with employees from India. I’ve learned a lot of the challenges that are involved with the outsourcing industry: that lack of connection, the fact that certain people back then (I hope they don’t do it as much right now), technology companies would literally hire outsourcing companies to do the job for them, losing all the culture, losing all that control, all the processes.
Because it was just cheap labor. Back then, it was literally white collar sweat shops. And based on that, when I sold my first company, I realized that there has to be a better solution out there, and the focus should be about the people.
You don’t need to hire an outsourcing company because you want to hire internationally, because you want to take advantage of this massive pool of amazing talent, which work at countries where the cost of living is lower. But first, they’re such a great pool of amazing talents that there has to be a better way.
And I decided to build a company that is focused on finding the right talent and get them to work directly for those North American technology companies, which is what DistantJob is.
Andrew Chen 05:19
That segues into what I wanted to ask next, which is, just so folks have a sense of where you’re coming from, what your remote recruitment agency now today focuses on in terms of industries and roles and functions that you specialize in. It sounds like technology companies. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?
Sharon Koifman 05:36
Bread and butter is IT digital, more focus even on developers. But we do everything around IT digital, and we make sure that we work only with full-time, focused, career-driven individuals.
So, this is not contractors, this is not freelancers, this is not outsourced people. It’s really focused on people who want to integrate part of your processes and core values.
Andrew Chen 06:02
Are we talking big tech, startups, or traditional companies in their IT department? What are we talking about when you say IT?
Sharon Koifman 06:09
Why limit? I’m a recruitment agency. Usually, the people that come to us are small- to medium-sized technology companies, but we do get, once in a while, big enterprise companies, and we’re perfectly happy to deliver amazing people for them also.
Andrew Chen 06:28
And roles and functions-wise? It sounds like developer-heavy. Other roles and functions?
Sharon Koifman 06:33
Developer-heavy, system administrators, architects, designers, sometimes marketers. We really deliver well in system admins, and sometimes accountants. But really developers, programmers, digital specialists, that’s what we do.
Andrew Chen 06:54
Do you do anything outside of tech, like traditional marketing sales, law, finance, any other industries?
Sharon Koifman 07:01
Like I said, accountants, surprisingly, and system administrators. We provide exceptional system administrators that actually can read your mind potentially.
Andrew Chen 07:14
Tell us a little bit about your book. What is it about? And for those who haven’t read it, what do you really want people to walk away knowing after reading it?
Sharon Koifman 07:26
First of all, I want people to know that this adventure that we were on in the past two years, nobody is happy about the pandemic, nobody is happy about being locked down, but you should be excited about what’s happening with remote work. There is an increase in productivity. There’s an increase in self-satisfaction.
People work better. They’re happier, more independent. There’s a lot of research done on that.
And this is the first step in being a better remote worker and remote manager. And I didn’t mention the book is called “Surviving Remote Work,” so it is all about being a better remote manager and a better remote worker, and taking advantage of this new, exciting thing that is happening in the world.
Andrew Chen 08:19
Obviously, your company existed before the pandemic. Could you comment a little bit about what was the nature and type of remote jobs that existed before the pandemic, and then how did the pandemic change remote work, in terms of maybe acceptability by employers, desirability by employees? I want to get a pre and post.
Sharon Koifman 08:39
I think you pretty much answered it. Nothing changed in terms of the possibilities. Any intellectual-based job, any job that does not require you to do physical work, remote is perfect for it, and was always perfect for it.
What changed was companies accepting it. Not only accepting it, but accepting that this is potentially a good thing. This is a big difference.
Not only did they tolerate this. “Okay, fine, we’ll do this awful, evil remote job.”
I think that a lot of companies came around and realized that “Oh, my god, we’re actually getting more production. Our employees are happier. Why not continue doing it?”
That’s the big change. The big change is the acceptability of it and the attraction to the remote work.
Andrew Chen 09:41
I know you specialize in probably more developer-heavy, tech-focused roles, but I imagine you have exposure in remote work and recruiting type of communities. Based on what you’ve seen, what are the types of jobs or fields that are most popular for remote work currently, as in the most in demand in terms of number of applicants?
Sharon Koifman 10:03
If you’re asking me what’s in demand, developers, IT specialists.
Andrew Chen 10:08
Not in terms of the employers, but in terms of number of applicants.
Sharon Koifman 10:13
Developers, IT specialists. Really people get it on both sides. There’s demand, and developers specifically want to be remote.
What I feel is a shame that’s not moving forward is services such as law, accounting, professional service-related jobs, they’re still not accepting yet. They want to go back to the office.
And even when they’re remote, they don’t get it. They still don’t get how much better they can be if they run a fully remote operation. But still, the IT field is the one that got it the fastest on both sides.
Andrew Chen 11:00
So my flipside question around most in demand in terms of unfilled openings, it sounds like, similarly would be true: IT developer-heavy roles. Is that right?
Sharon Koifman 11:10
Yeah. The challenge with IT in general, especially the development part, is that every five years, the need for developers doubles in size, so there’s just not enough.
You didn’t need the pandemic. For some people, they just needed to be beaten on the head with a bat to be clarified, but there’s no choice but to move to international recruitment because there’s simply not enough developers locally to do what needs to be done.
Andrew Chen 11:45
Given your primary exposure is to tech companies and tech organizations, what percent of companies would you say, ranging from small startups to tech giants, have you found are actually now providing a permanent remote work option due to the pandemic? And does it differ by size of company?
Sharon Koifman 12:07
I find that the majority of companies that are open to the idea are mostly hybrid, and that is about 25%, based on what I read. I didn’t do the research myself, but hybrid companies, which means those are companies that are comfortable with somebody working from home, close to the office.
I actually don’t consider that fully remote, and they’re still missing the point as far as I’m concerned, because remote means you’re hiring from anywhere and everywhere, and let them live wherever they want, whenever they want. They still need to come sit on their ass 9 to 5, work and do what needs to be done, but only from any location that they would want to work from.
Andrew Chen 13:04
So it sounds like you said 25% ballpark have a hybrid option. So, is fully remote the way you define it where you can truly be anywhere, what fraction would you say? Is it minority, is it less than half of that 25% or more than half, etc.?
Sharon Koifman 13:22
I don’t have the numbers. I don’t know. I’m assuming, and assuming makes an ass out of you and me, but I would say somewhere around 5% that are completely ready to go to the world even after COVID.
This does not mean that there’s a lot more companies that are willing to have their extras working remote. But the idea of fully no need for an office kind of service, I think only about 5%.
Andrew Chen 14:02
But even if the company still has an office or headquarters where some people go in, if they provide a fully remote option, if you want it, then why is that not considered fully remote sufficiently?
Sharon Koifman 14:17
Because as long as you have an office, you have a mentality that somebody should fill that office. In other words, you have an expectation of somebody to come in. You will never fully disconnect as long as you have an office.
Unless you’re one of those unique Basecamp guys that literally keep an office for entertainment, for business meetings, for stuff like that, that’s one thing. Because as long as you have an office, you’re expecting people to be at a specific radius away from the office.
You’re not telling them, “I’m in California but you’re in Hawaii? No problem. Stay in Hawaii.”
“Don’t come. Come for the Christmas parties once a year,” or twice a year, whatever entertainment thing that you do.
But that means remote. When you force people to be in a specific area that is close to the office, it’s really hybrid.
And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. That is a decision, but you’re not fully taking advantage of the positive things that come with being remote.
Andrew Chen 15:31
I get that part, and definitely the Basecamp framework of office for social events or big meetings is amazing because it still gives you a place to go, but obviously no obligation. But as you probably are aware, there are many tech companies, they’re not going to shut their offices, but they do allow a fully remote option.
You do not have to live near the office. You could go live in Hawaii, you could go live in Wyoming or wherever, and they actually just classify you at a different tax status.
Facebook does this, and Google does this, and a bunch of others have followed suit. And semi-large and medium companies, many of them also have this option.
Is this not fully remote? That seems like it would count, no?
Sharon Koifman 16:26
I’m just not buying it. I’m saying that during COVID time, they’ll accept it.
It happened many times. Yahoo, 15 years ago, a CEO changes, everybody comes to the office.
Yahoo attempted many times to revive themselves, failed miserably. That was pretty much their last attempt to bring everybody to the office.
First of all, you’re using an example of a multiconglomerate, a limited stupid amount of money companies. I won’t use them as a model for standard normal pricing.
If you are a normal company without stupid money and you’re investing in the office, you have a mentality that you want somebody to come into the office. And if you have an office because you have a 3-year contract and you’re about to get rid of it, fine.
COVID is forcing people to accept recruitment. But in 3-4 years, maybe in 6 months, I’m hoping that really COVID is going to be over, and that’s going to be the real discussion.
The people that are shutting down their office are the ones that I truly believe are going to commit to this kind of model, instead of just being forced, their hands behind their back, because of engineers telling them that they don’t have a choice. It’s a very different mentality: not having a choice, or absorbing or accepting this model as the new method of doing things.
I guess that’s the best way I can express it. When you get rid of the office, you’re saying, “I am committed to this strategy.”
Andrew Chen 18:12
Given the difficulty in filling developer roles, like you pointed out, there’s always a constant shortage, and the war for talent is real. Do you really think that the full-time, permanent remote, “live wherever you want” options that have been introduced by companies up and down the size scale…
I just can’t imagine that going back because they will lose talent, right? The war for talent is real, and if they make every company come back, people will leave.
Sharon Koifman 18:47
They’re going to entice people to come back. They’re not going to make it come back. So, they’re not going to fully force you.
They’re going to have the “If you come to the office, there’s free food. And if you come to the office, there’s this. And if you come to the office, there’s that.”
My brother is in the coffee business, and the amount of money that some of those companies are ready to spend on the most glorious machines just to entice. So, yes, you can’t take the hard step.
I’m telling you that based on my observation, many companies are not accepting the remote model. They’re accepting that they don’t have a choice. It’s a very different mentality, and one which will hurt the company.
Until they don’t go and say, “Wow, our company is much more productive. People are happier because they’re remote. We will keep an office for everybody that does want to work remote, but we will shrink it in half.”
Because chances are, especially in the development world, in which at least half are introverted, which we have not been paying attention to until this pandemic, until they’re ready to commit and to invest in this and they’re not feeling forced, it’s not going to be as good.
This is pretty much my first chapter in my book, a small chapter discussing that you’ve got to have the right mentality, you’ve got to want this, to really succeed in remote work.
Andrew Chen 20:22
That’s a really interesting observation, because what I think I’m reading in between the lines is if a company is not fully bought in in terms of mindset, over time, they’re just going to end up being essentially a two-class system. People who are in the office get a lot of benefits, and there’s just more action going on, versus somebody who is remote, they’re just missing out.
Whereas a company that burns their boats, to use an analogy, by shrinking or getting rid of their office, they’re going to be forced to invest in everybody because they’re remote, not in spite of it. Is that how you see things?
Sharon Koifman 21:11
I guess that’s a nice way of expressing that the two-class system is going to be a challenge. You’re not hiring managers that specialize in managing remote people. You’re not focusing on what makes remote people succeed in being better because you’re still dreaming of most of your employees coming back to the office.
You’re still creating an environment where being in the office is being the winner. And that means automatically that being remote is being the loser.
I give a few examples in my book, even when you run a conference room. If you really have a hybrid office that cares about the remote people, in your conference room, you better have TVs everywhere with better technology than Zoom, using Polycom and everything, that the outsiders feel like they’re part of the meeting as much as they’re inside.
If you have that little shitty speaker in the middle of the table, and you think anybody would actually contribute in the long term, you’re fooling yourself. So, you’ve got to start with a remote mentality. If you’re truly dedicated for hybrid, you need to think remote first.
And then the people that love going to the office, they love going to the office because they get whatever experience they get out of it, but you know that the remote people don’t feel neglected. That’s not what’s happening with the big companies at this moment, in my opinion.
Andrew Chen 22:55
That’s really interesting. Who do you feel like is really nailing this, really getting this right? What companies are best in class and really putting actions to this new future of work?
Sharon Koifman 23:11
We’re discussing about the hybrid. I don’t know because we haven’t seen the long run of it. Of course, there’s the WordPress guys, the Basecamp guys that just mastered the remote work.
Andrew Chen 23:28
They’ve been doing it a decade or more, though. They’ve had a lot of practice.
Sharon Koifman 23:32
They’ve been doing this a decade or more, so they have practice. They create software for it. They did good.
Whoever are implementing it right now, it’s hard for me to say. I’m not a believer. I need to see companies doing things after the pandemic to see what real results come out of it.
The old school companies, whoever was really into it from before, I believe them. They truly are remote companies. But I don’t know yet.
Andrew Chen 24:09
Or at least who seems to be headed in the right direction? Because there are examples of names who have given up their office or announced plans to wind down their office.
There are other examples of companies who decided, “We’re going to pay everybody the same worldwide. We’re not going to make people take a penalty and comp hit because they decide to live somewhere cheaper. That way, we are very intentional about not making different classes of citizenship, etc.”
Are there any companies that you feel like are really starting to head in the right direction, even if the outcome is still TBD?
Sharon Koifman 24:47
Honestly, I don’t want to offer information that I’m not up to date, and I don’t know yet who is exciting for me.
I will comment on the aspect of paying everybody the same thing. I don’t think that’s necessary. I don’t think that it’s 100% productive to the world, to be honest with you.
And I know that I’m being very controversial here, because it’s so easy to be that person that goes, “Hey, we pay everybody the same thing, and we pay them fair.” And you know what I’ve noticed that happens? They don’t hire a lot of people, and they always still hire Americans.
This is the experience that I’ve noticed with those amazing, ethical companies. They just hire Americans, or North Americans, and they don’t hire a lot.
If you want to pay everybody the same, go ahead. Congratulations. But I believe that the way that you help the world is you hire internationally.
Hiring internationally, there’s a certain motivation that you’re getting a certain discount because of the lower cost of living. If you already have existing employees and they all go remote, don’t change their salary because they moved somewhere else. Let them be.
But if you’re starting a new process of hiring, benefit from the lower cost of living. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I got to tell you, India, Ukraine, Argentina, Russia are all catching up because they started in the cheap labor market. China, for sure. So, there is nothing wrong with paying less when you’re hiring new people.
Andrew Chen 26:42
Currently, from what you see, what are the most popular tech companies, in your view, that are providing permanent remote options? If not the best, then at least they’re very popular among applicants.
Sharon Koifman 27:00
You’re asking for a lot of company examples, and I’m weak on that.
Andrew Chen 27:10
Because you’re recruiting for them, so you probably see which ones get a lot of applicants and are very popular.
Sharon Koifman 27:22
Most of the companies that I hire from are small- medium-sized technology companies, so you don’t know the brand, and I’m not even sure that they want to share that information. So, unfortunately, I’m a little stuck on this response. I don’t have access to the big brands and how they’re doing.
I just read a lot that lots of the banking industry and some technology companies are really looking forward to have their people back.
Andrew Chen 27:55
Let’s talk a little bit about what companies who are hiring for remote really looking for. Given that remote work is very popular and increasing, catalyzed by the pandemic, what are employers really looking for when they hire for a remote role in terms of qualities and skills that the ideal candidate should have?
Sharon Koifman 28:17
It always comes back to the hard skills and the soft skills, if I’m not stating the obvious. And everybody is looking for the specific combination of class programming language development.
But it is the soft skills which become super interesting because people, more and more, are looking for people that fit their company culture, with the exception that the people that are being hired come from a completely different culture and they still want a certain integration.
That’s why I noticed a big shift in the remote world that goes more to Latin America and Eastern Europe, and less of Asia, because of a closer integration of culture than what you have otherwise. That’s the big thing now.
The big thing is people are starting to believe that remote people can be a fully integrated member of your team and not some outsourced employee or some freelance employee. And with that belief, they have higher expectation for that culture fit.
Andrew Chen 29:38
Do you think that remote work is good career-wise in terms of professional development, for early career professionals in particular, like new college graduates?
Sharon Koifman 29:50
First of all, it all depends on the management. I think that the world is not ready to manage people and to create a proper social environment.
I will say that there’s no question that, in my opinion, the only weakness that comes with the remote experience is the socioemotional aspect of it. It doesn’t mean they cannot be fixed. I believe that good remote managers can really get this right and make sure that the social aspect of the job is great.
But for young people that just got out of university, the concept of just going home and not getting as much socialization, not as much anything, is a big problem. As controversial as I am, because I’m an evangelist for remote work, I would say that new people that graduate university should try to get a physical job at least in the beginning.
Andrew Chen 31:04
As a mental shortcut or heuristic, how many years in office do you think is helpful, where you’ve developed a better understanding of yourself and your preferences, and you’ve also developed some skills on how to socialize in the office, that jumping to full-time remote work isn’t going to be so challenging?
Sharon Koifman 31:28
Five years max. I personally feel that if you have the right management, you can start from the beginning remote. Just the challenge is that there’s not enough managers.
Maybe that’s a little cynical, but I don’t believe that managers are generally very good or trained properly to be good managers. And in my opinion, a good manager could easily be a remote manager. But in the reality that we live right now, five years, I think, would be enough.
Andrew Chen 32:03
What special skills do you feel like are really needed for managing remote employees well? What makes a great remote manager?
Sharon Koifman 32:14
First of all, an empathetic one or a sympathetic one. I just recently learned the difference between sympathy and empathy.
So, a certain level of connection. You have to be a person that is able to evaluate the wellbeing of the person on the other side just by having conversation, just getting intimate.
Now, there’s a major other challenge on the hard skills: that you need to be able to evaluate work and not invest time looking at people coming to the office from 9 to 5 and tapping on the keyboard. That never worked, by the way. The research shows that an average person working an 8-hour shift produces about 2 hours and 53 minutes in an office work.
So, I’m trying to say that this entire office never really worked, but at least you could see a person, and at least you can make sure that he or she comes on time and at least doing something. As a remote manager, you really need to be able to evaluate the work. This is a tough skill.
How do you evaluate how much a person develops in a day? How do you know how much he or she needs to do?
Andrew Chen 33:35
Sorry, let me just interrupt, because I work in technology. Why is this so challenging? If your code doesn’t work, if there’s tons of bugs, or it takes you three times as long to crank out the number of lines as another employee, wouldn’t these be strong indicators that something is working or broken?
Sharon Koifman 33:55
First of all, you said if it takes three hours as long, so the quality of the product at the end of the day, that’s an easy one. But you need to know: how long does this specific code take to be developed? This is some deep knowledge; this is not so easy.
And you actually said, you compare it to other people. You see how it works.
How do you do this in a startup? How do you do this when you have two employees? That requires a specific skill to evaluate the amount of production and how much that production should take.
I remember when I started recruiting in the beginning. When I started my company 13-14 years ago, I was a recruiter. I’m a machine.
That’s part of being a CEO. I did it myself. I would talk to five people at the same time, messaging on LinkedIn an unlimited amount of people.
And after that, my first employee, is this person keeping up with me? You need to be able to evaluate. Part of the evaluation process is being able to have people challenging each other, seeing comparisons.
But it’s not that easy. You actually need to have knowledge. So, for you, if you’re a technologist, if you’re a coder, if you know your stuff inside-out, you have a set of expectations.
A lot of managers are not coders. Even in IT companies, there are people who motivate and pump and see the end product, but they’re not necessarily the technical managers.
So, it is very challenging, but you get through it by comparisons. You get to evaluate.
Of course, you do need somebody technical, if you’re not technical yourself. But you’re able to create an environment where employees challenge each other. That’s why some part of agile management is very powerful if you’re not a specialist yourself.
Andrew Chen 36:05
You touched upon empathy, technical skills. What else to succeed as a remote manager?
Sharon Koifman 36:16
We said empathy, so you’re required to be more intimate and be more of a friend. You need to have some serious hard skills, and to be able to evaluate.
You’re supposed to not be distracting. This is a big one for local offices also. The reason why we don’t produce much in an office environment (just think of the 2 hours and 53 minutes) is because we’re continuously distracting our people.
By the way, cubicles is the worst invention ever made. I don’t know why it became so popular in the ‘90s. But just that somebody talks about a movie in the back and taps your shoulder, “Hey, did you see this new Spider-Man movie?” that takes you 20 minutes recovery time in terms of production.
And when you, as the remote manager, try to replicate some part of this remote experience, you’re also trying to replicate often the distraction. I remember back in the days, when I started the business, literally every day, because I wanted it to be like in an office, so in an office, you go, you talk, you motivate, you go from one person to another, check what they’re doing, and I would say, “Hello. Hey,” just start a conversation.
And I would freak my employees out. “Oh, my god, what does my boss want now?”
Instead of just telling them, “Hey, when you’re free, let me know. I would like to know about this topic and that topic.” It gets a lot more complex, and I go into more details in the book, but that’s how you manage distraction.
If you’re capable of running a work environment with the least distraction possible, you’re going to get the most output out of it, and you’ll never want to go back to the office environment. This is really key: managing distractions.
Andrew Chen 38:23
You mentioned the 2 hours 53 minutes. Often, it’s because of these distractions. When people work remote, do you have any data on how much that number increases?
Because there are distractions at home too. Maybe the neighbors are noisy, or your kid is at home because the daycare is off for the day, or you’re waiting for furniture to be delivered, or you’re just slacking off. There can be many different distractions at home too.
But you’ve alluded to earlier that productivity goes up, so do you have any data on what number those 2 hours 53 minutes increases to, given that there are some distractions so you’re not going to get a full eight hours? But how much does that jump in a well-managed remote organization?
Sharon Koifman 39:13
First of all, a well-managed remote organization will not have those 2 hours and 53 minutes. My criticism is that a lot of places are not well-managed.
There’s a research on travel agents: that they were sent home, and that research showed that there’s an increase in productivity by 60-something percent. I don’t have the data with me.
We have an entire eBook in Think Remote that talks about all the improvements, but I don’t remember the statistic by heart. There is a lot of information in different industries that shows a continuous increase.
Andrew Chen 40:03
So, empathy, technical skills, knowing how to manage distractions. Any other critical skills for managers? Those are the key ones.
Sharon Koifman 40:34
There’s a lot more. Just my brain is not popping it up right now.
Andrew Chen 40:40
No worries. Let’s keep rolling. So, if you’re an applicant, what actions would you advise applicants to do to best position themselves to be competitive for landing desirable remote jobs?
Sharon Koifman 40:57
Read my book, of course, but let people know that you understand how to be more productive in a remote environment. Let people know that you actually know how to manage yourself at home and still be productive and independent. That will be a huge start.
When you apply for a remote job, the first message that you should deliver that you are not is what I call the non-committals. You’re not a freelancer, you’re not an entrepreneur. You understand that this is a real job, a career-driven job, that you just happen to be at home.
It’s more in the interview that this message needs to be delivered because there’s simply too many people that feel that once it’s remote, “I get to sit in my PJs all day and not turn on my webcam.”
More and more managers are seeing this, and part of the reason, instead of enforcing a rule, that’s why they’re going, “People need to come back to the office, because I don’t have that control.”
And when you make an employer feel like “With me, you will have fewer communication, you will understand where I am, we’ll interact. I come and I work from early morning to the afternoon, and do everything right,” this is a great message that will get people a lot more interested in you.
Today, you can apply everywhere, and it might be a remote job, but there’s already job sites that are there for remote opportunities also.
Or DistantJob, of course. Apply for DistantJob. We might be able to get you a gig.
Andrew Chen 42:53
I want to talk a bit about compensation and what remote jobs pay, and what remote jobs are the highest-paying. Let me start by asking, what can employees expect to earn in the type of jobs that you recruit for, in terms of the compensation range from low to high?
I know that totally depends on number of years of experience and where you’re located, etc. But when you mix it all together, let’s just do two roles to keep things simple: developer and designer. What do you typically see at the lowest end of the range and the highest end of the range for both roles?
Sharon Koifman 43:35
The range is so broad, it’s crazy. Designers and developers, there’s juniors, there’s seniors. You might be disappointed with the answer.
But the range goes anywhere from $15,000-$300,000 a year. There’s so many things to think about: junior or senior, which area.
Most of our business comes from Eastern Europe and Latin America. Just to help you with that question, most people that come to us, they want a five years experienced developer, whether it’s .NET, C Sharp, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python.
Very broad, but at least I can shrink it a little bit for you. In Eastern Europe, it would range anywhere from $3000-$9000 per month. That would be more specific.
In Latin America, it’s a little more affordable. In India, it’s a little more affordable. In India, you can get anywhere from $2000-$7000, approximately.
Those are not the limits, but those are better ranges. And India and Latin America do share a similar market. There’s so many different countries in Latin America, and even India, the difference between somewhere in Chennai and somewhere in Bangalore would make very different salary expectations.
But $3000-$9000 for five years experienced developer. Same thing with designer, that would be the case.
Andrew Chen 45:21
So developer and designer, in those parameters, will be comparable. Is that correct?
Sharon Koifman 45:25
Yeah, absolutely. Once you talk North Americans, what happened this year, it’s out of control. Salaries literally doubled.
Andrew Chen 45:36
What are the ranges there?
Sharon Koifman 45:40
It’s a six-digit salary for anybody. Two years of experience, out of university, you can get a six-digit salary, and you can go up as $400,000 a year. I’ve never seen prices like this.
Andrew Chen 45:56
Yeah, but that’s like five years of experience? The same kind of experience set as the other examples you’ve just said?
Sharon Koifman 46:03
Yeah, 5-10 years. $400,000 is more 10-15 years. Let’s be fair.
But I have seen five years experienced people getting paid as much. I’ve seen that. It’s pretty crazy.
As an engineer myself, I’ve been waiting for the day that engineers finally get paid more than lawyers, doctors. And the time is coming.
Doctor is really a specialized profession. I’m excited that engineers are getting paid more than lawyers. Maybe a little selfish on my part.
Andrew Chen 46:45
If you’re from North America but you want a lifestyle arbitrage, go live in a lower cost of living place like Argentina, are you going to get paid on Argentina wages or on American wages? Because maybe as an American, you’re a lot more productive. Maybe that’s a wrong assumption, but it could be right.
So, how are compensation bands set in situations like that?
Sharon Koifman 47:14
It’s a tough question because in a utopian world, everybody gets paid the same thing. But nobody gets paid the same thing even in the same region. And the entire model of Silicon Valley, at the end of the day, is they want you to live in Silicon Valley to get paid Silicon Valley salaries.
So, I like to live in a realistic, progressive, helping the world kind of world. And if you expect people to pay you in Argentina the salary that you get paid in Silicon Valley, you better be awesome, because if you’re not…
Andrew Chen 48:00
They’ll fire you very quickly. But I guess my question really is: Is this happening? Are companies paying for the right person?
Sharon Koifman 48:13
No, they’re not. They’ll always get a discount. The honest reality, not the utopian hope, right now, they’re still getting paid about half of what North American salaries get paid, which is a huge improvement, because first of all, Americans are getting paid so much more, and they used to be about 30%, and now they’re going to 50%-70% of North American salaries.
Andrew Chen 48:40
Let’s say you have somebody with five years of experience at a large tech company in Silicon Valley, so they’re well-trained, and they want to go for one of these remote jobs. And they could earn $200,000-$300,000 if they stay in the U.S., work remote. But they want lifestyle arbitrage; they want to move to Argentina.
I just want to be clear. They’re going to need to expect to take a comp hit. Is that right?
Sharon Koifman 49:10
Not necessarily, no. If you already have a job, good for you. Make the company dependent on you.
This is good stuff. Then you can potentially negotiate with certain salaries, and hopefully more and more, that you get to live anywhere in the world.
If you are applying for a job, that’s low chances. You are not getting it. So, it’s very different.
You work in a company for five years, there’s something very powerful about having somebody who has the experience, the knowledge in the company.
For me, my personal effort is always to keep my employees. That’s what I do. Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about this on the radio, but they want an increase, I try my best to give them whatever is necessary to stay in the company.
Because there’s something very powerful about my company culture, my people, my team. I love my team. I don’t want them to move anywhere else.
But if you’re applying for a job, that’s a different reality. You’re not getting paid the same.
Andrew Chen 50:23
Even if you had that sterling résumé background, is that right? It just happened to be that you wanted to live in Argentina.
Sharon Koifman 50:31
You better be awesome. Certain people get away with things. It’s all about supply and demand.
You also better be a good negotiator. And usually people are so good at this. Incredible programmers and negotiators and everything usually end up being the CEOs of companies.
Andrew Chen 50:53
It seems like a very obvious hack then is, for somebody who wants to work remote, to get the job first, and continue living in Silicon Valley, and then six months later, say, “Hey, I want to bounce out, live in Argentina.”
Sharon Koifman 51:06
Perfect hack. I love it. Yes, you just found a real hack, and it works well.
Or you’re amazing. I think you need more than six months because they would not appreciate the lack of commitment. We are in a messed-up time.
Andrew Chen 51:28
Still committed to the company. Let’s say you’re doing great work there, but you just want to live somewhere else.
Sharon Koifman 51:35
Leaving after six months, I’m talking about managerial psychology here. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or bad.
After six months, you’re making a choice to skip and go somewhere else, in a different location. It might question your commitment to the company.
So, I love hacks. Stay in the company for two years, ask for moving around, they might say yes.
Andrew Chen 52:11
You really don’t see companies adjusting salaries? Because most of the ones that I know about do. They will adjust salaries based on where you’re going.
Sharon Koifman 52:23
I see that they do, but less and less. It’s not going to work for them. Companies see that.
Maybe in other things, not really. In development, we’re in trouble. I am having a harder time than ever to recruit.
I’ve been recruiting for 15 years, and people are just throwing money at each other. This COVID could be the ultimate equalizer for developers in the long run, or at least quality developers, because it’s a developer’s market, so you have to negotiate.
Andrew Chen 53:03
By the way, when companies are calibrating their compensation, do you find that they typically are doing it by local cost of living, cost of labor, both, something else?
Sharon Koifman 53:16
Cost of living, I think, is a major reflection. They see, of course, your skills (that’s an obvious one), and the demand. But after that, people are valued based on cost of living.
Again, I’m an evangelist for remote work, and I want the entire world to be equal in salary one day. That is my mission. But until then, I cannot, within my capacity, pay somebody in Eastern Europe what I pay in North America.
And the truth is I avoid North America because of that, because it gives me access to more talented, more affordable people, while in the meantime, I’m improving economies internationally. So, I feel very good about it ethically, and that’s it.
Andrew Chen 54:13
Last area I wanted to touch on is, as a remote worker, what are actions or norms or rituals that you think are important to do to create or preserve a good company culture?
Sharon Koifman 54:28
Culture is an interesting thing. I’m a very goal-oriented person. I like to define things in order to succeed in them, and I find that the term “culture” has been so complicated.
People think about culture, they think about Google, playing ping-pong, sitting and having beers on those funny sofas every day, and suddenly being very productive. I, for a long time, could not find what it means to have a good culture, and I had to create my own definition because if you look at Wikipedia, it’s the DNA of the company or the way that a company functions.
The definition that I really found that has been very successful for me is culture is connect. It’s connecting to the company, connecting to each other (that makes better teamwork), and connecting to the client. When you understand that the goal is connection, suddenly you can evaluate how you achieve company culture much better.
When I started focusing on culture within remote environment about 6-7 years ago, I tried to make big Zoom parties. I was aware about Zoom way before COVID made it popular. We actually found it a way better program even back then, and we tried to do big Zoom parties.
Everybody had to have a drink. Because we do not promote alcoholism, you can have a coffee. And we hung out and talked.
It was fun for the first three times, and then my manager discovered very quickly that me and a few managers are dominating the conversation, and everybody there is saying, “Uh-huh.” And then I realized that a more successful way to get connection is one-on-ones.
There’s this cool app on Slack which is really tremendous. It’s called Donut, and it auto-connects you with everybody in the company. You have 15 minutes, and you really get to connect with people.
I get to meet every person in my company on an individual level. And when it comes to my management, I have one-on-one drinks, hang out, have a scotch, sometimes I ship them scotches and we go and we hang out, we have a Zoom conversation and just shoot the shit, talk about anything and everything.
And then we talk a little business, we don’t talk about business. And that’s how I connect with my people. This, in my opinion, is company culture.
You don’t need big parties; you don’t need big fancy things. Those are things to feed the CEO’s ego. They’re not necessarily what creates company culture.
You need to have a goal, and the goal is connection. And that’s how I win it in company culture.
And I guess that answers your previous question: What is important for managers? The ability to create an amazing company culture.
Andrew Chen 57:42
All right, Sharon. This has been a very interesting discussion, definitely a little bit different than the ones that we typically do, but I think one that’s really important.
And I think that it’s also a topic that a lot of folks in the FIRE community are interested in because they want to be perhaps location-independent and figure out how to just take better control of their own circumstances and context. So, I really appreciate your taking the time to share thoughts about how the future of work is evolving, and remote work.
I look forward to sharing this with our audience. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us.
Sharon Koifman 58:24
It was a pleasure. Thank you, Andrew. It was really fun.