Interview: Sergio Pereira on Hiring Remote Employees and Adopting Remote Work Permanently
Sergio Pereira is the founder of Remote Work Academy, a start-up providing educational resources and courses for remote workers. Sergio is also a CTO for a fintech start-up and has more than 12 years of experience building innovative technology solutions.
He has hired hundreds of remote workers and has built several remote teams.
We talked to Sergio about hybrid work, adopting remote work permanently, start-up culture, and the future of remote work in the technology sector.
Could you tell us about yourself and your experience with remote work so far?
I've been working in tech for 12 years now, but for the last eight years, I've worked for different start-ups as a CTO. This gave me the opportunity to decide on the technology, the architecture, the products and most importantly the team. That power led me to very early implement my belief that people do not need to be in an office and work physically together.
So, around 2016, I started hiring internationally and remotely with great success.
So could you tell us a bit more about the new projects that you're working on?
Yeah, so right now I'm doing a few different things. I am the CTO of a fintech start-up called Bulk MRO. I've come in to build the tech team from scratch in time zones between India and the US. It's been fun to grow.
I'm also launching Remote Work Academy and it's very purposeful in that it's about externalizing my knowledge.
During the pandemic, everyone started working remotely. But people are struggling. People are burning out.
There are all sorts of dysfunctionalities. People are in meetings all the time. Managers are wondering what people are working on. And I've had a few contacts approach me and I've been helping them organically.
It made me realize there are so many people out there who would benefit from this kind of knowledge. I started writing on Twitter mostly and I figured that I could centralize this knowledge about remote work in a company.
So I started Remote Work Academy which is a content platform for my knowledge of remote work. It will contain interviews, articles, and most importantly courses. So from next month onwards, I will start publishing courses on foundational things like asynchronous work and hiring.
It will be my contribution to the world to try and accelerate remote work across the globe.
Why do you believe that remote work is the best approach for companies?
Well, I've been doing it and it works for me. But it's beyond that. I deeply believe that remote work is the biggest social transformation of our generation.
In our parents' generation, if you wanted to get the top job with the highest pay in the world, you would need to immigrate to expensive cities like London or New York. You'd need to leave your family and friends behind and incur massive costs, probably live in shitty places for the first few years until you figure it out.
I mean, that's how millions of people did it. And out of those people, many did very well in life obviously.
But our generation doesn't need to do that.
We can access those jobs in the best possible companies from home.
And while for people in developed countries this is just a massive convenience as we don't need to commute, for people in developing countries this is nothing short of life-changing. If you live in a place like Ghana or Brazil, suddenly you don't need to immigrate to the US and go through the crazy visa processes.
In the tech field, there's a shortage of global programmers. There's not enough people who know how to code compared to the number of job openings. Companies that focus their recruitment efforts on just one city are losing. Even if they focus on the whole world, there's still a shortage.
For companies going global, it's a no brainer to try to mitigate this issue of lack of talent. Not only does it save costs but also operations run around the clock because of the different time zones. Also, they will find people that bring different cultures together, different insights, different experiences...
I find it lovely. I think it's a win-win-win situation for the company, for the employee, and for society in general.
What do you think of companies that don't want to go fully remote, but are just adopting hybrid?
I deeply respect people who want to go to the office. I think there will always be people who can work remotely, but still want to go to the office.
And I believe that if anything, companies that go to the office can actually have a kick ass culture for extroverts, because then all of the introverts will be home working remotely. So then only the people who really want to be there will be in the office. So I guess for them, it'll be a blast.
A hybrid approach though? I think it's the worst of both worlds. It's really challenging to make hybrid cultures work effectively.
You'll have an office culture which is very synchronous and meeting heavy. That's fine. I personally don't find that very productive, but for people who like that, it works.
If you go remote and globally remote, you tend to accept a very asynchronous way of working. And you'll just train people into that way of working which is very different from the office but works in a remote context.
Hybrid sits in the middle. It's really challenging to do it well. Many people who commute will just sit in meetings over Zoom. People who are at home because they prefer to work remotely sit in meetings with people who are in the office.
But they miss a lot of context because the office is the default for most companies that do hybrid. And I hear reports of people saying they're at a disadvantage for promotions if they work remotely.
Anecdotally, those hybrid companies are having massive turnover right now. People who want to be in the office will go for a company that has an office culture, but those who wish to be fully remote will go work for a remote company.
What do you think of Google asking employees to return to the office on a hybrid basis?
Google made a massive investment in office space and there's a huge financial incentive to use that investment.
Several Googlers actually reached out to me to say that they work remotely at Google. So what seems to happen is that while they're moving back to the office, if you request to work remotely, you're being granted the right to work remotely.
So they're positioning themselves as returning to the office, but that's not the reality for positions in high demand, particularly like tech.
Some companies are taking a different approach. People who wish to work from home are getting a 10% cut in their salary. It is not mandatory to return to the office but they have a financial incentive to go.
People get really annoyed because there's no rationale. It's just discrimination against people working remotely.
Now some companies do it based on geography. Imagine you're a Bay Area employee and suddenly move to your come country, say India, where the cost of living is much lower.
Many companies might lower your salary and adapt it to the local market. Some people are actually fine with that because they'll still make decent pay for the local economy. Others are not so fine with that.
Ultimately, some other company that pays uniform global salaries might snap them up.
What does a remote start-up culture look like to you?
Startups were always seen as this place that's an incubator or accelerators. I've been through all the big accelerators in the past. And I love it personally. I think going to the office with other entrepreneurs was great.
I speak to entrepreneurs running startups every now and then. And I think that culture is still alive. It's not really been affected so much by not being in a physical space. There are differences because everything moves online, but the culture of innovation has not been affected.
What do you think of leaders who are still reluctant to adopt remote work?
From a technology standpoint and specifically where there is a high demand and a shortage of skills, each individual might have several job offers. I'm talking about software engineers, data scientists, designers, cybersecurity professionals, blockchain, those types of roles.
Most of these people want to work remotely. There's a correlation. Many software developers are introverts and introverts prefer remote working. And surveys have been done that found that in tech, the vast majority of people prefer to work remotely.
What will happen is that those people will actually work remotely. Either in the current company, if that company becomes remote-first. Or in their next company. Because they will leave and find a job that is remote.
What leaders need to appreciate is that these shifts will leave them at a big disadvantage. If they move back to the office without any strategic planning, they will find themselves in a very unfortunate situation where half the workforce will leave within the first two or three months.
Then, they'll need to call emergency meetings to work out what's going on and develop remote policies just to avoid the continued brain drain.
But at this point, they are already losing. Because they've lost a massive part of their workforce. They also lost people's trust as they are being reactive rather than proactive.
Leaders should be proactive and figure out the remote culture that works for their company. Some of them can't figure it out themselves, which is completely fair.
If you've worked in an office for 30 or 40 years, it's quite normal. That's what you know.
But still, leaders should roll out remote work. Whether it's fully remote or hybrid or whatever feels good to them, they need to prevent the brain drain which they will otherwise suffer if they just return to the office blindly.
What's the one thing a leader should put in place first so they can have a successful remote culture in the long term?
I think the biggest mistake companies make is to bring their office culture into the remote realm. It's good to bring some of it, of course, but when it comes to remote work, people generally expect flexibility.
They don't expect to work 9 to 5 and to just sit in meetings all day as that's not even the most productive use of their time. I would advise them to adopt asynchronous communication.
Make the processes asynchronous. If you're planning a new initiative as a leader, don't just bring 10 people together to brainstorm. Nothing will happen. Instead, create a document, note down your goals, share it with people. Let them work on it for the next 24 hours.
They will fill it out in their own time. They will have questions, and after a few iterations, you will get to a point where there is an agenda with clear questions and answers and proposals.
Then you can probably book a meeting. Not with the 10 people, but perhaps the 2 or 3 you have identified as relevant to the conversation.
Otherwise people will just sit in meetings, be frustrated, burned out and then nothing gets done. And they will have a frustration about remote work. The problem is not remote work, it's about working effectively.
What should a manager look for when they're looking to hire someone remotely?
I've hired hundreds of people for remote teams over the last few years. The one thing that comes before any technical skills, before any job-related skills, is communication.
I would say in remote work, knowing English to a professional level is a must. People will be at a huge disadvantage if they do not know English.
Communication in remote work is much more written than verbal, so people who can explain a problem concisely are also at an advantage. In technical roles, sometimes people struggle to verbalize their issues or their blockers.
In remote work environments, people need to overcommunicate. But that doesn't just mean making a lot of noise. People ned to be sharp and communicate their needs effectively. They need to communicate their blockers and their proposals and what they're bringing to the table upfront.
Communication is definitely something that I've trained myself to look for in interviews to find out if they have the right skill set in that regard.
What's your top tip for managers to work out whether someone has decent communication skills?
In my recruitment process, I embed a test typically. It's a technical test that's vague on purpose, particularly for the more senior positions. Senior colleagues can be massive bottlenecks if they do not communicate well. They are expected to lead by example.
So for them, I have a test that tends to be vague on purpose. It is expected that they won't just be able to understand what to do. But what will they do when they realize it's vague?
Will they just do it regardless? And deliver a very underwhelming result? No.
What is expected is that they will come forward and say, 'look, here with point A, B, and C, I don't understand what needs to be done.' So the core of the test actually happens before they figure out what needs to be done.
So that is something that is very effective for senior and manager roles. But not for junior roles, as they just assume it's their fault for not understanding and will move forward. But that's fine. Juniors are expected to have less experience and to be trained once they're on board. It would be unfair to have such a test for them.
But for manager level, definitely. And I love it. Because the best candidates will drill the hell out of us to ensure they understand the expectations, the scope, and the constraints. And that's great!
Because that's what's expected of them. In the job, they'll need to work out blockers, work out things that aren't very clear, and clarify them with the least amount of iterations.
Finally, what do you think the remote work landscape will look like in the next five years?
The pandemic accelerated remote work by probably two decades. Even if many companies go back to the office, employees have experienced remote work and a huge barrier has been broken.
A massive acceleration that goes in multiple directions is what I expect. The employees will drive it. Jobs that have more demand than supply, like software engineering, will be remote by default because it's a candidate-driven market and that's what candidates want.
So those jobs will be remote immediately. The most talented employees will work in companies that are remote. Remote companies will ultimately have an edge over the companies that return to the office.
So even if many companies now return to the office, they will need to reshuffle and reconsider their options.
I would say in five years, everything will be remote and the office will not really be an office. It will be a social location that might be a retreat, might be a cafe, might be, you know... whatever.
These spaces will be used mostly for social interactions, not for actual work. It'll be silly in five years to go to the office to have meetings for work. People will go to retreats to have fun together because they worked remotely for six months but never met.
This will probably widen the gap between the tech industry and other industries. Tech is already much better paid than most other jobs. It will be higher paid and remote.
So it will probably accelerate the pace at which everyone will learn how to code, how to design, how to analyze data, to get these jobs that allow them to learn, to earn a higher salary, and to work remotely.
Also, I think remote work might foster another trend which I'm seeing already, which is part-time work. As salaries go up, it'll become much easier for companies to break down work into smaller chunks.
Suddenly, you don't need to have one person sit at a desk for eight hours. In a remote environment, typically the work is much more organized and granular. That can foster the acceleration of part-time work. Part-time workers who want to work 20 hours instead of 40 might take these jobs, as they will still be highly paid and most people won't need to work full-time to earn a decent living.
Many people might decide they prefer the lifestyle of flexibility or less work hours.
I also think remote work will transform cities like London and New York. What will those downtown areas look like without workers filling up the subways? Cities will need to reinvent themselves to attract remote workers.
The tourism industry might now look to attract people to live in their countries for extended periods. Infrastructure will no longer be just resorts for people to stay for a week.
Big cities like New York, like London, will need to compete with the rest of the country to offer a standard of living where people can actually thrive. I don't know what that'll look like, but it'll be interesting to see.
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