SHARON KOIFMAN is the Founder and CEO of DistantJob, a boutique recruitment agency specializing in remote employees. He shares why companies are choosing to outsource and why people want to work remotely. We also discuss remote management techniques, hiring strategies, and work-life fusion.
His tips for working with remote employees:
- Hire the best person for the job.
- Give people the flexibility where they are most productive
- Use your webcam for team building purposes
- Be proactive as a manager and an employee
- Be curious about each other and get to know one another
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great, and we’re live. So welcome, everybody, to this remote interview. My name is Lisette, and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Today, on the line, I have all the way from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Sharon Koifman. And you are the founder and CEO of DistantJob, which is a remote placement, a new recruitment model. And if I got the slogan from your website correctly, you can expand your development team without red tape, relocation expenses, or additional overhead. So I really look forward to diving into that.
Let’s start with the first question, which is what does your virtual office look like?
Sharon: My virtual office is divided into two locations. I know most people that work remotely have one, specific environment where they like to work from. I’m a little bit of a nomad. So I have a wonderful house office and a real office. So the key component of office at home is that I can wake up in the middle of the night. If I have this brilliant idea, I can go and type in and everything. But I also need to sometimes be away from my house because I have an amazing wife and a beautiful daughter, and they’re incredibly distracting because they’re awesome.
So I do have a separate office, which is about 15 minutes away. Both places are somewhat identical. There are two, big screens, one very powerful computer. It’s all synchronized through cloud. And we use software such as Slack, Skype, Trello, and Google Docs. And that’s all I need to properly work remotely.
Lisette: It’s amazing what we can do with those super, powerful, little computers that are transportable everywhere, isn’t it?
Sharon: Yes, exactly. But I actually made a choice to… I still have a laptop, but I made a choice to still use old-school desktops.
Sharon: Nothing works as well… Sorry, I have two, one at home and one in the office and [inaudible – 02:16] because nothing works as well as long as it’s all backed up, synchronized, and clouded.
Lisette: Of course, which is these days easier and easier to do with everything that we’re working on.
Sharon: Yes, absolutely.
Lisette: Indeed. So let’s talk a little bit about DistantJob and what distant job is. I didn’t give the best intro. So remote placement, a new recruitment model. So tell us a little bit about what distant DistantJob does.
Sharon: So we call our company a remote placement agency. In reality, it can be interchanged to remote recruitment agency or remote head hunting. This industry has so many synonymous terms that [inaudible – 03:00] the same. But remote placement agency is a recruitment agency that specializes in remote employees. Most of our clients ask us to hire in the more affordable countries such as Eastern Europe and in areas such as Eastern Europe and Latin America. And they work remotely for North American technology companies. Now of course everybody is aware that there’s a huge benefit in cost because there’s no labor, a lower labor cost of living. But this is a secondary advantage over the fact that it’s also the capacity to hire from all over the world. So when you hire from all over the world, you have this advantage of hiring better people, hiring them faster, and of course, at that incredible value.
Lisette: And how does your system work? I mean do you have a huge network of employees that are ready to take jobs? What does that look like? How do you find people?
Sharon: We do have a very big database, but we’re not depending on that database. That database is more of a backup. We are a boutique recruitment agency. We’re really good at what we do. We asked for a job description. You give us a week or two. And we’re going to go and headhunt for those individuals that specifically fit your needs.
I find that maybe with local recruitment agency, you have more limited options. So maybe you need to compromise. But we don’t want our clients to compromise. We want to offer them exactly what they want. You’re not necessarily going to find the database. That is about going and headhunting for it. And their strategy is very similar to what local recruitment agencies do. [inaudible – 04:55] headhunting, networking, but on a global scale. So we have a big pool of recruiters all over the world. We receive hundreds of CVs for every requirement. And we have a very unique filtering process. So it gives us a capacity to, as I like to call it, quantity for quality. We go through so many CVs. And we have such a great filtering process because we’re such IT specialists that we end up getting some really, really great talent.
Lisette: And why specialize in remote?
Sharon: Remote has huge benefits. First of all, remote gives you the capacity to hire from all over the world, which means you have a much bigger pool of talent to choose from. When you choose to hire from a specific region, you can deal with the best recruitment agents in the world. They’re still limited to one area. We [inaudible – 05:53] our world to choose from. And like I said, there is the amazing advantage of cost. And when people work from home, there are obvious environmental benefits. There is also morale and motivation benefits. When somebody is able to work from home, he doesn’t waste time on traveling, which he can put more time and work. He sometimes chooses to work extra hours because he’s happy, especially in the IT field.
As an example, I have this friend which is a brilliant, brilliant programmer. He lives in Montreal, he does contract jobs from some serious companies, and he charges an arm and a leg. And sometimes he goes to the companies that he does the contract for, and he says, “You know, if you’re just going to let me work from home, first of all, I’m going to save time. I’m going to save time on travel, and I’m going to work on it. I work at night. And I will also give you a discount on my salary.” And for some strange reason, companies say no. But they’re losing it. They’re losing the benefit of somebody so highly motivated. And the best perk you can give him is let him work from home. He will work at night as extra hours. He will work those extra traveling times. This is the number one benefit of everything else when it comes to remote employees.
Lisette: And I’ve always found managers are so afraid that people won’t get the work done. But most remote workers that I’ve spoken to… In fact, I can’t even think of one where this hasn’t happened. But most people overwork. Most people are working too much. The problem of remote working is not lazy people. It’s people who are burning out because they’re doing too much work. So I hear this over and over again.
Sharon: Yeah. It’s very interesting. And people in 10 years and 20 years, maybe even sooner, these new management processes are going to be caught in business schools. But there are many ways to [inaudible – 08:12] the remote individual to the model that you have already in house. So anybody who feels that they’re compromising doesn’t necessarily [inaudible – 08:23]. Now if you would… For example, the type of manager, they just want to be able to go to the next cubicle and talk to Bob. And you know that Bob is always there and he asks them and he motivates them and he asks them all the right questions. He does what a good manager does. This doesn’t have to be so different from a remote employee. If you want that employee to be… Some people want their employee to have a lot of flexibility.
But if you’re the manager who doesn’t want that flexibility and you just want that great communication, the instructions are from 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00 or 8:00 to 4:00, whatever your time is, go, sit down in front of your computer. When you come in to work, you turn on your Skype link or your Slackie… you know, when he turns into blank through a [inaudible – 09:14]. And I just want to know that every time that I message you, you’ll respond. And if the remote employee gives that experience to their employer, suddenly, it’s not such a big difference. So if you’re the type of manager that needs that, it’s not a problem. There’s a general policy in terms of remote management. You need to and you can replicate your in-house model with remote employees fairly easy. You just need to think of the right technology to use.
Lisette: What do you think it is that managers are so hesitant to use outsourced employees or to allow their employees to be flexible? What do you think the fear is? Is it really just fear of laziness?
Sharon: I don’t want to… You know, there are companies that run massive operations, and the CEOs are brilliant. And I don’t want to undermine what they’re doing. There is something… One of the biggest obstacles of remote is culture. Again, you can replicate it. You can create interactive environment online. You can make sure that if the remote employee comes to the office every once in a while or if it’s a distant remote employee, make sure to [inaudible – 10:34] Christmas parties or whatever is necessary.
But there is a little bit of culture that is more challenging [inaudible – 10:43]. Now I don’t have that issue in my company because we sit every week. And for the first 20 minutes of our meeting, we like to use Zoom, a fantastic application. And there are like 10 people because [inaudible – 11:01] my recruiters. The 10 people sitting around, and we chitchat. And we talk about their lives, and we talk about everything. [inaudible – 11:08], the culture is not lost. We just do it online. We see everybody’s faces. I mean webcams are crucial. Webcams are such a key component of creating that feeling. And you use tools, [gaming – 11:23] tools. So you would create that type of culture. But I understand why they will never replicate individuals in house. That’s the legitimate explanation.
The not-so-legitimate explanation is that people don’t want to fix something that works. But the truth is they don’t work because local talents are harder and harder to find, and big companies are forcing these individuals to come from their countries and [inaudible – 11:59] with families and everything. And they replicate them, and it’s not [inaudible – 12:04]. So it doesn’t really work. But they know the system their company is growing. So they don’t want to change it. That is the less legitimate reason why so many companies choose not to work with remote.
Lisette: Well, I need to be fair. It’s really hard to go from being an in person all the time company to going remote. So there is some legitimacy to the fear, but there is just no excuse that just because it’s hard, you shouldn’t do it.
Sharon: Well, there are some serious advantages that you’re missing on. Like I said, the world is big. The best talents are not in your city. Maybe, if you’re in Silicon Valley, sort of. But again, even if you’re in Silicon Valley, you [inaudible – 12:52] quadruple the salary for the [inaudible] somewhere else. I do admit that probably, California and Europe does have such a big [pool of doubt – 13:04] that they might not have this handicap. But at the same time, they pay so much more, and they can get three or four times the productivity [inaudible – 13:14] individuals. And these individuals don’t mind lower salaries because their cost of living is lowers. So it’s a fair arrangement. So [inaudible – 13:28]. Okay, if everybody… There would be no reason to [inaudible – 13:33] remote then you say, “Why would you do it?” But there is a real reason.
Lisette: Another question that I have is clearly, you’re hiring a lot of people who are wanting to work remotely. How do you know when you’re hiring somebody if they’re able to work remotely? For example when I get on the phone with somebody, I can tell a remote newbie. Like in the first five minutes, I can tell whether or not you’re used to working remotely, just by the way you use your webcam, by the way you behave online. What are the signs that you look for that somebody is suited for or not suited for remote working?
Sharon: You know? First of all, based on my management process, I can throw in 90 percent of the people that have not worked remote or are not into remote, into remote. And that’s what I was explaining before, that remote is not necessarily a freelance job, do whatever you want, whenever you want. Remote [inaudible – 14:33]… If you’re not a superstar [inaudible] by himself, which I have many of those in my company, I have some of the juniors. I tell them, “You’ve got to be 9:00 to 5:00. And you better answer every time, and you better not… And I give you amazing Internet connection so that you don’t have excuses that my Internet did not work or something of that sort. Or many of those countries that have electricity problems, let’s buy you a battery, eliminate excuses. When I message you, I need a response back.” And there are so many times that you can tell me that you are in the washroom.
So eventually, they get used to a real manager that talks to them every day, checks on them, motivates them every day, that everybody can become a remote employee. In my interview, the people that really don’t seem to fit are the people that seem to have unlimited questions about the remote process. [inaudible – 15:38] unlimited questions about the job itself.
Lisette: Okay, interesting.
Sharon: [inaudible – 15:43] me if I offered you an interview, and every interview process says that part of the interview is do you have any questions. And when the questions are just about… so how does it work? How would you check on me? How would I this? How would I that? How would you know that I’m actually working? Then you understand that that individual is probably not in that state to love and appreciate and comprehend the concept of remote management.
Now there’s the other type that are just are not into remote. First of all, they’re very [inaudible – 16:28]. I don’t blame them. I think they’re legitimately not remote employees where they love being in an office. They love the right environment. [inaudible – 16:39] business because in an IT business, there are not a lot of them much [laughs]. But that’s the other obstacle that I found in interviews where a person is just… You can see that he’s going to go crazy if he’s going to work from home. His social experience at home as not great. And the truth is I’m that kind also. That’s why I go to the office.
Lisette: Yeah, there are lots of people who much prefer working in an office with groups of people.
Sharon: Absolutely. But the person that understands that, “You know what? I am not good working from home, but I will find an incubator. I will find everything because I still love the idea of remote.” So it is about that attitude, it is about the question that they ask, and that’s how I eliminate that minority of people who really don’t fit as part of the remote process.
Lisette: Okay, yeah, super interesting. I always think like what do people look for when they’re hiring to know if somebody is… Because everybody says, “Oh, yeah, I can do that remote thing. I mean how hard can it be? I can be in my pajamas all day.” And I think, “No, no, no, no. You’re misunderstanding the whole point.” So it’s not lounging from home. We’re just working. We’re working from somewhere else, not even necessarily home.
Sharon: Part of my process… There are a minority of people who are just remote superstars. The rest of the people need good managers. And a good manager locally can really replicate. It does take some adjusting and learning, but it can really replicate his model. But it does mean sitting, talking, motivating, being a manager. And a lot of the misconceptions out there and that entire outsourcing industry has created that misconception that you give a project to somebody remote and you hope to get results [inaudible – 18:32] weeks. And you think you’re going to get the results. And no, you’ve got to be the same manager. If you are locally, you’ve got to bring it to the remote [inaudible – 18:42].
Lisette: Interesting. So you said you have a team of people that work for DistantJob that are your recruiters. But everybody is located all over the world. Is that right?
Sharon: That’s right.
Lisette: Okay. And you said that you Slack and Skype and Zoom, Trello, and Google Docs to communicate with each other, standard in the cloud tools. And what do you guys struggle with as your own, remote team? Every team struggles with something. What do you guys struggle with?
Sharon: Remote management requires more management. And every manager eventually Slacks off. But I’m referring to my managers, and I’m referring to myself. So, you know, these days, our company is in biz dev mode where our recruitment team is solid. We have a [inaudible – 19:42] product. We’re providing a great service. So I’m starting to Slack off because my focus is directed towards finding more small to medium-sized technology companies that are looking to hire. So it’s a reality of every manager that is divided in between the biz dev and the operation and back to biz dev, that continuous growth. But where it comes to remote management, you need more of the management because it’s very easy for a remote employee… not the super star remote but the regular, remote employees, to kind of disappear into remote la-la lands if somebody is not there still sitting and talking to them at least every few days. And this is the reality for me. And I’m sure many other companies that… It’s like, “You guys are awesome. You guys are doing great product. [inaudible – 20:38] focus on something else.” And then one of the employees… nobody talks to them for like two weeks sitting in front of a computer. You want to talk about people going nuts. That happens. Managers become lazy. So the challenge is how not to become lazy and how not to become lazy when your focus is redirected somewhere else.
Lisette: Yeah, it’s interesting. There is sort of a… when there’s not somebody wrangling the group or hurting the group or at least binding people together somehow, it does tend to drift off into the remote la-la land. It’s true. It’s true. On a team that I work on, I’m the remote office manager. So I’m the one who’s just scheduling the meetings, making sure we’re touching base. And you’re right. If we didn’t do it, everybody has the best intentions. And we do drift naturally apart. So good point there.
Sharon: It is about keeping the company culture. Company culture is crucial. And when it comes to remote, you’ve just got to do better. You’ve got to be a better manager. So everybody talks about the remote people being better, but it’s not about the remote people. It’s about the management.
Lisette: Ah, interesting. Yeah, management seems to come up a lot in these interviews for a variety of reasons [laughs].
So what about productivity tips? We did talk about, “Hey, you’ve got this home office. And if in the middle of the night, you’re inspired and you want to get up and work on that inspiration, you can.” And we did talk about also that most remote workers work too much rather than too little. So then the question becomes how do you deal with that being always on or the ability of being always on? How do you balance work and life or fuse it, maybe I should say?
Sharon: If you read some of the new management processes out there and some of the productivity and get things done and Kanban and Agile, they all talk about the reality that all tasks are merging together. So there is, at least in my book… My wife always asks me from work social balance in my life. And of course I’m a workaholic. That’s the reality of it. Entrepreneurs in North America and across the world, we work hard. But for me, there’s no longer any… My attitude changed. It’s not that I’m looking for the balance. It’s I look to have fun in life as much as I’m looking to work hard. If I pick up my phone during vacation (which for some people is a big no, no), really, what I’m doing is extending my capacity to have more vacations. So if you have that attitude, suddenly, the balance is not required, and suddenly, the focus is how to get rid of as many tasks as possible. And very different Kanban and get things done… They do things differently. But it is about getting the tasks done. And some of the tasks is taking a vacation, and some of the tasks is going with your guys to the bar as much as it is sitting there and going through the content that your social media guy created last week.
So my balance is about accepting the business as part of my life, and it is what gives me the opportunity to have fun and to enjoy my life. If that means that I [inaudible – 24:26] work all night long in a project, I can potentially go for breakfast with my dad and my wife in the morning. So it is about making sure that fun stuff, the loving stuff are part of your task list.
Lisette: Ah, I like that.
Sharon: It’s not about just trying to cut you off from task and going to the social aspect of life. I don’t believe in that, and I see more and more… more of the specifically Kanban, for example, which is a management process for IT people. There are more and more talks about how you integrate that process into your life. And that means there are all bunch of random tasks that need to be done, including taking a vacation.
Lisette: I like that the vacation goes on the task list. It’s true [laughs] because they all work right through it. I actually have it on my task list.
And speaking of work-life balance, we only have a few minutes left. But as I was researching you, I think I found a video in which you appeared to be a very good piano player, if it’s the right [inaudible – 25:36].
Sharon: [inaudible – 25:37].
Lisette: Oh, awesome! Yeah. So how long have you been playing piano?
Sharon: I have been playing since I was 10 years old. And I like blues and jazz. And I played in some rock bands when I was younger. It was definitely one of my social activities. But now, I think in the last five years, I’m just playing the same stuff that I used to play. I have an 11-month-old daughter. In a week and a half, she is going to be a year old. The moment she grows up a little bit, I have a feeling that I’m just going to come back to music in full force with her. In the meantime, my wife is very involved in theaters. So sometimes I do some… I’m getting involved in… So I didn’t drop the arts completely. But it is definitely… My daughter is my new job [laughs].
Lisette: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The focus has to shift for a little while, indeed.
Sharon: [inaudible – 26:33] to arts, [inaudible] I will be able to get into it together with her.
Lisette: Awesome! I love when I uncover people’s talents as I’m researching through with it [laughs]. Yeah, brings the more human side. There are some people that were fire spinners, and some people that were airplane pilots. And everybody has some work-life fusion built in, I would say.
So let’s see. The very last question, which is easy, which is what’s the best way to get in touch with you if people want to learn more? There’s of course your website, distantjob.com.
Sharon: That’s right. And the email is email@example.com. And of course the phone number and everything is on the website. So I can give it. It’s actually directly 514 and 907-6242, extension 218. But it’s [inaudible – 27:40] on the website if people don’t remember. And I’m very easy to reach.
Lisette: Yeah. Those of us who live and work online, a good thing about us is that we can be very easily reachable [chuckles]. Well, thank you again, so much, for your time today. I really appreciate it. And if people are interested in outsourcing in this new recruitment model, then distantjob.com is for you.
Sharon: Yes, absolutely.
Lisette: Until next time, everybody, be powerful.