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As part of my LinkedIn Newsletter series about the Rise of Remote Work, I had the pleasure of interviewing Iwo Szapar, Remote Work Advocate & Co-Founder At Remote-how.

Iwo Szapar

Iwo Szapar is a Remote Work Advocate & Co-founder of Remote-how, the world’s leading platform for remote professionals powered by and for the community of 25,000+ people from 128 countries. Through various initiatives like Remote-how Academy or Virtual Coworking, together with the world’s top remote companies like GitLab, Prezi, or Doist, Remote-how is on a mission to help everyone achieve freedom of choice where and when they work.

Iwo is a relentless doer – the kind of self-proclaimed workaholic every team needs. Driven by a love for travel (lived on 3 different continents, while visiting 65 countries – and still can’t get enough), as well as a desire to be as productive as possible, anytime, anywhere, Iwo is passionate about helping companies everywhere successfully implement remote workforces. He has been featured by BBC, Forbes, or Bussiness Insider while advocating for the #remotework revolution. In his downtime, Iwo loves to write, follow global politics (which he tries to replace with cooking), and play with dogs

Thank you so much for your time, Iwo! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got into remote work?

I started to work remotely for the first time in 2012, but 2017 brought a breakthrough and this is when Remote-how story started. 

It was when my wife and I moved from Poland to Austin, Texas. Even though exploring new cultures had always been our passion and we’d already traveled to at least 44 different countries (despite Ola being afraid of flying), life in the US really broadened our horizons. It truly opened our eyes to the remote work revolution going on there. We had countless discussions with our new friends and co-workers about how vital flexibility was for them, something now being discussed in a number of studies. On the other hand employers (including myself at that time) struggled with finding talent but seemed not to connect the dots that remote work could actually be a game-changer. Therefore we decided to dig a bit deeper and find an answer to this puzzling question: How can we help the world seamlessly transform into a more remote work-friendly place? This is how we decided to help the world learn “how to work remotely” and started Remote-how.

How can we help the world seamlessly transform into a more remote work-friendly place?

Why did you make the switch from a traditional 9-to-5 office job to working remotely?

We wanted to have the freedom of choice where and how we work. And we were not the first ones. Telecommuting was already introduced in the 70’s by NASA, but it never really went fully mainstream (if we talk about full-time remote jobs). Now however remote is on the rise (50% of US workforce will be remote by 2020) and freelancing is growing rapidly. 

There are a couple of setbacks though. First of all, it’s not suitable for everyone. Many companies also prefer to work with permanent employees rather than freelance. All of this has to lead us to the current market state where we have a humongous talent gap, with companies looking for solutions now! 

It’s hard for me to count how many times I’ve heard my friends say, “If only I could work remotely like you and decide by myself where and when I work… I’d be able to make change happen in a flash!” To this, I always reply, “Thank you! You are one of the reasons why Remote-how has decided to help transform the jobs market into a ready state for the 4th Industrial Revolution, where efficient work can be done from anywhere.” How are we actually going to make this happen? Remotely, of course 🙂

That sounds awesome. Could you share some lessons or ‘key takeaways’ that you have learned along the way?

The first one came right after we started Remote-how while conducting in-depth market research in over 40 long conversations with C-levels and HR decision-makers across the US and Europe. The main lesson we learned was that the market does understand that this is the future. The majority know that this will change forever how their companies operate but… they are just not ready yet. 

The market does understand that this is the future. The majority knows that this will change forever how their companies operate but… they are just not ready yet.

We came across the first stage – mindset problem where employers envision a scenario in which they can’t control employees in the office (#trustissue). We also saw those who had already accepted that change was inevitable but had no clue where to start and how to make remote work, work. The other one is still with us, and we see it all the time – people don’t trust each other, so they are afraid of remote work concepts as they view this as “lack of control” on what it’s happening. This is, in my opinion, the biggest blocker (especially among managers) for a lot of companies, to fully embrace work from anywhere. Trust issues were named the biggest obstacle preventing companies from implementing remote work, according to 52% of remote managers surveyed in The Remote Managers 2020

Trust issues were named the biggest obstacle preventing companies from implementing remote work, according to 52% of remote managers surveyed in The Remote Managers 2020.

Tell us a bit more about Remote-How. How is remote work encouraged within your organization?

We are all-remote from day 1. Of course, if someone wants to work from the office like a coworking space, we offer this as an employee perk.

Could you share a few of the biggest challenges you and/or your team have experienced since working remotely? What have you done to address those challenges?

It’s clearly building the culture and maintaining team engagement. It’s not only us – most of the remote teams struggle with this and constantly look at how to improve it. That’s why late last year as Remote-how we started to look at this closer to see how we can help address these issues. As a result, we recently announced the launch of our virtual coworking space, where remote professionals from all over the world get the WeWork experience when it comes to networking, wellbeing events, virtual meetups, workshops, or spontaneous coffee breaks. We want to replicate the best experiences you can have in a co-working/office space and help both teams thrive the remote culture, as well as individuals never again feel lonely or burned out when working remotely. 

Interesting. Could you tell us a bit more about how you make sure your team is both happy AND productive while working remotely?

We talk with each other a lot. 100% honesty, full transparency, and direct feedback. This helps us all work on the potential issues together and prevent them from escalating. Happiness comes along with productivity, so it’s very crucial to look at these things together and address the challenges as soon as they come up.

What do you think are the most common reasons companies hesitate to adopt remote work?

As mentioned before, it’s trust and as well as still too much micromanagement, which is a clear no go when it comes to remote/distributed teams. A company needs to face the challenge of how to change it internally (without even going remote), before moving forward as this will prevent them from succeeding. 

2020 is an official year, that ends micromanagement on a large scale, and companies that will not realize that – will simply fall behind. Forever.

2020 is an official year that ends micromanagement on a large scale, and companies that will not realize that will simply fall behind. Forever.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might change the way we work?

It will truly change the way most companies view remote work, and as a result enable millions of people all over the world to go remote. 

But what is interesting, we will see the massive growth of hybrid teams (which was not a very common setup pre-COVID, and also not highly recommended – due to simply more challenges to make it work in the right way). As most people still would like to have the option to come to the office if they want (it’s the choice they have, but not being forced to do one or the other), companies will need to address the hybrid setup asap.

But, what is interesting, we will see the massive growth of hybrid teams which was not a very common setup pre-COVID-19 […] companies will need to address the hybrid setup as soon as possible.

I couldn't agree more. Do you have a final tip for those looking to transition into remote work post-COVID-19?

Be aware of the challenges you might face, and get ready for them. This is a different reality, and without a proper setup, you are setting up yourself for failure. Talk with your team, ask about their feedback, and work on this transition together.

This is a different reality, and without a proper setup, you are setting up yourself for failure. Talk with your team, ask about their feedback, and work on this transition together.

Thank you so much for your valuable insights, Iwo! Where can our readers follow your work?

If you are looking for learning and/or social experience in the remote workspace, feel free to check our Remote-how Academy with certification programs for remote managers & remote HR, as well as our newly launched virtual coworking space

This article is part of the Rise of Remote Work LinkedIn Newsletter covering stories and insights from remote work leaders, experts, and advocates around the world. Hit ‘subscribe’ to get notified and visit our website to learn more about our services.

About Mandy Fransz

Mandy Fransz is the owner & founder of Make the Leap Digital, a boutique consulting firm helping businesses digitally transform the way they work. She manages the fast-growing Remote Workers on LinkedIn group (+50K members) and she has been featured in Thrive Global, VIVA400, & LINDA amongst others. Follow her on LinkedIn (Mandy Fransz) and Instagram (@maketheleap_).