Meet the Operations Director who works remotely 99% of time
January 21, 2016

Having worked location independently for more than 18 months Stuart Gardner doesn’t come across as your typical nomad. In his role as Operations Director at Magento ecommerce agency GPMD his hands are on day-to-day operations from dealing with clients to finances and hiring but you could only rarely find him present in the office. During his travels Stuart stayed a couple of days in Surf Office and we couldn’t miss the chance to ask him for some advice to help you follow his route

How did your company begin with the concept of remote work?

Apart from one colleague who works remotely full time from Belgium it was mainly because I kickstarted this initiative. I was already working remotely before and when I spoke to Mark who runs GPMD about this role I mentioned that I’d like to keep it that way, coming back to the office every four to six weeks to work with the team. He said ‘Sure, that’s fine.’

So he didn’t have any objections at all?

No, I think a lot of it comes down to trust. If you don’t trust your employees to work remotely then you probably should fire them 🙂 It means you don’t trust them to do their job anyway. We want to have a team of people whom we can trust and we can rely on. We don’t have to micro manage people, everyone is a grown up.

What do your clients think of the fact that you’re roaming the world while working on their projects?

Some still don’t know, it just never came up in conversation. Others think it’s great. Some are a bit skeptical, but there were no issues so far. For my role we have minimized client contact to an initial phone call and I can always come to meetings if need be. I tend to stick to Europe for time difference so I can get a plane or train back when needed. I’ve done that in the past for important meetings and pitches.

How does communication in your agency look like?

It’s predominantly phone, Skype and email. We use some project management software like Asana, then internally we use Slack, Flowdock, Google Hangouts. It works quite well.

Why do you think there are not more people working location independently?

I spoke to quite a few people about this and they all think they can’t do it but they don’t really have good reasons why. For pretty much most of them 90% of their work doesn’t require them to be on site. It’s just their company culture or what they feel is expected of them. But they could in theory do the actual work just in their flat or elsewhere. I speak to people and they say ‘Oh, that’s great what you do but I couldn’t do it.’ And then you say ‘Why not?’ and they respond ‘Well, it just wouldn’t work for my job. It just wouldn’t.’ And they never explain to you why, it’s just their mindset.

For traditional companies it’s a new thing. It might be probably a bit scary but I actually find the company get a whole lot more out of it if I work remotely than when I work in the UK. In London I know a lot more people, my friends and family are there so I see them and I have a lot more things demanding my time than when I’m abroad in a new city. Sometimes when I work remotely I work very long days and I’m very productive whereas when I’m in London I’m less productive due to social distractions.

What would be your advice for people with corporate jobs who want to start working remotely but are struggling with it?

To begin with, just start working remotely from home. Show that you’re trustworthy and productive when you work from home. A day here and day there, a long weekend… you can start slowly. Then if your boss lets you work from home for a day, you can work Friday for example in Paris without telling your boss 🙂 See how it goes and if you’re happy with that, just continue. I think most bosses may be open to the idea when you have a conversation with them.

In my office I don’t think most people want to follow my path because they have families and kids but I think a lot of them would like the ability to do it, just a few days occasionally rather than traveling full time.

I think it’s going to be a happy balance which we’ll find as people go for holiday and then spend a week working from that place. They are still working but feel like it’s still holiday. That’s what will happen more and more.

What would help companies learn to let employees work remotely more often?

Trust. It’s the big one for us. We generally believe that as long as the work gets done we have no reason to say no. If you have employees who work from home or elsewhere and the outcomes go down, they are not productive and things don’t get done, you quickly lose trust in these employees. Then you’re not happy with them working remotely at all.

Also, when you work remotely you have to be a lot more communicative, you have to be on board when it comes to keeping everyone informed, telling people what you are doing and making sure that your notes are clearer. You can’t just step off your desk and clarify it, your communication in writing has to be more clear and you have to find the ways to use Slack, email, Skype, any of these tools.

And lastly, what did you like about Lisbon?

First time I went to Lisbon 12 years ago and I don’t remember much about it. This time I enjoyed the visit because coming from the UK the weather was much better. It’s a lot cheaper than London, it has a lot of character. The scene seems to start to take off and there’s a lot more nice or trendy cafes, bars… Food is generally pretty good, people are friendly and everyone speaks amazing English which I was quite surprised about.