Interview: Brittnee Bond on Cultivating a Healthy Remote Work Culture and Avoiding Burnout
Brittnee Bond, Founder of Remote Collective, is an expert in remote working, coworking, co-living, and digital nomads. She believes remote work is no longer the future - it's now - and has successfully transitioned hundreds of teams to working remotely over the past 10 years.
She has a background in corporate law and is always volunteering her time helping the local communities she passes through while traveling to over 50 countries.
Brittnee is also one of Remote's top remote work influencers of 2022.
She is based in Thailand but has a consultancy in London and has been traveling the world for the last ten years.
We talked to Brittnee about cultivating a healthy remote work culture, listening to your intuition as a remote employee, and negotiating as a remote female professional.
Could you tell us a little bit more about what you're working on right now?
I help companies transition to remote working from an operations perspective. So I go through and look at exactly how they do all of their work and I help them with their operations and procedures.
What I enjoy most is the cultural perspective. People switch from managing teams in an office to managing a remote team and they often think it's the exact same culture. But it's completely different.
I've been on both ends of this for many years. I have found the nuances of different ways to help people feel really good and connected in remote teams. The one thing I always encourage teams to do is to help their own employees have boundaries so they can get enough rest.
What do you think a healthy remote work culture looks like?
To give you a little back story, my first time ever when I worked remotely myself was back in 2014. My background is in corporate law. I was helping the teams that I worked with go remote so I could work remotely.
When they finally let me, I moved to Costa Rica. I'd work off a laptop in a conference room. I couldn't hear what anyone else was saying. I was this laptop head. And that's how it felt for most of the time when I worked remotely.
I learned very quickly that effective remote working is about overcommunicating even during meetings. Act like the person isn't there and fill them in. Tell them what's happening, especially if there are side conversations going on.
From an emotional standpoint, you'll also want to have more touchpoints. You're not going to see them in the breakroom, so arrange 10 minute catch-up calls with individual team members.
That might not seem productive, but it sets everyone up for a productive week.
I'm all about wellness. Show people you care about them. Treat them with respect. Then your employees would do anything for you.
So it's about promoting trust in the workplace?
So many times, leaders are thinking, how do we protect ourselves to make sure our employees are working?
And that's wrong. You need to flip this mindset. You have to automatically give them trust. And then they're going to do everything they can to keep that trust because they want to keep their job. If anything, you need to protect them.
A lot of the time, when people first experience remote work, they do not have boundaries for themselves around when they should take a break. They don't understand the health and wellness aspect of remote work. This is something that I really work with managing teams on.
Not only do you need to trust them, you need to protect your employees. When people go into an office, their manager sees them, gives them a task, and they do it. This carried over from the industrial revolution when people worked at assembly lines.
So the manager tells the employee what to do. There's no critical thinking that happens. People are programmed from school and from an office standpoint to not think for themselves, not to have their own schedule, and not to follow what's intuitively good for their bodies in terms of workflow.
And when they go into a remote setting, it can be very overwhelming for them. They'll think, I have all these things to do, but there's no one standing over my shoulder coaching me or telling me when to take a break.
We have to give them these tools in order for them to really work.
We're giving people back their critical thinking and allowing them to listen to their bodies and decide when the best time to work is for them. Are they most productive in the morning or in the evening?
These are the things I geek out over. Giving people tools and helping them work in a cohesive way.
What would be your top tip for a manager who is trying to cultivate that kind of healthy environment where people listen to their intuition more?
I think it's about transparency. It's about letting the team know that you're working on a remote work strategy and getting them involved. Make sure they understand their feedback is really important.
Let people know they can listen to their intuition. Tell them a project needs to be done by Friday, for example. Give them the week to figure out what works well for them and who they need to collaborate with.
This gives them back their power. It empowers them to figure out the best process themselves, instead of having someone micromanage them.
This is why I consult. It's a little bit clunky in the beginning on both sides, trying to figure out that dynamic.
And from an employee perspective, what would you say to them if they're struggling with working really long hours?
I would say a morning routine is really important. Some people get very overwhelmed by what even is a morning routine. For me, this basically means to do something for yourself when you first wake up in the morning that grounds you.
For me, it's yoga, meditation, journaling and going for a walk with my dog.
And there's a reason why that's so important. It gives you control. It makes you feel like you have control of your own life. That's the foundation you need to set boundaries.
When you're in an office, the boundaries exist already. You work when you're in the office, and you don't work when you come home. But when you're remote, you could potentially always be working.
So you need to put these boundaries in place.
In your view, what are some of the opportunities remote work presents for women looking to pave their own professional path?
There are amazing opportunities out there. When I was doing consulting in South Africa, I went into this coworking space. In the conference room, they would have startup boot camps to teach women how to code.
It was primarily a program for black South African women. I spoke to the lady who ran it, and she said, 'we are literally changing their lives and the lives of every future generation after them. Because the income bracket growth was exponential. As in, more than 100%.
In developing countries, the difference is night and day. And even in Western countries, there are now more opportunities for advocacy and for speaking up for our needs. If you want to have kids and a more flexible lifestyle, remote work allows you to do that.
This is actually something I feel very called to do. I want to get the right tools into the hands of women. We need to keep helping each other rise up.
You coach female professionals. Do you find there are any remote work challenges that are specific to women and how should they tackle those?
A major one is negotiation. Men will apply for a job when they meet only some of the requirements. Women will only apply if they meet the vast majority of the requirements.
There is a huge gap between the expectations women place on themselves versus the expectations men place on themselves. Women will often doubt whether they're good enough or equipped enough to try remote work.
They'll accept a way lower salary for the same job, while a guy in the same situation would advocate for the same pay as someone in the office.
Some companies want to pay remote workers less because they offer the flexibility of remote work. While many women will agree, men often say, I'm giving you the same product and, if anything, your overheads are lower because I'm working from home.
And there's something about negotiation that I really like. I love to help. It's my lawyer background. I love helping women get that fire in them to step up and speak up for themselves.
And it always works out. If you get a no, then you were going to get that no if you didn't speak up anyway, you know?
What do you think is the blocker with the women who struggle to negotiate?
I think it's deep cultural programming.
We are raised to be people-pleasers and to be pretty and quiet and go with the flow. And that's the feminine way.
I really believe in the concept of the divine feminine. The fully embodied woman is grounded in her masculine and her feminine energy. Our masculine side is the one that is assertive and speaks up and goes after things.
The feminine side allows us to be in touch with our emotions and go with the flow a little more. The goal is to balance these things. Be able to speak for yourself but still be in touch with your emotions and enjoy it.
What are some ways to develop a support network as a digital nomad?
I tell people to go on Facebook and type in the place where they're interested in going and digital nomads. So, for example, 'Chiang Mai digital nomads'. And there's usually a Facebook group.
Before you even go, join the Facebook group and have a look around to see who's there, what are people posting. You'll get a vibe of what the community is like and you'll meet some great people. There are usually weekly meetups, so you'll have planned events when you first get to the city and you'll make friends.
If that's not available, there are usually coworking spaces wherever you are. I would recommend even just getting a day pass or a week pass and just go and meet some people at lunchtime.
There's usually also events at the coworking spaces.
There are so many amazing people out there who are living the lifestyle you probably want to create for yourself. Trust that you will find them and they will find you.
The hardest thing is getting on the plane. Everything else just comes at you really fast after that. But you have to step into it fully and trust it's going to work out.
And finally, where do you see remote work in the next five years?
That's a hard one! It depends on technology and how much technology grows and how much we actually get into the metaverse! Will we be doing all our meetings in the metaverse?
But I think over the next couple of years, it'll be working out rough patches.
I've been preaching about remote work for like 10 years. And then, over the last few years, suddenly everyone's all about remote work. So there's a lot of onboarding that still needs to happen. I think, over the next five years, we'll have a lot of companies figure out how to do remote work in a healthy way.
And then I think, within five years, it'll be the normal, smooth thing to do. Right now people are doing it, but it's not going smoothly.
Within five years, people coming out of university and joining the job market will be a lot more emboldened.
Younger people feel like they have the right to work remotely. It's not a case of, 'can I please work remotely?'
Now, people say, 'you don't offer remote work? I don't even want to talk to you!'
I think that's great! We're coming into our power and advocating for what we want.
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