Interview: Stefanie Grieser

Stefanie Grieser is an experienced and well known digital marketer working remotely at Sphere, and has previously worked for companies like Unbounce. You can find more of her in her Website and follow her through twitterinstagram, and LinkedIn.

1. Could you please introduce you? What do you do? Do you work for yourself or as part of a bigger team at a company? 

I’m Stefanie Grieser, but most people call me Stef. I am a tenacious, passionate brand builder, digital strategist and growth marketer who absolutely loves turning bold ideas into impactful and memorable experiences. I work for a company called Sphere, a technology platform democratizing coaching. I joined Sphere this past year because after working with a truly remarkable leadership coach, I experienced the deep impact her guidance had on me.

I really believe coaching has the power to shift thinking, increase self-awareness and support humanity. And I want more people to be able to access it. The mission of the company is so exciting it hardly feels like marketing.

SphereBefore jumping on with Sphere, I was toying with the idea of leaving my full-time role at Unbounce for freelance consulting. I joined Unbounce as an early employee. And since then  hired and built a team of nine marketers and helped the company grow revenue from $1M to $20M in ARR in 6 years without any major funding. I had been there almost 6 years and felt the itch to switch.

The thing was I couldn’t commit to the solo consulting thing (even with my new website and a few interested clients). I wanted to stay in tech. I love being a team player and building something I believe in that’s much bigger than just myself. Sphere was a matchmade in the cosmos (we’re big on astrology. Just check out our Instagram) and the rest was history.

2. How did you start working remotely? How did you do the switch?

As an extreme extrovert, I had major anxiety and reservations about switching to remote. If you would have asked me last year I would have been a hard-no.

  • “You’re a people person. You’ll be miserable.”
  • “You’ll go stir-crazy cooped up in your house all day.”
  • “Remote work means a lot of solitude. It will make you sad and depressed.”
  • “It’ll be that much harder to build and create deep team relationships.”
  • “Your eyes are already bad from staring at a screen all day. This just means your screen-time will double. All those in-person meetings? They’ll be done over a screen.”
  • “You’ll be in ‘work mode’ at all hours of the day. You won’t shut off. Say goodbye to your weekends and precious vacations.”
  • “You was literally quoted saying, ‘No one can deny the power of a truly personal, face-to-face connection. A smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it still can’t replace that real life ear-splitting grin.”

That is a small list of every reason that went through my head of why I shouldn’t do remote.

stefanie grieser extrovertBut something shifted. For one, Vancouver’s tech scene gets really small really fast. The opportunities just aren’t like the ones available in San Francisco and New York. I felt I was extremely limited by where I lived, but also didn’t want to move. The love of my life has a career he loves and is tied to Vancouver. My family live relatively close by. Moving was not really an option. So, I started slowly opening up to the idea of remote because I was drawn to the opportunities.

I went to coffee with Sean Kennedy who works at Zapier, a remote-first company with over 150 employees to ask him about his remote experience. He gave rave remote-work reviews, but also asked me interesting questions and made insightful comments:

  • Do you have a healthy social life outside of work? A great group of friends? Sports? After-work activities? If you thrive off of work-relationships and meet friends at work, remote work might not be for you.
  • If you’re going to work from home, can you create a space that is strictly for work so you can physically close the door forcing you to psychologically shut-off? Can you go to a coworking space? Bottomline: Make sure you can shut-off.
  • Not all remote work is the same. Is the company you are going to remote-first? Remember, remote-first and remote-friendly are two entirely different things. Imagine if you were the only team member remote and weren’t privy to water cooler conversations. The Fomo would be real.
  • Does the company you work for do in-person team retreats? As much as remote is amazing, there is a time and place where teams need to come together to create in-person magic.
  • Does your company actually encourage and give you vacation? Do they care about your mental state, health, wellbeing and happiness?

After a few more conversations with people who work remote, I started thinking more and more seriously about it. Five years ago, I felt you had to be be a freelance contractor. Now, legitimate companies like Buffer, Zapier and InVision embraced it. There was a movement behind it. There were tons of websites out there making it easier to find a remote-first job: Remote Ok, No Desk and We Work Remotely.

After a lot of reflection on what I needed to do to make remote work for me, I decided to jump in and go remote.  

3. What do you think are the main advantages of remote work?

There are the obvious ones that everyone writes about. For companies it means a higher talent pool, lower costs, lower turnover, faster hiring and happier employees (on average because everyone’s individual experiences are different, of course). For employees it means a lot more flexibility, less time commuting and more productivity.

For me personally, it means I can spend quality time with my parents who live 4 hours away by car. I’ll go up for four days, work remote during the day and sit down to have dinner with them at night. 

It means I have the ability to live where I feel the most creative. I get to spend this winter in the mountains, skiing at lunch. It also makes my career and personal development opportunities that much richer. I don’t feel limited to employment prospects in one-city. I don’t feel trapped. The whole world is my oyster.

I workout during the day. Sure, at my last job we had a gym in the office building. Did I use it? Never. Now I don’t feel chained to my desk. I don’t feel imprisoned to the office and the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 grind. It seriously has done wonders for my physical health and mental well-being. I workout more now. Especially if I register for a class.

4. Have you experienced any disadvantages due to your remote work setting? Do you miss something by working remotely?

Sometimes I jump straight into work when I get up, versus taking time to make breakfast.

We have a daily scrum at 8:30 am. I set my alarm for 8:00 am, press snooze a couple times and then before I know it I  jump on our team huddle in my pajamas.

When I find myself on that call right after waking up, I usually respond with flexibility. After our daily check-in I’ll take a shower, get dressed and go for a walk. Just because I attended the 8:30 meeting in pajamas doesn’t mean I am chained to my desk for the rest of the day. That or I intentionally schedule a workout classes in the morning to get my ass in gear.

I am an extreme extrovert. I thought I would miss the face-to-face connection, but I find when I phone someone on my team and chat things through it goes along way to reduce the feeling of isolation. That being said, I think companies who do in-person retreats multiple times year are onto something. At Sphere, we get together in person as a team once every two or three months.

5. From which cities or countries have you worked since you have started to work remotely? Which have been your favorite? Where do you want to travel next?

Don’t get me wrong: I love to travel. I was raised bilingual by German parents and spent countless summers throughout my Childhood in Southern Germany. I studied in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France and Istanbul, Turkey. I speak German and French. I’ve traveled to 25 countries and most recently explored Nepal, India and Sri Lanka (Check out my photos on Instagram and my travel videos from Colombia and Guatemala).

But working remote and being a digital nomad are not the same thing. When you travel for extended periods of time, you lose your social circle, and the daily routines that keep you grounded and healthy. I enjoy my life in Vancouver and although I am going to spend a winter in Whistler and extend trips here and there, working remote doesn’t necessarily mean I will be continuously working while traveling.

I enjoy having a home-base. And I will most likely take vacation to travel and extend that vacation if I need to with some working days here and there. Ultimately, the advantage of remote work lies in the ability to optimize your location for your well-being, health and happiness.

6. From what type of place do you prefer to work? Your home, coworking spaces, coffee shops or others?

Stefanie Grieser skiingI like variety so it really depends. Some Days I work from home in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. A commute of 5 steps to my dining room table? Yes, please. Other days I work from WeWork. Somedays I hunker down in a coffee shop. And other days I meet other remote workers and freelancers at community spaces.

Copywriter, Jess Robson recently invited me to hang out at the Juice Truck, which has a rad community space. Crystal Henrickson & her partner Annika Reinhardt, from Talent Collective host what they call Freelance Friday where invite freelancers and remote workers to discover new work spaces while checking off their to-dos. These are just a few communities and events I’ve picked up on and I am sure there are many more!

With a remote-first company, I have the flexibility to work where I feel most creative and inspired. Which means I am not always in Vancouver. I am a huge ski-bum and feel most alive in the mountains. This winter am renting out my city-apartment and spending the winter in a cosy loft in Whistler. I’ll be working on the chairlift most days. Kidding, it will be too cold for that. However, I will be taking full advantage of my flexible, remote-work setup to get runs in on a powder day instead of doing the dreary 9-5 commute to an office building in the dead of winter.

7. What would you say to the companies that don’t believe in remote work?

I personally believe remote work is all or nothing. Go big or go to the office. Call me an extremist, but I don’t really believe in remote-friendly. I don’t think you can make some exceptions or toe-dip.

I’ve seen companies allow remote-work for some employees and not others. They allow it for their high performance employees, they would have otherwise lost. These employees typically don’t last long because these companies aren’t really set up for a remote workforce. You can feel even more isolated when your entire team is together, yet you’re not there.

I think the best remote companies embrace remote full on. It is part of their DNA. Everyone, including the CEO down is remote. And the best remote-first companies support their employees. Remote isn’t the same experience for everyone. Someone might need a co-working space, and others might need support with their mental health.

In general, I would tell companies to get on the remote work train. But also support your team in doing so. Amir Salihefendic wrote a really great piece talking about the isolation and mental health challenges with remote work and how remote companies need to step up and help.

8. Which tools do you use to work remotely? (productivity, communication, etc.)

  • Slack. Love their in-app call feature as well. We use it all the time. Also when you screen-share, I love how you can draw on the screenshare. Makes me feel like a kid with a crayon drawing on a wall!
  • Realtimeboard for group brainstorming. A group brainstorm is one of my favourite meetings. I love this tool. It  makes it feel like ideas are flowing as we capturing them on virtual sticky notes in one central place.
  • Dropbox Paper. I love Google Docs, but we use Dropbox paper as a company, and I am really starting to both like it and get the hang of it.
  • Trello – We use it as our team’s simple project management tool.

9. What advice would you give to people looking to work remotely and companies making the remote switch?

Talk to someone who will ask you questions. I’d even go as far to say: invest in a coach. They are an unbiased thinking-partner, trained in asking powerful questions. They don’t hand out advice …because the best advice is created by you.

And if you are looking for a remote company, make sure the organization supports you and cares about your well-being.

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