From Roadie To Googler To Future of Work Consultant: One Remote Entrepreneur’s Journey

  
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Lauren Razavi is now a sought after consultant and researcher on the future of work (and remote work in particular), but she didn’t start her career that way. Instead, she ran away from home at a young age and became a music tour manager, helping indie bands get their break. Then she transitioned into full-time freelancing, digital nomadism, and eventually to big tech™ at Google before striking back out on her own.

In our conversation, she shared her insights on the future of the office, mobility, and humanity in remote work. 

Building humanity into remote work

“A lot of people think technology somehow changes how humans behave, but I really don’t think it does. We behave in the same way using different kinds of communications tools. For instance, I’ve run a Slack channel for freelancers who collaborate on different projects, and it’s a small but close knit community. Most of us are in touch most days just to have some digital recreation. But you consciously have to make sure that you’re not spending your whole day gossiping on Slack, for instance. There’s a balance to strike, but I don’t think anything’s lost.”

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The future of the office

“One of the trends I think we’re going to see moving forward is a shift of the office from a place that people go for 9-5 every day into spaces for collaboration and getting together on a less regular basis with a clear motivation and purpose.”

“But even the most dedicated remote workers are still going to encounter a lot of situations in their work where being remote from others is not necessarily conducive to achieving that particular task they might be focused on.”

“Software is having an absolute renaissance now from the downturn in a way nobody really expected. You have these software companies that are absolutely flourishing because they’ve been on a path and were viewing a future of work they thought was very distant. And before 2020 it was very distant. And now suddenly it’s here.”

Not just remote, but mobile

“When we say remote work right now, we mean work from home. But I think by the end of this decade we will see a fundamental and enormous shift to work from anywhere. In the next stage of things, people are going to wake up to what’s possible. We’re going to see a much more fluid approach to location from workers. For instance, if your role is remote, what’s to stop you from taking your family to a villa in Italy for three months every summer?”

“We’re seeing this as sort of a pandemic recovery process for many countries like Barbados, Bermuda, and Georgia. These countries and governments actually want to attract remote workers as replacements for tourists.”

The final word

“Remote work itself is for everybody, but I would say that remote work definitely isn’t for all types of work.”

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Remotely Inclined Chats with Lauren Razavi

Transcript edited for brevity and clarity.

Stefan: Welcome, Lauren. Let’s start with your story and journey into remote work

Lauren: My story actually started about a decade ago. When I was a teenager, I basically ran away from home and joined a music tour. From that experience, I ended up becoming a freelancer and remote worker - and I haven’t changed course since. 

I wanted to be a musician, but I was absolutely terrible at the guitar, singing, and the piano. So that wasn’t going to work. So I started to promote some friends. One of the bands I was working with started to get some traction, and that was mainly through my work as a music manager. Back then I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but just kind of going for it and leveraging the internet to spread the word about music and to make connections. 

From there I went to university and studied politics. The main thing that studying politics teaches you is that you don’t want to get into politics! While I was studying, I fell into being a freelance journalist. I started pitching editors at magazines and newspapers in the UK and worked really, really hard for six months not getting anywhere. 

Then I started to get somewhere with freelancing and it all flowed ever since. It’s taken me from freelance journalism and foreign reporting to Google in a couple different roles. Then I transitioned more into writing, speaking, and consulting rather than just the kind of straight freelance journalism, which is where I am at today. 

You had a unique remote work journey. Is remote work actually for everyone?

Remote work itself is for everybody, but I would say that remote work definitely isn’t for all types of work. 

One of the trends I think we’re going to see moving forward is a shift of the office from a place that people go for 9-5 every day into spaces for collaboration and getting together on a less regular basis with a clear motivation and purpose. 

But even the most dedicated remote workers are still going to encounter a lot of situations in their work where being remote from others is not necessarily conducive to achieving that particular task they might be focused on. 

So does that mean people who hate remote work have a point?

When people say they hate remote work, sometimes there’s a real confusion in terms of what they are talking about. Particularly this year, when people say they hate remote work, what they might mean is more that they hate doing remote work unexpectedly during a pandemic, without the right equipment and surrounded by partners, children, and other housemates. None of that is conducive to remote work just like any other kind of work or entrepreneurial activity. 

You have to be able to choose your way of doing things. Right now, a lot of people don’t really have that as an option. They’re not able to say they are the kind of person who needs a coworking space or the kind of person who needs a quiet room. We’ve all been thrust into this situation. 

And remote work in many ways is such a vague term. Maybe 70% to 80% of most people’s work is actually deep focused work where they need to think about things and produce stuff that doesn’t require other people. Certainly in the knowledge economy, the vast majority of work lends itself to this kind of deep focused work. When I talk about remote, I’m talking bout that aspect. But also making an allowance for the fact that some stuff does have to happen and is more efficient in person. 

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What physical infrastructure does remote work need?

There’s a hardware aspect and a software aspect to that question. 

There are quite clear hardware aspects of a decent remote work set up: ergonomic set up, electronics, etc. 

Software is having an absolute renaissance now from the downturn in a way nobody really expected. You have these software companies that are absolutely flourishing because they’ve been on a path and were viewing a future of work they thought was very distant. And before 2020 it was very distant. And now suddenly it’s here. So they’ve seen interest in their products and users skyrocket. 

A lot of small office interactions are being eaten by the world of software. But that’s really exciting because it’s freeing us up to have more meaningful human-to-human interactions.

Do human relationships suffer when you don’t have the mundane little interactions to prompt conversation?

When I think about the mundane things, in an office that might be asking if someone wants a cup of tea. Or helping them out with something. The same kind of thing happens in digital spaces.

A lot of people think technology somehow changes how humans behave, but I really don’t think it does. We behave in the same way using different kinds of communications tools. For instance, I’ve run a Slack channel for freelancers who collaborate on different projects, and it’s a small but close knit community. Most of us are in touch most days just to have some digital recreation. But you consciously have to make sure that you’re not spending your whole day gossiping on Slack, for instance. There’s a balance to strike, but I don’t think anything’s lost.

What else is involved in the future of work besides remote?

I’m actually writing a book on this at the moment - it’s about the global mobility aspect. For the past six years I’ve lived and worked as a digital nomad, essentially travelling all around the world whilst building my career. 

When we say remote work right now, we mean work from home. But I think by the end of this decade we will see a fundamental and enormous shift to work from anywhere. In the next stage of things, people are going to wake up to what’s possible. We’re going to see a much more fluid approach to location from workers. For instance, if your role is remote, what’s to stop you from taking your family to a villa in Italy for three months every summer? 

We’re seeing this as sort of a pandemic recovery process for many countries like Barbados, Bermuda, and Georgia. These countries and governments actually want to attract remote workers as replacements for tourists. 

Amazing, thank you for your insights!

You can get in touch with Lauren on her newsletter and on Twitter.