Owl Labs (OL): Tell me about your history with remote work. How long have you been working remotely? Why do you love it? Why did it spark this career interest for you?
Gonçalo Hall (GH): Five years ago, I was working in an office almost 24/7, with crazy night shifts and four screens in front of me. I thought it was cool, but ever since I was able to decide where I could live, I've been moving from place to place. I was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and when I was 18 I moved to Porto. When I was 19 I moved to the south. I've always been a bit of a nomad.
I noticed a shift when I was working for a company five years ago and first heard about digital nomads; they seemed to be able to work and travel at the same time – that's my dream! I spent three years investigating what working remotely was all about. I read thousands of articles and books, and I learned everything I could about working remotely which sparked the will to work remotely.
I've worked remotely for almost two years and have spoken to many HR managers and CEOs from amazing companies that are 100% distributed around the world. From those connections, I learned more and more about remote work, how to implement it within companies, and how the best companies were doing it.
OL: What inspired you to go off on your own and start Remote Work Movement?
GH: I was having a lot of interesting talks with HR managers and CEOs about remote work. I was working for Remote-how and learned about different aspects of remote work and saw how they managed a fully remote team. This sparked my desire to have more people embrace that lifestyle.
In Portugal, people rarely work remotely and I wanted to change that. I decided to start recording the calls I had with interesting people. As a digital nomad, I met many interesting people around the world, so I decided to put everything together and start recording interviews to share with everyone. That's how the Remote Work Movement came to be a podcast.
OL: What's your mission?
GH: My mission is to spread remote work all over the world. I want every single company to know how to work remotely and, if they don't, I want to help educate them on how to be more productive while working remotely.
My mission is to spread remote work all over the world. I want every single company to know how to work remotely and, if they don't, I want to help educate them on how to be more productive while working remotely.
OL: What are some of the ways that you're working with HR managers and CEOs? What do you advise them on and support them with?
GH: I focus a lot on the education side so I want to educate them on how to implement systems that will lead them to work remotely. We talk about why they want to work remotely; maybe they want to hire, maybe they want to expand, maybe they want to cut costs, etc. We start with that so we're focused on the goal. Then, we set up a communication system that can be asynchronous or synchronous.
The next question is: Do they have an office or are they going fully distributed? We tackle everything related to communication which – for me – is the most important part of remote work.
Next, we move on to implementation, remote work policies and setting guidelines and rules. Usually, the education part lasts four to six weeks before they can implement everything for themselves. If they want my help later on, I'm pleased to help and we can work on a long-term basis. My whole system works more or less in six weeks and it's more of an education and foundation for what will later be remote work.
OL: It sounds like you're mostly working with folks as they're getting their team set up or after they're starting to roll out remote work versus more established organizations that are starting to work remotely.
GH: That's how it started. My initial goal was to help companies to go remote but things changed. I've been approached by companies that are already fully remote but they want to improve their practices – I've been asked a few times to do an audit. Helping companies improve their current systems is a fun and different challenge.
Many went remote without having any systems in place. They said, 'Hey, we should work remotely! Let's do it without any preparation!' Now, they're feeling the struggles of communication and culture and they're approaching me to help them. It wasn't my main goal but, as I see this is a struggle in the system I want to help where I can.
OL: Would you say communication is the biggest pitfall for teams? What's the biggest thing people are falling into if they're not laying out a roadmap for working remotely in advance?
GH: I see a lot of communication issues paired with a lack of rules. When you have five or six platforms doing different things and you don't have a clear system of rules of when to use them, things can get complicated and you overthink where to communicate. For example, when there's a problem: Do you go on Slack? Do you communicate on another tool?
It's a huge issue that comes down to the culture and goes to leadership. Hybrid companies and co-located companies need communication because there are a lot of people in the office and, if systems for communication are not set up properly, decisions will stay in the office. Remote team members will never know about it, so I'm trying to help companies work as if everyone is remote.
Hybrid companies and co-located companies need communication because there are a lot of people in the office and, if systems for communication are not set up properly, decisions will stay in the office. Remote team members will never know about it, so I'm trying to help companies work as if everyone is remote.
OL: For communication, as far as troubleshooting and advising, do you find that you adapt your approach based on what systems they're already using? Or do you have a set of tools that you always recommend fully-remote teams or distributed teams use?
GH: I'm a little bit of a purist. I love asynchronous communication and believe that a full company can work asynchronously, but many people don't want to work like that. They'd rather have a lot of face-to-face time and work synchronously; they want to have at least four hours overlap which is okay. You should have a synchronous platform for communication. For example, I use Twist, and Slack can be used as a synchronous communication tool.
I strongly advise email for external communication. Usually, I use Zoom for video conferencing. Teams need a platform where they can see what's being worked on: you can use Trello, Monday, etc. I don't have one go-to solution, but I know all the elements you need to build to work remotely and see an overview of what's going on inside your company.
OL: That's great! What are some of the industries and countries that you find yourself working with most often? Who are most of your clients and where are they coming from?
GH: I work with many companies from the U.S. and Canada because that's where the remote community is stronger. I'm also seeing a lot of development in Germany. The number of German startups is growing and they want to go remote because the winter isn't great there and they want the ability to travel around.
My focus is on a new project in Portugal to help Portugal join the remote work movement. Currently, I'm looking for companies that want to work remotely in Portugal and I've been speaking at many conferences. I'm getting more Portuguese clients but, the movement is the strongest in Germany and the U.S.
OL: Are you speaking at companies? Are you speaking at more agnostic remote work events?
GH: I organized a remote work conference in Lisbon called Remote Shift, and it was the first big conference about remote work in Portugal. We had 300 people and, for a country that doesn't work remotely, 300 people inside the conference room for two days talking about remote work was outstanding.
The fun thing is we organized this conference remotely because I was between Bali and Vietnam, and my co-founders were in Lisbon and other places. We were spread around the world and we organized the whole conference remotely. I didn't meet them until the day before the conference. We did everything in four months without funding and figured it out on the go.
I'm a strong believer in conferences because face-to-face relationships are different than when you meet remotely via Zoom. There's definitely a balance between face-to-face and remote communication, but when we go to a conference and meet people, that helps me share my mission and to be acknowledged as someone speaking about remote work.
It's been a fun experience because Portugal is a small country and we're still going through the first steps. Being invited to speak at all these conferences about remote work and giving my vision of what will happen is getting companies excited about it. Companies that were totally against it are now thinking about implementing it.
People are fearful of remote work because they don't know how to implement it and they think people will go home and watch Netflix ... but they can also watch Netflix at the office. So, having a person here and educating them and speaking at a lot of conferences and giving workshops is helping them to not only get the knowledge but also to see other companies that are doing it well.
There's definitely a balance between face-to-face and remote communication, but when we go to a conference and meet people, that helps me share my mission and to be acknowledged as someone speaking about remote work.
OL: Awesome! You host a podcast of your own - what are some of your favorite takeaways from some of the people that you've interviewed?
GH: It's been amazing to have a podcast because during one hour I can ask whatever I want and talk to leaders about remote work. For one hour, they're so focused and that's amazing. I interview a variety of different people.
In the last episode, I spoke with David Abraham, the CEO of Outpost, one of the best coworking spaces in Bali. David has worked for the White House and amazing companies; he shared his thoughts about the digital nomad movement and tips on how to be successful. I ask my guests what the future of the digital nomad movement looks like because it's something they work closely with. In these interviews, you learn a lot about the movement, about expectations, and where the digital nomad movement is going.
One of the biggest takeaways is the importance of community. It's important to meet face-to-face with your teams and, even if you work remotely, having face-to-face time is proven to help remote teams to improve and work better.
Digital nomadism is here to stay. It might change a bit and it's not something that we'll do forever but we'll be location-independent and basically live wherever we happen to be just to be happy. If I want to learn scuba diving, I can go to Thailand for two years, and if I want to ski I can go to Canada for as long as I want.
OL: How do you advise people to build and strengthen company culture when people are distributed and not seeing each other face-to-face more than twice a year?
GH: Meeting once or twice a year is great and I usually propose at least two events. One for the whole company and the second where a team can go and work somewhere for one or two weeks. Besides that, I'm a strong believer that if something takes more than 30 seconds to write or explain, you should make a face-to-face call. If you work at the same time, go on Zoom to communicate with people. It's been super helpful to avoid misunderstandings. I advise as much face-to-face time as you can because that's proven to help a lot. My facial expressions and my body movements help a lot in getting the message across.
You can also do really fun stuff! For example, at Remote-how we did a beer talk where everyone on Fridays grabbed a beer in different parts of the world and we drank our beers and talked. We didn't talk about work, but life - what are we doing, where are we going next, etc. Work is important, but people connect when they're not working and the discussion isn't focused on work. On each call, if you have five minutes to ask, 'Hey, how are you doing?' you can build a relationship with someone. This can be a game-changer in knowing your team better and creating a good culture for your company.
OL: That's a great point. People have that type of chit chat in the office and you have to be really conscious about it remotely.
GH: Right. The only difference in a remote setting is you have to force it. Those things that happen in the office are normal but when you're working remotely you have to force it a little bit and be more aware that you have to do that.
Work is important, but people connect when they're not working and the discussion isn't focused on work. On each call, if you have five minutes to ask, 'Hey, how are you doing?' you can build a relationship with someone. This can be a game-changer in knowing your team better and creating a good culture for your company.
OL: What's a myth you hear about remote work that you dislike and wish would go away?
GH: The myth that everybody who works remotely always works from home. Companies tell me, 'People don't have human connections when they work from remotely'. Personally, I don't enjoy working from home and I only work from home when there is no other option. I'm only working from home today because I'm in the north of Portugal where there are no coworking spaces.
It's frustrating that people think we will be alone working if we work remotely. When I work, I love to be surrounded by people, so, I usually work from coworking spaces and cafes. I can meet people I'm interested in when I travel to places like Bali, even when working in coworking spaces. The idea that people are lonely and disconnected from other people when working remotely is a myth.
OL: Interesting! I've never heard that one before. I like to work from home because I like the solitude and the work focus but I go to the office to get that coworking experience if I need it.
GH: Well, the difference is knowing if you're an introvert or an extrovert because that changes everything. As an introvert, you get energy from being alone and you'll be able to focus ... so a coworking space may not be as effective. I'm a super extrovert so I get distracted if I'm at home. I can't focus when I'm alone working in a space where there are no people. So, it's the way we get energy and it's different.
I need people around me to get energy from those people and if I don't have that I will struggle. I was in Thailand working from home where there were no coworking spaces and after one week I shut off. I was working from home in amazing places and going to the beach in the morning and afternoon but I couldn't work because I was missing the people. It's important to know if you're an extrovert or an introvert and adapt your working style.
OL: That's a great point. It can be hard as an introvert to participate in meetings or speak up when you have an idea. So to have the ability to work from a different location kind of levels the playing field for introverts a little bit. What's one thing that a remote or hybrid team could implement today that would improve their work-life communication?
GH: Put everything online. If you have a meeting, write up a document about what you talked about, what were the conclusions and what the action steps are. Even if you have a conversation by the coffee machine, write down any ideas that came up. Put every single thing that happened in the office and that's relevant online. And when you do celebrations, don't forget the people who work remotely - that's a huge one.
OL: I love that. What do you personally love most about working remotely?
GH: You know my answer: it's traveling. Being able to move to another place if you get tired of one place. Being able to change my set up and everything in two weeks or every day if I want is a game-changer in terms of focus and in terms of people I'm meeting.
OL: Great! Do you have anything else you wanted to add?
GH: We tend to do everything as 'one size fits all' even though every single company is different. Each company has different systems and every single person inside these companies works differently. So, when you try to create rules, you should be aware of that.