Interview with Tom Baker from FordeBaker

Tom Baker is the founder of Amazon marketing and operations agency, FordeBaker. You can also find him personally in LinkedIn and FordeBaker too. In this interview he and some of his team members share about their remote work journey. 

1. How did you started working remotely? 

I’d come to a point where I wanted to take more control over my career path. I wanted more autonomy over how I worked and what type of work I did. In 2018 I was leading the marketing team at a start-up in London. I’d had a very successful time launching and expanding their Amazon operation.

There was and is a clear need for specialists to help brands navigate the complexities of selling on Amazon so I decided to take the plunge and set up my own agency. For the first 6 months I took things steady. I travelled through Europe and South-East Asia with my wife who also works remotely for Conversion Rate Experts. With the extra runway of leading a lower-cost lifestyle I had capacity to develop my services and start to reach out to my network. 

2. Which are the main advantages that you find that remote work has?

I like the control it gives me. I can work at any time of the day. The arbitrary rules of 9-5 Monday to Friday no longer have to apply. 

If I feel motivated to work at 7am or 10pm then that’s what I do. Having the freedom to work when you feel motivated to work is a big plus. I’m more productive and it gives me the capacity to work with non-UK clients without stretching myself too thinly.

I spoke to a couple of the team about their motivations. The main ones are

  • No commute and the time-saving this gives people
  • Some find offices distracting
  • Flexibility on when and what time they complete their work, as Charlie, one of our Account Strategists said “trade that rainy Tuesday night you have for yourself for the sunny Thursday lunch time, which in an office is not possible.”

3. Do you think you have disadvantages or that you’re missing something by working remotely?

I used to cycle to work so I miss having that exercise. I think we’re fortunate that the work we do helping businesses to sell on Amazon is perfectly suited to working remotely. There are distinct tasks, everyone knows their role and there’s little need for activities that are best done face-to-face. 

I do miss the human interaction of the office environment, my colleagues said the same thing, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

At some point we might have a small head office but I’m determined that our culture will always encourage flexible working.

4. From what places or countries have you worked from since you have become remote? What is your favorite one and why? 

I now work from home in London but in the first 6 months of working remotely I travelled through Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Thailand has an established nomad community so that was really great to experience. We spent a month on Ko Lanta working from a place called https://kohub.org/. The set up was fantastic – reliable wifi, great community and amazon beaches – what more could you want!

My absolute favourite was Sri Lanka. There wasn’t a developed remote working scene but we could still get all of our work done. That left plenty of time to experience some incredible sights.

My colleagues are free to work from wherever they want as long as they have good WiFi and are available for client contact. Some of the places they’ve worked from are America, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Myanmar, France and Portugal

5. How working remotely and being a “nomad” has impacted your family life?

Well I have a 6 month old son now so the work-life balance has definitely changed!

Working from home has been hugely beneficial. I see far more of my son that I would if I was commuting. The only downside is that it’s very easy to get distracted 🙂

6. From what type of place do you prefer to work from? Coworking spaces, coffee shops or others? 

I prefer to mix it up. I split my time 50/50 between my home and coffee shops. As a caffeine addict I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Obviously the Coronavirus has changed my daily routine a lot but once lockdown is over I’ll be going back to my old ways.  Walking to a coffee shop is a natural break and gives me time to think things over or to take a proper break – I’m way behind on all of my podcasts right now!

7. What would you say to the companies that don’t believe in hiring employees who work remotely? 

If you struggle to hire then remote work is an ideal solution. Tapping into a global market to find the best talent is a no-brainer

  1. The most talented people often work best when they have autonomy and control over their workload. You’ll attract the best people by offering remote work as an option. 
  2. If you’re worried about employees slacking off then that’s a symptom of unclear objectives and performance tracking. Remote work isn’t the cause. 
  3. It’s way cheaper than having an office. I think one of the outcomes of the pandemic will be that businesses realise they don’t need expensive office space. I’ve always seen having a lower cost base as a competitive advantage.
  4. Remote work is not a perfect solution – you may still need an office, you’ll definitely have to adjust how you communicate and track performance. Don’t go from one extreme to another. If you’re keen to move to a remote situation then there’s no harm in doing it gradually or allowing teams to do it at their own pace.

I suppose hearing from our employees is more valuable than more thoughts. Here’s what two of them had to say;

Braden: I would tell them there’s really no difference anyway. Managers believe the illusion that because a warm body is sitting in front of them that productivity is occurring and that is far from always being the case. Giving the freedom to allow people to decide will attract better talent anyway. As a manager you want to empower your employees to do their job not micromanage 

Charlie: If you don’t believe in hiring talented people then this is a good approach to take. This is fast becoming the new norm. I have been working remotely on and off for 6 years and would never go back now, and I think more and more people are waking to the benefits of this

8. What tools and protocols/processes do you use and follow to work remotely?

  • Use messenger services – go for something like Slack rather than Google Chat.
  • Don’t overly rely on messenger services. It’s too easy for things to get lost or for the conversation to be unproductive. Use project management tools like Asana and Trello or good old spreadsheets to ensure that everyone knows what is happening and who is doing what. This will cut down on the low-quality noise that can often invade tools like Slack
  • Written communication is far more important when working remotely. This applies to internal and client communication. We tend to use word documents rather than presentations. I’ve stolen that idea from Amazon. It’s so much easier to communicate and come to the right decision when you write out the rationale in full prose. If you’re not face to face then it’s too easy for things to be misinterpreted. Don’t fall into that trap.

9. How do you manage your business and taxes as a remote working professional?

We have an accountant here in the UK. He’s been a godsend. Tax is definitely one of those areas where it makes total sense to outsource to a specialist.

We use Xero for invoicing and HelloBonsai for producing contracts.

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

If you’re considering becoming a freelancer then it’s true to say that you need to have work lined up. That’s obvious. Another thing you can consider is how to reduce your overheads so you have less pressure to earn the equivalent of your previous salary straightaway.

Get a good computer. Try working in different locations. Take advantage of the benefits of working remotely. Keep a reminder of why you decided to go remote. Connect with other remote workers and share your tips with others.

For companies looking to switch to remote working there are few core principles that I’ve found useful

  • Start from a position of trust with your employees. Don’t put monitoring software on their devices or spend your time micromanaging. 
  • Take more time to communicate. Don’t fire off missives that can easily be misconstrued.
  • Set clear goals and ensure that everyone knows how their performance will be measured
  • Find ways to foster a business culture and team cohesion. Culture is just as important, if not more important, when you switch to remote working. 
  • Find ways to meet face-to-face. It all depends on the company size but events can be split up into teams. Do annual conferences, have monthly meetups, do online events.
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